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Things I learned this week and other stuff

If you're 5 and can read this sign...

If you’re 5 and can read this sign…

I went back to work full time this week after my prolonged involuntary sabbatical featuring periodic consulting work.  Here’s what I learned:

1.) Don’t park in Oakland.  Just don’t.  Fortunately, this is only temporary for the summer because I have to drop the kid off somewhere else and can’t take public transportation.  In the fall, I’m taking the bus that’s within walking distance from my house.  My brilliant plan to take public transportation will work perfectly.  Bwahahahahahahahahhhhh!**

2.) It’s easier to get up and get going at 6am than 9am.  Go figure.  I guess I really am a morning person. If I get up too late, I might as well bag the rest of the day.

3.) Don’t take the Parkway to work, especially if your route has to go through the Squirrel Hill tunnels.  Getting to work on time?  Nah-gah-happen.

4.) If you want to get to the South Side in the morning, do the counterintuitive route and go east and then north west.  Sounds bizarre but I cut a lot of time off my trip and the view of Pittsburgh in the morning as I’m flying over the bridges is spectacular. We were gobsmacked. It looks like some skyline poster from the early twentieth century and you can almost hear Rhapsody in Blue playing in the background. I need to get a dash mountable video camera.  Pittsburgh really is beautiful.  Buy real estate now because when the rest of the biotech industry decides to move here, the neighborhoods with the great views will be in high demand.  I almost feel like buying a fixer upper nearer to downtown to renovate.  (No, no, stop me before I buy again.  What am I thinking??)

5.) Another counterintuitive thing: There’s more variety and diversity in Pittsburgh than in suburban New Jersey.  What I mean to say is that the marketers haven’t really pinned down this city so there seems to be a lot of choice here where there’s virtually no choice in New Jersey.  I feel like I’ve been missing something for the past 20 years.

Last night, Brook, who is changing her look, bought something at Hot Topic and the kid running the cash register asked us where we were from.  We told her we were fugitives from New Jersey.IMG_1978

** What is with the conservatives’ hatred of public transportation and trains??  I don’t get it.  30 years ago, I got around Pittsburgh without a car because the bus system was excellent.  In the past few years, funding for the PAT bus system has been cut, as have many routes.  This is a real problem for the studdabuppas who never learned to drive and now find themselves stranded in their neighborhoods without the buses they used to rely on.  In my case, the bus will stop close to my house at 7:04am and I will have to transfer closer to town.  I used to be able to take the bus directly to my destination but someone decided that people in the east suburbs didn’t need as many buses so they cut back and changed the route.  That means more traffic gets dumped onto the Parkway and snarls local roads on the way downtown.  And this is the summer.  I can’t wait to see what it’s like in the fall when everyone is back from vacation.

One disturbing trend I’ve heard from a couple of my  40 something cousins is that they think it’s alarming when an employer has to pay benefits to new hires and I think that’s part of what’s behind the cutbacks in public transportation.  The PAT drivers are union and they get bennies.  So, if there are fewer buses and more complaints, maybe there will be more pressure on the unions to drop their demands for benefits. The public might be willing to chuck the bennies in exchange for more bus drivers who are new hires not covered by the old contracts.  Just speculation on my part as to what the politicians are thinking.  I think it’s going to be tough to convince a lot of the boomer generation though who grew up in a very union city where the buses ran great and who still think that there’s nothing wrong with benefits.

Pittsburgh could use more trains.  It’s depressing to walk through Oakmont, a lovely little town on the Allegheny not too far from me, and see the unused train tracks that run right through the center of town to downtown.  Now, that former commuter train area is a pretty landscaped park.  I’m not exactly sure why it can’t be prettily landscaped and functional but for some bizarre reason known only to the editorial columnists at the Wall Street Journal, the wealthy, powerful and Republican hate, Hate, HATE trains, even if it means that the minions can’t get to work on time with the least amount of trouble and expense.

I’m not sure I understand the reasoning behind this.  The wealthy and Republicans don’t need trains so no one can have them?  It’s perfectly ok to spend $150 million of public funds on a new sports facility because that’s what the wealthy want but not ok to spend the same amount of money on a better bus system because that’s what the not so wealthy want??  Who died and made them gods?  Where do they think they’re living? Rome?  Even Rome knew that it was a bad idea to skimp on the bread for the masses.  What’s really a bad idea is to party like there’s no tomorrow while the natives get restless and the barbarians are at the gate.

If the Netflix series House of Cards were for real…

Then now would be the time to buy Netflix

… and also Apple.  (you’d have to be blind to miss the connections)

You’d never want to step foot in the Capitol again because the muck is a foot deep and the scent would linger in the nostrils for an eternity.

You’d really come to hate people like Steny Hoyer.

You’d be on an IV drip of anxiolytics right after you were sworn in.  The game playing is a lot like many corporations where Wall Street values have permeated the working environment and  the obsession with screwing other people to save yourself trumps getting anything else done.

You’d see that lobbyists with money sugar are everywhere, like crack dealers.  They lurk at every party, every hotel, every rib joint.  Everytime you think you’ve kicked the habit, you find yourself in a situation where you need just one more hit to make it through the day.

You’d find that very powerful men can have wives who are smooth and cool and a little bit cruel but who are melting with compassion inside.  Or would be willing to use whatever’s inside to get what she wants, whichever comes first.

You’d soon realize that it’s not wise to be human and that, in the end, the politicians on the hill are no more concerned with what happens to working families and union people than the corporate overlords.   I mean, they really don’t give a s&*^.

But we know that this is just fiction because a.) no one defies their party to vote their conscience on a bill and b.)…

…no female journalists or female bloggers get that much access to what’s going on no matter who they’re sleeping with.  Only male bloggers become journalists on major papers and get access.  Female journalist/bloggers are almost invisible.

If it weren’t for that part, I’d almost believe it.

Big Pharma and the power of a union

French union scientists at Toulouse do a haka to protest salary and position cuts.
{{sniff}} I am so proud!

Derek Lowe at In The Pipeline wrote recently about French drugmaker Sanofi’s recent plans to close some sites in France.  I’ll get to that in a minute but first a little background.

A few weeks ago, Sanofi announced that it would be closing some French sites, the biggest site would be at Toulouse.  The closure would have put approximately 2300 scientists out on the unemployment rolls.  The Ministry that handles labor and unemployment had a fricking fit:

Besides unions, Sanofi has gotten an ear full from some government officials. With France’s economy struggling, the fact that Sanofi’s mother country was absorbing more of the pain, has not set well. French Productive Recovery Minister Arnaud Montebourg told senators when the cuts were first leaked: “Sanofi showed up at the ministry to tell us they were planning several thousand job cuts. Couldn’t you have said that earlier on? Last year you made €5 billion ($6.1 billion) in profits.”

And I’m sure that Sanofi would have cut elsewhere, if they had anywhere else to cut.  Last year, the company laid off all of the scientists at their main site in the US that was located in Bridgewater, NJ.  A couple dozen jobs were rescued and sent to the Cambridge, MA site, which is small, cramped and inadequate.  The rest of the projects were distributed to the French sites.  And do you want to know WHY the work went to the French sites and not to China (at least not yet)?  I’ll tell you why:

THE FRENCH SCIENTISTS ARE PROTECTED BY A UNION

Their union is pretty damn good too.  You could take every project away from them and have them just occupying the sites and playing tetris all day and the company would still have to pay them.  So, any time the company felt like research was being too much of a money pit, they took it out on the US workers until there weren’t any left.

This time, the unions threatened to strike and the French Productive Recovery Minister told the company that dumping French scientists on the labor market and relying on the government was not an option.  Usually, the companies who do business in France lay scientists off through attrition or generous early retirement packages.  A straight layoff , although rare, is still heavenly by American standards with terminated employees getting up to 80% of their salaries for 2 years and then able to go on the French public assistance program after that.  AND you don’t need to shell out half your unemployment on COBRA.  So, pretty sweet deal even if you’re being laid off.  You have time to find something else or go back to school for retraining or emigrate to Canada.  Your life isn’t thrown into an instant and chronic crisis.  And THAT, in turn, helps stabilize the rest of the economy.  The more people who can spend and keep demand up, the less of a hit the economy takes in newly unemployed people.

Anyway, it was still looking pretty grim for the French scientists until this week.  It looks like the Productive Recovery Ministry and the unions had an impact.  From Derek’s post:

here’s the announcement itself. And maybe this is my first impression, but compared to what’s gone on in other Sanofi sites (like Bridgewater), this one comes across like a shower of dandelion fluff. No reduction in the number of sites, no actual layoffs – just 900 positions to phase out, mostly via attrition, over the next two years. The Toulouse site is the only loose end; that one is the subject of a “working group” to figure out what it’s going to do, but I see no actual language about closing it.

Here’s more from FiercePharma’s article on the cutbacks in France:

A key official in France is keeping up pressure on Sanofi about its planned work force reductions in the country, sticking to the position that the drug giant ($SNY) hasn’t done enough to protect jobs. And French Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg makes clear in reports today that he isn’t satisfied with how the company plans to secure the future of its R&D site in Toulouse.

Montebourg has been a thorn in the side of Sanofi. Early this week Sanofi softened its stance on job cuts in France, saying the company would seek to shrink its work force in the country by 900 jobs through early retirements and voluntary moves and transfers in the next few years, as opposed to the 2,300 to 2,500 jobs at the company previously estimated to be on the chopping block. Yet the minister and others keep harping on Sanofi’s unresolved plan for its Toulouse site, where 600 additional jobs hang in the balance.

Sanofi wants to part ways with research in Toulouse, and said earlier this week that it would work with stakeholders in the coming months to solidify plans to keep the operation alive, Reuters reported. That too fell short with Montebourg and unhappy Sanofi workers and labor officials.

“Trade unions are right to say this is too much,” Montebourg told BFM television, as reported by Reuters. “The government thinks this is too much and we want guarantees for Toulouse.”

Sanofi CEO Chris Viehbacher, who has reportedly met with the industry minister, has found resistance in his strategy to double down on productive R&D centers while making cutbacks at those that fail to meet expectations.

You know, if Chris Viehbacher wanted to preserve the company’s most productive sites, maybe he should have kept the US scientists on their tree-lined campuses instead of keeping them in a high state of suspense for several years, terminating their projects and then stupidly laying them off and closing the site.  No wonder the French Ministry doesn’t believe a single thing he says.

So, there you go, folks.  If you want to stand up to the bonus class and save your jobs, you need to get a union and the government behind you.  Or maybe just the government behind you.  You don’t need to work 24/7 like a maniacal drone on crack, cranking out work and trying to impress everyone working like crazy, singing, “I really need this job.  Oh, God, I need this job” to guys on Wall Street who don’t give a shit anyway.  No, you have your union representatives negotiate a contract that makes it extremely painful for the company to drop its commitment to you.

Not only that, but the union has to be very, very active and visible, like standing outside the cafeteria, handing out grievance pamphlets and making its presence very known to the management.  Imagine going to lunch to eat your company subsidized baguette, custom prepared omelet and glass of red wine and being greeted at the door by a union person dissing the management and getting away with it.  (Oh, yes, it really happens, I saw it with my own eyes.)  Take a look at that picture.  Does that look like a bunch of broken human beings, cowering under the whip they’ve been forced to kiss, cringing in fear of being fired for speaking up or fighting for their rights?  Damn straight it doesn’t.

That’s why I keep saying that drug discovery will survive in Europe. They’ll have an infrastructure in France and Germany and the expertise that is acquired from having stability and continuity of uninterrupted research.  They’ll be able to keep pace with this rapidly changing explosion of biological discoveries while thousands of US scientists will be trapped in routine, unchallenging CROs or having their expertise rotting from disuse.  Maybe they won’t be as productive as the US researchers used to be or as ingenious as possible but, by golly, they may be all the world has left unless and until the Chinese and Indians can stabilize their business environment and take the lead in research.  It’s not easy and it will take some time before that happens.  The finance guys are going to have to take an old, cold tater and wait, not something they’re good at.  They’re going to be mad that they can’t transform our salaries into their bonus gold, but such is life.  The French government is finally standing up to them and saying “Non”.  In this case, the unions are actually doing them a favor, giving them an excuse to keep the technological expertise in the country and giving it an edge when the recession finally eases up.  The government will soak the corporations for salaries, not the workers for absolutely everything.

The bad news is that now that Sanofi has been forced to scale back their cutback plans in France, they’re going to have to take it out on their remaining employees elsewhere, like their site in Cambridge, which is already tiny, and their exploratory facility located in Tucson, Arizona.

So, for those of you professionals who are watching in horror at what happened to the scientists in this country, take note: get a union.  The problem of unemployment among us is not structural.  There are plenty of us and many of us are willing to relocate or work from home.  The problem is that the big guys don’t want to pay us for our expertise.  So, they’re going to keep spreading this lie that they can’t find enough qualified workers.  The real problem is that OUR government is not on OUR side.  The Obama administration would rather this country lost its technological edge and make precariats of us all than to stick up for us when the finance guys calculate their bonuses based on how many R&D bodies they can chop.

Sad but true and this story is proof.

On Wisconsin!

I’ve been following the recall election news from Wisconsin all day and from the looks of it, turnout is very high and it looks like it will be a squeaker between Scott Walker and his Democratic challenger Tom Barrett.  Turnout is estimated at 119% in Madison.  That number only looks strange because it is a relative number compared to the last election.  Wisconsin allows for same day registration so the number of first time voters is up.

[There seem to be an awful lot of people on twitter who are confused about the math when the turnout is reported to be above 100%.  So here's how it works: Take the number of voters who turned out for the last election.  That's your baseline.  If you get less than that number this year, you have less than 100% of the last voter turnout.  This happens a lot, especially in off year elections.  It's not unusual for your some of your registered voters to stay home.  If you get more voters, you get more than 100% of the last voter turnout.  In Wisconsin, it is possible to register to vote on the same day as the election.  Since this is a very high profile election, there are a greater number of voters coming out to vote so the number exceeds the turnout of last time.  It only sounds strange because the numbers are not absolute and they are not absolute because there is no hard count of voters by registration rolls when same day registration is permitted.  I assume that the new voter had to fill out a voter's registration card and they will be vetted later. The number exceeding 100% doesn't necessarily mean there were out of state voters or dead people.]

Update: Bernie Sanders weighs in on what a Walker win would mean to the rest of the country:

I love this headline from Andy Borowitz: Canada Bracing for Massive Influx of Wisconsin Boat People.

Charles Pierce is on the ground in Wisconsin and writes his usual witty, pithy, brilliant first hand account in Scenes from a Recall (I hate him for that).

The accusations from both sides are flying thick and fast.  The hallucinating nutcases at Fox are saying that Barrett is busing in people from Detroit to vote.  The voters have been reporting misleading robocalls that assure them that if they signed a recall petition, they need not trouble their pretty little heads about voting today.

Then there are the excuses and rationale that are coming from Obama friendly sources.  Rumor has it that he didn’t campaign in Wisconsin for Barrett because he thought Walker would win and he didn’t want to be seen standing next to a loser.  That’s a bit of a self fulfilling prophecy if ever I heard one.  Once again, it’s all about Obama.  Nevermind that there are public service workers and regular working people and women who may suffer the consequences if Walker wins.  What’s most important is maintaining Obama’s image.

The new spin from press secretary Jay Carney is that Wisconsin won’t be very  predictive of Obama’s chances in November at all.  I disagree.  Let’s look at the possible scenarios:

1.) Walker wins big.  This is bad news for working people.  It also proves that with a lot of money, you can buy a lot of megaphone volume to spew lies out to the public.  It would set a really bad precedent.  Republicans would gleefully pull out all of the stops.  Obama’s carefully manicured image would be in danger, especially if he economy gets worse.

2.) Walker wins small. If it’s really tight or if there’s a recount and Walker squeaks by, we’ll always wonder if Obama’s active presence and support would have been enough to change the outcome.  I think we’ll hear a lot of criticism from Wisconsin if that happens.  And if they’ve fought this hard and lost the war anyway, what would be the point of showing up in November?

3.) Barrett wins small. This would be a great outcome for Wisconsin and working people everywhere.  But it’s hard to see how Obama benefits from a win when he has scrupulously avoided any association with the campaign.  His tepid endorsement after Barrett won the primary and his single motivating tweet on the Wisconsin election this morning just goes to show how little influence he had on the outcome.  On the other hand, Barrett is going to owe Bill Clinton.

4.) Barrett wins big. In this scenario, the sentiment is that working people are pissed and won’t be shoved to one side while the Republicans swagger all over them and the Democrats go out of their way to court the snippy suburbanites who have stay at home moms like Michelle Obama and don’t hang around with working people if they can help it.  The party may have to start paying attention to working people and unions, something they’ve been avoiding for the past 4 years.  Hmmm, how do they start to look sincere this late in the game…?  Or the party could continue on it’s single minded quest for complete control of the message and just ignore Wisconsin.  In neither case do I get the impression that Obama will motivate the base to vote for him in November.  In fact, working people might just start feeling their Cheerios and start issuing demands.

Are there any other scenarios that would favor Obama?  I don’t see them but I might be suffering from a failure to imaginate.  It just seems to me that the Obama campaign kind of let Wisconsin down here.  Sure, Debbie Wasserman Shultz says the DNC and Obama’s campaign org in Wisconsin helped out but one gets the impression from the candidate himself that he was dragged into it very reluctantly.  And against this much cash pouring into Walker’s campaign, boots on the ground and a serious, DNC GOTV effort was more than justified.

Does Obama even realize that working people are his base or is he still buying into that crazy ass stuff that Donna Brazile was peddling in 2008 when she said they were the “old coalition” and the Democratic party didn’t need them anymore?  Because I have news for the party. The suburbs aren’t doing so well these days either.  There are just as many of us out of work and much, much poorer than we used to be.  And as we move from being wage slaves with company benefits to involuntary entrepreneurs, footing the bill for everything ourselves, the conservative message starts sounding a lot less painful.  Not everyone has the interest to become a political junky and tease out fact from fiction, cause from effect like we do.  I wouldn’t get to comfortable if I were the DNC.  Or Obama.

Maybe he should have gone to Madison.  Some things are just worth the risk.

OccupyWallStreet: Bloomberg postpones the “cleaning”

Please note that I am not at the park at the present time.  I’m just following the livestream.  See URLs below.

Update 8:06am: Live coverage back at Zuccotti and financial district.  The white shirts are back.  This is looking very tense.  The cops now have their guns out.  Crowd dispersing.  Some rumor that the police are going to take the park.  New rumor: They closed the Brooklyn Bridge??

Update: 7:43am: Livestream down again.  The last shot of the bull statue had a few policemen guarding it.  There are thousands of people pouring into the streets there.  So far, the atmosphere seems festive.  Police look a bit overwhelmed.  Arrests are being made.  The police are getting rough.

To me it looks like the police have lost this battle.  Too many people in the street right now.  This is what I thought might happen.  NYC has a huge population, today is Friday, expect the crowds to get bigger as the day goes on.  As long as the crowd stays non-violent and arrests are few, this could be quite a day for a party in NYC.

Update 7:32am:  Crowd estimate in Zuccotti park 5K.  The occupiers are marching in the street.  Police have arrived.  It’s looking tense.  Police appear to be gently escorting protestors back onto the sidewalk.  Not sure that’s going to work.  There are a LOT of people down there.

Holy S^&*!  It looks like the city is pouring into the street.

Cue the music!  Street bank striking up.  Lots of horns honking.  It’s a frickin’ party down there.  They’ve made it to the bull.  How much you want to bet someone(s) climb up on that thing?  I hope the photographers are ready to capture the moment.

6:30am: The cavalry unions are arriving.  The crowds at the park look huge.  CNN is reporting that Bloomberg has postponed the “cleaning” of Zuccotti Park.  Looking for link.  So far unconfirmed.  The livestream shows that there is something going on at the park that they refer to as a “situation”.  I think the rumor of a partial victory has gone to their heads and it’s a bit chaotic.  They were doing a mic check a few minutes to take a straw poll as to whether to take on the barricade at Wall Street.  Sounds like they’re going to go for it.  You can follow the action here:

http://www.livestream.com/globalrevolution

http://www.livestream.com/occupywallstnyc (covering street protest)

http://www.livestream.com/avaazwallstreet (this one is working)

Follow them on twitter at #occupywallstreet

They sometimes lose their livefeed.  Not sure what’s up with that.  They’re using generators and last night, one of their streaming computers died because it wasn’t charging.

Most recent shot of the crowd shows that the people of NYC turned up at 7:00am this morning as requested.  There are many people over 30 in the crowd right now.  Zuccotti park looks full.  It looks like the pre-march shots I got from last week but bigger.  The park is wall to wall people.  There are thousands and thousands of people there.  More than 2 thousand?  Looks like it to me.

Tomorrow at 5pm, there will be an Occupy Times Square.  Not sure how that’s going to work out but the cool thing about Times Square is that there’s a bleacher type structure smack dab in the middle of it.  When the lights go on in Times Square, it’s like daylight there and the view from the bleachers can’t be beat.  Times Square is super busy on Saturday night to begin with.  Will it be like New Year’s Eve in October?  Hard to say.  Probably not the best night to be visiting New York City if you’re from out of town.  On the other hand, it would be hard to not be caught up in a Times Square Occupation.  There will be other activities on Saturday.  Check the schedule at occupywallst.org

The situation is less promising at OccupyDenver where the occupation has been under siege.  It was raided at 3:00am this morning.

Friday: Defeat for NJ Public Unions

How did this fly under the radar?  I blame joblessness on my own part and Anthony Weiner’s penis.

TRENTON — New Jersey lawmakers tonight voted to enact a sweeping plan to cut public worker benefits after a long day of high-pitched political drama in the streets of Trenton and behind closed doors.

Union members chanted outside the Statehouse and in the Assembly balcony, and dissident Democrats tried to stall with amendments and technicalities. Although they successfully convinced top lawmakers to remove a controversial provision restricting public workers’ access to out-of-state medical care, they failed to halt a historic defeat for New Jersey’s powerful unions and a political victory for Republican Gov. Chris Christie.

[...]

The bill passed the Assembly 46-32 and will be sent to Christie’s desk for his signature. Fourteen Democrats voted for the bill, while 32 opposed it. After the vote, protesters in the balcony shouted “Shame on you!”

Unions have blasted the bill for ending their ability to collectively bargain their medical benefits. Health care plans for 500,000 public workers would be set by a new state panel comprised of union workers and state managers, rather than at the negotiating table. A sunset provision would allow unions to resume collective bargaining after increased health care contributions are phased in over four years.

In addition, police officers, firefighters, teachers and rank-and-file public workers would all pay more for their pensions and health benefits.

Supporters of the bill say the state needs to cut costs because the pension and health systems are underfunded by more than $120 billion total. The Christie administration estimated the bill would save $3 billion in health benefits over the next 10 years and $120 billion in pension costs over 30 years. Much of the pension savings are from the controversial elimination of the cost-of-living adjustments for retirees, which unions have threatened to challenge in court.

The bill that passed will affect not only future retirees but *current* ones by eliminating cost of living increases. (People who think the Republicans won’t screw around with Medicare for current retirees should think again.  In fact, anyone who is not wealthy and is still a Republican should have their head examined.)  Some people might ask what’s the big deal but it’s already ridiculously expensive to live in New Jersey.  In my suburb, the median salary is $109,000/year and that and a quarter will get you a modest townhouse, barely. Those of us without jobs are really screwed but it’s not much better for people living on pensions when the property taxes soar.  We can thank Christie Todd Whitman for the pension problems.  I believe it was Whitman who shoved the burden of financing the pensions onto local municipalities in the 90′s.

There are many problems with the way NJ runs its local governments.  Frankly, there are too many of them.  This is the densest state of the union in terms of population and the state is carved up into thousands of tiny fiefdoms that are run inefficiently. Not only is there a lot of duplication of effort, some residents get away with paying relatively little. One middle class suburb might have sky high property taxes while a swankier suburb with higher real estate values pays substantially less in property taxes.  The difference is that the middle class suburb is a receiving school district while the Bonus Class suburb is a sending district that doesn’t need to fund facilities or staff for the high school.  Isn’t that conveeeeeenient?

In this state, it feels like the burden of funding everything is squarely on the shoulders of the middle class.  You educate the children of the poor AND the wealthy.  It’s a sweet deal if you’re rich and can benefit from the property tax version of the Matthew Effect.  The property tax issue and home rule problem here has been extremely resistant to modification.  But it doesn’t help that neither the state legislature, nor any governor of NJ I’ve ever suffered under, has made any attempt to make it fairer for the people most under stress by the tax situation.  The rich get richer, the poor get a lot of grandstanding but no real solutions and the middle gets the shaft.

Local government is expensive.  You definitely get what you pay for.  I would prefer a more equitable way to fund the state rather than the crushing property taxes that are forcing some of us out of NJ.  A higher tax on the rich is way overdue.  Municipal government overhaul is overdue.  Shifting the burden from property taxes to an occupation tax and a more progressive income tax is way overdue.  Loosening up the state’s bizarre liquor license laws to reel in more revenue is overdue (very few groceries sell wine, beer or liquor and very few restaurants have liquor licenses).

But year after year, the only solution that is ever proposed is to underfund the pensions and demonize the unions.  The politicians in this state are completely inept at ever addressing any of the problems that have plagued NJ since I moved here 20 years ago.  This is no way to treat your children’s teachers, or your neighborhood police officers or your emergency services people or any of the other people you forget you need until you need them.  Joblessness and a reduced income trickles down on the handyman, the cashier whose grocery store is closing and the piano teachers.  We all suffer when the rich rig the system in their favor and screw the rest of us.

A word to the stingy, MBA class suburbanites: When you go to the next Board of Ed meeting to complain about the budget or the fact that your bratty, overindulged kid has to walk on pavement to get to the bus stop, leave your $58,000 Lexus SUVs at home.  Driving them when your kid’s favorite social studies teacher is about to get the ax is in very bad taste.  I know, I know, no one will tell you this but I feel I owe it to you to let you know how crass, rude and insensitive it is.  You look like novo riche, status conscious social climbers and a school board meeting is not a place to do networking.

Did I mention  I am willing to relocate?

Anywhere but here.

The following is a statement from NJEA president Barbara Keshishian:

“Today marks a new low point in the attack on New Jersey’s school employees and other public workers.  With their action today, the 46 Assembly members who voted ‘yes’ sent a clear message that their promises aren’t worth the paper they are written on.

“By stripping even currently retired public employees of their promised and earned cost-of-living adjustments, these legislators signaled that no promise they make should ever be believed by any New Jersey voter.

“Retirees who count on their pensions for a modest level of security after a lifetime of public service will suffer because of today’s vote.  NJEA will challenge these illegal actions in court.  We cannot and will not allow this outrageous raid on retirees’ pension checks to stand.  This pension raid would reduce many retired workers’ pensions by 40% or more by the end of their lives.

“A legislature and governor who will raid the pension checks of retirees and the paychecks of middle-class workers but lack the courage or integrity to ask the very wealthy to share the sacrifice of even a modest tax increase are not the representatives of the people who elected them.

“Politicians who think it is acceptable to ask middle-class families to pay $5,000 more out of pocket for drastically reduced benefits but refuse to ask a $5,000 sacrifice from taxpayers earning $750,000 a year have failed in their obligation to represent the interests of all their constituents.

“Elected leaders who say they support collective bargaining but vote to undermine it as severely as this legislation does cannot be trusted or believed any longer when they claim to stand for the values and principles that working-class voters hold dear.

“Today’s vote was a victory for those who believe that America’s widening wealth gap and its growing preference for the wealthy over the working class are good for America.  For those of us who believe that democracy belongs to all voters, regardless of their wealth, today serves as a call to take back our government by joining forces with elected leaders and those who aspire to office who truly believe in fairness, honesty and genuine collaboration.

“We salute the 32 brave Assemblywomen and Assemblymen who opposed this attack on the middle class, as well as the 16 honorable Senators who did the same earlier this week.  The 200,000 members of the New Jersey Education Association will not forget the courage and integrity they demonstrated throughout this process.”

Friday: I know, I know, you should have voted for Hillary

C’mon, you holdouts, admit it.  You guys are like the damned in Life of Brian that are about to be crucified who keep insisting that it “Could have been worse”.  Really?  It could have been worse or the same with Hillary?  How do continue to believe that and still manage to function in your daily activities?  Oh, sure, Obama keeps hiring former Clinton officials but note that they’re the ones that Hillary avoided during her campaign.  In other words, her husband tried them out and found them wanting.

{{sigh}}

On with the news:

The mainstream press has finally discovered-  The General Public!  OMG!  We’re like a new species.  Whoa, where did we come from?  And we don’t like the idea of cutting back on entitlements.  Why didn’t someone tell the press about this before??  Because they were, like, totally unaware of this.  THEY’D been operating on the assumption that whatever was going on in the Hamptons was like the very heartland in America.  I mean, doesn’t everyone just helicopter in or get Fabio to blow out their hair in the limo on that long, arduous journey from midtown to Long Island?  Wow, what they’ve been missing.

As President Obama and Congress brace to battle over how to reduce chronic annual budget deficits, Americans overwhelmingly say that in general they prefer cutting government spending to paying higher taxes, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

Yet their preference for spending cuts, even in programs that benefit them, dissolves when they are presented with specific options related to Medicareand Social Security, the programs that directly touch the most people and also are the biggest drivers of the government’s projected long-term debt.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans choose higher payroll taxes for Medicare and Social Security over reduced benefits in either program. And asked to choose among cuts to Medicare, Social Security or the nation’s third-largest spending program — the military — a majority by a large margin said cut the Pentagon

Well, there you have it, sports fans.  The American people want the pointless and expensive wars to stop.  And they choose cuts to the pentagon by a large margin.  Barry, are you listening?  Because Bush got us into these stupid wars and destabilized parts of the world it seems in a deliberate manner that makes it really tricky to get out of lest the neighbors start fighting with each other and lob nukes over the fences.

I can almost hear Chris Hedges and his Puritan posse winding up to blame Hillary for this.  Wait for it.  You know it’s coming.  Yes, they’ll say, Obama has been a disaster and a disappointment to them, but if the war doesn’t end, it’s all Hillary’s fault.

But in any case, the Democrats can’t say they didn’t know that cutting entitlements was not what the voters wanted.  And while it is above my pay grade to give math lessons, it should be noted that there are significantly more regular, average, everyday Americans who vote than bankers.  I know, the bankers resent this inequity in numbers and try to make up for it in cash but unless the Dems are planning to rig the voting machines, (and who would put it passed them given the way they ran the primaries in 2008?), the voters will have their say.  Some independent candidate could make a KILLING in 2012.  All those votes, just laying their on the table, unclaimed by either party…

This poll renews my faith in the American public.  After several years of the most intense propaganda, bad economic news and unemployment, they’ve managed to see through the smoke and now are fully aware that the rich and well connected are about to rob them blind.  It takes a Democratic president screwing around with social security to finally wake them up.  For this, we can be grateful that Obama is the unsentimental, opportunistic, banker ass kissing schmoozer we said he was.

In the meantime, the rich and well connected are continuing to try to relieve themselves of their obligations in the states, where state employees and teachers, negotiating in good faith for decades, have deferred part of their compensation to pay for their retirements.

Policy makers are working behind the scenes to come up with a way to let states declare bankruptcy and get out from under crushing debts, including the pensions they have promised to retired public workers.

Unlike cities, the states are barred from seeking protection in federal bankruptcy court. Any effort to change that status would have to clear high constitutional hurdles because the states are considered sovereign.

But proponents say some states are so burdened that the only feasible way out may be bankruptcy, giving Illinois, for example, the opportunity to do what General Motors did with the federal government’s aid.

Declaring bankruptcy is the ONLY way?  What we got here is a failure to imaginate.  How about we tax the people in the state who are making a whole lot of money?  Well, California screwed itself with its silly proposition 13 instead of hiking the income tax on rich people.  I mean, increasing taxes on the wealthy would be the right thing to do since to deprive the employees of their benefits after they’ve been paying into the system for years would be tantamount to breaking a promise to them and sanctioning fraud.  Would YOU want to worf for California and do a good job after that?  You get what you pay for.

And by the way, when did defined benefit plans become so “gold plated” and Unusual?  (Oh, around 1994)  It seems fashionable these days to point to these state employees as some kind of parasites when they’re really just getting what the rest of us used to have as a standard benefits package before that damn 401K got rolled out to everyone as an alternative.  Whose bright idea was that 401K anyway?  I still contend that if you want to save the economy and jobs, cut off the bankers gambling addiction and move back to a social safety net that we can all live with, the powers that be should phase out the 401K.

Speaking of “pension envy”, the public in this recession seems to not be rallying around labor like it did during the Great Depression as this piece in the New Yorker, State of the Unions, explains.

Still, the advantages that union workers enjoy when it comes to pay and benefits are nothing new, while the resentment about these things is. There are a couple of reasons for this. In the past, a sizable percentage of American workers belonged to unions, or had family members who did. Then, too, even people who didn’t belong to unions often reaped some benefit from them, because of what economists call the “threat effect”: in heavily unionized industries, non-union employers had to pay their workers better in order to fend off unionization. Finally, benefits that union members won for themselves—like the eight-hour day, or weekends off—often ended up percolating down to other workers. These days, none of those things are true. Organized labor has been on the wane for decades, to the point where just seven per cent of private-sector workers belong to a union. The benefits that union members still get—like defined-contribution pensions or Cadillac health plans—are out of reach of most workers. And the disappearance of unions from the private sector has radically diminished the threat effect, meaning that unions don’t raise the wages of non-union workers.

Unions have a bad reputation.  But they gave us the weekend.  It looks like this is another battle we have to fight all over again and who knows what regulations Obama is going to want to put on the table to satisfy business?  As Nucky Thomson said in Boardwalk Empire, “You have to decide how much sin you’re willing to live with”  Is a little overreach by the unions worth it if it trickles down to the rest of us non-union people?  What would happen if the newly awakened public had another soylent green moment and showed up at public meetings supporting state employees and teacher’s unions?  How much time would it take to roll back the excesses of movement conservatism?

Following up on the Giffords’ shooting, Hendrik Herzberg has a post in the New Yorker about the connection between Words and Deeds.  He expresses what I have been trying to say beautifully, until the last third of the article where he goes seriously off the rails with effusive and undeserved praise for Obama’s speech in Tucson.  Come on, Hendrik, really?  Let’s compare a couple of presidential speeches that commemorate similar tragedies.

First, the excerpt from Obama’s speech that Hendrik quotes:

I believe that we can be better. Those who died here, those who saved life here—they help me believe. We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another is entirely up to us.

And now, Lincoln at Gettysburg:

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

The dude just gave the USA Today version of the Gettysburg address at Tucson.  He used a lot more words and a lot less sensibility for the principles of the people he claims to represent.  He didn’t write it on the back of an envelope.  No, some professional speech writer like Jon Favreau wrote that piece of drivel for him.  See the difference?  Ok.  Good.  Can we stop making Obama out to be the reincarnation of a great orator now?

On a positive note, Gabrielle Giffords is making slow but steady recovery and is now using an iPad.  Her next milestone: conquering level 19 of the Angry Birds Christmas Seasonal edition.  Seriously, Gabby, we’re pulling for you.

Dear Big Dawg, “This is our future”

Howyadoin’.  I catered the primary cocktail parties in 2008 and occasionally, I do pick up jobs here and there for RD and the other FP’s.  I’m a working class kind of guy working on my degree in nutrition and physical training.  Going to open a spa someday for all those rich ladies with too much time on their hands and too much lard on their asses.

Anyway, I saw that you were stumping for Ms. Blanche down in Arkansas.  And I read some of your remarks about who was funding her opponent.  It sounded to me like you were trying to make out like union people are “special interests”.  But then I thought that was probably just Politico taking your speech out of context again.  Bill Clinton could never mistake hundreds of millions of working class Americans as “special interests”.  I mean, the unions gave us the weekend and most of us don’t even have to belong to one.  I live for the weekends.

Then Florence, you remember her?  Did the coat check deal for the cocktail parties?  She’s been getting all crazy with that SyFy channel stuff and she starts watching this Caprica show about some brainy teenager hacker girl who gets blown up but comes back to life in the body of a robot through some transfer of the bits of her life that comprise her soul that fit on one of them USB drives and voile, a cylon is born.  I guess you have to follow these things to really understand it.  Florence says she’s doing a lot of coat check gigs in corporate HQs and the dudes sound just like this Graystone character.  Take a look:

Imagine that.  A subhuman race that does all the work and never needs to be fed.  Or paid even.  And they don’t complain.  It’s like a shareholder’s wet dream. When the cylon’s arm comes off and it spills the glass of water all over the table, that, my friend, is what you call a visual metaphor.

Ehhh, whaddaygonnado?  It’s the future, Bill. It’ll probably all turn out ok in the end. It’s not like this has all happened before or will happen again. I think that’s called a cultural reference, Bill.

By the way, I read this comment by Anne on TalkLeft about what some White House Senior Official said about Blanche winning.  Dollars to donuts it was Rahm.

And the reason the AFL spokesperson (5.00 / 2) (#21)
by Anne on Wed Jun 09, 2010 at 09:01:41 AM EST

shot back with “We are not an arm of the Democratic Party,” is because, according to the Politico article referenced in the post, a WH spokesperson said they’d

“flushed $10 million of their members’ money down the toilet” in the “pointless exercise” of supporting the failed bid of Bill Halter to unseat Sen. Blanche Lincoln.

Vale went on to say:

“If that’s their take on this, then they severely misread how the electorate feels and how we’re running our political program. When we say we’re only going to support elected officials who support our issues,” said AFL-CIO spokesman Eddie Vale. “When they say we should have targeted our money among some key house races among Blue Dog Democrats — that ain’t happening.”

Disturbing on a number of levels.

For one, the public dressing-down of unions for working to help defeat Lincoln and supporting the other Democrat, and for not assisting in the election of more Blue Dogs should make it obvious that the New Dems and this administration have disdain for and are indifferent to the interests of the working men and women that unions represent, that they believe their own political interests far outweigh the interests of the people.

For another, the Rahm Emmanuel plan to stock the Congress with more and more Blue Dogs continues apace.

So, where does this leave us liberals and progressives?  Well, considering that the New Dems have not stopped trying to throw us out of our own party because we have refused to submit to the Stepford treatment that would render us compliant and quiet, I’d say we have three tasks: make more noise and refuse to be ignored, work harder to throw their craven a$$e$ out if they continue to ignore us, and, think very seriously about using some of that energy and anger to form, if not a new party, a strong and visible bloc whose votes cannot afford to be dismissed out of hand.

Hey, you take care, Bill. Stop by for a drink sometime. And if you see the Missus, tell her we’re here for her. But all in all, we would have backed Halter. Just sayin’.

Monday: Why doctors of thinkology don’t get it.

Paul Krugman is in despair. He simply cannot understand why Obama and his economics team are taking the country off a cliff in order to protect bankers and investors from absorbing their losses.  It’s a puzzlement why taxpayers are subsidizing the private investors who will gladly take bad assets off of the bankers hands for more money than they are actually worth.

Paul, Paul, Paul, where have you been?  This $@#%’s been going on for a couple of decades now.  If we weren’t in danger of being called “crude populists”  some of us would complain loudly and vociferously about a class war.

Remember Pittsburgh in the late 70′s?  Of course you do.  Back then, the Japanese dumped steel on the US market and drove prices down.  The US steel manufacturer’s used that as an opportunity to get rid of the pesky unions and diversify.  I used to wake up in the middle of the night to a bright orange sandblasted sky and the comforting sounds of clanging steel.  My uncles worked for US Steel and made pretty good money.  Then, they were suddenly out on their own.  The mills went silent.  The milltowns fell into disrepair.  Giardia crept into the water systems that municipal authorities couldn’t afford to fix.

Then there came PATCO.  Ah, yes, I remember it well.  It happened just before my first trip to the Bahamas.  Lucky for us there were just enough management to take over running the airports to get us safely off the ground and back again.  But it was OK.  We hired new air traffic controllers who were willing to work for less money and wouldn’t complain so much.  Probably laid off steelworkers.

The 80′s were full of stories about lockouts and Caterpillar workers on strikes and people living off of their union dues and sadness and heartbreak in reazlizing the only job they knew was gone, gone, gone.  These were not high-falutin’ doctors of thinkology.  They were just your average Joe’s who enjoyed a beer on their front stoops after work and spent the weekends tending to their gardens and their cars.  The people you want to spend Thanksgiving dinner with, eating pumpkin pie in front of a football game.  Little people who liked watching the sunset over the river on a summer evening and telling stories to their neighbors.

I was in college in the 80′s.  I saw the rise of the MBA lifestyle, the business majors, the resurrection of Greek culture, the beginnings of networking.  We G-d damned independents thought we were so much smarter than them, hunkered over our P-chem textbooks and sodium sand organometallic reactions.  There would always be a job out there for those of us who used our brains.  Money?  Well, yeah, we expected to be paid well.  Maybe not stellar salaries but enough to enjoy the American Dream.  Greed wasn’t what we were after.  And there weren’t that many of us anyway.  My college graduated exactly 8 Chemistry majors in 1986.  Besides, wasn’t a college degree the path to success?  That’s what everyone told us.

But we were wrong.  It’s the people who handle the money who have a path to success.  While we were busy thinking, they were busy rewriting the rules.  And we were so busy.  Those of us who are female had careers and husbands who didn’t help out as much as they should have and children and daycare and forty things to do before we fell into bed at night.  The pace of life picked up and went at lightspeed.  Who has time to manage the money?  We trusted people to do that for us.  Even when we got our first 401k’s, most of us were content to just “set it and forget it”.

And the college educated toiled away while the MBAs and the marketers and sales people flourished and gave themselves bonuses and promoted themselves over and over again.  And the investors bought stock and frowned when the quarterly earnings didn’t endlessly increase their dividends.  And they demanded cutbacks and the MBA’s obliged and reduced the number of people who actually did the work.  And the remaining workers cheered because their portfolios grew.

And here we are.  The college educated are now the new working class.  We are expendable.  I heard an HR person at my company slip recently and tell a bunch of high school students that a starting BS scientist could expect to make $35K at my company but people who came in with marketing degrees made the top salaries.  Well, we’ve suspected this for a while now.  They also get the attention of the CEO’s.  If a marketer can’t figure out a way to protect his own job, he should find a new career.  And the MBAs sit in their offices and move the chess pieces around and try to figure out which production units to cut in order to increase their bottom line. We are all expendable.

So, now Tim Geithner and Barack Obama are working on a plan to stick hard working, soon to be out of work taxpayers with the bill for the investors who are going to take on the massive bad assets that the bankers cooked up to make money for themselves.  We should not expect these bankers and shareholders to take a haircut because that would be “crude populism” and class warfare.  Why is it any surprise to you that Obama would go this route, Paul?  As long as those of you in the media say it’s OK to treat us like the wretched refuse of our teaming shores, why shouldn’t Tim, Larry and Barry do whatever the hell they want with our money?

In order to get the economy back on track, we workers have to reclaim our dignity and demand accountability.  So, Paul, if you can’t say anything nice about us “crude populists” out here, please, say nothing at all.

Whoa! Go Lansing, Michigan!

Virgil Bernero is his name and he is amazing.  He’s the Mayor of Lansing, Michigan.   Listen to him stick up for the working class.  It’s about time someone went on TV and said enough is enough.  Sacrifices need to come from the people who are responsible.  It is time to look up the food chain instead of down for the culprits.

(H/T Sarah at Corrente for the video)

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