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This is one of the reasons I didn’t vote for Obama

There were a couple big ones, racism wasn’t among them.

The reason I didn’t vote for him in the primary in NJ on SuperTuesday in 2008 was because I didn’t think he was ready to be president and wasn’t familiar enough with the mechanisms of government to be effective.  It was pre-ordained that the Republicans were going to be a defiant, ruthless opposition party.  I felt that Hillary Clinton would have a better grasp of how to get around the Republicans to get things done.  Plus, I didn’t feel that Obama had been in Washington long enough to develop a working coalition of allies and congressional members.  His coalition was going to be “gifted” to him from his campaign donors.  It couldn’t be any other way given his lack of experience and time in Washington.  Annnnnnd, it looks like I was right.

I’m not gloating.  No, really I’m not because what has happened since 2008, including to me personally, has been so serious that this is no time to gloat.

But leave it to Obama to get his shit together when it finally makes very little difference.  According to Reuters:

President Barack Obama told his Cabinet on Tuesday to look for areas where he might be able to govern by executive action given gridlock in Congress that is hampering his agenda.

In a White House meeting, Obama brought together the top officials in his government a day after conceding that a deadlocked Congress will prompt him to act on his own authority where he can on an immigration overhaul.

Obama said he wants to work with Congress where possible, “but if Congress is unable to do it,” then he said his Cabinet officials and agency heads should look for areas where executive actions can “show some real progress.”

“The people who sent us here, they just don’t feel as if anybody is fighting for them or working them. We’re not always going to be able to get things through Congress … but we sure as heck can make sure that the folks back home know that we are pushing their agenda and that we’re working hard on their behalf,” Obama said.

This has me worried.  He’s looking to move the ball forward on immigration reform and while I applaud a solution that will resolve the status of immigrants who are here via irregular methods, I’m not so crazy about giving even more temporary  visas to tech and R&D companies when there are hundreds of thousands of American STEM workers still unemployed.

Let’s just say that I am not confident that this sudden urgency to resolve the immigration crisis is about illegal landscapers. I’ve been right so far.

Still, I guess it’s a good thing that Obama has realized that he does have the power after all to get things done even if it is 6 years too late.  Just think what be might have done about the mortgage crisis, unemployment, healthcare reform…

 

Nick Kristof is shocked, SHOCKED!

Nicholas Kristof  writes in The Compassion Gap about the nasty responses he got from a lot of his readers to the plight of a woman he profiled recently.  Says Kristoff:

SOME readers collectively hissed after I wrote a week ago about the need for early-childhood interventions to broaden opportunity in America. I focused on a 3-year-old boy in West Virginia named Johnny Weethee whose hearing impairment had gone undetected, leading him to suffer speech and development problems that may dog him for the rest of his life.

A photo of Johnny and his mom, Truffles Weethee, accompanied the column and readers honed in on Truffles’ tattoos and weight.

“You show a photograph of a fat woman with tons of tattoos all over that she paid for,” one caller said. “And then we — boohoo — have to worry about the fact that her children aren’t cared for properly?”

On Twitter, Amy was more polite: “My heart breaks for Johnny. I have to wonder if the $$ mom spent on tattoos could have been put to better use.”

“This is typical of the left,” Pancho scolded on my Facebook page. “It’s not anyone’s fault. Responsibility is somebody else’s problem.”

To me, such outrage at a doting mom based on her appearance suggests the myopic tendency in our country to blame poverty on the poor, to confuse economic difficulties with moral failures, to muddle financial lapses with ethical ones.

Apparently, Nick Kristoff doesn’t read his own paper.  A few years ago, I noticed something extremely unsettling about the way the NYTimes was portraying the unemployed.  There were a number of articles for the front page that made the unemployed look like trailer trash, slovenly and asleep at their computers.  I don’t know what message that was supposed to send but it didn’t match ANY of the unemployed I knew, who consisted of R&D professionals with multiple degrees, publications and patents to their name.  There were hundreds of thousands of those people who certainly deserved compassion who didn’t get it.  And now those same hard working professionals have a very hard time finding jobs because for some reason, employers have this image in their heads that they’re obese, lazy, slovenly and depressing to be around.

Get your head out of your ass, Nick, and you will see that you are sitting in the middle of the source of the lack of compassion. The NY Times is a world leader when it comes to inducing stereotypical and harsh Pavlovian responses to people who have fallen from middle class grace.

Business ruined science in this country

These two posts go together:

Engineers See a Path out of Green Card Limbo at the NYTimes

and

Promoting STEM Education, Foolishly at In the Pipeline by Derek Lowe

Here’s the bottom line as Derek spells it out:

And that takes us back to the subject of these two posts, on the oft-heard complaints of employers that they just can’t seem to find qualified people any more. To which add, all too often, “. . .not at the salaries we’d prefer to pay them, anyway”. Colin Macilwain, the author of this Nature piece I’m quoting from, seems to agree:

“But the main backing for government intervention in STEM education has come from the business lobby. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard a businessman stand up and bemoan the alleged failure of the education system to produce the science and technology ‘skills’ that his company requires, I’d be a very rich man.

 I have always struggled to recognize the picture these detractors paint. I find most recent science graduates to be positively bursting with both technical knowledge and enthusiasm.

If business people want to harness that enthusiasm, all they have to do is put their hands in their pockets and pay and train newly graduated scientists and engineers properly. It is much easier, of course, for the US National Association of Manufacturers and the British Confederation of British Industry to keep bleating that the state-run school- and university-education systems are ‘failing’.”

This position, which was not my original one on this issue, is not universally loved. (The standard take on this issue, by contrast, has the advantage of both flattering and advancing the interests of employers and educators alike, and it’s thus very politically attractive). I don’t even have much affection for my own position on this, even though I’ve come to think it’s accurate. As I’ve said before, it does feel odd for me, as a scientist, as someone who values education greatly, and as someone who’s broadly pro-immigration, to be making these points. But there they are.

Anyone who thinks that all you need to make  good science is cheap, well educated labor should really give it a whirl sometime.  Let me know how you’re doing after a decade of lab work and half a dozen restructurings.

The idea that we need to import more foreign engineers when American engineers can’t get work here and have to go work in Canada and Japan is just beyond cruel and stupid.

As Colin McIlwain says, the idea that there is a shortage of well educated, technically proficient and experienced American scientists is something the business community conjured up in order to push wages down.  Congress is either willfully ignorant or completely bamboozled if it seriously thinks that we need more foreign STEM graduates.  I recommend that the coastal Senators and Reps take a good look at their states’ unemployment statistics to see what Pharmageddon has done to the R&D industry.  It’s a hemorrhage of good jobs and tax revenue and if they pass this immigration measure, they’re only going to make the problem worse.

Good science is hard work and should be paid accordingly.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve known scientists who have been here for years and had difficulty getting a Green Card and I have great sympathy for them.  They paid their dues and deserved the card.  But we don’t need more foreign math and science students here until we can clear the backlog of the hundreds of thousands un and underemployed scientists that are struggling to get by since the bonus class decided it didn’t really need research after all.  In any case, they’re smart enough to figure it out.  When low wages make living in the US a losing proposition after 10 years of undergraduate and graduate school, they’ll stop coming here.

They might try France instead.  Here’s an article from the WSJ about how R&D employees got the aid of the French government on its side to keep the research facilities open when the Bonus Class at Sanofi tried to shut them down.  The secret?  UNIONS.

Want to know where the next great discoveries are going to come from?  Europe.

If American STEM workers don’t start fighting back, we all lose:

Still busy doing stuff work and house related.  It’s perfect gardening weather here in Pittsburgh.  I’m having a couple of cubic yards of mulch and top soil mix dropped off here later and I have a ton of weeding to do.  Now, where are my secateurs?

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.

 

 

SOTU {{facepalm}}

There are two problems with the SOTU speech.  I don’t believe Obama and the Republicans have a gift for manipulation.  We need to learn how to monkeywrench that.

First, let’s start with Obama.  I don’t care what he said last night or what his delivery was like or even if some of his ideas were kinda, sorta in the vague general direction we need to go.  Even if he didn’t have a history of making you think he has your best interests at heart just before he delivers some incredibly weak policy, all his goodwill would have been negated when I heard this:

Our economy is stronger when we harness the talents and ingenuity of striving, hopeful immigrants. And right now, leaders from the business, labor, law enforcement, and faith communities all agree that the time has come to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

Real reform means strong border security, and we can build on the progress my Administration has already made – putting more boots on the southern border than at any time in our history, and reducing illegal crossings to their lowest levels in 40 years.

Real reform means establishing a responsible pathway to earned citizenship – a path that includes passing a background check, paying taxes and a meaningful penalty, learning English, and going to the back of the line behind the folks trying to come here legally.

[yeah, yeah, all well and good but what's this...?]

And real reform means fixing the legal immigration system to cut waiting periods, reduce bureaucracy, and attract the highly-skilled entrepreneurs and engineers that will help create jobs and grow our economy.

There are two problems with the idea that American needs more highly skilled entrepreneurs and engineers from foreign countries.  The first is that it’s bullshit and the second is that Obama is getting his information from the same Wall Street braintrusts who ran our research complex into the ground.

Let’s take on the bullshit aspect first, shall we?  Since 2008, the biotech/pharma research sector has laid off over 100,000 scientists, the bulk of them in NJ.  Don’t believe me?  Check out FiercePharma Top 10 Layoffs for 2009 for a taste of the carnage.  As for foreign engineers needing to come here, I can only assume he means the kind of engineers they employ in the Apple plants in China.  Because I know American chemical engineers who are working in Canada and Japan because they can’t get a job in the United States.  So, the only reason I can think as to why we are bringing in foreign engineers is that the companies that want to hire them have been keeping perfectly good, highly skilled American engineers out of the labor market and now, realizing they actually need engineers, they want to bring in cheap labor from elsewhere.

It is the mark of a very disinterested, captured president if he is unwilling to address the real problem of unemployed American STEM workers, who apparently have no voice, in order to shut up the yammering from the executive suites of big companies.  He’d rather send our own American high tech workers out of the country and away from their families than ask companies to demonstrate why they need to be sitting on the pile of cash that should be wages.  This is shameful.

Secondly, about that entrepreneurship?  What exactly does he think R&D professionals are made of?  When we were working for corporations, we were not exactly making the big bucks.  Some of us came from the midwest and were dragged out to the most expensive areas of the country when our corporate overlords decided to merge their little hearts away.  THEN when those same corporate overlords realized that the cost of research was suddenly too high, because they vastly increased the cost of each scientist by moving them out to the suburbs of New York City and Philadelphia, they unceremoniously laid our asses off and stranded us here.  The severance packages are temporary, mortgages are forever.

So, where exactly are we supposed to get money to be entrepreneurs?  I mean, who in their right mind would lend money to little biotech startups with a lead compound and expect that compound to go all the way through clinical to market?  Well, as we have seen from recent evidence, it is very, very difficult to start those kinds of businesses here because once the compound is at the development stage, you need to lay off early discovery personnel in order to have enough capital to see the drug through the next stage.  What foreign grad student would voluntarily come to America to put themselves through that  short employment cycle?  Why not go to Germany to study?  I would.  I wouldn’t waste my time struggling here in the US where you are expected to live on a pittance, public transportation is awful, healthcare is ridiculously expensive and you can’t buy a decent house on the $37K a year that you’ll be expected to make as a permanent post doc.

If Obama can’t get this one policy right with regard to the causes and effects of high unemployment among American STEM workers, I can’t believe he has a good grip on ANY economic issue.  It’s either willful ignorance on his part or he just doesn’t give a damn.

Look, guys, and by guys I mean the White House and Congress, high tech workers have to eat too.  You may think we’re all a bunch of unwashed geeks who eat Cheetos out of the vending machines and are awkward around the opposite sex but if you actually do any kind of investigation into the lives we live, you will see that we’re not that different from other “normal” Americans.  We like nice places to live that aren’t collapsing on us, decent transportation, a nice bottle of wine with dinner, trips to DisneyWorld with the kids we procreated and all the other stuff that makes life in the US worth living.  Whoever is telling you that STEM people are willing to work for post doc salaries until they get the brilliant idea that’s going to turn them into the next Thomas Edison is really not dealing well with reality.

Speaking of not dealing with reality well, Paul Krugman has a post on his blog about Marco Rubio’s response and how Rubio casually threw in this bit of, well, there’s no other way to say this, lying:

This idea – that our problems were caused by a government that was too small – it’s just not true. In fact, a major cause of our recent downturn was a housing crisis created by reckless government policies.

Krugman says:

OK, leave on one side the caricature of Obama, with the usual mirror-image fallacy (we want smaller government, therefore liberals just want bigger government, never mind what it does); there we go with the “Barney Frank did it” story. Deregulation, the explosive growth of virtually unregulated shadow banking, lax lending standards by loan originators who sold their loans off as soon as they were made, had nothing to do with it — it was all the Community Reinvestment Act, Fannie, and Freddie.

Look, this is one of the most thoroughly researched topics out there, and every piece of the government-did-it thesis has been refuted; see Mike Konczal for a summary. No, the CRA wasn’t responsible for the epidemic of bad lending; no, Fannie and Freddie didn’t cause the housing bubble; no, the “high-risk” loans of the GSEs weren’t remotely as risky as subprime.

This really isn’t about the GSEs, it’s about the BSEs — the Blame Someone Else crowd. Faced with overwhelming, catastrophic evidence that their faith in unregulated financial markets was wrong, they have responded by rewriting history to defend their prejudices.

This strikes me as a bigger deal than whether Rubio slurped his water; he and his party are now committed to the belief that their pre-crisis doctrine was perfect, that there are no lessons from the worst financial crisis in three generations except that we should have even less regulation. And given another shot at power, they’ll test that thesis by giving the bankers a chance to do it all over again.

Since I am about to move into a neighborhood that was affected by the housing crisis (disclaimer: my new house is a foreclosed property in a neighborhood of them), I will be doing my own little bit of research on Rubio’s side of the story to determine what exactly went wrong but let me just say that I’m skeptical.  Not only am I skeptical about the cause of the disaster but I suspect that the true bad actors are still acting badly.  Check out this post by Dave Dayan at The New Republic to see how investment bankers are messing with the housing recovery.  I had a conversation with a realtor yesterday, a listing agent for foreclosed properties, who told me that the banks are a mess.  From his description, I get the image of banks out of control, restructuring constantly, trying to game the system on a minute by minute basis, unsure who gets what contract papers when and in what order and losing money for themselves and their investors in the process because the working environment is constantly shifting.  Of course, that is a much more complex and longer story to tell and besides, it doesn’t fit with the “these are not the droids you’re looking for” strategy  of deflecting blame from the big money donors of the Republican party so the general public is largely unaware of the bankers’ shenanigans and how they are setting communities, homeowners and renters up for even more destructive wealth extraction.

But what really floors me is how so many voters who lean conservative actually believe this crap.  Is it because the alternative explanations never get floated past them or that those alternatives are too complex?  Or is it because the conditioning is too ingrained?  Demographic trends will take care of much of negative effects to a critical mass of Americans but for the good of the country, we really need to figure out how to put a stop to allowing so much of our population to believe lies.  At the very least, there should be a truth in advertising statement for both the SOTU address and its responses.  But even that will be insufficient if there’s no way to effectively push back in such a way that an evidence based world is the operant one.

It’s a huge problem for both the left and the right.  If we don’t solve it, we might as well just let the plutocrats indenture us now.

Update: So, apparently the new meme is “Down with Austerity! Up with a balanced approach of spending cuts and tax increases!”  A “balanced approach of spending cuts and tax increases” is still AUSTERITY.  I’m sorry, no matter how you slice it, when you cut spending in the midst of a depression, which is what we are in right now, the consequence is going to be AUSTERITY and a return to more recession.  Can we cut the crap already, Barry?  You need to spend money, the money you can get for ridiculously low interest rates, and put people back to work.  Anything else is AUSTERITY.

I blame the “progressives” who got us into this mess.  I will never, never forgive the assholes who got schmoozed by this Republican president in disguise.

Americans Who Pay Attention Leadership Council

Press Release

The Americans Who Pay Attention Leadership Council met recently to discuss the most effective way to cut the budget deficit. After having examined recent trends and similar historical events, they have decided that resolving the employment problem should be the focus of public and private initiatives and that policies to bring down unemployment would be the most effective way of reducing the deficit.  Higher employment has been shown to stimulate economic growth and lead to higher tax revenues.

“It’s unlikely that the private sector is going to be able to contribute to higher employment levels without a ‘carrots and sticks’ campaign”, says a senior director of the leadership council.  “The focus of the private sector is on the next quarter, according to our data.  Unfortunately, we do not see a movement within the White House to formulate policies that would lead big businesses to focus longer. The 2009 stimulus package was underfunded and not well designed to have a lasting effect.”

The leadership council plans to meet again to monitor the White House’s response to the ongoing unemployment crisis, which it says has been “pathetic” in the preceeding four years.

A second topic that the leadership council explored was the nature of President Obama’s political philosophy.  The leadership council has determined that President Obama is not now nor ever has been a member of the socialist party.  The irony of such claims to the contrary were not lost on the council.

“Clearly, we must do a better job of moving Americans away from television and radio sources of news.  They’re lowering our collective IQ and making us a global laughingstock”, the senior director said.  “Americans Who Pay Attention recommend a cable news free diet and only occasional consumption of NPR.  Excessive intake of focus group driven memes has been shown to be harmful to the American standard of living.”

 

 

Attention Cory Booker

Screen Shot 2012-12-13 at 10.54.27 AMI saw you on the DailyShow last night and the stuff you said about the state of New Jersey being desperately short of biomedical researchers made me sick to my stomach.

You have to know this is not true.  How could you NOT know this is not true?  It’s so easy to prove with cold hard numbers and statistics.  The big pharmas are pulling out of New Jersey to go to Massachusetts because Massachusetts offered them almost half a Billion dollars in taxpayer money to relocate there.  They are leaving thousands and thousands of us behind.  That’s thousands and thousands of well-educated, technically proficient, TAXPAYERS. That’s where the unemployment money is going, Cory.  Those companies take the money that Massachusetts is offering, dump thousands and thousands of us on the state of New Jersey’s unemployment roles and then relocate only a tiny fraction of their workforce to Massachusetts.  What do they do with the rest of the tax incentives?  Beats me but I’m sure the shareholders are happy.

The idea that you would actually believe a pharma lobbyist who tells you he can’t find good help anymore in NJ and now has to outsource and that you would voluntarily spread this misinformation without actually checking to see if what they’re telling you is true or not defies explanation.  It makes no sense, Cory.  It is UN-believable. You either know that you are willfully lying, compromised by people who you view as your true “peers” or you’re dumber than a box of rocks.

I suggest you spend some time with those of us who used to work for pharma and are now unemployed in New Jersey.  Funny how no politician actually does that.  They’re more than happy to listen to whatever bullshit the financiers and industry propaganda artists tell them but they won’t go down to the NJ Department of Labor and actually check the database for the unemployed from Roche, Sanofi, Pfizer, Merck and all of the other companies that shed employees on a routine basis.  Go check out the shuttered lab facilities in South Brunswick and Bridgewater.  Our unemployment rate is more than 10% in this state and a big slice of it comes from the biomedical researchers who are not employed anymore.

But don’t tell lies on national TV.  It will come back to bite you during your next campaign.  Someone who is that out of touch shouldn’t be representing our state.

By the way, the idea that “the more you learn, the more you earn” is the old paradigm.  It doesn’t work any more. Wake up already or you’re going to condemn a whole generation of New Jersey school children to a lifetime of indentured servitude to pay off their student loans for the low paying jobs they got in a laboratory.  Come talk to us, Cory.  The sooner you get a clue, the better off the school kids in Newark will be.  What we need is a tough negotiator, not more low paid scientists who can’t make ends meet in New Jersey anymore.

Madeleine Jacobs makes $800,000+ a year

I rarely answer my critics.  In fact, I don’t even read them.  Why play Whack-a-Mole with people whose sole purpose in life appears to be poking you to see how you react?

But it has recently come to my attention that Madeleine Jacobs, executive director and CEO of the American Chemical Society wrote an Op/Ed particularly criticizing something I said to a reporter at the Washington Post.

The piece that reporter wrote didn’t exactly misquote me, although he wasn’t entirely accurate either, but let’s just say that Brian left a lot of things out and “shaped” his predetermined narrative.  If you read that article and had never read anything I’ve posted about my career or layoff  *here*, you would have gotten a distorted impression about my passion for science.

But the most annoying thing was that my comments about not encouraging my daughter to go into science has left a lot of context on the editorial cutting room floor.  But anyway, here’s Madeleine’s snippy little commentary on what I said:

This misguided advice so stunned me that I began crafting a response, but Daniel Jordan, a biology major, beat me to the punch with a superb letter to the Washington Post. He wrote: “Anyone who would discourage a child who loves math and chemistry from pursuing a career in science because it might be difficult to find employment might not be a scientist for the right reasons. Energetic men and women must be encouraged to enter the sciences despite these obstacles. In fact, those individuals who are passionate enough about their work to stick with it during times of hardship and who hunger to expand their, and our, knowledge of the world are the very ones we most want. … This prognosis of doom and gloom should be seen as a catalyst to redouble our efforts to foster creativity, ingenuity and admiration for the sciences.”

Right on, Daniel! The U.S. must support and produce the most-talented, best-trained scientists in the world to drive U.S. innovation. In the 1960s, in the aftermath of Sputnik, being a scientist was a noble calling. Many people became scientists to fulfill what they saw as their patriotic duty.

Madeleine, Madeleine, Madeleine, you have taken on the wrong person, my dear.

Let me address this one item at a time:

1.) My daughter is good at many subjects.  I won’t go into it all right now because people are sick of hearing about it but suffice it to say that she is currently being recruited by some very nice universities and she just started her junior year in high school.  But the reason she is being recruited is because her brain has a peculiar and rare wiring for languages.  She is a human babel fish.  When I talked to Brian, I told him that I thought she might be good at international law, something he neglected to mention.  But she might very well be suited for research into the cognitive sciences or computational linguistics.  Right now, she is taking two AP science courses and I’m sure she will do well in them.  But with TWO parents who have experienced layoffs and have not been able to get jobs that pay what they used to make, and who have to pay for their health insurance and everything else, she knows without me even telling her that chemistry and biotech in general are very unstable career paths.

2.) I am hardly the only one who has told their kids to not go into chemistry, medicinal chemistry or biotech, Madeleine.  I am simply the person who isn’t afraid to admit it.  In fact, all of my former colleagues have told their kids the same thing.  Don’t go into biomedical, biotech, or chemical research.  Even the ones who still have jobs, and there aren’t many of my friends who haven’t been laid off, have told me that if they had to do it all over again, they wouldn’t have gone into research.  They say this because they know that the people who run the industry don’t give a rat’s ass about how much passion they put into their jobs or how much experience they have or even if they have discovered a multi-billion dollar drug.  The bottom line is the bottom line and when it is time to cut costs, your salary just looks like it is getting in the way of some shareholder’s dividend and some hot shot corporate office jockey riding over your life to a big bonus.

3.) The industry is becoming increasingly unforgiving towards those of us without PhDs.  In this environment, Michael Faraday would be relegated to glass washing. It’s short sighted and I have found that even on sympathetic chem industry blogs, the PhDs are lording it over the rest of us and clinging to their privilege as if their years of sacrifice in graduate school were still meaningful or necessary (it’s not necessary, trust me).  But it’s not enough to get a PhD these days.  No, you have to be the creme de la creme. The Wall Street Culture of Smartness, status and privilege has invaded the biotech world. You must be a graduate of the best universities in the world, have a royal pedigree and have made some stupendous, miraculous discovery that will be the next big “get rich quick!” thing that the financial backers will invest in.  If you’re lucky, you will be paid a lot of money, but probably not as much as the Wall Street analyst who is checking your outfit out, and will be relocated (if necessary) to Cambridge or San Francisco or some equally outrageously expensive place to live.  If your now shuttered US lab facility bestows upon you the blessings of employment in Cambridge, you will have to sell your underwater house and take your kids out of school and relocate them to one of these high priced enclaves.  Or you will have to leave your family behind.

And what will you do when you get there?  If you are fortunate, you will get to apply your expertise in a lab but more likely, you will be saddled with coordinating half a dozen contracts and remote labs where underpaid scientists do one thing in the absence of any context of a project.  Yep, people who are not PhDs get to run HPLCs or robotics or something that requires a degree but is not particularly interesting.  You are not part of a project team, you only get the information you need to know and you don’t need to know.

Those who do not have PhDs will end up working for CROs or some teensy little biotech that compensates you with equity.  When the small company fails, and over 80% do according to your own ACS representatives who come to the local university to try to talk you into risking everything you own to start one, you will be encouraged to jump to another small company for a short period of time and then another and another.  It will be like Silicon Valley, except that unlike projects in Silicon Valley, biological organisms rarely obey the laws of physics.  They have their own agendas.  Then, those same ACS representatives will tell you to make a deal with Merck or Pfizer who have a whole stable full of the best lawyers that money can buy who will write 400 page contracts to ease you out of your patent rights.  Your own ACS representatives will tell you to take the lousy 1% return that the big pharmas offer you and consider yourself lucky.  Oh, yes, they really did say that, Madeleine.  I have witnesses.

So, here we have thousands of people jumping from company to company, without many benefits, without much of a salary but lots of promises that aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on, and without any pension or security.  And with that, you’re supposed to be able to rent a house.  Let’s just throw out actually OWNING a home, Madeleine.  Even if a bank will give you a mortgage, you’d have to be totally nuts to get yourself into one with no prospects of employment stability.  Those of us in NJ have learned that lesson the hard way. You might not even be able to buy a car.  If you’re a woman, you might as well get your tubes tied.  If you get pregnant, you can’t work in the lab for long.  And if you can’t work in the lab, you’re going to look like you’re slacking.  Maternity leave?  In these economic conditions?  What person in their right mind would take that kind of risk?  There are hundreds of thousands of unemployed scientists right now who would be more than willing to take whatever job they can get even if that meant taking over from a more well qualified woman.  Stabbing women in the back and taking over their projects is standard operating procedure for any guy who wants to secure one of the few remaining jobs in the industry game of employment musical chairs.  I’ve seen the number of women in certain departments plummet as they were either forced out or laid off while their male colleagues snagged the peach positions in Cambridge.  It happens all the time.

What you are lecturing us to take, Madeleine, is the same insecure precariat existence that Michelle Obama was so cluelessly passionate about in her DNC speech.  Isn’t it great that so many teachers will work for no pay?  Isn’t it wonderful that so many dedicated, smart chemists will go work for peanuts and an uncertain, unstable economic existence?  What patriots!

Madeleine, we do have caloric requirements.  We need a roof over our heads.  As a military brat, I’m used to moving every year or two.  I didn’t always like it but my background makes me pretty receptive to shifting gears and learning new things.  I went out of my way to go back into the lab in my last year of work to learn molecular biology and crystallography and I *loved* it.  In middle age, I decided to do something that some of my more lofty, PhD carrying colleagues felt was beneath them.  Many of the PhDs I worked with think that past a certain point, lab work is a step down.

Don’t you get it, Madeleine??  I’m the person you were referring to with the passion and interest to do the work.  I was working on my projects literally to the very last minutes I had a job.  I had 4 months from the announcement of my layoff until my last day and I worked like a maniac those last 4 months, staying well into the night to solve my structures because I loved my work and I knew I might never have that experience again in my lifetime.  But it made no difference to the people who wanted me gone to satisfy their numbers.  Those people even sent us emails a couple of weeks after the layoff announcements congratulating themselves for reducing costs and making the analysts quarterly earnings predictions. Those reduced costs were me and my unfortunate colleagues who were left jobless in the middle of Pharmageddon smack dab in the heart of the worst recession since the 1930′s.

Who the heck do you think you’re talking to, Madeleine?  I collaborate with people who have taken very steep cuts in salary and while they’re grateful to have any job at all, they can’t make their mortgage payments.  I know people who have had to commute to one state for part of the week and only see their families on weekends. Like diamond miners in Soweto.  They share apartments with other chemists.  My own daughter’s dad works in a different country for months at a time on a contract without any benefits.

This is no way to treat your smartest citizens.  And frankly, I have no idea why any of us take it.  The unemployment rate among chemists, even PhDs, is much, much higher than is being reported.  It has to be because we are all laid off.  One of the companies I worked for, Wyeth, laid off 19,000 people when it was bought by Pfizer including all by a handful of my former colleagues.  The company I worked for last year has shut down the facility and transferred only a couple dozen people to their Cambridge facility.  I met one person going to Cambridge who was extremely worried that the job would be temporary at best.

But we’re supposed to uproot our very talented children to go chasing our dreams and take whatever job we can at vastly reduced salaries.  In my case, much of what I do can be done from my home but we’ve got to go out and find the work and keep finding it and keep finding it.  We will never have a moment’s security and as our savings dwindle and unemployment insurance is denied to the self-employed, we will be constantly worried about how we’re going to pay the bills.

And let’s not even start on how we’re supposed to fork over $33.00 per paper in an ACS publication when we need to do research.  Saddling new small companies and self-employed people with these outrageous digital copy costs of material that was given to you for free is a little like shooting the baby on the way out of the womb.  What’s that all about?  Madeleine’s family has to subsist on $800K+/year but a hard working researcher footing their own bills is going to be able to fork over $33/copy for an obtuse 4 page paper?

What about the ACS’s patriotic duty?  Because of your organization’s greedy publication pricing structure, most of us can’t afford to even do the preliminary research to do our work.  We have to make friends with university professors with licenses and instead of just downloading the paper to our computers at home, need to make special trips to university libraries.  Do you know how annoying it is to find that the paper you really need is a buried citation in the paper you read at the university library and now you need to make yet another trip??

Not only is your pricing policy greedy and anachronistic, it doesn’t even make sense financially.  You’re not going to get us to pay $33.00 a copy.  Nooooo, we’ll get it for free from some other source. Do you think we just fell off the turnip truck? That means the ACS gets nothing.  If you adopted an iTunes model and charged one or two dollars a digital copy, that might actually make you money.  But no, you’d rather screw the very people you are excoriating for not working hard enough for their new American precariat existences.

And what are you doing about the visa problem, Madeleine? What are you doing to protect those of us new self-employed and contractors who need to get paid regularly and no longer have labor protections?  What are you doing about getting us low cost group health insurance policies, not gap insurance?  Why aren’t you working with the Freelancers Union to help chemists make the transition?  Why aren’t you lobbying congress on our behalf and proposing private-public partnerships to take over abandoned labs in NJ to put people back to work?  Do you know what the unemployment rate is in NJ?  It’s almost 10%.  What is it you are doing with the $800K+ dollars the ACS is paying you every year?  Writing clueless Op/Ed pieces about people in the trenches who you know nothing about is not the best use of your time, Madeleine.

When the industry is doing it’s best to kill research in this country and when professors are telling their grad students to not pursue a career in chemistry and dedicated chemists are losing their lifestyles and their houses and their careers after decades of hard work, you’ve got a lot of nerve telling me how to raise my kids. I’m not going to encourage my bright, multilingual Brooke to become some economically insecure lab rat indentured to a bunch of greedy vulture capitalists.

From where I am sitting, my patriotic duty is to tell the truth about what is happening to us so that maybe someone takes an interest in preserving the last tiny shreds of American scientific infrastructure that are left.  And if that makes you uncomfortable or conflicts with the lies you’ve been telling our governmental officials or your idea that well educated professional chemists should become desperate and cheap labor for your industrial friends, tough.  You can always resign.  Trust me, there are thousands of chemists who would jump at a chance to do your job better than you do at less than half of your salary.

The Big Dawg’s Magic Trick: Pulling Obama’s Bacon Out of the Fire.

So, Bill Clinton, who all of the Obama fans and loyal Democrats will never forgive for 8 years of peace and prosperity, will attempt to turn us refuseniks into devoted Democratic voters.

I hope he asked for something good in return.

(It’s not going to be Hillary in 2016.  Just forget it.)

Now, Bill’s got a big problem.  He’s going to have to make the case that the Republicans are the ones who decided to make unemployment sky high going into the election.  And I don’t disagree with him.  *Except* that Obama had two years of a filibuster proof majority and the unemployed were loooooow on his priority list after saving the bankers and passing an inadequate and largely unimplemented health care insurance reform bill so he could look like a hero to other Democrats.  If he had put jobs, and I don’t mean just “manly” jobs, as his first priority, he wouldn’t need Bill to save his bacon.  (Well, that and killing the Bush tax cuts, implementing a HOLC program to save people’s houses after they are laid off, putting bankers who threaten the economy in jail, break up the biggest banks, etc.)

No, instead, all he needed to do was push for the $100 Billion that Christine Romer said would put a shitload of people back to work.  But you know, Romer was a woman and the Obama White House doesn’t really listen to women.  She also recommended a much bigger fiscal stimulus package but instead of asking for the moon and having to dial it back to a Romeresque number of $1.2 Trillion, Obama asked for much, much less than that to start and negotiated down.  Unnecessarily less.  He spent no political capital on the rest of us and much real capital on the banks.

Then he let Tim Geithner cover up what bad shape the banks were in.  If Congress had known about the LIBOR manipulations, and what serious condition the economy was in, well, we couldn’t have counted on the Republicans to lift a finger to help but we might have prevailed upon the more sensible Democrats to do the right thing (I know I’m being generous here.  Work with me.).

You know what?  Just forget it.  The dude just blew his first two years.  Totally blew them.  Unfortunately for us, they were the crucial two years.  It looks like Obama’s campaign is going to be a sentimental journey into BoBo land where if you would have only worked really hard and gone to the right schools and didn’t have unapproved sex, you wouldn’t be in the straits you’re in right now.  That utopia conveeeeeniently leaves out what happened to all of the scientists with PhDs I know who were 33 before they got their real first job after their post docs, but the Obama campaign is busting a gut trying not to mention the word ‘unemployment” or to in any way burst the merry little scenario they have built in their heads of well tended gardens in idyllic upper middle class suburbs.

Where was I?

Oh yeah, back to Bill.  Well, he’s got his work cut out for him tonight.  He’s got to get the remaining Clintonistas back in the fold.  Except the remaining Clintonistas are pissed as all hell.  Four years ago, we were dragged, kicking and screaming to vote for Mr. Caucus Fraud against our better judgement (some of us protest voted).  He wasn’t ready, had no practical experience, used misogyny against his opponent in a way that reverberated throughout the social sphere and we didn’t trust him because he was a ruthless, unethical and egotistical campaigner who took more money from Wall Street than any candidate in history up to that point.  We still don’t trust him.  Not only that but we were right about Obama.  It’s regrettable that so many Clintonistas took their ire a step too far and joined the Tea Party.  Not the smartest move but you can hardly blame them.  Obama made a point of blowing off the working class (which in this context, O Best Beloveds, means anyone not making a living off their investments).  So, bad move or not, they are no more guilty of letting their emotions cloud their judgement than the 2008 Obots were.

Some of us didn’t defect from our values.  We just left the party and became independents.  But we’re still liberal, FDR Democrats.  And Obama ain’t.  Not even close.  So, I think the best that Clinton can do is deliver a powerful, enthusiastic vision of the future, which Obama will fail to pay any attention to.  Bill’s a loyal Democrat and a mensch.  That’s what he does.

And the nation will shake it’s head and think, we could have had a V8.

Pay close attention to Bill’s words.  Without careful parsing, you could be persuaded to think he said something he actually didn’t.

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

Oh, and the Democrats just f^&*ed the non-believers.  Would the Freedom From Religion Foundation care to comment?  Check out the expression on the face of the woman at minute mark 1:44.  Priceless.

Words not found in Michelle Obama’s Speech

Unemployment

Unemployed

Jobless

You can grep it yourself here: Text of Michelle Obama’s Speech at the DNC 2012.

People all over the country send her mail about the bills they can’t pay and their problems and she has no idea how those people got that way.  But if they just keep working hard, they’ll dig themselves out of the mess they’re in.  Whoo-hoo! Obama 2012!

By the way, the unemployment rate in NJ in August 2012 was 9.8%.  I’m guessing that included many, many overeducated professional college graduates with STEM degrees because that’s what I’m seeing, including some former colleagues of mine who are newly unemployed with the upcoming closure of the Roche research facility in Nutley, NJ.  My friends worked on cancer drugs.  Cancer.  We are closing cancer research labs all over NJ.

Here’s a snippet of Michelle’s speech:

And everywhere I’ve gone, in the people I’ve met, and the stories I’ve heard, I have seen the very best of the American spirit.

I have seen it in the incredible kindness and warmth that people have shown me and my family, especially our girls.

I’ve seen it in teachers in a near-bankrupt school district who vowed to keep teaching without pay.

I’ve seen it in people who become heroes at a moment’s notice, diving into harm’s way to save others…flying across the country to put out a fire…driving for hours to bail out a flooded town.

And I’ve seen it in our men and women in uniform and our proud military families…in wounded warriors who tell me they’re not just going to walk again, they’re going to run, and they’re going to run marathons…in the young man blinded by a bomb in Afghanistan who said, simply, “…I’d give my eyes 100 times again to have the chance to do what I have done and what I can still do.”

Thank you, Effie Trinket.

Yes, we love to work without pay and it looks like we’re expected to do so indefinitely.  With more cuts in the Grand Bargain, more people will have an opportunity to work without pay for bankrupt school districts.  The only thing that could top that is having the bankers work without bonuses but I couldn’t find it in her speech.   And until Obama actually ends the wars he said he was ending, more soldiers will have the opportunity to lose limbs and eyes 100 times over.

That man is never going to see again.  He’s not going to see a Van Gogh blue sky on a summer day.  He’s not going to see his kids’ faces.  He’s not going to know how much money he has in his wallet without help.  He’s going to wake up in the dark for the rest of his life. That man is trying to give meaning to a loss from a now meaningless war while government contractors lobby Congress to keep the damn thing going.

I think your broccoli needs weeding. You may leave now.

May the odds be ever in your favor!

In case the youtube embed doesn’t work for you, here’s the link.  Great movie, made just in time for the 2012 elections. Spells it out for even the dimmest wit.

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More Michelle moments, this time on equality for women:

Barack’s grandmother started out as a secretary at a community bank…and she moved quickly up the ranks…but like so many women, she hit a glass ceiling.

And for years, men no more qualified than she was – men she had actually trained – were promoted up the ladder ahead of her, earning more and more money while Barack’s family continued to scrape by.

But day after day, she kept on waking up at dawn to catch the bus…arriving at work before anyone else…giving her best without complaint or regret.

And she would often tell Barack, “So long as you kids do well, Bar, that’s all that really matters.”

Nauseating.

Stop complaining, Ladies.  Your careers are just not that important.  We insist on making you choose between your family and your job.  Is my husband great or what!?

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