Melange:A World of Woo, tribal belief, willful self-delusion and Jane Mayer

There are a lot of interesting nuggets in the intertoobz these days.  Some of these things go together and show the lengths we will go to delude ourselves or cling to tribal beliefs.

Let’s start with a podcast.  So, you’ve given up the Judeo-Christian belief system for God 2.0 or no god at all.  Some of us would call this progress.  Giving up bronze age superstition and tradition for something more modern and relevant is quite a bold step.  So, why are so many of you turning to woo?  Woo is defined as “ideas considered irrational or based on extremely flimsy evidence or that appeal to mysterious occult forces or powers”. Woo includes the belief in astrology, auras, energy fields, homeopathy, accupuncture, chiropracty and vaccination phobia.  Seth Andrews of the Thinking Atheist interviews various professionals who debunk these woos and tries to explain why otherwise rational people are attracted to them. Let’s put it this way, if you’re into woo, it’s hard to take anything you say seriously. You’d might as well be a nutcase fundy eschatologist.   Check out Seth’s recent podcast here.

Jay Ackroyd tries to lead Digby to the light when it comes to Obama’s commitment to a Grand Bargain on Social Security and Medicare.  First, go read the piece from Digby where she actually sounds like she’s blown right on past where Conflucians are sitting straight into the arms of the former Democrats who are so angry they’ve started to identify with the Tea Party.  Wow.  That’s quite a leap.  I know the party will reel her back in and, to be honest, we don’t really need more Tea Partiers in Congress, thank you very much.  But, yeah, Digby.  Jay’s right.  The Obama contingent are not liberals.  However, Jay is not right that they’re centrists.  The Obama contingent is definitely on the right side of center.  Nooooo doubt about it.  The only way that they are centrists is if you consider moderate republicanism centrist.  That would make Bill Clinton a flaming commie.  No, no, don’t go there, Jay.  We have seen the studies.  There’s no way in hell that Bill Clinton is a centrist in the same way that Obama is a “centrist”.  The center moved in the past 12 years.  You guys have got to accept this because your irrational belief that Clinton is an evil Republican dude compared to Obama, is what got Obama elected in the first place.  You’ve been done in by your tribe’s woo.  I mean, think about it: your group is asking us to believe that Bill Clinton is, was and always will be more conservative than Barack Obama.  Step back and think about that and ask yourselves if that’s rational given everything you now know.  If YOU can’t swallow it, why are you asking US to believe it?

As for Digby, I really like her and I’ve found her recent evolution to be promising, if only temporary in the lead up to the election.  I expect her to chicken out even though her “Hey! We’re eating grass!” moments are fun to read.  There is a place for left of center Democrats who don’t have our minds so wide open that our brains have fallen out.  We just need to create it.  It probably won’t happen this election cycle unless the Obama half of the party is defeated by the Clinton half of the party.  That’s where we are now.  You may not think the Clinton half is sufficiently liberal but the American people do.  In any case, they’ll drag the party back leftwards like an earthquake in Japan.  It could be a true realignment on the way back to sanity.  And remember, Wall Street rejected the Clinton half last time.  So, you know, how much more proof do you need??  Besides, there is no hope for Howard Dean.  Most people don’t know who he is and wouldn’t like him if they did.  We need to be realistic and work with what we’ve got.  And as far as I can tell, Americans would be ecstatic to return to the Clinton years, even if they were supervised by his wife. A woman in charge would be very good for women in general, wouldn’t you agree?  Especially when that woman is a passionate defender of women’s reproductive rights?  I mean, can women really trust Obama after they way he dragged his feet on the conscience rule, betrayed us in the healthcare law and kept Plan B behind a counter?

As far as everyone having “skin in the game”, Obama’s term for sacrificing in the upcoming Grand Bargain, um, I’ve seen my industry devastated by Wall Street grasshoppers and I’ve lost a very good living, permanently.  So, you know, I’ve already been flayed.  Not only that but I’m in the age cohort who has to wait until I’m 67 before I get the Social Security I prepaid for decades.  I’m not sacrificing anymore skin.  No, do not even ask.  Don’t make us come down there to Washington to make your lives miserable.  You do not want crowds from the size of my graduating class on the mall.  No, you do not.  I suggest that Congress go hunt people with an excess of skin, ie wealthy people.  Give them a good reason to whine.

The last bit is an interview of Jane Mayer on Fresh Air with Terry Gross entitled “Obama in Impossible Bind Over Donors”.  The Impossible Bind is that he wants and needs money from the wealthy and Wall Street but he doesn’t want average voters to know how indebted he is to his big donors so he has to blow the donors off in public.  It’s a sad, sad situation.  Terry, to her credit, seems to have come around after being such an insufferable Obama fangirl in 2008.  Jane Mayer valiantly tries to make Obama look good when it comes to fundraising.  You can almost hear Jane pleading with the audience to understand what Obama is up against but I found her extreme earnestness irritating.  It’s a cruel world out there.  Poor Obama, forced to accept SuperPAC money and trying to make it look like he doesn’t like it.  It’s all the fault of the mean Republicans that he’s sucking up all the money he said he didn’t want.  And while Romney is appearing at the SuperPAC soirees, Mitt has a deputy actually ask for the money, while Obama goes to the soirees and the money just mysteriously appears for him but he doesn’t suck up to anyone to get it.  I find the distinction indistinct.

Oh, but Obama isn’t giving away the Lincoln Bedroom!  So, you know, there’s that.  And that’s presumably why the donors are complaining.  They get nothing from Obama.  Not even a tote bag.  He won’t even take pictures with his donors so they can use that to name drop. It sounds like Obama got too much of a reputation as a schmoozer in 2008 and he’s desperate to squash that meme this year but that doesn’t mean he’ll be turning the filthy lucre down.  He just doesn’t want to have to thank anyone publicly for it.

But the funniest part of the interview is when Mayer is forced to debunk the idea that Obama made the bulk of his campaign money from millions of teensy contributions.  I know, you’re probably thinking that small contributions mean less than $100 because that’s what the Obama campaign lead us to believe in 2008.  We were all under the impression that millions and millions of working class Joes were mailing $20 to him in gratitude with a little note saying, “Bless you, Barack!  Save the Republic.  We’ve been waiting all our lives for you!”  Right?  Intellectually, you know it’s not true because the sheer size of the amount of money he collected, plus all of the contributions from wealthy Wall Street contributors, is public information. But the meme kinda slipped into the chinks of the gray matter and created it’s own woo.  It just *had* to be true because so many people repeated it.  It’s sort of like that woo we debunked about Obama running a fabulous campaign.  Um, no he didn’t, unless you consider gaming the caucuses and paying off the superdelegates and DNC fabulous, and we can prove it but myths die hard.

Anyway, it turns out that the definition of small depends on who is using it.  Small donations to you and me would be less than $100.  Small donations to the Obama campaign means maxing out at $5000.  See the difference?  One is $4900 more than the other. What working class stiff has $5000 to stuff into an envelope for a guy who had less than two years of national political experience before he decided to run for president?  And inadvertently, Mayer exposes what the Obama campaign thinks of the people who gave less than $5K.  They’re not even on the campaign’s radar.

But the final bit of silliness from Mayer is when she contrasts Bill Clinton’s extroversion against Obama’s intellectualism.  That’s got to be a first.  Whatever you might think of Bill Clinton,  making the guy who went to Georgetown, Yale Law School and was a Rhodes Scholar sound like a high school dropout car salesman next to Obama doesn’t really work too well.  What she’s really trying to say is that Clinton is a gregarious politician who likes politics and can carry on an intelligent conversation with anyone, even his enemies, but that the Obama contingent doesn’t like politics and getting hands dirty and actually doing the stuff that gets things done.  I know that she didn’t mean to say that but that’s essentially what she said.  If you were a big money donor, whose campaign would you rather give $5 million to?  (George Soros, call me!)

Once the bloom is off of Obama’s rose, you can’t listen to this stuff without laughing at all of the holes in the arguments.  The woo is gone.

Inflection points

Black in West Virginia

You’ve probably already seen this article about race and the 2008 campaign.  Supposedly, if people in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and NY hadn’t been such ignorant bigots, Obama would have won by bigger margins.  That’s assuming that there was nothing more important on the electorate’s mind.

It’s an interesting study but I can’t imagine why this would be of any particular interest to anyone.  Obama won.  That means enough people were either able to overcome the conditioning of their culture or they were scared shitless about the market collapse.  What it *doesn’t* mean is that the people who were googling racist jokes would have voted for Obama if they had been more enlightened people.  For those of us who realize that race is a social construct and not a biological one, Obama’s skin color did not factor into our decision.  If you’re really post-racial, you evaluate the candidate by criteria that is important for successful presidents.  A candidate who weaponizes racism, whether real or merely convenient, against hard working people who are concerned for their own livelihoods, is not that much different than the guy who is googling the N word.  If anyone is being prejudiced here, it might be the Obama campaign who assumes that everyone in Appalachia is hiding an ignorant redneck heart.

There are some questions I’d like the answers to about this study, which I have only glanced at briefly.  For example, what about the people in these states that don’t have computers and have never used google.  I have relatives who fall into this category.  They’re more likely to google a recipe for halushka, if they had a computer or any interest in using one.  They were not fans of Obama but hardly racists, considering the diversity in their own families.  The study makes me think of Gallup polls that report on people the surveyers contacted by phone.  Presumably, that means landline.  But what if you don’t have a landline?  How would Gallup contact you to know what you think? A phone survey might oversample older people who may not believe in evolution while showing a drop off of people who do because younger people don’t need landlines.  Or, the study could be finding that race was part of the general atmosphere of 2008 and people were following up on stories they had heard. It might be a voyeur effect.  And how do you account for NJ turning up ranked #17 on the list?  I’ve never met any racists here in NJ and I’ve lived here for 2 decades.

Then there are the unanswered questions about whether Obama’s ill-timed remarks about bitter, gun-totin’, church goers before the Pennsylvania primary might have had any effect on the primaries in that state or the subsequent one in West Virginia. Obama seemed to go out of his way to insult everyone in Appalachia long before a single vote was cast for him there.  Why aren’t we questioning his stereotypes and prejudices towards the voters in these states? If you listened to the Obama campaign, you’d think that Appalachia consisted of nothing but toothless, moonshine smuggling rednecks.  I don’t doubt that there are some places in central PA where those people exist but I never spoke to one when I was phone banking or canvassing there.  Did the study author bother to explore the effect of Obama’s snubs on these primary outcomes?  Another question that I’m dying to have the answer to is how many searches of the form “hillary, bitch” came out of lower Manhattan or “redneck” from Chicago, Illinois?   Why don’t we find out whether making the men of this country less sexist would have lead to the first female presidency?

Or would we hear howls of protest?  Hillary must be judged by a completely different set of criteria.  She and her husband were centrists, they’ll say.

Ok, I’ll bite.  Would a guy who wanted to appoint the first female attorney general, who raised taxes on the wealthy, appointed two of the most liberal judges on the supreme court we have today, put health care reform at the front of his agenda, got the Family Leave Act passed, protected children’s health care with SCHIP, stared down Republicans when they shut down government and was in favor of having gays serve openly in the military years before Obama kinda sorta got around to reversing DADT, would that guy be considered centrist today?

I have a lot of differences with my own party even though I consider myself solidly liberal.  But one of the most striking differences has to be how history is remembered.  It is illogical to judge the Clintons as more “centrist” than Obama.  In fact, the only way that the word centrist becomes negative against the Clintons is when it is taken out of context and when the comparison to Obama is not made.  Instead, centrism is mapped to the Americans Elect, Thom Friedmanesque monstrosity, that thing without a soul.  It ignores the fact that centrism in 1993 was a primarily a description of where the Clintons were on the left.  On a scale of 1=>10, leftiest Democrat to rightiest Republican, the Clintons were about a 3.8.  Now that the scale goes to 15, it is Obama who is centrist at about an 8 and the Clintons look solidly liberal when the issues and voting records are compared.

Lefties seem disgusted by DADT and DOMA that were implemented in Clinton’s terms but forget (or were too young to pay attention) that it was during the Clinton administration when the topics first landed on the national scene and in the case of gays in the military, it was Clinton who brought it up in the first place and wanted to allow gays to serve.  I’m betting that many young Democrats don’t know that and their lefty elders aren’t setting the record straight.

What I think bothers lefties the most about Clinton was not his “centrism”, although he probably referred to himself as a centrist back then.  It was that he was not dogmatic in his lefty beliefs.  Dogmatism plagues both ends of the political spectrum. When people complain about partisanship, they’re really complaining about dogmatism, that persistence in believing in theories in spite of all evidence to the contrary.  Dogma has relatively little to do with politics and has almost everything to do with identity.  It also has little to do with rationality and a lot to do with emotion.

I was more than a little disappointed to see Charles Pierce jump on lefty revisionism in one of his latest Netroots Nation posts.  One of the reasons I stopped going to these events was because I wasn’t willing to empty my brain so that it could fully absorb the dogma saturated atmosphere.  Plus, I find crunchy granola, anti-vaccine, anti-nuclear energy, anti-genetically modified everything really irritating, not to mention that people who can’t differentiate between corporate shareholders and stakeholders have no idea what they’re talking about when they wail against all “corporatism”. Netroots Nation is not much different than a CPAC convention.  Both entities have solid beliefs that they base their solutions on but they have little to do with observation, data collection, careful analysis, construction of a model, proposing policies and evaluating the effect of those policies on the model.  Dogmatists don’t usually like to have their beliefs evaluated.

If there is a recent surge in interest in the Clintons, it’s probably because voters realize that one is still available.  And it’s not voters, specifically the working class and women, who are looking forward to Hillary in 2016.  No, voters would prefer to have her now.  It is the party leadership who wants to create the expectation of a Hillary 2016 run.  They’re hoping that delayed gratification will help focus voter attention on the here and now where they have presented Obama as the only choice.  But I don’t think that’s going to work this year.  And it’s great that Obama is finally getting feisty but I don’t think he’s trustworthy.  It’s not just his actions that make him suspect.  It’s primarily his contempt for voters in general.

Maybe quality doesn’t always triumph over mediocrity.  But I think that when people have had experience of both, without a dogmatic filter, their brains are able to synthesize an evaluation based on information they have gathered, whether consciously or not.  I made this point in 2008 about presentation and how a speaker who does his or her homework will shine over someone who has baffled the audience with bullshit.   The political consultant class who thinks that voters don’t know the difference may be indulging in wishful thinking.  Sure, there are the Fox News viewers who are suffering from acquired stupidity syndrome but what about the other half of the population?  They now have the kind of information about Obama that wasn’t available to them in 2008.

It’s not the dogmatists at Netroots Nation that will decide the election this year.  It’s going to be the base that the Democrats blew off in 2008.  I’m sure the Democrats aren’t happy about that but calling them racists is probably not going to work this time.  They gave Obama a chance and he has come up severely wanting.  This upcoming performance evaluation is based on actual performance.  And if the working people are chattering about Clinton, it’s not because Mark Penn has anything to do with it.

What we might really be seeing is frustration on the part of the party loyalists, Obama fan base and self-described intellectuals towards the electorate that refuses to eat its poison mushrooms.  Those working class idiots don’t know what’s good for them, they want a “centrist”, they’re racists, they’re stupid.  But mostly, those working people and women and independents have way too many votes.  There’s a lot of howling going on right now from the lefty dogmatists who simply want to believe what they want to believe, damn the facts and life and imminent poverty staring people in the face everyday. But might I suggest that calling people racists and politically naive is not the best way to win friends and influence people.  Since the great unwashed masses are the ones who are going to determine this election in the fall, whether the lefties like it or not, a much better idea would be to give them what they want before they go to the polls.

Good Morning

Cue the music

Some more bad news on the research front.  Earlier this week, Merck laid off a number of employees from the parent company and Schering-Plough, the company it merged with a couple years ago.  I can’t find a firm number for the total layoffs.  In some reports, it’s 17,000, in others it is 17,000 plus an additional 13,000.  That’s worldwide.  And while Merck has something like 91,000 employees worldwide, when it comes to laying off research, it comes primarily from the US side because American research workers have zero labor protections.  I would expect the loss from Western European research facilities to be light.  Estimated cost savings are $400 million out of a budget of $7.9 billion.  That is a huge research budget but that’s what it takes these days.  Drug discovery is very expensive.  Merck and Schering-Plough have facilities in the Northeast, particularly in Rahway, NJ, West Point, PA and Kennilworth, NJ.  Derek Lowe at In the Pipeline says he is getting heavy casualty reports in from the research professionals at Schering Plough (Kennilworth).  I know people who work at both companies and I’m very sad for them.  This is not a good time to be untethered from a steady income.  I hope they’ve prepared themselves.  The loss to the states of NJ and PA in tax revenue from cutting these well-paying jobs is going to be pretty bad.  So, this month we have Novartis, Amgen and Merck-Schering-Plough.  Wait, wasn’t there another one?  Too many to keep track of.  And more competition for me.  Well, I am in good company.  Some of the smartest people in the country, no, the *world* are now out of work.

Jay Ackroyd thinks that the desire to globalize is driving this and calling it “centrism”.  Jay’s anger and disgust is pretty clear but coming from the corporate world that most lefties hate, hate, HATE with all their souls, I see this a little differently.  For example, take the way Steve Jobs was pushed out of Apple back in the 80′s.  I’m listening to the biography by Walter Isaacson.  Jobs was no saint.  Back in the 80s, he was the heartless boss from hell.  I guess you could chalk that up to youthful immaturity but when the precariousness of his position at Apple hit him, he got a sense of how companies would work in the future.  John Sculley, the president Jobs hired to run Apple, was a marketing guy.  He didn’t understand the product he was manufacturing.  He wanted to spin off the creative part of Apple to a unit called Apple Labs, that would be run by Jobs.  It was a way to get rid of Jobs and his loyal creative types who wanted to act like pirates.  Sculley wanted employees to put Apple, the company, first.  People like Jobs wanted to put the product first.  It’s too bad that he acted like such an obnoxious, insulting immature brat because Jobs was right.  Most companies have followed the Sculley route.  They put sales and marketing and making money first.  And that’s what companies are for, to make money.  You’d have to be stupid if you had any altruistic aspirations for having a company.  But what marketing people fail to see is that without a product, you have nothing to sell.  If you short your R&D division, you’ll be cutting your own throat. It won’t happen overnight but it will happen.  And then you’ll be busily eating your seed corn to make those quarterly earnings, like Merck, Pfizer, Novartis, Amgen…  After Jobs grew up a bit and came back to Apple, he put the focus back on innovative products and now, the company is the most profitable in the world.

So what does this have to do with Ackroyd’s piece?  Well, if pharma is any indication of what is really going on, globalization is a fad.  That’s what the business people do.  They chase fads and trends.  They rarely follow up on their initial enthusiasm to see if the fads actually add to their bottom lines.  It’s the initial savings that they care about because that’s immediate, it’s quarterly and they think better in 3 month increments.  Pharma went through a period of mergers and acquisitions that did nothing for research and only enriched executives’ pockets.  But there have been other fads, like combinatorial chemistry, proteomics, siRNA, and genomics.  None of them turned out to be the panacea the Sculley class was looking for because the nature of biology is such that these technologies were just tools that we used to dig up more problems to solve.  They were never intended to be solutions all by themselves.  The newest fad is to relocate all of research (or what is left) in the bay areas, Cambridge,MA and San Francisco and San Diego, CA.  Presumably, the smartest people in the world graduate from MIT and Harvard and Stanford and UCSD.  That may be true.  But it may also be the case that only the wealthy and well connected can get into those schools anymore.  It also ignores the fact that for years, biomedical researchers came from all over the country, prestigious and unprestigious schools alike.  I’ve known excellent researchers who graduated from schools in Indiana, Colorado, New Jersey and Louisiana.  But this idea of educational exclusivity and capturing the elite is the new fad.  They will do the brain work and the hands on stuff will be carried out by a bunch of drones in China and India.  The corporate guys are marketing and sales and business school guys.  They think research and innovation can be broken down to a list of mind numbing chores and “just in time” off the shelf solutions while the “better people”, people like them in their social class, are graduating from ivy league schools and those people have the natural talent to manage the innovation process.  The corporation will take the profits gained by outsourcing.

And they are following this course of action and business not because it is good for the companies they serve but because they can.  The rules don’t apply to them anymore.  I’m not sure the goal was always globalization but now that there’s nothing to stop them, that’s what they’re going to do even if it ruins the product line.  The Sculleys of this world do not understand what motivates people who do research and who are inspired to innovate.  Here’s a clue: the most profitable product line of the world was designed by a college drop out and his rag tag bunch of unorthodox pirates who were left to their own devices.

So, Jay, I wouldn’t worry too much about the desire to globalize.  At some point, the grasshoppers will stop eating their seed corn because there will be nothing left, the big corporations you hate will find themselves smaller and their research divisions located in Western Europe and the fascination for the elite universities will be tempered by the reality that real innovation takes time and dedication and getting the right people *together* in one place.  At some point, the researchers in China and India will get fed up with studying hard for years only to be treated like cheap assembly line workers by the Sculley class.  It would also help if lefties took some time to understand pharma so they would stop contributing to the demise of biomedical research through bone headed ignorance.  But that’s another post.  Yeah, it may mean that the innovation infrastructure of the US is decimated.  But I wouldn’t be looking for meaning in any of this.  Think of it like water flowing in the path of least resistance.  There’s nothing intelligent about this, as in sentient beings planning to gut their product lines for the sake of a quick buck.  There’s no giant conspiracy to globalize.  It’s happening because we allowed it to happen.

When we block the path to a quick buck at the middle class’ expense, it will stop.  And we know this is possible because there are countries where the government has protected their innovative infrastructure.  When the dust settles and the corporations come to their senses, it will be the middle class in places like Germany and France who will be able to carry on.  If we want to be one of those countries, we have to decide that we want to reimpose the rules.  There’s no need to over analyze.  But I would like to point out that saving innovation here does not mean that we as a country will not be taking advantage of cheap labor elsewhere.  As Nucky Thompson says, “We all need to decide how much sin we can live with.”

In other news, if the election were held today, guess which politician would have the best chance of beating the Republicans?  It’s Hillary.  Yep, sorry lefties who hate Hillary, in a recent Time Magazine poll she beats the Republicans by larger margins than Obama does and she’s not even in the race (yet):

A national poll conducted for TIME on Oct. 9 and 10 found that if Clinton were the Democratic nominee for President in 2012, she would best Mitt Romney 55% to 38%, Rick Perry 58% to 32% and Herman Cain 56% to 34% among likely voters in a general election. The same poll found that President Obama would edge Romney by just 46% to 43%, Perry by 50% to 38% and Cain by 49% to 37% among likely voters.

Read more: http://swampland.time.com/2011/10/27/hillary-clinton-and-the-limits-of-power/#ixzz1cBO8BDMj

It always amuses me when the left starts to hyperventilate about the prospect of a Republican president next year and how evil that would be.  But when you give them a perfectly acceptable alternative of someone with a lot of experience, who is excelling in foreign policy, runs a global executive branch and has been able to stay away from domestic issues to emerge fresh as a rose, while being widely admired by world leaders and voters of both parties, they flinch when it turns out to be Hillary.  Apparently, they are MORE afraid of Hillary Clinton in the White House than Mitt Romney or Herman Cain or, gawd help us, Governor Rick “Good Hair” Perry.

No?  That’s not how it is?  There’s something I’m missing?  Oh, her Iraq War Resolution vote.  Yeah, she single handedly brought on the Iraq War.  Of all 99 senators who voted for that POS in 2003, HER vote counted more than anyone elses.  It was even more powerful than John Edwards’ IRW vote.  It had to be because the left was perfectly happy to forgive and forget that reckless phony.

I can just see them gearing up to spew some anti Hillary hatespiel.  No, no, save your breath.  No one cares what you think of Hillary anymore.  Your opinions are not more important than the rest of the electorate.  She should have her opportunity because the Democrats don’t really have anyone better, not even Obama.  No one is entitled to a second term.

But if you get stuck with a Republican in November 2012, you have no one to blame but yourselves.  Hillary wins over all of them, you passed anyway.

Sunday: What to do, What to do?

Susie Madrak has her own radio show on BlogTalkRadio.  On January 17, her guests were Eric Boehlert and Nicole Sanders.  They took a call from a woman whose unemployment benefits ran out last March.  MARCH.  Of 2010.  For almost a year, this woman has had zero income.  No unemployment, no little job, nuthin.  She’s spent all of her savings and is now living on a home equity line of credit to pay her bills.  And she called Susie, who’s doing the best she can with what she has too since being out of work for some time now, and asks what she can do to get lawmakers’ attention?

Susie talked about how the Communist party started organizing back in the Great Depression, preventing people from getting evicted and feeding the poor.  And back then, it got a lot of attention.  There were tent cities and Hoovervilles in Washington.  Evidence of poverty was everywhere.  It was the threat of a public uprising the finally got things moving.

Susie gave the standard answers about what can be done.  Show up at a congressman’s office en masse, hang out in front of the restaurant where he/she and friends have lunch, throw a tent city or two and call the local paper or TV station about it.  Butcha know, I don’t think that’s going to work anymore and as one of them said: the right has the biggest megaphones and they simply won’t report it.

The right knows their voters.  They motivate their voters to vote by romanticizing the fetus, by appealing to their religiosity.  If bad things happen to other people, it’s because they weren’t as pious and good as the typical Fox News viewer.  That same religiosity prevents the religious conservative from doing too much to help the poor by contacting their representatives and demanding action.  It’s because there is so much evil and bad and pain in the world that mankind does not have the capacity to clean it up.  Only god does.  So, we need to just wait for Jesus to come back, which should be any day now.  If you’ve ever wondered what the apocalyptic messaging in right wing propaganda has to do with anything, there’s the reason.  It’s to keep the older conservative voter who sees disturbing things from taking any action.

If Susie wants to know what to do, she is going to have to target these viewers to get involved.  One thing that temporarily woke people up was the sight of so many people suffering in the wake of Katrina in New Orleans.  Which means that the news machine will be very careful to never do that again.  So, if you can’t bring the news to the people, maybe you have to bring the people to the news.

Don’t isolate your older, more conservative relatives.  Tell them what’s going on because you’ve seen it personally.  Tell them what is happening to your unemployed friends.  If they ask why they’re not willing to relocate, tell them the truth.  There are no jobs.  Anywhere.  Be harsh with them.  They won’t want to see you.  But they’ll call and ask why you haven’t come to visit.  Tell them you’re trying to help your friends- who are unemployed and that they just don’t get it.  They’ll go on about how God is the only one who can clean this mess up.  Tell them that’s bullshit and Jesus wouldn’t want them to ignore the poor.  If they tell you that you’re friends did something wrong, tell them the only thing they did wrong was being born in the wrong part of the 20th century.  If they say, yes, it’s true, the older generation has it good in comparison, tell them, great!  We’re moving in with you.  With the bird.  And the kid who likes to play Edith Piaf songs all. the. time. and refuses to speak to you in anything but French and eats like there’s no tomorrow.  When they express some hesitation about that, tell them to turn off the fricking TV news.

As for Susie, I think she has a future in broadcasting but she really has to ditch her propensity to glom onto left wing memes.  I’m not saying stop being liberal.  I’m saying stop letting the left do your thinking.  On one broadcast a couple of months ago, I think Athenae was on, they got so frustrated with it all that they want to just ditch everything and go rustic, which is great if you have no dependents.  But in some respects, it reminds me of the older religious person’s decision to just stay in the house away from the evil men and sexual predators until Jesus comes back.  You can’t run away from the world’s problems when they seem insurmountable.  If you do that, the bad guys win.  They want people to feel helpless.  Learned helplessness is their goal.

The only way to win is to get together and fight back.  And if Susie hasn’t figured this out yet, the left’s support of Obama in 2008 has resulted in thousands of sparkling shards of leftiness with the incapacity to reform itself.  I keep appealing to people like Susie to stop blowing us off and join with us and let’s do something together.  But the left hasn’t given up on the stuff that doesn’t resonate with their potential allies who work for the big corporations the left condemns.  It’s incomprehensible to me that for all the intelligence the left claims it has that it hasn’t figured out yet that the corporations are not the ogres here.  It’s the rulemakers they help elect.  If the rules weren’t bent or destroyed, the corporations would go back to playing by the rules and merely scheming like grinches instead of running around causing havoc like Thing 1 and Thing 2.   Then there are people like us who voted for Hillary and are still personas non grata.  We’re always going to think Obama was the wrong guy for the moment.  But why would the left cut off half of its strength if it really want to make a change?  Let me ask you this, Susie, why haven’t you asked any of US on your show yet?   Not that we can’t host our own shows but that’s hardly togetherness, is it?

The left’s obsession with perfection mirrors the right’s eschatological fervor.  Neither one addresses the causes and concerns of people in the middle who still bitterly cling to their FDR era programs with track records of success for those who participate.  Both sides insist that if they can’t have everything their way, no one will get anything at all.  In this respect, the left does as much damage to its cause as the right does with its huge megaphones.

If you want to know why no one hears your cries, it’s because you haven’t joined with other voices.  And the men in charge, and it’s ALWAYS men, like it that way.  Power is the ultimate drug and no one is going to wrest it from them without a fight.  As long as the left remains broken, Susie and her tent cities are no threat to the power brokers.

In other news:

So, about that FICA 2% tax break.  I was just talking to my colleague about this the other day.  She was planning to roll that money into her 401K.  Hold off on that, I said, you never know how they’re going to take it out of your hide.  After all, you’re income tax may go up instead.  Sure enough, Carissa at Corrente discovered what the catch is in Making Work Pay Clawback.  You’re not going to like it.  I probably won’t like it a whole bunch more.  As a single person who only gets to claim Head of Household every other year, while still retaining the blessings of parenthood and a healthcare policy that requires that I am the major source of support for the kid, I pay an outrageous amount in taxes already but I’m well below the top tax bracket that actually gets…

wait for it

a break! Yep, if you’re in the 35% tax bracket, the amount of money you can make before you are taxed has risen.  For everyone else, the amount you have to make before the taxes kick in has dropped. Isn’t that special?  So, hold off on adding to your 401Ks, which only people who have paid off their mortgages can afford to fund adequately.  Not only has Obama managed to not soak the rich, he has given them additional breaks, acquiesced to a plan that underfunds social security, transferring that money to the general fund where it will be spent in Iraq, and raised taxes on our income.  In summary, the 2% FICA tax break does absolutely NOTHING to stimulate the economy. Well done!  Is this really the one we were waiting for?

Les Leopold at AlterNet attempts to answer the perennial question, “Why Do People Who Work in Finance Earn So Much More Than the Rest of Us?” Yes, I would like to know the answer to that question, as well as why it is that people who work in the corporate offices make so much more than the people who do the innovation and the hands on work to produce the products that make all the money?  And why is their gym nicer and their cafeteria food better?  Why is it they can use the mail service to ship personal items to international destinations while the people in the facility down the road can’t?  Shit, did I say that out loud?  Well, why???  What is it about dressing up and sitting behind a desk makes the people who make sometimes incredibly bad decisions so much wealthier than the rest of us?  The answer, as far as I can tell is that if you delegate your authority to other people to keep track of the money so that you can get actual work done, you run the risk that those delegates will reward themselves handsomely at your expense, and at a certain level of wealth, you can’t live with them and you can’t live without them.  It’s extortion.  That’s my theory and I’m sticking with it.

Leopold does some calculations:

Let’s try a back-of-the envelope calculation of Wall Street’s net social value. Compare their bonuses and profits for roughly the last five years (about $500 billion) with the economic losses produced in the financial crisis the bankers caused (about $4 trillion in value destroyed, not counting the ongoing travails of the 22 million people who haven’t yet been able to find a full-time job). For every dollar “earned” on Wall Street, about 8 dollars were destroyed. (In case you’re suffering from financial amnesia and forgot how the financial sector single-handedly caused the economic crisis, please see The Looting of America. Chapter One can be found gratis on AlterNet.

I hate to break this to the educators but, it turns out if you really want your students to learn something, testing is one of the best ways to do it.  You know those endless stupid projects you have our kids doing where they have to map everything out on big pieces of expensive poster board with connections to all of the other concepts in the unit?  Turns out that might be a waste of parents time.  What researchers have discovered is that those projects impose an artificial organization and categorization system on students that is more easily and naturally achieved by simply testing them on the material as soon as possible after they learn it.  Go back to the pop quizzes, teachers.  Save yourself and your kids and their families a nights of exhaustion and despair.  From the NYTimes article:

Why retrieval testing helps is still unknown. Perhaps it is because by remembering information we are organizing it and creating cues and connections that our brains later recognize.

“When you’re retrieving something out of a computer’s memory, you don’t change anything — it’s simple playback,” said Robert Bjork, a psychologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, who was not involved with the study.

But “when we use our memories by retrieving things, we change our access” to that information, Dr. Bjork said. “What we recall becomes more recallable in the future. In a sense you are practicing what you are going to need to do later.”

It may also be that the struggle involved in recalling something helps reinforce it in our brains.

It makes sense.  If you impose a little bit of stress on the student in the form of a quiz or test, they are forced to rapidly organize the information and discover where they are deficient so they can revisit the information later.  If you impose too much stress on them by forcing them to adopt another organization method, you not only screw up their intrinsic method but you create a life long hatred of projects.  JMHO.

Anyway, it’s in the journal Science, which is a stickler for peer review and details and stuff like that so as much as you may dislike the concept of testing for retention, you can’t completely dismiss this paper.  Well, you *could*, but it would be pointless.

Another article from the NYTimes proclaims that Obama is to press a centrist agenda in his SOTU address.  So, it looks like after three years of playing the political philosophical mystery man, Obama has finally found a place to dig in his heels and plant his flag — right down the middle.  Which has moved significantly rightwards since he became president.  Uh-huh.  I see this as a way to head off Bloomberg and his silly No Limits soiree.  Which means, the vast majority of people who are not making $200K a year and have to work for a living without a safety net are still screwed and unrepresented by this President.  Obama has finally found his constituents:

Mr. Obama previewed the themes in a video e-mailed Saturday evening to supporters who had helped in his election campaign. But the video made plain that his speech would be geared more broadly toward the political center, to independent voters and business owners and executives alienated by the expansion of government and the partisan legislative fights of the past two years.

The rest of you scientists and airline pilots and mathematicians turned uber programmers and burger flippers and unemployed journalists and part time morticians can go take a hike.

Lovely.  By the way, NYTimes reporters, the economy is *not* “picking up steam”.  My friends are just as unemployed as ever and the rest of us are in danger of joining them.

I’m so glad that I can say with pride that “I didn’t vote for him”.

About that abortion clinic from hell, Alternet has a followup.  Well, there are a lot of articles on this subject.  The story is very gruesome but just goes to show you that desperate women will overlook unsanitary conditions, illegality and their own health to get abortions when they decide they need them.  There is nothing that a senior citizen mainlining Fox News can do about it.  These women are never going to bond with or have any warm and fuzzy maternal instincts for the fetuses they carry.  There’s no amount of shame or inconvenience you can foist on them that will deter them.  The only thing you accomplish by stigmatizing abortion and forcing poor women to “Chase the Fee” is that you end up risking two deaths instead of one.

This is the first but certainly not the last legal clinic that resembles a back alley abortion mill.  There will have to be a lot more of them before the anti-choice contingent starts feeling the weight of all of the deaths and destruction and infertility it has visited on women.  They will have to feel it and be made to take the blame for it.

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