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    • TINA trauma
       *** MANDOS POST *** I have been thinking about writing another post about Britain and Brexit for some time, but every time I started it, there’d be literally another new dramatic twist, so I’d stop.  But now it seems like a corner is being turned. What the corner really is, we’ll still have time […]
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My advice, whether you want it or not- 1

I’m dispensing advice to the blogosphere.  You’re welcome.

1.)To Digby, Corey Robin, et al, regarding whether the recent set backs in the rights of women in America have something to do with protecting the influence of the traditional hierarchy in the home, you’re not quite seeing the whole picture.  The backlash against women started about the time that more women were moving into the workforce, competing with men who used to get all the good jobs, frequently with little more than a high school diploma.  This was also about the same time that african americans were moving into the middle class.  It also roughly corresponded with a lag in wages compared to productivity.  We should do more research to find out if there is a correlation and what it is.

I think the push to put women “back in their place” has less to do with protecting the home than to protecting the traditional privileges of the workplace.  How can we decide which is the case?  We can look to countries with better and worse gender equity scores than the United States and do some comparisons of what cultural and legislative changes they have made in the past 100 or so years.  My gut feeling is that we are experiencing a backlash because we have rewarded the persons who promote it via their outsize representation in the media and through their culturally protected religious affiliations.  It is OK these days to say racist things and insult women by referring to them as sluts.  No harm done, says Limbaugh and the Fox News team.  There’s no law against being an ignorant bigot.

In other words, the language is being used in the service of the previously privileged.  It was and always will be the economy, stupid.  When money gets tight, women should get the f^&* out of the way and go home.  Making it hard for her to get out of the house when she’s tied to babies and lacks good childcare serves the guys very well indeed.  They’re just all hoping it’s the next guy who has to put up with the domestic situation, not them.  It’s purely opportunistic.

2.) Countries that have had a history of secret police and neighbors spying on neighbors in a manner that lead to mass murders and ruined careers tend to have a negative reaction to their allies spying on them for unknown purposes.  It’s just freaks them out in a way that Americans cannot fathom (yet).  Think twice (or thrice) about doing it.

From the NYTimes article on the expulsion of US spies from Germany, we get this nugget and advice from Angela Merkel:

As is usual with intelligence matters, the United States Embassy had no comment on the expulsion request. But in a statement, the embassy also said it was essential to maintain close cooperation with the German government “in all areas.”

“Our security relationship with Germany remains very important,” the embassy statement said. “It keeps Germans and Americans safe.”

Ms. Merkel, speaking two hours before the expulsion request was announced, said in response to reporters’ questions that spying on allies was “a waste of energy.”

“We have so many problems,” she said. “We should focus on important matters.”

Waste of energy indeed, not to mention money.  Money that could be used on mass transit and infrastructure improvements that the Republicans seem to think are unnecessary.  I guess it’s OK if New Jersey looks like Mississippi.  Mississippi might be what America looks like to Republicans and NJ is just being uppity.  How would they know the difference?  Come to think of it, I’m tempted to start a “…You might be a Republican” thing.  Like, If your friends would describe you as a greedy old prick, you might be a Republican.  Or If they would describe you as a grumpy old prude, you might be a Republican.

Wait, I’m getting off topic.

Yeah, don’t spy on your friends.  It’s unnecessary.

3.) With tensions and rockets flaring in Israel, be prepared for your local fundamentalist Christians to be almost ready to pee themselves with delight at the impending rapture.

4.) To the Republicans who are itchin’ to impeach the president– DO IT!  Yes, by all means, find something to nail on him.  Tie him up with congressional hearings.  But please, do it Blitzkrieg style, ok?  Don’t waste any time drawing the whole procedure out.  Wrap it up quickly.  Better yet, take Biden down first.  Then we can appoint Hillary to VP while you guys go for the jugular.  Then when Obama is forced out, Hillary can step up to the presidency.  It will save us a lot of money in 2016.  And it’s what everyone wants anyway.  You’d be doing us all a big favor.  Oh sure, we’ll have to put up with your nonsensical grandstanding and foaming at the mouth over a guy who is mostly ineffectual rather than criminal but when has reason ever curbed you and your destructive waste of legislative privilege?  Just do it and make it quick.

5.) When you’re planning your next kitchen renovation, do yourself a favor and pick the refrigerator first.  Make sure that the one you want will fit through your doorways and won’t bang into the expensive teak cabinets you just had to have above the refrigerator.  Because once those cabinets are up and you’ve spent thousands of dollars getting the look you want, you are going to have a hard time taking them down to accommodate the behemoth refrigerators that appliance makers are manufacturing these days.  If you have a small kitchen made smaller by those annoying cabinets that are only good for seasonal ice buckets and Rubbermaid containers, you should know that appliance makers don’t really make a lot of nice refrigerators in the small to medium category.  Yes, they are still living in 2008.  Adapt accordingly.

 

Nora Ephron’s most famous scene

Nora Ephron, screenwriter for “When Harry Met Sally”, 1941-2012

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

Brooke’s going to Germany today.  For those of you who don’t follow this blog, Brooke received an achievement award from the Federal Republic of Germany for a summer study in Nuremberg.  She’s only been studying it for less than a year and no one at home speaks German.  Many thanks to her aunts and grandparents in Texas who gave her a push in the right direction.

It just goes to show you that when a kid develops a passion for something and spends all summer in the basement teaching themselves, maybe it’s ok to leave them alone and let them do it.  It’s too bad that we expect kids to become adults and learn the hard ways of the world too soon when they could be developing their talents.  This is a concept that tends to go over the heads of most conservatives.  We are wasting our nation’s most valuable assets when we deprive young people of educational and cultural opportunities and put them to work too soon before we’ve discovered what they’re good at.

She’s very excited and has been packing for the last couple of days.

Should be good…

Kinder Kuche Kirche

If my German is correct, that title translates to Children, Kitchen, Church.

Yesterday, in response to the very ill-conceived and short sighted WORK bill that is being proposed by progressive Democrats, of all people, I posted an article about the German proposal to do roughly the same thing.  In Germany, the government coalition is proposing to pay low income women a stipend to stay home and take care of their kids instead of spending that money on badly needed daycare.  German women are the one European female constituency that is still constrained by traditional female roles because daycare options are so few.  I advise anyone who is still suffering from the delusion that all low income women need is more money thrown at them to read this article.  It spells out in detail why other options are more effective at bringing women out of poverty, the primary cure being good quality, low cost, subsidized childcare and training programs.  And a real jobs program.

This morning, reader Pips found a link to a photoessay of 19 German women explaining why they opposed the subsidy.  You can find the link here.  If you’re using Google Chrome, the browser will automatically translate the page into English for you.

So, what does it all mean?  Well, to me, non-poli sci, non-ivy league college graduate, non-young, white male paid blogger that I am, the election strategy of both parties this year is to appeal to white men and to force women back into their traditional role. That way, they look like they’re trying to do something about unemployment when they’re really not, and they get the bonus of appealing to conservative voters.  The big stink about SAHMs vs Working Moms should have tipped you off.  Other things to consider:

1.) The US Congress consists of about 16% females.  If the right wing noise machine starts catapulting the propaganda heavily, women in Congress haven’t got a chance to hold off any legislation that will have the effect, directly or indirectly, of keeping women out of the job market.

2.) We have two presidential candidates who have SAHM wives.  This is no accident.  Michelle could have been a champion for working mothers.  Her kids do not need full time care.  Heck, they didn’t even need after school care.  BTW, when Chelsea Clinton grew up in the White House it was Bill who used to help her with her homework.  Despite the absence of a full time, stay at home mother, Chelsea managed to overcome the deprivations of her childhood and turned out ok.  But Michelle decided to hang up her hard earned law degree and stay at home- gardening.  If you haven’t asked yourself why in the past 4 years, it is never too late.

3.) Ron Suskind wrote in his book Confidence Men about the Obama White House that when he took office in 2009, Barack Obama’s first priority in the area of unemployment was to put men back to work doing manly construction type jobs.  His idea was that men needed to feel like men and being unemployed was harshing their manly mojo.  Women’s jobs?  ehhhhhh, not so much.  Yes, Naomi Wolf’s TV orgasm about Obama’s “feminism” *does* look moronic in retrospect. Why do you ask?

4.) Women’s organizations are nowhere to be found.  No rally on the mall, no occupy events, no million hoodie march.  Nada.  I have no idea what they’re up to except they seem to be a lot more concerned with gun control and marriage equality than, you know, WOMEN.

5.) In the beginning of the Great Recession, men were losing more jobs because women were still overrepresented in teaching and public sector jobs.  In the “recovery”, more women are losing their jobs and are having a much harder time getting hired again.  Again, where are women’s organizations on this?  {{crickets}}

Bottom line: This is an attack on working women.  The male politicians of both parties have unilaterally decided that they are going to champion a child, kitchen, church role for women this election cycle and you are going to go along with it because you have no place to go (they think.  BTW, if you want to vote for a real African American Socialist for president this year, Stewart Alexander is your man. Not endorsing.  Just saying, there are choices.).  If you are a woman with a degree and you have an actual career, it’s going to be a lot more difficult to advance in it because the attitude that you are shirking both your motherly duties AND your work duties is going to become more commonplace.

We should have seen this coming 4 years ago.  Thanks for nothing, guys.

What America needs now is …. Pirates??

Logo of the United States Pirate Party

This Pittsburgh hometown girl is already there.  My first complete sentence was “Beat’em Bucs!”

Many of us might have missed this little bit of hopeful news, what with our seasonal preparations for the next GOP presidential candidates’ debate already underway, but it appears there has been what is being called a rout in the political makeup of the German parliament.  The Pirate Party won enough seats in parliament in the elections a couple of days ago that now they have to be taken seriously.  Even the Pirates were surprised:

As Berlin election results came in on Sunday evening, sweaty members of the Pirate Party danced arm in arm beneath a disco ball at popular club in the city’s Kreuzberg district. The smell of marijuana spread through the informal party, where guests made their own sandwiches and drank bottled beer.

“I can’t believe it,” said newly elected parliamentarian Christopher Lauer as he fell onto a sofa, sending a message of thanks out via his Twitter account for the 8.9 percent of voter support. “It is breathtaking, a surreal feeling, because there is nothing that compares to this.”

Standing before the television screen, the leader of the Pirate Party, Sebastian Nerz, called the historic moment “cool.”

“It’s the first time since the 1980s that a new political power has come onto the stage,” he said.

Indeed, the support for the party — founded in 2006 on a civil liberties platform that focused on Internet freedoms — was sensational. Not only will the Pirate Party enter a regional government for the first time, but its results far surpassed the five percent hurdle needed for parliamentary representation. The success was so unexpected that the party had only put 15 candidates on its list of nominations. Had their support been just a little higher, some of their seats would have remained empty because post-election nominations of candidates isn’t allowed.

With the addition of the unexpected victory of the Pirate Party in Germany to the unexpected victory of the NDP in Canada, we have two points towards a correlation.   Is it too early to predict a break in the stranglehold that traditional party systems have in many countries?  We may also be seeing the demise of the Green Party.  It doesn’t seem to be able to break out and, let’s face it, when it comes to voting next year, do we really want to vote Green?  They pick candidates that no one has ever heard of and their platform is almost alien to many American voters.  I still consider myself a Democrat, albeit one that is in exile.  I’m quite proud of the Democrats that preceded the current bunch.  But this current bunch is scared of its own shadow and after years and years of choosing the least offensive, machine candidates to run, we have a very uninspiring and ineffective party.  The Pirate party could provide  that little bit of random craziness and energy that we need in the political landscape.

And think of the possibilities.  The Pirates are tech geeks.  They’re into net neutrality and expanding access to digital media.  Could we also expect an American Pirate party to put modernization and de-monopolization of broadband on the top of its agenda?  Who’s to say that’s not the right thing to focus our attention on?  We spend so much time on deficits and social spending but maybe what we really need is to protect our first amendment rights from the relentless creep of corporatization.  How many times have we gnashed our teeth in frustration that the media wasn’t covering something we felt was important or had the ability to slow our messages down or curtail them altogether?  If you want to change your country and create a movement, you have to first be able to spread your message.  So, maybe the Pirates are on to something.  Keep it simple, stupid.

The other cool thing about having an American Pirate party is that it might be easier to find it on a ballot where third parties can not land in a consistent position from county to county.  The name and concept are easy enough to grasp that a motivated voter wouldn’t have to spend a lot of time looking for it.  It could appeal to the very people the parties are trying to reach but who are now disaffected – those of us who were young enough to have spent much of our working lives in the high tech and internet age.  We’ve given up on the old fogeys who are running the Democratic party, along with their weird attitudes towards women, and have a hard time reconciling the Republican party with, um, reality as we know it.  It’s time to go marauding for big political booty.

There is a Pirate party in the US.  It’s in its infancy and is currently represented by the Florida Pirate Party.  It’s registered as a recognized party in Massachusetts and Florida but considering how low the bar is to getting on the ballot in many states (even if you’re relegated to an obscure location on it), starting a legitimate Pirate party movement here in the US isn’t as crazy as it sounds.  It just might work.  And 8.9% of 535 is, hang on, let me get my calculator… 47.6.  Round it up to 48 to include the arms and head of one representative.  48 is a number that should put fear into both parties.  Works for me!

 

Wednesday: Fines, jobs and influence

Does this crown make me look fat?

Podcasts and things that I found interesting:

1.) Yesterday’s Brian Lehrer show on WNYC was the first media presence that I have heard that picked up on the success of Germany in retaining its important industrial and research infrastructure.  When the recession hit, instead of laying off thousands of people with important skills, who might otherwise be sitting around idle and losing their skills, Germany implemented a plan to bump workers and researchers to part time status and then the government stepped in to augment their salaries.  The effect of this plan is that when the economy recovers, these workers and researchers will be able to step back into the workforce with relatively little transition cost.  Their skills have been kept fresh and the economy hasn’t been hit with a deflationary cycle that threatens to take more businesses with it.  Germany used to be like France where the unions protected jobs to such an extent that the workforce was inflexible.  In France, it is almost impossible to lay anyone off.  But when business slows down, you have a lot of extra people cooling their jets doing nothing but still getting paid for it.  In contrast, Americans have zero protection from market forces.  They are completely at the mercy of the quarterly earnings report.  Germany seems to have bridged the two extremes.  Ramping down instead of out preserves their infrastructure for another day while still giving them the flexibility to take it down a notch when the business environment calls for it.

Another advantage that Germany has over the US is that more of their companies are family owned businesses that are not subject to the volatility of the stock market or the pressures of the finance industry to meet quarterly goals for the benefit of the shareholders.  That gives them the latitude to focus on long term goals and quality, which in turn allows them to command higher prices for their products.  This reinforces what I have said before that part of the problem with the demise of American labor is that there is too much reliance on the 401K.  When we all become shareholders, we expect ever increasing returns on our investments.  But this only hurts ourselves as we drive businesses to cut jobs to meet earnings expectations.  It’s a vicious cycle that must be broken and cutting back on social security is exactly the wrong strategy.  What we should be doing is encouraging people to get out of the 401K system.  But the business community and bonus class will never go along with that without a lot of pressure that they aren’t going to get with this president and his lame Democrats.

Nevertheless, if there are going to be any tax cuts in the budget, I would much prefer that they go to the unemployed who have a lot of their money tied up in their 401K accounts.  Right now, that money can’t be removed from the 401K until retirement, which at this point, may be never, especially if social security and medicare is pushed farther and farther out.  Actually, this 401K scheme is looking more and more like the worst possible deal for under 55 year olds.  If you can’t use your pre-tax 401K savings until you retire so you can get a break on taxes at a lower salary because you have to work longer, when the heck are you ever going to get a break on this money???

Anyway, as I was saying, if you need to take money out of your 401K and you have not reached retirement age, you pay a huge tax penalty.  So, no matter how much you need it, to pay your mortgage or your health insurance, buy a new car so you go out and find a job or just feed your kids, you get socked with this amazingly humongous tax.  It is a disincentive to take the money out, which normally wouldn’t be a problem if we were all gainfully employed.  But we’re in a “lost decade (or two)” and there looks to be little chance of a new stimulus package, Obama having blown his one chance to pass one that would have been big enough.  If we need to stimulate the economy, why not let workers do it with their 401K money?  And if we’re going to give people tax cuts, why not let the unemployed go first?  Let them remove that money without penalty so they can spend it and put it back into the economy.  If it’s true that the 401K is not contributing much to the financial market, then it shouldn’t be a problem.  But, you say, what will people live on when they get older?  I dunno, but I suspect I could live on a lot less if I didn’t have a mortgage and could afford to put more money away for a rainy day when I finally do get a job again.  Oo, Oo!  And let’s make this tax break available to the Unemployed who are 55 years of age or younger.  That way we’re not forcing anyone who is nearing retirement to take money out of their 401K.  {{smirk}}

I like my plan.  It cuts a break to the people who need it most while at the same time is sufficiently disconnected from reality to make me a “serious person”.

2.) BBC History Magazine used to be a once monthly podcast, which always left me craving more.  Now, it’s weekly and while the podcast is shorter, there are more of them.  Yessss!  This week’s podcast featured a segment on King Henry III’s Fine Lists.  Wow, that’s pretty obscure, you say.  Not really.  Henry III was the son of King John, aka Lackland.  He’s called Lackland because he was a phenomenally bad king who managed to lose or forfeit just about all of his foreign property.  He was so bad that subsequent kings never took “John” as their monarchical name.  And then there was that whole excessive taxation and tyrannical behavior and double jeopardy and not handing over the body and before you know it, he had a bunch of very hairy, very pissed barons breathing down his neck making him an offer he couldn’t refuse.  So, Henry III was the son of the king who signed Magna Carta.

The project to translate Henry III’s fine lists has uncovered some interesting trends that followed Magna Carta.  A fine is not a punishment for illegal behavior in this context.  A fine was a payment made to the king for certain privileges or protections.  For example, if a town wanted to have a market day or fair, it would apply to the king for a license to hold one.  Or if a lord’s tennants needed protections from that lord’s mismanagement, they could also apply to the king for that.  Or for changes to an inheritance or a number of other things.  What historians have discovered is that during King John’s reign, the payments for the fines were extremely high, ungodly high, which probably partially lead to the baron’s rebellion.  But in Henry III’s day, the fines became much more reasonable.  Speculation is that this was a direct result of the signing of the Magna Carta.  The institution and standardization of common law and gradual introduction of a check on the King’s authority lead to less autocracy at the top.  And who would say there is a problem with that?  It took several more centuries for the king to be thoroughly reined in by Parliament but while the pace of change may have been slow, the evolution towards democracy from monarchy and the rentiers is rooted in the ability of a people to force accountability, laws and standards on their leaders and wealthy.  That’s something we tend to forget.  It’s not rocket science.

3.) Jay Rosen wrote a piece picked up in the Guardian about what Rupert Murdoch’s empire was really built to obtain- influence.  Here’s the money quotes:

Here’s my little theory: News Corp is not a news company at all, but a global media empire that employs its newspapers – and in the US, Fox News – as a lobbying arm. The logic of holding these “press” properties is to wield influence on behalf of the rest of the (much bigger and more profitable) media business and also to satisfy Murdoch’s own power urges.

However, this fact, fairly obvious to outside observers, is actually concealed from the company by its own culture. So here we find the source for the river of denial that runs through News Corp.

Fox News and the newspapers Murdoch owns are described by News Corp, and understood by most who work there as “normal” news organisations. But they aren’t, really. What makes them different is not that they have a more conservative take on the world – that’s the fiction in which opponents and supporters join – but rather: news is not their first business. Wielding influence is.

Scaring politicians into going along with News Corp’s plans. Building up an atmosphere of fear and paranoia, which then admits Rupert into the back door of 10 Downing Street.

But none of these facts can be admitted into company psychology, because the flag that its news-related properties fly, the legend on the licence, doesn’t say “lobbying arm of the Murdoch empire.” No. It says “First Amendment” or “Journalism” or “Public Service” or “news and information.”

In this sense the company is built on a lie, but a necessary lie to preserve certain fictions that matter to Murdoch and his heirs. And that, I believe, explains how it got itself into this phone hacking mess. All the other lies follow from that big one.

Rosen goes on to suggest that Murdoch and his heirs (and presumably other media moguls) know that the reason they’re in the news business is to influence governments but that the rank and file is still under the impression that they’re working for a news business.  While I’m pretty sure Rosen has it nailed about the influence motivation, I’m not sure the minions didn’t know what Murdoch and his crew were up to.  In a way, Murdoch’s “news” organization reminds me of how the Nazis operated in Germany in the years before World War II as described in Eric Larsen’s book In the Garden of Beasts.  Hitler kept getting away with stuff because no one called him on it but the minions were more than happy to go along with it because for many of the rising players in the Third Reich, they had power for the first time in their lives.  They weren’t motivated by their altruistic desire to save the Republic from the ravages of a punitive war reparations schedule.  They did what they did because they could and they liked the idea that they could.  Rebekah Brooks is reported to have adopted the culture and accoutrements of the English “Creative Class” when Tony Blair was in office and then ditched that garb for the Jodphurs and boots of the Horsey Set when David Cameron came into office.  She knew that what she was doing wasn’t news.  And what about Juan Williams?  If he wanted to do “news” and real journalism, he would have stayed with NPR (yes, yes, I know they’ve gone downhill in the past decade but don’t get distracted).  But no, Juan Williams jumped ship for Fox and permanently soiled his reputation as a journalist. And why was that?  Well, you get to reach and influence a lot more people through Fox than through NPR and the money is probably much better for doing it.  Some people are into power.  That’s what motivates them more than anything else.  I suspect that the journalists who flock to Fox and News Corp are those kinds of people just as the finance industry attracts compulsive gamblers and people who value money above everything else.

If pandering to the public’s baser instincts were not so rewarding and didn’t result in greater influence, these people wouldn’t be doing what they do.  The reason they are so successful at it is that there are very few rules in place to make them accountable for their actions.  There is no “fairness doctrine”, no penalties for lying and misleading the public and our laws to keep one person from owning as many media outlets as they like are laughable.

“Ohhhh”, the politicians cry, “There’s too much money in politics. We need to run campaigns constantly.  If we don’t solicit funding, whatever shall we do?  Bad, BAD corporations!”

Blaming the candy for being sweet is no excuse for indulging.

And if you don’t like the rules the rulemakers are writing, change the rulemakers.  It’s the only thing that has ever worked.  Ask the English.

4.) Now THIS is interesting.  Barack Obama is the number one recipient of News Corp donations of all time.  Hmmm, what are we to make of that?  Anyone got any ideas?  Raise your hands, don’t be shy.

5.) I found this at Freerangekids.com from The Onion.  If you ever wonder why Americans are overly fearful of everything and can’t estimate risk, you can blame news organizations like FOX that cranks irrational fear up to 11.  This clip is hillarious.

Tuesday: There’s a shortage of scientists and engineers? Are you crazy??

Obama is pushing for education for high-tech jobs at a new jobs summit:

Cree and other businesses in the innovation hub of Research Triangle Park have a rich academic base to draw from for recruits with the University of North Carolina, Duke and North Carolina State University — the alma mater of Cree’s founders — so nearby, Obama said. As a whole, however, the country is not producing enough talent to fill the high-tech and highly skilled jobs that are available today. “Right now, there are more than four job-seekers for every job opening in America,” Obama said. “But when it comes to science and high-tech fields, the opposite is true. The businesses represented here tell me they’re having a hard time finding high-skilled workers to fill their job openings.”

Is this man *completely* out of touch??  It’s like a George Bush I trip to the supermarket where they have those scanner thingies.  If Research Triangle is having a hard time filling positions, I certainly haven’t heard about it.  Everyone I know, including myself, has either lost their job or is about to lose their job.  There are thousands of well trained, well educated, high-tech professional scientists and engineers out of work right now who could easily relocate.  Their jobs are going to China.  What do companies want more of them for?  They don’t seem willing to retain and pay the ones they already have.

Where has Obama been?

Amgen announces layoffs in Boulder, Colorado

Pfizer lays off 19,000 after merger with Wyeth

Astra-Zeneca plans to layoff 15,000 through 2013

That’s just the tip of the iceberg.  How much more education do you want us to get?  We’re already overeducated.  We’re not allowed to get stale in this business.  And the cuts are not all in sales.  Now, they’re getting to the bone with thousands of high-tech jobs relocating to India and China.  What’s weird about that is that not even China and India with their billions of people have enough high-tech workers to do high-tech research but that isn’t stopping companies from sending our jobs there.  The bottom line is the bottom line.

Want to know where a scientist can make a decent living and do research and where their skills and educations will be valued and rewarded and their jobs protected?  Try countries where the government is willing to intervene or where labor unions are strong.  Like Germany and France.

But don’t roll that old crap about how there aren’t enough of us to those of us in the trenches.  The last thing we need are more unpaid scientists on the job market.

Monday: Even Billionaires Get the Blues

It’s a good thing we still have Social Security.  There are some (formerly) rich people who are going to need it:

The epicenter of what may be the largest Ponzi scheme in history was the 17th floor of the Lipstick Building, an oval red-granite building rising 34 floors above Third Avenue in Midtown Manhattan.

A busy stock-trading operation occupied the 19th floor, and the computers and paperwork of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities filled the 18th floor.

But the 17th floor was Bernie Madoff’s sanctum, occupied by fewer than two dozen staff members and rarely visited by other employees. It was called the “hedge fund” floor, but federal prosecutors now say the work Mr. Madoff did there was actually a fraud scheme whose losses Mr. Madoff himself estimates at $50 billion.

The tally of reported losses climbed through the weekend to nearly $20 billion, with a giant Spanish bank, Banco Santander, reporting on Sunday that clients of one of its Swiss subsidiaries have lost $3 billion. Some of the biggest losers were members of the Palm Beach Country Club, where many of Mr. Madoff’s wealthy clients were recruited.

The list of prominent fraud victims grew as well. According to a person familiar with the business of the real estate and publishing magnate Mort Zuckerman, he is also on a list of victims that already included the owners of the New York Mets, a former owner of the Philadelphia Eagles and the chairman of GMAC.

Bummer.  Didn’t anyone tell these suckers, er, wealthy individuals to diversify their assets?
It’s interesting that Madoff himself refers to what he did as a “Ponzi Scheme”.  So, the people who got to the party late footed the bill for the ones who came early.  But is that where all of the money went?  Does that mean the early investors have at least a moral obligation to refund their ill gotten booty to the late investors?

Morals?

On another note, it looks like the Republicans are still not done with their irrational hatred of everything labor.  Paul Krugman makes reference to the Republicans’ efforts to stick a fork in the unions before the changing of the guard next month.  The hard hearted meanies can’t find it in themselves to extend a measley $15 billion to the autoworkers so they can keep their jobs and their houses and prevent Michigan from turning into a landscape straight out of I Am Legend.  But when Krugman turned his attention to Europe, where the Germans are holding out for equally selfish reasons this line had me giggling:

Last week Peer Steinbrück, Mrs. Merkel’s finance minister, went even further. Not content with refusing to develop a serious stimulus plan for his own country, he denounced the plans of other European nations. He accused Britain, in particular, of engaging in “crass Keynesianism.”

The Germans are being stubborn and dragging their feet, refusing to join the rest of the class and insisting that nothing needs to change.  (I hate to stereotype but my own experience with my German colleagues is oddly similar.  You must prove something a priori before they sign on to actually trying it and even then, they resist.)  But Germany is hardly immune to sharing the wealth so the flinching from Keynesian economics is pretty funny, even if it is shortsighted and ruinous for everyone else in the EU.

But the US has it easy in the area of labor unions compared to Germany.  Decades of assault on labor has resulted in very little protection for them.  What do the billionaires want anyway?

It must be the sheer scale that is the problem.  A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon you’re talking about real money.  Money has no real meaning to the superrich. There are only so many necessities of life a person can buy with a billion dollars.  After a certain threshhold value, it’s all play money.  Is that why they seem to be so stingy towards the people who work for them?

Well, we can only hope that there will be some new riches to rags stories that will come out of the Great Financial Collapse of 2008 that will make it all worthwhile.  Schadenfreude and all that.