Sunday, February 24, 2019

Warren Buffet has a few words for those self-satisfied types who think they made their billions all by themselves

See below 
From Buffet's 2019 annual letter to Berkshire Hathaway stockholders, page 14:
Charlie* and I happily acknowledge that much of Berkshire’s success has simply been a product of what I think should be called The American Tailwind. It is beyond arrogance for American businesses or individuals to boast that they have “done it alone.” The tidy rows of simple white crosses at Normandy should shame those who make such claims.
 And while we're at it, from page 5 of the same letter:
Abraham Lincoln once posed the question: “If you call a dog’s tail a leg, how many legs does it have?” and then answered his own query: “Four, because calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it one.” Abe would have felt lonely on Wall Street.
Or, I might add, in today's Republican party. Or today's White House.

One more, because while Buffet is talking about corporate behavior, he might just as well be talking about political behavior. From Page 7:
Over the years, Charlie and I have seen all sorts of bad corporate behavior, both accounting and operational, induced by the desire of management to meet Wall Street expectations. What starts as an “innocent” fudge in order to not disappoint “the Street” – say, trade-loading at quarter-end, turning a blind eye to rising insurance losses, or drawing down a “cookie-jar” reserve – can become the first step toward full-fledged fraud. Playing with the numbers “just this once” may well be the CEO’s intent; it’s seldom the end result. And if it’s okay for the boss to cheat a little, it’s easy for subordinates to rationalize similar behavior.
* "Charlie" refers to Buffet's business partner, Charlie Munger. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Conservative U.S. Supreme Court to sick and dying Americans: Drop Dead!

"They say drug prices are too high? Shove the prices down their throats!"
The fearless defenders of the right to life of fertilized eggs, blastulas, gastrulas, and fetuses have new reason to rejoice at the appointment of right wing justices to the United Stated Supreme Court.

The right-to-life-loving justices have just delivered a message to the sick and the dying: Be sick and die. We don’t give a damn. We have obscene drug company profits to protect. Not to mention the right of rich corporations to pillage the little guy.

Maryland’s humanity 
vs. conservative greed

All of the above emerged when an attempt by the State of Maryland to regulate the outrageous prices of generic and out-of-patent drugs — drugs that help sick and dying people — was rejected first by an appeals court and then effectively by the so-called conservative Supreme Court.

Reports from Reuters and other news media, this one for example, say the Supremes refused to review the case, which was originally brought by a drug trade association representing manufacturers of generic drugs, and decided in their favor by the appeals court. 

The drug makers took deep umbrage at a Maryland law that would prevent, for example, companies like Mylan and Turing from hiking the prices of drugs whose patent has expired (or their generic equivalents) to stratospheric levels — within Maryland's borders.

This would have undone, in Maryland only, a practice that presents  many desperately ill people with a simple proposition: Your money (if you have enough) or your life.

Pay up or die

Just to remind you of what we’re talking about here, Turing raised the price of Daraprim, an anti-parasitic drug that was keeping AIDS victims and others alive from $13.50 a pill to $750 a pill. And yes, you'll need a lot more than one pill.

And Mylan, raised the price of EpiPen, an injection device that prevents allergy sufferers and others from going into anaphylactic shock and dying, raised the price of its product from $100 for a two-pack in 2009 to $608 in 2016.

Martin Shkreli, the former head honcho of Turing, is currently blogging, not always completely coherently, from a prison cell, where he belongs. He still has, according to his blog, 30 months left to serve on his sentence. The sentence is for an unrelated or loosely-related crime. And no, I’ll be damned if I’ll voluntarily link to his blog. Ever.

Heather Bresch, the CEO of Mylan, is less likely to do time, for any reason. That's because it’s who you’re related to, and not basic human decency or ethics that counts. Bresch’s father is U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, who also flacks against controls on global warming for coal interests. He says he’s a Democrat. Sometimes our tent is a little too big to suit my personal taste.

Maryland tries to
save its citizens. 
Lotsa luck on that.

Remember, the awful, unconscionable, outrageous thing that Maryland attempted to do was to regulate prices for generic drugs within its own borders. That law was struck down by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of appeals last spring on the grounds that controlling prices in Maryland would somehow regulate trade outside of Maryland’s borders.

I’m not going to get tangled in the weeds concerning the finer points of law here. Feel free to go here and read the technical details until your eyes cross, which I can almost guarantee they will. 

Suffice it to say that the convoluted argument in favor of raping and pillaging sick people is ridiculous, and the legal justification is contradicted by other drug industry practices around the nation.

But your Conservative Supreme Court in action refused to review the lower court’s ruling, much less to change it. 

So much for the right to life when it stands in the way of making a quick and sleazy buck. 

Boof on that, Mr. Justice.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Is Jeff Bezos a good guy or a bad guy? Also: cockroaches, meerkats, a deadly snake, and an app for persecuting women.

Is this your ex-lover? Don't answer until you read the post below.
I’ll get to Jeff Bezos in a bit. Just bear with me while I explain that I’m old enough to remember when television only came in black and white. I’m talking 1948-ish. The screens were so small that some television sets were sold with a giant magnifying glass that stood on a pedestal in front of the screen — the better to see the grainy, static-y images.

Since all television shows were new, there were no reruns. The closest thing to old television series were old westerns, full of good guys, bad guys, and people jumping on and off horses.There wasn’t much room for subtlety on those grainy little black and white screens, so the cowboy movies made the job of telling good guys from bad guys easy-peasy. The good guys, who were all good, from their pure intentions to their boot-shod toes, wore white hats. The bad guys were all bad, from their evil scowls to their nefarious intentions, and wore black hats. 

In real life, especially in this day of color screens that can be big enough to cover a wall (or small enough to slide into your shirt pocket) things are a bit less subtle. And not only television programming. Case in point?

Jeff Bezos. Should Jeff Bezos be wearing a white hat or a black hat? Considering that the guy appears to have two heads, I’d say both.

On the one hand, one Jeff Bezos good guy head has had the courage (admittedly backed by more money than you or I are likely to even imagine having in a lifetime) to stand up to what appears to be a blackmail threat from David Pecker, the head honcho of American Media and, by some strange coincidence, a pal of Donald Trump. This led, unsurprisingly but delightfully, to tabloid wordplay headlines that will last long past the scandal.

So Jeff is a good guy, yes? Yes, indeed. But also no, no way. Which brings me to Jeff’s other head. Because Bezos is also also a very, very bad guy.

First of all, he got into this pickle with American Media by carrying on an extramarital affair. This happens often, to many people, but it’s never good guy stuff.

More importantly, Bezos is a sonofabitch. In his search for a second Amazon headquarters, if you want to call it that, he baited and switched cities like a polished con man. It costs tons of money and time for a city to put together a proposal for Amazon, and in some cases, according to this report, Amazon had no real intention  of ever locating in the cities that Bezos baited. The sole objective was to scare the hell out of other cities, so they’d pile on more incentives for Amazon to choose them.

It used to be, the reason anyone would want to live anywhere near an industrial behemoth like Amazon was that the beast would throw tons of tax money into the city coffers. These days, it’s the opposite. Instead of paying taxes, monster corporations insist that taxpayers pay them to locate nearby. 

Yeah yeah, I know Amazon will employ some people — at least until Bezos finds robots that will be able to do most of the jobs for no salary at all. But inevitably, the benefit to those people could be more efficiently distributed if the government just sent a check to all the Joe and Josie Dufuses in the neighborhood.

Not to mention that Bezos hates unions and New York is still a union town. Trust the Jeffster to start pumping for local laws that cripple unions, if he locates his second headquarters here. 

On the other hand, Bezos bought the crusading Washington Post, thus assuring its survival, at least until he gets bored with it. Pat the Bezos head that wears the white hat. 

But on the other hand, the Jeffster’s management style at that newspaper has been all black hat. Just ask the journalist in charge of the union bargaining unit at the Post. Last year he said: “We are toward the end of settling this contract, and it’s not going to be a great contract. We know that. We’ve basically spent a year fighting off bad things.”

Personally, I’d like to bang both of the Jeffster’s heads together, good and hard.

P.S. The day after I posted this, Amazon announced it was pulling out of New York. Or at any rate, that it's not coming here. That's a good thing, not done for a good reason. As best I can figure it, Bezos wanted to punish New York skeptics who had doubts about giving him a huge tax break to change a Queens neighborhood, drive up rentals and force out the mostly working class folks who are hanging on there by the skin of their teeth now, enrich real estate speculators, and try to impose a silicon ethos on New York. Well, consider us punished, Jeff. Oh boo hoo!  And to the next municipality that thinks it's doing itself a favor by paying Bezos to locate his sweatshop there — lotsa luck. You're getting the head with the black hat.

Cockroaches and meercats. Speaking of bad things, do you have an ex who you dream about running into —  with a speeding Mack truck? Have I got an event for you! Down in El Paso Texas….No no! Calm down! This is not about Trump's wall!

Down in El Paso, the local zoo recently announced a Valentine’s Day event which enabled irked ex spouses and significant others to name a cockroach after their exes. But that’s only the beginning.
One of these adorable little critters may have just eaten
your former main squeeze
You could then watch the disgusting creature named for your ex get fed to a meerkat. (Who knew that such cute little animals ate such disgusting things?) Anyway, there’s the proof, if you ever desire it, that revenge is a dish best served up lukewarm and crunchy.

Then there’s the deadly snake — and no, you smartass, I’m not talking about Stephen Miller. A zoo in Sydney, Australia, held a contest to see who could name its new acquisition, “one of the world’s most venomous” snakes. Contestants were required to donate a buck (I assume an Australian buck, the equivalent of 71 cents, American) along with a brief essay explaining why your ex deserves the honor. Heck, it’s almost worth going to Sydney just for a better chance of naming the snake. Maybe you could go during feeding time and hope it’ll choke on a rat.

And now for some high tech persecution of women. It’s a Saudi invention. Moreover, in more ways than one, it's a 12th Century leap into the technological present. Turns out the in Riyadh they created a cell phone app that enables men to track their wives (yes, plural), daughters, sisters, and any other women they more or less own, so that the guys can tell if any of the women are traveling anywhere without patriarchal permission.

Speaking of big business and big bucks, the app has been installed on Google Play more than a million times, according to a report in the Washington Post. (Thank you White Hat Jeffster.) Apple also supports the app because, umm, hey, you wouldn’t want those girls sneaking out of the harem and getting lost while driving around in the desert without permission. If they dare try it, you'll just have to give them a good beating when they get home. Now the app makes it easier.

Amnesty International has complained that human rights abuses of women are “facilitated by the App, and mitigate the harm that the App has on women,” the Washington Post story continued.

Well at least it’s a bit more up-to-date than the bone saw that one Saudi agent was wielding in Istanbul a while back.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Mini rants, random ravings, muttered micro-babbling, and other stuff that’s too short all by their individual selves to make a blog post. But all together? Try this:

Which way is it, Mr. Trump? Delivered with all the sincerity he could suck off a teleprompter, Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech last night was a matter I’ll leave largely to pundits wiser and better briefed than I. However, there was one glaring inconsistency that I feel I must point out. He told us that economically we’ve never had it so good. We have more employment, for better money, for more people, than ever and ever hallelujah! And then he got into immigration, and how  immigrants are taking away all our jobs and driving down all our wages.

No no, Donald. You can have it one way. Or you can have it the other way. But you can’t have it both ways at once. (Except maybe in the case of those two hookers with full bladders in Russia.)

Trump and his damn wall. If he really wants to keep people from walking across the border, all he has too do is lay a minefield. Yes, people would get killed and maimed. Not to mention jackrabbits, field mice, gophers, rattlesnakes, and the occasional curiosity seeker and minefield tourist. What’s that you say? We don’t have minefield tourists now? Lay a minefield and we will. As P.T. Barnum, (or was it H.L. Mencken?) once said, nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public. You want proof? His name is Donald J. Trump.

How to make college — and prescription medicines — affordable at the same time.  I think I’m serious about this. Or partly serious. Or sort of serious. I mean it’s a crazy idea. But like flying into the sky with the help of an internal combustion engine attached to what’s essentially a pinwheel, which is in turn attached to a pair of giant dragonfly wings (thanks, Wright Brothers!) …or like curing previously deadly infections by injecting some kind of mold into peoples’ veins (thanks, Alexander Flemming)…or spending billions to fly men to the moon just so they could plant a flag there and burble some stuff about small steps and giant steps and mankind (thanks NASA and the Congresses that funded it)…this might work. I’m not saying it will. Just that it might. If we try it.

Suppose we pass a law — yeah, a radical law — that restricts all government funding of pharmaceutical research to not-for-profit universities. The universities would be entitled to earn a small-but-reasonable profit on drugs they invent, perfect and test — not the obscene profits private drug companies earn. 

Moreover, the universities would be required to apply those profits to tuition reduction for their own students. Some of the research would have to be farmed out to small liberal arts and technical colleges, and they would then share in the profits proportionately. (If the the small institutions don’t have the labs and technical chops for the drug research, let them handle the statistics and other details for the clinical trials.)

Bottom line: Drugs become less expensive. College becomes less expensive. America becomes healthier. Martin Shkreli’s and Heather Bresch's heads explode. I mean, it’s all nothing but positives. And now back to Donald Trump.

Can Trump be tricked into having a giant public meltdown? I’m not talking about an itty-bitty cursing fit, or another coded racist diatribe about good people on both sides. I’m talking about a screaming, yelling, kicking, table-pounding, foaming-at-the-mouth, foul-language explosion that reveals his inner six-year-old. Okay if you insist, not-so-inner.  How can we make that happen?

Let’s start calling some of the Trump organization’s Russian ventures what they clearly appear to be to many people, myself included: Treason, committed for reasons of venality. And let’s start demanding the death penalty, which I believe is still on the books for treason. Let’s start waving banners and chanting, “Trump. Treason. Death Penalty.” Let’s put it on bumper stickers. Let’s encourage the press to ask about it at every turn. I’ll betcha one of Howard Schultz’s Grande Venti Trenta super moccicato skim milk cold-brewed hot lattes that at some point, if we all keep up the treason pressure, The Trumpster loses it in public. I mean really, really loses it.

Speaking of Howard Schultz have you noticed that since he announced he’s considering running for president and everybody, me included, jumped down his throat and then crawled out of it again just to poo all over his bright idea, things have been quiet on the topic of the Barrista Presidency? Let’s make sure he lets the idea die a merciful death. To do so, we saner bloggers ought every so often to jump on Schultz’s not-so-bright idea and rip him a new one, just to remind him that a barrista  should stick to his espresso machine.

Where’s Kaepernick? Where’s Kaepernick? That’s not me asking the same question twice. That’s a proposed chant that ought to be chanted at every NFL football game. Colin Kaepernick is being punished for protesting racial violance. His protest was expressed by getting down on one knee during the salute to the American flag. It was visual. But it was also respectful. He didn’t turn his back, thumb his nose, spit, or walk off the field. He knelt, just as people in some churches do when they pray. A bent knee is always — I mean always — a sign of respect, not the opposite. 

The real disrespect to the flag — and to the people who died for it — is by those who would punish peaceful and respectful protest, the very thing our Constitution grants us and that the American flag symbolizes. But imagine if every football game from now on were delayed while the crowd chanting Where's Kaepernick?

Chant it over and over again: Where’s Kaepernick? Where’s Kaepernick? Where’s Kaepernick? Where’s Kaepernick? 

Remind the NFL every chance you get that they have furthered the cause of racism to make a filthy buck.