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      The New York Times is beloved by many liberals, but I despise them. Part of my reason is their role in making the Iraq war happen. I was following it in real time and I remember how they pushed administration lies; the headlines of their articles on Iraq were almost always alarmist  and the lead [...]
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#Menendez and CORRUPTION: Just Sayin’

I’m no fan of corruption and we should all be repulsed by the idea that someone who gives you money should be allowed to influence policy.

So, what are we to make of the unlimited amounts of cash streaming into the coffers of just about every elected official from companies who have suddenly discovered that money equals free speech, courtesy of the Citizens United ruling (thank you, John Roberts). Then these companies pay lobbyists to write legislation for them. That lobbyist written legislation gets passed to the pre-paid congressmen and senators who then sponsor the bills and then vote on them.

Think of how many corrupt politicians could be cleaned out if Obama’s justice department went after them all. He’d be doing us a favor.

Why stop with New Jersey?

#Menendez : Are you pondering what I’m pondering?

Sweet Sue alerted me to the investigation of Senator Robert Melendez on corruption charges and asked me what I thought about it, being a former resident of NJ (I guess that qualifies me as a resident expert on this here blog).

So, here goes:

I’ve got no idea.

However, that never stops me from speculating.

As I said to Sue in the comments, I never quite understood NJ politics even when I dipped my toe into them at the local level. It seems to me that, especially at the US Congressional level, congressmen and senators are appointed, not elected. I say congressmen because for nearly 2 decades, there hasn’t been one woman elected to the US Congressional delegation from NJ- on either side. Nope, not one. You’d think that a state as dense as New Jersey, and I mean that sincerely, there would be at least one woman among the 8,938,175 residents who has the capability to be appointed, er, elected to Congress to represent the state. But try as they might, the political machines of both parties have failed to find even one in the entire state. It must be like trying to find Cinderella in a whole kingdom full of 4.5 million ugly stepsisters. But NJ is chockfull of Prince Charmings?? What are the chances?

I take that back, they found ONE in 2006. Her name was Linda Stender. She was a state assembly woman and former mayor who ran for a seat in NJ-07 and lost by a smidgen (something like 3000 votes). She ran again in 2008 and should have been a shoo-in but the state Democratic party, which had united behind Barack Obama, and promptly gave away our primary votes to him at the convention in Denver, decided not to back Stender very vigorously. In fact, I think the party kind of stabbed her in the back. So, she lost again to some Republican dude who probably spends his time in Washington golfing.

By the way, someone owes the NJ volunteers who phone banked and canvassed for Hillary and Stender an apology for wasting our time. Those are many solid weekends of our lives that we won’t get back. Why not just dispense with the silly notion that a primary vote or congressional election in New Jersey has any meaning? Think of all the money the state party will save taxpayers if they just admit up front that voting has no impact on who gets elected. Just divvy up the state districts by party, appoint some dude to be the representative and be done with it. It’s more efficient and honest. Wait, that’s the way it’s done currently. Why not be upfront about it?

But I digress.

Back to Menendez. When Chris Christie was merely a US Attorney, he badgered Menendez with a bogus investigation just before Menendez was appointed to serve out Jon Corzine’s senate term. It was something along the lines of Menendez using a personal address nefariously or writing it off on his taxes or some silly BS. In other words, it was a nuisance investigation from a blowhard political appointee US Attorney who would later become the notorious Chris Christie. It all came to nothing.

This investigation into the corrupt Senator Bob Menendez seems equally sketchy. So, a Florida doctor set Menendez up with underage prostitutes in the Dominican Republic? What are the chances? There’s a bit more on bribes and payments but it all seems pretty vague. It reminds me of the charges against Charlie Rangel that tied him up in knots and sidelined him when he was Chairman of the Ways and Means committee. He was probably one of the most powerful men in Washington at the time he was investigated and forced to spend time and loads of money defending himself. In the end, I think he was censured for shoddy paperwork. Gosh, we could all be censured for that.  But the whole point was to defang him at a time when he was at his political zenith.

So, I asked myself, “Self, what committees is Robert Menendez on?” And then Self toddled off and did a Google search on that question. Here is the answer:

Menendez is on the Banking, Housing and Urban AffairsFinance and Foreign Relations committees.

Hmmm, if I were to guess, one of these committees is going to have a vote or number of votes on something that is very important to someone(s). There are a number of tasty possibilities. Finance?  Health Care?  Consumer protection?  It could be any one of a number of special interest groups. We shouldn’t assume that the current justice system isn’t on their payroll. Remember how well the justice system investigated the bankers with their sternly worded letters? No? Go read that book by Neil Barofsky. This is the Obama administration going after Menendez. He must not be toeing some line. What could it be, what could it be?

Just a guess. But then, it doesn’t take much to set my tinfoil antenna twitching these days. Note that if Menendez is forced to resign, Chris Christie gets to appoint his replacement, I think. Isn’t that special?

Dominican chicky-babes and political favors for Florida doctors just doesn’t seem plausible. He’d have to be the slowest Democrat on the planet after witnessing what happened to Charlie Rangel, Eliott Spitzer and the Big Dawg. That’s not to say that it didn’t happen. After all, we’re talking about New Jersey, which has a reputation to maintain. But I’d like to see solid, incontrovertible, un-doctored proof, not vague innuendos.

Or fuggedabouddit.

PostScript: Germany just approved legislation that would mandate a quota of 30% women on corporate boards. Translating this into NJ politics, at least 30% of the legislative districts should have women from both parties running for office next time. Pick any four of the 12 NJ districts, find two women, one from each party, and elect some female reps forpetessakes. This all male dominated delegation thing is embarrassing.

#antibiotics : somebody should do something

I’m blogging from my iPhone while I wait for my car to be inspected. Expect imperfection, although, some of you may not notice a difference.

To those of you on the left who are finally paying attention to pharma research, head on over to In the Pipeline. Derek Lowe has another story that illustrates the state of R&D research in the era of shareholder value and its potential impact on the rest of us.

This recent event is about Merck acquiring antibiotic research company Cubist. Cubist in-licensed much of its pipeline and had a small early discovery research team of 120 people. It has now been announced that those 120 researchers have been laid off.

I guess you could say, well, Cubist in-licensed much of their stuff anyway. But those 120 people presumably have many accumulated years of experience from working on antibiotic research and that experience will largely be lost because companies are not really investing in antibiotic research. Where are they going to go?

Some of them are going to get a nice payout from Merck but even if they pool their resources, it’s not going to be enough to make a dent in the hole of antibiotic research. It will mean starting from scratch-again- for many of them. Or casting around for another hard to keep job in one of the most expensive housing markets in thtalee country.

In the meantime, there goes some badly needed talent to combat multi drug resistant bacteria.

If only there was an institution big enough to fund research in the public interest…

 

 

Hillary’s “Status” email addresses, Peter Daou and Julia Gillard

The NYTimes has a post up about how getting an email address on Hillary’s server was a sign of status.

Duh.

Are these people for real??  Of course it’s a sign of status. The more important your job is to getting things done, the more likely to get an email address on the server. You automatically get prestige from the position. Jeez, and these people are called journalists, seeing slights in every little thing and not recognizing when a working group is not a clique. It’s not a matter of favoritism. It’s a matter of battening down the hatches and keeping confidential material from being compromised.

I seriously wish she had sent copies to her .gov account just to shut up the conspiracy theorists and because, hack attack or not, I suspect it was the more correct thing to do. But let’s not forget that the Republicans have done this for years and they saved official correspondence on a GOP server. Then, they deleted all those emails. Yup. Just gone. Poof. No record, no backup. That administrator probably got a raise for losing all those important emails between Dick Cheney and Scooter Libby or whoever. Republicans have no one to blame but themselves. No sane governmental official is going to let their email fall into the hands of politically motivated indivduals if the other side got away with it previously.

Hillary has asked that all of her emails from her personal account be released. That probably won’t be enough to sate the bloodthirsty zombies who have been after her for decades. But now we can request that all Republican candidates do the same with all of their official personal email accounts. Put up or shut up.

Peter Daou, Clinton’s former internet director from 2008, tells us why the “innerati” have been gunning for Hillary for more than 20 years. I think he is partially right. They don’t know what to make of her as a powerful woman and their jaws robotically chomp away at her as a consequence of some internal germ they were infected with when they were growing up in the 50s and 60s.

Daou says the reason why Hillary has such loyal friends is because she is a loyal friend. She doesn’t forget you:

I have a personal take on why Hillary Clinton’s reputation is so resilient. Early on a Sunday morning in the summer of 2006, a week after she had hired me as an advisor and after an outbreak of violence in the Middle East, my home phone rang. “Peter, it’s Hillary, I was just calling to make sure your friends and family in Lebanon are OK.” It immediately struck me: the reason Hillary Clinton has so many fiercely loyal friends and advisors, so many fans and supporters, is because of her character, her friendship, her loyalty.

We here at The Confluence have a similar story. We were never official bloggers for Hillary but we took up her cause back in 2008 because, well, frankly, what the rest of the blogosphere was doing to her was outrageous and we were paying attention to the kind of person she was. Later in the primary campaign season, she had a conference call with us and other bloggers to thank us. Katiebird got to talk to her on our behalf. We didn’t ask for any recognition, and I’m not sure she really wanted us to go the PUMA route afterwards, but it was a very thoughtful gesture.

All of this reminds me of what Jane Caro said in her Dangerous Ideas video. (Pick it up at about the 13:00 mark) She was talking about Australian prime minister Julia Gillard who never seemed to catch a break either. She was either praised excessively as being some kind of female iconic heroine or villified by the Australian version of the innerati.

“Poor bloody Julia Gillard”, says Caro. “She’s just a person who got to be prime minister.”

I recommend Jane’s commentary on merit, women, quotas and politics to anyone who is trying to figure out why someone as accomplished as Hillary Clinton has to fight so damned hard to be president when we have many men on both the left and right who aren’t nearly as qualified, or on her level, who are being considered as legitimate opponents. I mean, some of them on the right don’t even believe in evolution. How is it they can even get on the ballot?? Something as elemental as believing in evolution should be a requirement for office. It’s bizarre but I’m sure Hillary is used to it by now.

We’re used to it too. We’re definitely in the Jane Caro contingent. We’re not shutting up.

For the Record: We do not have email addresses on Hillary Clinton’s private server. We do not feel slighted.

More Whineter, STEM and being a dick with peppers

It’s March already. Why is it still snowing? Why is it 15º outside?? The other day, it rained and melted some of the snow. The sump pump was going off every 90 seconds. I timed it. I started to see the ground. This morning, I woke up and there’s another layer of snow out there. WTF?? I have about a cup of rock salt left and there’s none to be had for miles. It’s too much. Make it stooooop.

********************************

In other news, PA Governor Tom Wolf visited a school in Chester yesterday to find out about its STEM programs.

Ok, I know Wolf didn’t ask for my opinion but when has that ever stopped me from giving it? (There’s a proposal at the end of this little rant so stay with me.) Here it goes:

There’s no living wage in STEM jobs. Even the people who have good jobs are constantly worried about losing them. They’re forced to move to very expensive parts of the country and can never relax. The fear of losing a job just after they might have already lost one is not a good way to live. This happened recently to people I used to work with who were transferred to Massachusetts after the layoff, and then lost their jobs- again.

Jumping from job to job after a short period of time means people in pharma and biotech R&D will not achieve the degree of experience that they need to be really good at their jobs. It takes a long time for R&D professionals to gain enough experience to be really useful to their company. That means starting and staying with a project over a long period of time, like, 5-6 years. At that point in time, they will have just about enough seasoning to be useful to the company and laying them off is a tragic waste of talent. There is no cheap substitute, as this country will begin to realize (and may already realize, judging from the ads I’m seeing for computational chemists with at least 5 years of industrial experience).

Unfortunately, this is not what the finance industry had in mind. It thinks we can all work under their crazy employment rules like they do on Wall Street. That means flexibility at all costs. That’s a losing game for the R&D professional in terms of living standards, skills and passion for research.

If the R&D professional doesn’t get a good paying job in Cambridge or San Francisco, the alternatives can be grim. Academic research associates with PhDs and industrial experience make between $37-$54K/year. I know because I have the job postings to prove it. You can live on this in the midwest but academic research is subject to grant availability. If the grants don’t materialize, the jobs don’t either.

A potential place where a governor can productively intervene is at the small start up level. Pennsylvania would be a good place for startups, especially in the Pittsburgh area, which has a university/medical culture and a renaissance in the east end. There’s good mass transit, affordable real estate, and an educated population. BUT what every state of the country lacks at this point is access to affordable R&D resources. That is, there are some things that any start up is going to need access to but probably can’t afford. In my case, as a consultant, I can’t get access to a lot of scientific literature. I don’t have a license to Elsevier, ACS publications, etc, which can cost millions of dollars to a large university. I also can’t afford the vendor licenses to do my modeling work. I can ask vendors to give me demo licenses, for which I must sign an agreement to not use them for research. They’re only for evaluation purposes and to keep myself current. If I want a license so I can make money, well, I can’t afford the license.

So, verily I say unto Tom Wolf, if you want to attract STEM startups to Pennsylvania, (and why not? It’s a heck of a lot more affordable than Cambridge) you need to fund a license bank. Ok, I don’t know what else to call it. Make it more affordable for startups and consultants to access the licenses they need to get their work done. At this point in time, the only entities that can afford licenses for literature and proprietary software are large multinational companies and universities, leaving the rest of us to smuggle papers and cobble together software solutions from publicly available sources. That leaves us at a disadvantage in the beginning phases of research where the start up costs are already astronomical.

I don’t know if a license bank has ever been done or what a configuration might look like but here’s one possibility: Put the licenses on a PA server, start a consortium, and allow startups and consultants to ping the licenses for a fee based on number of papers downloaded or amount of time licenses are checked out. Or make us fork over a cut of anything we discover to the state. I could agree to that. Wouldn’t Tom Wolf like to be a partial recipient of the next antibiotic patent? Yes, this would be an investment for the state. It could cost several millions of dollars. No, Republicans won’t like it because… I don’t know why they wouldn’t like it. They’re always going on about helping small businesses but they want us to somehow use magic to afford the start up costs. I’m beginning to think that Republicans aren’t being honest with us about their love of entrepreneurs and small business people… Is that possible?

But the payoff could be substantial for the state if it attracts businesses and the patents generate money. That money could be used to fund education while some of it could be used to buy other things early discovery researchers might need. It could be self funding down the road because if you run for two consecutive terms, you could leave a nice little pile of patent shares for the state by the end of your them.

And since I need a real job, I will gladly work for the state setting up this system for a decent living wage. No, no, don’t thank me. See my LinkedIn profile.

So, there you have it. I have given you a possible solution to a pressing problem that doesn’t involve the governor making pointless visits to schools to encourage innocent children to go into professions in which they can’t make a living. As for teachers of STEM subjects, that’s where some of my former colleagues are going now that they can’t make a living in research. So, you know, you’ll have plenty to choose from.

***************************

Finally, Titli Nihaan has a recipe for a hot dip on a cold day. Pay attention. ;-)

PA-Governor, Tom Wolf Budget Speech- Live

Screen Shot 2015-03-03 at 11.43.20 AMSee it here.

Ok, a little underwhelming.

The key points seem to be:

Imposing a severance tax on natural gas producers. The thinking is that PA already pays a severance tax to big oil producing states at the gas pumps but PA doesn’t do the same for the rest of the country when it comes to natural gas. The money will be used to address the impact of shale oil drilling and to fund education.

The personal income tax is going up.

The corporate income tax is going down and then down again, while tax loopholes will be cut.

Education budget will be restored. Community colleges will get $15M. State colleges will get 50% of the money back from previous cuts with the provision that they must not raise tuition and that funds must go to classroom spending, not more administration.

State education funding formula to be revised to direct more money to rural schools.

Money will be used to incentivize new businesses to come to PA and to restore four years of cuts to education.

Wall Street money managers of PA pension funds will be dismissed. Savings estimated to be $1.2B over 5 years and underfunded pensions should be covered. There’s a $10B deficit in the pension funds that will be under new management.

The State’s minimum wage will be increased to $10.10/hour. Well, provided R’s vote for that, which they might not. I would have asked for a minimum wage of $15.00/hour and let the legislature fight it out.

So, there you have it. If you live in PA, your property taxes, which increased by something like 50% when Corbett was governator, will be going back to normal. If you earn more money, you’ll pay a smidge more. If you are a corporation, it’s all you can eat.

No idea what she was thinking

So, the new story is that Hillary Clinton used a personal email account to send messages when she was Secretary of State. She should have used her .gov email for archival purposes. Or maybe there’s another super secret State email system that we’re not privy to.

I have no idea what she was thinking but I very much doubt that she used a personal email account for four years and the president didn’t know about it. We might see him do the “I’m shocked, SHOCKED that anyone would violate official records protocol around here!” act but I would be tempted to not believe him.

One thing I do know for sure. A woman who has been investigated to death as Hillary Clinton has been would know better than to use an unofficial email system without some kind of official permission. Otherwise, it’s just feeding fuel to the Bengazidads and agent-provacateurs-posing-as-knit-your-own-sandals-type-peacenik-lefties.

Wouldn’t you know it, the top comments on the NYTimes piece are full of the word “entitled”. That must be a focus group tested word that is known to drive Democrats completely over the edge. Amiright? What would Jane Caro say about the fact that the most accomplished woman in the world still has to battle with the “you’re not worthy because you feel entitled” crowd on her own side? I suspect that her response would start with the word “F^&*”.

And how do we know about the unofficial email address? The State Department has been giving copies of email to the committee investigating the Benghazi…thing. They’ve given 300 emails so far. Wow, one might almost suspect that Hillary’s email could be used as a fishing expedition to find all kinds of things that the Republicans didn’t like, not that that’s a good reason to violate official protocol or anything.

Anyway, it’s not my job to defend Hillary. That’s her job and she usually does it very well. But let’s just say that this scoop doesn’t seem all that chewy and delicious yet. It’s not like her to leave a hole this wide to drive a campaign ending truck through. She tends to be more prepared than that.

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