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I’ve just gotta get a message to you…

Back in 2008, we were on Hillary’s radar. This year? Ehhh, not so much. That could be because of many different things, mostly because it’s 2016 and not 2008. Correct me if I’m wrong but it seems to me like Hillary has taken a step back from really, I don’t know, campaigning. This time around, someone has convinced her that she needs to be data driven, reach out to millenials and embrace Obama like there’s no tomorrow.

And I think that’s why the race is so close in Iowa.

Note that she was similarly cautious in early 2008 as well. Remember all the crap we heard on DailyKos about Mark Penn? But then the party decided to take the money and turned on her and she got to work actually appealing to people.

I’ve made no secret about my lack of enthusiasm for Obama but I will let someone else make my case for why should reconsider her strategy of clinging to him:

 

or maybe this person can do it:

“Elizabeth Warren Indicts Shockingly Weak Enforcement” with respect to the finance industry.

Or go to any NYTimes piece on the cost of health care in America that wasn’t solved by the ACA, like Even Insured Can Face Crushing Medical Debt.  One thing you can say for the Republicans, they’re like attack dogs on something when they’re aroused. Democrats seem to think that because people with preconditions and children are covered by the ACA, the rest of the losers in the Healthcare coverage olympics should shut the F^&* up about whether we’ll lose our shirts if we are inconveniently sick. That debate is so five minutes ago. It’s settled. Democrats think it was a bloody debate that the whole country was engaged in when, really, no one we know had anything to say in the matter. But, whatever, it’s over, for them. Let’s move on.

The problem is, in the last 8 years, the country has changed so radically that it’s hard not to get angry when you’ve been left out of the decision making process.

Who died and made them spokespersons of the gods who shredded our careers, decimated our retirement savings and created two classes of workers- those who were lucky to get employer based health benefits and those who have to pay those crazy deductibles out of vastly reduced salaries? If you haven’t been there, YOU’RE the one who should STFU.

On one of my recent posts about the fate of women over 50 who can’t get work, someone called the linked NYTimes article “clickbait”? Really?? Those of us who have been through it don’t think it’s trivial.

And then there are people who bogarted the message for the last 8 years and think everything is fine now, like the gay guy who cuts my hair who was all happy that now everyone is equal, isn’t it great? No, we are not all equal. What about the reproductive rights laws that are getting crushed in state after state? Seriously, I wanted to smack him except he had my hair in his hands. The fight for equality is not over just because you have marriage equality. NOW, it is your turn, LGBT people, to do what you can for women, who, just as our culture demands every time, patiently stepped aside and put your needs first. Pay it forward.

But I digress.

Or have I?

Have I mentioned race yet? No, I think that was my point. In none of the instances above has race been mentioned. Black lives do matter. But what has been done for the african american community in the last 8 years?  They’re still getting killed for no reason, have higher unemployment, are getting pushed out of neighborhoods by progress. I could go on and on because I see it everyday as I pass through some pretty sketchy neighborhoods on my way to work.

And to add insult to injury, we now have a bunch of smug silicon valley types proposing to give us a basic income that is devoid of any meaningful work. I could write a whole different post on how many of us have lost the jobs we loved and enjoyed that we will never get back not because they weren’t useful jobs or highly skilled but because some bunch of shareholders decided they needed better returns on their quarterlies. There will be diseases that won’t be cured because of that. Can a guaranteed basic income make up for that, Paul Graham? I guess Zika will be a good test case.

Anyway, this is all to say what I predicted a couple of years ago about Hillary running for president in 2016. Why would she want to do it? The country has changed so much and people are so angry that the person who captures the voters is going to have to have to be a force for a big change. No one wants another “Lifeguard in Chief”, as Stephen Colbert says for 4 to 8 more years. Ain’t no one got time or money for that anymore.

I saw Hillary campaigning her heart out in the last days of the primary season in 2008 but a campaign is not the same as actually governing and leading with vision. Is she a transformative politician? I don’t know.

I know that Trump would be a transformative politician but not in any good way. I see nothing good coming for women if Trump is elected. If he can get away with disrespectful behavior towards women during a campaign, then it will only encourage others to crack down even more on women’s rights after the election. Who will enforce current laws against discrimination? We can barely get Obama to take notice. Trump stands for power, wealth, men and, um, that’s about it. If you’re a dude and you have a good job that’s a one-off and you’re not an illegal alien, you’ll do great under Trump.

But a guy who has turned getting out from under bankruptcy smelling like a rose while leaving his workers high and dry into performance art does not meet my criteria for good presidential material. Plus, I think he’s a narcissist. It looks like he attracts other narcissists to his campaign. That right there is a bad thing, especially when the Republican party has spent the last 8 years making government ineffective. It’s one thing to hire a selfish, self-centered, unscrupulous, macho, physically repugnant guy (the sexiest thing in his pants is his wallet) to the oval office. It’s another thing to make it impossible for any good legislation to pass through Congress while he’s in office.

Bernie Sanders is a good guy and he’s at least trying to give the rest of us a voice. But where was he in 2012? Why no action when the finance industry buddies of the Oval Office put a screeching halt on any progress to help the middle class? Sure, the FiliBernie was awesome but why didn’t he run in 2012? For that matter, why didn’t Hillary run?

But I can see where the passion is coming from on the left. Finally, someone is making a stand for income inequality. He’s saying craaaazy things. They’re just so crazy that everyone likes to hear them. They’re the kind of crazy things that appealed to voters my uncle’s age before he and his age cohort was distracted by abortion, conformity, religion and fear. Everyone should have health care because the rest of the developed world has done it. How novel is that??  Some countries have single payer, some have nationalized, some work through private insurance. ALL of the successful ones have implemented price controls. Don’t tell me that it’s not politically possible.

Most of the Europe has college education at vastly reduced prices so that students don’t start their professional lives indentured. Don’t tell me that’s not politically possible.

We used to have decent pensions in this country so that people were not forced to put their life savings on the roulette wheel of a global casino like we currently do with 401Ks. Don’t tell me that a guaranteed pension is not politically possible.

That’s what the polls are telling Hillary right now. They are telling her to NOT tell US that what we want is not politically possible.

We have had 8 years of a very weak president whose administration seems to excel at one thing- convincing pundits and political party spokespeople to glorify his Lilliputian achievements. (Please, don’t even go there.) And the voters are told over and over again that if they aren’t sufficiently appreciative that their net worth and futures are significantly diminished, they’re racists. If they want anything for themselves other than endless more decades of sacrifice while finance types continue to harvest them, they’re told that it’s not politically possible. I have to wonder if David Brooks, our modern Wormtongue and master of learned helplessness and messaging is secretly in charge of Democratic Party strategy.

Yes, the electoral map is against us but what would happen if the party stopped saying “Elect us president even though there’s nothing we can do!”

That’s not the message voters want to hear. They want to hear that you’re going to try. They want to hear that you’ll go to the mat for them. They want to be assured in no uncertain terms that if they hand the reigns of power over to you and manage to give you the house and the senate too by some miracle, that you are not going squander another golden opportunity to fix it. If there is one genuine surprise this year, it’s that after many long years, it is finally safe and even good to call yourself a liberal Democrat. It would be a shame if the party failed to move on that.

So, Hillary, tell Robbie Mook and his data models to take a hike. I don’t want to be pressured to donate just because 3 other people in my neighborhood did it. (Stop sending those emails. They make me resentful and obstinate.) Besides, data models are like Palantiri that can lead you astray. You don’t know the end of the story yet so there is no need to lock yourself into a careful, professionally crafted campaign approach that is unresponsive to current opportunities and realities. Do not market to me. What is good for my cohort is good for the vast majority of Americans. There is no reason to data drive, divide and conquer. We need a restart button not principle components analysis.

I want to see you throw caution to the wind and send a message that is going to at least match Bernie’s that you are going to do something for us even if it looks like it’s not politically possible.

Dream the impossible dream, Hillary. Dream BIG.

 

 

 

 

 

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Citizens United, Undue Influence, The BITE Model

This has been a surprisingly difficult post to write. I attribute this partially to what I am doing at work, which consists of speed learning. Not that I’m complaining (as long as my contract keeps getting renewed) but my mind has been busy retraining some circuitry and that means some other stuff has to join the queue.

The other reason it has been difficult is because I can’t believe no one has covered this territory before. If could be that others’ have but I don’t have the time right now to put in a lot of research as to how much it has been fleshed out. I know that some Twitter people have been busily picking up on the language and words used to describe the candidates. It’s good to see they’re being proactive but it’s probably not enough. So, I’ve had a difficult time figuring out how to jump into this topic.

And then there is the left blogosphere that seems to be dragging itself into the Hillary Clinton camp somewhat reluctantly. Sometimes, I see the briefest flashes of “snapping” out of their eight year self-imposed trance but I can’t tell if this is due to genuine insight or whether there are marching orders from party leadership or a little bit of both. Having read David Brock’s book Blinded by the Right, it’s my guess that the Media Matters people and affiliated blogs are more aware, to one degree or another, of the concept of undue influence, regardless of how much smoke got in their eyes in 2008. I can read between the lines in some blog posts. There is groupthink to some degree but there is also an underlying independence of thought that I think needs to be encouraged. In any case, there are some signs that the snapping might be real because connections have been made.

So, why am I grouping “Citizens United”, “Undue Influence” and “The BITE Model”? Let me tell you a little story about a conversation I recently had with a relative. I really like this person. He’s a senior but he’s interesting, smart and a little bit weird. But I can also tell where he gets his news. So, we were talking about health care and I mentioned that I don’t really have insurance. Oh, I have something that barely meets the requirements of the ACA but it’s not really insurance. And he says indignantly, “Why don’t we have insurance like they have in England where everyone is covered?!! That would be so much better than Obamacare.”

This was interesting to me because that sentiment should set off alarm bells in the right wing media empire. That is definitely NOT what they want their voter base to be thinking about. Because, what would happen if there was a politician who would somehow figure out a way to show these voters that getting what they want is not an impossibility after all?

I pointed out to my relative that in the US, we have several kinds of alternate health care models to choose from that match what he wants. Medicare and Tricare popped immediately to mind. He thought it would be great if we could all have Medicare but politically, it could never get passed. (BTW, I’m not advocating any particular model without cost controls on hospitals and providers. That’s probably the real impediment.) So, I pointed out to him that we would probably not get a real affordable health care system as long as Republicans were in charge.

His immediate response was: “All politicians are alike. It doesn’t matter what party they belong to.”

That, my friends, is a thought stopping idea and it was planted there by someone who has undue influence on a whole bunch of voters. The reason why I know this is that it was so quick. He may have a point in that Democrats hide behind Republicans in order to not offend their donors but I don’t think his thought process on the political reality was that well developed. I suspect he’s been trained to respond to the trigger about Republicans. Because you can bring up any subject and the minute you say “Republicans don’t like the idea you like”, the “All politicians and parties are the same” sentence flies out of their mouths without thinking. Republicans are going to be able to use that trigger in the upcoming election cycle. Anybody else is going to have to think of a way to get around it. And that’s going to be a problem because Citizens United has made it much easier for people with money to buy the means to apply undue influence.

“Duh”, you say, “Tell me something I didn’t know”. Ok, here’s where the connections are not being made: that money is being very effectively used to buy undue influence in a way you might not have considered before.

You may be wondering what I mean by undue influence. Undue influence originates from the law and since I am not a lawyer, I’m not going to discuss what that means exactly. The easiest way to understand it is to think about how elderly, possibly infirm people might be manipulated by their caretakers to sign over their estates. But the term is now being applied to mind control and can refer to any person or group, religion, political party that has the ability to influence others. Check out this video on Undue Influence 101 from Steve Hassan’s site Freedom of Mind to get a better understanding of what undue influence is.

What the Citizens United ruling did was allow a flood of money to infiltrate media and PACs. If you have the money, you now control the microphone. And if you control the microphone, your information is going to be able to influence the thoughts and emotions of your target audience. And once you are able to control their thoughts and emotions, you can control their behavior. There are many methods of carrying information. The obvious ones are TV, radio and newspapers. These are the primary sources of information for seniors. But more of them are now using Facebook (God knows why, I hate that thing). The more ways that money can control the means of disseminating information, the more thoughts and emotions can be influenced, the more behavior can be controlled. And now, the right wing controls almost all of the relevant information resources.

This is what is involved in the BITE model shown below:

Again, you may be saying to yourself that this is not new information. You already saw the correlation years ago or you’re starting to really get annoyed by it now because you’re finally starting to see what the New York Times has been up to with regard to covering presidential candidates.

But you would be missing the big picture. The big picture is that this is the way cults indoctrinate their devotees. These people do not know that they’ve been indoctrinated. They don’t know that they’ve had thought stopping ideas implanted in them. They don’t know that their fears of death, hell, abandonment, shame or ostracism have been tinkered with. They don’t know that the outrage over the so-called “War on Christmas” serves a very useful purpose. They don’t know that David Brooks is a master at writing posts that enforce “learned helplessness”. They are totally oblivious to it. They’re walking around like a bunch of Moonies spewing crap about “parasites” and “slackers” and “government is bad” when deep down inside, there is a conscience that objects to injustice but keeps getting strangled by thought stoppers.

This is what our Supreme Court majority allowed when they ruled on Citizens United. These are five smart men (interesting how they are all men). It is incomprehensible to me that they didn’t know what they were doing when they made this ruling. I’m sure they knew EXACTLY what was going on, especially John Roberts. What they did was allow the cult-like indoctrination of an entire country by people who have a lot of money and can buy more and more microphones, infiltrating every bit of information that comes though every media source and the “friends” you accept on Facebook .

That’s my first attempt at showing why we can’t have nice things. I’m not letting Democrats off the hook on this. What happened in 2008 was unconscionable. I’m delighted to see some bloggers in consternation about how they are supposed to defend Hillary Clinton when they’re up against this incredible media resistance and how irritating it is that all these young Ivy League graduates are jumping to the head of the line in major media publications to plant nasty trigger words about Hillary in the minds of their readers. Ha! Just wait until those same reporters start writing about how all those bloggers have tired interfaces or are catering to their older, elite demographic or something to that effect. Suddenly, their pretty little posts will lose their freshness and relevance. It’s going to happen. You heard it here first. It won’t matter how intelligent or pithy you are.

The question is, what are you going to do about it?

There’s a tsunami of money headed your way.

Give Democrats a piece of your mind

The mid-term election is only weeks away and despite the lack of recovery for the vast majority of us, life is about to get a whole lot harder as the Senate is predicted to fall into the Republicans’ hands.

That leaves us with Barack Obama to guard the door from the lunatics.  In other words, we’re totally screwed.

But why sink into despair?  If you’re disappointed and angry at the way the last six years (and two to go) have turned out, you probably have good reason to be in spite of what Paul Krugman says.  The Democrats are not the Chicago Cubs.  We do not have to feel all sentimental about having a losing team all the time.

So, vent.  Get it all out.  What pisses you off the most about how the Democrats have let us down?  Don’t be afraid to tell it like it is.  Civility is for cotillions.

These student body president types may be perfectly content to ignore you or they may have absolutely no idea why you’re about to allow them to be voted out of office.  Put them on notice in the comments below.

Registered Democrats only please.  If you’re a Republican, Tea Party troublemaker or independent, please sit on your hands.

I’ll go first.  Unemployment is still high for those of us 45-65.  Wages are pathetic.  But the thing that ticks me off the most is how Obamacare 1.) created two classes of American workers, 2.) did nothing to control costs, and 3.) forced the second class Americans without employer based health care into high deductible, tiny network, expensive insurance plans.  Even with the subsidies, which many of us don’t get because we make too *little* money (like that’s supposed to make any damn sense), the plans are unaffordable.  Krugman can go jump in a lake for all I care.  Obamacare is awful.

Ok, your turn.

Beautiful theories destroyed by ugly facts- part 129845

Chopper and his gang, A Bank’s, er, Bug’s Life.

David Leonhardt wrote about why the economy seems to suck for the vast majority of us in his post The Great Wage Slowdown of the 21st Century.  Once again, he drags out that idea that will not die that if we just graduated more people from college with the right technical skills, our wages would rise.  Zombie conventional wisdom like this is what turns perfectly nice days into weeks of frustration, anger and despair for hundreds of thousands of unemployed, underemployed and “terrified of the next layoff” STEM workers.

Look, Dave, may I call you Dave?  This simply isn’t true.  I have been there and I have seen PhD after PhD after PhD in the hard sciences laid off for no other reason than because they cost too much money to employ according to some seed corn eating grasshopper with an MBA and a big bonus in his future.  The laid off are people who were uber educated.  They went to Yale and Stanford and had multiple patents to their names.  Yes, they even knew how to use Microsoft Office.  I don’t know how many times I have had to tell people lately that I know Microsoft Office like it is my native tongue.  This notion that we are all technological dinosaurs and need even more education after decades in the lab, and reading and writing papers that would make the average American’s eyes bleed, is just beyond maddening.

If you don’t believe what I’m saying, Dave, check out what Pfizer did to Wyeth five years ago.  Pfizer bought Wyeth and then proceeded to lay off all 19,000 employees including all but a handful of research staff.  That’s all of my former colleagues but about two people who Pfizer retained.  Gone.  All their years of education, years of experience and technical expertise, all their livelihoods, and in some cases houses and college funds, eliminated.  There’s a reason why Nutley, NJ, the home of Roche, is becoming a ghost town.  There’s a reason why I fled NJ and moved to Pittsburgh.  I got out just in time.  Housing prices are crashing through the basement as all of the stunned STEM workers scramble to grab whatever work they can find before the next layoff or the soft money runs out or there’s another sequester.  Or they get the hell out.  I got the hell out.  I’m not crazy.

You know what else is crazy making, Dave?  That someone with your talent and access can’t look s&*% up on The Google to back up what you are writing. (Type “pharmaceutical layoffs 2010” for some really scary numbers)  It’s like all those mysterious congresspersons who parrot all this nonsense about STEM jobs not being filled- because they read people like you.  You have a responsibility to report the truth.  If you don’t, there really will be a shortage, just like there is with some programming jobs.  Back in the naughties, American programmers got laid off in droves and companies outsourced much of their development to Asia.  Now, I see a lot of positions on job boards for people with computer science degrees and those jobs go begging.  Well, what do you expect when the wages and jobs weren’t around for a decade and the programmers gave up and told their children to avoid programming like the plague?  Why should anyone dedicate themselves to difficult degrees if there’s no payoff or way to make a living in the end?

So, stop doing it, Dave.  Better yet, get out of the office and take NJT down to Princeton and pass all of the sites on your way that are now shuttered in the name of shareholder value.  Not to sound all Marxist or anything but the problem is not that we have too few educated people, it’s that the shareholders own the means of production and they aren’t investing their capital in research anymore, at least not here.

Nothing is going to make wages rise until the shareholders see that it is in their best interests.  And right now, they’re partying like it’s 2008.

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

There’s a great post on Naked Capitalism by Roy Poses, MD, titled Can Our Commericalized Health Care System Contain Ebola?  The answer is of course it can but it has to be more proactive and that’s difficult these days when health care and drug development decisions are not being made by people with the expertise to make them but by “generic managers”.

Poses has another post on his own blog about how the “generic manager” is extracting value from various industries that is a must read.  In short, there is a growing awareness that the grasshoppers have almost finished the seed corn and there must be policy imposed on them to stop the process.  Time is short.  Our policymakers can still save the day.  Given the way the 2014 Senate races are going, it looks like this will fail.

Oh well.  Prepare for a new Dark Ages.

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

Moving on to Princeton, Krugman has a blog about disinvestment at the public infrastructure level.  When I think of infrastructure, I am reminded that this is what I asked Hillary Clinton about at YearlyKos 2007.  She had a lengthy answer based on some well thought out policy, the highlight of which was a plan to expand our sorry excuse for broadband.  What a missed opportunity that was. But I digress.

Wait, aren’t we trying to privatize absolutely everything anyway?  Is it any surprise that investment in public infrastructure is going down?

Paul should realize by now that the 2008 election was all about saving the banks.  They set it up that way.  There wasn’t a plan for what came next.  Ta-da!

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

One more thing: Thomas Duncan, the Liberian ebola patient in Dallas, is getting an antiviral experimental treatment called brincidofovir.  Who names these things??  Anyway, he’s in critical condition but his liver function seems to be improving.  That’s great.  Unfortunately, brincidofovir messes up your kidneys so he’s now on dialysis.

Here’s a little bit of drug design/medicinal chemistry geekery.  The structure of brincidofovir is shown below:

 

When I was doing high throughput screening data analysis, I might have chucked this structure into the delete bin because of that long tail.  It’s big, it’s bulky, it’s greasy as bacon drippings.  No one is going to get a decent drug out of that.

And that’s kinda true.  Brincidofovir is a prodrug.  That big, long greasy tail improves its bioavailability (you have got to be kidding).  Once it gets into the body, that tail piece gets cleaved off to leave cidofovir, a viral DNA polymerase inhibitor:

I thought I’d mention that for No. 1 child who is taking a related class in the subject and now understands that when chemists say “cleavage”, they’re not always talking about your boobs.

 

 

Obamacare is health care for second class citizens: Example #1

I read with dismay yesterday that Sylvia Burwell, who is taking over from Kathleen Sebelius at HHS, is determined to squash  even a study of single payer health care in order to pacify the Republicans at her confirmation hearing.  Yes, yes, let’s ignore all those little people, aka American citizens, who have lost the employer sponsored health care that made them feel human.  {{rolling eyes}}

So, I thought I would give you an example of what separates the “lucky” eight million who pay for crap exchange policies from, you know, real people.

In 2004, I went to Naples, Fl for a vacation.  As is my habit, I only vacation in the south during hurricane season.  (Been chased off the barrier islands of North Carolina by one)  In this case, it was a category 4, Hurricane Charlie.  We knew it was coming and decided to ride it out at our penthouse on the beach (ahhhh, those were the days when I still had money to do stuff like that).  We watched the hurricane come in and wreck havoc but the next day, the sun shone brightly and I headed down to the beach.  That’s when the busload of orphans started floundering in the surf and I broke my arm while rescuing them.

Ok, not really.  Due to the hurricane, there was a big honking tree on the path to the beach and in my stupid attempt to climb over it, I fell off the trunk and broke my wrist in three places.  There went my plans to go to Universal.

I went to the emergency room in Naples, where they didn’t even offer me an ice pack or a sling for two hours in a very unbusy emergency room.  By the time they x-rayed my arm, it was swelling rapidly.  Thanks Best Health Care in the World! About an hour later, they sent me home with a temporary cast and an appointment to see a surgeon at an outpatient facility so he could reset the wrist under a general anesthetic.  Fun, fun!  I still had more than a week of vacation to look forward.

The next day, I saw the surgeon and woke up to a full arm cast.  Yeah, try to drive home from Kennedy airport to NJ with only one functional arm.

When I arrived in NJ, I saw a different doctor who cut off the whole arm cast 4 weeks later and put my wrist in a smaller cast.  Then I had some physical therapy.

I think my co-pays were minimal, like $15 and my deductible was teensy.  I had a nice employer sponsored insurance policy.

On Obamacare, you do not get health insurance coverage outside of your network, which is minute.  If I went to Florida today and had the same accident, I would be facing a ginormous piles of bills from each doctor, anesthetist and emergency room service, including a charge for the ice pack I never received.  In other words, I am not covered beyond this state.  So, I am really not getting a health care policy that is equal to those of my better employed friends.  I would be strongly cautious of taking a vacation and maybe that’s the point.  If I have to be on Obamacare, maybe I shouldn’t feel entitled to a vacation.

But what if I am visiting Boston next week for a user group meeting (I am) and I have an accident?  Who covers me?

And why couldn’t the ACA be set up to handle not uncommon situations like the one described above?

Sylvia?  Would you like to answer that for the rest of us?

(Un)intended Consequences?

IMG_1110

The last vacation I took: Bethany Beach, Delaware, July 2011

In a day or two, I will relate my own ongoing struggle with Obamacare (it’s not positive, believe it or not).  But for now, I want to talk about something I saw yesterday on Corrente regarding the Clinton papers and what Hillary Clinton had to say about the individual mandate.

But first, let me tell you about Jobs4NJ.  When I was laid off back in 2011 from the job I loved, I signed up for the NJ job matching service.  You upload your CV to their database, spend 2 hours correcting all the formatting mistakes, and wait.  By the way, we were told at the NJDOL that we could also apply for state jobs but that each job application would require a $25 fee.  That fee was non-refundable whether you got a job or not.  Imagine asking a bunch of unemployed people to cough up $25 for each job opening they saw on the state employment site.  I’m wondering if that was a Christie innovation.  The DOL employees were extremely kind, helpful and treated us with dignity and respect and even they thought the fee was outrageous.

Anyway, getting back to Jobs4NJ.  They sent me some job listings.  The good positions were gone, gone, gone from NJ.  The postings I got had descriptions that seemed a bit vague, as if the companies themselves weren’t really sure what they wanted.  Most positions in “science” were really business positions.  Apparently, R&D has an unmet demand for marketing and finance specialists.  Labrats?  Ehhhh, not so much.

I applied to some of the few low level lab positions that were available, and, as is the custom these days with companies, never heard back from any of them that they even received my CV and cover letter or what exactly the mismatch was.  This was not the example of malignant narcissism run amok that I alluded to a couple of days ago though.  I would be grossly exaggerating if I characterized this all too typical insensitivity towards jobseekers as evil.  I’m saving the story of true senseless malice for a book.

I still get email from Jobs4NJ, though you’d have to drag me kicking and screaming to go back to that state.  But I noticed something the other day about the new positions.  Quite a few of them have the word “CONTRACT” in the post.  Hmmm, that’s a new one, thought I.  And then, the more I thought about it, the more it made sense.

Over a year ago, I predicted that the ACA would lead to a greater number of contract positions.  And why is that?  There are a couple of reasons.  One, it allows many corporations to go “weightless”.  They don’t have to offer their workers benefits if they get a third party vendor to handle their human resources needs.  That third party vendor becomes a middle man, matching up contractors with the company.  The middle man becomes the tax collector who processes the paperwork and handles the  untidy business of interacting with the people who, you know, get their hands dirty in the labs.  (Sidenote: It always amused me when I compared the executive cafeteria with the R&D cafeteria.  The business workers had bespoke prepared foods, plenty of healthy and delicious options and an on-call nutritionist who would consult with you on your dietary needs.  I witnessed this personally one day.  The R&D cafeteria served the kind of high fat, high calorie limited entrees that would be perfect for coal miners, not a bunch of bespectacled, skinny geeks.  But since the executives rarely interacted with us, we may perhaps excuse them for thinking we were grimy blue collar lumberjacks who needed 5000 calories per serving of bland, greasy food.)

The other reason why the ACA is leading to a greater number of non-full time, contract positions is that because the employer mandate keeps getting put off, indefinitely, it seems, the employee is now responsible for carrying the weight of the health care premiums, which, by the way, are still astronomical when the deductibles and OOP expenses are factored in.  An increase in precariousness shouldn’t be surprising.  Why should an employer invest money in training and retaining an employee when they don’t have to?  It’s a kind of moral hazard, is it not?

So, it came as no surprise to me that Hillary Clinton saw a flaw in the individual mandate back in the 90s.  Let’s be clear, that’s not the same as a universal mandate, which seems to be a cornerstone of successful national health care systems around the world.  It’s important that all stakeholders, employees and employers, buy in to the system or it doesn’t work.  But to put all of the burden on individuals and letting employers get away with no responsibility?  According to the papers, Hillary Clinton said that was a problem:

“That is politically and substantively a much harder sell than the one we’ve got — a much harder sell,” Clinton said. “Because not only will you be saying that the individual bears the full responsibility; you will be sending shock waves through the currently insured population that if there is no requirement that employers continue to insure, then they, too, may bear the individual responsibility.”

Yes, this is exactly what is happening.  EVERYONE is potentially affected.  Even worse, there may be a two tier system of employees.  I can just imagine the better connected, legacy ivy league graduates becoming fully vested in the employee benefit system while the state school graduates scramble from job to job trying to find a foot hold.  It’s already happening in the pharmaceutical industry where what the MBAs consider the cream of the crop get the few coveted positions in Cambridge and San Francisco and the rest of us run from contract position to contract position, or stuck in an endless series of low paying post doc positions.  (Sidenote: you politicians are crazy if you think we former scientists are going to let you get away with the “there aren’t enough STEM workers” schtick.  We are already all over the comments sections and posting loud and clear that there is no shortage.  We’re not going to let our children languish in the labs for decades while they make less money than a first grade teacher for all the education they have.)

BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!!

What else do contract workers not have besides health care benefits?

Well, I will tell you because I have been there.  They don’t have pensions, 401K plans, sick days, holidays or vacation days. They don’t get tuition discounts or reimbursements.  They don’t get to ride the buses for free nor can they get a spot in the employee parking lots.  And if you are a temp or contract worker, you don’t really have ANY labor protections.  You may have trouble getting paid due to the way companies pay their invoices.  In some cases, you have no protection against discrimination.  Think of how gay contractors fare with even the federal government.  YOU’RE a CONTRACTOR.  Your boss could call you in at any time of the day or night and make unreasonable demands on your time.  He may decide to arbitrarily cut your hours in half one week and let YOU worry about how you’re going to pay the rent or health insurance premium while your kid is in the hospital. As a temp worker “you do not have a salary”, as I was so brusquely  and dismissively reminded one day.

See where this is going?  Sorry, people, this is where we already are.  It’s not the future of employment.  It is the now.  Check out the Freelancer’s Union to see what employment is turning into.  A rational person would become debt free as quickly as possible and build a tiny house with solar panels and no plumbing and grow their own food.  We can let Krugman wax rhapsodic about what would happen to the economy if everyone cut back and accrued as little debt as possible.  Talk about lack of demand.  But that’s where we’re headed.  Those of us who were lucky enough to have some savings when the masters of the universe decided to pull up stakes and grab the pie for themselves have decided to stop spending money.  It’s self preservation but it’s not healthy for the country.  No more Royal Caribbean cruises, no more vacation rentals at the shore.  We question whether we really need that bentwood coffee table and agonize over hair cuts.  We save up for the days we have to call in sick.  We put off replacing our broken phones.

I think it’s time we stopped making excuses for our politicians that let this happen.  In fact, I’m not blaming Republicans for the recent, drastic, horrible negative turn of events that working people are experiencing right now.  They were like snakes and we knew what they were.  Their poison was already well understood by the educated working class.  We have no one to blame but ourselves for allowing the stealthy predators into our midst in the last 6 years.  Some of us were so bedazzled by being called “creative” that we failed to look closely at who our new friends were.

But whether the war on the working class by the financiers was intentional or not, we can no longer deny, or should I say, we deny at our peril, that our nation’s top politicians have provided a moral hazard for finance and businesses both large and small, to continue to shed benefits and worker protections via the contracting route.  In the pharmaceutical area, this was accomplished easily by laying off hundred of thousands of R&D professionals in the wake of the Great Recession and now hiring us back as contractors.  Indeed, the high unemployment rate of the last several years coupled with the delay in the employer mandate for the ACA has created a perfect storm where the stripping of compensation is going to pick up even faster and reach deeper into the American workforce just as Hillary predicted decades ago.

It’s happening so fast that many of us don’t even realize the predators are on us until we’re being forced down the gullet.  Will this become a harder sell politically in November 2014?  We will see.

The strange silence

Martin Wolf  of the Financial Times and Bill Moyers discussed the government shutdown /debt ceiling crisis last week.  Check out the whole interview here.  I was particularly struck by this part:

BILL MOYERS: Would you agree that despite what happened this week and the political victory that President Obama seems to have won, would you agree that the conservatives have really won the argument about government?

MARTIN WOLF: I think that is true. What has surprised me is how little pushback there has been from the Democrat side in arguing that the government really did have a very strong role in supporting the economy during the post crisis recession, almost depression, that the stimulus argument was completely lost though the economics of it were quite clearly right, they needed a bigger stimulus, not a smaller one.

It helped, but it didn’t help enough because it wasn’t big enough. And they’re not making the argument that government has essential functions which everybody needs in the short run. Well, we can see that with the national parks. But also in the long run the strength of America has been built, in my perspective, particularly in the post war period, since the Second World War on the way that actually the public and private sectors have worked together with the government providing enormous support for research and development.

It’s been the basic support of America’s unique position in scientific research. You look at the National Institutes of Health which are the most important medical research institutions in the world, these are all products of the willingness of the United States to invest in the long term interest. Then there’s the infrastructure, think of the highway program, which was the most important infrastructure project under the Republicans interestingly.

And those arguments seem to have been lost. So I am concerned that the government that I think Grover Norquist once said he wants to drown in the bath. If you drown your government in the bath in the modern world, we don’t live in the early 19th century, it’s a different world, that the long term health of the United States will be very badly affected.

It’s strange to me that a government which has obviously achieved very important things, think of the role of the Defense Department in the internet, has achieved such important things, that’s just one of many examples, it should be now regarded as nothing more than a complete nuisance. And the only thing you need to do is to cut it back to nothing.

And it does seem to me that the Democrats have, for reasons I don’t fully understand, basically given up on making this argument. And so in a way the conservatives, the extreme conservative position has won, because nobody is actually combating it. So it’s only a question of how much you cut and how you cut it rather than, “Well, what do we want government for? What are the good things about it? What are the bad things about it? How do we make it effective? And how do we ensure that it’s properly financed?”

I’ll touch on the effects of sequester on the future of science in this country in another post but right now, I want to talk about the strange silence from the Democrats and the dangers that wait for them if they don’t start speaking up, soon and loudly.  And part of this has something to do with Joan Walsh and Feministing and what Atrios said a couple days ago:

I don’t offer that as a defense (except for things that happened before his watch, of course), but while ultimately the man in charge is the man in charge, I think that often criticisms of things which happen during this administration are just heard as criticisms of Obama by people who are, understandably, fans and invested in his success.

I’m going to step right into this (because why stop now after five years?) and hypothesize that there are some “fans” on the left who would sell their children into neofeudal serfdom in a heartbeat before they would suffer the completely unfounded accusations of racism that other “fans” would heap upon them if they even dared to strenuously question the Obama administration.

It is pointless to tell these “fans” that there is nothing wrong with criticizing the president and his policies. It doesn’t make you the grand master of the local KKK or mean that you’ve failed Martin Luther King Jr.  In fact, I might even go out on a limb to suggest that the reason Bill Clinton gets so much negative attention from these “fans”, in spite of the fact that his record is more liberal than Obama’s, is because these “fans” are projecting their pent up frustration on a legitimate white target as a proxy. They simply cannot overcome their fear of ostracism if they criticize the president in the strong terms they would like to use.  Just thinking about it makes them feel uncomfortable and oogy.

This is ridiculous but it appears to be useless to point out that if people on the left don’t get over this conditioned Pavlovian response (courtesy of Obama’s campaign strategists) they are condemning their side to complete and utter fecklessness and continued perceptions of ineptitude.  But I might suggest that this is exactly what the bad guys want.  If you don’t raise a fuss, no effective regulation gets implemented and ideas that benefit most of the people in America never see the light of day and are considered politically impractical by the savvy people.

Not only that but I would be remiss if I did not point out that the last time the Democrats had control of the White House, the Senate and the House, they passed a much less than adequate stimulus bill and gave us Obamacare.  Yep, it had control of the executive and legislative branches and still found it politically impossible to even introduce the concept of public option or single payer or even cost controls, for gawdssakes, into the debate over a national healthcare policy.  How does that happen??  I don’t mean how does it happen that these things never even got discussed in a legitimate way with our side in complete control of the dialog.  I mean how does it happen that our side stayed so quiet about the fact that the Obama administration had effectively emasculated it?  The sequester should have been the last straw but from the “fans”?  Hardly a peep.

Russell Brand has a point.  If the side that professes to be the one that stands up for the great masses of people who are being treated poorly doesn’t do anything when it’s in charge, then why vote?  Why not do something different?

This is a BIG problem for the Democrats because there is a slim possibility that they could gain control of the House again and have complete control of government policy for 2 years starting in 2014.  And if that happens, it will be because voters will have had enough and the Republicans will have finally hanged themselves.  And if THAT happens, there’d better be some changes made.

But I personally will not take the left seriously if I don’t hear some harsh criticisms of the way this administration has squandered its first two years in office leaving millions of people unemployed, underinsured and at the mercy of very determined social security and medicare cutters.

If your demoralized, older but wiser youth vote, or ladies’ vote, or “name your base here” vote doesn’t show up for the next big election in sufficient enough quantities and decides to seek its own path, don’t say you weren’t warned.

Lambert picked out my favorite line from the Brand interview:

My new rule for when I fancy doing a bit of the ol’ condemnation is: “Do the people I’m condemning have any actual power?”

Exactly.   There’s nothing worse than spinning your wheels and becoming nasty, mean spirited old bigots in the service of the powerful.  Fox News viewers take note.