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    • Collapse of oil prices and the Russian Ruble
      These are the same thing.  Russia sells oil to the world, and their currency is based on the price of oil.  (It is for this same reason that the Canadian dollar has been sliding.) Putin has been a competent leader for Russia in many ways, but the failure to diversify the economy from oil is [...]
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Obamacare and EXTRA taxes

I was reading this opinion piece at the NYTimes about how un-PC it is to complain about being shackled with Obamacare.  The Obama PR campaign has been very effective about laying on the guilt.  Apparently, if you complain about the sticker shock and skinny networks and canceled plans, it’s the equivalent of protesting the Iraq war in 2003.  You’re un-American.  You hate sick people.  And besides, aren’t the lucky Americans who have employer sponsored health care paying taxes for the poor unfortunates, you ungrateful wretch?

Which makes me wonder, don’t we underemployed, or contract workers, or temps or, the blessed entrepreneurs ALSO pay taxes??  Some of us are paying both sides of the social security tax.  We pay taxes out the wazoo.  And we’re still getting the shaft on these skinny network plans, cancellations and the subsidy crunch.  If we make even one dollar more than we should, we could get socked with a monumental bill.

Talk about killing innovation.  I can’t think of a better way to avoid success and innovation than to take people who are forced into entrepreneurship in this economy to scale back so as to not hit the limit on the subsidies.  I can’t think of a better way to encourage getting paid off the books and depriving the treasury of tax dollars than to make a zero-tolerance, not-one-dollar-more boundary for people to qualify for subsidies.

Let me remind some of the Congresspeople who didn’t bother to read this bill before they signed off on it that in 2009, Pfizer laid off every scientist in the company Wyeth that they had acquired in a merger.  Yep, every one of them.  A few found jobs in Pfizer but the vast majority of them, that would be thousands and thousands of BS, MS and PhDs, were just told to go their own way.  Innovate!  Become your own boss!  Which is very odd because if a multibillion dollar international company can’t get drugs through the FDA approval process, what makes anyone think  that a bunch of poor, under equipped scientists are going to be able to do it in their garages working with shoestring and bubblegum?  THAT is a Wall Street MBA’s secret wet dream but hardly reality.

Now multiply Pfizer’s strategy by all of the other drug companies and you get an idea of how many newly minted entrepreneurs are out there, struggling to make a living at companies that don’t pay benefits.  Or think of the Chemical Engineer who works by the project and doesn’t have coverage who is now paying all of his taxes AND is getting a rate hike.

Why should these people be required to foot more of the bill from their income than the people who are sitting comfortably (for now) behind their employer sponsored health plans?  We all feel compassion for the poor who can’t afford insurance or the people with pre-existing conditions.  Not only that but we might even BE some of those people through no fault of our own.

But why should be made to feel guilty about not caring MORE for them?  Why do we need to sacrifice more of our money than anyone else when we are already expected to carry a full load?  Shouldn’t the burden for this fall more evenly?  Or here’s a better question: if we are expected to make this sacrifice, shouldn’t we be getting top notch plans and treatment and be treated with more dignity?

By the way, the lucky who are covered by their employer should think about this long and hard because one day, through no fault of their own, their companies might require them to sacrifice their own jobs in the name of shareholder value and then, they’ll have to suck it up and shut up about how much these crappy plans cost.

It could happen to anyone.

Paul seems confused about libertarian populism. Let me take a crack at this.

Up front, I want to say that there’s nothing on heaven and earth that could make me vote for a Republican or a Randian Libertarian.  In fact, when I moved to PA, I re-registered as a Democrat.  Unlike NJ, PA’s primaries are closed.  If you want to vote in the primary, you have to pick a party *before* the election, not on the day of.  So, I figured I would bite the bullet and try to get rid of as many DINOs as I can.

That out of the way, Krugman seems confused about why Republicans think they can pick up white voters through libertarian populism.  And it is true that in general, white voters who vote Republican are voting against their own interests.  But they have been conditioned for years that it’s OK to crap on minorities and women.  When it comes to white working class voters who vote Republican, it’s all about promising the guys that they won’t lose their white male privilege.  That’s what the abortion debate is all about.  That’s why we are still debating the voting rights act and affirmative action.

But the older conservative voter is dying out.  Where will the Republicans find new converts?

Allow me to speculate.

There are a ton of people who were laid off since 2008 who have ended up working for themselves.  Voile!  Instant grouches about taxes.  It is going to be hard enough to pay the bills and the new healthcare insurance bills for themselves and their families.  Think several car payments worth of extra bills on top of what they already have to pay to self insure themselves through the exchanges.  Then stick them with all of the Social Security taxes and self-employment taxes and you have the makings of a new Libertarian.

In fact, Paul should not be so surprised about how the Republicans plan to do this.  NJ has set a perfect example.  And we know that when NJ voters are given a choice between a Democrat who doesn’t reform the tax system like he promised vs a Republican who promises to hold the line on taxes no matter what, they’ll choose the Republican.

Think about it, Paul.  Making entrepreneurs is how they plan to make new Libertarian Republicans.

It’ll probably work too.  Without a compelling a forceful message from the Democrats, there’s really nowhere to turn for relief.

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

Holy Hemiola!  There are two guys here this morning tearing out half of my basement and all of my screen porch.  It sounds like an earthquake down there.

Update: We have met the enemy and he is ducts.  Lots and lots of ducts.  Now I need an HVAC specialist.  Cha-ching!

{{sigh}}

Screen porch gone except for the roof and four supports.  Already an improvement.

Surviving a Layoff or How I did it.

I see the light at the end of the tunnel and it is not a train.  My house is under contract and I’m making a decent profit on it. I’ll be able to pay off all my outstanding debts, put away a good chunk for the kid’s college fund and have enough to live on for the next year if I manage my money well. Next week, I’m moving my furniture to the new house in Pittsburgh.

Here are some of my tips for surviving a layoff in the Little Depression.  Please note that if everyone took this advice, we’d be plunged into another recession because when you’re in survival mode, spending money to keep the economy going is not your first priority.

Pre-layoff

1.) Prepare for a layoff well in advance of one.  Have at least 6 months salary saved up.  If you can, set aside a year’s mortgage and tax payments.  My savings combined with NJ’s unemployment pay helped me immeasurably.  Kudos to the NJ Department of Labor.  They were kind, respectful and helpful.

2.) Pay off as much debt as you possibly can.  Don’t buy a new car unless you can pay cash or the monthly payments are low enough that you can still eat on your unemployment check.  Maintain your car.  Payoff your credit cards.  Don’t go on vacation.

3.) Make sure you are healthy.  Get a yearly physical, address health issues when they crop up and you still have insurance.  Don’t put anything off.

During the Layoff

4.) Try not to panic.  I panicked and almost made some major, major mistakes.  Thank goodness I had Katiebird.

5.) Get a Katiebird.  It’s probably best if the person lives in another state and can’t see you everyday.  Just chit-chatting with another person over stuff can calm the nerves.

6.) Don’t take the first job you see.  Take your time and develop a Plan B.  Consider what kind of work you like to do, where you want to live and whether you can afford to stay where you are.

7.) Don’t rule out working for free.  If you’ve saved money and you’re covering your bills, use the time you have to stay current with your skills or learn something new.  I was fortunate enough to hook up with some people I used to work with who let me participate in some projects.  As a result, I’m looking forward to a publication that was recently submitted and have been invited to stay on an ongoing project.  I’m now getting paid a small amount but the whole experience kept me sane and I appreciated every minute of it.

8.) If you can’t afford to stay where you are, move.  I used the last year to fix up my house, learned how to install faucets, wire lighting fixtures and garbage disposals and experienced the joys of ripping out 25 years of creeping juniper in order to create “curb appeal”.  In the meantime, I looked for a bargain house in my target city and found one.  I paid cash for the house I bought (more on how I did this later).  Now, when I move there, my biggest expense will be my health insurance.  I will have no mortgage and the house is about 1/4 mile from the bus line.

9.) Do whatever you can to keep your health insurance.  COBRA is ridiculously expensive.  In fact, it cost me about half of my unemployment checks. There really should be a law preventing that. But you never know when you will need medical care so don’t drop your insurance under any circumstances.  Also, keeping continuous coverage will help you transition to an individual policy.  Don’t skip this step. I’ve known people who thought they could get away with not covering themselves or their children and they are now regretting it because after 63 days of no coverage, it’s really difficult to get affordable insurance on the individual market.

10.) Cancel any monthly bills you can live without.  I cut the cord on cable but kept internet.  It turns out that Brook and I didn’t really miss much.  I reduced my car insurance because I was no longer commuting to work.  Don’t buy a lot of clothes and other material goods but don’t forget to treat yourself once in awhile to a Grande Cinnamon Dolce Latte or a Gelati from Ritas.

11.) Use your IRA carefully.  I rolled my 401K into an IRA and purchased my new house with part of it.  You can do this without tax penalties if you return the money to your account within 60 days.  That 60 day thing seems rather arbitrary and rules out using the money for things like starting your own business but that’s the deal.  This is what Congress legislated.  It’s a shame that my generation has been snookered by fast talking financial planners in expensive suits to socking our nest eggs and rainy day funds in “instruments” and retirement plans that are not liquid without huge, and I do mean HUGE tax penalties, but there you are.  You *can* use this money but you need to be very clever about it and ask a lot of questions over and over again to make sure you’re doing it right.

I recently met a woman who created her own IRA real estate investment fund.  She now invests her IRA money in this fund and uses it to purchase houses all across the country.  She fixes them up and rents them and plans to earn enough money to retire from this fund.  In her case, since she’s not taking the money out, there’s no tax penalty.  Something to think about.

So, now, I’m just waiting for the final pieces of my move to fall into place.  I don’t have a regular full time job yet but for now, I’m Ok.  I have some money left over, my kid’s future is not dismal and my health insurance is covered.  I didn’t lose my house and my credit is still pretty good.  When I move, my standard of living will be about the same as it was in NJ.  My house is about the same size and I’ve got more land.  It’s in a nice neighborhood and my neighbors are about the same socio-economic status as before.  It’s just in a different city.

I can work from home but I’ll probably be looking for a job when I get there.  At this point, I can bartend and still be fine.

That’s not to say that there weren’t bumps along the way.  There were plenty, including one major one that I will tell you about someday.  But in any case, it *did* get better.  Whether all this frugality is good for the country is another story and there’s no doubt that the idea that researchers can afford to do research on their own without the economy of scale of a bigger lab or company is just utter nonsense.  I don’t believe in “creative destruction”.  As Gandalf said, “He that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom”.  Breaking the economy, breaking up R&D facilities, breaking up families and lives, just to see what happens and assuming that everyone will land on their feet all ticketyboo is not a good economic strategy.

But I survived.

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

What are your layoff tips?  Add them in the comments.

 

 

The People Say: Screw the rich, go over the cliff already

You should read the comments in the latest update post on the so-called “fiscal cliff” negotiations on the NYTimes.  The jig is up.  Republicans are threatening to screw us now and blow up the economy in a couple of months just so some rich people can keep their incredible deal on taxes.  Oh, yeah, they’re really concerned about the deficit.  Read some of these beauties

Cleveland, Ohio

Once again, I considerate it unconscionable for the right wing Republicans (Tea Party included) to obstruct the normal functioning of our government down to the wire. We Americans don’t deserve such treatment from Republican congressmen. Hopefully, these renegades will be voted out in their next respective elections. Good riddance!

Staten island

Let’s go off the cliff. As a middle class taxpayer, I am OK with that.The Republicans’ will be paying for it long range. They should — as fierce defenders for the 0.1% , holding the country hostage!

            Charlotte, NC

Tax increases for everyone are not horrible, especially if Congress acts to phase them in over time rather than letting them hit all at once. The bigger problem is a failure to act on Medicare, AMT, cancelling the sequester, etc. Congress should stop wrangling over what they can never agree on and take up the pieces of legislation they can now pass given the increase in revenue projections from new tax revenues.

Chicago

It should be clear that the Republicans desperately want cuts to Medicare and Social Security cuts but do not want to take any responsibility for them. That is why they will not say what cuts they want, or for that matter, what loopholes they want to close to increase revenue. This of course follows running on how the President cut Medicare.

Pres. Obama has been clear what he wants on revenue, I would think that the Republicans should not also force him to list the cuts they want.

So instead we will continue to let the rest of the world think we are ungovernable when they hold up increasing the debt ceiling to force agreement for cuts they want. And we can succeed, again, in tanking the economy.

And this one is the top comment with over 128 recommends:

Arizona

I know this whole “Democracy” thing is a lot of smoke and mirrors, and is largely a charade, but The American People spoke in November, and we support President Obama’s plan, and overwhelmingly agree that the wealthier among us need to pay more than the rest of us.

The real crime here is that no matter what happens, it seems likely that the “Romney Rate” on income earned from dividends will barely budge up from its current 15%. Keep in mind that dividends were counted, and taxed the same, as regular income before the Bush Tax Cuts were put in place (at 39.6% marginal rate).

That rate has dropped from 39.6% to just 15%. That is what the GOP donors are really fighting for, the preservation of this lop-sided, unjust, and class warfare tax rate that does nothing but suck wealth out of this economy.

Pretty much.
Let’s do it.  Mano a mano. Let’s fight this class war.

Forget Romney’s taxes, what will Obama do about unemployment??

Sorry Matt Taibbi, This tax return issue is one gigantic distraction:

The Obama administration, if it wanted to, could make a lot of hay over this. It could say, “Mitt Romney doesn’t want to release his tax returns for years and years during the last decade. But the years for which he did release returns, he paid a rate that’s less than half of what most ordinary American professionals make – and he thinks that’s ‘fair.'”

Now, Obama has gone after Mitt’s tax returns – a little. He’s released a few ads here and there, including one called “Makes You Wonder” that called Mitt’s use of carried interest in his tax return a “trick,” a semantic move for which Obama was criticized, since it was actually nothing of the sort. Mitt Romney’s ability to pay a top rate of 15% for his work was no trick at all but a fully-legal expression of the values of our current political system, a system, again, that Mitt Romney is “proud of” and thinks is “fair.”

I can’t blame Matt for doing what all the other journalists do during an election year.  Jay Rosen has written extensively on the “horse race” reporting of election year journalism.  Journalists write stories only other journalists would love.  It’s all about petty tit-for-tat and gossip and gaffes.  But this is not like other election years.  In a way, you would have thought that the politicians with their slick psychological manipulators on the payroll would have figured out that the voters want to talk about serious things this year.  They should be on the cutting edge.  But I’m beginning to think that the parties are not as modern and hipster as they’d like to think.  Maybe that’s because both *presumptive* nominees are representing old, establishment money and power.  Old guys think the world revolves around their interests and that they can still mold the culture to suit them.  But it is social distancing that prevents them from seeing the American landscape as it truly is.

Jonathan Chait recently encapsulated this mindset in his recent piece, Why Washington Accepts Mass Unemployment. Chait is critical of the Washington establishment that thinks that bad things happen to other people.  But the weird thing is that he doesn’t even know how vulnerable he is:

It’s important to respond to arguments on intellectual terms and not merely to analyze their motives. Yet it is impossible to understand these positions without putting them in socioeconomic context. Here are a few salient facts: The political scientist Larry Bartels has found (and measured) that members of Congress respond much more strongly to the preferences of their affluent constituents than their poor ones. And for affluent people, there is essentially no recession. Unemployment for workers with a bachelors degree is 4 percent — boom times. Unemployment is also unusually low in the Washington, D.C., area, owing to our economy’s reliance on federal spending, which has not had to impose the punishing austerity of so many state and local governments.

I live in a Washington neighborhood almost entirely filled with college-educated professionals, and it occurred to me not long ago that, when my children grow up, they’ll have no personal memory of having lived through the greatest economic crisis in eighty years. It is more akin to a famine in Africa. For millions and millions of Americans, the economic crisis is the worst event of their lives. They have lost jobs, homes, health insurance, opportunities for their children, seen their skills deteriorate, and lost their sense of self-worth. But from the perspective of those in a position to alleviate their suffering, the crisis is merely a sad and distant tragedy.

Maybe in the plush Washington suburbs 4% unemployment among college graduates is the norm.  But I’m sitting here in NJ with the dead corpses of the careers of PhD’s in Chemistry and Pharmacology all around me and it is most decidedly not all sunshine and roses.  We are also part of the “elite” and we’re dying out here. All we hear is myths about how there aren’t enough of us while vast numbers of us can’t get jobs or keep the ones we relocate our families to take.  Jonathan Chait joins Bill Keller in the same clueless club.  Who exactly do they think they are talking about?  Are journalists and poli sci graduates guaranteed gold watches and pensions these days?  A couple of years ago, the kids around here also would have looked on the recession as “a sad and distant tragedy”.  These days, those same kids are the ragged refugees of the middle class.  Their childhoods will be permanently marked by the changes their parents are going through.

The tax distraction serves both parties.  Neither one of them wants to talk about unemployment.

Here we are, 3 months from the election and no one is talking about unemployment.

How is Obama going to put people back to work?  If I don’t hear some concrete policies, then I am going to assume he has no plans.  I am going to assume he doesn’t care.  I’m not going to be the only one.

Yes, yes, it’s really crappy that rich people do not pay enough in taxes.  If politicians are really concerned with this, the first thing they could do to help level the playing field is eliminate the cruel excise tax for people who are chronically unemployed who have to liquidate their 401Ks in order to keep their kids in the same high school.  That’s where I would start.  No, do not lecture them about saving their money for retirement.  If they needed a lecture, they wouldn’t have a stash in their 401Ks to begin with.  You want to lecture people about saving for retirement? Go talk to a 30 year old who hasn’t saved a dime.

You know, I have no intention of helping Republicans achieve a damn thing.  I’m not harping on Democrats because I want Republicans to win.  I’m harping on Democrats because I want them to do something.

It gives me no pleasure to have to be a Democrat in Exile looking forward to a long hard slog and decades of being in the wilderness while we build another party.  But that’s where we’re headed.  And I’d like to remind the party who wants to make it sound like resistance is useless that that’s probably they way the Liberal party treated the New Democratic Party of Canada about 10 years ago.  Times change, people change, and it happens at a much quicker  pace these days.  The Democrats might not feel so smug in a few months when 5-6% of us decide to tough it out and turn to replacing one of the two parties with something different.

The unemployed will have plenty of work to do to get rid of the party that wanted to waste our time with a pointless exercise of distraction while we were losing everything.  That will motivate us to get up in the morning and work for a shake-up of the two party system.

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

Updating Shakespeare: “First thing we do, kill all the marketers.”  Grocery stores are now using loyalty card information so that food manufacturers can reward some of their customers more than others.  There are a zillion reasons why this is a bad idea.  It’s unfair.  It’s like putting your thumb on the scales for some customers while others still generate a hefty profit margin thinking they’re getting a break.  As one commenter noted in this NYTimes piece, if you’re poor, you don’t look loyal enough to the companies who might offer you a lower price so you end up footing the bill for the upper middle class suburbanites.

If there isn’t a law, there oughtta be.  For one thing, it feels like someone is always looking over your shoulder and invading your privacy.  For another, it seems like the whole world is manipulating prices with a giant optimization algorithm in just one more way to pick every penny of disposable income as it can from our pockets.  I don’t feel like a consumer anymore.  I feel like a crop that is being harvested.

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

More dance loveliness.  Afternoon of a Faun combines two of my favorite things: Debussy and Dance.  The original was choreographed by Nijinsky and was scandalous.  In the end, a faun that has been stalking a nymph throws himself on her discarded scarf and lustily pelvic thrusts into it.

But when I was a kid, I searched the NYCB schedule at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center for the Jerome Robbins version.  The music is the same but the setting is different.  In this ballet, two dancers are in a studio and dance alone and together, seemingly unaware of each other as they stare into an imaginary mirror.  It’s playful, romantic and clever.  And no scarfs get messy.

I’m pretty sure the version I saw was danced by Allegra Kent.  The name sticks out.  Allegra.  Only ballerinas have names like that.  Allegra, Darcy, Gelsey, Paloma.  Even their names are in arabesque.

In the case of the Robbins’ updated version, the original dancer was the ethereal Tanaquil LeClercq.  Tanaquil was the name of an ancient Etruscan queen.  Tanaquil’s career did not last very long.  She was married to George Balanchine at the peak of her ballet career when she was struck down with polio while she was on tour.  She never danced again and spent the rest of her life in a wheelchair.  But we have this video of a substantial portion of this short ballet where Tanaquil and Jacques D’Amboise  dance as “nymph” and “faun” in a studio in an afternoon.  You can watch it here if the request is disabled.

Enjoy.

Tuesday: One more and I’ll stop (for awhile)

Blame Luther for breaking up the band

So, the “religious liberty” meme is going to be the one to beat this year.  We’re all a bunch of heathens and we need religion.  That’s what the argument’s going to be.  If only we lead more virtuous lives with the guidance of some religion, we’d all be more prosperous, more fulfilled human beings and we wouldn’t need so much government assistance.  The problem with this country is that we’ve gone too far away from God and now is the time to put him back in our lives, put him front and center, so that we can weather the economic austerity that is coming our way.  If we play by the rules and love God with all our hearts, we will be blessed.  If we don’t, we get what’s coming to us.

And the reason religious liberty has to be so gosh darned important is that without it, it’s harder to keep everyone in line, feeling guilt and shame about their personal circumstances.  If there’s no guilt or shame, people won’t blame themselves for all of the rotten things that have happened to them.  No, they might start figuring out that they’ve been had, suckered in by really ruthless financial industry psychopaths who believe that what’s theirs is theirs and what’s yours is theirs.  So, to make sure we are not watching what they do, the religious liberty thing is going to get a lot of attention.

The problem is that that’s only going to work for some people.  The rest of us know that the bible is not an accurate historical document and it’s unlikely to be divinely inspired if there are multiple divinities that inspired it.  And for those of us in the life sciences, evolution is non-negotiable.  I couldn’t do my work without knowing all about natural selection.  The fact that I can do an evolutionary trace on the proteins I work with is pretty strong evidence that evolution is true.  We’ve seen the results of prayer.  Um, it doesn’t really work all that well.  And on and on and on.

The thing is, I don’t have any problem with the idea that YOU can believe all of the things about religion that you choose to believe.  If you want to think that a bunch of celibate old guys in red beanies in Rome, who kept the organization they were in when they changed religions in the fourth century, have all of the answers to guide your life, knock yourself out.  If you want to believe that Jesus is coming to rescue you from all of the rottenness of the world and the pedophiles and kidnappings and rapes of pretty blonde women and the murder of innocent, sweet little babies and that those of us who don’t believe absolutely everything you say are going to suffer from a really horrific and painful death while you hover above it all and watch us die in torment, go ahead.  Everybody in the world has their own particular and personal belief system that may be a slightly different variation of their neighbor’s, or it may be radically different.  And that’s OK.  Believe whatever you want.

But if you’re going to bring that belief system into the public square and insist that we all live by the rules created in 1300 BCE in spite of all of the progress that we have made in the past 3000 years, you’d better have a really good reason for it and should be able to  demonstrate definitively why imitating baby farmer Michelle Duggar and her ultra conservative family is better than any other alternative.  In fact, I have watched enough of the Duggars to know that their philosophy has a lot more of the liberal tradition than they would care to admit.  They have friends and neighbors that have waaaaay too many children stuffed into tiny little houses.  The Duggars don’t lecture these people and tell them to keep an aspirin between their knees.  No, they help them build a new house.  They donate their time and money and materials.  They feed poor people at soup kitchens.  They never ask anything in return.

But Jim Bob Duggar is a Republican and the Duggars have chosen to endorse Rick Santorum.  The Duggars send mixed messages.  Anti tax Republicans reject EVERYTHING the Duggars say they are about.  They want to withhold money, assistance and help from anyone they think is undeserving.  I’m sorry but I’m not sure that the families that the Duggars help are all that much different from any other family they don’t know personally that has a lot children and insufficient space and resources.

The difference seems to be religion.  The Duggars’ friends and the poor they serve are Christians.  And I just have to wonder, is it really moral to be so choosey?  Should it matter what religion a person is if they need help, food, housing or protection from greedy conmen in business and the banks?  Isn’t that what the parable of the Good Samaritan is all about?  (BTW, the parables and beatitudes of Jesus and the details of Occupy Jerusalem Temple are about the only things in the New Testament worth rescuing)

Are we to believe that the Duggars, a good, kind hearted family, would not be a good kind hearted family without their religion?  And if their religion demands good kind heartedness, aren’t they obligated to extend that to others outside of their religion?  And if they ask nothing in return from their neighbors who are Christians, should they expect something in return for all of their help from non-Christians?  Isn’t it possible that good, kind heartedness benefits everyone and makes the world a better place regardless if God is intervening?  Wouldn’t God want you to be nice to everyone, even if he isn’t watching? And wouldn’t you reach more people if you could pool your resources and figure out a more systematic way of helping everyone?  And wouldn’t that come back to you in the form of less crime, more healthy, happy people and more prosperity?  The Duggars are almost there.  They just need to include the whole world in their benevolence and learn to judge the rest of the world with as much generosity and compassion as they do their Christian friends.

Anyway, I got off topic again. Where was I?

Oh, yeah, before you start imposing your religious liberty on others, at least admit that you are also obligated to have other people’s religious liberty imposed on you in return.  But if that is not acceptable, let’s narrow our choices.  Before we make new rules to live by, let’s all agree on which God we’re going to pay attention to.  I don’t mean some Mesopotamian gods that got edited to a single entity and a creation story based on some ancient Babylonian mythology.  Let’s get real.  Let’s look at all of the religions and investigate all claims equally.  There has to be a one true religion among all of the religions in the world.  That’s the one we should follow.  So, I propose that we get appoint a committee of believers and non-believers.  After all, Santorum says that even non-believers have a part to play in shaping government in the public square just like the faithful.  So, all interested parties, believers and non-believers, should get together and decide which religion has the greatest credibility, the most verifiable miracles, the best predictive values and the most moral code.  The scientists should be particularly helpful here.  When we can all come to an agreement on which religion that is, that’s the religion we should pick to influence our government.  After all, it wouldn’t be fair to deprive the other religious adherents of the one true God.  But if the Catholics lose, they’re going to have to sit on their cassocks and shut up.  Same goes with the Evangelical Christians.  For all we know, we might all end up as Sufis or Scientologists.  But if it turns out that they have the one true religion, it would be wrong to not follow them.

Liberty doesn’t mean the freedom to just worship any god willy-nilly.  That’s an affront to the very concept of an supernatural authority figure.  He doesn’t want religious liberty, with everyone picking their own way to worship him.  He wants there to be rules about what you can and can not do religiously.  He wants you to pay attention to what he says and obey without question.  So, please, let’s not have anymore Catholic politicians acting like adolescents without any parental supervision, making their own decisions about what is “free”.  Adolescents have no sense of their own mortality and mortality is a very serious business, requiring sober reflection, not liberty.  Rick Santorum and the other religious Ricks owe it to themselves and their mortal souls, as well as ours, to stand for one religion and one religion only.  Let’s not shrink from the task before us and let us resolve to find out what that religion is.

Can I get an Amen?

In the meantime, Dr. Laurence Krauss gives an authoritative lecture on Science and Religion and suggest that you don’t necessarily have to sacrifice one for the other.  Like, who died and made him god?

Sacrificial offerings and pleasing aromas

Update: Novartis announced today that it is eliminating 2000 jobs.  1000 of those jobs will come from the US.  700 positions will be added in China and India.  It sounds like a lot of IT jobs will be moved, but the way things are going lately, it’s probably just the start of things to come.  Says a financial analyst:

“Job cuts are happening [note the verb conjugation indicating present, not past, tense] in almost all large pharma companies,” said Tim Race, an analyst at Deutsche Bank AG in London. “It’s a consequence of squeezing prices, squeezing profitability. Pharma companies are reacting to maximize profitability, which is something they should be doing anyway.” He recommends buying Novartis shares.

Yes, and when the profits are all gone, you can dump Novartis shares and all of the rest of your pharma sector shares and move on to the next big thing. After the research is gone, there won’t be any more profits to be made.  Well, it’s only medicine.  Let’s see that makes Amgen, Merck, Abbott and now Novartis.  Who’s next?  Anyone want to take a guess?  We haven’t heard from Glaxo Smith Kline for awhile…

Update 2:  I was pointed to this Scientific American blog post about how scientists are joining the occupy movement so clearly, I am not alone.  As one of the people in the accompanying video says, it doesn’t matter how many degrees you have, we don’t fund science in this country anymore.  Too true.  Well, there’s just no immediate profit in it.  Just ask any Wall Street analyst.  If you can’t get your research to pay off in the next quarter, what good are you??  If you are a labrat going to an occupy event, wear your labcoat and goggles so we can recognize each other.

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I think the Republicans’ game plan is obvious now, wouldn’t you agree?  The idea is to starve the nation of jobs, keep everyone in a constant state of anxiety and make sure that the government does little if anything to put the country on its feet.  I’m looking at my first COBRA payment and it is not pretty.  No, not at all.

The strategy is to make Obama look so weak (as if he needed any additional help), that the country will turn against Democrats next year and make Obama a one-term president.  And you know what, Republicans?  I am ok with that.  Making Obama a one term president would probably be the best thing to happen to this country, but I’ll get to that in a sec.

In the meantime, those of us in the middle class will continue to make sacrifices.  I’m going to go off on a tangent here.  In NJ, we have some of the highest salaries in the nation and also the highest cost of living.  The amount of federal taxes we paid was also among the highest.  This year, I will have paid more in taxes than it would take to keep a family of four above the poverty level.  So, I’d like the Glenn Beck viewers to STFU about how lazy and parasitical unemployed people are.  In the last year of work, my group worked our asses off and still didn’t have enough time in the day to get it all done.  And we still suffered layoffs.  It didn’t make any difference to the tax collector.  This is a heads up to all of the currently employed Republicans who think they have jobs because of their virtuous behavior: you will have to pay taxes on your severance and unemployment benefits.  No, no, don’t feel shame about accepting unemployment.  Think of it as you paying yourself.  For however long it takes.  And it looks like it’s going to take a long time.

You will never be safe, never secure again.  You should start thinking of your job as temporary.  Do not make vacation plans, do not buy a house unless you can pay for it cash.  Do not get sick.  Do not have children that you expect to raise for 18 years.  Do not buy a new car.  Buy hand-me-down cars from family members who you know maintained them well.  Never leave your parents’ house. Get comfy in your childhood bedroom.  Do not get married to a person who doesn’t have health insurance and at least 6 months salary in the bank.  Do not get old.

Your job is to work at whatever job you can get for as long as they will keep you and to pay taxes so that big banks and military contractors can squander it away.

This is not the American Dream, this is the Republican Dream.  No, I don’t know why they want to do this with their country.  I think they just get a taste for power, for being in the group with the most money, and they find it easy to adopt the values of that ascendent group and they don’t know when to stop.  It’s time to stop.  This year I pay taxes; next year, I wont.  The unemployment situation is also starting to have an effect on Main Street.  Lowes is closing some stores in the Northeast.  The economy is just not picking up.  That will affect 1,950 jobs.  Around my area, several major grocery stores have packed up and left, along with some specialty stores like Linen’s and Things.  Now we have brand new strip malls with big boxy stores that are either empty or newly occupied by holiday decoration stores and dollar stores.  In the mall, Bloomingdale’s closes at 8pm.  And this is not Nebraska.  This is central NJ, about 36 miles from New York City.  Suburban poverty is increasing here.  (This article was hard to read because one of the suburbs mentioned in it was where my grandparents lived and where I graduated from High School.  It used to be so well cared for.)

And here’s something new for the chemists who were laid off.  ChemJobber is running something called The Layoff Project.  If you are/were a chemist/researcher who was laid off (and what chemist out there hasn’t been laid off in the past couple of years?), head on over to The Layoff Project and share your experience, what to do, not to do, and whether you decided to bag research altogether.  Here’s a heads up for the corporate people who “separated” us: the outplacement firms you signed us up with?  Not very helpful for a researcher.  They are geared to help *business* people find new jobs.  They have virtually no idea how to help scientists. That’s why there is such an emphasis on “marketing plans” and “networking”.  For a labrat, it’s completely impractical, if not impossible, to just bop on over to your target company’s hiring manager and discuss your marketing plan for half an hour.  For one thing, in most lab settings, it’s harder to get on campus than it is to get into Fort Knox.  For every layer of security, there is an opportunity for the guy with the jobs to cancel your appointment.  For another, chemists loathe anything business related because a.) we know that business people have no idea what the f%^& they’re doing or we would still have jobs and b.) business people are the ones who fired us.  And don’t tell us we need to sell ourselves.  Our field requires us to be in the lab.  That’s what we do.  The researchers who “sell” themselves are not in the lab, are they?  No, they’re busily wheeling, dealing and deliberately making their lab working coworkers look bad.  But when you hire the ones who are professional salesmen, then you have hired a salesman.  How they will do in a lab or in a position where they actually have to do the analysis is a different question.  So, please, HR people, make the outplacement people get with the program or just give us the money you would have spent on them.  I’ve gotten better advice from my state’s Department of Labor that has been diligently setting up seminars and collaborations with local biotechs and has a pretty good online resume builder and jobs database.

Obama’s jobs bill is looking more and more like a strategy to make the Republicans look bad.  For many of us in this country, we have no problem identifying Republicans as the culprit for the last 30 years.  Now, the Democrats are starting to join them but it’s still the Republicans who are driving this race to the bottom.  I don’t know whether any of this will sink into the brains of the people who watch Glenn Beck.  They won’t get it until it happens to them personally.  But whatever the game is, I’ve just become sick of games.  Really guys, I’m tuning you out.  First it was TV and radio, now I’m getting tired of reading about the horse race and the strategy in the rest of the media.  And the more media outlets I shut down, the less chance you will have to influence me directly.

But I do have one suggestion that I think would have a profound impact on the election next year.  I think Obama should make the greatest sacrifice and offer not to run again.  If he sincerely wants to do the right thing for the country, I don’t think there is a better way to do it.  And I’m not just saying this because he was a completely unscrupulous, unDemocratic bastard in 2008.  I’m saying this because he does not have the political skills to go up against the Republicans.  Four more years of inertia is not what the country needs or wants.  The White House pollsters and political operatives should start paying attention to the Occupy movement instead of just moving their mouths and making supplicating noises to it.  Four more years of Obama for many of us is just unthinkable right now.  It makes me want to not vote next year.  I will be so angry at the Democrats for forcing me to make another unpleasant decision that I might just punish the rest of the field for not standing up for the 99% who need a different political environment.  And no, I don’t think Obama is going to get any better in his second term.

If Obama doesn’t run, well, that just zaps the mojo out of the Republicans, doesn’t it?  I mean, isn’t that their whole reason for being this election season?  To get rid of Obama?  And that means they will have to work extra hard to make sure that all of his (half-assed, inadequate) initiatives fail, even the ones that will (presumably) help people.  That’s their goal.  But if you take Obama out of the picture, then all of the attention for the failure can be concentrated on the people who actually have the power to pass legislation, right?  What better way to expose the real movers and shakers in Congress from both parties.  Right now, Obama is a smokescreen that gives a lot of self-interested politicians cover for pleasing the rich and well connected.  Clear away the smoke and let’s expose them.

Who would be a replacement for Obama?  There are obvious answers but if the obvious don’t seize the moment, I’m sure we can find other vigorous candidates to defend New Deal policies that are necessary to pull us out of this slump.  And there’s no shame on Obama’s part.  He goes out as a hero for finally having the guts to do the right thing and call the Republicans’ bluff.  It says nothing about him as the first African-American president.  I mean, who cares at this point?  Is his family history really that important when people are losing their houses?  If he decides not to run, he leaves the bankers’ money kind of useless.  They could give it to Republicans but they would just be joining themselves to a very unpopular party.

Well, we know that the DNC will tut-tut any such suggestion.  Obama is their guy and they are going to stick with him regardless of what voters want because that’s just the kind of Democratic party they are.  No, don’t thank them.  They are doing it for YOU.  Going with Obama is safe.  It means no unpleasant disagreements within the party.  No distasteful primary battles or dinner party conversations about values and party platforms and all of that unseeeeemly stuff.

Hokay, suit yourselves.  It must be nice to have the confidence that you can shove another four years down our throats and we’ll just accept it because the alternative is sooooo much worse.  But as Daniel Kahneman wrote a few days ago in the NYTimes in Don’t Blink! The Hazards of Confidence, what you don’t know or don’t want to look at can come back to bite you:

We often interact with professionals who exercise their judgment with evident confidence, sometimes priding themselves on the power of their intuition. In a world rife with illusions of validity and skill, can we trust them? How do we distinguish the justified confidence of experts from the sincere overconfidence of professionals who do not know they are out of their depth? We can believe an expert who admits uncertainty but cannot take expressions of high confidence at face value. As I first learned on the obstacle field, people come up with coherent stories and confident predictions even when they know little or nothing. Overconfidence arises because people are often blind to their own blindness.

True intuitive expertise is learned from prolonged experience with good feedback on mistakes. You are probably an expert in guessing your spouse’s mood from one word on the telephone; chess players find a strong move in a single glance at a complex position; and true legends of instant diagnoses are common among physicians. To know whether you can trust a particular intuitive judgment, there are two questions you should ask: Is the environment in which the judgment is made sufficiently regular to enable predictions from the available evidence? The answer is yes for diagnosticians, no for stock pickers. Do the professionals have an adequate opportunity to learn the cues and the regularities? The answer here depends on the professionals’ experience and on the quality and speed with which they discover their mistakes. Anesthesiologists have a better chance to develop intuitions than radiologists do. Many of the professionals we encounter easily pass both tests, and their off-the-cuff judgments deserve to be taken seriously. In general, however, you should not take assertive and confident people at their own evaluation unless you have independent reason to believe that they know what they are talking about. Unfortunately, this advice is difficult to follow: overconfident professionals sincerely believe they have expertise, act as experts and look like experts. You will have to struggle to remind yourself that they may be in the grip of an illusion.

And as we learned from Ron Suskind’s book, Confidence Men, Obama has a habit of surrounding himself with arrogant, overconfident men who turn out to be wrong over and over again.  I’d go big, Barry, and make the sacrifice.

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