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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.