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      As many have heard, John Tory, the mainstream right wing candidate, won convincingly in Toronto and Olivia Chow came in third place, even doing worse than Doug Ford (brother of the famous crack-smoking Rob Ford.)  Much hand wringing has ensued that progressive just can’t win elections in Toronto. While it’s true that Toronto is hard [...]
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In which I differ with Derek Lowe over NIH funding

Typical private industry lab circa 2014

Derek Lowe, blogmaster over at In the Pipeline, took issue with NIH Director Frances Collins contention that if the NIH budget hadn’t been cut in the past decade, we might have had an ebola vaccine by now.  I remarked on the Vox article about this very same topic last week.  However, I’m siding with Collins on this topic.  True, he might be using the very scary disease of ebola to make his point but it is a valid one.

To get an idea of what the NIH has been up against, I recommend that readers review the congressional testimony on the ebola outbreak from last week.  I believe it was Anthony Fauci who laid out the problem.  It goes like this:

  1. The NIH identified the need for an ebola vaccine about a decade ago.
  2. (This is the crucial part) The NIH is engaged in basic research.  We are talking very, very basic research.  Like, identifying the genes and sequences and making them available to other researchers, or studying how the virus works and propagates, or figuring out which enzymes chop up the viral proteins, or how the viral proteins are exposed to the rest of the body.  That’s the kind of research the NIH does.  And sometimes, the research is so preliminary that there are mistakes that get published that industrial labs have to figure out when they try to replicate the results in the lab.  Not a criticism.  It happens.  You only have so much money to do the research and sometimes, it’s not enough to double check your results.  I get it.  But it does make it harder for your private industry partners to figure out what’s going on and sometimes means that projects need to take detours to unpack mechanisms and rerun assays and such.  In other words, REAL RESEARCH.  That’s just the way science works, much to the finance industry’s chagrin.
  3. So, the NIH tried to get a private industry partner to help finish the research on the vaccine and develop it.
  4. But during the same decade, private industry was going through a chaotic destructive process brought on by the “patent cliff”.  That is, the blockbuster drugs that fueled industry research suddenly went off patent.  In response, the shareholders who were not about to take a haircut just so some lab rats could continue to do research for them, decided to take the money and run.  That precipitated Pharmageddon, where I and my colleagues got tossed out of corporate labs by the hundreds of thousands.
  5. The NIH couldn’t find a private industry partner until the last couple of years when Glaxo Smith Kline (GSK) decided it would take a risk and start working on one.
  6. In the meantime, in the last couple of years, the Republicans have lost their freaking minds over the budget and would rather let every government institution rot in hell before they would approve any funding.  This is about the same time we wrote a blank check to AIG, and other lords of the finance industry (see Neil Barofsky’s book).  Then the Democrats came up with this great idea of a sequester, you know, to call the Republicans bluff.  And the raving mob that calls itself the Republican party took the deal and slashed NIH funding by 20%.  The Democratic leadership that came up with the boneheaded, backfiring sequester idea should be kept away from sharp objects for their own safety.
  7. So, to recap: NIH needed a vaccine but couldn’t find a private partner for nearly a decade.  Private industry contracted at a time when additional research and development is crucial.  Regular NIH funding is not sufficient for it to develop a vaccine on its own.

This would probably be a good time to insert some Paul Krugmanesque graph that shows the equilibrium between private and public investment in scientific research.  This one should show that when private industry stopped funding research, the corresponding expected increase in public spending was notably absent.

Derek has a libertarian streak and works for one of the last small molecule drug discovery companies in Cambridge.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing but it does skew his perspective just a tad.  Not only that but Derek is operating in the old world order when we tested every therapeutic treatment to death.  That’s clearly not happening with the ebola treatments.  Those suckers have been fast tracked like nobody’s business.  We are treating ZMapp like it’s a cure for ebola when it’s nothing of the sort.  It’s just that it’s the only thing we’ve got.  ZMapp is so early in development that back in the old days of real drug discovery, it might have been killed in a project portfolio review before it ever made it to development.  And the vaccines?  Well, normally, they’d go through many stages of development and testing for safety, efficacy, and side effects with an expanding number of trial recipients at each stage before it was approved by the FDA.  Forget that.  In this epidemic in West Africa, with number of exposures increasing exponentially, no one has time for these niceties (though I can just see some lefties screaming about how we killed West Africans with an untested vaccine that triggered a cytokine storm or autoimmune disease.  Wait for it.  You know it’s going to happen.  There will probably be a movie about it featuring some ruggedly handsome Liam Neesom type and a earnestly beautiful lady scientist detective out to uncover the awful truth of corporate exploitation of poor third world citizens.).

The real world is not so simple but there definitely is money at the bottom of this mess.

I’ve worked on both sides of the problems in both industry and in academia, if only briefly.  But I got a good look at what it’s like to do research on NIH grant money and it’s not pretty.  Most of a principal investigator’s time is spent preparing grant applications.  It’s very bureaucratic and, I suspect, very political.  If there isn’t a retrospective analysis on the amount of grant money that goes to the Ivies that leave the rest of the academic labs starving for funds, there really should be.  Not every breakthrough has to happen at Harvard.  The polio vaccine, for example, was developed in Pittsburgh.  Oh, yeah, how many of you knew that Jonas Salk worked for the University of Pittsburgh? True story.

And yet, it was about a year ago that I got a call in my office at Pitt from a researcher in the immunology group who had just lost her job because of the sequester.  It was last year at about this time that we had to cut back sharply on ordering chemicals and lab supplies for my lab because grants were on hold, also due to the sequester.  Even today, I see positions at Pitt for the kind of work that I used to do but the hours are part time.  Really??  You expect scientists to do protein production, extraction and crystallization experiments on a part time basis?  That’s the craziest thing I have ever seen.  You can’t just interrupt an experiment half way through the week because you’ve run out of hours.  That makes me think that the people posting the positions aren’t serious about how many hours they expect the researcher to be available.  It’s deceptive and weird and unrealistic.  But that’s life on soft money.  Here today, gone the next.  Yet the cells still need to be fed, lysed, protein collected, spun, purified, etc, etc, etc.

Friends, Americans, countrypersons, this is no way to run a research infrastructure.  Ok, sure, it’s the way to run a research infrastructure if you don’t want to do it like Americans used to do it.  If you are content to run a research infrastructure like Bolivians do it, fine, do it this way.  But don’t complain later that nothing of significance happened on the science front from 2008 onward.  Don’t complain that the NIH is not telling the truth about funding.  It can’t be all things to all people without a steady funding mechanism that isn’t going to be subject to violent shocks brought on by crazy people who get elected to Congress.

Here’s the bottom line.  If liberals expect the NIH to do all of the things that they *think* it already does, it needs more funding.  It needs waaaaaaaay more funding than it already has.  It needs as much funding as private industry used to pump into its own research coffers but no longer does.  It needs billions and billions more.  It has to become what private industry used to be but no longer wants to be.

And if Republicans are committed to free enterprise at all costs, it’s going to have to get tough with private industry drug discovery and force it to take on research that it sees as unprofitable.  It needs to have a serious talk with the bonus class and shareholders about greed at the expense of public health.  Isn’t that what the GOP is all about?  Morality?

That’s just the honest truth.  The NIH is not private industry.  If we want the NIH to replace private industry, which has abandoned certain, critical research areas because it can’t make the kind of profits that shareholders demand nowadays, we need to put more money into the NIH and fund researchers properly and seriously.  That is the point that Frances Collins has been trying to make.

Liberals have a complete misunderstanding of what the NIH does or is capable of doing.  Libertarians have an inflated view of what private industry can do, sometimes because they are living in one of the last holdouts of productive private industry drug discovery (that could end at any time, so don’t get too comfy, Derek).  But once you have lived in both worlds, you can see what a shambles the whole system is.  It’s unsettling and alarming.

Give Democrats a piece of your mind

The mid-term election is only weeks away and despite the lack of recovery for the vast majority of us, life is about to get a whole lot harder as the Senate is predicted to fall into the Republicans’ hands.

That leaves us with Barack Obama to guard the door from the lunatics.  In other words, we’re totally screwed.

But why sink into despair?  If you’re disappointed and angry at the way the last six years (and two to go) have turned out, you probably have good reason to be in spite of what Paul Krugman says.  The Democrats are not the Chicago Cubs.  We do not have to feel all sentimental about having a losing team all the time.

So, vent.  Get it all out.  What pisses you off the most about how the Democrats have let us down?  Don’t be afraid to tell it like it is.  Civility is for cotillions.

These student body president types may be perfectly content to ignore you or they may have absolutely no idea why you’re about to allow them to be voted out of office.  Put them on notice in the comments below.

Registered Democrats only please.  If you’re a Republican, Tea Party troublemaker or independent, please sit on your hands.

I’ll go first.  Unemployment is still high for those of us 45-65.  Wages are pathetic.  But the thing that ticks me off the most is how Obamacare 1.) created two classes of American workers, 2.) did nothing to control costs, and 3.) forced the second class Americans without employer based health care into high deductible, tiny network, expensive insurance plans.  Even with the subsidies, which many of us don’t get because we make too *little* money (like that’s supposed to make any damn sense), the plans are unaffordable.  Krugman can go jump in a lake for all I care.  Obamacare is awful.

Ok, your turn.

“Travel Ban” is the new Republican “Cut and Run”

Remember the Cut and Run vote?  I do.  If I recall correctly, some Congress people nearly came to blows over it.

But just because Republicans keep saying “Travel Ban” doesn’t mean it makes any damn sense.

So, let me try to explain why the travel ban is counterproductive:

As Friedan and Fauci tried to explain, the West African countries affected have very porous borders.  People can get out of them and into them without much trouble.  If you impose a travel ban, you restrict direct flights to the US.  But the routes out of other African countries are not affected.  Heck, you can cross over into Europe or the Middle East pretty easily from Africa.  So, imposing a travel ban does not restrict people in the hot zone from coming here.  What it does is prevent those who would otherwise take the quickest and most direct route from being monitored.

Therefore, a travel ban could actually backfire and allow the entry of unmonitored hot zone travelers.  That is not to say that quarantine is out of the question.  It’s perfectly reasonable.  But try to explain all of that to someone scared senseless by E-B-O-L-A!!!

But the biggest problem with the travel ban argument is that it is so successful at portraying Democrats as being lax, unconcerned and callous.  Congratulations, Republicans.  You have once again pummeled an unarmed opponent silly because, to this date, I have yet to see Democrats come up with two or three word phrases that cut to the amygdala as effectively as the Republicans do.

I can repeat over and over that friends don’t let friends vote Republican but I am having a hard time endorsing the student body presidents on the other side.  They are becoming more and more feckless and can barely defend themselves.

{{exasperated sigh}}

Dark Triad or Tetrad?

dark_triadPutting a finger on what’s going on in this country and the world in general since the financial crisis of 2008 has been slow going.  Part of that might be because when you are in the midst of it, trying to make a living and keeping your head above water, it’s difficult to see the forest from the trees.

Recently, I came across the term “dark triad”, which as I understand it is the convergence of three personality types: Machiavellianism, psychopathy and narcissism.  It’s a real personality type.  I’ve gone over the traits of narcissistic personality disorder previously and it’s pretty clear to me that many of our financial overlords suffer from it to one degree or another.  But I’ve been puzzled about how it is that the narcissists managed to convince so many ordinary Americans to ignore their best interests. Something was missing. That is where I think the Dark Triad comes in and can explain why the airwaves are saturated by the pundits who encourage the worst behavior and thoughts, and why they can get away with it.

But there’s a new theory in town.  It’s called the Dark Tetrad.  The psychologists who are studying these negative personality disorders say that the fourth component is sadism.  I’m wondering if sadism is the natural outcome of the convergence of the previous three traits.  Is it cause or effect?  If it is true that cruelty results from the need to assuage our guilt for taking advantage of someone, wouldn’t it make sense that setting up a system that exploits other people will naturally lead to more cruelty?  But if a person feels guilt, wouldn’t that negatively correlate with psychopathy?  Doesn’t the quality of remorselessness, which is associated psychopathy imply sadism?  It feels like there is a PLS model just waiting to be constructed to figure out what the principal components are.  How do we know which qualities of the dark triad or tetrad can be derived from the others?

If there is anyone out there with more information on the Dark Triad or Tetrad, or has links to papers that don’t cost an arm and a leg (I like free), let me know.  I’m not a professional and only took one course in psychology (but I’m beginning to think that I should pursue a degree in the subject.  Just hit the tip jar at the upper left to help defray the cost of tuition.  Damn, if I were just Machiavellian enough, I could *make* you hit that tip jar.) so I’m going to have to rely on iTunes U, youtube and Kno to teach myself all the lingo.

Still, it might be worth the effort.  If we can figure it out, maybe we can develop a psychological vaccine.

One more thing: it looks like the Dark Triad is used to describe predatory men who use manipulation to mate, or at least a lot of the early papers seem to focus on “players”.  But I’ve often found that the metaphor of the player has been very useful to explaining what happened to the political system in 2008 especially the evolution of Democratic activists in support of whatever it is that infiltrated the party.  For example, what was the purpose of this?  I don’t think this picture was leaked:

Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau with HRC cutout after Obama victory.

I’m not picking on Democrats here. Republicans are worse and they’ve got a bigger megaphone. But there’s no doubt that something dark and malevolent snuck into the party while we weren’t looking.
 

No, they really don’t get it, Digby

Digby has a post about a rather nasty but extremely to the point ad that the Republicans are running.  It’s of a woman discussing her bad boyfriend and how he made promises he didn’t keep and now she wants nothing to do with his friends.  And, you know, we’ve used that same metaphor here at The Confluence.  The other one is “Don’t hand me no lines and keep your hands to yourselves”.

The difference is that we’re liberals.  Yep, we’ve never been onboard the Obama bandwagon because we knew he was bad news.  That didn’t stop the other Democrats from jumping into bed with him.  I would have distanced myself a long, long time ago if I had been a Democrat running for Congress but who listens to us?

Oh, that’s right.  We’re liberals.  Wait, I already said that. But you know, you don’t have to be a knit-your-own-sandals type to be bashed by your own side as being insufficiently servile to the Obama mystique.

It’s sad that I have to keep repeating it though because suddenly we’ve become Rush Limbaugh listeners.  How did that happen??  I’ve never listened to Rush in my life except in those clips at Media Matters- that I chipped in to help fund back in 2006.

Apparently, I have swallowed the line that all slutty women want is for government to pay for their free birth control too, is that what you’re saying, Digby?  After all the stuff I wrote about the red beanie gang, the forced conversion of women to Catholicism and the defense I made of Sandra Fluke?

The Democrats have got a real problem.  There is a war on women, no question about that.  But they have done nothing to fight back.  In fact, they made it worse by tying themselves to Obama and his campaign, which, incidentally, was the most sexist political campaign that I have ever seen.

I don’t know how many women this ad will appeal to.  I am of the opinion that “friends don’t let friends vote Republican” but Democrats are not giving me a whole lot of material to work with.

If I were Democrats, I’d be uncomfortable too but blaming the victim is uncalled for.  But they are so taken in by their own self-delusion that they just don’t get it.

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

Here’s a little reminder of what they put us through to get Obama into office:

 

Hubris and Stampede

Making this short because I’m going to archery practice.  

So, there is a great gnashing of teeth beginning over The Upshot post this morning on Why Democrats Can’t Win the House, blah, blah, blah, woe is us, how dare they point this out for the world to see.  

Yes, the Republicans did blithely gerrymander through the gently (steeply) rolling hills of Pennsylvania, fa-la-la! And they didst separate the wheat from the chaff and packed the Democrats into vanishingly small districts (I’m District 14! Go, Doyle!

BUT, and this is a big but that the progressivey types ignore because, frankly, it’s embarrassing, the Republicans didn’t do that until they had won back the House in 2010.  That was a full two years after Obama and the Democrats had a clear, unobstructed path to do whatever their hearts desired.  And what they desired the most, apparently, was fluffing up the guy who campaigned in Pennsylvania and Appalachia as if the voters there didn’t matter a whit!  Nay, he even called them gun toting, churchie types who knit bitterly, or something to that effect.  That’s probably why Pennsylvania and Appalachia did not vote for him during the primaries.  

Yes, I was there.  I was at the Hillary campaign office in Harrisburg on three occasions during primary season and did much phone banking.  Most of the Democrats I spoke to had nothing against Obama.  They just didn’t think he was ready to be president.  Which just goes to show you how intelligent the commonwealth of Pennsylvania is.  But that didn’t stop Obama from treating this section of the country as if it was his enemy.  So, now, they hate his guts with a white hot passion.  And they’re none too trusting of the morons who forced him upon them.  If I were a Democrat in Pennsylvania, I wouldn’t be calling Obama my best buddy and pal and talking up all of his “accomplishments”.  

It was the hubris of the Netroots Nation type activists, skillfully played by the Wall Street backers of Obama that got us all into this mess.  I can remember the first YearlyKos where some nerdy Nate Cohn type stood up and declared writing off the south and the Clinton coalition as a pretty snazzy idea.  Who needs the south? It’s full of idiots and knuckle draggers and they all have déclassé gun racks on the back of their trucks.  {{sniff}}  No, they did not see that population as one that was the most likely to fall into a black pit of poverty once the Great Recession hit.  

Who were the stupid ones?  

So the country put its trust in Obama in 2008, hoping desperately for a true Democrat to set things right and arrest the bankers and save their jobs and houses and children’s future, all the while not knowing that he was the bankers’ secret weapon.  When he failed to make any progress and the economy fell into an abyss, the Democrats stayed home in 2010 and the Republicans were motivated to go to the polls, taking with them the population that Democrats had abandoned in 2008.  If Democrats had been smart and were really concerned about gerrymandering after the 2010 census, you’d think they would have been more careful about guarding their legacy.  

But not to fear.  There is a lot of pent up frustration about the state of the country.  I predict that there will be a stampede for Hillary Clinton in 2016, whether the progressive male contingent likes it or not and whether or not Hillary has been forced to sell her soul to the guys in the smoke filled rooms.  

If I were the progressive male contingent (and you know who you are, screaming “neoliberal”, whatever that actually means to you, at everything you don’t like), I would stand back.  Because the less resistance you offer, the less money she will have to get from the people you SHOULD have been watching out for back in 2008 when you got us into this mess.  

Your turn has come and gone.  You had your chance.  You blew it.  Shut up and sit down and, for god’s sakes, quit whining.  

 

Sanctimonious BS

From Tristero on the Iraq War Resolution and Hillary Clinton’s vote:

I was so freaked out that I did something I hadn’t done since college: I joined a protest outside Clinton’s Manhattan office. No dice. Then, I emailed every single person I knew to send me a letter opposing the war. I printed them all out and overnight fedexed them to Clinton’s office in DC.

In addition, Michael Moore circulated a petition that read in part:

We call on the Democrats in Congress to oppose a war on Iraq, to vote “No” to Bush’s war cries. We pledge to never again vote for any Democratic member of Congress who supports George W. Bush’s war against Iraq. To the Democrats in Congress, we give you fair warning: You are either with us, or you are fired.

[...]

I did not support Clinton in 2008 for the presidency. As for 2016, unless there is a serious chance that a Republican would beat her, I will honor my signature on Moore’s petition.

I saw Hillary Clinton’s statement on her vote on the Senate floor and it didn’t sound like “gobbledygook and some of the most twisted rationalizations I have ever read”.  No, I give that honor to John Kerry’s overly long statement on the Senate floor regarding the same resolution.

I think Clinton’s motives were pretty clear and I’m not going to rehash them here nor will I apologize for her.  I was as adamantly against going to Iraq as Tristero and Michael Moore.  You can ask my immediate family.  They were hung-ho, Hadji kicking, peeing in their beds in terror over Muslims coming to kill them lunatics.  We split up over it.

But I do have a problem with this sanctimonious “Lips that touch liquor shall never touch mine” bull from Tristero.

How come you guys were so Ok with turning the primary season of 2008 into a pro forma affair?  I hold the vote as one of the most sacred institutions in the country. You know what happened. Without integrity in the voting process, it doesn’t matter if you go to war or not.  The bad guys have already won.

Going into 2016, are we entirely sure we are going to have an honest primary season where a candidate that Tristero can bring himself to support has a chance of actually winning?  Will that vote actually count for anything?  I used to be a PUMA but consider myself a Democrat in Exile since the general election of 2008.  Hillary Clinton has to prove herself all over again.  My vote is not automatic.  Will I have a chance to get counted this time, because Jon Corzine gave my primary vote away in 2008 in some kind of negotiated parley with the DNC that sounded like “gobbledygook and some of the most twisted rationalizations I have ever read” and I consider that the worst thing that has happened in American politics since Watergate.

I will defend Tristero’s right to vote for any self-righteous, preening, “Yes We Can!”, supposedly anti-war candidate he wants in 2016.  Will Tristero allow me the same right to vote for whoever I want?  Or is he going to call me a racist, stupid, and uneducated when I have a different set of priorities and set much higher standards for qualifications?  Does my vote for “It’s the economy, stupid” have equal standing with Tristero’s desire to live like Gandhi?  Will it be OK once more to just ignore my wishes and trash my vote because Tristero and his friends know better than I do what my priorities should be?  What if I decide that women’s rights are more important this election cycle than LGBT rights?  Will that be Ok? If we’re going to get a bunch of lefties crying and holding their breaths this early in the election cycle, it’s time we pushed back hard because they threw a fit and got their way in 2008.

And because of that, we got the most untested, overly ambitious, unready, president in the middle of the greatest economic catastrophe in 80 years.  I and many of my former colleagues are still paying for that and will continue to pay for that in terms of diminished wages and savings until the day we die.  Our children will pay for that. Women in general have been paying for that.  Is there an American woman alive who can genuinely say that the misogynism unleashed by Democrats in the 2008 campaign season hasn’t affected them?  And it was all very, VERY predictable.  We predicted it throughout the campaign season with some very good logic and observation.

I can think of a lot of “the most dangerously stupid policy decisions any American president ever made”.  For example, pulling out of Iraq before the country was stabilized in order to placate a bunch of noisy Tristeros before the 2012 election was dangerously stupid. Making Tim Geithner Secretary of the Treasury was dangerously stupid.  After all, he’s the one who wrote the actual blank check for the finance industry in the form of trillions of our tax dollars.  If we face another economic catastrophe because the financiers took greater risks, I’d say that was dangerously stupid.  Bailing on homeowners might not feel so bad to Tristero but I’m sure the kids who lost their houses when the banks foreclosed on their parents would see it differently.  There are a lot of dangerously stupid policy decisions that Obama has made that are going to affect all of us and make us a weaker nation for generations to come.  But those decisions?  Not a peep from Tristero and people like him.

We all have our lines in the sand.  Tristero thought the war in Iraq was his, though I suspect he was pretty OK with voting for John Kerry in 2004.  Can Tristero honestly look at us in the face and say that he held John Kerry to the same standard in 2004 as he holds Hillary Clinton in 2016?  Call me very skeptical.

And I have mine.  To me, anyone who schemes to deprive voters of their choices, substituting his judgement for theirs, doesn’t get my support.  Ever.  Because I don’t know who is behind that kind of sacrilege and nothing good comes from a bad seed.

Messing with the vote is evil.

One final thought: There seems to be some misperception out there that I am totally onboard with Hillary and I’m just being coy and my past as a PUMA just proves it.  That would be wrong.

I’m not the head of any group and I don’t have any connections to the campaign.  No one has approached me to officially or unofficially support a candidate.  Maybe it’s too early for that anyway but in any case, I wouldn’t know how it’s done because I was never solicited in the past.  All of my statements were purely voluntarily and not under the control of any candidate.  I’m sure that didn’t always help the candidate but that’s what has happened in the past.  I liked my independence.

Yeah, I could use ad money.  I have tuition to pay and I’m a lot less financially secure than I was in 2008.  I don’t have a good job with benefits anymore.   I’m human and I would be sorely tempted.  But what I really want more than anything else is a full time job making decent money, and health insurance that doesn’t cost me my entire paycheck and, in my opinion, the economy is in such desperate need of liberal economic policies that I am willing to wipe my slate clean and start with a fresh pair of eyes when it comes to candidates for 2016.

So, Hillary has to prove herself to me just like any other candidate.  If she is a worthy candidate, she wouldn’t want it any other way.

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