• Tips gratefully accepted here. Thanks!:

  • Recent Comments

    pm317 on Omg, there’s an internet.…
    pm317 on John McCain takes on Face…
    Ivory Bill Woodpecke… on John McCain takes on Face…
    riverdaughter on Omg, there’s an internet.…
    riverdaughter on John McCain takes on Face…
    Ivory Bill Woodpecke… on Omg, there’s an internet.…
    Ivory Bill Woodpecke… on Omg, there’s an internet.…
    pm317 on Omg, there’s an internet.…
    pm317 on Omg, there’s an internet.…
    pm317 on Omg, there’s an internet.…
    pm317 on Taking down Cilizza for crimes…
    Ivory Bill Woodpecke… on Taking down Cilizza for crimes…
    pm317 on Taking down Cilizza for crimes…
    Ivory Bill Woodpecke… on Omg, there’s an internet.…
    Ivory Bill Woodpecke… on Omg, there’s an internet.…
  • Categories


  • Tags

    abortion Add new tag Afghanistan Al Franken Anglachel Atrios bankers Barack Obama Bernie Sanders big pharma Bill Clinton cocktails Conflucians Say Dailykos Democratic Party Democrats Digby DNC Donald Trump Donna Brazile Economy Elizabeth Warren feminism Florida Fox News General Glenn Beck Glenn Greenwald Goldman Sachs health care Health Care Reform Hillary Clinton Howard Dean John Edwards John McCain Jon Corzine Karl Rove Matt Taibbi Media medicare Michelle Obama Michigan misogyny Mitt Romney Morning Edition Morning News Links Nancy Pelosi New Jersey news NO WE WON'T Obama Obamacare OccupyWallStreet occupy wall street Open thread Paul Krugman Politics Presidential Election 2008 PUMA racism Republicans research Sarah Palin sexism Single Payer snark Social Security Supreme Court Terry Gross Texas Tim Geithner unemployment Wall Street WikiLeaks women
  • Archives

  • History

    June 2011
    S M T W T F S
    « May   Jul »
     1234
    567891011
    12131415161718
    19202122232425
    2627282930  
  • RSS Paul Krugman: Conscience of a Liberal

    • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.
  • The Confluence

    The Confluence

  • RSS Suburban Guerrilla

  • RSS Ian Welsh

    • How Our Everyday Life Creates Our Character and Our Destiny
      We are what we do. What we experience during our daily lives creates our habits, both of action and thought and those habitual actions and thoughts are our character. The character of men and women, and the shared character of a society is destiny. It determines how we respond to what happens, it is as […]
  • Top Posts

Thursday: Stupidity and Revelations

Bits and pieces found around the web:

Digby says the deal that Obama is making with the Republicans is nearly finished.  As expected, he sold us out for a s%)*load of spending cuts.  In return, the Republicans had to agree to a eensy-weensy, itsy-bitsy, soupçon of a tax on stuff like private corporate jets.  Mind you, the masters of the universe wouldn’t have to give up their private jets, because that would at least have the appearance of looking good.  No, they merely had to pay an increase in the taxes for the privilege of using them, a tax they could well afford to pay several times over without blinking an eye.  This they would not do and they walked out of negotiations- that were held behind closed doors that we did not see the legislate.  Of course, it is all kabuki.  The Republicans will act like they are offended, the president will propose another number, they will eventually reach a deal where the tax will be symbolic and everyone else in the country will just have to suck it up because rich people don’t want to be inconvenienced by paperwork or something.

But anyone who is focussing like a laser beam on the corporate jet tax, a situation divinely to be wished by the GOP, is missing the point.  The point is that we have come to the place where the wealthy have been taking us for over 70 years.  They HATED the New Deal.  Why should they, the winners, have to give their money to the losers?  It’s the same argument we see played out in the conservative media gasbag shows where lazy people and seniors who rush to the doctor for every little thing are the reason why the rest of us should deny ourselves a rational health care policy.  Those slackers don’t deserve it.

When will people realize that to the wealthy, *everyone* below them on the socio-economic ladder is a loser, slacker, lazy person who didn’t have the good sense to be born into wealth or work as hard as they do?  Have these people even *been* in a lab these days?

Which brings me to the second stupidity: Anne Patchett’s new novel State of Wonder.  I can’t believe I wasted an audible credit on this piece of silly pulp fiction.  Patchett’s description of how research is done at a Big Pharma company isn’t even wrong.  I honestly don’t know if she did any research for this book.  It’s ORGANIC chemistry, Anne, not INorganic chemistry.  INorganic chemistry is fun and full of pretty colors and oxidation states.  ORGANIC chemistry is what small molecule chemists do in the lab to make compounds that get tested in a lab.  CHEMISTS make them, not pharmacologists, who, from what I can tell wouldn’t know an active compound from a detergent.  And the labs are located in a big, blocky building located on some bay on either one of the coasts of America, not located in the middle of the Amazon jungle surrounded by cannibals.  Ok, shareholders do somewhat resemble cannibals but that’s besides the point.

One last point, and this is important, a pharmacologist and the company CEO would never have an affair, clandestine or not.  That’s because the company CEO doesn’t even know that the pharmacologist is a human being who works for him.  Even if he did, which he wouldn’t, because a laboratory is as foreign to the CEO as an Amazonian tribe of tree chewers, fooling around with “the help” is practically the only thing that would get a clueless, incompetent CEO of a major pharmaceutical company fired in this day and age.  Who did Anne speak to about how big pharma works?  I can almost see her conversation with two practical jokers in a lab somewhere:

“So, in this book, the protagonist is having an affair with the CEO and…”

“Oh, yeah, we see that guy down here all the time.  He flies in on his corporate helicopter, invites us to lunch, he asks us all about what we need and how things are going and whether the new lean-sigma-jiu-jitsu system needs modification.  We told him we thought that the labcoats didn’t really do our cleavage justice.”

Please, Anne.  And don’t just assume that pharmaceutical companies would withhold cures for malaria from third world countries.  They donate anti-malarial and sleeping sickness drugs all the time.  You’d know if you’d been paying attention to the news.  But, really, if these shaman and tribal women are so incredibly wise about the effect that chewing tree bark has on their ability to evade malaria, don’t you think the cannibals down the road would have figured it out?  They’re not stupid children, Anne.  Ethnobotanists consult them for a reason, you ninny.

Anyway, don’t waste your time.  It’s the Orpheus and Eurydice story all over again mixed with Heart of Darkness and the Wizard of Oz.  But I do need a suggestion for a good book to take to the beach (beach vacation was planned the month before the layoff.  How nice for me.) So, if you know of one that won’t make me want to strangle someone, list it in the comments.

Advertisements

Bernie’s Speech and the Bully Pulpit

Bernie Sanders gave a speech yesterday and called on the president to be a leader and stand firm against the Republican push to dismantle programs that serve the middle class and the poor:

Oddly enough, about 3 hours later, I was chosen to participate in an Eagleton Institute survey.  You never quite know what they’re trying to get at with these polls but the pattern I detected was what the public thinks of the power of the presidency.  It looks like Obama and his minions have done a number on public opinion and have convinced many of us that he’s powerless to do much of anything except negotiate the farm away to the Republicans.

This is BS.

When Obama campaigned for president, he specifically said he was going to negotiate with everything on the table.  If you go to the negotiations willing to give everything away without a backstop, you should not be surprised when you end up losing everything.  The Republicans will never be satisfied with your first offer and will keep moving right until you give them everything they want except for some symbolic and worthless concession that everyone will see through.  That’s because they’re REPUBLICANS.  You know, those snakes you pick up on the side of the road who complain about the cold so that you hold them close to your bosom?  They end up biting and killing you and you should not be surprised because you knew their nature when you picked them up.

Abraham Lincoln gave a speech at the Cooper Union where he denounced his opponents and said you can’t compromise with people who are determined to do what they want no matter how much you compromise.  Nothing you do is going to satisfy them.  The secessionists complained bitterly that the government would not let them alone but every attempt to appease them failed.  That’s because they were determined to secede.  Secession was a foregone conclusion.  They were simply going to play the part of the aggrieved party until they got what they wanted.  Lincoln said:

The question recurs, what will satisfy them? Simply this: We must not only let them alone, but we must somehow, convince them that we do let them alone. This, we know by experience, is no easy task. We have been so trying to convince them from the very beginning of our organization, but with no success. In all our platforms and speeches we have constantly protested our purpose to let them alone; but this has had no tendency to convince them. Alike unavailing to convince them, is the fact that they have never detected a man of us in any attempt to disturb them.

These natural, and apparently adequate means all failing, what will convince them? This, and this only: cease to call slavery wrong, and join them in calling it right. And this must be done thoroughly – done in acts as well as in words. Silence will not be tolerated – we must place ourselves avowedly with them. Senator Douglas’ new sedition law must be enacted and enforced, suppressing all declarations that slavery is wrong, whether made in politics, in presses, in pulpits, or in private. We must arrest and return their fugitive slaves with greedy pleasure. We must pull down our Free State constitutions. The whole atmosphere must be disinfected from all taint of opposition to slavery, before they will cease to believe that all their troubles proceed from us.

I am quite aware they do not state their case precisely in this way. Most of them would probably say to us, “Let us alone, do nothing to us, and say what you please about slavery.” But we do let them alone – have never disturbed them – so that, after all, it is what we say, which dissatisfies them. They will continue to accuse us of doing, until we cease saying.

I am also aware they have not, as yet, in terms, demanded the overthrow of our Free-State Constitutions. Yet those Constitutions declare the wrong of slavery, with more solemn emphasis, than do all other sayings against it; and when all these other sayings shall have been silenced, the overthrow of these Constitutions will be demanded, and nothing be left to resist the demand. It is nothing to the contrary, that they do not demand the whole of this just now. Demanding what they do, and for the reason they do, they can voluntarily stop nowhere short of this consummation. Holding, as they do, that slavery is morally right, and socially elevating, they cannot cease to demand a full national recognition of it, as a legal right, and a social blessing.

Nor can we justifiably withhold this, on any ground save our conviction that slavery is wrong. If slavery is right, all words, acts, laws, and constitutions against it, are themselves wrong, and should be silenced, and swept away. If it is right, we cannot justly object to its nationality – its universality; if it is wrong, they cannot justly insist upon its extension – its enlargement. All they ask, we could readily grant, if we thought slavery right; all we ask, they could as readily grant, if they thought it wrong. Their thinking it right, and our thinking it wrong, is the precise fact upon which depends the whole controversy. Thinking it right, as they do, they are not to blame for desiring its full recognition, as being right; but, thinking it wrong, as we do, can we yield to them? Can we cast our votes with their view, and against our own? In view of our moral, social, and political responsibilities, can we do this?

Wrong as we think slavery is, we can yet afford to let it alone where it is, because that much is due to the necessity arising from its actual presence in the nation; but can we, while our votes will prevent it, allow it to spread into the National Territories, and to overrun us here in these Free States? If our sense of duty forbids this, then let us stand by our duty, fearlessly and effectively. Let us be diverted by none of those sophistical contrivances wherewith we are so industriously plied and belabored – contrivances such as groping for some middle ground between the right and the wrong, vain as the search for a man who should be neither a living man nor a dead man – such as a policy of “don’t care” on a question about which all true men do care – such as Union appeals beseeching true Union men to yield to Disunionists, reversing the divine rule, and calling, not the sinners, but the righteous to repentance – such as invocations to Washington, imploring men to unsay what Washington said, and undo what Washington did.

Neither let us be slandered from our duty by false accusations against us, nor frightened from it by menaces of destruction to the Government nor of dungeons to ourselves. LET US HAVE FAITH THAT RIGHT MAKES MIGHT, AND IN THAT FAITH, LET US, TO THE END, DARE TO DO OUR DUTY AS WE UNDERSTAND IT.

In other words, you can’t blame the secessionists for being what they were.  That was their right to believe that slavery was acceptable.  But if you believe that slavery is immoral, unjust and not representative of the principles upon which your nation was founded or wanted to go, it was your duty to tell the secessionists that you would not yield to their desires for free, exploitable labor that left generations of men, women and children chained.  It is your duty to draw the line and not yield.

President Obama has to reckon with this.  Is it OK for Republicans to continually erode the social safety net, the insurance programs and taxpayer sponsored programs that voters want with the assistance of the Democrats because he feels that he must negotiate with his opponents?  Or should he go over the heads of the Republicans and use his bully pulpit effectively to appeal directly to the American people and persuade them to put pressure on their lawmakers to protect what is important to them?

This is a no-brainer.

Which means that the people who brought us Obama in 2008 have no brains.  He’s terrible at persuading and he spent so much of the first year in office squandering his TV time with stupid, trivial appearances every day at lunch that many of us have tuned him out.  If I were him and were really serious about this whole presidency gig, I’d have fired his PR team a long time ago.  That first year extension of this campaign has had a disastrous effect on his ability to use his bully pulpit.

But more than that, they have saddled us with a president who signalled before he was even elected that he was going to yield everything in an attempt to discover what would make Republicans happy in a totally bipartisan, post partisan era of love and understanding.  What this has turned into is a lot of foursomes on the golf course and deal making behind closed doors.

Normally, you get the president you deserve.  But most voters did not want Obama in 2008.  They voted for him because he was the Democrat and because Democrats held a gun to their heads and told them they couldn’t have who they really wanted.  That’s not very democratic, which is why I left the party.  But he’s there now.  It’s his duty to protect and defend all of the people, including the ones who pay and pay and pay and whose taxes never seem to be enough to appease the Republicans.  Our contributions never seem to decrease, our out of pocket expenses to pay for privatization continually go up and we don’t get what we pay for.  Meanwhile, the people at the top continually get the red carpet treatment.  When will it end?  It will never end so long as the poor and the middle class have pennies left that the wealthy and well connected have not claimed as their own.  What’s theirs is theirs and what’s yours is theirs.  At this point, I don’t think they even know why they have to be so greedy nor do they consider the consequences of their actions.  Their power is like an all-consuming fire that even deprives itself of the oxygen to keep it going.  It is self-destructive.  But that won’t matter to the 99% percent of us who will have to live with the burned out embers of our nation and national economy.

They will eventually get what they want so long as Obama and the Democrats continue to yield.  And Obama and the Democrats will continue to yield so long as they do not value  or see the moral imperative of protecting those programs in government that have made our economy strong and our genius the envy of the world.  They would sacrifice the rest of us to satisfy the greed of the few and they do not see this as morally wrong?

They have the power to say no to the Republicans and to rally the nation to their side.  We should accept no less.

Sunday: Bernie Sanders and other general stuff

Hey, there, sports fans, I’m at the mall, window shopping and typing this quick one on an iPad. Typos may apply.

Bernie Sanders has been all over twitter in the last couple of days to gain momentum for his speech on the budget tomorrow at 4:00pm. If you want to give him ideas or just a “you go, Bernie!”, check out #sharedsacrifice on Twitter.

Things that annoy me (feel free to add your own in the comments):

1.) Bathing suit manufacturers. Look, I know you guys need to make money and I should not be surprised to be asked to fork over $92 for the tankini *top*. But some of us have ancestors who should never have left the mists of Ireland. Pale, freckled people with auburn hair and blue eyes do not look good in black, fire engine red and eye popping fuschia. Our golden undertones are accentuated by brown, olive greens, and burnt orange. These colors are in noticeably short supply this year. I take that back, I can’t find any of these colors in any of the department stores I checked. This means that no matter how many discounts are applied to the $92 tankini *top*, I will pass on it because I will look completely ridiculous in the damn thing. Maybe this is a secret scheme to keep us pale people out of the sun but I resent it.

2.) Apple MacBook Air notebooks are like catnip for geeks. Steve Jobs is a pusher. (no, dandy tiger, I didn’t break down and buy one but I have to go past the apple store to get to my car. There’s still time to do damage)

3.) Many thanks to Ken the optician at the Bridgewater Commons Lenscrafters who repaired the frame on my Transitions lenses in about 5 minutes. My eyes are so sensitive to light that I can’t live without those suckers. Ken was very friendly and efficient. I promise not to step on them anymore.

4.) After three years of staying away from the news, I was finally exposed to the Casey Anthony trial through my mother. I’m the kind of courtroom virgin is hard to find for this case. It seems that everyone has an opinion. So, after having watched the evidence presented so far and after sitting through plenty of sketchy scientific presentations in the past, here’s my opinion:

– Casey Anthony is an impulsive, immature woman who is a compulsive liar
– Just because someone is a compulsive liar, that doesn’t mean they are murderers
– Prosecution: is that all there is? Really? You haven’t proven a damn thing.
– The chloroform issue is a maguffin. The evidence is very weak
– The Anthonys are a seriously messed up family. Both children show a similar distaste for their mother.
– Even though the defense claims that Casey was sexually abused seem to be a poor excuse for Casey’s behavior, it can’t be ruled out. Her father was a cop. If she was abused as a child, who the heck was she going to tell?
– The defense has totally destroyed the credibility of his client by admitting that she is a compulsive liar. It is highly unlikely that she will take the stand in her own defense.
– If she hasn’t confessed in the past three years, she’s not going to. Give it up, ladies.
– I’m going with an accidental death caused by Casey. She did something with Caylee that caused her to die. I’d go with involuntary manslaughter but even then, there isn’t anything that definitively ties Casey to the crime.
– I think someone helped her cover it up and leave no traces. Someone who understands crime scenes would be a good collaborator.
– Bottom line: she may get away with murder. There’s no there there except her subsequent behavior as a normal 23 year old in the year 2008. Maybe compulsive liars can even lie to themselves.

Related: Nancy Grace is a horrible person and I hope I never have to sit through another half hour of her show ever again.

But more than that, the entire female population (except *me*, according to my mother) is ready to string Casey up not so much for the murder, which is horrible enough, but because she acted like a ‘barfly’ floozy. The barfly line was compliments of Grace, who also calls Casey Anthony “tot mom” for some bizarre reason. The persistent use of the term “tot mom” serves to dehumanized Casey Anthony. She becomes the symbol and target of a national “slut shaming” ritual. I don’t know what was going on in her head but her reactions and emotions in court seem genuine to me.

Heck, I have relatives in my extended family who acted just like Casey Anthony when they were in their early twenties. One went to jail for what he did. But what sets him apart is that he is male and bad behavior was expected of him and he didn’t kill any one, accidentally or on purpose. “Boys will be boys” is still the standard operating procedure even though we intellectually know this is wrong. Fortunately, he grew out of it and he’s now a pretty good guy and a surprisingly good father. It is possible to grow up.

But not for Casey Anthony. If she gets away with murder, she will be the most hated woman in America and other women will hate her the most. Women checking and shaming other women after Weinergate, the Supreme Court ruling against female Walmart employees and the application of the Daughter Test is the last thing we need. Women need to learn to treat other women as adults or we will never be equal.

Science Careers: Run Away, Little Children, Run Away!

Unemployed scientists at last week's BioNJ Expo at Rutgers Univerisity

Derek Lowe’s blog from inside the pharma industry, In the Pipeline, highlighted an Op/Ed piece by Josh Bloom in the New York Post yesterday titled, “America’s Vanishing Science Jobs”.  I don’t know Bloom (and this is weird because we have a past company in common.  Collegeville?  Pearl River?) but he nails the problem facing the unappreciated American scientist in the first paragraph:

The folks at Scientific American have launched “1,000 Scientists in 1,000 Days” — a program to bring together scientists, teachers and students to improve America’s “dismal” showing among wealthy countries (27th out of 29) in graduating college students with degrees in science or engineering. I’m sure they mean well — but, at least as it applies to the field of chemistry, “1,000 Unemployed Scientists Living With Their Parents at Age 35 While Working at the Gap” would be a better name.

Back in the 90’s, I thought we were going to be eclipsed by China and India as well.  Then, I realized that China, and Russia too, had let its creme de la creme emigrate to America.  America benefitted from that wave.  Graduate level classes were full of Asian students.  It was a bit intimidating.

And then they blended in and we came to realize that although they are extremely hard working, focussed and fanatically well prepared in math, there is just as much variation in talent among Asian scientists as American scientists.  That’s because to be well trained in math and science is necessary but not sufficient.

In his book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell points to an observation that to master a subject, whether it is a field of study, profession or musical instrument, and to become an expert, requires 10,000 hours of practice.  The ability to discover drugs also develops over many years of practice.  A scientist doesn’t arrive in a lab ready to find a new drug simply because he/she comes from a country whose kids rank number one in math.  Even newly minted PhDs need a few years of seasoning before they’re useful and they’re still only novices.  Gladwell is right.  It takes a good 10 years before you develop a degree of comfort in doing drug discovery after you’ve seen many different kinds of problems and have tried various approaches to solving them, lathered, rinsed, repeated, over and over again.  It is very rare to find someone who gets it the first time.  In fact, I have never met any such person.  It’s a journey for even the brightest.

It wouldn’t even be correct to say that advanced technology can speed up the process.  We’ve seen many different new technologies like high throughput screening robotics, genomics, transgenic animal models and combinatorial chemistry.  Each one of these technologies did produce results but sometimes, we are left with more data and unanswered questions.  Speeding things up created new problems to be solved and sometimes lead us down new avenues of inquiry.  All of that information has to be processed, categorized, understood.  It takes time.

So, now China and India are going to jump on the drug discovery bandwagon.  As more and more companies outsource not just the routine tasks but whole research units, we may indeed see discovery speed up and it might look miraculous.  But that would be ignoring the groundwork that was laid here in America. And it will still take time, perhaps decades, for the Chinese to catch up.   In the meantime, the people who did the gruntwork for the past couple of decades are being asked to step aside and sacrifice their careers for the good of the shareholders.  Those scientists have seen their research stop/started frequently since the 1990’s.  Mergers and acquisitions and management schemes from business administration majors and consultants have interfered with the ability of scientists to process the information coming out of this amazing era of biological breakthroughs.

It won’t be long before the executives and shareholders realize they’ve made a mistake and that new drugs *can’t* be designed like new Intel chips.  They also can’t be discovered by breaking the discovery process into neatly manageable “on-time” bits, each component made in a tedious, routine manner to be assembled at some American endpoint by a handful of designer/engineers.  Biological systems are not like cars or new high tech gadgets, and understanding those biological systems is aided by an economy of scale that is destroyed by atomization into neatly manageable “on-time” bits that can be turned on and off following the whimsies of the business cycle. Bussiness types intuitively know this right about their undergrad sophomore year when they’re forced to pick a major but they forget it by the time they graduate from Wharton.

That leaves us to tell our children that their lives are going to change.  No more vacations, piano lessons and daytrips to the city.  Get used to parents who are constantly worried about money, dental appointments that must be saved for in advance and how they are going to pay the mortgage on vastly reduced salaries.  The children of scientists see their parents, weighted down with degrees, some of the smartest people they know, deprived of the means to make a living.  The parents have heard their children ask, “What’s the point of all this work and college?  Where did it get you?”  We still make our kids study like fiends but we tell them,

Don’t go into science, there’s no economic security in it.

The Scientific American initiative is a futile one.  The places where those 1000 scientists are located have also seen the most devastation.  The scientists that have lived to see another day in smaller companies with less economic stability and longer hours know that the job they love today could be gone in a flash tomorrow when the venture capital runs out or the management decides capriciously to make a change.  We tell our kids to learn to live with less or go into finance, become a spy or study plumbing.

Don’t waste your time learning molecular biology and organic chemistry.  Resist the siren song of the lab.  Run away, run away!

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.”

Thursday: Rhetorical Talk about Rhetorical Jobs for Non-Virtual People

Words, words, words, yeah!

So, Obama gave a speech last night about removing troops from Afghanistan and bringing some home by the end of the year and blah-blah-blah.  Didn’t we hear this kind of crap before about Iraq? And how did that turn out?

Let’s examine What Obama REALLY Said last night:

For this reason, in one of the most difficult decisions that I’ve made as president, I ordered an additional 30,000 American troops into Afghanistan. When I announced this surge at West Point, we set clear objectives: to refocus on al-Qaida; reverse the Taliban’s momentum; and train Afghan security forces to defend their own country. I also made it clear that our commitment would not be open-ended, and that we would begin to drawdown our forces this July.

Tonight, I can tell you that we are fulfilling that commitment. Thanks to our men and women in uniform, our civilian personnel, and our many coalition partners, we are meeting our goals. As a result, starting next month, we will be able to remove 10,000 of our troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year, and we will bring home a total of 33,000 troops by next summer, fully recovering the surge I announced at West Point. After this initial reduction, our troops will continue coming home at a steady pace as Afghan security forces move into the lead. Our mission will change from combat to support. By 2014, this process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security.

First, we stopped combat operations in Iraq as well.  How many troops are still there?  More importantly, how many of those same troops are still under fire and presumably have to fire back?

Second, what is the definition of a “steady pace”?  100 troops per month?  1000 troops per month?  For how many months?  If planes carrying 100 troops leave Baghdad twice a week and planes carrying 300 troops leave Kabul once a week, how many months would it take to reduce the total number of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan by 50%?  You may use a calculator and a scratch paper to complete this problem.  Please show all work.  Partial credit will not be given for incomplete or incorrect answers.

Third, who says Obama is even going to be in office in 2014?  But more than that, are we going to increase the number of contractors and mercenary types in Iraq and Afghanistan to replace the troops we are removing?  If not, *prove* it.  If so, how much are the contractors going to cost?  Imagine Iraq and Afghanistan are cylinders of unequal height and diameter.  What must be the rate of replacement to remove US military troops from these two cylinders and refill them with Blackwater Soldiers of Fortune?  (Do saddle points make you nauseous?.)

I only ask.

As Greg Sargent notes at The Plum Line, Obama chose his words carefully to suggest that the money saved in Afghanistan would be used to solve problems here at home:

* Was Obama’s Afghanistan speech persusasive? One of the key political challenges Obama faced last night was to persuade the public that he’s winding down the war fast enough at a time when its costs are skyrocketing even as we face chronic unemployment and a fiscal mess at home. Hence his claims that “the tide of war is receeding” and that it’s time for “time for nation building here at home.”

The deliberate choice of the latter phrase seemed designed to persuade Americans that the Bush-initiated post-9/11 war era is slowly but inevitably coming to an end, in order to buy some political space to continue the mission at levels that are (not quite) acceptable to the military commanders and won’t draw sustained attacks from Republicans.

Nice try.  But one of the first things that my mom said when she heard of the drawdown bringing troops home  was “And where are THOSE people going to find jobs?”  Good question.  Barry??  Bueller?  Bueller?

A bit of a cart before the horse, eh?  Maybe the best thing to do is to propose a real jobs program for real people.  But Dave Dayan at FDL says the idea in Congress is to say the right words, sprinkle some magic fairy dust on the jobs program, whine about how mean the Republicans are and get back to ignoring the unemployed:

The Senate Democratic leadership – all of them, Harry Reid, Chuck Schumer, Dick Durbin, Patty Murray, Debbie Stabenow and Mark Begich – planned a morning press conference today where they will call for job creation measures, or stimulus, to be included in any debt limit deal. They will say that deficit reduction cannot bring Americans back to work, and that recent soft numbers for the economy demand that jobs get the primary attention. According to the press release “they will urge the negotiators to consider new proposals to boost hiring in the short term at the same time that they pursue a plan to bring down the debt in the long term.” The phrase “equal priority” is in there as well.

Before Democrats let the narrative completely get away from them, this was the basic idea – stimulus now, doing no harm and even helping the economy through the rough patch over the next year or two, with deficit reduction to come later. But obviously, Democrats and the White House thought that the rough patch had ended with a few decent months of job creation, and so job creation was put on the back burner, at least in the context of the debt limit talks and the deficit deal. Now, with the new numbers, it’s clear that reducing the deficit will just put the country in a bigger hole.

There’s a sense that this is mainly rhetorical. Democrats have seen Republicans obstruct even the most piddling of jobs bills in the Senate. Yesterday the reauthorization of the Economic Development Administration, an old Great Society program, failed to break a filibuster. The reauthorization gave just a few hundred million more to the program, and was more than offset by the successful passage of the elimination of ethanol subsidies. Republicans still didn’t vote for it. Sen. Reid said yesterday,
“I don’t like to question my colleagues’ motives, but whether they work with us to pass these policies, or continue opposing ideas they once supported, will tell us a lot.”

I guess I can tell the bank that I am going to pay the mortgage too but in a couple of months, they will realize I was just being rhetorical.  I can only hope that the foreclosure documents are rhetorical as well.  Luckily for prospective employers, the Supreme Court has now made it safe to stiff female employees in the wage department because, after all, how are you going to prove it?  We all know that enlightened management treats all employees equally regardless of gender.  Anyone who is making less must be doing something wrong, Scalia seems to say.  For the knuckle draggers, the new Supreme Court Paycheck Fairness and Non-Discrimination policy should save some money.  How very Dred Scottian of them.  Whose going to an employer now for discrimination?  Maybe Dems can use it as a selling point in the new jobs program!

In the meantime, the job prospects of the liberated R&D professional are not going to get any better for, ohhhhh, I don’t know, about 9 years?  Check out this graph that Derek Lowe at In the Pipeline found on the “Patent Cliff” for the major pharmas:

That, my droogs, is a seriously scary picture for two reasons.  (Three, actually) One, it means that there are very few new and innovative drugs coming to market that will take the place of the older, more toxic ones, and that current drug shortages should be expected to continue.  Two, it signals that the system is broken.  There have been plenty of submissions, very few approvals.  Three, it means that things won’t start leveling out for us displaced sciencey geeky types until 2020 or longer.

Now, it might be the case that a lot of little companies, and the NIH roadmap for translational research, will pick up some of this slack. But that roadmap is in its infancy, no one knows quite how to implement it and it still takes years and years to develop a drug.  The R&D professionals will be trying to tough it out in smaller companies with less modern equipment, fewer resources and lower overall compensation.  It will be like moving the clock back on research by several decades.  Yeah!  That’ll make the young’uns want to study math and science more!

My offer still stands: we’re here, Democrats and Republicans.  Give us some retired lab space, decent salaries and all the reagents we can eat and we’ll make you antibiotics, CNS drugs and work on the other therapeutic areas that the bigger companies have abandoned.  All we ask is that you get rid of the merger and acquisition folks and let us decide how to use the money without the pressure of the quarterly earnings report.  We sell the patents to the US government.  Voile!  You can’t get a better value than that.

You want to concentrate on nation building here at home?  Save your scientific infrastructure.  We can even train some troops to work in the labs.

It could happen.  And that’s not just rhetoric.  That’s a jobs program.

Tuesday: Convergence, Ladies?

Is there a war on women?  Kalli Joy Gray asked that question of White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer at this year’s Netroots Nation.  Melissa McEwan at Shakesville documented the atrocity here.  Here’s the YouTube video.  You decide:

I like the part where she says something like, “PLEASE don’t bring up Lily Ledbetter. We’re tired of that.”  And then, almost the very next thing he talks about is- Lily Ledbetter.  BUT, Pfeiffer says, Obama is supportive of the Paycheck Fairness Act.  Yes, I can almost picture it now.  Obama, standing at the window at the White House, looking down the Mall towards the rotunda and whispering to Pfeiffer:

“Those poor little things.  That act is never going to be passed.  I wish I could do something for them.  Go, Dan, go  and be my man in Minneapolis, tell them how I, Feminist in my Heart, that I support them.  If only I knew how…  If only I were President and knew how to use the bully pulpit or had enough experience in congress to manipulate legislators like Clinton did or just knew how to exercise the levers of the executive branch with signing statements…or something.”

What I think we are witnessing in this exchange between Pfeiffer and Gray is contempt.  She’s justifiably angry but he is contemptuous.  Why else would he have offered such a lame defense of Obama’s policies for women?  He’s not even *trying*.  Maybe the White House figured that after 2008, Netroots Nation attendees were not too bright.  I don’t think that’s the case.  They just happen to have fault lines and weaknesses like every other bunch of humans on the planet.  They had just suffered through 8 years of Bush.  They wanted a hero.

Ok, nevermind.  That was stupid.

Nevertheless, they are pretty smart people in that room.  Minneapolis experienced a general increase in collective IQ when it hosted Netroots Nation and there tends to be more women at this event than the media lets on.  But Pfeiffer came to NN almost completely unprepared and fumbled when he brought out that tired old crap that the Obama administration feeds to what they think are the stupid masses.  “Lily Ledbetter.  They probably don’t even know what that is.  Whatever.  Why do *I* have to go to Minneapolis??  Everyone else is going to be drinking beer and playing pool this weekend.”

Like this:

The Politico post says criticism of the Obama staffers who showed up at a Georgetown bar to drink beer and relax was limited mostly to conservative blogs.  Well, I am not a conservative but this picture speaks volumes to me.  The shirts came off supposedly, because the staffers got caught in a rain storm and their clothes were wet.  But as you will note, there are a couple women in this pic and their tops are on.  Women don’t take their wet sopping clothes off in public no matter how cold, clingy and uncomfortable they are.  The guys just whip them off.  Not a problem.

I suspect some readers are going to get distracted by the rules of propriety for women in a public place but they would be missing the point.  If you are a working woman, and the women in this pic are colleagues of the men, you know that there are certain symbols that separate the men from the “girls”. The power tie is one of them. This kind of crap is another.  How you are allowed to dress, are expected to dress, does make a difference.  I could care less if they all got a little toasted after a hard day at work.  But when you go out with your female colleagues, you should keep your shirt on.  We can tell from this picture who has the power on the Obama staff and their professional opinion of their female colleagues.  This is what leads to the tone deafness from Pfeiffer and the Lily Ledbetter crap.  Little things, like the ability to go shirtless at a bar, make a difference in your attitude towards the women you work with.  It’s like a bunch of naked guys having a meeting in a sauna.  You can’t invite the ladies.

By the way, when did Obama last go golfing with Jan Brewer or Debbie Wasserman- Shultz?  Last week, Obama, Biden, Ohio governor Kasich and John Boener (R-Ohio) Speaker of the House, did a round of golf, presumably to hammer out some kind of deal (that for some strange reason couldn’t get legislated in public…).  Obama doesn’t go golfing with many women, or at least, *I* never hear about it.

NPR’s All Things Considered read mail from listeners defending the president’s golf meetings that are looking increasingly out of touch in these days of high unemployment and falling wages:

Now on to some other mail. Yesterday, I talked with Peter Finch, an editor at Golf Digest. This, as President Obama, Vice President Biden, House Speaker Boehner and Ohio Governor Kasich prepared to tee-off tomorrow. So, Finch offered some tips for conducting business on the golf course.

Mr. PETER FINCH (Editor, Golf Digest): I think it makes it much easier to approach somebody and to talk to them about things that you want to accomplish together after you’ve played that around.

SIEGEL: Well, Al Arismandez(ph), of Redondo Beach, California, writes to say that he has completed deals on the golf course and he offers this advice: Once you’ve cheered or applauded a successful golf shot of a playing partner, or commiserated with them in a poorly executed one, there is a quick if not deep look into that golfer’s humanity. That’s the kind of insight and understanding that can go a long way, much longer than my tee shot on hole number one.

Hmmm, seems to me that Obama is missing out on a whole lot of female humanity in his golf-business-deal making meetings.  Maybe if he invited more women, they would tell him to STFU about Lily Ledbetter.

So, what does this have to do with the “war on women”?  In one of the biggest battles of the war, the neanderthals won yesterday when in a 5-4 decision in a gender discrimination suit, the conservative men of the Supreme Court told the women of the Supreme Court, and by extension, all the rest of the working women of this country, that the women plaintiffs didn’t have enough in common to bring a class action suit against Walmart.

What’s the big deal, Scalia seems to say.

It’s dumbfounding but I guess you just have to live through it to understand what is going on in the working world.  You have to be one of the women in the department who watches her male colleagues, but NEVER her female colleagues, eat lunch with the new male director every day in the cafeteria.  You have watch your female colleague work her ass off and deliver quality work, go out of her way to stay until 9:30pm at night to get it done, and still watch one of the precious and few promotions go to a guy who essentially has done nothing in nine years.  Hmmm, was he a lunch guy?  Why, yes, yes he was!  Presumably, the manager was able to get a quick look into the humanity of his male subordinate lunch partner as they commiserated over a poorly executed stir fry chicken and vegetables. You’d have to be a female member of a department where all the other females are much more junior than any male member of the department. You’d have to put up with, but never complain about, the sabotage of your agency and authority at work. You’d have to see your promotional opportunities continually lag behind your male colleagues year after year.  You’d have to endure more critical reviews of your work, less praise and still be expected to suck it up and find some kind of internal reward system to keep on going.  You’d have to get used to living in a smaller house, driving a cheaper car and watching your money more carefully.  Don’t even think about golf.  There will be informal meetings and strategizing and divvying up of the pie that go on you will never be a party to.  Get used to it or go home.

It’s not at all surprising to me that three of the four dissenters on the Supreme Court were the only women, Kagan, Sotomayor and Bader-Ginsburg.  What’s disturbing is that the five males on the other side had the nerve to tell someone with Bader-Ginsburg’s expertise that the women of the Walmart suit couldn’t link their cases together because they had nothing in common and the company as a whole was not responsible for the decisions of individual regional managers.  It doesn’t matter that women as a whole at Walmart can’t seem to break through that glass ceiling no matter what they do or how hard they try.

Right there on the Supreme Court we see a microcosm of what’s going on in the rest of the working world.  The three women are the most junior justices; Sotomayor and Kagan because of their tenure and Bader-Ginsburg due to the unfortunate failure of her party to take the White House for decades.  The people in charge on the Court are 5 men who have the nerve to tell the three women that there’s nothing going on at Walmart.  Jeez, why don’t they just shut up and get back to work?  We have to go duck hunting with our buddies.

Well, I have a confession to make.  I hate those 5 men.  No, really, I do.  I could never act as an agent of their deaths but I can’t wait until one of them pops off from some stroke or disease or accident or impeachment.  It can’t come too soon.

And I am swearing off Walmart until they lose a couple of billion.  When the shareholders are screaming for the male executives heads, maybe they’ll institute a company wide gender discrimination policy and rigorously hold managers accountable for violating it.  The male jerks of the Supreme Court won’t make them do it so the women shoppers of America will have to do it.  Even my 72 year old mom is livid.

Unemployment is high, the wars wage on, health care continues to be expensive, people are losing their houses and Obama is still trotting out Lily Ledbetter.  And more and more of us are asking ourselves, how come we can’t have Hillary in 2012?  What better way to guarantee that when one of those five assholes bites the dust that a woman who “gets it” is appointed?  With Hillary in the White House, there are potentially eight years to wait out Scalia, Thomas, Roberts, Kennedy and Alito, the conservative Catholic lockdown on American women. The way the economy is going and in light of his subpar performance evaluation for the past four years, Obama might not make the cut next year.

Do women really want to take that chance?  What say you, male attendees of Netroots Nation?  Do you want to continue to condemn your sisters to a lifetime of second class status?  Or are you all talk and beer and no shirts?  Can you get over your love affair with Obama long enough to help us even the playing field or are you going to persist in your clueless hostility for “that woman”?