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The Desolations of Smaugs

Gotta make this quick so I can bop down to the farmers’ market in East Liberty.

Here are two posts that belong together.  The first is about the crazy amount of money that the wealthy are just sitting on and not investing.  In The World’s Richest People are Sitting on Gigantic Piles of Cash that aren’t Earning them Anything, we get confirmation of what we have suspected for some time, that is, rich people are hoarding money.  But the reason they are hoarding makes no damn sense.  Apparently, the wealthy are waiting for a market correction before they dive back in to investing and since that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen anytime soon, they’re going to sit on the cash.  Now, I can understand that feeling if you’re a poor schlub like me, hoarding the miserable little bit of IRA you have left after several years of employment insecurity.  It makes less sense if you’re a plutocrat with more money than god.

Hmmm, maybe we should be wondering why the wealthy think there is going to be a pullback.

The second is about the consequences of hoarding all that money.  When the shareholders demand more money and less investment, companies tend to shutter their facilities.  Recently, Hoffman-LaRoche in Nutley, NJ closed it’s doors and is preparing to dismantle the site.  When I was a young chemist a long, long time ago, I visited the Nutley campus.  Like many research facilities, it was more like a small town with a gatehouse and a shuttle that delivered the visitor to her destination.  Now that Roche has decided to stop doing research in the US because shareholder value (and Americans are notoriously easy to lay off since they have virtually no labor protections whatsoever), the Nutley facility is about to undergo a radical transformation.  If it is anything like my facility where the rent the company was demanding from small startups was prohibitively high, they probably won’t get many takers.

In other words, if some of the scientists they laid off decided to get together and try to operate one of the buildings as a small incubator, they wouldn’t be able to afford it.  And these days, vulture capitalists want a lot of the research done up front so they don’t actually have to risk any money at all.  That makes research on small scale even more difficult to finance.  Rent, reagents and researchers are expensive.  So, if Roche can’t get any takers to rent its empty labs, it may go the route of some of the other companies in similar circumstances and demolish perfectly serviceable, and in some cases, brand new research buildings, rather than keep them on the books.


One final thing, Hillary Clinton gave an interview to Terry Gross, former Obama fangirl extraordinaire, the other day.  It got a little testy about half way through when Gross started pushing her on same-sex marriage.  Hillary talks primarily about her four years as SOS and seems to think that Edward Snowden had other options to spill the beans.  I’d have to differ with her there though.  Snowden had superuser privileges.  Anything he revealed while he was still in the US would trace right back to him very quickly.  You don’t give su privileges to many people, or at least I don’t think the NSA and its contractors would.  I could be wrong about that.  It seems a little sloppy to allow one person to download massive amounts of information and have no one notice.

Given the reaction of the Obama administration to leakers, I think Snowden did the only thing he could have done and I’m not unhappy that he did it.  I meet people everyday who are pretty non-political who are keenly aware of what Snowden revealed and they are not happy to know that the government has so much information on them.  Until Snowden, the conversation about spying on Americans was tepid at best.  Hillary should know by now that timing is everything.  Snowden forced door open and let the sunshine in a lot more quickly than some politicians might have found convenient but he sure did get their attention, didn’t he?  No putting the genie back in the bottle now or slowing that genie down now.

Ok, enough with the foreign policy stuff.  What about domestic issues?  I want to hear about that now.  No time like the present.  Let’s not put it off any longer.


5 Responses

  1. Different “rich people” and groups probably have different motives. There are at least some holders of vast moneypiles who are hoping and waiting for another Deep Crash, so they can buy trillions of dollars of distressed assets and people for pennies on the benjamin.
    Some of them are actively working to engineer these capitalism disasters ( as in disaster capitalism) so they can Yeltsinize those public assets which have not been Yeltsinized.

    Plan Yeltsin for America.

    No doubt there are merely others who want to feel good about things and hope the ” markets” can go “up” so they can feel happy and buy into a rising trend. These are not the dynastic vampire families of ancient wealth or America’s Berezhovsky-wannabes. I bet
    some of those “merely nervous” rich people of simple mind will themselves lose big money over the next whiplash bonfire of the securities.

  2. Those who are holding waiting for another crash are benefiting from the low inflation we’ve been having for the last six years. When Wossisname Rebozo said he’d been holding $100,000 of Nixon’s cash in his vault nobody believed him because inflation of 3.5-5% a year was considered normal and inevitable. I think we saw over 3% a couple of times during Bush I & II, but we haven’t even seen 2% during Bush III & IV. So they’re not losing so much because the really safe investments aside from cash aren’t paying much, either. Sure, the stock market is, but I can’t believe any smart person believes the BS about how they can make so much more investing themselves than Social Security can make from Treasury Bonds. Smart people know they can’t. Of course, a lot of really, really rich people aren’t very smart, but some are.

    Do you have any source for the assertion that Snowden had su privileges? Near the beginning of the scandal I read that he said he persuaded a lot of people he worked with to give him their passwords. It doesn’t seem like he’d have to if he was sysadmin.

    • Re Snowden’s su status, I heard it from Glenn greenwald(?) on fresh air with terry gross about a month ago. It might have been another interview with her about Snowden but I’m pretty sure fresh air is where I heard it. And that kind of makes sense. A sys admin with su is the most ut. Must have been one hell of a tarball.

      • Ah, good, thank you. Then the passwords he got through “human engineering” were probably for other systems. Got to admit I don’t see how you can prevent guys like him from getting whatever they want. Once you’ve got physical access to a system, a really smart hacker (and I’ve seen supposedly really smart IT people who met Snowden say he was really outstanding) can get anything. Goes back to the ’60s at least when computer science students would recompile the operating system to block other students. Far beyond what most of us are capable of.

        • I have found that when a technology becomes sufficiently advanced to become indistinguishable from magic, we give the passwords to our most important systems to those we perceive to be wizards.
          At some point, you’ve got too many clusters, clouds and NAS devices the size of Rhode Island to comfortably manage, not to mention all the interfaces to run them. At that point, you find a wizard, or one materializes at a most propitious time, and you surrender the password with relief. I think this is what you mean by ‘human engineering’.
          If he was that good, it was probably easy. But that suggests that the NSA and it’s contractors are as leaky as any other technically overwhelmed corporation. So, maybe we should count on not malice but stupidity from the NSA for awhile. Good, snowden has given us some lead time.

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