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    • The Technology of Violence and its effect on prosperity and freedom
        Prosperity is two things: 1) How much you can produce with your technology and social organization; 2) Who gets how much.   The second is determined by a number of factors, but the simplest is the structure of violence.  Those who aren’t good at fighting, don’t get as much of the surplus created by [...]
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You’re so cute when your angry

James Buchanan

Gail Collins has an editorial in the NYTimes this morning about how those of us who see the Obama years as a colossal failure are wrong.  Apparently, there was some poll commissioned that revealed that many people think Obama is the worst president since WWII.  I personally don’t think this is true.  No, I think he might rank right up there with Buchanan. So, that predates the Civil War.  And the reason I think this is because under Obama, the plutocrats have gained so much ground that we average working people will have to replay the entire twentieth century to gain it back.

I’m getting pretty tired of hearing from serious and semi-serious people (I’m looking at you Paul Krugman), that those of us who desperately wanted a true Democrat in 2008 are now closet Republicans and racists because we aren’t sufficiently supportive of Obama’s many subtle “achievements”.  I guess you just have to be a poor schlub to really

Warren Harding, he’s so dreamy

understand what has been lost.  It does not help their cause when they tell us we have no right to be angry at the positively shitty job Obama has done since he was elected.  He’s made stupid excuses for his fecklessness ever since he took office and his chorus line has been saying “It’s not his fauuuuult.  He inherited all this crap from the Bushies!” since before the inauguration.  If he didn’t think he could handle the job, he shouldn’t have run.  He should have stepped aside for more qualified candidates.

The NYTimes also has a short article on internal and instrumental motivations.  It turns out that internal motivations, like liking what you are doing, having an interest in it and striving to be the best, are more important to success than instrumental motivations like fame, fortune and promotions.  In Obama, we see a perfect example of internal versus instrumental motivations.  He may have gotten the fame and renown, but as a president interested in using politics to govern well and carry out his vision, he sucks.

Please stop trying to tell us he’s not that bad.  He is.  The fact that we are even debating whether his legacy is in the same league as Warren Harding is telling and if the ACA gets cemented in place, there will be many future generations who will curse his name for hooking them up like cash cows to the insurance industry.

Thank god it will all be over by 2016 and we can look at the smoking ruins and start to rebuild.

The Desolations of Smaugs

Gotta make this quick so I can bop down to the farmers’ market in East Liberty.

Here are two posts that belong together.  The first is about the crazy amount of money that the wealthy are just sitting on and not investing.  In The World’s Richest People are Sitting on Gigantic Piles of Cash that aren’t Earning them Anything, we get confirmation of what we have suspected for some time, that is, rich people are hoarding money.  But the reason they are hoarding makes no damn sense.  Apparently, the wealthy are waiting for a market correction before they dive back in to investing and since that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen anytime soon, they’re going to sit on the cash.  Now, I can understand that feeling if you’re a poor schlub like me, hoarding the miserable little bit of IRA you have left after several years of employment insecurity.  It makes less sense if you’re a plutocrat with more money than god.

Hmmm, maybe we should be wondering why the wealthy think there is going to be a pullback.

The second is about the consequences of hoarding all that money.  When the shareholders demand more money and less investment, companies tend to shutter their facilities.  Recently, Hoffman-LaRoche in Nutley, NJ closed it’s doors and is preparing to dismantle the site.  When I was a young chemist a long, long time ago, I visited the Nutley campus.  Like many research facilities, it was more like a small town with a gatehouse and a shuttle that delivered the visitor to her destination.  Now that Roche has decided to stop doing research in the US because shareholder value (and Americans are notoriously easy to lay off since they have virtually no labor protections whatsoever), the Nutley facility is about to undergo a radical transformation.  If it is anything like my facility where the rent the company was demanding from small startups was prohibitively high, they probably won’t get many takers.

In other words, if some of the scientists they laid off decided to get together and try to operate one of the buildings as a small incubator, they wouldn’t be able to afford it.  And these days, vulture capitalists want a lot of the research done up front so they don’t actually have to risk any money at all.  That makes research on small scale even more difficult to finance.  Rent, reagents and researchers are expensive.  So, if Roche can’t get any takers to rent its empty labs, it may go the route of some of the other companies in similar circumstances and demolish perfectly serviceable, and in some cases, brand new research buildings, rather than keep them on the books.

Lovely.

One final thing, Hillary Clinton gave an interview to Terry Gross, former Obama fangirl extraordinaire, the other day.  It got a little testy about half way through when Gross started pushing her on same-sex marriage.  Hillary talks primarily about her four years as SOS and seems to think that Edward Snowden had other options to spill the beans.  I’d have to differ with her there though.  Snowden had superuser privileges.  Anything he revealed while he was still in the US would trace right back to him very quickly.  You don’t give su privileges to many people, or at least I don’t think the NSA and its contractors would.  I could be wrong about that.  It seems a little sloppy to allow one person to download massive amounts of information and have no one notice.

Given the reaction of the Obama administration to leakers, I think Snowden did the only thing he could have done and I’m not unhappy that he did it.  I meet people everyday who are pretty non-political who are keenly aware of what Snowden revealed and they are not happy to know that the government has so much information on them.  Until Snowden, the conversation about spying on Americans was tepid at best.  Hillary should know by now that timing is everything.  Snowden forced door open and let the sunshine in a lot more quickly than some politicians might have found convenient but he sure did get their attention, didn’t he?  No putting the genie back in the bottle now or slowing that genie down now.

Ok, enough with the foreign policy stuff.  What about domestic issues?  I want to hear about that now.  No time like the present.  Let’s not put it off any longer.

 

Replay: The Great Potato Famine

I wrote this a couple of years ago in anticipation of the day when the landlords and plutocrats decide to take everything that isn’t legally nailed down.  They’re busily prying up the rest with generous campaign contributions and they will continue to take as long as we don’t defend ourselves.  What’s theirs is theirs and what’s yours is theirs.

Well, it’s just our misfortune to be born poor or not have wealthy fathers who leave us everything in the will.  Or maybe it’s because we don’t work hard enough- in unpaid internships.

There was a study released recently that said pessimists live longer.  I don’t consider myself a pessimist because sooner or later, this will all turn around.  Like Dorothy, we have always had the power to go home, to hit the reset button.  There’s no reason why 300,000,000 people have to put up with being treated badly.

But first we must recognize that bad things *can* happen here.  Oh, yes they would cut your social security benefits even if you’re 74.  Just because they swear they’re going to stop with the people who are under 55 doesn’t mean they’ll actually stop.  Besides, generational warfare is just what they want.  The under 55’s will soon resent paying for someone else’s retirement while they have decades of debt and diminished wealth to look forward to.

What Americans are failing to comprehend that to the wealthy and well connected, the rest of us merit no more consideration than the starving Irish or the flooded Bangladeshis.  Our suffering is remote.  You might as well board a coffin ship and decrease the surplus population.

Optimism does not serve the American people well right now.  We are threatened and they mean business. As Savita Subramanian said today in the NYTimes, “the market wants more austerity.”

I hear the echo of the English bureaucratic Census Commission of 1851 in Subramanian’s words:

“In conclusion, we feel it will be gratifying to your excellency to find that although the population has been diminished in so remarkable a manner by famine, disease and emigration between 1841 and 1851, and has been since decreasing, the results of the Irish census of 1851 are, on the whole, satisfactory, demonstrating as they do the general advancement of the country.”

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

Bridget O’Donnel and her children

I can’t remember what free association web surfing lead me to the history of the Irish Potato Famine of 1845-1851.  Some have referred to it as genocide.  But it is a genocide of a peculiar sort, not necessarily motivated by racism.  Maybe the resentment of the English for the Irish had its roots in the era of Reformation when the Irish stayed with the Roman Catholic church.  Maybe it had something to do with Charles I using the Irish to quash his opponents during the English Civil War.  Maybe Oliver Cromwell’s brutal revenge on the Irish had something to do with the punitive laws that lead to widespread poverty in Ireland distinct from any other country in Europe.  Half of the country was dependent on a single crop, the potato, for sustenance, while the fruits of their labor in service to their absent landlords were shipped away to England.

When the potato blight struck, the effects were devastating and the news of the horror of the famine spread far and wide.  The Choctow native Americans contributed money for the starving in Ireland.  This was not the first failure of the potato crop.  In the late 1700’s, another failure threatened widespread starvation.  But during that crisis, the government ordered the ports closed so that crops and livestock raised in Ireland would be used to ameliorate the conditions of the starving.  No such measures were taken in the 1845 famine.  During the famine years, the Irish exported more food to England than it received.  The landlords’ agents used the famine and loss of rent revenue to throw the tenant farmers off their lands.  Their houses were torn down.  A new law was passed prohibiting a farmer in possession of more than a quarter acre of land from receiving food relief, to prevent him from getting lazy and too dependent on help.  To qualify for food, the farmer had to give up his land.  This further exacerbated the problem.  Farmers couldn’t plant crops without land and that land reverted back to the landlord to be used as pasture for more lucrative livestock.

The suffering from starvation and disease was severe but human kindness was in short supply.  The absent aristocracy, some of whom rarely set foot in Ireland, were spared the gaunt visages of peasants and their dying children making their way to the coasts to board coffin ships for America and Canada.  What counted was how much rent each peasant could bring.  When they couldn’t pay, they were better off dead.  John Mitchel, the blogger of this time wrote, “The Almighty, indeed, sent the potato blight, but the English created the Famine.”

Lest we forget…

You can make a donation to Feeding America here.

Stuff that go together: How the rich are getting it wrong

Davos, Switzerland- Home of the World Economic Forum, the small evil group that runs the world to which no one we know belongs.

Chrystia Freeland discusses Plutocrats with Sam Seder on The Majority Report

Conjuring a High Tech Labor Shortage by Stan Storscher of Talking Union

Technology or Monopoly Power?, Paul Krugman, Conscience of a Liberal.

and the consequences:

The Drug Shortage No One is Talking About by Charles Pierce, Esquire

Study Ties Drug Shortage to Poorer Cancer Survival, Fox News (Ewwww)

Growing Drug Shortage Problematic for Patients, Doctors, ABC News

The drug industry in America has ceased to be.  It is an ex-industry.  It has joined the choir invisible.  The remaining multinational Pharmas’ strategy is to buy up the patents of struggling small biotechs and to use academic labs for the research they jettisoned.  But I’m reminded of something Mark Lynas said in his recent lecture on why he is no longer anti-GMO.  In our frenzy of making sure that big companies adhere to strangulating limits on their technology, we have allowed monopolies to thrive in the GMO industry while killing off emergent competition and potential diversity.

In the case of the drug industry, we have demanded so much hoop jumping in order to create the most perfect, side effect free, litigation proof drug that the only companies that can afford to get a drug through the approval process are the largest ones with the deepest pockets.  And even those companies can’t do it after having invested billions of dollars in research.  If you are a small biotech, the costs of verifying that your lead compound meets the increasingly more stringent safety profiles is cost prohibitive.  No matter how hard you work for how long, it is more and more likely that you will have to sell your miracle drug patent to a large pharma at a fraction of its potential earnings just in order to recoup your investment.  The drug industry news is full of small biotechs having to lay off their entire research staff in order to take their discovery through the next phase of development.  That throws the research community into ever increasing precariousness, diminishing the prospects of young scientists and discourages students from pursuing science as a career.  And that, in turn, is eventually going to affect the quality of academic research upon which many big multinationals now intend to feed.  I’m still predicting that the brains are going to go to western Europe to do research because governments there still have a commitment to education and protecting their workforce.

Our research capabilities in this country have shrunk profoundly in the last 5 years.  We don’t introduce many drugs to the market anymore.  What is in research are new, even more expensive technologies.  But since the research community is much smaller, there is a bottleneck we have imposed on research.  Only a tiny fraction of the potential is being investigated now.  It’s primarily centered around cancer, which is very important, of course.  But what if your problem isn’t cancer?  What if you just need your thyroid medication?  Or your generic ADD medication?  Well, there’s no money in generics and to repair the plants is expensive and that eats into “shareholder value”.  So, the cost of generics is going to have to go up.  The result will be more expensive generics as patents expire, more older generation drugs for everyone, a few very expensive newer drugs for those that can afford them and the cost borne by all of us.

The plutocrats and their political allies have allowed this to happen.  They have overvalued their own importance and undervalued the importance of everyone else.  They have put the attainment of money and the acquisition of power at the pinnacle of the greatest of human achievements and have demoted the quest for knowledge.

Chrystia Freeland makes some interesting points in her discussion with Sam Seder on the nature of money and plutocracy.  She has talked to plutocrats of the Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg variety.  And they have told her that to the billionaire and the mailman, a Big Mac is still a Big Mac.  In other words, you can only consume so much in your lifetime.  Even if you buy the best of everything and search out the most perfect experiences, you may have more money than you will ever be able to use in your life.  Of course, a perfect experience to one person may not be a perfect experience to another.  For example, I’ve lived close enough to NYC to see many Broadway plays in the 20+ years I’ve been in New Jersey.  At this point, Broadway is no big deal to me anymore.  Oh, sure, I’d love to see the Book of Mormon but I could be content to see the touring company at a opera house in a smaller city.  The performances are going to be pretty much the same.  Maybe I would miss the lights of Times Square afterwards but I’ve been there so many times that it’s not a heartstopping thrill anymore.  There are other things that are interesting that don’t cost much money.  I still like Big Macs.

A similar observation can be made about the nature of work.  I understand that billionaires these days are the “working rich” and that their days are filled to the brim with lots of thinking and decision making and that those thoughts and decisions affect thousands of people.  But then I think about how hard my colleagues and I worked in the last year we were employed and those days were also filled to the brim with thoughts and decision making that affect thousands of people.  Just because we did a lot of it on our feet or with our hands as well as our minds does not make it less important to the world.  It is hard to see how Mark Zuckerberg could be working harder than we did in absolute terms.  In other words, to the billionaire and the drug discoverers, there are still only 24 hours in a day and some of those hours are taken up with sleeping, eating and excreting.  I suppose you could eat your lunch at your desk while you multi-task.  Yep, we did that too.

So, it’s not consumables that set us apart except in quantity and quality because taste and temperament may play a role.  And it’s not the degree of hard work or time because we all face the same time constraints.  And it’s not genius because I worked with a lot of extraordinarily smart people who were not rich and know some extraordinarily rich people who are not smart.

What it seems to be the crucial component is being, or being born, in the right place at the right time with the right idea for which you can capture a market or schmooze your way to the top of the corporate ladder or gamble away other peoples’ money at the global casino.  It is this elusive property of being struck by lightning at least once in your lifetime that counts.  And with that once in a lifetime experience, you can dictate the lives of others, elevate your own contributions and denigrate theirs.

And ruin the drug supply.

Chrystia Freeland and Matt Taibbi say that Obama is one of the 1%

We’ve been trying to tell the world that since 2008.  “He is one of them.” (about minute mark 40:50)

Check out this interview Freeland and Taibbi do with Bill Moyers.  It’s unsettling.  Freeland points out that progressives have to get the band back together and do something.  The problem is that Obama was the guy who broke us up in the first place and during the last year, progressives did NOTHING to scare him.

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