Thursday, August 25, 2016

Your money or your life: Shkreli, Bresch, wheezing and chocking children, and the Tyburn Jig

There used to be a time when they publicly hanged highwaymen. These were people who’d stop coaches on the road, flintlock pistols raised, and demand, “Your money or your life.” And they meant it.

When they were brought to justice, it was usually not a pretty picture. They were hanged, but not on a gallows from which a fall would break their necks. Highwaymen in the 18th Century died slowly and in frantic, panicked agony.
When everything was ready, the horses were whipped away, pulling the prisoners off the carts and leaving them suspended. They would only have a few inches of drop at most and thus many of them would writhe in convulsive agony for some moments, their legs paddling the air - “dancing the Tyburn jig” as it was known, until unconsciousness overtook them.
A new breed of highwaymen is abroad in the land today. Two of the most infamous are named Martin Shkreli, and Heather Bresch. I cannot reproduce their smirking photographs because the pictures I want are the property of news agencies, but if you take a look at Bresch here, and Shkreli here, it would appear that they were separated at smirk.

They both ride desk chairs instead of horses and their weapons are not pistols but prices. Both have unconscionably jacked up the prices of once-cheap life saving drugs for which there are no readily available substitutes. They’ve made fortunes by threatening and actually putting at risk the lives of innocent children, the elderly, and the physically frail. 

In Shkreli’s cased the drug in question is Daraprim. The magazine Vanity Fair reports:

Dara­prim, is on the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines because it treats toxoplasmosis, a parasitic infection that is particularly dangerous to pregnant women, people with compromised immune systems, and the elderly. In that vulnerable population it can lead to seizures, blindness, birth defects in babies of infected mothers, and, in some cases, death.
Shkreli, through a company he controlled, Turing Pharmaceutical, raised the price from $13.50 per Daraprim tablet to $750. Usually, it’s taken for 21 days, a total cost at the jacked up price of $15,750 per patient. Your money or your life.

Shkreli’s defense has been that medical insurance pays for most of it anyway, and he, a multi-millionaire if not a billionaire, paid $750 for his I-phone, so what’s the big deal? There are at least three reasons it’s a big deal.

First, not everybody has medical insurance, and so some individuals and families for whom the $15,000 can be close to a year’s take home pay are forced to flirt with bankruptcy or watch someone they love die needlessly. 

Second, even if medical insurance paid for 100 percent of the price (which it doesn’t) the cost gets passed on to all Americans, via hikes in our insurance prices and in our taxes. So in effect, we are all being held at pistol point by this thug. 

Third, Shkreli’s  greed-motivated initiative will — and already has — lured others into the pharmaceutical highwayman business. So he has made the problem he created for the rest of us a growing problem.

Shkreli, who is also under indictment for fraud in a separate case, shows the remorse of a python gorging itself on a pig. The consequence,of his misbehavior, he tweets, is that he’s getting more sex.

Martin Shkreli
Verified account
Martin Shkreli Retweeted Vincent
none, getting laid more i guess
Martin Shkreli added,

Vincent @johnvincentsays
@MartinShkreli what changes did you applied to your life after the whole media mess? (serious question)

Meanwhile, a copycat highwayman — well, highwaywoman in this case — got caught pointing her loaded flintlock of a price hike at little children and threatening the equivalent of blowing their heads off.

I’m referring to Heather Bresch, CEO of Mylan, the company that makes EpiPen, the product that saves adults and especially vulnerable little kids from dying while gasping for breath due to allergic reactions certain commonplace foods and other substances.

By steadily raising, and then raising again, and then re- and re-raising the price of EpiPen, Bresch finally managed to also raise the ire of parents of those vulnerable children. They took to the Internet, raised hell on social media, and ended up flooding Congress with 100,000 letters of righteous protest. The indignation was palpable. The New York Times reports:
...parents began posting receipts showing how much they were paying for EpiPens. One photo showed a Costco pharmacy receipt from Chandler, Ariz., for $1,698.28 that a parent had paid for three boxes of EpiPens, six pens total. A single mother from New Hampshire had a receipt for $925 for a two-pack of EpiPens.
This may have been a grave embarrassment for Senator Joe Manchin, Democrat of Virgina, who happens to be the father of this child-killing thug-ette

It certainly explains why child-endangerer Bresch relented. Well, sort of relented. Mylan has agreed “to expand its coupon and patient assistance programs,” The New York Times reported. So only those parents who who are deemed rich enough to pay full price will have to. At least until Bresch changes her mind again.

And that’s not good enough. Highway robbery is highway robbery and ought to be treated as such. This nation needs a law that would make price gouging of monopoly drugs necessary to save lives — drugs like EpiPen and Daraprim — the vicious felony that it is.

Think about this: if somebody steals your car, he’s liable in some states to serve over eight years in prison. 

Currently, if the same person steals through price hikes your family’s money for an EpiPen or a Daraprim prescription, the only penalty is social pressure.

Yet the cost of the theft to each individual can be the same, or far more, than the loss of a car. 

So this nation needs a law that would make price gougers guilty of a felony, punishable by five years in a maximum security prison, for each person gouged. Remember, these highway robbers don’t gouge just one or two people. They gouge thousands of sick people and their families.

Five years per person gouged, sentences to be served consecutively. Somehow, I think that after the first twenty or thirty years buried alive in prison steel and concrete, Shkreli and Bresch might not be tempted to rob the vulnerable again.

Nor would other drug company executives.

Tell your Senators you want long prison terms for drug price gougers.

Oh, and also tell them you want Joe Manchin forcibly recused by his party from any committee, subcommittee, or matter relating to laws concerning healthcare and most especially pharmaceuticals

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Donald Trump isn't far enough off the wall for you? Try this dude.

I came across a ragged poster today that the individual below had glued to a wall on the far west side of midtown.  Instantly I knew I was seeing the work of a person of interest.

He's a political candidate, although it's a bit ambiguous as to whether he's running for President, the Senate, Congress, or the Mayor of Gutenberg, NJ. Maybe it's all of the above. His program is an amalgam of Bernie Sanders' and Hillary Clinton's planks, more-than-generously seasoned with Donald Trump's paranoia,

Oh, you might want to run and get a bowl of popcorn before you watch this:

And here's his poster, as I photographed it, directly from the wilds of midtown's far west side.

And what's to stop you, if you're disillusioned by Donald Trump, and you can't bring yourself to vote for Hillary, to write the guy's name in? It's Jeff Boss.

Got that, Boss? I mean, Chief.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Yeah, wink wink. You're right about Obama and Hillary, Donald. And YOU founded both Naziism and Stalinist Communism.

Back in my early Madmen Days, I had a boss who fell in love with a movie called How To Cheat On Your Wife. 

Maybe he learned everything he knows at the movies
The film was of little interest to me at the time because I was in my twenties, not married, and still a starry-eyed believer in eternal romantic love. 

But some of the married guys who made a habit of cheating loved it, took to seeing it over and over again before heading home to wife and hearth in Cos Cob, and joyously quoted parts of it over lunch hour martinis in an East 48th street ginmill called Rattazzi's.

Evidently one lesson was what to say when your wife came home and caught you in bed with another woman. According to the movie — I hope I've got the right movie — you looked your wife straight in the eye and, while your casual sex partner blushed with the sheets pulled up to her neck, you  said, "What woman? There's no other woman in here."

Evidently Donald Trump must have seen that movie, and taken to heart the lesson about what to do when you're caught red handed: deny the obvious truth, ignore the glaring evidence, and repeat the preposterous big lie

And so, the other day Donald Trump declared that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were co-founders of ISIS. When his acolytes tried to walk that statement back a bit, either saying that he was only joshing, or that he was simply being sarcastic, or that he was speaking in some sort of symbolism, Trump brushed them aside. 

No, he said, he meant it literally.

Okay, so in Trump World, or maybe in Republican World, up is down, red is black, the truth is a lie, and a lie is the truth. If it comes out of an angry brain cell, it's a fact. Period.

Great. I just asked my angry brain cells what's on my own mind, and they told me that Donald Trump is not really the son of Fred Trump. Fred was merely a surrogate. Donald Trump is the illegitimate child of Adolph Hitler and Eva Braun, or maybe its was Eva and Joe Stalin. Hard to tell, because they were having a three-way at the time in a Berlin bunker.

Furthermore, Donald Trump founded both Naziism and Communism. The time continuum there makes as much sense as accusing President Obama of founding ISIS, since Obama was only a local politician in Illinois when ISIS was founded.

Did I mention that Paul Manafort, Trump's campaign manager, was bred from the frozen sperm of Joseph Goebbels?  Of course, I'm only speaking metaphorically, which means sarcastically, which means it's the absolute truth.

Or to put it another way, you have to know it's all absolutely true, because I just made it up.

Pass the word.

Saturday, August 06, 2016

Since when does the U.S. Constitution allow us to sign away our rights for the privilege of survival?

Enough already with election wonkery and outrageous Trumpfoolery. Do you mind if just for one post, just this once, I change the subject? No? It’s okay with you? Thanks. Now play along with me.

Imagine you’re crawling on hands and knees across Death Valley, in California. It’s July. It’s 107 degrees. You have no water. You’re dehydrated. You’re thirsty.

Suddenly a truck drives up.

“Need some water, friend?” the driver asks.

“Yes thanks.”

“Okay,” he says. I’ve got a whole icy-cold tank of it here. Gallons and gallons of the stuff. More than enough for you to survive on. Just sign this.”

And he pulls out a 30-page document, set in mouse-type print, on wide measure, while you rest on your hands and knees, panting.

Have a good long drink
 of water, sucker!

“What is that?” you ask.

“Terms and conditions of service for water. A user agreement which I can change at any time although you can’t. It’ll only take you a couple of hours to study. Well, maybe three or four. Plus a law degree. Sorry, I can’t let you have any of my water until you sign.”

Hey, you can’t get by without water. And you don’t have two hours to wade through the fine print. You sign.

As promised, he gives you water. All the water you want. Then he claps a pair of handcuffs and a pair off leg irons on you.

“It’s off to the plantation with you, kid,” he says, “You’ve just voluntarily surrendered your right to life and liberty to me. Fair and square. It says so right here in the contract you just signed. And don’t tell me you didn’t read the contact. It says right here, ‘I have read this contract and I agree to all its provisions.’”

No no, you can’t do that.
Not even if you want to.

Of course, in modern America, at least since the mid-19th Century, slavery has been against the law. Period. The United States Constitution, and specifically the 13th Amendment clearly states, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

In other words, unless you’ve been found guilty of a crime, nobody can compel you to work for him, to wake up and go to sleep when he tells you, to eat what you’re told, when you’re told; nor can anybody buy and sell you. And you can’t sell yourself into slavery. No matter what you sign. At least not in this country. Says so in the United States Constitution.

Hey, has anyone here read
the Seventh Amendment?

Now let’s consider the Seventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It says: “In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.”

In other words, for any civil matter worth arguing about, you’re entitled to a trial by jury. Still with me?

Now, why is it that if you can’t sign your right to freedom away and decide to become a slave, you can sign away your right to a jury trial that would enable you to seek justice in commercial matters?

And you do this almost every time you buy a service on the Internet, purchase a computer, acquire software, open a bank account, apply for a credit card, or in many cases, take a job.

You usually agree — far in advance of any possible negative event or dispute — to arbitration, with an arbitrator who depends for his living on the company you’re arbitrating against. Guess how that’s going to turn out?

Choice? What choice?

Please don’t tell me you’ve the choice not to buy or sign up for any of those things that make you sign away your rights. In today’s high tech society, software, and a computer, and a cell phone, and a credit card, not to mention a job, are just as necessary to sustaining life as water. See how far you’ll get in this without a bank account, or a credit card, or a computer, or a cell phone, or a job.

Further, the cost to you of the arbitration may be outrageous and the odds of getting full justice slim. You may have to arbitrate in a distant state where the company you signed on with locates its business. You can’t join with others who’ve been ripped off by the same company in a class action suit, because you’ve all waived your rights to sue when you signed those humongous contracts.

To be fair, in some circumstances, arbitration may be to the mutual advantage of buyer and seller. So it makes sense to give both of you the right to arbitrate at the time you get into the dispute, if you then both agree to that. But most of the time, arbitration is clearly to the seller’s advantage. And you have no choice, because you signed your rights away before you realized you were going to get ripped off.

Hey it’s election year. So grab
your representative’s ear now.

So, fellow computer owners, software users, salary earners, bank depositors, brokerage account customers, credit card spenders, car loan and mortgage payers, cell phone callers — even seekers of romance through online dating services — it’s time to contact your congressmen and senators. Tell them you want an end to forced arbitration. Insist that arbitration should permitted only if both parties agree to it at the time a dispute arises.

If we can put an end to forced arbitration we’ll go a long way toward ending company bullying, slipshod manufacturing, predator lending, and sometimes even homicidal neglect. And even if the Congress remains sclerotic after the next election, people who’ve been forced to sign away their rights can start thinking about bringing the issue before appeals courts.

If you can’t sell yourself into slavery, why should you be permitted to sell your soul to some greedy industrialist who will leave you stranded in the 19th Century if you don’t surrender your rights when you use today’s essential services?

Friday, July 29, 2016

Will there be any Clinton vs. Trump TV debates? (A bit of idle speculation.)

We know Melania Trump swiped part of her speech from Michelle Obama. Now
 there’s prima facie evidence that Donald Trump got his political philosophy 
from Tony the Tiger. But that’s not what this post is about.

Somebody in the Trump camp must be sweating bullets.

It's  quite nearly a given that opposing Presidential nominees are expected  to debate each other on television. Which leads me to wonder what’s going through the minds of people at Trump headquarters.

No, I’m not talking about the mind of Donald Trump himself. I’m sure he thinks he can walk in front of the cameras, call his opponent “crooked Hillary” a few hundred times, and promise he’ll be like Tony the Tiger of Sugar Frosted Flakes fame, and make America grrrrreat! again. And that will be that.

But less bloated heads in Trumpland must assuredly know better. As we saw during her speech on Thursday night, Hillary is calm, confident, knows her stuff in depth, is not likely to be rattled easily, and has a fat dossier on Trump.  

So for openers, if Hillary, or questioners from the press ask Trump a single “how” question, his goose is is deep fried in oil sludge.

“How will you pay for that when you also promise to cut taxes, Donald? What government waste are you specifically talking about? How much will this program cost and how did you calculate that, Donald? Will you really give nukes to Saudi Arabia and risk the resultant mid-Est holocaust? Will you actually permit your pal Putin to march in and take Poland and Hungary? Nice tie you’re wearing Donald...why did you have it made in China?”

And so on. Not to mention all the tangible horrors waiting for Hillary to pull out of Trump’s past and demand that he answer to, from the Trump University Follies to stiffed carpenters and plumbers, to bankrupt casinos. And what’s Trump specifically going to counter-punch with other than “she got $600,000 for a speech,” and “Don’t believe her, she’s crooked, folks.” 

The one danger is that Trump will try to shout down anything Hillary says. But that can be, and should be addressed in advanced of the debate. It ought to be stipulated that during each candidate’s turn to talk, the other candidate’s microphone shall be turned off by a neutral time keeper. In fact, I like that idea so much, that in the name of civil discourse I think this rule should be extended to all political debates, not to mention all those migraine-inducing Shouting Head Festivals on CNN.

But back to the Clinton-Trump debate:

I can’t imagine anyone in the Trump camp who wants the disagreeable duty, after the first debate if there is one, of handing The Donald a bloody plastic bag with something horrifying in it and saying, “Mr. Trump, Hillary said I should give this to you for a souvenir.” 

The Donald will of course make a face and ask, “What is that?” And the Trump staffer will have to say, “Those are your testicles, sir.” Whereupon The Donald will discover for the first time that during the debate he lost something without even realizing it.

So I’m saying there’s a better than fair chance that Trump’s handlers will find an excuse not to let him debate. Any excuse. It might be a flareup of the old “foot thing” (whichever foot he decides to remember it was) that kept him out of the military. Or it might be the petulant announcement that “I refuse to even be in the same room with Crooked Hillary.” It might  even be, “the press is so biased against me that I can’t debate her.” 

Nobody will be fooled, but I’m guessing that Trump will use any escape hatch he can find to  run like a scared rabbit. And if he doesn’t run from the first debate, he even more likely will before the second. 

You say his ego is far too inflated to miss a an opportunity to appear on national TV and demonstrate that, no matter what anybody says, vulgarity is not dead? Just remember that what’s really inflated is just another gas bag. And the more inflated they are, the more easily and louder they pop.

My advice to Hillary: declare some debate dates, get the network time reserved, and if Trump doesn’t show up, debate from your side and let the camera point to an empty chair when it’s Trump’s turn. 

As for me, if there ever actually is a Clinton-Trump debate, or two, or more, I intend to sit in front of the television set with two bowls. One will contain a heaping serving of popcorn. The other will be filled to the brim with schadenfreude.