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Confidence Men: chapter 2- it gets worse

In this chapter, Suskind takes us back to 2007 as seen through the eyes of Alan Krueger, some Princeton economics dude, who was shopping his skills around to different campaigns even though he was technically an advisor to Hillary. You know, networking.

Anyway, he relates a meeting he witnessed with Obama and his economics team about why jobs suck these days, don’t pay well and are not secure. They went over what could be done about it and noted that the health care industry was booming. But that was only producing jobs like medical technicians, nurses and home healthcare aids. You know, “women’s work”. Obama said that men don’t want to do women’s work. They want to feel like men. Krueger was astonished at first because he’d never use such a term. Then he attributes Obama’s use of the term to his “writer’s sensibility”. {{cough! Bullshit. Cough!}}

Krueger comes up with the bright idea that the campaign should propose infrastructure jobs, like that’s so damn novel. *I* could have come up with that. Oh, wait, that was exactly what I asked Hillary Clinton about at YearlyKos2 in Chicago in august 2007. So, you don’t have to be an Econ genius to think through the problem. But in Hillary’s case, she already had plans to upgrade the broadband across the country and enter into public-private partnerships to expand the rail system in addition to fixing our roads and bridges.

But Obama wanted to concentrate on infrastructure jobs primarily because it would make the mens folk feel better about themselves if they didn’t have to do wimmins work.

I didn’t think I could like him less but I have surprised myself.

But here’s the problem with this approach:

1.) Even women don’t like womens’ work. I mean, really, Can you imagine an 8 year old girl answering the question of what she wants to be when she grows up with, “I want a low paying job doing work most men wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole!”. We grow up thinking we can be anything. The sky is the limit. I know *my* limits. I would suck as a daycare worker or a home health aid. I’m not saying that there is no one who doesn’t like doing this work or there isn’t dignity but most of us take those jobs out of necessity, not out of desire. And Barack Obama just reinforces how undesirable and undignified that kind of work is- for a man. Thank you, Barry. By the way, has anyone caught the latest episode of America’s Handyman on HGTV? One of the leaders is a woman. I’ll betcha no one was going to talk her into women’s work. It’s too bad more women don’t learn these skills.

2.) Obama and his advisors are already behind the curve. When so many PhDs in chemistry, engineering and astrophysics are out of work, it is the highly skilled that need help as well. This country can’t thrive without a vibrant technology sector and right now, a lot of high skilled jobs are being lost. It’s like a hemorrhage. What’s left is contract work. It’s low pay, unstable and doesn’t come with benefits. If we concentrate only on infrastructure projects for the He-Men, we leave out hundreds of thousands of potentially much better paying jobs in the technological industries where both men and women can find jobs they that give them a sense of identity and purpose.

I’ve already suggested how the government can buy up some empty lab space and put to work thousands of scientists to work on central nervous system and antiinfective drugs, two areas that the big pharmas have abandoned. We could sell the patents back to the government in exchange for decent salaries. That way, you would preserve the scientific infrastructure and put money back into the economy. So, where are the plans for that, Barry? You should have been Much more forceful in appointing Elizabeth Warren if you wanted to help the struggling middle class.

I’ll betcha Hillary would never have made these mistakes.

Excuses, excuses

Why *this* picture?

I don’t know why I am surprised at this but it looks like some of the lefty blogosphere guys are circling the wagons around Obama over Anita Dunn’s allegations that the White House could have been in court over the hostile working environment for women.  Kevin Drum is the latest to try to defend the president’s honor:

There really do seem to be legitimate complaints on this score, but on one of the most dramatic quotes about this, there’s a striking mismatch between what Ron Suskind heard and what he reported in his book. Here’s what he said he was told by former White House communications director Anita Dunn:

Looking back, this place would be in court for a hostile workplace….Because it actually fit all of the classic legal requirements for a genuinely hostile workplace for women.

But here’s the full quote:

I remember once I told Valerie [Jarrett] that, I said if it weren’t for the president,this place would be in court for a hostile workplace….Because it actually fit all of the classic legal requirements for a genuinely hostile workplace to women.

This doesn’t necessarily change the substance of the charge about the White House atmosphere — though it might, depending on what Dunn meant — but it definitely changes what it suggests about Obama himself. Why on earth did Suskind leave that bit out? It’s only eight words, and it’s not as if he was short on space.

Yes, let us split hairs, Kevin, and turn this into another kerning dispute.

Do the eight words matter?  I’m listening to the book right now and I haven’t gotten to that part but from other posts I have read on the details, I would say, No, the eight words are not that important in the whole scheme of things.

From what I can tell, the infractions were obvious early on.  They included meetings that women were not invited to attend, expertise not listened to and a distinct lack of direction from Rahm Emannuel, who failed to signal to the campaign leftovers that election season was over and some of these women were their seniors. The women staffers initially attempted to get Obama’s attention but he brushed it off as an artifact of the campaign.  Then, they went to Valerie Jarret, who, IMHO, took exactly the wrong approach and attempted to “pinkify” the female experience at the White House with women only activities and baby showers.

From my own perspective as a female in a male dominated industry, I have something to say about this.  I don’t think women are that put off by the occasional F-bomb.  It’s a little startling the first time you hear it but you get used to it and then feel comfortable slinging it around.  Throwing footballs around in the office?  Also not a problem as long as they’re the Nerf variety and you are not made to play monkey-in-the-middle.  It’s the power plays that are going on in the background to which no woman is invited that is the single most irritating, infuriating and unfair thing about working with guys.

It wasn’t always this bad and from the two companies I have worked for, it seemed to me that the problem was worse at the international company compared to the American company. But even a lot of American guys still act like any promotion of women in their midst is a direct threat to their affirmative action program for white men.  You can’t hire one single woman more than they think is acceptable before they start whining about how “more qualified men” were overlooked as if we didn’t already have more than our share of mediocre men in our midst.  Come on, Kevin, Ezra, Josh, Ta Nehisi, it’s true, isn’t it?  How many prominent writers that are quoted at length on our lefty blogosphere are women?  It’s always the same *guys* who are working at The Atlantic, WaPo and Mother Jones.  Digby is getting her share now but it took a long time for her to get off her asteroid in the Oort Belt and into mainstream circulation and she is a much more perceptive writer than someone like Ezra Klein who seems to be adopting the values and attitudes of his editors and mentors.  Anyway, I digress.

I suspect that for women working in the White House, there was a sense that things had already been decided before they entered the meeting room.  There were unannounced meetings in someone’s office where projects were discussed, strategies planned, and work divided up that underlined the impression that the women who were supposed to be doing that work were not very relevant.  Am I right, ladies?  I suspect that Obama’s lieutenants had proteges and they were not female.  And those proteges were given a lot of responsibility and airtime to make themselves look important and responsible and trusted with information that women did not have access to.  Their executive hair was already sprouting.  And here were these women, come from academia and prestigious positions of their own who were sidelined.  They study and work very hard to become experts at their subjects and they are upstaged by some male asshole who seems to have the ear of the most powerful people in the room.  Well, that’s what it sounds like from what I have read.  How did *that* happen??

So, they took their complaints to Obama and he ignored them.  It’s not that they were not being assertive enough.  It’s that the lines of authority had already been established and they were established between the senior and junior men and not the women.  And who could blame them?  It is human nature for people to gravitate to people most like themselves.  Men will choose to hang out with men because it’s more comfortable.  That’s why it is so important for the guy at the top to set the tone with his direct reports and make the rules so that this doesn’t happen and everybody doesn’t waste their time, make bad decisions and suck up taxpayer money.  But in Obama’s White House, Rahm, Larry Summers and Tim Geithner were the head honchos and, apparently, they didn’t get the memo that they were supposed to pivot away from outrageous sexist behavior to a more professional working environment.  With the exception of Hillary Clinton, how many times have we seen pictures of meeting rooms in the White House where all of the participants were male?  More than *I* can count.

The meetings with Jarret went on until the women finally had a dinner with Obama in November 2009.  That’s almost a whole year before he finally got around to taking them seriously and it was a very important year in terms of the economy. In the meantime, Obama continued to have pick up basketball games with the guys.  What’s up with that, anyway?  Couldn’t anyone find a bat and a softball so everyone could play?  And baby showers, Valerie?  Really?  Even in my workplace, men attend baby showers.  It sounds like males and females were even more segregated in the White House than they are in some uncomfortably hierarchical international companies. What we had was an attempt to suburbanize the experiences of the genders where the men had the equivalent of hanging out in the garage and the women sat in the living room and talked about their labors and deliveries.  It’s so dumb I’m surprised the women went along with it. Maybe it made the personal experience bearable but I can’t see how it made the professional experience better. Jarret and Obama should have worked harder to provide more opportunities for the sexes to mix so that they saw each others as human beings with similar interests and aspirations.

So, maybe Obama was the only thing that spared the White House from landing in court.  On the other hand, what were the women supposed to do?  If you can’t get the President to enforce an open and transparent working environment, what makes you think you’re going to get better treatment at the EEOC?  And the Supreme Court has recently ruled that the women of Walmart, who were experiencing the same kind of bullshit on a much vaster scale, didn’t have anything in common to bring a class action suit.  If the dudes aren’t groping you in the hall closet, if you’re only complaint is that opportunities are passing you by, you haven’t got a case.  So, that’s that.

Really, it’s shocking that the guys of the lefty blogosphere haven’t caught on to the pernicious way that the misogyny of the 2008 primary season has added to the hostile environment of the workplace for professional women.  I could swear that the problem has gotten worse, or maybe I’m just more attuned to it these days, but it seems to me that the unchecked sexism of the 2008 election season has given guys the green light to act with impunity in the workplace. When forcing a female manager out of her position or  laying off junior staff who mostly happen to be women could mean the end of careers, some of these guys may be getting away with murder.  Why are guys like Kevin Drum so quick to defend other guys for this kind of behavior unless they were themselves benefitting from the backroom deals and male exclusion zone?  Are they feeling any kind of ping of conscience for taking advantage of advantages that are not available to women?  Is Barack Obama so insensitive and conditioned that he thought some of his most talented women were just bitching over pick up basketball games?

Like I said before, everything can be measured.  That’s where the truth of the matter will manifest itself.  In these days where everything is digitally recorded somewhere, there is no need for the “he said/she said” defense.  Honest, well intentioned people who value fairness will want to get to the bottom of this problem in the most objective manner possible.  Would that include Kevin Drum?  Let’s get the data from the emails, phone calls and meeting appointments.  Let’s see who sequestered information and whose requests for information were ignored.  Let’s roll the tape on the way meetings were conducted.  Let’s see who got the plum assignments and from whom.  Let’s see who was described in terms of acceptable social behavior and who was praised for accomplishments.  And then let’s develop some guidelines so this doesn’t happen in the White House, or any other place of business, ever again.

If Suskind’s book sheds some much needed daylight on the way women are treated in the workplace, he will have done us all a big favor.  I can tell you that the first chapter, focussing on the way Timothy Geithner treated Elizabeth Warren, had my blood boiling.  I’m betting that he could have never gotten away with this if she were a man.  Same with Hillary Clinton, although, now that she has proven herself to have a set of three titanium testicles by surviving a lot of outrageous sexist behavior, she seems to have won some sort of grudging respect.  But no woman should have her expertise and credentials sidelined in order to preserve a hidden hierarchy and mentoring system to which she has no chance of belonging.

The answer is no, Kevin.  Dunn’s extra eight words didn’t significantly change the meaning and Obama didn’t make things better.  If he had made things better in the beginning when it first came to his attention, this crap would have never made it into the book. Dunn’s allegations were hardly the only ones.  The inattentiveness to their complaints reinforces our perception of Obama as being a poor manager who doesn’t set a good example and doesn’t care how his female employees are treated.

But we suspected that before the election.  Now, we know for sure.

UPDATE:  I followed this link from Eschaton to a Elizabeth Warren video.  Remember, according to sources close to him, Tim Geithner was planning to develop an “Elizabeth Warren Strategy” which was to be “a plan to engage with the firebrand reformer that would render her politically inert.”  But he settled for barring her from running the agency she created.  Geithner’s got to go.

 

Pass it around.

And here’s her website where you can make a donation and keep the firebrand burning:  Elizabeth Warren for Massachusetts

Dead Space in the Pharma Pipeline

This article is a few months old but just now showed up in my LinkedIn updates.  It’s another indication of disintegration in the pharmaceutical industry as it heads towards the “patent cliff”:

Scientists warn on “dead space” as pharma giants shuns neuropsych:

European experts are sounding an alarm about the recent pullout of GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca from the brain disorder arena.  David Nutt, a professor Imperial College London, and Oxford’s Guy Goodwin are calling for a rapid response to what they term a collapse in R&D spending in the field.

“What we have forgotten, and must not forget, is if we stop this research we will have a dead space of 20 to 30 years before we can re-tool again,” Nutt tells The Guardian. “Despite the public health imperative, not only has EU research funding remained very low, but–even worse–big pharma is increasingly coming to see research into better neuropsychiatric drug targets as economically non-viable.”

That effectively sums up the position of GSK’s Andrew Witty, who has explained that the huge risk associated with developing new drugs for neuroscientists is just too high to justify the investment necessary. The Guardian notes that the average time it takes to develop a new drug for a brain disorder is 13 years-considerably higher than the average program and significantly more expensive.

The article goes on to say that the authors have proposed that pharmas be encouraged to give this area of research to academic labs and that government make an effort to protect small labs and companies who agree to do this research.

The reason why neuropsychiatric medications are so “economically non-viable” is because the body protects the brain from foreign, potentially toxic substances with a physiological feature known as the “blood-brain barrier”.  Basically, there is an extra “layer” of protection around the central nervous system that drugs have to cross in order to reach their targets.  That means, the compounds that might be the most effective have to first be bioavailable to the body and then have to have  certain additional physical properties to cross the blood-brain barrier.  Developing these kinds of drugs is very time consuming and has a high failure rate.  Messing with the brain is not for the faint of heart.  There are specificity issues to deal with as well.  I once worked on a project where the drug was initially developed to target a serotonin receptor in the brain in order to reduce appetite.  It turned out that it also caused severe priapism in primates.  We must be very, very careful or someone’s going to lose a penis.

For those of you who might be hoping for a treatment for Alzheimers, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, epilepsy or stroke, the authors of this article are saying that the research in these areas are so expensive for big pharma that they are mothballing the projects.  Starting them up again, and finding chemists who understand what it takes to make compounds that cross the blood-brain barrier is going to set back research by 20-30 years.  Then, if a company or academic lab does decide to take this on, they’re going to need governmental protections, to keep them from going under while they work out the kinks.  Presumably, this would include some kind of insurance against the inevitable class-action lawsuits as well as some kind of patent protection.

The patent reform act that was signed recently will probably not be a friend to small labs.  The change from “first to invent” to “first to file” puts a lot of burdens on small labs that may not have a fully staffed patent department to work through a patent application.  That leaves them vulnerable to large pharmas who will make them an offer they can’t refuse.  If I were reforming the patent problem, I would have split off biomedical patents from other patents and then, counterintuitively, extended the patents for new drug entities.  Before you get your knickers in a twist, hear me out.  One of the reasons that drugs are so expensive is because they spend a lot of time in development and clinical trials and those trials eat up the time left on the patent.  These days, the FDA requires more safety data and clinical trials before a drug is approved.  (I *know* there will be some readers who will insist that drugs are fast tracked but they are not paying attention.  Fast tracked drugs are mostly oncology drugs where there is a bargain between patients who are terminally ill who may be willing to forgo the additional safety requirements.  Fast track for all other drugs is very rare)  The longer the drug sits at the FDA, the greater the potential high cost to consumers and marketing executives, seeing an opportunity to increase share holder value, may pad that price even more, using the FDA holdup as an excuse.

Pharma is also not well served by the frenzy of the financial markets to produce higher profits every 3 months.  When push comes to shove, the human body will do what it damn well pleases.  You can’t force Mother Nature to perform on a quarterly basis.  See Derek Lowe’s post on GSK’s mystifying new scheme for creating a pharma division with a racecar fuel manufacturing facility.  We have no idea what GSK is thinking but we are aware of some computer chip manufacturers complete cluelessness when it comes to drug research.  You can’t research a drug the same way you research a chip.   And MBAs who do not understand their business will do dumb things when they are under pressure to produce profits.  Biomedical research is unlike any other form of high tech research.  You can’t pair the two and expect that the cells that the biologists are working with will suddenly get a clue and get with the program.  And this is why the patent problem is also different for the pharma industry because shortened research cost recuperation times leads to a lot of very stupid short-term thinking.

If I were to reform patents, I’d stop the patent clock while the drug was going through the clinical and approval process and resume it after approval.  Then make a deal with the pharma industry to ease up on pricing in exchange for longer exclusivity.  This accomplishes two goals: it takes the pressure off of pharma to price the hell out of the drug and it steers them back towards long term planning.  If they know the patent cliff isn’t looming a few years down the line, the pace of mergers and restructuring might slow down and research would have some breathing room to get back to business.  It’s a theory.  There’s always a way for the financial class to game the system so thinking this through carefully and plugging the loopholes would be very important.  But that’s what I expect from my congressmen- careful, meticulous examination of the problem with reasonable solutions.  Changing the first to invent to first to apply rule did not do that and may have inadvertently exposed entrepreneurial labs to additional risk and expense.  Well, inadvertently to Congress; opportunistically to the big pharma vulture capitalists.  Hey, it’s a business.

Anyway, it’s something to think about.  It’s not just CNS drugs.  Antibiotics are also losing their shine with the big pharma giants.  Too many lawsuits.  Oh, well.

Obama White House Hostile to Women? Don’t just take their word for it

Investigate it.

Today, Politico has an article about how women’s groups are gulping hard and staying on the sidelines, leaving the women in Obama’s White House high and dry:

But even though these groups often jump to respond to claims of sexism — like with the unflattering Newsweek cover of Michele Bachmann last month, for example — they appear to be staying out of this one.

Sam Bennett, president and CEO of the non-partisan Women’s Campaign Forum, said she had never heard any allegations of tough conditions for women in the White House.

“Never once … have I heard anything negative about the Obama administration in regards to its internal treatment of women or is goals,” she said. “I can’t imagine that it would be lost on the Obama administration that it was women, particularly unmarried African-American women, who elected him.”

Julie Burton, of the Women’s Media Center, also passed on the chance to criticize the Obama administration.

“Anita Dunn says she was misquoted, and in any case, only she can characterize her experience in the White House,” she wrote in an email. “I can say that women outside the White House are concerned about administration policy as it affects their lives.”

And Susan B. Anthony List spokeswoman Ciara Matthews declined to comment, saying the issue was outside the scope of their organization.

Well, alright then.  I guess that’s that.  Those female Obama staffers are just making it all up.

Bullshit.

Everything can be quantified, ladies.  We have the technology.  The White House has data at its fingertips that can be analyzed.  How long does it take to get your email answered, how many meetings were women invited to, who was left off the group meetings lists, who didn’t return phone calls, who went to lunch with whom, who went on golf outings.  All that information can be pulled from the servers.  Statistical packages can determine if there is a correlation to positions on org charts, locations of offices, office and desk size, or some yet unknown component.  If the meetings were recorded, how many times were women presenters interrupted or talked over them?  Who interrupted them? How many times were they called on to give their expert opinion?  Performance evaluations can be analyzed for words that can indicate if a staffer is being graded on acceptable social behaviors or actual accomplishments.  Get some computational linguists on the case to sift through the words.

If the women of MIT can do this kind of investigation, the White House certainly can.  This isn’t rocket science.

The women’s groups who are shrinking away from what the White House female staffers are saying don’t need to be afraid of their own shadows. All they have to do is demand a rigorous and quantifiable investigation.  Either the evidence is there or it isn’t.  (I’m going to bet that it’s there) If there is a problem, then surely, SURELY, the White House will want to rectify the situation as quickly as possible and set an example for other businesses to do the same.  After all, that kind of sexism costs.  It prevents good ideas from being considered and could lead to detrimental effects for the country.  And if you’re not going to listen to the women experts you appoint, what’s the point of hiring them in the first place?  You’re just costing the country money.

You would think that President Feminist himself would want to clear his name and reputation, what with an election coming up and all that “we need womens’ votes” campaign rhetoric.  After all, the Lily Ledbetter shtick is wearing thin.

But if the White House ignores the request or sweeps it under the rug, or more likely, says that it has more pressing matters to attend to, well, then Barack Obama just might not be Fourth of July, Christmas and Hannukah all rolled up in one after all.

You say “Class Warfare” like it’s a *bad* thing

I don’t know what’s more pathetic:  Obama’s negotiating starting point of $3 TRILLION dollars (yes, you read that right) or that the Republicans are ready to take their dishes and go home over a tax on millionaires.

“Wahhhh!  Life is so unfair for the millionaire.  It’s class warfare.  We’re being oppressed!  We’re being oppressed!”

The answer to the most pathetic move today has to go to Obama.  This man does not know how to conduct Class Warfare.  I’m not at all intimidated or bothered by the Republicans condemning it with dire tones and stern faces.  Watch, they’ll probably try to find some scripture that supports sucking the life blood out of the economy while people are out of work.

Maybe the magic is gone.  The term “job creators” never resonated with me either.  They’re called EM-PLOY-ERS and their primary creation these days seems to be shareholder value.  It’s not personal, that’s just what they’re rewarded for doing.  When we stop rewarding them for sucking money and value out of their companies and start rewarding them for planning for the long term, the jobs will come back.  There’s nothing divine about them.

But back to Obama.  What the hell is he thinking??  $3 Trillion to start?  That’s just fricking nutz.  And I see that military pensions and Tricare are now on the chopping block.  I have some relatives who are going to LOVE that.  Not only is it unnecessary but Tricare is a low cost health insurance system that we should be emulating, not cutting. If there are too many severely injured, permanently damaged people on it, maybe we should stop creating them.   Military personnel do not make the plushest salaries in the world.  Increasing the cost of healthcare for military families is going to be a real hardship.

The other proposal is for military pensions to be replaced by a contribution plan, like a 401K.  I hope it’s the type of contribution plan favored by retirement experts like Theresa Ghilarducci and not the kind of 401K plan the rest of the private sector is forced into.  The private sector 401K is very risky and exacerbates the boom-bust bubble and unemployment cycles we’re going through these days.  All of the productivity gains are siphoned away to investors who expect bigger returns every quarter.  With Ghilarducci’s investment strategy, the choices are limited and geared towards more stable funds and returns.  It’s a lower return on investment (3% instead of the 7% projected by 401K con men) but it is much safer and less damaging to the economy.

Still, $3Trillion, Barry?  I mean, what kind of room does that leave for negotiation?  You know Republicans.  They’ll never agree to $3 Trillion.  They want it all.   And you know what, Barry?  Austerity sucks.  Those of us who are out of work through no fault of our own do not deserve to be treated like this.

So, gird your loins, Class Warriors.

Well, that’ll learn’im.  Good thing we don’t do this to lying, traitorous, thieving rapists anymore.  I mean, for the rapists.  {{sigh}} Those were the good old days.

Told’ja

So, the truth comes out about what it’s like to work as a woman in the White House. In Ron Susskind’s new upcoming book, Confidence Men, Women in Obama’s White House felt excluded and ignored:

A new book claims that the Obama White House is a boys’ club marred by rampant infighting that has hindered the administration’s economic policy and left top female advisers feeling excluded from key conversations.

“Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President,” by journalist Ron Suskind due out next Tuesday, details the rivalries among Obama’s top economic advisers, Larry Summers, former chairman of the National Economic Council, and Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner. It describes constant second-guessing by Summers, now at Harvard, who was seen by others as “imperious and heavy-handed” in his decision-making.

In an excerpt obtained by The Post, a female senior aide to President Obama called the White House a hostile environment for women.“This place would be in court for a hostile workplace,” former White House communications director Anita Dunn is quoted as saying. “Because it actually fit all of the classic legal requirements for a genuinely hostile workplace to women.

[…]

It says that women occupied many of the West Wing’s senior positions, but felt outgunned and outmaneuvered by male colleagues such as former Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Summers.

“I felt like a piece of meat,” Christina Romer, former head of the Council of Economic Advisers, said of one meeting in which Suskind writes she was “boxed out” by Summers.

Dunn told Suskind that the problems began during the 2008 campaign. At one point she was viewing a television ad with other campaign officials and was shocked to see no women in the spot.

“There isn’t a single woman in this ad,” Dunn said. “I was dumbfounded. It wasn’t like they were being deliberately sexist. It’s just there was no one offering a female perspective.”

The ad was later reshot, with women included.

“The president has a real woman problem,” an unnamed high-ranking female official told Suskind. “ The idea of the boys’ club being just Larry and Rahm isn’t really fair. He [Obama] was just as responsible himself.”

Based on interviews with more than 200 people inside and outside the White House, Suskind’s book comes as Obama faces the lowest poll numbers of his tenure, and deep discontent over his economic policies.

According to the book, female staffers, like Dunn and Romer, felt sidelined. In November 2009, female aides complained to the president about being left out of meetings, or ignored.

Dunn said in the interview that her husband, now-White House lawyer Bob Bauer, was “surprised to see me as someone who could be talked over in meetings.”

The short story, it’s typical corporate under-the-radar discrimination.  The women staffers and cabinet members will no doubt be told that they are being too sensitive or paranoid but after their work fails to get the recognition it deserves or requires, she’s going to feel the stress of always being on the outside looking in and missing the crucial milestones necessary to get a promotion and exercise power.  When the crucial decision making meetings happen, she won’t be aware of them.  They might be impromptu, like during lunch at a table where few women are invited to join.  Or at golf games.  Or a meeting may be arranged where the scheduler has a propensity for the hierarchical and no juniors are invited, most of those juniors happening to be women.  Or the female staffer may need to gather information and sends out a survey email, which for some unknown reason, several more senior sycophants fail to respond to.  Or at a department meeting during your presentation, the guys talk over you or interrupt you or speed up your presentation or slow it down so they can ask you questions that were not in the scope of the presentation.  If you’ve been taking data, you’ll have realized by now that men rarely receive this kind of treatment, but it all contributes to making you look just a little bit unprepared or not quite knowing what’s really going on (because you weren’t there when they told the guys what was really going on).  Heck, you’re lucky you get a chance to present at all.  The stars get their 45 minutes of fame at every meeting while you have to book a slot months in advance.  That kind of stuff.

Oh, Ladies, I have seen it all.  These are deaths by a thousand paper cuts.  It’s disrespectful, isolating, humiliating and prevents you from looking like you’re doing your best job.  But it’s not grabbing and propositioning.  Without the sexual aspect, this more pernicious and devastating career stalling form of discrimination never gets the proper attention it deserves.  The fact that this is happening at the Obama White House does not surprise me at all.  I’ve seen this report coming for two years now, ever since the bunch of guys who run Obama’s campaign thought it would be a great idea if Michelle took on a more traditional first lady role.  Let her stay at home with two school aged adolescents who no longer require full time care.  She can garden in her spare time and lecture all the other mothers about nutrition.  It so fits the upper middle class suburban mother demographic.  Her sphere of influence is to set an example of what a demure, respectful, “had my fun in my career but now find complete fulfillment as a full time mother with a lot of time on my hands to make you feel inadequate as a mother” should be.  This is the game in the suburbs, who can outmother.  Who chauffeurs more, who is more alert to safety issues, who sets more limits on their childrens’ {freinds, TVtime, sugar ingestion, independence}  She is a throw back to the woman who defers, whose identity depends on her husband.  I’m sure the evangelicals are eating it up with a genuine jesus plated spoon.  But her example does not help the women who are tasked with working with her husband and his cabinet.  The specter of Michelle, digging in the garden like a good PTA mom, contributes to an attitude that women don’t put their careers first.  They can’t handle it.  They’ll stress out and go home.  But the worst type of stress is caused by male generated obstructions that keep you from getting your work done efficiently.

The kind of behavior described in Susskind’s book results in a lot of lost opportunities.  There won’t be a lot of thinking outside the box if half of the staff doesn’t get heard or taken seriously.  It’s a waste of talent.  It costs us money.  Think of Christina Romer, giving the right answer as to the size of the stimulus package, overridden by Geithner and then having to fight for the privilege to give her input during meetings when guy after guy were called on and she was passed over.  If I were her, I’d be pissed.  But let me guess what happened when she brought it up.  She was told she wasn’t being a team player, that she was too sensitive.  What she really meant to say was, “I had something important to say and now you are going to make your decisions without hearing it”.  And they probably did.  Romer stuck it out for a couple of years and then had enough and went home.  It’s real discrimination all right but there’s no definition for the disrespect and dismissal that happens day after day.  It’s pervasive and nebulous.

What could the White House have done differently?  Well, first, it could have refrained from running such a bloody relentless, sexist campaign.  Second, it could have instituted a training program and guidelines and hold violators accountable.  That might have included instructing male staffers to answer all phone calls and emails promptly no matter who was requesting, it could have monitored the response time to those requests and analyzed the data to determine who were the biggest offenders, if could have had meetings videotaped and analyzed for inappropriate indifference to the input of female attendees or interruptions of her presentation.  It could have analysed the words used to comment on the presentations of men and women.  A computational linguist might have been hired to to this.  The White House might have made a rule about golf outings.  All golf outings must be composed of equal parts men and women.  Same with any on-site activity.  Male or female only lunch groups should be discouraged.  It’s hard to monitor off-site activities but any opportunities that result in the male staff taking their shirts off in a bar while their female companions remain clothed should be discussed as to the messages sent to all members present and the public at large.  How about a dress code?  You can’t force guys to take off their ties but there has to be a female equivalent to give them power.  Find a way to get rid of symbols of male authority and female subordination.

Have training sessions that explain how damaging it is to refer to assertive women as “not team players” or “hard to work with” or any other code word used to undermine her authority.  For too long, women are coached to walk a thin line and never be too assertive or two passive so as to not upset the mens folk.  It never works.  Women can always be criticized for something.  This coaching of female staff is completely wasted because the violators of creating this hostile workplace (and trust me, it is very hostile) are never held responsible for their behavior.  That behavior makes it very difficult for women to present their ideas and work in a manner that will be recognized and will get things done.  And when you hire women on your staff and let the men act like cock-of-the-walk assholes, the only ideas you’re going to get to work with will be the ones generated by cock-of-the-walk assholes and women will despise you because none of your solutions seem to have anything that will make their lives better.

What we’re seeing at the White House is the same kind of cut throat, kill your enemies behavior seen in corporate culture.  That culture is exacerbated by the business school class that is always trying to climb over the broken back of the person who stands in their way of the next position up the ladder.  It seeps down to all levels of the corporation and becomes intensified among the rank and file where keeping one’s job becomes a vicious and nasty game of musical chairs.  Most upper managers are men and they identify with men and many women are left without mentors or the respect they need to stay in the game.  That’s why you can see departments lose 80% of their women staffers during a layoff and never blink an eye.  Of course, some areas and fields of expertise are different than others but when the women of MIT set out to document the atrocities, they found that it wasn’t just all in their heads.  It’s real.  But it can be fixed, if there is the will to do it.  It doesn’t look like the White House thinks this is an important issue to tackle.

The fact that it’s happening at the White House and that Obama hasn’t done anything in 3 years to mitigate it, speaks volumes to me about just what kind of president he is.  Corporate, sexist without even knowing it, probably dismissive of complaints, oblivious that there’s a problem at all and incurious about why it is that so many of the people he promotes and listens to are male.

Ladies, we KNOW these guys.  Why in world would we ever want to vote for another man for president is beyond me.  Obama seems to be taking this country backwards to the 60’s.  He has learned nothing.  And sexism, far from being unimportant in the whole scheme of things, like rescuing the economy, it is the linchpin as to why the economy is in as bad shape as it is.  Sheila Bair wanted to nationalize the biggest banks, Christina Romer wanted to double the stimulus package.  They were both overruled.  The next in line to be press secretary, Karen Finney, was passed over so that Jay Carney, a dude on Biden’s staff could take the position.  What happened there?  What was even more shocking is that Nancy Pelosi wasn’t initially invited to the talks about the debt ceiling crisis.  That’s inexcusable.  No-, really, I’m amazed that the media let them get away with that.  The only person who seems to know how to command attention and respect in Obama’s cabinet is Hillary Clinton.  And we don’t even know the whole story there.  (I’m betting she doesn’t put up with un-returned phone calls and emails)

This book should be good.  I’m using one of my last 2 audible credits to snag one.  But if I were one of the Obama girls who latched onto him to look cool and aspirational instead of old, stupid and menopausal, I’d be feeling pretty stupid right now.  Big mistake.  Massive.

The trickle down effects of malignant morality

Two posts at the NYTimes illustrate the effects of what I like to call Malignant Christianity on the Republican base.

First up, Pat Robertson of 700 Club fame, recently said it was Ok for a man to divorce his wife if she had Alzheimer’s disease in order to get with a different woman.

From the Times article:

The Rev. Pat Robertson’s suggestion that a man whose wife was far “gone” with Alzheimer’s should divorce her if he felt a need for new companionship has provoked a storm of condemnation from other Christian leaders but a more mixed or even understanding response from some doctors and patient advocates.

On his television show, “The 700 Club,” on Tuesday, Mr. Robertson, a prominent evangelical who once ran for president, took a call from a man who asking how he should advise a friend whose wife was deep intodementia and no longer recognized him.

“His wife as he knows her is gone,” the caller said, and the friend is “bitter at God for allowing his wife to be in that condition, and now he’s started seeing another woman.”

“This is a terribly hard thing,” Mr. Robertson said, clearly struggling to think his way through a wrenching situation. “I hate Alzheimer’s. It is one of the most awful things, because here’s the loved one — this is the woman or man that you have loved for 20, 30, 40 years, and suddenly that person is gone “

“I know it sounds cruel,” he continued, “but if he’s going to do something, he should divorce her and start all over again, but to make sure she has custodial care, somebody looking after her.”

When Mr. Robertson’s co-anchor on the show wondered if that was consistent with marriage vows, Mr. Robertson noted the pledge of “’til death do us part,” but added, “This is a kind of death.”

He said the question presented an ethical dilemma beyond his ability to answer. “I certainly wouldn’t put a guilt trip on you if you decided that you had to have companionship, you’re lonely, you have to have companionship,” Mr. Robertson said.

You have to have companionship.  Unless you’re gay.

So, here’s the reasoning behind this: Robertson style “christians” don’t believe in pre-marital sex.  Oh, they believe it exists but they don’t think you should do it under any circumstances. It’s a very Tess of the d’Urbervilles world for these christians.  So, in order to no commit the sin of FORNICATION, you should commit a bigger sin by abandoning your sick wife.  Hmmm, what was Pat Robertson’s position on Terry Schiavo’s husband?  I mean, he stuck with her to the bitter end and never divorced her.  I suspect that a good deal of the craziness directed at Michael Schiavo was due to existence of his second family.  How dare he get on with his life and FORNICATE while his wife is hooked to a feeding tube for 15 years.  And Terry Schiavo was a young 26 year old when she went into a permanent vegetative state.  But Pat Robertson and his minions would not grant Terry and Michael mercy.  Nope, their very private decisions were the subject of a national mob frenzy.  But I digress.

Maybe we should get Sandra Day O’Connor’s opinion on this.  She left the Supreme Court, a permanent, important, powerful position, in order to take care of her ailing husband who had Alzheimer’s disease.  Now, THAT’s dedication and love for you.

I’m not judging the decisions of any particular case.  Alzheimer’s is very difficult on spouses.  But I do wonder if God wouldn’t cut you a break for the FORNICATION if you would just stay married to your spouse until the very end of a devastating disease.  What a terrible choice to foist upon the guy who asked for Robertson’s advice.

The other post is Paul Krugman’s Friday column,  Free to Die, where he writes with palpable disbelief of the cruelty and heartlessness of the new Republican right’s attitude towards taking care of their neighbors who have suffered misfortune or poverty.  In reference to the Wolf Blitzer-Ron Paul exchange at the last Republican presidential debate where Rep. Paul was pressed on healthcare for the uninsured emergency room patient, Krugman writes:

The incident highlighted something that I don’t think most political commentators have fully absorbed: at this point, American politics is fundamentally about different moral visions.

[…]

So the freedom to die extends, in practice, to children and the unlucky as well as the improvident. And the right’s embrace of that notion signals an important shift in the nature of American politics.

In the past, conservatives accepted the need for a government-provided safety net on humanitarian grounds. Don’t take it from me, take it from Friedrich Hayek, the conservative intellectual hero, who specifically declared in “The Road to Serfdom” his support for “a comprehensive system of social insurance” to protect citizens against “the common hazards of life,” and singled out health in particular.

Given the agreed-upon desirability of protecting citizens against the worst, the question then became one of costs and benefits — and health care was one of those areas where even conservatives used to be willing to accept government intervention in the name of compassion, given the clear evidence that covering the uninsured would not, in fact, cost very much money. As many observers have pointed out, the Obama health care plan was largely based on past Republican plans, and is virtually identical to Mitt Romney’s health reform in Massachusetts.

Now, however, compassion is out of fashion — indeed, lack of compassion has become a matter of principle, at least among the G.O.P.’s base.

And what this means is that modern conservatism is actually a deeply radical movement, one that is hostile to the kind of society we’ve had for the past three generations — that is, a society that, acting through the government, tries to mitigate some of the “common hazards of life” through such programs as Social Security, unemployment insurance, Medicare and Medicaid.

Are voters ready to embrace such a radical rejection of the kind of America we’ve all grown up in? I guess we’ll find out next year.

I’ve seen this new morality up close and personally.  My guess is that the change in attitude has been gradual but so relentless nonetheless that the practitioners of this new morality have no idea how far they have strayed from their former selves.  The right side of the country is getting crueler, there’s no doubt about it.  Well, if the poor and children of the poor had lead more moral lives, bad things wouldn’t have happened to them.  If you’re sitting pretty and have a nice life, it’s because you’ve been good and followed the rules.  Judgementalism has trumped compassion because it is powerful.  It makes the wielder feel important and relevant and part of a bigger team.  And that power can be dangerous when directed at your fellow citizens.  To have the power of life and death over some other creature can be intoxicating.  And unless we deny the religious right the reverence they crave and hold them accountable for the pain and cost they thrust on others, expect the collective morality of the nation to continue to decline.

Dear Democratic Party

Will you please get your shit together?

The NYTimes is reporting today that some of you want to break up Obama’s (less than adequate but at least it’s something) Jobs Bill into tiny pieces that you think *might* pass.  Do any of you remember your party’s history?  This is a Lesser Depression.  Maybe we’re not all starving in some turf home in Dust Bowl Oklahoma but this is very serious.  It calls for a comprehensive plan and courage to see it through, even if the morons on TV convince the Republican base that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme.

I don’t know what you guys are up to but from the outside, it looks like a bunch of chickens who just cut their own heads off.  You guys were once dominant in politics and gave us Medicare and the Peace Corps and Sesame Street.  You looked after the post office (BTW, do you have any idea how expensive it is to send a high school logo sweatshirt and a pound of Skittles to your former French exchange student in Avignon by FedEx?  I sent it USPS for a small fraction of the FedEx quote.  Yeah, put THAT in some campaign ads.)

The optics are not good.  There is no unity.  There doesn’t seem to be a plan.  And your leadership is too busy kneecapping its own players to pay attention to how it’s being rolled.  Amateur hour is over.  We in the rest of the country, particularly the unemployed, do not have the luxury of 14 more months of this incompetence.  Our COBRA payments are going to suck 50% of our unemployment checks and our kids still need to be fed and educated.  And it’s incredibly heartless the way you have overlooked the plight of families who have been broken up by distance or have lost their houses when a wage earner has lost his or her job.

I’m disappointed.  I was hoping you would rally and make this jobs bill greater than the sum of its parts.  Instead, you seem determined to save your own asses first.  We care very much whether a jobs bill passes this year, don’t underestimate its importance, but what we really want to see is some kind of spirited effort on your part to challenge the Republican message machine.  As a commenter on another blog said yesterday, “If I want to vote Republican, I’d rather do it directly”. Your efforts to accommodate the Right Wing Noise Machine is never going to be enough for them.  Know why?  Because you’re Democrats.  No matter how much you come over to their side, they are still going to hate you and take great delight in making your life miserable and your attempts to get things done come to nothing.  They want a one party system and they are perilously close to getting one.

Maybe you guys need therapy.  You’ve been shouldering the guilt so long that you’ve lost perspective.  These problems are not insurmountable.  It will not be a catastrophe if you lose your seat.  What will be catastrophic is if you don’t put your collective heads together and put together a bill to end all bills.  If you’re so convinced you’re going to lose the argument anyway, why not go big?  Add health care provisions to it, reform the patent system in an unexpected way that encourages long term investment to save our jobs, crack down on visas, create a pharmaceutical company to discover therapeutic areas abandoned by the big guys.  Challenge these bastards.  If they tell you government can’t create jobs, give them a “Oh, yeah?  Says who?”.  Stop handing over our social safety net to stop the beatings.  TAKE the beatings and stand up and keep on going.  It matters that a bill pass but not if it’s so watered down that its effects are negligible.  Much more important is that we actually see you fighting for the right things even if you fail.

Don’t let us down.  Turn off the TV monitors.  They’re only going to distract and discourage you.  Besides, it’s not your job to make Fox News happy.  That’s impossible anyway. Your job is to pull the country back up and put it on its feet.  Shut every other distraction out and focus solely on that.

Do it this way:

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Elizabeth Warren runs for Senator from Massachusetts

Dave Dayan has a great post on this at FireDogLake.  Check it out.

Here’s Warren’s announcement video:

I have to say that I’m a little bit surprised by the Eeyore comments I’m seeing around the web.  They go something like “she’s a sacrificial lamb” to “it’s the wrong year for her to jump into this”.  The last one doesn’t make any sense at all.  This is almost an open Senate seat.  Scott Brown took Kennedy’s seat when the Senator died of brain cancer a couple of years ago.  Elizabeth Warren can totally take this seat, provided she resists the standard homogenization procedure for Democrats seeking to run for office.

Snagging my comments from myiq’s Crawdad site, here’s why she can pull this off:

Can she make her case in terms easy enough for a Tea Partier to understand? Yep, I think so.
Can she separate herself from the current Obama administration screwups? Well, Tim Geithner hates her guts. That’s a plus.
Is she passionate enough? Heck, did you hear that interview she had on Planet Money with Adam Davidson?
Scott Brown might be a good senator but does he represent the people of Massachusetts as well as she would?
Her strength is that she is genuinely on the side of the middle class.

There’s some weird concern that she’s going to come off looking like an Ivy League elitist.

I don’t see her as an ivy league elitist despite her job. She’s pretty plain spoken, a strong advocate for the middle class and has demonstrated a clear understanding of the challenges it faces.
One other thing is that she won’t be running to represent Cambridge. She’s running to represent Massachusetts.
What potentially makes her candidacy so strong is that no one in congress is representing the failing middle class and in debate, she’s going to wipe the floor with Scott Brown on those issues. She can effectively argue against austerity.
I’m glad she’s running. Her candidacy could be a real plus next year.

Let’s hope that Elizabeth Warren can motivate voters to take control of their government again.  She should be passionate, define the issues and compare/contrast (see Hillary Clinton’s techniques for this), and she must propel voters to put aside their learned helplessness.  Start by pointing out that big corporations can purchase politicians and comandeer the airwaves but they do not have a vote.  Those votes are like Dorothy’s ruby slippers.  Voters have always had the means to take power away from the rich and well connected.  This is the point that Elizabeth Warren has to make.

Oh, and if Warren needs paid help on her campaign, I am available.  😉