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Scalia: Interjections!

scalia-gesture_400x400I woke from my pre-bedtime nap yesterday to find that news of Antonin Scalia’s death was almost an hour old.  I uttered an uncharitable interjection.

It was uncharitable because I did not think of his family or his grandchildren or anything like that. It was uncharitable because his death is one of those eucatastrophes in an already unorthodox election year that could blow the joint wide open.

First, let me get out of the way that I did not like Antonin Scalia. I’ve heard that some of his opinions on defendent’s rights were good and he had a soft spot for habeas corpus. So, the guy wasn’t all bad.

But this is the same Supreme Court justice who helped give us Citizen’s United and didn’t think Brown vs the Board of Education was a good decision.

If you are the kind of voter who only cares about abortion and whether gay people get away with doing “unnatural” things with their naughty bits without being stoned, then Scalia was your guy. I might point out that the Supreme Court has had five justices to overturn Roe v Wade for over eight years now and as far as I know, it hasn’t been overturned so someone hasn’t been entirely honest with you.

But if you cared about more than sexual morality, then Antonin Scalia was one of the moving forces behind some of the most regressive Supreme Court decisions of our modern age. He affected everything from voting rights to workers rights.

I have to admit that I have had a secret desire that one of the conservative justices would reach an age where their parts would unexpectedly wear out in time to make a difference. It didn’t much matter to me which one it was. Roberts, Alito or Thomas are too young so I suppose it had to be Scalia.

So, what does this mean for 2016? Well, one of the first things to come to my mind is that there won’t be enough justices to tamper with the voting rights act case they were planning to take on. That one, had it been decided 5-4 along party lines, would have stripped urban districts of even more voting strength because some rural districts in Texas complained they didn’t have the population to go toe to toe with a place like Austin. And it won’t have the extra vote to stick a knife through the heart of public unions by allowing freeriders to not pay dues. Those were two juicy decisions that I am sure the Republicans are going to hate losing.

We can speculate on how this will play out in this election year.

If the Republicans decide to block the appointment of a new Supreme Court justice, The Democrats can use that in the general election to illustrate that when Republicans don’t like something, they don’t compromise, they don’t concede the other side’s right to do what the law requires. No, they obstruct. They’ve been doing this for at least two decades in every branch of government. If we don’t let them aggressively roll over everything that is important to us, they refuse to cooperate.

It could make the Republicans rally around Ted Cruz. This could be another opportunity for the Republicans to roll out the shiny, sparkly abortion football again. The fundamentalists will salivate over that and will completely forget that if there’s a 5th conservative justice again, the court’s priorities will be all about squashing labor and keeping people from voting again. All you need to do is look at recent history. Will fundamentalists look past the sinning junk on their bodies that Satan is controlling to think about the greater repercussions to their economic stability and ability to change their political minds in the future? I am not hopeful that fundies will grow brains overnight so expect them to go nutz with the baby murderer stuff again forgetting all about the job murderers that appreciate Scalia types.

This might be an issue for Trump and not in a good way. He doesn’t have Cruz’s nauseating religious bona fides.

On the Democratic side, it could potentially take the wind out of Bernie’s sails. If the GOP is steadfast about blocking a new justice, the party will want to unite around the stronger candidate going into the general. That’s assuming the Democrats still care about things like voting rights, which I am assuming they do.

By the way, I am not confident that Obama will nominate a liberal justice. He’s not a liberal and I have no idea how Kagan and Sotomayor will vote now that their votes might actually count for something. The titans of industry, both finance and Silicon Valley, have a completely different agenda and it also isn’t particularly nice to workers. So, who knows what will happen there? We’re all going to have to scrutinize records very carefully. If Obama nominates someone the Republicans can actually vote for, we could be right back to where we were yesterday morning when we all thought that Scalia was just sleeping in.

What’s your prognostications? See any twists in this story coming up? Who do you trust and who is going to benefit from Scalia’s death? Add your comments below.

Update: From the NYTimes post on Scalia’s legacy comes this comment from John0123 that sums it up perfectly:

John0123

Denver 17 hours ago

I’m about as grief-stricken over this news as Scalia would have been to hear that liberal poster John0123 had died.

Former justice Scalia always assumed he was the smartest guy in the room and often came close to saying so. Unfortunately his personal “strict constructionism” was a sham in light of the highly activist rulings he either wrote or joined. Citizens United comes immediately to mind, where he gleefully conferred personhood upon corporations and the status of speech upon money..

How will the so-called “conservatives” in the Senate play this? Moderate President Obama is very likely to name a moderate replacement. Will the fire-breathers in the Senate get a grip on themselves and take a good deal while they can get it, or will they roll the dice on the 2016 election and run the considerable risk of having a President Hillary or a President Bernie name Scalia’s much more progressive replacement?

At least one of us readers isn’t buying into the crazy notion that Obama is a liberal.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

sweetchocobear

 

Things I learned this week and other stuff

If you're 5 and can read this sign...

If you’re 5 and can read this sign…

I went back to work full time this week after my prolonged involuntary sabbatical featuring periodic consulting work.  Here’s what I learned:

1.) Don’t park in Oakland.  Just don’t.  Fortunately, this is only temporary for the summer because I have to drop the kid off somewhere else and can’t take public transportation.  In the fall, I’m taking the bus that’s within walking distance from my house.  My brilliant plan to take public transportation will work perfectly.  Bwahahahahahahahahhhhh!**

2.) It’s easier to get up and get going at 6am than 9am.  Go figure.  I guess I really am a morning person. If I get up too late, I might as well bag the rest of the day.

3.) Don’t take the Parkway to work, especially if your route has to go through the Squirrel Hill tunnels.  Getting to work on time?  Nah-gah-happen.

4.) If you want to get to the South Side in the morning, do the counterintuitive route and go east and then north west.  Sounds bizarre but I cut a lot of time off my trip and the view of Pittsburgh in the morning as I’m flying over the bridges is spectacular. We were gobsmacked. It looks like some skyline poster from the early twentieth century and you can almost hear Rhapsody in Blue playing in the background. I need to get a dash mountable video camera.  Pittsburgh really is beautiful.  Buy real estate now because when the rest of the biotech industry decides to move here, the neighborhoods with the great views will be in high demand.  I almost feel like buying a fixer upper nearer to downtown to renovate.  (No, no, stop me before I buy again.  What am I thinking??)

5.) Another counterintuitive thing: There’s more variety and diversity in Pittsburgh than in suburban New Jersey.  What I mean to say is that the marketers haven’t really pinned down this city so there seems to be a lot of choice here where there’s virtually no choice in New Jersey.  I feel like I’ve been missing something for the past 20 years.

Last night, Brook, who is changing her look, bought something at Hot Topic and the kid running the cash register asked us where we were from.  We told her we were fugitives from New Jersey.IMG_1978

** What is with the conservatives’ hatred of public transportation and trains??  I don’t get it.  30 years ago, I got around Pittsburgh without a car because the bus system was excellent.  In the past few years, funding for the PAT bus system has been cut, as have many routes.  This is a real problem for the studdabuppas who never learned to drive and now find themselves stranded in their neighborhoods without the buses they used to rely on.  In my case, the bus will stop close to my house at 7:04am and I will have to transfer closer to town.  I used to be able to take the bus directly to my destination but someone decided that people in the east suburbs didn’t need as many buses so they cut back and changed the route.  That means more traffic gets dumped onto the Parkway and snarls local roads on the way downtown.  And this is the summer.  I can’t wait to see what it’s like in the fall when everyone is back from vacation.

One disturbing trend I’ve heard from a couple of my  40 something cousins is that they think it’s alarming when an employer has to pay benefits to new hires and I think that’s part of what’s behind the cutbacks in public transportation.  The PAT drivers are union and they get bennies.  So, if there are fewer buses and more complaints, maybe there will be more pressure on the unions to drop their demands for benefits. The public might be willing to chuck the bennies in exchange for more bus drivers who are new hires not covered by the old contracts.  Just speculation on my part as to what the politicians are thinking.  I think it’s going to be tough to convince a lot of the boomer generation though who grew up in a very union city where the buses ran great and who still think that there’s nothing wrong with benefits.

Pittsburgh could use more trains.  It’s depressing to walk through Oakmont, a lovely little town on the Allegheny not too far from me, and see the unused train tracks that run right through the center of town to downtown.  Now, that former commuter train area is a pretty landscaped park.  I’m not exactly sure why it can’t be prettily landscaped and functional but for some bizarre reason known only to the editorial columnists at the Wall Street Journal, the wealthy, powerful and Republican hate, Hate, HATE trains, even if it means that the minions can’t get to work on time with the least amount of trouble and expense.

I’m not sure I understand the reasoning behind this.  The wealthy and Republicans don’t need trains so no one can have them?  It’s perfectly ok to spend $150 million of public funds on a new sports facility because that’s what the wealthy want but not ok to spend the same amount of money on a better bus system because that’s what the not so wealthy want??  Who died and made them gods?  Where do they think they’re living? Rome?  Even Rome knew that it was a bad idea to skimp on the bread for the masses.  What’s really a bad idea is to party like there’s no tomorrow while the natives get restless and the barbarians are at the gate.

If the Netflix series House of Cards were for real…

Then now would be the time to buy Netflix

… and also Apple.  (you’d have to be blind to miss the connections)

You’d never want to step foot in the Capitol again because the muck is a foot deep and the scent would linger in the nostrils for an eternity.

You’d really come to hate people like Steny Hoyer.

You’d be on an IV drip of anxiolytics right after you were sworn in.  The game playing is a lot like many corporations where Wall Street values have permeated the working environment and  the obsession with screwing other people to save yourself trumps getting anything else done.

You’d see that lobbyists with money sugar are everywhere, like crack dealers.  They lurk at every party, every hotel, every rib joint.  Everytime you think you’ve kicked the habit, you find yourself in a situation where you need just one more hit to make it through the day.

You’d find that very powerful men can have wives who are smooth and cool and a little bit cruel but who are melting with compassion inside.  Or would be willing to use whatever’s inside to get what she wants, whichever comes first.

You’d soon realize that it’s not wise to be human and that, in the end, the politicians on the hill are no more concerned with what happens to working families and union people than the corporate overlords.   I mean, they really don’t give a s&*^.

But we know that this is just fiction because a.) no one defies their party to vote their conscience on a bill and b.)…

…no female journalists or female bloggers get that much access to what’s going on no matter who they’re sleeping with.  Only male bloggers become journalists on major papers and get access.  Female journalist/bloggers are almost invisible.

If it weren’t for that part, I’d almost believe it.

Big Pharma and the power of a union

French union scientists at Toulouse do a haka to protest salary and position cuts.
{{sniff}} I am so proud!

Derek Lowe at In The Pipeline wrote recently about French drugmaker Sanofi’s recent plans to close some sites in France.  I’ll get to that in a minute but first a little background.

A few weeks ago, Sanofi announced that it would be closing some French sites, the biggest site would be at Toulouse.  The closure would have put approximately 2300 scientists out on the unemployment rolls.  The Ministry that handles labor and unemployment had a fricking fit:

Besides unions, Sanofi has gotten an ear full from some government officials. With France’s economy struggling, the fact that Sanofi’s mother country was absorbing more of the pain, has not set well. French Productive Recovery Minister Arnaud Montebourg told senators when the cuts were first leaked: “Sanofi showed up at the ministry to tell us they were planning several thousand job cuts. Couldn’t you have said that earlier on? Last year you made €5 billion ($6.1 billion) in profits.”

And I’m sure that Sanofi would have cut elsewhere, if they had anywhere else to cut.  Last year, the company laid off all of the scientists at their main site in the US that was located in Bridgewater, NJ.  A couple dozen jobs were rescued and sent to the Cambridge, MA site, which is small, cramped and inadequate.  The rest of the projects were distributed to the French sites.  And do you want to know WHY the work went to the French sites and not to China (at least not yet)?  I’ll tell you why:

THE FRENCH SCIENTISTS ARE PROTECTED BY A UNION

Their union is pretty damn good too.  You could take every project away from them and have them just occupying the sites and playing tetris all day and the company would still have to pay them.  So, any time the company felt like research was being too much of a money pit, they took it out on the US workers until there weren’t any left.

This time, the unions threatened to strike and the French Productive Recovery Minister told the company that dumping French scientists on the labor market and relying on the government was not an option.  Usually, the companies who do business in France lay scientists off through attrition or generous early retirement packages.  A straight layoff , although rare, is still heavenly by American standards with terminated employees getting up to 80% of their salaries for 2 years and then able to go on the French public assistance program after that.  AND you don’t need to shell out half your unemployment on COBRA.  So, pretty sweet deal even if you’re being laid off.  You have time to find something else or go back to school for retraining or emigrate to Canada.  Your life isn’t thrown into an instant and chronic crisis.  And THAT, in turn, helps stabilize the rest of the economy.  The more people who can spend and keep demand up, the less of a hit the economy takes in newly unemployed people.

Anyway, it was still looking pretty grim for the French scientists until this week.  It looks like the Productive Recovery Ministry and the unions had an impact.  From Derek’s post:

here’s the announcement itself. And maybe this is my first impression, but compared to what’s gone on in other Sanofi sites (like Bridgewater), this one comes across like a shower of dandelion fluff. No reduction in the number of sites, no actual layoffs – just 900 positions to phase out, mostly via attrition, over the next two years. The Toulouse site is the only loose end; that one is the subject of a “working group” to figure out what it’s going to do, but I see no actual language about closing it.

Here’s more from FiercePharma’s article on the cutbacks in France:

A key official in France is keeping up pressure on Sanofi about its planned work force reductions in the country, sticking to the position that the drug giant ($SNY) hasn’t done enough to protect jobs. And French Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg makes clear in reports today that he isn’t satisfied with how the company plans to secure the future of its R&D site in Toulouse.

Montebourg has been a thorn in the side of Sanofi. Early this week Sanofi softened its stance on job cuts in France, saying the company would seek to shrink its work force in the country by 900 jobs through early retirements and voluntary moves and transfers in the next few years, as opposed to the 2,300 to 2,500 jobs at the company previously estimated to be on the chopping block. Yet the minister and others keep harping on Sanofi’s unresolved plan for its Toulouse site, where 600 additional jobs hang in the balance.

Sanofi wants to part ways with research in Toulouse, and said earlier this week that it would work with stakeholders in the coming months to solidify plans to keep the operation alive, Reuters reported. That too fell short with Montebourg and unhappy Sanofi workers and labor officials.

“Trade unions are right to say this is too much,” Montebourg told BFM television, as reported by Reuters. “The government thinks this is too much and we want guarantees for Toulouse.”

Sanofi CEO Chris Viehbacher, who has reportedly met with the industry minister, has found resistance in his strategy to double down on productive R&D centers while making cutbacks at those that fail to meet expectations.

You know, if Chris Viehbacher wanted to preserve the company’s most productive sites, maybe he should have kept the US scientists on their tree-lined campuses instead of keeping them in a high state of suspense for several years, terminating their projects and then stupidly laying them off and closing the site.  No wonder the French Ministry doesn’t believe a single thing he says.

So, there you go, folks.  If you want to stand up to the bonus class and save your jobs, you need to get a union and the government behind you.  Or maybe just the government behind you.  You don’t need to work 24/7 like a maniacal drone on crack, cranking out work and trying to impress everyone working like crazy, singing, “I really need this job.  Oh, God, I need this job” to guys on Wall Street who don’t give a shit anyway.  No, you have your union representatives negotiate a contract that makes it extremely painful for the company to drop its commitment to you.

Not only that, but the union has to be very, very active and visible, like standing outside the cafeteria, handing out grievance pamphlets and making its presence very known to the management.  Imagine going to lunch to eat your company subsidized baguette, custom prepared omelet and glass of red wine and being greeted at the door by a union person dissing the management and getting away with it.  (Oh, yes, it really happens, I saw it with my own eyes.)  Take a look at that picture.  Does that look like a bunch of broken human beings, cowering under the whip they’ve been forced to kiss, cringing in fear of being fired for speaking up or fighting for their rights?  Damn straight it doesn’t.

That’s why I keep saying that drug discovery will survive in Europe. They’ll have an infrastructure in France and Germany and the expertise that is acquired from having stability and continuity of uninterrupted research.  They’ll be able to keep pace with this rapidly changing explosion of biological discoveries while thousands of US scientists will be trapped in routine, unchallenging CROs or having their expertise rotting from disuse.  Maybe they won’t be as productive as the US researchers used to be or as ingenious as possible but, by golly, they may be all the world has left unless and until the Chinese and Indians can stabilize their business environment and take the lead in research.  It’s not easy and it will take some time before that happens.  The finance guys are going to have to take an old, cold tater and wait, not something they’re good at.  They’re going to be mad that they can’t transform our salaries into their bonus gold, but such is life.  The French government is finally standing up to them and saying “Non”.  In this case, the unions are actually doing them a favor, giving them an excuse to keep the technological expertise in the country and giving it an edge when the recession finally eases up.  The government will soak the corporations for salaries, not the workers for absolutely everything.

The bad news is that now that Sanofi has been forced to scale back their cutback plans in France, they’re going to have to take it out on their remaining employees elsewhere, like their site in Cambridge, which is already tiny, and their exploratory facility located in Tucson, Arizona.

So, for those of you professionals who are watching in horror at what happened to the scientists in this country, take note: get a union.  The problem of unemployment among us is not structural.  There are plenty of us and many of us are willing to relocate or work from home.  The problem is that the big guys don’t want to pay us for our expertise.  So, they’re going to keep spreading this lie that they can’t find enough qualified workers.  The real problem is that OUR government is not on OUR side.  The Obama administration would rather this country lost its technological edge and make precariats of us all than to stick up for us when the finance guys calculate their bonuses based on how many R&D bodies they can chop.

Sad but true and this story is proof.

On Wisconsin!

I’ve been following the recall election news from Wisconsin all day and from the looks of it, turnout is very high and it looks like it will be a squeaker between Scott Walker and his Democratic challenger Tom Barrett.  Turnout is estimated at 119% in Madison.  That number only looks strange because it is a relative number compared to the last election.  Wisconsin allows for same day registration so the number of first time voters is up.

[There seem to be an awful lot of people on twitter who are confused about the math when the turnout is reported to be above 100%.  So here’s how it works: Take the number of voters who turned out for the last election.  That’s your baseline.  If you get less than that number this year, you have less than 100% of the last voter turnout.  This happens a lot, especially in off year elections.  It’s not unusual for your some of your registered voters to stay home.  If you get more voters, you get more than 100% of the last voter turnout.  In Wisconsin, it is possible to register to vote on the same day as the election.  Since this is a very high profile election, there are a greater number of voters coming out to vote so the number exceeds the turnout of last time.  It only sounds strange because the numbers are not absolute and they are not absolute because there is no hard count of voters by registration rolls when same day registration is permitted.  I assume that the new voter had to fill out a voter’s registration card and they will be vetted later. The number exceeding 100% doesn’t necessarily mean there were out of state voters or dead people.]

Update: Bernie Sanders weighs in on what a Walker win would mean to the rest of the country:

I love this headline from Andy Borowitz: Canada Bracing for Massive Influx of Wisconsin Boat People.

Charles Pierce is on the ground in Wisconsin and writes his usual witty, pithy, brilliant first hand account in Scenes from a Recall (I hate him for that).

The accusations from both sides are flying thick and fast.  The hallucinating nutcases at Fox are saying that Barrett is busing in people from Detroit to vote.  The voters have been reporting misleading robocalls that assure them that if they signed a recall petition, they need not trouble their pretty little heads about voting today.

Then there are the excuses and rationale that are coming from Obama friendly sources.  Rumor has it that he didn’t campaign in Wisconsin for Barrett because he thought Walker would win and he didn’t want to be seen standing next to a loser.  That’s a bit of a self fulfilling prophecy if ever I heard one.  Once again, it’s all about Obama.  Nevermind that there are public service workers and regular working people and women who may suffer the consequences if Walker wins.  What’s most important is maintaining Obama’s image.

The new spin from press secretary Jay Carney is that Wisconsin won’t be very  predictive of Obama’s chances in November at all.  I disagree.  Let’s look at the possible scenarios:

1.) Walker wins big.  This is bad news for working people.  It also proves that with a lot of money, you can buy a lot of megaphone volume to spew lies out to the public.  It would set a really bad precedent.  Republicans would gleefully pull out all of the stops.  Obama’s carefully manicured image would be in danger, especially if he economy gets worse.

2.) Walker wins small. If it’s really tight or if there’s a recount and Walker squeaks by, we’ll always wonder if Obama’s active presence and support would have been enough to change the outcome.  I think we’ll hear a lot of criticism from Wisconsin if that happens.  And if they’ve fought this hard and lost the war anyway, what would be the point of showing up in November?

3.) Barrett wins small. This would be a great outcome for Wisconsin and working people everywhere.  But it’s hard to see how Obama benefits from a win when he has scrupulously avoided any association with the campaign.  His tepid endorsement after Barrett won the primary and his single motivating tweet on the Wisconsin election this morning just goes to show how little influence he had on the outcome.  On the other hand, Barrett is going to owe Bill Clinton.

4.) Barrett wins big. In this scenario, the sentiment is that working people are pissed and won’t be shoved to one side while the Republicans swagger all over them and the Democrats go out of their way to court the snippy suburbanites who have stay at home moms like Michelle Obama and don’t hang around with working people if they can help it.  The party may have to start paying attention to working people and unions, something they’ve been avoiding for the past 4 years.  Hmmm, how do they start to look sincere this late in the game…?  Or the party could continue on it’s single minded quest for complete control of the message and just ignore Wisconsin.  In neither case do I get the impression that Obama will motivate the base to vote for him in November.  In fact, working people might just start feeling their Cheerios and start issuing demands.

Are there any other scenarios that would favor Obama?  I don’t see them but I might be suffering from a failure to imaginate.  It just seems to me that the Obama campaign kind of let Wisconsin down here.  Sure, Debbie Wasserman Shultz says the DNC and Obama’s campaign org in Wisconsin helped out but one gets the impression from the candidate himself that he was dragged into it very reluctantly.  And against this much cash pouring into Walker’s campaign, boots on the ground and a serious, DNC GOTV effort was more than justified.

Does Obama even realize that working people are his base or is he still buying into that crazy ass stuff that Donna Brazile was peddling in 2008 when she said they were the “old coalition” and the Democratic party didn’t need them anymore?  Because I have news for the party. The suburbs aren’t doing so well these days either.  There are just as many of us out of work and much, much poorer than we used to be.  And as we move from being wage slaves with company benefits to involuntary entrepreneurs, footing the bill for everything ourselves, the conservative message starts sounding a lot less painful.  Not everyone has the interest to become a political junky and tease out fact from fiction, cause from effect like we do.  I wouldn’t get to comfortable if I were the DNC.  Or Obama.

Maybe he should have gone to Madison.  Some things are just worth the risk.

OccupyWallStreet: Bloomberg postpones the “cleaning”

Please note that I am not at the park at the present time.  I’m just following the livestream.  See URLs below.

Update 8:06am: Live coverage back at Zuccotti and financial district.  The white shirts are back.  This is looking very tense.  The cops now have their guns out.  Crowd dispersing.  Some rumor that the police are going to take the park.  New rumor: They closed the Brooklyn Bridge??

Update: 7:43am: Livestream down again.  The last shot of the bull statue had a few policemen guarding it.  There are thousands of people pouring into the streets there.  So far, the atmosphere seems festive.  Police look a bit overwhelmed.  Arrests are being made.  The police are getting rough.

To me it looks like the police have lost this battle.  Too many people in the street right now.  This is what I thought might happen.  NYC has a huge population, today is Friday, expect the crowds to get bigger as the day goes on.  As long as the crowd stays non-violent and arrests are few, this could be quite a day for a party in NYC.

Update 7:32am:  Crowd estimate in Zuccotti park 5K.  The occupiers are marching in the street.  Police have arrived.  It’s looking tense.  Police appear to be gently escorting protestors back onto the sidewalk.  Not sure that’s going to work.  There are a LOT of people down there.

Holy S^&*!  It looks like the city is pouring into the street.

Cue the music!  Street bank striking up.  Lots of horns honking.  It’s a frickin’ party down there.  They’ve made it to the bull.  How much you want to bet someone(s) climb up on that thing?  I hope the photographers are ready to capture the moment.

6:30am: The cavalry unions are arriving.  The crowds at the park look huge.  CNN is reporting that Bloomberg has postponed the “cleaning” of Zuccotti Park.  Looking for link.  So far unconfirmed.  The livestream shows that there is something going on at the park that they refer to as a “situation”.  I think the rumor of a partial victory has gone to their heads and it’s a bit chaotic.  They were doing a mic check a few minutes to take a straw poll as to whether to take on the barricade at Wall Street.  Sounds like they’re going to go for it.  You can follow the action here:

http://www.livestream.com/globalrevolution

http://www.livestream.com/occupywallstnyc (covering street protest)

http://www.livestream.com/avaazwallstreet (this one is working)

Follow them on twitter at #occupywallstreet

They sometimes lose their livefeed.  Not sure what’s up with that.  They’re using generators and last night, one of their streaming computers died because it wasn’t charging.

Most recent shot of the crowd shows that the people of NYC turned up at 7:00am this morning as requested.  There are many people over 30 in the crowd right now.  Zuccotti park looks full.  It looks like the pre-march shots I got from last week but bigger.  The park is wall to wall people.  There are thousands and thousands of people there.  More than 2 thousand?  Looks like it to me.

Tomorrow at 5pm, there will be an Occupy Times Square.  Not sure how that’s going to work out but the cool thing about Times Square is that there’s a bleacher type structure smack dab in the middle of it.  When the lights go on in Times Square, it’s like daylight there and the view from the bleachers can’t be beat.  Times Square is super busy on Saturday night to begin with.  Will it be like New Year’s Eve in October?  Hard to say.  Probably not the best night to be visiting New York City if you’re from out of town.  On the other hand, it would be hard to not be caught up in a Times Square Occupation.  There will be other activities on Saturday.  Check the schedule at occupywallst.org

The situation is less promising at OccupyDenver where the occupation has been under siege.  It was raided at 3:00am this morning.

Friday: Defeat for NJ Public Unions

How did this fly under the radar?  I blame joblessness on my own part and Anthony Weiner’s penis.

TRENTON — New Jersey lawmakers tonight voted to enact a sweeping plan to cut public worker benefits after a long day of high-pitched political drama in the streets of Trenton and behind closed doors.

Union members chanted outside the Statehouse and in the Assembly balcony, and dissident Democrats tried to stall with amendments and technicalities. Although they successfully convinced top lawmakers to remove a controversial provision restricting public workers’ access to out-of-state medical care, they failed to halt a historic defeat for New Jersey’s powerful unions and a political victory for Republican Gov. Chris Christie.

[…]

The bill passed the Assembly 46-32 and will be sent to Christie’s desk for his signature. Fourteen Democrats voted for the bill, while 32 opposed it. After the vote, protesters in the balcony shouted “Shame on you!”

Unions have blasted the bill for ending their ability to collectively bargain their medical benefits. Health care plans for 500,000 public workers would be set by a new state panel comprised of union workers and state managers, rather than at the negotiating table. A sunset provision would allow unions to resume collective bargaining after increased health care contributions are phased in over four years.

In addition, police officers, firefighters, teachers and rank-and-file public workers would all pay more for their pensions and health benefits.

Supporters of the bill say the state needs to cut costs because the pension and health systems are underfunded by more than $120 billion total. The Christie administration estimated the bill would save $3 billion in health benefits over the next 10 years and $120 billion in pension costs over 30 years. Much of the pension savings are from the controversial elimination of the cost-of-living adjustments for retirees, which unions have threatened to challenge in court.

The bill that passed will affect not only future retirees but *current* ones by eliminating cost of living increases. (People who think the Republicans won’t screw around with Medicare for current retirees should think again.  In fact, anyone who is not wealthy and is still a Republican should have their head examined.)  Some people might ask what’s the big deal but it’s already ridiculously expensive to live in New Jersey.  In my suburb, the median salary is $109,000/year and that and a quarter will get you a modest townhouse, barely. Those of us without jobs are really screwed but it’s not much better for people living on pensions when the property taxes soar.  We can thank Christie Todd Whitman for the pension problems.  I believe it was Whitman who shoved the burden of financing the pensions onto local municipalities in the 90’s.

There are many problems with the way NJ runs its local governments.  Frankly, there are too many of them.  This is the densest state of the union in terms of population and the state is carved up into thousands of tiny fiefdoms that are run inefficiently. Not only is there a lot of duplication of effort, some residents get away with paying relatively little. One middle class suburb might have sky high property taxes while a swankier suburb with higher real estate values pays substantially less in property taxes.  The difference is that the middle class suburb is a receiving school district while the Bonus Class suburb is a sending district that doesn’t need to fund facilities or staff for the high school.  Isn’t that conveeeeeenient?

In this state, it feels like the burden of funding everything is squarely on the shoulders of the middle class.  You educate the children of the poor AND the wealthy.  It’s a sweet deal if you’re rich and can benefit from the property tax version of the Matthew Effect.  The property tax issue and home rule problem here has been extremely resistant to modification.  But it doesn’t help that neither the state legislature, nor any governor of NJ I’ve ever suffered under, has made any attempt to make it fairer for the people most under stress by the tax situation.  The rich get richer, the poor get a lot of grandstanding but no real solutions and the middle gets the shaft.

Local government is expensive.  You definitely get what you pay for.  I would prefer a more equitable way to fund the state rather than the crushing property taxes that are forcing some of us out of NJ.  A higher tax on the rich is way overdue.  Municipal government overhaul is overdue.  Shifting the burden from property taxes to an occupation tax and a more progressive income tax is way overdue.  Loosening up the state’s bizarre liquor license laws to reel in more revenue is overdue (very few groceries sell wine, beer or liquor and very few restaurants have liquor licenses).

But year after year, the only solution that is ever proposed is to underfund the pensions and demonize the unions.  The politicians in this state are completely inept at ever addressing any of the problems that have plagued NJ since I moved here 20 years ago.  This is no way to treat your children’s teachers, or your neighborhood police officers or your emergency services people or any of the other people you forget you need until you need them.  Joblessness and a reduced income trickles down on the handyman, the cashier whose grocery store is closing and the piano teachers.  We all suffer when the rich rig the system in their favor and screw the rest of us.

A word to the stingy, MBA class suburbanites: When you go to the next Board of Ed meeting to complain about the budget or the fact that your bratty, overindulged kid has to walk on pavement to get to the bus stop, leave your $58,000 Lexus SUVs at home.  Driving them when your kid’s favorite social studies teacher is about to get the ax is in very bad taste.  I know, I know, no one will tell you this but I feel I owe it to you to let you know how crass, rude and insensitive it is.  You look like novo riche, status conscious social climbers and a school board meeting is not a place to do networking.

Did I mention  I am willing to relocate?

Anywhere but here.

The following is a statement from NJEA president Barbara Keshishian:

“Today marks a new low point in the attack on New Jersey’s school employees and other public workers.  With their action today, the 46 Assembly members who voted ‘yes’ sent a clear message that their promises aren’t worth the paper they are written on.

“By stripping even currently retired public employees of their promised and earned cost-of-living adjustments, these legislators signaled that no promise they make should ever be believed by any New Jersey voter.

“Retirees who count on their pensions for a modest level of security after a lifetime of public service will suffer because of today’s vote.  NJEA will challenge these illegal actions in court.  We cannot and will not allow this outrageous raid on retirees’ pension checks to stand.  This pension raid would reduce many retired workers’ pensions by 40% or more by the end of their lives.

“A legislature and governor who will raid the pension checks of retirees and the paychecks of middle-class workers but lack the courage or integrity to ask the very wealthy to share the sacrifice of even a modest tax increase are not the representatives of the people who elected them.

“Politicians who think it is acceptable to ask middle-class families to pay $5,000 more out of pocket for drastically reduced benefits but refuse to ask a $5,000 sacrifice from taxpayers earning $750,000 a year have failed in their obligation to represent the interests of all their constituents.

“Elected leaders who say they support collective bargaining but vote to undermine it as severely as this legislation does cannot be trusted or believed any longer when they claim to stand for the values and principles that working-class voters hold dear.

“Today’s vote was a victory for those who believe that America’s widening wealth gap and its growing preference for the wealthy over the working class are good for America.  For those of us who believe that democracy belongs to all voters, regardless of their wealth, today serves as a call to take back our government by joining forces with elected leaders and those who aspire to office who truly believe in fairness, honesty and genuine collaboration.

“We salute the 32 brave Assemblywomen and Assemblymen who opposed this attack on the middle class, as well as the 16 honorable Senators who did the same earlier this week.  The 200,000 members of the New Jersey Education Association will not forget the courage and integrity they demonstrated throughout this process.”

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