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    • Scenarios For America’s Political Future
      Let’s run thru the most likely possible victories in the upcoming federal election and consider what they mean for America’s future. Put them in 4 baskets. Trump wins. He does more bad stuff, situation continues to get worse, American post-WWII style multilateral hegemony and trade order takes huge hits. Biden or Harris win. Harris will […]
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The Elephant’s Child

we will now seriously devote ourselves to a little high tension

The day after the SOTU address, after the President of the United States pretty much told American scientists that we were not up to Chinese standards, it snowed in New Jersey.  I looked out the window at the snow falling thick and fast and gauged my chances of getting to work with my malfunctioning power steering.  Nah gah happen.  Sigh.  I hooked up my work computer, logged in with my SecureID, and checked my email…

And there, under five or six other messages, was an invitation from the local head honcho to meet him in the cafeteria at 10am.  Uh-oh.  That’s not good.  I stared at it.  WTF?  I clicked it again.  Reread the message.  It was unmistakeable but I didn’t want to believe it.  My supervisor was on vacation.  My director was unreachable.  Nobody in my department available.  In desperation, I called my previous supervisor.

“What?? You got the message to meet in the cafeteria?  It’s not good.  I’m sorry, it’s not a good sign.”

My blood froze.  I am the only employed person in my family with health insurance and steady income for Brooke.  I couldn’t think. So, I did the next logical thing.

I called Katiebird.  I asked her to stay with me until I knew what was going on. I  tried desperately to find someone in my department who was asked to the same meeting.  Unfortunately, I found someone.  It was my lab partner.  She couldn’t disguise the panic in her voice.  I called Katiebird again.  We waited.  Katiebird stayed with me.  My lab partner called back.  It was confirmed.  Our jobs were eliminated.

???

?

My department head finally called me at home.  The HR rep was with him.  They broke the news to me officially.  I was stunned.  My lab partner and I are beyond busy.  Dumping our workload onto the rest of our department seems incomprehensible.   I think there was an, “Oh, shit, what did we do?!” moment from some of the decision makers on our behalf.  But the problem with lay offs is that once the decision has been made to “separate” you, it’s hard to walk it back.  There have been some not insignificant efforts to figure out a way to keep us but they have all met a brick wall.  The bottom line was met, we were part of meeting the reduction goal, we are scheduled to go.  We have about a month and a half left.  It feels like a death sentence.

It’s times like these that tell you who your friends are.  I can tell you that Katiebird and DandyTiger immediately came to my emotional rescue.  I am eternally grateful to both of them.  They have checked in since that day and haven’t let me down.  They both came up with great ideas to see me through.  Right now, I am so busy at work, irony of ironies, I don’t have time to pursue them but I know that I will.  I’d recommend Katiebird to anyone who is getting laid off but in these times, her line would be constantly busy.

I know that the loss of our jobs was not performance related.  Both my lab partner and I had very good performance appraisals.  We busted our butts in the lab last year and it showed.  We solved a previously unknown structure and pushed ourselves to learn new things.  It was not unusual to find us in the lab at 9pm, waiting for a gel to finish so we could plan our work for the next day.  The weird thing is that in spite of all that has transpired since that day in January, I still love my job.  The loss of income is painful but the loss of doing the thing that has become like an addiction to me in the last year is even more painful.  It’s so frustrating to lose something just when it’s starting to get really interesting.  I will never ever have a job as good or as satisfying as this one.  I will never have a lab partner as amiable and hardworking and intelligent and generous as the one I have.  We both feel it deeply.  Separation means more than losing the tether to your income, it means losing a productive and valuable working relationship.

When I think back to that SOTU address, I’m beyond angry.  This president and this Congress have no idea what this country is losing.  I am one of thousands of American R&D professionals who have lost their jobs since the era of mergers and acquisitions went into overdrive in the 1990’s.  The reason you don’t find young Americans going into science, engineering and math is not because the Chinese are so much better than we are.  It’s because there is no future in it.  There’s no career path.  No steady income.  No security.  Just a pile of underwater stock options and a pink slip after years of study and extremely challenging work.  The suits will tell you we aren’t productive but those of us who have been there know the truth.  This generation of American scientists has been blighted by the endless pursuit of meeting the bottom line.  It’s no way to do research.  In fact, it is almost impossible to do research under these circumstances and it has been like this since I started working in the business two decades ago.   Free lancing or starting our own businesses in this area of research is not really an option.  We need the overhead of a corporation.  Yes, believe it or not, sometimes you just can’t get around the corporate model.  So, I join my colleagues, “experienced research professionals” all, in the oblivion of separation from what we love best- the wonder and delight of studying nature and the dedication to cure disease.

I would like to say that I am grateful to my company for all of the years that I was able to learn and work for them.  The great majority of the people I have worked with are wonderful and talented professionals.  I wouldn’t call myself a “disgruntled employee”.  If anything, I am very gruntled and will milk my last days at work for all they are worth.  They are worth it.  Every last one of them.  I count the hours with anticipation and dread but mostly ” ‘satiable curtiosity”.

May you all be so lucky.

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Tuesday: So low you could step on it

Even if the Journal’s darker account is more accurate, the executioner’s hand has been stayed for the moment. That’s a victory for the American people, who oppose these cuts by large majorities across the political spectrum.

It’s a victory for sound economic thinking. Social Security doesn’t contribute to the deficit, and retirement benefits get recirculated into the general economy. That contributes to job creation and growth.

And it’s a victory for progressives who mobilized and acted quickly to forestall any such move by the president in this speech, as had been rumored for quite some time.

It could also be a political victory for Democrats, if the Post depiction is accurate. Dems would then be able, in Lori Montgomery’s words, to “draw a stark line between the White House and key Republicans in Congress.”

And what is this great victory? OMG … your heart will swell with pride!

No Social Security Cuts in the State of the Union?

Lori Montgomery of the Washington Post just wrote an article entitled “Obama won’t endorse raising retirement age or reducing Social Security benefits,” where she reports that the State of the Union speech will not include any suggestions for cutting retirement benefits.

Although the story does go on to say that the State of the Union will likely include President Obama’s traditional call to “put everything on the table.”  So let’s not make ourselves too comfortable.

Sunday: What to do, What to do?

Susie Madrak has her own radio show on BlogTalkRadio.  On January 17, her guests were Eric Boehlert and Nicole Sanders.  They took a call from a woman whose unemployment benefits ran out last March.  MARCH.  Of 2010.  For almost a year, this woman has had zero income.  No unemployment, no little job, nuthin.  She’s spent all of her savings and is now living on a home equity line of credit to pay her bills.  And she called Susie, who’s doing the best she can with what she has too since being out of work for some time now, and asks what she can do to get lawmakers’ attention?

Susie talked about how the Communist party started organizing back in the Great Depression, preventing people from getting evicted and feeding the poor.  And back then, it got a lot of attention.  There were tent cities and Hoovervilles in Washington.  Evidence of poverty was everywhere.  It was the threat of a public uprising the finally got things moving.

Susie gave the standard answers about what can be done.  Show up at a congressman’s office en masse, hang out in front of the restaurant where he/she and friends have lunch, throw a tent city or two and call the local paper or TV station about it.  Butcha know, I don’t think that’s going to work anymore and as one of them said: the right has the biggest megaphones and they simply won’t report it.

The right knows their voters.  They motivate their voters to vote by romanticizing the fetus, by appealing to their religiosity.  If bad things happen to other people, it’s because they weren’t as pious and good as the typical Fox News viewer.  That same religiosity prevents the religious conservative from doing too much to help the poor by contacting their representatives and demanding action.  It’s because there is so much evil and bad and pain in the world that mankind does not have the capacity to clean it up.  Only god does.  So, we need to just wait for Jesus to come back, which should be any day now.  If you’ve ever wondered what the apocalyptic messaging in right wing propaganda has to do with anything, there’s the reason.  It’s to keep the older conservative voter who sees disturbing things from taking any action.

If Susie wants to know what to do, she is going to have to target these viewers to get involved.  One thing that temporarily woke people up was the sight of so many people suffering in the wake of Katrina in New Orleans.  Which means that the news machine will be very careful to never do that again.  So, if you can’t bring the news to the people, maybe you have to bring the people to the news.

Don’t isolate your older, more conservative relatives.  Tell them what’s going on because you’ve seen it personally.  Tell them what is happening to your unemployed friends.  If they ask why they’re not willing to relocate, tell them the truth.  There are no jobs.  Anywhere.  Be harsh with them.  They won’t want to see you.  But they’ll call and ask why you haven’t come to visit.  Tell them you’re trying to help your friends- who are unemployed and that they just don’t get it.  They’ll go on about how God is the only one who can clean this mess up.  Tell them that’s bullshit and Jesus wouldn’t want them to ignore the poor.  If they tell you that you’re friends did something wrong, tell them the only thing they did wrong was being born in the wrong part of the 20th century.  If they say, yes, it’s true, the older generation has it good in comparison, tell them, great!  We’re moving in with you.  With the bird.  And the kid who likes to play Edith Piaf songs all. the. time. and refuses to speak to you in anything but French and eats like there’s no tomorrow.  When they express some hesitation about that, tell them to turn off the fricking TV news.

As for Susie, I think she has a future in broadcasting but she really has to ditch her propensity to glom onto left wing memes.  I’m not saying stop being liberal.  I’m saying stop letting the left do your thinking.  On one broadcast a couple of months ago, I think Athenae was on, they got so frustrated with it all that they want to just ditch everything and go rustic, which is great if you have no dependents.  But in some respects, it reminds me of the older religious person’s decision to just stay in the house away from the evil men and sexual predators until Jesus comes back.  You can’t run away from the world’s problems when they seem insurmountable.  If you do that, the bad guys win.  They want people to feel helpless.  Learned helplessness is their goal.

The only way to win is to get together and fight back.  And if Susie hasn’t figured this out yet, the left’s support of Obama in 2008 has resulted in thousands of sparkling shards of leftiness with the incapacity to reform itself.  I keep appealing to people like Susie to stop blowing us off and join with us and let’s do something together.  But the left hasn’t given up on the stuff that doesn’t resonate with their potential allies who work for the big corporations the left condemns.  It’s incomprehensible to me that for all the intelligence the left claims it has that it hasn’t figured out yet that the corporations are not the ogres here.  It’s the rulemakers they help elect.  If the rules weren’t bent or destroyed, the corporations would go back to playing by the rules and merely scheming like grinches instead of running around causing havoc like Thing 1 and Thing 2.   Then there are people like us who voted for Hillary and are still personas non grata.  We’re always going to think Obama was the wrong guy for the moment.  But why would the left cut off half of its strength if it really want to make a change?  Let me ask you this, Susie, why haven’t you asked any of US on your show yet?   Not that we can’t host our own shows but that’s hardly togetherness, is it?

The left’s obsession with perfection mirrors the right’s eschatological fervor.  Neither one addresses the causes and concerns of people in the middle who still bitterly cling to their FDR era programs with track records of success for those who participate.  Both sides insist that if they can’t have everything their way, no one will get anything at all.  In this respect, the left does as much damage to its cause as the right does with its huge megaphones.

If you want to know why no one hears your cries, it’s because you haven’t joined with other voices.  And the men in charge, and it’s ALWAYS men, like it that way.  Power is the ultimate drug and no one is going to wrest it from them without a fight.  As long as the left remains broken, Susie and her tent cities are no threat to the power brokers.

In other news:

So, about that FICA 2% tax break.  I was just talking to my colleague about this the other day.  She was planning to roll that money into her 401K.  Hold off on that, I said, you never know how they’re going to take it out of your hide.  After all, you’re income tax may go up instead.  Sure enough, Carissa at Corrente discovered what the catch is in Making Work Pay Clawback.  You’re not going to like it.  I probably won’t like it a whole bunch more.  As a single person who only gets to claim Head of Household every other year, while still retaining the blessings of parenthood and a healthcare policy that requires that I am the major source of support for the kid, I pay an outrageous amount in taxes already but I’m well below the top tax bracket that actually gets…

wait for it

a break! Yep, if you’re in the 35% tax bracket, the amount of money you can make before you are taxed has risen.  For everyone else, the amount you have to make before the taxes kick in has dropped. Isn’t that special?  So, hold off on adding to your 401Ks, which only people who have paid off their mortgages can afford to fund adequately.  Not only has Obama managed to not soak the rich, he has given them additional breaks, acquiesced to a plan that underfunds social security, transferring that money to the general fund where it will be spent in Iraq, and raised taxes on our income.  In summary, the 2% FICA tax break does absolutely NOTHING to stimulate the economy. Well done!  Is this really the one we were waiting for?

Les Leopold at AlterNet attempts to answer the perennial question, “Why Do People Who Work in Finance Earn So Much More Than the Rest of Us?” Yes, I would like to know the answer to that question, as well as why it is that people who work in the corporate offices make so much more than the people who do the innovation and the hands on work to produce the products that make all the money?  And why is their gym nicer and their cafeteria food better?  Why is it they can use the mail service to ship personal items to international destinations while the people in the facility down the road can’t?  Shit, did I say that out loud?  Well, why???  What is it about dressing up and sitting behind a desk makes the people who make sometimes incredibly bad decisions so much wealthier than the rest of us?  The answer, as far as I can tell is that if you delegate your authority to other people to keep track of the money so that you can get actual work done, you run the risk that those delegates will reward themselves handsomely at your expense, and at a certain level of wealth, you can’t live with them and you can’t live without them.  It’s extortion.  That’s my theory and I’m sticking with it.

Leopold does some calculations:

Let’s try a back-of-the envelope calculation of Wall Street’s net social value. Compare their bonuses and profits for roughly the last five years (about $500 billion) with the economic losses produced in the financial crisis the bankers caused (about $4 trillion in value destroyed, not counting the ongoing travails of the 22 million people who haven’t yet been able to find a full-time job). For every dollar “earned” on Wall Street, about 8 dollars were destroyed. (In case you’re suffering from financial amnesia and forgot how the financial sector single-handedly caused the economic crisis, please see The Looting of America. Chapter One can be found gratis on AlterNet.

I hate to break this to the educators but, it turns out if you really want your students to learn something, testing is one of the best ways to do it.  You know those endless stupid projects you have our kids doing where they have to map everything out on big pieces of expensive poster board with connections to all of the other concepts in the unit?  Turns out that might be a waste of parents time.  What researchers have discovered is that those projects impose an artificial organization and categorization system on students that is more easily and naturally achieved by simply testing them on the material as soon as possible after they learn it.  Go back to the pop quizzes, teachers.  Save yourself and your kids and their families a nights of exhaustion and despair.  From the NYTimes article:

Why retrieval testing helps is still unknown. Perhaps it is because by remembering information we are organizing it and creating cues and connections that our brains later recognize.

“When you’re retrieving something out of a computer’s memory, you don’t change anything — it’s simple playback,” said Robert Bjork, a psychologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, who was not involved with the study.

But “when we use our memories by retrieving things, we change our access” to that information, Dr. Bjork said. “What we recall becomes more recallable in the future. In a sense you are practicing what you are going to need to do later.”

It may also be that the struggle involved in recalling something helps reinforce it in our brains.

It makes sense.  If you impose a little bit of stress on the student in the form of a quiz or test, they are forced to rapidly organize the information and discover where they are deficient so they can revisit the information later.  If you impose too much stress on them by forcing them to adopt another organization method, you not only screw up their intrinsic method but you create a life long hatred of projects.  JMHO.

Anyway, it’s in the journal Science, which is a stickler for peer review and details and stuff like that so as much as you may dislike the concept of testing for retention, you can’t completely dismiss this paper.  Well, you *could*, but it would be pointless.

Another article from the NYTimes proclaims that Obama is to press a centrist agenda in his SOTU address.  So, it looks like after three years of playing the political philosophical mystery man, Obama has finally found a place to dig in his heels and plant his flag — right down the middle.  Which has moved significantly rightwards since he became president.  Uh-huh.  I see this as a way to head off Bloomberg and his silly No Limits soiree.  Which means, the vast majority of people who are not making $200K a year and have to work for a living without a safety net are still screwed and unrepresented by this President.  Obama has finally found his constituents:

Mr. Obama previewed the themes in a video e-mailed Saturday evening to supporters who had helped in his election campaign. But the video made plain that his speech would be geared more broadly toward the political center, to independent voters and business owners and executives alienated by the expansion of government and the partisan legislative fights of the past two years.

The rest of you scientists and airline pilots and mathematicians turned uber programmers and burger flippers and unemployed journalists and part time morticians can go take a hike.

Lovely.  By the way, NYTimes reporters, the economy is *not* “picking up steam”.  My friends are just as unemployed as ever and the rest of us are in danger of joining them.

I’m so glad that I can say with pride that “I didn’t vote for him”.

About that abortion clinic from hell, Alternet has a followup.  Well, there are a lot of articles on this subject.  The story is very gruesome but just goes to show you that desperate women will overlook unsanitary conditions, illegality and their own health to get abortions when they decide they need them.  There is nothing that a senior citizen mainlining Fox News can do about it.  These women are never going to bond with or have any warm and fuzzy maternal instincts for the fetuses they carry.  There’s no amount of shame or inconvenience you can foist on them that will deter them.  The only thing you accomplish by stigmatizing abortion and forcing poor women to “Chase the Fee” is that you end up risking two deaths instead of one.

This is the first but certainly not the last legal clinic that resembles a back alley abortion mill.  There will have to be a lot more of them before the anti-choice contingent starts feeling the weight of all of the deaths and destruction and infertility it has visited on women.  They will have to feel it and be made to take the blame for it.

Liveblog: President’s State of the Union Address

This time he's serious.

All you non-recovering Conflucians can get a little tipsy while you watch TOTUS and POTUS put their best feet forward for the SOTU. I have to watch it stone cold sober. Here are a couple of places to watch the speech and listen for your trigger words or phrases:

CNN Live

C-Span coverage

Unfortunately, the POTUS has no plan and is afraid to commit to one anyway. Will the Democrats leap to their feet for multiple standing O’s for O anyway? Or will they sit on their hands? Will President Obama say even one thing of substance? We’ll soon find out.

If you can’t stand to listen to the voice of “The One,” here are a couple of good articles to read while following the comments of those of us who force ourselves to watch and/or listen.

Robert Scheer: The Sorry State of the Union

The state of the union is just miserable, no matter how President Obama sugarcoats it. He will claim that progress has been made in stabilizing the markets, increasing national security and advancing toward meaningful health care reform, but he will be wrong on all three counts.

A Duped President’s Wasted Year

The fatal complacency of the Obama White House and Democratic Party leadership concerning last week’s Massachusetts senatorial election outcome, together with that upset’s probable consequences for health insurance reform legislation, produced a drama in which the president has never seemed a player. He has seemed to have never himself known the reforms he actually wanted, leaving it to Congress and the lobbies to fight over whatever legislation they, undirected, might be able to produce….the president recently told Time magazine that he “overestimated our ability to persuade (Israelis and Palestinians to agree to ‘meaningful conversation’) when their politics ran contrary to that.”

This astounding statement by a president of the United States, after nearly 40 years of futile U.S. efforts to convince Israelis and Palestinians to agree—from the time of Henry Kissinger’s “shuttle diplomacy” in the 1970s to the useless 2009 missions to Palestinians and Israelis by George Mitchell—alone disqualifies President Obama as a maker of American Middle Eastern policy.

Ezra Klein: Waiting for Barack

Every Hill office I’ve spoken to in the past week has had the same complaint. “Where,” they ask, “is the White House?”

There’s been no clear message on the way forward for health-care reform. No clear articulation of preferences. No public leadership to speak of. The administration is taking temperatures rather than twisting arms. The White House press team is blasting out speeches where the president says he’ll never stop fighting on health care but pointedly refuses to throw a punch. The president is giving interviews where he seems to endorse paring the bill back and also seems to argue against doing anything of the kind. The daily message has run from banks to freezes, and early leaks suggest that tonight’s speech will focus on education.

According to multiple sources, there’s an easy answer for the confusion: The White House is confused.

And for a change of pace, I was able to find one blog post that put a positive spin on Obama’s first year. You guessed it–at the Cheeto, where there are still a few half-hearted Koolaid drinkers:

Keeping the Faith

Have at it. Document the atrocities….