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Bernie Sanders’ Good Points

Here’s an interview from Greg Sargent at WaPo’s Plum Line with Bernie. He makes some good points. Noted are his comments about Hillary’s ties to Wall Street firms. Very true. But if her ties were that strong and she was so willing to do what they wanted, why did they put their money behind Obama in 2008? He couldn’t have gotten the nomination without their help. So, if Hillary was so pliable and beholden to them, why didn’t they back her to the hilt instead of trying so hard to defeat her in the primaries? I’ve asked this question repeatedly since 2008 and the left has not given me a satisfactory answer. It’s like they’ve got their hands over their ears singling “La-la-la! I can’t HEAR you!”

(It’s called denial)

But point taken, Bernie. I would just ask everyone to read his answers very, very carefully because he’s not ruling out taking money from Wall Street either. He’s very good at avoiding the question but realistically, he can’t completely rule Wall Street money out. One of those firms might just wake up in time to see it’s in its best interests to, you know, not be so insanely, obscenely greedy because it’s a short term strategy that can’t last.

It could happen.

That being said, there’s a lot of good stuff in this interview that I like. Take this exchange:

PLUM LINE: Should the Democratic nominee offer a platform that goes considerably farther than what the president has done?

SANDERS: Yes.

PLUM LINE: What would that look like?

SANDERS: It would look like a tax on carbon; a massive investment in solar, wind, geothermal; it would be making sure that every home and building in this country is properly winterized; it would be putting substantial money into rail, both passenger and cargo, so we can move towards breaking our dependency on automobiles. And it would be leading other countries around the world.

PLUM LINE: You think the Democratic nominee should campaign on a platform like that?

SANDERS: Yes.

I couldn’t agree more. I would love to see more mass transit and broadband. I would include nuclear as well because I’m realistic. So, let’s hear a lot more about that from all the candidates.

Ok, I’m going out to cut the grass.

Later, taters.

Disgusting (but not surprising) if true: Valerie Jarret allegedly leaked email scandal.

Consider the source. It’s the NYPost. Here’s the blurb:

Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett leaked to the press details of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private e-mail address during her time as secretary of state, sources tell me.

But she did so through people outside the ­administration, so the story couldn’t be traced to her or the White House.

In addition, at Jarrett’s behest, the State Department was ordered to launch a series of investigations into Hillary’s conduct at Foggy Bottom, including the use of her expense account, the disbursement of funds, her contact with foreign leaders and her possible collusion with the Clinton Foundation.

Six separate probes into Hillary’s performance have been ­going on at the State Department. I’m told that the e-mail scandal was timed to come out just as Hillary was on the verge of formally announcing that she was running for president — and that there’s more to come.

Like I said, this might all be made up. I’ll wait to see confirmation.

Setting aside the animosity and rancor that the Obama campaign generated by its scorched earth tactics against Hillary in 2008 (Accusations of racism and skin darkening photos anyone? How about the classy photo of Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau groping the breast of a life-size Hillary cutout?), we have to remember that Obama was funded by Wall Street. When Wall Street had to pick a candidate to support to ensure that it suffered none of the consequences for its reckless behavior, it picked Obama, not Hillary.

One was rehab and the other was an enabler. In the years since, I haven’t seen Wall Street making amends, have you? It still might control the horizontal and the vertical.

So, while I have no reason to believe this NYPost story (yet), let’s just say that nothing would surprise me at this point.

And in retrospect, it was probably wise for Hillary to put her emails on a private server. Some of us can’t trust our bosses to not snoop even at the highest levels of power.

More from the article. This part is totally unbelievable, as in, it can’t possibly be true that anyone actually said this with a straight face:

With his wife and Jarrett looking on, Obama made it clear that he intended to stay neutral in the presidential primary process — a clear signal that he wouldn’t mind if someone challenged Hillary for the nomination.

“Obama and Valerie Jarrett will go to any lengths to prevent Hillary from becoming president,” a source close to the White House told me. “They believe that Hillary, like her husband, is left of center, not a true-blue liberal.”

LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL! {{short breath}} LOLOLOLOLOLOLOL!

Who is this “source close to the White House” and who do they think is their target audience? That’s the stupidest thing I have read in years. Only an Obot would believe that Obama is more true-blue than Hillary and only a Tea Party person would think that Obama is liberal at all. Is this source targeting aspirational Democrats with a latent conservative leaning that they keep in the closet or are they targeting people who read the NYPost?

Jeez, she hasn’t even announced she’s running yet and the party is already in full swing.

Fun, fun! Let the games begin!

Secrecy and the Press: which came first?

Hillary’s emails at State might remain secret and away from prying eyes. Media freaks out accordingly.

Let’s see if I have this right. The media, such as the undead Andrea Mitchell, make a big stinking deal about everything Hillary Clinton does for 30 years, insisting it has the right, nay, the duty, to go through her underwear drawers looking for evidence of, of, well, nevermind that, when we find it, we’ll construct a narrative around it.

The undeads, prematurely decomposing before our very eyes, drag their target through many trials and tribulations, including scandals about billing records, scandals about friends who commit suicide, scandals about non-existent scandals about real estate investments that didn’t produce a generous ROI. The target has secrets that the undead is mindlessly driven to uncover. Secrets. “SSSEEEEEECCCCRRETS“, they sussurate as they stagger through the decades. Even as she outruns them, they manage to catch up, pounding on her door demanding SSEEEEEEEECRRRRRETTTS.

In the process, the target, being a live, sentient being, with the ability to learn and adapt to her environment, begins to understand that every interaction with the world can now be considered sustenance for the undead. So, she takes defensive measures and hides anything she doesn’t want taken out of context and twisted into some hideously misshapen, unrecognizable thing.

And now, the undead scream “Aha! We told you she was secretive!”

At this point, it shouldn’t be surprising if our protagonist rolls her eyes and ignores them.

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

Following up on what Peter Daou is exposing as the words that the right and the media use to describe Hillary (jeez, it sounds like something Newt Gingrich might have written in his infamous “Language: a Key Mechanism of Control” pamphlet. Wait. How do we know he didn’t write them?), I have assembled a similar list of words that the left uses.

The left will deny this (because it thinks rather highly of itself) but it is as prone to trigger words and propaganda techniques as the right. In the case of Hillary Clinton, there may be a certain segment of left purists who will not be satisfied with anything less than a knit-your-own-sandals, pacifistic, raw vegan, self-sacrificing type who grows her own GMO free biodegradable fuel source. Never mind that that kind of politician, if she even deigns to dip her little toe into such a filthy pursuit as politics, is completely unelectable. Hillary will never be able to meet the standards of these people.

But there is a vast segment in between them and, well, us, who are very vulnerable to anti-Clinton messaging. The former blogger Anglachel tentatively identified them as the “male grad student” demographic. These are the kiss ass sycophants who hope to make it up the career ladder by styling themselves as “creative class” and glomming on to disgruntled former Clinton administration officials or rivals. Many of them were too young to actually remember with accuracy what went on during the Clinton years when the GOP started flexing its muscle and went where few parties had gone before. Remember, it was Newt who shut down government back in 1995-96. Oh, you don’t remember? {{rolling eyes}}

Anyway, here are a list of words that this segment falls prey to with respect to the Clintons. For all I know, there are elements of the right invading comments sections of popular blogs and online newspapers, dropping these little rosebuds and then getting their colleagues to recommend the comments. That’s how they reach the top of the recommended comments list and convince other human herd animals that they have validity and should be emulated. This was a technique used to great success on DailyKos in 2008.

Here are the words:

inevitable, dynasty, entitled, war hawk, hawkishness, DLC, corporatist, insider, Wall Street candidate

urrrgghghhh! don’t those words just grate on your nerves??

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. The Wall Street trigger word is particularly funny because back in 2008 when Wall Street decided to back a candidate to save itself from the looming disaster it already saw coming, it didn’t pick Hillary. (Watch the creative classer’s head start to vibrate.) But never mind, Wall Street has always loved her (or so we are told) and now that it has let Obama go first (this is the most ridiculous rationalization I have ever heard), it will let Hillary go next. From what I can see, Wall Street, and its media minions, is not yet convinced it wants Hillary. We shall see.

Meanwhile, the undead remind me a lot of the courtiers of some medieval king, striving for status and hoping to not find their placecards below the salt.

Post in a hurry

Weather here in Pittsburgh is right up there with Edinburgh, Scotland this spring.  The forsythia still have yellow flowers on them.  The magnolia tree was in full bloom when we got a hard, hard frost a couple of weeks ago.  That turned all of the blossoms brown.  That same frost killed the flowers in my planter.  Don’t you love to spend money on plants to watch them die?

Lovely.

Cate Blanchett as Hedda Gabler

I noticed that someone was reading my Mad Men post from a couple of years ago.  I still stand by the Ibsen connection but I have a couple of revisions, as well as some theories about a secondary theme on the submission of the creative forces in business to the forces of convention and money.  Heads up: it doesn’t end well for the creative types.  But if you’re wondering how it is Americans celebrate the MBAs and their values to the detriment of everyone else, Matt Weiner may have an idea about how that happened.  I’ll try to map that out later.

Betty Draper as Hedda Gabler

In the meantime, what is the real world consequence of the defeat of the creative?  We may be about to find out when it comes to infectious diseases.  The NYTimes reported yesterday on the first case of MERS in the US.  MERS is a respiratory disease that is related to SARS.  It has a lethality rate of around 30%.  That’s scary high.  It doesn’t mean that MERS is going to take off like the pneumonic plague but I’m betting that fellow passengers on the flight with patient zero are sweating buckets right now.

MERS is a viral infection but resistant bacterial infections are the ones to really worry about.  Viral infections require vaccines and they’re trickier to treat once you get an infection.  For example, what do you take if you get the flu or ebola?  Cat’s out of the bag at that point.  You don’t have a lot of options but to wait it out and hope your immune system kicks in before you die. But we know how to make antibiotics.  We just aren’t making a lot of new ones these days.  Those kinds of drugs aren’t profitable because patients don’t take them for long periods of time so the shareholders aren’t getting a high enough return on investment.  The antibiotic projects get dumped from the portfolio in favor of cancer drugs and orphan disease drugs.  Maybe that’s reassuring to the cancer patients out there but how does it feel to be the shareholders’ cash cows?  And what about the patients with resistant infections, psychiatric illnesses and other illnesses that are difficult and expensive to discover drugs to treat?

In the meantime, the creative types are busily writing their resumes in the wake of another M&A announcement.  That’s the way the world works these days.  The research divisions are viewed as unpredictable and expensive weights on the bottom line.  The hardworking creative geniuses are at the mercy of the bean counters and MBAs.

And so are the rest of us.

Non-fiction day: The Divide and The Lucifer Effect

I’m not quite finished with Matt Taibbi’s new book, The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap, but I thought I’d review it now because, a.) I’m pretty sure of my impressions of the book and b.) it should be read in conjunction with another book, The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil by Phillip Zimbardo.  I dunno, maybe I should read the Taibbi book to the end to see if he makes the connection but I’m beginning to get outrage fatigue, which is why it’s probably a good idea to read the more clinical prose in Zimbardo’s book to gain perspective.

So. Much. Morality.

The premise of Taibbi’s book is that the justice system is divided into two parts in this country.  If you are a member of the bonus class or oligarchy, your possession of the One Ring makes it nearly impossible for the justice system to prosecute you.  You’re invisible to the powers of accountability for one reason or another.  On the other hand, if you are a member of the working class, that is, anyone not living off their investments, the justice system can make your life a living hell.  Just breathing wrong can get you into trouble and that trouble is excessively punitive, relentless, expensive, arbitrary and seemingly endless.  It doesn’t take much to fall down the rabbit hole but it takes even less if your are a member of a minority population.

Sidenote: We have experienced this in our own family when a cousin’s persistent drug problem lead to direct interaction with the justice system.  He needed rehab- quickly.  What he got instead resembled Les Miz.  In the end, the legal system and it’s self-replicating fees, coupled with unmerciful punishment of every imaginable variation, put him in a hole he could not climb out of, made him homeless, broke and despondent.  He committed suicide.  So, you know, we definitely know what Matt is talking about. You don’t have to be black or hispanic. All that is required is that you have no money and live in a country where the public has been trained to be completely unsympathetic to what is happening to you.

Taibbi alternates the book with stories from each side of the divide.  We swing from bankers on Wall Street who got away with murder to “stop and frisk” detentions of young black men who are just standing outside their apartments at the wrong time.  Where the justice system seems willing to take a “boys will be boys” attitude towards the bankers, it comes down on the loiterers with a vengeance, depriving them of their dignity in the courtroom and subjecting them to endless hours of waiting around, mounting fees and coercion to plea to crimes they didn’t commit that ultimately deprive them of their right to public housing and student loans.

Taibbi doesn’t write with the same snap and clarity as Michael Lewis or Neil Barofsky  when describing the machinations of the Wall Street criminals.  His prose tends to meander, feels insidery (is that a word?) and it was difficult to follow who did what to whom.  This only pertains to the case studies in the upper justice system but I think his editor should have pulled him aside and asked him to tighten these sections up. He could never have gotten those case studies published in the kind of peer reviewed journals the science community is subjected to. Both Lewis and Barofsky have demonstrated that complexity doesn’t have to be confusing, even in an audio book.  But if you’re going to plow through Taibbi’s book, you’re probably better off getting the ebook version so you can make notes, leave book marks and create a flowchart.

On the other hand, Taibbi’s case studies of what happens on the bottom half of the justice system are easy to understand and  heartbreaking, probably because the infractions are so minor but the reaction is so severe.  It’s like the American justice system is chock full of turbo charged law and order types who carry out punishment with ruthless and brutal inefficiency.  And there was something about depersonalizing experiences of the victims and the anonymity of flawed computer systems of the justice system that reminded me of the Stanford Prison Experiment that Phillip Zimbardo carried out in the 70’s.

In case you aren’t familiar with the experiment, Zimbardo, a psychology professor at Stanford, wanted to replicate the experience of prison in order to figure out how the accused reacted to incarceration and depersonalization.  So, he recruited a couple dozen students to take the roles of prisoners and guards.  He randomly assigned the students to one of the groups and had the prisoners arrested and processed by real police.  In the makeshift prison, the prisoners were stripped of their clothes and given numbers instead of names.  The guards hid behind mirrored sunglasses and were given very few instructions. The warden was hands off.  Well, it didn’t take long before the guards started exercising authority and the prisoners started to crack.  We’re talking days.  It turns out that when one group of people is given all of the power and another group of people is subjected to that power, depersonalization and lack of oversight, it can lead even the blandest guy on campus to become indistinguishable from one of the guards at Abu Ghraib. The guards imposed capricious, humiliating and sadistic punishment while the prisoners became more and more despondent and stressed.  Zimbardo went on to testify as an expert witness in the Abu Graib trials.  He concludes that even the most decent, moral people are capable of evil behavior when the situation is right.  Group dynamics, conditioning to authority and dehumanization contribute to the kind of evil we saw at Abu Ghraib and, it seems, the excessively punitive experiences of the victims in the lower half of the American justice system.

The more I read Taibbi’s book, the more I was reminded of Zimbardo’s book.  So, I recommend you read Zimbardo’s book first and follow it up with Taibbi’s.  In fact, that’s the only reason I would recommend Taibbi’s book.  Without a proper context, it lacks the force it needs to land a powerful blow.  And that’s why I’m going to finish it even though the stories of “getting away with evil” followed by “getting away with nothing” are somewhat monotonous.  Taibbi might make the connection in the final chapters and have that eureka moment that will make it all worth while.  But I’m almost done with the book and see no evidence of it yet.  I’m afraid that the lefty community will miss the larger point that could propel it out of its fecklessness.  Instead, it might fall back on the “Bill Clinton is to blame for all of this!” crap they’ve been mindlessly vomiting for the past decade (as if Newt Gingrich and his Contract On America never existed {{rolling eyes}}).  What a horribly wasted, missed opportunity to see the world as it truly is.

3 Sponges for The Divide

4 Sponges for The Lucifer Effect (it can bog down with too many details in the first part)

PS. The left should study part 2 of Zimbardo’s book to understand how to resist situational influences.  It’s going to come up again in 2016.  Let’s not get fooled again, m’kay?

Oh, and here’s a concept that we should all learn about: malignant narcissism.  Don’t throw it around indiscriminately though.  It’s the kind of thing that Fox News and Rush Limbaugh types will seize on and dilute.  (it’s what they do)  But the next time an oligarch whines about how the rest of us are mean to them and envy their wealth, think about malignant narcissism.  They’re on the spectrum.

 

 

 

Karen Ho: It’s not about full employment

Anthropologist Karen Ho, author of Liquidated, was on Virtually Speaking a couple of weeks ago.  Check out the whole interview here.

I wrote a series of posts about Liquidated, applying Ho’s observations of Wall Street culture to the pharmaceutical industry because I’m going to make you care about unemployed scientists no matter how much you think you hate them, dammit.  It’s that important.  Here are my posts:

The Strategy of no Strategy Part 1

The Strategy of no Strategy Part 2- Flexibility

The Strategy of no Strategy Part 3- Shareholder Value

The Strategy of no Strategy Part 4- Putting it Together

I have to add that the outrageous price of drugs has just as much to do with the left’s behavior as the right’s but that is for another post. The pharmaceutical industry is probably the only place where that statement is accurate.  I’m not just playing a “professional journalist” who has a fiduciary obligation to my employer to say that “both sides do it”.

Oh, and I also told you that the cost of generics is going to continue to rise.  You heard it here first.

Anyway, back to Karen Ho.  In her interview, she said something very interesting that I had been wondering about.  She said that the “culture of smartness” thinks that no one works harder than they do.  And that’s probably true.  The analysts on Wall Street work crazy hours, like about 100 hours a week.  That doesn’t mean they do anything of value or that is productive.  I’m not sure lining up bullet points within a pixel of their lives is a particularly good use of one’s time, even if the presentations are beautiful.  Content is more important, but that’s just me.  So, essentially, Wall Street takes 22 yr old ivy league graduates, throws them in a financial crash course for a couple of months and turns them loose on the world to work like maniacs.  It love bombs them and tells them they’re wonderful because they pull the levers of the world’s economy without sleep and then those same analysts grow up to leave nasty comments in pharmaceutical industry blogs.

What I’m referring to are the comments that Derek Lowe sometimes gets on his posts when he announces another round of mass layoffs at Merck or Glaxo or whatever.  Some asshole will say something to the effect that it’s ok because it clears out the “deadwood”.

The weird thing is, these layoffs frequently *don’t* clear out the deadwood.  Oh sure, there is some brush clearing but the thing is, if you are in a group run by a blessed manager, you could be the deadest of the wood and still survive.  And a lot of the deadwood is in the managerial class and they tend to have the salesperson’s gift for explaining why they should be retained while everyone under them is cut.  So, by the end of the day, after pharmageddon leaves smoking ruins in its wake, the people who are left are those that haven’t been inside the lab for years.

Anyway, I have to thank Ho for alerting me to who was leaving those comments.  Funny how they would even bother to check up on our horror and dismay at another medicinal chemistry group biting the dust.  But they really have no idea what they’re doing, hence The Strategy of No Strategy.

Chrystia Freeland also has an opinion piece in the NY Times about the role of plutocrats vs populists and social distancing.  Something about Freeland’s piece didn’t seem quite right though.  Freeland is taking it as a given that technology is hollowing out the middle class.  This may be true but I see things from a different perspective and mourn the blight that plutocracy has had on technological progress.

The truth is that we are now experiencing the golden age of biology.  We are learning so much about biological processes on a daily basis that it is hard to keep up.  There is so much we now know and so much yet to be discovered.  There is enough work to keep every chemist and biologist busy for the rest of their lives.

The problem is that no one wants to pay for discovering those mysteries.  There will be diseases that won’t be cured, processes that won’t be applied to other fields and whole new industries that won’t be founded because plutocracy is choking the life out of the discovery field in the name of shareholder value.  And now we have the Republicans and their sequester choking out the only hope we have that government will step in and pick up the slack where shareholder value has failed.

In a way, the demonization of science has helped this process along.  We’re just a bunch of Simon Barsinisters in white lab coats planning to take over the world and heedless of our impact on it.  That suits the lawyers and the politicians that feed on the “knit your own sandals” demographic just fine, doesn’t it Jay Ackroyd?  But it leaves science without any advocates.

The point that Freeland is missing and that Ho might understand better is that there doesn’t need to be a hollowing out of the middle class.  This country could become an unmatchable technology powerhouse once again if some of that money was put back into research at both an industrial and academic level.  But someone has to be willing to commit the money to the process and in the age of shareholder value, that’s not going to happen.  Research takes long term investment and continuity and stability, all three of which are severely lacking these days.  The countries that make the commitment to provide these three elements are going to come out ahead.

One other point I’d like to make has to do with what do we do to get it back on track.  One of the things I hated when I was on the school board was when a bunch of parents complained about the same thing over and over again but never offered any solutions.  Ezra Klein twittered yesterday: what is the country’s most challenging economic problem and what is the solution?  Here’s my answer: the problem is an out of control finance industry.  The solution is to phase out the 401K.  Regulation would also help but the 401K makes more and more of us reliant on risky Wall Street instruments and encourages a kind of recklessness.  A steady stream of 401K payroll deductions is like heroin to addicts.

It’s got to stop.

 

 

What’s wrong with these people, er, this picture?

Screen Shot 2013-07-19 at 7.18.27 AM

Oo! Oo!  I know how to fix this!  Maybe we can take the fines from the banks like Chase, who now consider fines just protection money they have to pay so they can keep doing what they want, and use it to make Detroit solvent.  Or would we hear whining from Wall Street that it is unfaaaaair to redistribute our country’s tax dollars to the unworthy?

Assholes

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

In another story of bad deed doing, Glaxo Smith Kline (GSK) is creating an international incident in China where it has been accused of bribing government officials and doctors with about $500 million in order to raise the price of their prescription drugs.  Note that it was probably the testosterone and amphetamine soaked sales department that came up with this brilliant idea.  Now, China is forbidding GSK’s finance director from leaving the country.  What a splendid idea!  Maybe we should send all of our misbehaving finance directors to China.  Derek Lowe has more on the story.

If I recall correctly, the GSK research site in Shanghai was also accused of some falsification of data that lead to publications being pulled from Nature.  Hey, the management in China wanted to show it could get publications in Nature so it did- by lying.  For a brief time there, the Shanghai site was probably held up as a model of research brilliance by the executive class to all of the other global, loser “centers of excellence” at GSK.  That ought to give the King of Prussia, PA site a nice warm and fuzzy feeling.  We shouldn’t be surprised by the China syndrome.  One of my Chinese colleagues told me that China wasn’t like the US in terms of business infrastructure and relatively low levels of corruption but that only time would prove to the executive class that China wasn’t ready for a world class research industry.

It’s also GSK that proposed to pay their scientists million dollar bonuses if a drug candidate goes blockbuster.  Read Derek Lowe’s post on the topic for a run down of why this is a phenomenally bad idea.

GSK, this week’s poster child.

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