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Obama, the anti-research president, blames country for losing competitive edge.

lizpolaris's picture

Our president seems to have noticed that our country is generally in decline.

"I mean, there are a lot of things we can do," Obama said. "The way I think about it is, you know, this is a great, great country that had gotten a little soft and, you know, we didn't have that same competitive edge that we needed over the last couple of decades. We need to get back on track."

Gosh, that sounds like a good idea. How can we get back on track, regain that competitive edge, and become a great, great country again? Logically, we'd be one up on our competitors by having the newest ideas, the cutting edge technology that pushes the envelope. To do that, investment is needed in research and development. At the very minimum, it would make sense to continue ongoing scientific investigation, taking advantage of money already invested in existing projects, right?

Obama has decided to take the opposite course - cutting funding and shutting down research programs. First, NASA's latest development projects were defunded, throwing away money already spent and putting engineers out of work. The Space Race? We won, we're done, time to move on and hope someone else picks up the ball.

Now, the Obama administration is saving a few bucks ($35M) by shutting down the Tevatron.

Shortly after 1400 local time on Friday, the Tevatron's designer Dr Helen Edwards will push a button in the control room that diverts the last beam of particles into a solid metal block, closing the book on an era in American big physics.

"If you ask me whether I'm confident the country can keep doing things, it's hard to read the newspaper everyday and believe it's going to work out, but we have to trust that it will," Dr Dixon explained.

Earlier this year, Fermilab announced plans to lose 100 jobs from the lab, 50 of which will come from voluntary redundancy, a spokesman said.

A bid to extend the Tevatron's lifetime by three years was denied in January 2011 because the US Department of Energy could not come up with the extra $35m per year required to keep the machine running.

"In the Higgs game, we are still competitive and we hope to have our final results next year," said Professor Stefan Soldner-Rembold, spokesperson for the Tevatron's DZero experiment.

He told BBC News: "There are always reasons for and against an extension. I still think especially in terms of the Higgs it would have been nice to have another three years. We can see now that we are so close."

No need for the US to worry about that now - the Europeans working with the Large Hadron Collider will figure that out. Maybe our laid off physicists can go work there.

How about software and IT research? Another headline today declares "IBM now second biggest tech firm."

Analysts put the switch in the number two slot down to a decision IBM made in 2005 to sell off its PC business to Chinese manufacturer Lenovo to concentrate on software and services.

So this impressive gain was achieved by sending the hardware business to China and focusing on software. But wait a minute - who is providing the software and services for IBM? According to one of IBM's human resources VPs, within 5 years the majority of that will be done outside of the US (if it's not already).

IBM told Computer Weekly's sister publication Personnel Today that it could reduce its workforce from 399 000 today to 100 000 in 2017. Tim Ringo, head of IBM human capital management, said IBM would re-hire the workers as contractors for specific projects and, when necessary, use crowd sourcing. He said it was only being considered at present. "There would be no buildings costs, no pensions and no healthcare costs, making huge savings", he said.

However, an IBM spokesman denied the firm was about to shrink its permanent workforce by three-quarters in seven years. He said: "The comments are without merit. This was pure speculation about future job movements without any basis in fact. In fact, the comments run counter to IBM's history of growing its global workforce over each of the last eight years."


So it may be that IBM is reducing staff and replacing them with temporary cloud workers, who could come from any country. But we can certainly be sure that IBM is well underway with increasing staff in countries other than the US. Wonder why they don't report employment numbers by country anymore?

Where does the US government have any role to play in this? Well, if the goal is to keep the competitive edge in technology in the US, then the logical course would be to incent companies to keep their workforce here by using a carrot and stick approach - penalties for offshoring jobs and shifting staff from full time to piece work and rewards for creating jobs in the US. Or, like Obama, you could ignore this ongoing brain drain and allow the technological edge to go offshore as well. I wonder if young college students will want to major in computer science and engineering knowing that the job market is shrinking in the US for technology jobs? I guess, like many foreign students and IT workers, they can get their education and training here in the US and then leave the country.

One last area to look at - medicine. Obamacare will take effect at some point in the future. It's main guarantee is that health insurance companies will collect premiums. Whether citizens will get the health care they need is another question. But today, let's look at the doctors. How are we keeping the competitive edge in providing health care? One answer comes from Maine. Persons without insurance there can now barter for doctors - 2 hours of yardwork for an office visit.

So how does her doctor cash in these time credits? By getting free services from any of the other hundreds of people who belong to The Portland Hour Exchange Program.

But they can't meet all the needs of their patients. Barth doesn't have health insurance. If she goes to an emergency room or needs to see a specialist who isn't affiliated with True North, she's paying out of pocket. And if her income goes up, she won't be able to use time dollars at True North any longer.

But according to Dahlborg, the biggest problem isn't finding patients who want to take part in the program — it's finding doctors who are willing to go outside the system and barter for health care.

"It's still very difficult from a pragmatic perspective to go from a guaranteed salary where insurance is driving business to you," Dahlborg says. "It's also scary for younger physicians who still have debt load from their education."

This barter system for care seems like reverse innovation - reverting back to the old west practice of care in exchange for 2 eggs and a chicken. I'm not sure this is going to incent young doctors to spend a lot of time in med school to then go work in rural areas needing healthcare under a system such as this. If the Portland Hour Exchange is where we gotten to after passing Obamacare, I'd say that's going in the wrong direction. Um, we don't have the best healthcare system in the world.

In my opinion, if Obama wants to know why he feels that the country has 'gone soft,' he needs to look in the mirror. There's a lot of things he can do.

NB - The 'last couple of decades' Obama refers to - where was he living during the 90's? Our country was thriving and innovating back then and was mostly peaceful. Somehow, Obama failed to notice the Clinton years.

P.S. I thought it was the Republicans who are anti-science and would get rid of research and basic science? Once again, actions speak louder than words.

P.P.S. Could 'the country has gone soft' mean sort of the same as we're in a malaise?

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Submitted by lambert on

"Gotten a little soft."

Speak for yourself, Barry. I don't smoke, so I don't have any, er, circulatory dysfunction.

Cujo359's picture
Submitted by Cujo359 on

One last area to look at - medicine. Obamacare will take effect at some point in the future. It's main guarantee is that health insurance companies will collect premiums. Whether citizens will get the health care they need is another question.

Unless someone comes up with an enforcement mechanism to ride herd on the insurance companies, the answer to that question will be "no". We're talking billions of dollars in potential expense to handle complaints and take the valid ones to court or plea bargain. Nowhere do I see that kind of money allocated.

The IRS will be sure to make us pay up, though.

As for how we're "going soft", I think we're mostly getting soft at the top. Life is getting harder down here at the bottom, which right now feels like where 95% of us or so reside. This is the guy who wouldn't take on Wall Street when he had most of the country behind him.

"Look in the mirror" is right.

Blizzard's picture
Submitted by Blizzard on

Who was it who gave $16 trillion to banks who create negative economic value.

Submitted by Hugh on

Competitive edge is just code for losing more jobs and further decreasing workers' wages and benefits. The US is not in decline because it has lost some mythical edge. It is because it has an elite Establishment of looters who are amassing huge fortunes by driving the country into the ground, with the help of people like a certain President Obama. The real issues should be why we aren't providing good jobs, education, healthcare, housing, and pensions to our citizens. Where has Obama been on these, other than seeking to do them in as much and as quickly as possible?