Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Can you diagnose this "problem child?"

Unfortunately, he's too old to be sent up to his room 
for a time out.

Here's the official list of symptoms: 
   ▪       Often loses temper
    ▪       Argues with adults and authority figures
    ▪       Refuses to comply with adult requests
    ▪       Blames others for his mistakes
    ▪       Deliberately annoys people
    ▪       Is easily annoyed by others
    ▪       Is angry/resentful and spiteful/vindictive.

These are the symptoms of a personality disorder in six year olds called Oppositional Defiant Disorder, or ODD.

PsychoCentral.com reports that “If a child exhibits four or more of these behaviors for six months or longer he would likely be diagnosed with ODD…”

PsychoCentral also reports that “A common trait of kids with oppositional Defiant Disorder is that they often see themselves as victims and feel justified in acting out.”

So there you have it, folks. Or rather we have it. And what we have is a six-year-old with a severe personality disorder about to take charge of the economy, court appointments, healthcare, education, the military, and launch control of the nuclear bomb.

What could possibly go wrong?

Friday, January 06, 2017

Legal system and pharma to heart patients: “Drop dead”

When the wolves of pharma aren’t disemboweling their 
own customers, guess what they try to do to each other?
So by now you probably know about the likes of Martin Shkreli. He’s the price-gouging drug entrepreneur whose Turing Pharmaceutical company bought a drug called Daraprim, used to prevent fatalities in certain HIV patients. Then Shkreli raised the price from $20 a pill to $750 a pill. And smirked.

As if to prove that a woman can be as greedy, mean, and cold-blooded as Shkreli, there’s Heather Bresch, the $18 million a year CEO of Mylan Pharmaceutical. She got the price of EpiPen, a commonly used lifeline for diabetes patients, up from $100 to $608.

“The greed is astounding, it’s sickening,” said Congressman John Duncan. And he’s a Republican, not some bleeding heart liberal like me.

But now comes news from Bloomberg Markets indicating that when greedy pharmaceutical companies aren’t going for their customers’ throats, they’ll go for each other’s.

Thus we get the war between Amgen on one side, and Sanifi and Regeneron on the other. It’s all a bit complicated, but as usual it boils down to "your money or your life," with sick people getting the short end of the stick. It works pretty much like this:

Amgen sells a drug that lowers cholesterol called Repatha. Sannifi and Regeneron have a drug called Praluent that does similar things but with lower dosages. Both drugs treat patients who have high cholesterol, but who can’t tolerate older and cheaper drugs called statins. In some cases, access to a non-statin drug that lowers cholesterol could mean the difference between life and death.

But never mind all that. There’s money at stake. Amgen sued Sanofi and Regeneron for patent infringement. Sanofi and Regeneron claim that parts of the Amgen patent are essentially bogus because they're overly broad, so the patent should never have been granted. 

Amgen demanded that Praluent be removed from the market. Sanofi and Regeneron protested that the patent wrongly gives Amgen control not just of its own drug, but of an entire category of medication. Let me use a layman's analogy here and posit that this is similar to the maker of one patented antibiotic claiming it should have the right to all antibiotics. 

Praluent helps patients who are able to take lower doses of their drug than are available from Amgen’s Repatha, and that taking it off the market would cause significant public harm, say Sanofi and Regeneron.

Bloomberg Market Reports:
Robinson [the judge] also noted…that she felt like she was “between a rock and a hard place” — between protecting the rights of a winning patent holder and the benefit to the public of having another drug on the market that can potentially stave off heart attacks.”

But listen, hundreds of thousands of people die of heart attacks every year. Big deal. On the other hand, a buck’s a buck. And in the case of cholesterol lowering drugs, it’s likely billions of bucks. So — are you surprised? — the decision, at least pending appeal, goes to Amgen. What about heart patients  who could benefit from Praluent, perhaps more than Repatha? 

They can drop dead.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

In Yellow Springs, Ohio the police department has grown bigger. Has it also grown needlessly mean?

The current Yellow Springs police force. When too many cops
have too few problems to police, some of them might create
a few problems of their own.
Peaceful, pleasant Yellow Springs, Ohio is best known for its quirky character, for being the home of Antioch College, and for what passes, at least in southern Ohio, as a fairly vibrant and growing food scene.

At the college they grow much of their own food, organically of course, on their own farm. Downtown, the Winds CafĂ© has a kitchen so innovative, I'd bet it could survive even in fussy New York, and it also offers a respectable wine list. I hear other restaurants in town are pretty good, too, although, as an only rarely-visiting New Yorker, I haven’t had a chance to try them all.

As for the cops — well, out-of-control police in Yellow Springs were all but unheard of until recently. Note that I am familiar with some police matters in Yellow Springs stretching back to 1954, when the late Russ Bradley was police chief there. (Later he became county sheriff.) Sample 1954 police matter? 

One night, the burglar alarm began clanging at at the only drug store in town. Chief Bradley rolled out of bed, put  his police uniform on over his pajamas, phoned up the town’s other two cops, and got to the drug store just as a pair of escaped convicts from a West Virginia penitentiary, and the girlfriend of one of them, fled from the busted-into drug store with all the medicinal narcotics they could grab and carry. They headed south on Ohio Route 68, which also serves as the main drag of Yellow Springs, where it's called Xenia Avenue.

The Yellow Springs cops set out in hot pursuit, siren blaring. Only problem was, their rattle-trappy old police car couldn’t keep up with the souped-up vehicle the bad guys were driving. So the cops radioed ten miles down the road to the county sheriff’s office in Xenia, which set up a road block.

Meanwhile the  escaped con burglars,  correctly fearful that they were going to get caught, decided not to get caught while in possession of narcotics. So they began tossing the stuff out of the car windows. The following morning, the entire Yellow Springs Police Department (was it really only three people back then?) and the Greene County Sheriff’s officers, had to hike along the sides of the ten mile stretch of Route 68 from Yellow Springs to Xenia, policing up pill bottles. You can’t make this stuff up.

When all this happened, I was still a high school kid in Brooklyn. But some years later I was in college editing the Antioch College student newspaper, which was job printed each week by the Yellow Springs News. One day, while waiting for the press run to finish, I came across a bound volume of all 1954 issues of the Yellow Springs News, and it was there that I found the story of the escaped cons, and the girlfriend, and the pills. Enterprising hotshot boy reporter that I was, I decided to go looking for them and to write a story about them.

The story never got written. The reason why is a long story in itself. But I did actually find and have a chat with one of the perps, the girlfriend. Her name was Marjorie Liefbar, and when I found her her, she was running a brothel at the corner of Fourth and York Streets in Newport, Kentucky, about 75 miles away. The joint pretended to be a greasy spoon called The Fourth Street Grill. Starting early in the evening, the door was locked. Whenever somebody knocked at the door, Marge would open it and say, "Sorry, the grill's closed, honey, unless you want a woman."

“Russ Bradley?” she said to me. “Sure, I remember that sumnabitch hillbilly. I grew up with him. I can remember when he didn’t even know how to wear shoes!”

Bradley eventually became county sheriff and was replaced by one of the first black police chiefs in America, a kindly gentle man named Jim McKee. McKee dealt non-violently with some explosive issues in his time, including a large demonstration in front of a segregated barber shop in 1964 that led to the arrest of 106 demonstrators. 

You’d think that a small town police chief who managed to bring off an operation of that size might revel in it, but not McKee, who had some sympathy for the people he was arresting. “It was the worst day of my life,” he said. 

Even Bradley, redneck that he was, made sure that he and his department were peace officers, not disturbers of the peace.

Contrast that with the current Yellow Springs police department. If I counted the number of heads in their web page group photogaphs correctly, the department has grown to eleven officers and seven dispatchers although the population of the town has not appreciably increased. 

And now, when there’s trouble in tiny Yellow Springs, people are less and less surprised when the instigators turn out to be the cops. Or perhaps the Keystone Cops would be a better handle.

Earlier this year one officer was dismissed from the force after several incidents that were judged to be “appropriate” police behavior or “within Policy” but “not a good fit for the village.”  What happened during those incidents? Well, according to the Yellow Springs News, in one case
...in the parking lot behind the Gulch [a local bar], Officer Whittemore smashed the car window of a longtime local resident who had refused his requests to provide identification and open the car door. The woman, who had had too much to drink and decided to not drive home, was waiting in her car for a ride home, according to an interview with the woman, who asked not to be identified. However, according to Whittemore’s report of the incident, the woman’s car keys were within her reach, which is a violation of the Ohio Revised Code if a vehicle’s owner is intoxicated. After breaking the window, Officer Whittemore forced the woman, who continued to resist, out of the car, threatened her with a Taser, handcuffed her and charged her with disorderly conduct, obstructing official business and resisting arrest.
Of course, with the windows rolled up, one can question how the officer knew the sleeping woman was intoxicated.

In another incident
Officer Whittemore stopped a 22-year-old local man as the young man was walking on Xenia Avenue near downtown at about 9:30 p.m. on May 30. According to Whittemore’s written report on the incident, the man looked “agitated” and also walked too near the police cruiser as Whittemore was parked in the Speedway parking lot. Whittemore followed the man down the street, then pulled in front of him at the Mills Park Hotel, where the man refused to stop. Whittemore reported that the man smelled like alcohol and pulled away when Whittemore grabbed his wrist, resulting in a struggle and the young man being forced to the ground. When the man continued to resist, he was threatened with Tasing, handcuffed and charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.
So the officer is off the force. Problem solved, right? 

Not so fast.
On New Year’s Eve this year, the villagers of Yellow Springs celebrated a “ball drop” — a small town version of what happens in Times Square. Shortly after midnight there was an incident. 

Precisely what happened was unclear but, according to newspaper reports, police drove their car into a crowd of revelers on a short commercial street, aptly named Short Street, that runs perpendicular to Route 68. Their sirens were howling.

What was their intent? To “disperse revelers,” according to the Yellow Springs News. Why disperse at only eight minutes after midnight during a New Year's Eve celebration? Not clear. Nobody was breaking any laws by celebrating the new year. Maybe the cops unilaterally decided that the crowd had stayed up past their bedtime. The police chief, at least initially, has failed to come up with an explanation. There is a town council meeting tonight and perhaps more will come out then.

Meanwhile, the cops pulled out their tasers and one, or possibly two people were tased, one of them possibly by accident. And one witness told the Yellow Springs News, “I told saw an officer grab the head of the man and throw him to the ground.” When the man on the ground attempted to get up, the cop tased him again, the witness said.

The Yellow Springs News also reported
Kurt Miyazaki, a co-owner of the Emporium, said he tried to talk to the three police officers in two squad cars as they moved slowly through the crowd. He was not sure of the identity of the officers, two men and one young woman/ 
Miyazaki said that in a peaceful way he asked police what they were doing, and warned that they could be provoking people. One officer responded that they were just doing their job, while the others did not respond. The police were not talking to people in the street, he said, but were simply driving their cars with the sirens blaring.
So I guess the intent of the police wasn’t noise control. And then this:
According to Berman, when she asked a local officer at the scene why police were attempting to clear the street so abruptly, the officer, whose name she didn’t know, said this was standard practice for the New Year’s event. However, Anita Brown, who has attended the event for about 25 years, said she has never witnessed it before.
And this:
According to Gardner, also a longtime attendee of the ball-drop who was in the crowd, one young man approached a local police car saying he wanted to help and was told to back off or he’d be arrested. Someone pushed against the police car door and the officer exited the car, after which several officers chased the man down the street.
Let me take a wild guess here as to what’s really going on. There are too many cops for a town the size of Yellow Springs, population under 5,000. They don’t have enough to do. And so, like a working dog left bored and alone at home for too many hours, they invent jobs for themselves.

Dogs invent jobs like chewing up the furniture and breaking things. Cops in Yellow Springs, it seems, find ways to create incidents that would be crimes, or at least misdemeanors, if it were ordinary citizens doing what the cops are doing to keep busy.

There has been talk that the local police force needs retraining. I would suggest that what they need is replacement. And that their ranks need to be thinned out. You can’t train people to have common sense.

P.S. The Yellow Springs News is now reporting that the village's police chief has resigned. An investigation concerning what happened is ongoing, with results expected to be reported on January 30th.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Thanks, New York Times, for compromising away seniors’ Social Security income

For many American senior 
citizens, this could be the
big meal of the day, if the New
York Times and the Trump
Administration have their way.
I should have come across this sooner. Perhaps it was the Ghost of Christmas Past, trying to postpone my un-holiday-like outrage for a while, that caused me to overlook it.

I refer to a piece by the Times Editorial Board offering to bargain away part of the Social Security benefits that seniors currently receive. 

The Times began by pretending to oppose benefits cuts that Republicans are proposing to “save” Social Security. Never mind that the whole shebang can be saved for the foreseeable future simply by raising the cap on deductions.

The cap — the point at which the government stops deducting Social Security taxes from your pay check — is currently at $110,000 a year. And even the Times article agrees that “the wage cap has not kept pace with the income gains of high earners; if it had, it would be about $250,000 a year.

So just restore the wage kept to its inflation-adjusted level and everybody’s happy. Well, maybe the million-bucks-a-year corporate C-Suite inhabitant gets irked because it takes a few months longer before the withholding from his pay check is reduced. But nearly everybody lives happily ever after, right?

Not the New York Times. 

The Times instead generously offers to chip away at the already cheesy safety net, helping to lower the bar for Tom Price, the incoming head of Health and Human Services, to propose the benefit cuts he has in mind.

States the Times:

A prudent approach to reform would target the causes of the system’s shortfall with a mix of modest benefit cuts and modest tax increases. It would make sense, for instance, to trim the benefits of recipients who were high earners during their work lives, because, in general, high earners live longer than low earners and thus draw their relatively higher benefits for a longer period of time.
Price, admits the Times, “ has been a champion of cuts to all three of the nation’s large social programs — Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. When discussing reforms to Social Security, he has ignored ways to bring new revenue into the system while emphasizing possible benefit cuts through means-testing, private accounts and raising the retirement age.”

There is no reason why America’s citizens — even the richest of us — should accept any of these cuts, nor the one the Times proposes. Social Security isn’t simply a program for the hard up. It’s an insurance program, a retirement annuity, into which every American who has ever worked for a living — and the companies that employed them — paid  regularly by payroll deduction.

Imagine if you had a private retirement annuity and the insurance company came to you and said, “Hey, we’ve decided that, despite what the contract we signed with you says, that we’re going to delay three years before beginning to pay you the money we owe you.”

Or imagine they came to you and said, “Hey, we've just decided that you’ve got plenty of money. So we think you don’t need the benefits you paid for. Thanks, we’ll keep ‘em instead.”

Or even, “You’ve still got some money. Only a dollar? Well, cat food’s plenty nutritious. And if that doesn’t fill you up, eat the cat.”

You’d be enraged. You’d be livid. Your head would be exploding. You’d demand the arrest, prosecution, and imprisonment of the crooks who perpetrated that ripoff. 

So start getting livid now, not only at The New York Times, but also at the mere notion of raising the retirement age again — it was 65 only a few years ago — or reducing benefits. Evidently both are on every Republican agenda, starting the millisecond Trump stumbles into the Oval Office.

As for privatization, that’s just an opportunity for the wonderful folks who brought you the Mortgage Meltdown to reach into your pocket and grab a big handful of your money for themselves.

It’s time to make an issue of this. Not a little issue. A huge, cage-rattling, booming issue. 

Seniors, sharpen your pitch forks and light your torches!

Monday, December 26, 2016

Obama, Netanyahu, the West Bank, Iran, and the sweet taste of settling the score

Just because I’m pro-American doesn’t mean I have to be pro-Trump. And just 
because I’m an enthusiastic Zionist — a believer that Israel has a right not only 
to exist, but to do so as a specifically Jewish state —doesn’t mean I have to have 
anything except utter contempt for Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

That said, let me change the subject for just a moment and recall a column written 
many years ago by Jimmy Breslin for a wonderful and now defunct newspaper 
called The New York Herald-Tribune, may it rest in peace. 

Breslin told a story about a character named Marvin the Torch, who commits 
arson for money and makes his fires  look accidental.  This is regarded in some 
circles as a socially beneficial service, because it enables debt-saddled owners 
of failing businesses to collect insurance money and recover once the business
is reduced to ashes.

In Breslin’s story, Marvin got stiffed by one of his clients after Marvin burned 
down — on commission — one of the client’s businesses. So Marvin, feeling 
righteously aggrieved, then went and burned down another of his now-former-
client’s businesses, one that was making money. And, if I recall this correctly, 
Marvin made this second arson appear like the arson it was, leaving his former 
client in deep.…well, you know what.

Then came the money quote from Marvin: “Professionals don’t get mad, they 
get even.”

Okay, Back to Obama and Netanyahu and Israel. Bear with me, because like 
all real-life problems in international relations, this one’s complicated and 
involves a lot of wheels and gears turning in different directions, some at the 
same time, some at different times.

In 1967, Israel found itself in a war with Egypt, Syria, and Jordan. The war 
lasted six days. At the end of it, Israel found itself victoriously occupying, 
among other things, the Sinai (which was Egyptian) and the West Bank.

Not terribly long after, Egypt and Israel settled the dispute and Israel returned 
the Sinai. The West Bank, however, has been an Israeli-occupied bone of 
contention ever since. I’m not going to wade too deeply into the weeds 
concerning this dispute, other than to point out that there’s no international law 
that says the winners in a war have to give back the territory they’ve captured. 
If such as rule did exist, California, Arizona,  Colorado, New Mexico and 
Texas would be Mexican states, and Donald Trump would be building his 
wall in Mississippi, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. Not to mention that you'd need
a passport to get into the Native American City of New York. And Seminole
people might be feeding snowbirds to their pet alligators.

However, the West Bank is a useful bargaining chip that might eventually lead to 
a peaceful agreement and a “two state solution.” By building a rapid metastasis 
of settlements — and pretty big ones — in the West Bank, Netanyahu is pissing 
away that chance, while inflaming the very people he eventually needs to make 
peace with.

That’s one bone of contention between Netanyahu and President Obama. The 
other occurred in March of 2015, when Netanyahu, contrary to the wishes of the
President, gave a speech to Congress knocking the Iran nuclear deal that the 
Obama administration had set up.

The timing of this unfortunate speech had the effect of favoring one party over 
another while the  nation was warming up for the unfortunate presidential election 
we’ve just experienced.  It so infuriated Democrats that 58 members, including 
Joe Biden, who normally presides as Vice-President over all Senate meetings, 
boycotted the speech

There’s nothing wrong with a foreign state advocating for its position with the
State Department or the President. But by bringing the dispute before a highly
publicized meeting of Congress, Netanyahu interfered in the American election
process as much as the Russians did by hacking the Democratic National 

The sheer chutzpah of Netanyahu! He expected the American President whose 
party Netanyahu helped sink, to continue supporting Israel in every way 
possible. Finally, Netanyahu got the answer he deserved.

That answer was the United States simply sitting on its hands while a pro-
Palestinian resolution sailed through the United Nations Security Council.

Now Netanyahu is in it up to his neck at home. Serves him right, as well as 
the radicals among my fellow Zionists. You not only bit the hand that’s been 
feeding you, you also crapped all over the wound. Es zol shtinken fun 
deyn cupf. 

Or to put it another way, President Obama, unlike the thin-skinned hothead who 
will take possession of the White House in January, knows the philosophy of 
Marvin the Torch. Professionals don’t get mad, they get even.

Now the question is, will Russia’s Vladimir Putin, whose people hacked the 
Democratic National Committee also get the message? I wonder if President 
Obama will have time to do a bit of professional torching in the Kremlin 
before he leaves office?