Fully Raw Cannibals and My Obamacare Nightmare

Re: Conservative reactions to marriage equality, Atrios wrote the following last week:

Marriage equality was supposed to be a “conservative” gay rights issue. And, yes, more lefty queer people (speaking generally) weren’t initially thrilled with it becoming the central gay rights issue of our time. As homophobia is the last truly acceptable bigotry (deeply held sincere beliefs!!!), conservatives were never going to be on the correct side of that issue, no matter how many times Glenn Reynolds tells us that Dick Cheney was a gay marriage pioneer.

Unfortunately, homophobia is not the last truly acceptable bigotry. It is far more likely that fully raw cannibals will achieve acceptance and equality before women do.

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Now that Sebelius has taken the fall for the fiasco that is Obamacare, I thought I’d relate my own experience with it. Disclaimer: I am not a Republican. I don’t hate Obamacare because it is a government program that saps “freedom” (aka tax money) from Jahb Creaturz. No, I am in favor of a national health care policy that uses the best practices that other industrialized countries have put in place. You know, universal mandates for individuals AND employers, cost controls on the medical industry, public options. I was brought up on military medicine and if it was good enough for my sister with chronic severe asthma, by golly, it’s good enough for me. I don’t need frills.

Anyway…

I recently attended a younger cousin’s birthday party. My relatives sat around and compared plans. This group was a mix of ages, employment situations, number of dependents, personal wealth. The bad news for the Democrats is that no one likes Obamacare. Not one of them. In Pittsburgh, the effect of Obamacare is pronounced because two major insurance carriers in the region are battling and one of them, UPMC, refuses to contract with Highmark BC/BS. That leaves Highmark customers scrambling to find new doctors and praying that if they do have an emergency, they don’t get carted off to one of the ubiquitous UPMC hospitals where they will get socked with a massive out of network price structure. They played nicely before Obamacare but no more.

The problem of insurance plans is particularly acute for those of us who fall into the precariat class and Obamacare falls severely short there. Let me explain from my own experience.

Last year, I got a full time job. Unfortunately, it was a temp position. Temp positions mean no benefits and because it was pre-Obamacare, I paid premiums that were out the wazoo. Because it was a position in an academic lab that was facing economic stress from the sequester, it only lasted until December. Thank you, House of Representatives, Senate and Executive branch. At that time, I could no longer afford the $992/month premium on my health insurance policy. Fortunately, my now non-existent salary meant that kid now qualifies for Medicaid. Ok. Kid taken care of. Great. Now for me.

I went on the Obamacare website and looked for a new policy from my existing carrier. By the way, my carrier called me to tell me the “good news!” that due to Obamacare, they could shave the cost of my old policy down from $992/month to $750/month! Isn’t that great?? The new policy came with supercool new features too. I tried to explain to the customer service rep that I was between jobs and $750/month for a healthy person my age was out of the question but I don’t think she was really listening. I decided to try for a subsidy.

On the healthcare.gov site, I saw some policies in the $400-500 range with reasonable $1000/year deductibles. Great! With the amazing subsidies I’ve been hearing about, I should get a pretty reasonable rate. But I found that there’s always a glitch to these sites or something that needs to be explained to a real person so I decided to apply on the phone instead. This was a mistake.

The navigator asked me questions about my income, (um, non-existent? but only temporarily) and started going through the plans. They weren’t anything like the ones on the website. They were more expensive, had higher deductibles and even the silver plans sounded much more like the bronze plans. It was like the online site and the phone assistance sites were totally different. He quoted me a plan that was similar to the one I already had but it was a more restrictive HMO and the deductible is $3750/year. This was a silver plan. I asked him the price and as we were talking the price of the plan went up. Yeah, it was like buying a plane ticket. The price was changing before his eyes.

Then I asked him what kind of subsidy I was going to get. The answer: none. I was startled. Why am I not getting a subsidy?? Because, he said condescendingly, you don’t have an income and aren’t paying taxes.

I have to stop for a second, oh best beloveds, because I suddenly became livid remembering the decades past where I paid more in taxes in a year than I expect to make in income this year. That really scorched my oatmeal. Apparently, to this smug asshole, I am just a deadbeat.

Then he recommended that I just pay the penalty and skip signing up for a plan. That made me really mad. So, now I am going to be a burden on the taxpayers if my conversation with this navigator gives me a stroke and I end up in a UPMC hospital.

I considered my options. I don’t want medicaid for myself because I don’t want my heirs to end up penniless when the state of Pennsylvania swoops down to recover assets from my estate to cover the medicaid premium. This scenario reminds me of the starving Irish who had to give up the last quarter acre of land before they could get food in a workhouse. I worked very hard for decades for the house that I have. I do have money from the sale of my house in NJ in savings but due to the nature of the job market, I have to hold on to that money to pay for the now perpetually temporary nature of making a living. I have TAXES to pay to my municipality for trash pickup, libraries, roads and schools, all of which I am happy to finance.

I reluctantly signed up for the $500 plan. Then I found a job. BUT it’s only part time and, of course, it doesn’t come with bennies. I don’t know if I can get a subsidy now and until my job situation improves, I’m very reluctant to pay the premium on this crappy plan. I am now without health insurance for the first time since 1986.

But wait! There’s more!

It turns out that temp jobs and part time work is very in fashion this year. It is extremely difficult to get a full time job with benefits. There are such jobs to be had but getting through the HR filters is like tilting at windmills. (If anyone in the Pittsburgh area has an opening, let me know. I have great references.) I think I got my current part time job because I aced the online assessment test. Unfortunately, not enough sites have such assessment tests so we are forced to mind read what most job posters have in mind.

So, my relatives and I compared plans. It turns out that I have the worst plan at the highest price. One cousin had to change her doctors completely. Another cousin has a serious heart condition but hasn’t landed any work yet, so, no coverage. When his prescription from another state expires in August, he’s screwed. Another cousin just lost his job. He’d been working for 6 months but just when his health benefits were supposed to kick in, he was laid off. How conveeeeenient. Ironically, it is my self-employed cousins who have the best policy. We share the same insurance carrier but, for some mysterious reason we can’t figure out, he pays something like $450/month for 4 people and has a low deductible. It makes me wonder how the rates are determined.

The relatives that are doing well under Obamacare are the young, single male relatives. Their rates are something under $100/month. The ones who are doing the worst are the ones 45-65 and who don’t have steady jobs. The number of relatives with crap jobs is steadily rising. If you own your own business, rates seem to be fairly reasonable when obtained directly from the carrier.

And here is where the rumors start. We are all convinced that the reason there is so much part time and temp work with impending layoffs just when you reach the bennies mark is because employers do not want to have to pay benefits and Obamacare means they don’t have to. The mandate only applies to the individual. It won’t kick in for employers for another year- if ever. BUT if you can only get part time and temp work, you do not have the money to pay for the premiums. It’s a catch 22 scenario.

Was there no one running the models when this law was written??

I really wish Paul Krugman would stop crowing about Obamacare. It’s a conservative Republican plan passed by Democrats and it now has a “liberal” sticker on it, whether it is deserved or not. It has opened the door to a race to the bottom in terms of benefits and it’s going to damage the Democratic party. It was an ill considered, poorly implemented plan with long ranging consequences to the working class (that is, everyone not making an income from their investments). AND since I read the new Michael Lewis book on compromised stock exchanges, it has dawned on me that the health care exchanges are equally prone to exploit the unaware. We don’t know what our neighbors are getting in terms of plans but it seems like each premium is calculated to optimize profits for someone.

You don’t have to be a Republican to hate Obamacare. Democrats should be very afraid.

 

 

 

 

Wait for it…

So, Kathleen Sebelius is now taking the fall for the disastrous roll out of the ACA.  I think the website sign up debacle is only the tip of the iceberg.  We haven’t heard the consternation over the cheap, flimsy coverage maps yet but that’s coming.

But I’m a little surprised that all of this is dumped on Sebelius, who, after all, didn’t actually write this piece of legislation that was furiously lobbied by the health care industry, obstructed by Republicans and signed with gusto by Obama and his party.  By the way, it was that party that decided that protecting the president from criticism and pushing this “signature accomplishment” through as the equivalent of political dick waving was more important than, you know, getting the uninsured quality health insurance.  I think we have the Joan Walshes of the world to thank for guilting the left into sacrificing themselves and their own best interests in order to create a criticism free zone around the president.  Consider it political Poopourri.

Anyway, where was I?  Oh, yeah.  Sebelius.  Asking for her resignation might look bad, especially because 1.) She’s a woman and the Obama administration is notoriously Bro country and 2.) if Obama had been paying attention in the past five years, he would have been aware that there are a lot more formerly middle class people without insurance who have a history of expecting better performance from their benefits managers.  We’re not just talking the generational poor anymore.  We’re talking about the people who used to be called “creative class”.  Yeah, remember that meme?  Memories.

But nevermind all that.  Whether she’s fired or not, those of us who have seen the modern corporate hive mind at work up close and personal (and decided that they would NOT be voting for Obama because of it) know that it’s completely unnecessary to fire Sebelius.  Nooooo.  The most logical thing to do is to hire a bunch of consultants to study the Department of Health and Human Services and…

Reorganize.

Yep, restructuring, baby.  You know it’s coming.  Complete with a whole new set of acronyms that would make the Navy green with envy.   Political jockeying, kissassing, more meetings and power point presentations than you can eat and a whole lot of hapless underlings who will sit around in vamp mode waiting to be told who they report to and what the heck they’ll be doing.

Let’s get this reorg started!

PPACA FAQ: Everything we knew is wrong.

(Cross posted at Corrente)

Lambert and I are taking our PPACA FAQ project seriously – but, it’s pretty difficult in the face of the obvious lack of commitment by the Obama Administration.

I cannot imagine the frustration suffered by the programmers implementing the inner-workings of the Health Care Exchange Marketplace — or whatever it’s supposed to be called this week. Just trying to write a PPACA FAQ post every week is a bizarre-other-worldly experience.

And it’s no wonder. The answers weren’t (publicly) available: it wasn’t until Friday July 5 (!!) that The IRS released their 600+ Final Regulations regarding a huge range of outstanding PPACA/ObamaCare issues.

But, were they privately available to ObamaCare system planners and developers?

Megan McArdle has this to say (link to Must Read Corrente post, ObamaCare Clusterfuck: How bad is it? Megan McArdle gets it right on the exchanges, with more detail):

One of two things must be true: the administration knew this was necessary long ago, but concealed it from the public and the congress in order to limit the time they had to react; or the administration is so incredibly inept that it has only just now realized that it wasn’t going to be able to handle any of the complicated bits. Either way, why would we assume that anything else they say about the systems–like, “It’ll be ready next year”–is true? Indeed, why should we assume that this is the last such revelation? (emphasis mine - kb)

Our ignorance on which isn’t a simple issue of poor reporting or lack of Congressional oversite. Here’s Kathleen Sebelius lying to Congress last April:

ObamaCare Clusterfuck: Sibelius says Federal “data hub” for exchanges is “built and paid for”

The Hill:

Sibelius said Friday that the $1.5 billion would help her department with information technology projects, including the data hub that exchanges will use to retrieve information from other state and federal agencies

“That’s really to get the IT hub, the call center, the IT up and running,” she said.

But later in the same series of questions, Sebelius said the data hub is nearly finished.

“The hub is basically built and paid for,” she said.

Except that 34 states haven’t connected to it.

As if that’s not bad enough, read this incredible bit of information at the top of The Hill’s story:

The Health and Human Services Department will meet its central ObamaCare deadline and does not need a backup plan for delays, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Friday.

Sebelius told the House Ways and Means Committee that a federally run insurance exchange will be up and running by Oct. 1.

“No,” Sebelius said when asked whether there’s a backup plan in case that deadline slips. “We are determined and on track to meet the Oct. 1 deadline.” (emphasis mine - kb)

(Except there’s always a backup plan, isn’t there?)


I have to take a break here to say that this implementation issue is not a trivial thing. Many, many, many people are counting on it. They expect to have access to health insurance and for that health insurance to give them access to actual health care. I repeat: This is not trivial. It is not a game.


So, at the end of April, Sebelius is totally in control — everything is on schedule and there are no problems on the horizon. Bolstering that status, this post appeared in The Healthcare Marketplace and Policy Review with encouraging news about the Maryland Exchange:

Will the Affordable Care Act’s Health Insurance Exchanges Be Ready On Time? The Obama Administration’s Top Secret Enterprise

Last week, I received my weekly email update from the Maryland health insurance exchange:

Maryland Health Connection completed its Final Detailed Design Review (FDDR) live system demo on Thursday, May 30. The FDDR is a federal stage-gate required of all state-based exchanges. Maryland Health Connection successfully demonstrated end-to-end enrollment of a split family scenario including user log in, eligibility determination, real-time data verification through the Federal Data Services Hub, enrollment into plans, payment and file generation to be sent to an insurance carrier. This major information technology milestone received high marks by federal partners. We will continue with development of Maryland Health Connection over the next several weeks and begin user acceptance testing in July.

This report tells us a few things.

First, the Maryland health insurance exchange is on track to launch on time and ready to serve all comers. I continue to be impressed by how well this state-run health insurance exchange is working toward implementing the Affordable Care Act (“ObamaCare”) on October 1, 2013.

Second, apparently the Federal Data Hub is up and running. While that is what the Obama administration has been telling us, it has been hard to find anyone who has actually seen it or used it.

Third, Maryland has its system ready to exchange eligibility and premium information with the health insurance plans––perhaps the biggest challenge the new exchanges, state or federal, face.

Can any of that be true? I honestly don’t know what to make of it.

Checking back at The Healthcare Marketplace and Policy Review there IS a post about the “Final Regulations” but there is no mention of the previous post about the Maryland Exchange and their ability to interact successfully with the (mythical?) Federal Data Hub.

Except for the disappointment of not addressing the mystery of the Maryland Exchange, this story is outstanding in a number of ways.  But my favorite part is when the author describes the frustration of the consumer who does not want to commit fraud:

Health Insurance Exchange Subsidies Will Be Granted on the Honor System!––Is There Something Wrong With “ObamaCare’s” Federal Data Hub?

I can also imagine lots of innocent consumers getting their subsidy all bollixed up on the front-end (Do you know your likely “modified adjusted gross income” for 2014?) only to get hit with a whopper tax bill when they finally reconcile all of this on their 2014 tax return. For example, a family of four getting subsidies based upon 200% of the poverty level but ending up making 250% of the poverty level for the year, would see a retroactive liability of about $1,700 on their tax return because of subsidy overpayments.

That begs another question: What happens if subsidy recipients don’t file a tax return––as millions of Americans now don’t––for 2014?

Two of the essential things the Federal Data Hub was supposed to be able to do was to determine and report to the exchange if a person was eligible for a qualifying employer plan and to be able to feed an individual’s income history to the exchanges to help determine the amount of subsidy they would be eligible for.

As of the week of the Fourth of July, it would appear the Federal Data Hub will be doing neither of these things––or at least not doing them to the extent they can be relied upon.

That begs yet another question: Is the Federal Data Hub not working as intended?

And there we are — that question seems like as good a place to end this sordid piece as any. Frequently Asked Questions Without Answers.

TWO Notes:

1) This post would not be necessary if the massive Democratic majorities in the House and Senate had been encouraged, pushed and led by the Democratic President Obama to pass Medicare for Everyone. President Obama came into office with tremendous popularity, authority and power. With a strong commitment to truly Universal Health Care for Everyone by him, Medicare for Everyone could have been implemented with little more than his signature on the bill.

2) Lambert and I would LOVE more contributors to this project (there are multiple tasks including writing posts, a weekly Link Dump and our still in development Resource Library). Contact us through Corrente or The Confluence if you are interested in working with us.

“largely an insult to the intelligence of women”

That’s how Judge Korman describes the Obama administrations dogged resistance to selling Plan B over the counter without age restrictions.  By the way, did I mention that Korman is a Reagan appointee?  HHS secretary Sebelius and the justice department has requested a stay to Korman’s previous ruling on Plan B.

Korman noted:

“If a stay is granted, it will allow the bad-faith, politically motivated decision of Secretary Sebelius, who lacks any medical or scientific expertise, to prevail — thus justifiably undermining the public’s confidence in the drug approval process,”

And…

At one point in his ruling, Judge Korman notes that lawyers for the administration insist that allowing over-the-counter access to the drug for everyone while the government appeals the case would mean “uncertainty” for girls and women about whether they could get the drug.

The judge rejected that argument out of hand, saying that “this silly argument ignores the fact it is the government’s appeal from the order that sustained the judgment of the commissioner of the F.D.A. that is the cause of any uncertainty, and that that appeal is taken solely to vindicate the improper conduct of the secretary and possibly for the purpose of further delaying greater access to emergency contraceptives for purely political reasons.”

He also rejected the government’s argument that women might be confused about the drug’s availability if it was made available to everyone without a prescription and then later restricted because the government won its appeal.

Yep, that’s pretty insulting.

Want to know what else is insulting?

Pimping Lily Ledbetter as if real women in the real working world don’t already know that the Ledbetter law doesn’t give them paycheck fairness nor keeps the target off their backs if they ask Human Resources for salary comparison information.

Bowing to anti-abortion congressmen in order to pass an ill-conceived, labyrinthine, insurance industry friendly healthcare law.

Bending over backwards to kiss the asses of a 2000 year old boys club where all the members wear red beanies in order to enforce anachronistic traditions about the nature of women and forced motherhood.

Concentrating all of the administration’s skimpy job creation policies on manly construction projects because otherwise, American mens’ masculinity and egos might be threatened. (See Ron Suskind’s book, Confidence Men)

Making the White House a hostile working environment for female advisors. (same book)

Two campaigns’ worth of consultants, surrogates and paid bloggers flogging fear, uncertainty and dread over the Republicans taking away our reproductive freedom while the real actors in that scheme were the old boys club of the Democratic party arranging things to their satisfaction in smoke filled rooms.

In a way, I’m not surprised the Obama administration thinks it can get away with insulting the intelligence of women.  It’s worked so well for them this far.  Young women flocked to them in droves after the crazy shit Republicans did in the past several years.  But you’d have to be really stupid to not notice that the Democrats did nothing for women since Obama took office except continue to capitulate to the neanderthals in this country who have largely succeeded in turning back the clock on women’s freedom.

So, while I am encouraged to find that there are judges out there who still think women have brains and that they should be encouraged to exercise them in their own interest, I’m disappointed that so few women have actually bothered to do it.  Even now, some left wing bloggers insist that there was no difference between the Democratic candidates in 2008 when it came to advocating for women.  That kind of denial of reality and history simply strains credulity.

That just encourages the Obama administration to continue to treat us like children, and they to continue to behave like Duggaresque patriarchs of daughters they have sworn to “cover” until they hand us off to our husbands.

Thursday: Elections have consequences (with a long digression on Jon Huntsman and research in China)

Russians protest election fraud

Vladimir Putin is accusing Hillary Clinton of inciting insurrection.  “Occupy Russia” seems to have taken to the street in protest over fraud in the last election.  Here’s what we’re talking about in case you haven’t already seen it:

Isn’t that amazing?  Looks like punch card optical scan paper ballots are the way to go.

Throngs of young Russians hit the streets in protest.  And who was to blame for this?:

MOSCOW — With opposition groups still furious over parliamentary elections that international observers said were marred by cheating, Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin on Thursday accused Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton of instigating protests by baselessly criticizing the vote as “dishonest and unfair” and he warned thatRussia needed to protect against “interference” by foreign governments in its internal affairs.

Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin of Russia spoke in Moscow on Thursday.

Follow@nytimesworld for international breaking news and headlines.

“I looked at the first reaction of our U.S. partners,” Mr. Putin said in remarks to political allies. “The first thing that the secretary of state did was say that they were not honest and not fair, but she had not even yet received the material from the observers.”

“She set the tone for some actors in our country and gave them a signal,” Mr. Putin continued. “They heard the signal and with the support of the U.S. State Department began active work.”

Damn, she’s good.  All she has to do is say it’s “dishonest and unfair” and the entire Russian nation answers to her call.  She’s wild and crazy.  She can’t be stopped.  I’m telling you, if she had been elected as our president, she would have bent Congress to her will, tamed the restless oceans, stopped the planet from spinning on its axis…

Huh?  Oh, she couldn’t stop the DNC from stealing (blatantly on television with no hidden cameras) the Democratic primary away from her and fraudulently awarding delegates from Michigan to a guy who wasn’t even on the ballot?  Well, at least here in the US, we’re not sneaky about our election fraud.

But if anyone would know how it feels to be on the losing end of dishonest and unfair election procedures, it would be Hillary.  So, you know, there’s that.

It’s not like elections have consequences or anything.  After all, the Democratic party loyalists have been telling us for the last three years that Obama and Clinton were indistinguishable from one another.  I’m sure Hillary’s Secretary of Health and Human Services would have overruled her FDA administrator on the sale of the Morning After Pill, just like Kathleen Sebalius did:

The statements from the two camps pretty much stick dryly to issues of whether minors are mature enough to decide such matters. FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said today “there is adequate and reasonable, well-supported, and science-based evidence that Plan B One-Step is safe and effective and should be approved for nonprescription use for all females of child-bearing potential,” but noted that Sebelius had disagreed. Sebelius, in a statement, writes:

“It is common knowledge that there are significant cognitive and behavioral differences between older adolescent girls and the youngest girls of reproductive age. If the application were approved, the product would be available, without prescription, for all girls of reproductive age.”

NPR notes that today’s decision is “likely to prolong a fight that has raged for more than eight years,” so stay tuned.

That’s like saying, “we’re not going to let young, immature females have access to this pill to prevent the them from getting pregnant because they might use it”. And restricting access to Plan B so they end up having to get abortions at their tender young ages, exposing them to a bunch of wild-eyed crazies as they run the gauntlet from the car to the door of the clinic, accomplishes *what*, exactly?  Did you know that some of those crazies take pictures of the patients as they run that gauntlet and then publish those pictures?   Well, that’ll learn’em.  Young girls have to be taught very early that there is no age that is too young to be shamed, humiliated and punished for an infraction that her boyfriend will slide away from scott free.  I guess we should thank Sebelius for affording these girls an opportunity to mature.

I smell incense and old, celibate men with red beanies in this story somewhere.  Or, maybe it’s just more campaigning.  Obama needs the anti-choice vote now, since many women in his own base have his number.  The last thing he needs is a bunch of fundagelicals occupying Walmart’s ‘over the counter’ departments.  Because then, he would have to send out the goon squads to pepperspray them and drag them off to retention facilities where they wouldn’t be able to use the bathroom for hours and hours.  And one of them might have a cell phone and know how to use the video camera.  It would only be fair.  You can’t treat religious fanatics who want to impose their authoritarian worldview on the rest of the country differently than a bunch of non-violent, regular people who are just protesting economic injustice. (go read that link, it will make your blood boil) Some of us might see it as unfair that the fanatically religious are treated with greater consideration and respect. It might start a whole new round of protests and Obama and DHS think they just nailed the lid on the last round of protests.  Better to just let the ban stand.  It’s too messy in an election year.

Hmmmm, elections, fraud, protests.

There is one bright spot this week though.  Hillary’s speech in Geneva on Gay Rights are Human Rights was very well received worldwide. Of course, her State Department has been proactive about this from the minute she took office.  If you really believe it, you need to lead by example, which she has.  But the credit for the policy goes to Obama, who invited an gay rights are *not* human rights preacher to have a prominent role in his inauguration.  Well, this is an election year and he’ll take credit from whomever he can and wherever he can get away with it.  It worked so well in 2008. Did I mention that Hillary previously gave a speech on Women’s rights are Human Rights over a decade ago?  Oh, how quickly we forget that when we have to approve a controversial pill.  Let’s remember that Obama appointed Sebelius.

Speaking of appointments, remember Jon Huntsman?  He’s the Republican that some Democrats say they could reconcile themselves to vote for.  He was appointed as ambassador to China by Barack Obama.  He’s also the wealthy scion of a family who owns a company that makes chemicals.

My tin-foil antenna are twitching.  Be patient because this is going to be long.

It started with the layoffs.  Massive layoffs.  Thousands and thousands of people in the research industry being laid off since 2008.  For example, the company I used to work for, Wyeth, was bought by Pfizer in 2008.  In 2009, Pfizer laid off the vast majority of Wyeth scientists and support staff. 19,000 jobs including every one of my former colleagues.  Gone.  Let’s not pretend that 19,000 people had poor performance reviews.  I know for a fact that most of them were very competent scientists.  A few people that filled  a need in Pfizer’s labs were retained and sent to Groton, CT, where they live in constant anxiety as Pfizer capriciously rejiggers its reorg.  But Pfizer’s is just the most notorious of the recent bunch of layoffs.  There have been many, many others.

Then there were the very clear and unmistakable signs that the pharmaceutical company CEOs and Barack Obama were scratching each other’s backs in 2009.  Maybe they couldn’t get all they wanted from the healthcare insurance reform bill, and they didn’t.  But what if they could get Obama to look the other way while they dismantled research operations in the US and shipped them to China?  Derek Lowe posted yesterday about the last holdout, Merck, finally giving in and laying off scads of scientists (reports vary from 17,000 to 34,000 worldwide with the bulk coming from the US) only to plan to open a new facility in China that will employ 600 people.  There’s a very good reason why the shareholders should look skeptically at this new arrangement but I won’t go into that now.  Suffice it to say that this all about money and not about science.

But to get to the stage where the Mercks and other big pharmas could conduct research in China, there would have to be substantial negotiations and understandings with the Chinese government because it is the entity that can make or break your intellectual property agreements.  And big pharma is all about intellectual property.  They’re so secretive with their data that they don’t even let all of the scientists see it.  It’s strictly “need to know”.  Up until now, China’s research industry has been pretty good at making knock-off drugs based on what’s already published.  It’s a whole different animal when you have to do “first to market” research all on your own with biological systems that insist on doing their own thing.  But shareholders will find out.

Anyway, I found the passage in Barack Obama’s Osawatomie speech about science and research very disturbing.  He only mentioned encouraging “young” people to go into science.  And of course, that would make sense if you think you can raise a whole generation of mini-human calculators who never sleep because they have to finish their overwhelming load of math homework.  What I can’t figure out is how they’re going to turn those kids into scientists.  In China, there’s a certain amount of coercion involved.  You get tested and the government narrows your career choices.  Here, it’s not so easy.  You can force young people to spit out the answer to what is the derivative of sin(x), but you can’t make them like it.  Yes, we have a lot of Chinese scientists here in the US and some of them are brilliant.  Some of them.  Some of them are excellent technicians.  And some of them look like they were horribly miscast.

But back to the “young people” comment in his speech.  That was a tell to the those of displaced research workers. If you listened to Obama and the rest of the “serious people”, you’d think that there was a huge shortage of scientists.  And in some respects, they would be right.  I’ve never worked at a lab that wasn’t under some kind of hiring freeze.  The last lab I worked at had many unoccupied labs and offices.  Beautiful, new facilities with state of the art hoods and workflow and lots of natural light and very few chemists.  We just didn’t hire that many.  Projects were always fighting for the chemists that we had.  This was the result of mergers and re-organizations.  If anyone is curious as to why scientists have been less productive, this is part of the reason.  In the last decade, the shortage has become severe but it’s an artificial shortage.  There are plenty of chemists around.  They’re just out of work.  The chemistry has gone to China.  The chemistry isn’t any easier and the biological systems are the same.  But the workers are cheaper there.

So, we have a generation of scientists in their prime wage earning years sitting around not doing  chemistry.  So, why all of the focus on the young?  Obama has all of the talent he will ever need, including some excellent American trained Chinese scientists, right here, right now.  Do the business leaders really have him convinced that the average American kid can be force fed math and science and then lead a monastic existence because business won’t pay for the expertise?  What planet are they on?  Water seeks the path of least resistance.  Unless our government starts restricting career choices here as well, it’s not going to happen.  I suppose you could send all of the talented kids to college for free so they graduate without debt but if you don’t provide a decent living at the end of those 4, 6, 10 years, you’ll just end up with a lot of miserable drones in the lab instead of bright, creative thinkers whose brains are working optimally because they are doing what they love and they are compensated well for doing what most Americans can’t do.

And then I saw Paul Krugman’s blog post yesterday about how at a debate he had on Tuesday night, one of his fellow debaters made a point that our country was going through an unavoidable deleveraging process:

I continue to find Carmen Reinhart’s fatalist view puzzling. She agrees with me that we’re facing a demand-side problem — but insists that this problem can’t be solved quickly, that we need to go through many years of painful deleveraging that leave millions of potentially productive workers idle.

I agree that this is probably what will happen, given the political realities. But surely this is a huge failure of policy, not something we should accept as inevitable. It’s truly bizarre, if you ask me, to say that our economy suffers from too little spending, and that nothing can or should be done to increase that spending.

I happen to agree with Krugman.  There’s no need to do this.  It’s an artificial deleveraging created by the political and business class.  With respect to the research industry, it has to be. The demand for new drugs is certainly there, even if they are ridiculously expensive in this country. If you need it, you find a way to pay for it.  The discovery of new drugs can always be done more cheaply (don’t expect the savings to be passed on to you) but it can’t be done more quickly, not in this day and age when we are learning so much about biological systems and they continue to thwart us.  And business people are all about quick turnaround.  They need something to sell.  Big pharma is going off the patent cliff en masse this year and in the next several years.  The drugs that will be turning generic were discovered in the 90′s.  And right now, as a result of very poor management and mergermania, there’s very little in the pipeline to replace them.  The MBAs can try cracking the whip on Chinese scientists but the rate limiting step is the biological system which tends to stymie the FDA approval process.  You can’t get around that.  Plus, the Chinese need to learn how to do A-Z research and that’s going to take time.  Even if they’re brilliant, learning interdisciplinary problem solving skills takes years to develop.  So, why dismantle your US research apparatus?  Once it’s gone, and the present generation of scientists goes away, you’ll be no better off than the Chinese when the fantasy horde of young American uber scientists takes over.

It seems to me that there is a fundamental misunderstanding of what it takes to do research and that the policy makers have bought into this misunderstanding.  Maybe the MBAs have made presentations with lots of numbers and made it look like a facile thing.  Just up the number of eager young geeks in this country that will work for a pittance and in the meantime, they’ll drink the milkshakes of the Chinese and voile!  Drugs galore.  But to do it, they need the cooperation of the Chinese government.  And that’s where Jon Huntsman comes into the picture.

Obama appoints the scion of a chemical company, who presumably has some inkling of how his industry works since he was raised in the family business.  And off he goes to make sure that what happened to Fellowes business machinery corporation joint venture with China doesn’t happen to Merck.  Do we have any proof?  I welcome any information that readers can send me but I think we can make an educated guess based on past statements and actions of Huntsman.  For example:

Huntsman Money made in China tests Obama’s Envoy’s 2012 Hopes, which features this nugget:

Huntsman Corp.’s revenue in China surged 57 percent from 2009 to 2010 during his ambassadorship, almost two decades after its entrance there, data compiled by Bloomberg shows. Its expansion in the world’s second-largest economy offers a target for rivals when U.S. unemployment is shaping the 2012 presidential race.

China has become a bigger and bigger issue in recent elections, especially exporting jobs to China,” said John Feehery, a Republican strategist in Washington who isn’t working with any of the presidential campaigns. “If I were an opposition researcher, I would have a field day with this.”

A Republican strategist says this.  But wait!  There’s more:

This is from Huntsman’s own issues pages on his campaign website:

America’s strength lies in our creative class, our entrepreneurial spirit, and in governance wise enough to allow our great companies to compete in the international marketplace. The countries that lead in defining the new trading system will be the countries that benefit the most. If we don’t assume the mantle of leadership, our economy will be relegated to competing in a marketplace defined by our competitors.

And who would those competitors be, Jon?  The US practically owns the pharmaceutical market.

Then there’s this:

Jon Hunstman on China- in his own words:

  • On How U.S. Companies can enter the Chinese market:

“I think the first step is getting to know and understand the China market. That means investing time, and it means investing one’s self, as a manager or a corporate leader in the fact you will be doing business together.It means at some level one has to develop a lao pengyou (old friend) relationship, if you will. You’ve got to develop some level of guanxi (interpersonal relationship) as they call it, if you’re to be taken seriously in China.

This takes time and sometimes unwestern-like patience. Regardless of which product you’re looking to sell or market in China, an early step should be to develop relationships and establish yourself as a credible business representative.” (Source: China Daily’sBusiness Weekly on October 22, 2002.)

Jeez, I wonder if he put that on his resumé when he sent it to Obama.

And then:

The Trouble Lurking Offshore for Jon Huntsman

But I’m not worried about Jon Huntsman’s prospects for election.  He hasn’t achieved frontrunner status yet, one of the few Republican candidates who hasn’t.  The irony is thick because if there was ever a politician who would warm the cockles of a businessman’s heart, it would have to be Jon Huntsman.  The problem for rabid Republican voters is that he was appointed by that “socialist” Obama.  And *that*, IMHO, is a problem for Obama.

Because, it is becoming increasingly clear to me that Obama’s passivity at the prospect of losing virtually all of his US research infrastructure is intentional.  This is the policy thing that Krugman was referring to.  It doesn’t have to be this way but Obama is letting it happen on purpose.  The biz guys want to lower their costs.  They could be making a decent profit like they did in the 80s and 90s but those are not the obscene profits they have become used to in the 2000s.  They are unwilling to lower their own expectations so we must lower ours.  They tell Obama that the reason their pipelines are empty is because US scientists are stupid and lazy and he probably believes that.  If you’ve never worked in a lab, you’d have no idea how false and unfair that is.  For one thing, labrats work like dogs.  For another thing, many of those labrats are Chinese.  Many of those Chinese labrats are the cream of the crop who came to study here after Tienammen Square and have no desire to go back to China.  So, in a sense, the biz guys are undercutting their own argument.  If they already have the cream of the Chinese crop, and they still have an empty pipeline, why do they think that going to China is going to help things?  Oh, they’re cheaper there.  Oh, Ok.  Well, alright then, let’s rip research right out of America.  Oh, sure, there will be a generation that will suffer but so what?  In the big scheme of things, a hundred thousand scientists are a drop in the bucket.  The economy will never even miss them.

Well, it’s not like I’m ever going to vote for Obama.  But it won’t take too long for my friends to put it all together.  And there goes New Jersey.  Did I ever mention how we have a nasty habit of electing Republican governors here?  Reliable states are only reliable until you impoverish their middle class.  And then those people who you called voters 4 years ago get all angry at the fact that they can’t pay their COBRA and their children are on reduced price lunches and their houses are underwater and they can’t sell and they don’t turn up for you when the election rolls around.  They say, “Fuck him, he’s an incompetent opportunist that sold our jobs to China and ruined our careers.  It can’t get any worse with a Republican because we have nothing left to lose. I’m staying home on election day.”

By the way, since there is nothing in the pipelines and the older drugs are going off patent, expect the costs of generics to start spiking.  You heard it here first.

Elections have consequences.

Tuesday: Influenza as Infuence-ah

I waited for my mom to call yesterday.  Any minute now, I thought.  She was in hysterics over the bird flu epidemic that never materialized a few years back.  At the time, I had to patiently talk her off the ledge:  There are many steps from chickens to people.  First, it has to be virulent in the bird population.  Then it has to be transmissible to humans, no mean feat.  It helps if you live on a poultry farm.  Do you live on a poultry farm, Mum?  No?  Well, that’s a relief.  Then, when it jumps to humans, it could simply stop there.  That’s right, it doesn’t have to go any further.  To be transmissible *between* humans, it has to mutate again.  And to be really deadly, it has to be spread really easily.  More mutations.  I mean, Bush is jumping the gun but if you’re really worried, you can track the mutations of the virus sequence  on one of the federal health sites.

That calmed her down for about 2 days before the next *ping* from the department of homeland security.  She called yesterday afternoon at about 2:30pm with some chit chat about Memorial Day plans before she hit me up on the Swine Flu Panic of 2009.

This flu is different.  First of all, it helps if you keep swine in your backyard.  Boyfriends do not count.  It looks like it can be spread to people but in the end, it’s still just flu and despite the fact that it seems to be out of season and somewhat more debilitating, the standard rules apply:  Wash your hands, stay away from people who are sick, do not touch surfaces of things a sick person might have touched, if you get sick, see your doctor for any available anti-viral meds, blah, blah, blah.  The vaccine manufacturers are probably already on it.

So, it’s a health problem.  But a worldwide catastrophe of Armageddon like proportions with the horseman of death stalking the rolling green hills of central Pennsylvania?  Probably not.

What it may be is a way for Obama to get his HHS nominee appointed as quickly as possible without the Republicans sitting on the nomination and pointing out more culture war related inconveniences.  As the NYTimes reports in its editorial today:

While health officials scramble to keep up with the fast-moving virus, it is deeply disquieting that the Obama administration has few of its top health officials in place. The Senate, delayed by Republican objections, is finally scheduled to debate the confirmation of Kathleen Sebelius on Tuesday to be secretary of health and human services. And the White House has yet to announce a nominee for director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those are two of the most important positions for dealing with an infectious disease epidemic.

Ok, this is ridiculous.  It is nearly May.  Obama was elected in November.  In six months, he hasn’t even got his cabinet in place?  He doesn’t have a head of the frickin’ CDC?    Please.  Do not tell me that this economic crisis has consumed so much of his time that he hasn’t put together a roster of people to fill the remaining slots.  He should have gotten that together back in June of last year.  What the hell is going on here?

So, this is what he’s reduced to: panicking the citizenry, just like Bush used to do, in order to get his way and leapfrog over the confirmation process.  Don’t get me wrong.  Republicans are reprehensible when they hold up nominations like this over trivialities and put us all at risk for a really serious problem.  But this is not a well run executive branch if its cabinet positions are still pending after 6 months.

Still, I’m only mildly surprised.  I never did have much faith in government by shmooze.

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Monday: I really *need* this job. Please God, I need this job!

slide1Howard Dean auditioned for Secretary of HHS.

God, I hope I get it, I hope I get it!
How many people does he need? How many people does he need?
God, I hope I get it! I hope I get it!
How may boys, how many girls
How many boys, how many…


And was sent home.


God, I really blew it, I really blew it!
How could I do a thing like that? How could I do a thing like …?
Now, I’ll never make it
I’ll never make it!
He doesn’t like the way I look.
He doesn’t like the way I dance.
He doesn’t like the way I…

No, Howard, he doesn’t like you.  He used you.  Just like he used a lot of other people to get to the top.  Jeez, Howard, how thick can you be?  You and Brother Jim were the propaganda wing.  You were set up to look much bigger than you actually were.  Your operations were infiltrated by Cylons to undermine and destroy the progressive blogosphere.  “Are your bases are belong to us!”  Well, I outta…Bam! to the moon Howard!

Haven’t you noticed how many Republican types or Republicans carefully groomed to look like Democrats there are in Obama’s cabinet, not to mention how few women?  (Thanks for nothing for that last bit, Howard.)  There’s Robert Gates still at the Penatagon and Judd Gregg nearly slipped in to guard the henhouse at Commerce.  His choice of Daschle was inspired no doubt by the less than vigorous defense of the Senate while he was majority leader after 9/11.  Looks like that anthrax spore job really put the fear of God in him, eh, Howard?  And now, the *woman*, who you describe as “very nice”, Kathleen Sebelius, who has run around Kansas for the last several years recruiting Republicans to run as Democrats, is going to be taking your spot.

What’s coming next? What’s happening now?
Still it isn’t over
I’ve gotta imagine what he wants it isn’t over
I’ve gotta imagine what he does
God, I hope I get it, I hope I get it!
I’ve come this far, but even so: It could be yes, it could be no.
How many people does he…?
I really need this job
Please, God, I need this job I’ve got to get this show.

No soup for you, Howard.  I hear you really haven’t got a gig lined up.  Now, is that the kind of gratitude you expected from the person you just helped get elected?  When did you realize you were left out of the equation, Howard?  Did you become a part of the “old coalition” before or after the money men moved the operation to Chicago?  Was it just after the RBC hearing in May when your name fell off the email list?  After the Democrats surrendered, you became superfluous.

Who am I anyway? Am I my resume?
That is a picture of a person I don’t know.
What does he want from me?
What should I try to be?
So many faces all around and here we go,
I need this job Oh God, I need this show.

There’s plenty of time to work on your “50 State Strategy”.  Hey!  Maybe you can apply for a directorship with Accountability Now!  There’s no time like the present.  Actually, it’s too late but I don’t want you to get too despondent.  After all, you’ve now joined the ranks of the “old, uneducated, stupid, working class, sino-Peruvian lesbians” except that your branch still thinks it consists of “Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Models with PhDs in Architecture”.  I have my doubts as to whether the Whole Foods nation will be able to withstand the forces of psychological warfare arrayed against them, although, flattery did work magnificently well the first time.  As long as they keep their distance from thos old hags, the PUMAs, the left of the party is effectively neutralized.

It’s OK, Howard.  Don’t worry about us.  We might be sitting at the wrong lunch table but once the glamour wears off the Messiah and everyone sees that his real agenda is to implement Republican Lite (now with 1/3 fewer fundamentalists!), we’re going to have a lot more company at this table.  The working class American voters are going to realize they were screwed and you, Howard, are going to get some of the blame for that.

You might be better off out of the spotlight.

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