Sunday, June 18, 2017

Damn you, Donald! I was hoping finally to take a vacation in Cuba this winter and you just went and ruined it.

I've had two bucks invested here since 1957
Yes, this is partly about how Donald Trump wrecked the loosening of America’s ban on travel to Cuba. But for me it’s more than that. And it’s personal. And it's old. The story goes back sixty years. 

In 1957, I was an Antioch College student in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Back then, there were only two drinking spots in town, and the students pretty much stuck to one of them. It was called the Trail Tavern. It’s still there today, a centuries-old building on the main drag that once served as a hiding place for escaped slaves on the underground railroad.

So one night, I was sitting at the bar in the Trail Tavern and a classmate of mine, one Bennett Kremen, sits down next to me and begins raving.

“Man,” he says, “I was just down in Cuba. There’s gonna be a revolution down there. Everybody thinks Batista has the country under control, but I was up in the mountains, in a place called Oriente, and they’ve got a whole army of revolutionaries. You should see the shit they’ve got. They’ve got jeeps. They’ve got howitzers. They’ve got trucks. They’ve got rifles. They've got mortars. They’ve got machine guns. They’re going to take over that country, man!”

“Uh oh,” I thought, “Crazy Benny is at it again. Maybe he’s been smoking a bit too much loco weed.”

That same week, a group of Cubans visited campus, representing some guy nobody ever heard of at the time called Fidel Castro. It wasn’t until about seven years ago that I ran into Kremen again and he admitted that he had brought the Cubans back with him, from his vacation.

At any rate, I sat in a dormitory common room while the Cubans had their say. They were planning to get rid of Fulgencio Batista, the dictator of Cuba, they said. Yeah, well nobody loved the guy. He was the kind of person Theodore Roosevelt defended with undisguised disgust when he said “They may be sons of bitches but they’re our sons of bitches."

I was only half listening to the Cubans. I wasn’t particularly political at the time and I had some books to crack. But I do remember them confirming what most Americans already knew anyway. Batista was an S.O.B., a brutal dictator, who had built an economy based on sugar prices supported by the U.S. Government, gambling casinos, and whorehouses. The visiting Cubans told us many illustrative atrocity stories to convince us of what we already knew. One story was about a Batista opponent whose eyes were gouged out in prison by Batista's police. I believed it. Batista was not a nice guy.

At they end of the talk, they told us they were collecting money for their cause and passed a hat around. That's not a metaphor. It was a real hat. I tossed in two dollars.

Now two dollars was not a huge sum, but it bought a lot more than you can get for two bucks today. With two dollars, I could have bought coffee every night in the college coffee shop for maybe two weeks. Or I could have purchased perhaps five hamburgers. Most important of all, two dollars was two-fifths of my weekly spending money. 

All the same, as six decades of inflation have done their work, two dollars increasingly sounds like a cheesy contribution. Which is part of the joke I’ve been cracking for the last twenty years or so.

“One of these days I’m going to go down to Cuba to see what I got for my two bucks,” I’d say at cocktail parties. Sometimes it elicited an amused chuckle.

Then President Obama loosened up some of the restrictions on travel to Cuba. And I started thinking about actually going there. I’m under no illusions about the government. It's a police state. It treated Batista’s brutes with the same brutality they had treated others. Far too many Cubans died in front of Castro's firing squads. Some may have been innocent, or guilty of very little.

And yes, from what I know, the Castro government’s major achievement was turning desperate poverty into genteel poverty. But if true, I see that as an improvement, quite an improvement considering we've embargoed their economy for half a century. The people became better fed. They certainly became better educated. They have access to medical care that many Americans could wish for, even as the Cubans have to watch what they say, and to whom they say it.

I was hoping to travel there inexpensively. I hoped to sleep at Air BnB homes, where I could guardedly converse with Cubans about what they liked, and didn’t like, about their lives and their government. This was going to happen this coming winter.

And then along comes Donald Trump. For no good reason, other than to break something because President Obama made it, and to please a handful of aged Cuban refugees who can’t let go of their hatred for the dead Fidel, Trump slammed on the brakes.

Obama caused “illegal tourism” to Cuba, Trump declared in one of his typically incoherent rants. He was going to stop the illegality.

Can you still go to Cuba? From what the Washington Post reports, yes, if you have relatives there. Or if you get on a Cuban tour bus and let  yourself get shuttled from site to site by government guides feeding you the party line. But hell, if I’m going to do that I might as well stay home and read about it on the Internet. Thank Donald Trump.

Once again, the problem child in the White House has acted like a six year old who goes to a classmate’s birthday party, breaks all the toys, throws the birthday cake on the floor, and then whines that all the other kids are being mean to him. In this case, the breakage was of less restrictive travel to Cuba. So I may never see first hand what I got for my two bucks.

Oh, about Bennett Kremen. In the early 1970s he traveled around parts of the United States, doing total immersion journalism. He worked in factories. He froze helping to build an arctic oil pipeline. He hung with students. He dug into Americans' lives and their thoughts, and turned it into a book called “Dateline America: dispatches from an altering nation.”

It got a friendly review from Kirkus. It got a snarky review in the Harvard Crimson from some college kid named Nick Lemann, who is today Dean Emeritus of Columbia University’s graduate school of journalism and a writer for the New Yorker. Go know.

Kremen pretty much gave up on journalism after that and went on to do other things. So far as I know, he has not been back to Cuba again. And thanks to Donald Trump, I am likely never to get there in my own lifetime. Another reason I so relish watching the Trump Administration implode into itself.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Listen up, White House staff: lawyer up right now while the lawyering up is good!

I don't know what it is with Catherine. I told her to
lawyer up, but she said, "No, I'll just use King Henry's
lawyer and save some money."
Hello, suckers. Yes, I’m talking to you, the the people on the White House staff who work for President Trump.

The New York Times on Sunday reported that Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Marc E. Kasowitz, has been dispensing reassurances to some of you. Some, including the Times, would or might call it advice.

Says the Times of Kasowitz:
His visits to the White House have raised questions about the blurry line between public and private interests for a president facing legal issues. Mr. Kasowitz in recent days had advised White House aides to discuss the inquiry into Russia’s interference in last year’s election as little as possible, two people said. He told aides gathered in one meeting who had asked whether it was time to hire private lawyers that it was not yet necessary, according to another person with direct knowledge.
Right-O. Imagine that in an entirely different case, this one fictional, Muggsy Banks, who specializes in savings and loan society holdups, stations a driver and a lookout man outside the local S&L, while Muggsy goes in with a drawn pistol, and emerges with several large cloth bags with dollars signs printed on them. 

They all drive away, but suspicion falls on Muggsy Banks. Banks immediately lawyers up, hiring the notoriously ruthless attorney Thelonius Writs, for personal representation.”

“Hey, Mister Writs,” asks the driver, “Ya think we should get our own lawyers, too?

“Don’t waste your money boys,” says Writs. “At this point it’s really not necessary.”

Next thing you know, Lookout Larry and Denny D. Driver are indicted, tried and convicted of Bank Robbery and find themselves doing 25 years in the slammer. This occurs after Writs gives each of them questionable advice, and meanwhile arranges for Muggsy Banks to testify against them. Muggy gets off scott free.

Just remember what the Times article is telling you, White House staff: 
Mr. Kasowitz's advice to administration staff may benefit the president more than the aides themselves, the experts said. The conversations Mr. Kasowitz has with aides could shape their testimony before Mr. Muller has a chance to interview them, should they be called as witnesses.
And furthermore:
Under ethics rules, Mr. Kasowitz could not interview any official who had hired a lawyer without that lawyer’s permission, meaning it would be in his interest if administration aides did not hire their own lawyers, experts said.
And still  furthermore: 
Since asserting influence in the White House in recent weeks, Mr. Kasowitz discussed establishing an office on White House grounds in the Eisenhower executive Office Building, where much of the presient’s staff works, according to multiple people familiar with the deliberations. Such an arrangement would have Mr. Kasowitz and his team frequently crossing paths with potential witnesses.
Please keep in mind: 
“The president’s private lawyer is representing only his interests, not the interests of the United States government or the individual interests of the White House Staff," said Robert F. Bauer, who was White House counsel under President Barack Obama.
So —White House staffers, you face a stark choice. Do nothing, and put your fate in the hands of the man who represents only Donald Trump, the same Donald Trump who declared bankruptcy and let his investors drown, and who sold the wonderful benefits of attending Trump University to a bunch of gullible suckers.

Or protect your own hide, take a second mortgage on the house, and pay an initial retainer for your own lawyer, now, before it’s too late.

Don’t say The New York Crank didn’t warn you.

P.S. to Vice-President Mike Pence:  Mike, according to various news outlets yesterday, you've evidently followed my advice. Good for you! Always happy to have Republicans in the Trump administration among my faithful readers. You ought to listen to me more often.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Should Donald Trump be impeached? Be careful what you wish for.

Do you really want President Mike Pence?

I suspect that setting foot in the White House these days is like stepping into a house that has suffered 90 years of termite damage, while the termites are still chomping away.

Donald Trump may have deflected attention away from himself for a day or two by appointing Christopher Wray the next FBI chief, but that’s short term stuff. The entire Trump White House operation is not only in disarray, but swaying, shaking, rattling, and collapsing on itself faster than a black hole can swallow up a dung beetle.

We have clear violations of the Foreign Emoluments clause of the Constitution,  as well as possible vulnerability to Russian blackmail mixed with nepotism, and the appearance of impropriety mixed with foreign skulduggery so strong that it assaults not only the eyes but the nostrils

Many Americans rightfully also smell Trump blood in the water. Some of my fellow Progressives, as well as other varieties of Democrats, are openly talking about impeachment.

I wish they’d shut up.

Yes, it’s possible that in the near future, disgust with Donald Trump will become so ubiquitous that even many Republicans will turn against him. It’s possible he can be impeached, if not now, then at least after the next Congressional elections, if Democrats gain, and Republicans lose enough election seats.

But then what will we get in Donald Trump’s place? You could not buy a better life insurance policy than Donald Trump gave himself when he named Mike Pence as his running mate. Pence would bring you  most of Trump’s regressive domestic policies, but without the incompetence that makes it so difficult for Trump to implement them. And if we somehow get rid of Mike Pence?

Then you get Paul Ryan, he of mysto-magic national budget plans intended to relieve the poor of their Social Security, Medicare and Obama care, while using the money taken from the poor to enrich the plumpest of America's fat cats.

Here's a handy rule to live by: do not remove an incompetent President with regressive instincts if he will be replaced by a competent President with similarly regressive instincts. Or to paraphrase Napoleon Bonapart, never interrupt the enemy when he is drowning in mistakes while trying to swim still further toward the deep end.

Instead, what sane Americans should be working for is a Democratic Congress and Senate that will hobble the president, passing progressive legislation, overriding his vetoes, vetoing his un-progressive nominees to the courts and elsewhere.

Impeachment is dangerous. Do not impeach Trump. Don’t put him in prison, as delicious as you might find that thought. Place him under White House arrest instead, by handicapping what little ability he has to function. And there let him fester and tweet his own head off until the next presidential election.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

How I caught those Donald Trump Covfefe, Melting Snowflake Decapitation Blues

The New York Crank about to be decapitated, circa 1975, rendered by
 graphic designer and clever adman Kevin Melahn.  Instead of whining
 about it the way Donald Trump whined about his own decapitation image,
 I framed this picture and hung it in my living room.

So just a few days ago America was all a-twitter, if you’ll forgive the pun, about an incoherent tweet from our President using the word “covfefe.”

The Internet overheated with speculation as to what covfefe means. Is it a coded message to Moscow? Does it means something like, “Despite the constant negative press, screw it?” And if so, what precisely is the “it” that Trump would like us to screw? 

Samantha Bee had, if not the last word, then at least some of the best words concerning the matter. 

But frankly, I think the mass reaction was mystifying. The word covfefe is no less incoherent than Donald Trump’s foreign policy. Or the precise nature of his repeal-and-replace plan for Obamacare.  Or his tax policy. Next to those weighty matters, what’s a silly non-word?

Moreover, covfefe turns out to be a useful word. Hereafter, we can refer to it whenever Donald Trump utters an obvious lie, or makes a highly dubious statement. 

"It’s just more covfefe," we can tell one another. In fact, we can nickname the man in the White House President Covfefe. And hey, be careful where you walk. Those dog owners never clean up after their animals. You almost stepped in a big pile of covfefe.

But then, as quickly as Donald Trump taught us a new word for what’s on his mind, attention turned away from his covfefe to something the comedian Kathy Griffin had done. In case you’ve just returned from a cruise in a submarine and missed the news, she posed with herself holding a blood-stained object resembling Donald Trump’s severed head.

To be honest, it really was stupid, tasteless and, if you want to stretch a point, sort of threatening. Little wonder Griffin abjectly apologized, which evidently wasn’t enough to save her annual New Year’s Eve television gig with Anderson Cooper. Alas, somebody else will have to make with the wisecracks from now on when the ball drops in Times Square. 

But I’m a bit amazed by the reaction from the folks seated over the right wing while trying to pilot their way out of America’s tailspinning trajectory. 

A comedienne holding a fake bloody head  was not nearly as threatening as the Florida gun store owner who sold targets with the faces of Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Barack Obama on them, a remarkable feat of tasteless retailing reported uncritically by the right wing Internet rag, The Blaze. 

Instead, the article, under a photograph that showed not only the targets, but also some choice samples of rapid fire weapons the store will sell you,  told gun owners how to reach the gun store on the Internet to make purchases. Not a peep of complaint out of Donald Trump. Draw your own conclusions.

It's amazing how the right wing, previously silent on the subject of shooting Democratic presidential candidates in the head, exploded in a chorus of whines and outrage at the depiction of a comedienne holding Donald Trump’s head severed from his body. As if it’s a lot easier to sneak into the White House and decapitate its inhabitant than to pick off a Democrat on an outdoor platform with a long range rifle.

Not least among the complainers was President Covfefe himself. 

“Griffin should be ashamed of herself,” he whined in a tweet. “My children, especially my 11-year-old son, Baron, are having a hard time with this. Sick!” 

Except, wait a second! Griffin took down her tweet and self-abasingly apologized. The “fake news” media like CBS, NBC, ABC. CNN, and others showed a blurred out photograph of what Griffin was holding. You knew it was a presidential head only because the text, or the television reporter, told you it was a presidential  head. Otherwise, it might just as well have been a badly blurred head of carrots. 

But there was an exception. Breitbart News published the photograph, un-blurred. As of this posting, it’s still out there on the Internet for little Baron, and all the other 20-something  and innocent 30-something presidential children to see. And who is a founding member of the board of Breitbart, and its former Executive Chair? Why, none other than Presidential advisor Steve Bannon, who works down the hall from President Covfefe.

Clearly, if little Baron and the 30-something kids is having such a hard time with that blurred photograph, Steve Bannon’s pet publication must be giving them nightmares. But have we heard a peep out of the President concerning Breitbart, which he staunchly supports? Has he walked down the hall, flung open Bannon’s office  door and shouted, “Steve, have your pals at Brietbart take down that image or you’re toast here!” 

Umm, no.

Besides, if we had a real mensch in the White House he would have ignored the photograph, or laughed it off, or reveled in it, and ordered a photograph of Giffin holding his head to be imbedded in plastic as a desk toy, paperweight, and defiant souvenir. Instead, all he had to offer was a tweet that made him sound like a wounded bird.

The real reason for the whiney Presidential protest is that our Commander in Chief is a delicate little snowflake, who will melt at the merest suggestion that he is not beloved, adored, and worshipped (am I getting sort of redundant here?) by everyone. This despite his own advocacy of “a halluva lot worse” than water boarding. Not to mention that people ought to “knock the crap” out of anybody who protests his outrageous positions.

Yup, there’s a snowflake in the Oval Office. He's  mean and sadistic snowflake when it comes to how he treats others, but a snowflake when it comes to getting knocked himself. And that, at least for today, is all I have to say about President Covfefe and why he give me the blues.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Nostalgie de la boue: Donald Trump, Harry S. Truman, and the curious case of the eight-ulcer music critic

“Nostalgie de la boue” is one of those oddball idioms whose precise definition can distract an otherwise unoccupied mind longer than an aimless wallow through Facebook.

It translates from the French as “nostalgia for the mud,” and usually refers, according to Webster, to an “attraction to what is crude, depraved or degrading.” Or according to  the author Thomas Wolfe as…well, it’s a long story.

Regardless of the lexicographer you choose to swing with, the phrase is clearly applicable to Donald Trump. 


-Donald grabbing the genitalia of strange, or perhaps not-so-strange women. 

-Donald Trump engaging in various forms of pissing contests, whether those take the shape of arguing about the length of his fingers as they relate to another organ, or, as alleged, relating to some depraved behavior with hookers in a Moscow hotel room. 

-Or Donald Trump wallowing in deep swamps of self-pity, as when he declares himself to be the victim of a witch hunt, and further declares himself to be the most “unfairly” hounded president in history.

If you are fed up with the almost daily splatter of mud, flop sweat, and tears from this presidency, you might want to refer back to an incident that, by comparison, seems a bit quaint. However, it was marked by language that was shocking at the time, but richer in vocabulary and imagery than our current President seems competent of ever evoking.

I’m referring to an angry letter to a music critic, written in 1950 by then-President Harry S. Truman.

Truman, with the perspective of more than three generations, was a pretty good president from a family of more or less mediocre amateur musicians, including himself. 

Truman was an unremarkable pianist. His daughter, Margaret, was an unremarkable singer. Given some orchestral backup, the likely assistance of a recording studio engineer, and a good night, she could whip out a soprano rendition that would neither have you standing in the aisles of La Scala crying bravo, nor cringing as if you’d just heard a long piece of chalk screeching across a blackboard. She was no Maria Callas, but neither was she a Florence Foster Jenkins. Here is an example of Margaret Truman giving it her all:

In December of 1950, Margaret Truman had neither a good night nor a recording engineer to repair the damage. A live concert performance had been arranged for her in Constitution Hall, and the Washington Post sent along a music critic, Paul Hume, who evidently didn’t much like what he heard. He wrote:
Miss Truman is a unique American phenomenon with a pleasant voice of little size and fair quality  (she) cannot sing very well  is flat a good deal of the time, more last night than at any time we have heard her in past years  has not improved in the years we have heard her  (and) still cannot sing with anything approaching professional finish.
That, President Truman concluded. was…well, in the language of Donald Trump it would be “really unfair, the most unfair concert review in history.” But we are talking about a president who possessed a far richer talent for expository writing. He was able to craft an elaborately colorful insult from his resentment — an insult employing less whining and a far greater degree of linguistic precision than Donald Trump will ever be capable of producing. 

So Truman penned a letter to Hume that said
Mr. Hume: 
I've just read your lousy review of Margaret's concert. I've come to the conclusion that you are an "eight ulcer man on four ulcer pay.” 
It seems to me that you are a frustrated old man who wishes he could have been successful. When you write such poppy-cock as was in the back section of the paper you work for it shows conclusively that you're off the beam and at least four of your ulcers are at work. 
Some day I hope to meet you. When that happens you'll need a new nose, a lot of beefsteak for black eyes, and perhaps a supporter below! 
Pegler, a gutter snipe, is a gentleman alongside you. I hope you'll accept that statement as a worse insult than a reflection on your ancestry. 
Truman was referring in the last paragraph to Westbrook Pegler, a syndicated newspaper columnist who was the Bill O’Reilly of his day, but that’s another story. The upshot of this story was that Hume published the letter.  Following that, the nation for some time was scandalized — scandalized! — by this presidential indiscretion. 

I am old enough — although I was a child at the time — to remember my own parents, both of them Truman Democrats, discussing the letter in a state of near-shock. How could such terrible language come from the President of the United States?

These days we could acutely wish for such language. The daily barrage of whining befitting a wounded guttersnipe (look up the word, Donald, if you can concentrate on a dictionary long enough) will be one of the enduing trademarks of Donald Trump. He longs for the mud and the gutter. Unfortunately, he is dragging the United States down into it with him. 

Thursday, May 25, 2017

No, Mr. Oliver, you can’t attempt to incite lynch violence and murder, and then get off with an apology

Karl Oliver, an odious little creep who got elected to the Mississippi House of Representatives in part with the generous backing of the Koch Brothers, as well as the bankers (including Wells Fargo), realtors, home builders, a local power company, and even the chicken farmers of Mississippi, got himself into deep manure recently. 

He stepped into it by advocating lynching for those who want to remove civil war monuments to slave-holding heroes of the Confederacy in neighboring Louisiana.

The resulting outrage got Oliver, who is a former county coroner, lots of national attention. Little wonder. In calling for lynching he was essentially calling upon his friends and neighbors to form a lawless mob and murder people. Well, perhaps even more than murder. The American Way of Lynching can involve slow strangulation while hanging from a tree, or burning at the stake, or dismemberment — and more.

Or, in the case of the 1964 murders of three civil rights workers, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, it involved stopping people on a rural road in a car at midnight, brutally beating one of them with a chain, then shooting them and burying them under an earthen dam — a charming Mississippi coda to a wave of church burnings and beatings that were taking place at the time.

FBI photograph of the bodies of three lynching victims, Mississippi 1964,
uncovered after having been buried in mud under a dam.

Once his advocacy of lynching blew up in his face, Oliver realized he was in very serious trouble and tried to wriggle out of it by issuing an  apology. You may, like me, find his apology insincere.

“I am very sorry,” he said, referring to his attempt to incite mob violence through lynching. “It is in no way ever an appropriate term. I deeply regret that I chose this word, and I do not condone the actions I referenced, nor do I believe them in my heart. I freely admit my choice of words was horribly wrong, and I humbly ask your forgiveness.”

Yeah, right. He referred to those who wish to take down monuments to a culture of slave holding “Nazi-ish.” He made the extra effort  to hit the cap key so that the word “LYNCHED!” would stand out. And if he wasn’t making an extra effort to advocate that people get “LYNCHED,” what was he advocating?

Not for a moment do the racists who put him into office think he meant it when he apologized. Nor, I think, did he. The journal Mississippi Today checked among Oliver's constituents in his home town of Winona and reported:
For some of Oliver’s constituents, his comments weren’t as much a surprise as a relief. In a picturesque storefront within view of Forrest’s front porch, but across the train tracks that bisect this small town, Kathryn Harrison, an older woman with a smart white bob, folds donated clothes and stacks them in a bin.
Like Forrest, she has known Oliver and his family for years. And his willingness to say what others won’t is one of the things she likes best about him. 
“He’s a true Southern gentleman and a Christian, and he’s speaking his convictions,” Harrison said. “And most everybody here, they wanted him elected because he would stand on his convictions.”
So obviously, what America needs is a good Christian lynch mob. 

And that’s Oliver’s conviction, too. It was supported — it bears repeating — by the Koch brothers, the Mississippi Manufacturers Association, the Mississippi Home Builders Association, the Mississippi Poultry Association, the Mississippi Association of Realtors, the Mississippi Power Company, and the Mississippi Bankers Association whose members include Wells Fargo Bank, those wonderful folks who brought you the fake bank account scandal.

Thus, Karl Oliver has demonstrated not only the propensity for lynching still exists barely below the surface in Mississippi, but also that when a bank is rotten in one way, you can bet it's also rotten to the core.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Members of Congress actually do something right about outrageous drug prices. Maybe.

Perhaps this will wipe the smirk off drug gouger 
Martin Shkreli’s face. Or not.

If a bi-partisan amendment to a Congressional bill passes on the House floor, drug gouger Martin Shkreli will have less to smirk about.

The bill started out merely to reauthorize fees that the Food and Drug Administration charges to makers of pharmaceuticals and devices.

But then, Representatives Kurt Schrader, a Democrat from Oregon, and Gus Billirakis, a Florida Republican, wrote an amendment to the bill, which would encourages drug manufacturers to compete against the gougers. The price gougers typically purchase a cheap drug whose patent has expired and then raise the price sky-high.

For example, Shkreli, the smirking poster boy for greed in the drug industry, obtained the manufacturing license for a drug called Daraprim and raised its price from about $23.50 per pill to $750 per pill.  The ability to purchase Daraprim, an anti-parasitic agent, can be a life-or-death matter for some patients.

And Shkreli’s not the only one. Among others high on the list of people not likely to be widely mourned if they were to get crushed by a wayward meteorite is Heather Bresch, who jacked up the price of the life-saving EpiPen by 700 percent. Needless to say, her bloodthirsty profiteering didn’t please mothers of allergic children likely to die of anaphylactic shock, an emergency condition that EpiPen treats. If you can afford it.

Schrader and Billirakis’ amendment, supported by lawmakers from both parties, encouraged manufacturers  to compete against drugs like Daraprim and EpiPen that are out of patent but made by only one supplier. The new competitors would get six months of exclusive rights to compete. The amendment additionally puts their product applications on a six months timeline for approval, and offers certain other benefits.

Theoretically, this ought to aid in the creation competition that will thwart the drug gougers. But only theoretically.

First, the trade publication Modern Healthcare is saying that “Some observers have questioned whether the legislation would have any effect.”

Further, the legislation with the attached amendment is a long way from getting passed. Despite the group of Congressmen finally acting in a bipartisan matter to benefit sick and vulnerable Americans, there’s no telling whether the entire House will go along. And second, even if the House passes the bill, there’s still the U.S. Senate to deal with.

Further, you can count on the Trump administration to try throwing a monkey wrench into the works. Modern Healthcare also reports that Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Tom Price, a Trump appointee, now wants to “recalibrate” the fees that drug manufacturers pay for the FDA to examine and approve their medicines. That could lead to slowing down passage of the bill, and eliminating items like the Schrader-Billiarkis amendment.

You can almost be sure that the Shkrelis and Bresches of this world will fight to kill any bill that might keep them from stuffing their pocket with the money of the poor. And that might certainly include persuading Trump and Price to stomp on the bill, or its  competition-encouraging amendment. You know, competition is so….unAmerican.

All the same, we can hope.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Better than an insanity defense: the stupidity defense

From the New York Times:
In private, three administration officials conceded that they could not publicly articulate their most compelling — and honest — defense of the president for divulging classified intelligence to the Russians: that Mr. Trump, a hasty and indifferent reader of his briefing materials, simply did not possess the interest or the knowledge of the granular details of intelligence gathering to leak specific sources and methods of intelligence gathering that would harm American allies.
Mr. McMaster all but said that publicly from the briefing room lectern.
In other words, your honor, my client is so lazy, so intellectually thick, so uneducated, so damn downright stupid, he could not possibly have committed the crimes he's charged with. The defense rests.

Cross-posted at No More Mister Nice Blog

Monday, May 15, 2017

A very short essay on the latest news about Trump and the Russians

The President has the legal right to declassify any top secret information he chooses to declassify.

That said, if you or I had given to the Russians the kind of information that Donald Trump is accused of having given to the Russians, we could be arrested and tried for treason, which is still a death penalty crime in this country.

Lock him up!

America's criminal-minded drug companies: here we go again.

Don't ask why. Just open your wallet
wide and swallow this.
Martin Shkreli, the grinning ripoff artist whose infamy in part came from raising the price of a take-it-or-die drug from under $14 to $750 a pill — and who was charged with securities fraud in another matter — is no longer merely  a smirking sleaze bag. 

He's now also a pharmaceutical industry role model. 

The latest to follow his ethical lead is Avanir Pharmaceuticals. Here are some excerpts from a recent article by Julie Appleby in the New York Times. The story concerns TV commercials for Avanir’s drug Nudextra, which treats uncontrolled laughing or crying.  (And you thought cancer was a scourge!) 

The phenomenon is called Pseudobulbar, or PBA.
PBA mostly affects those with neurological conditions such as multiple sclerosis, a recent stroke or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Because the definition of the condition is ambiguous, estimates of its prevalence vary. Doctors may find PBA common or uncommon, depending on their specialty. Avanir sets the number at two million Americans. 
The market has proved lucrative. Nuedexta’s sales rose to $218 million last year from about $37 million in 2012, according to EvaluatePharma, which tracks pharmaceutical pricing and markets. 
“I suspect this disease is being redefined to include overly emotional people” through advertising, said Adriane Fugh-Berman, a doctor who teaches at Georgetown University Medical Center and has investigated pharmaceutical marketing practices. The United States is one of two countries that allows advertising of prescription drugs.
Nuedexta has also attracted attention because it is expensive, more than $700 a month for a supply of twice-a-day pills. The drug is a combination of two low-cost ingredients — an over-the-counter cough medicine and a generic heart drug — that, purchased separately, would run roughly $20 a month, according to online cost estimators.
The Times article goes on to point out that the proportions of the two medications are different in Nudextra than the normal dosages of each drug. So even if you find out what the two ingredients are, do not play pharmacist at home. 

But then this note:
Nuedexta doesn’t cure PBA, but it must be taken for the rest of a patient’s life to help reduce episodes of laughing or crying. While it’s the only drug approved specifically for PBA by the Food and Drug Administration, doctors have successfully used several less expensive treatments, all antidepressants, to treat the condition. 
“The cost for mixing two old drugs together is unconscionable,” said Dr. Jerome Avorn, a professor at Harvard Medical School and the chief of the Division of Pharmacoepidemiology and Pharmacoeconomics at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Right. Get ‘em on it, and hook ‘em for life. And not only do people who may (or may not) have Pseudobulbar pay through the nose. So does everybody else, through higher insurance rates.

It’s enough to make you want to laugh — or cry — uncontrollably.