Martin Shkreli Shown to be Fraud — as Thought

Michael HiltzikMichael Hiltzik reported, Drug Pricing: That Pill That Went From $13.50 to $750 Can Now Be Had for $1. The pill in question is Daraprim. Hedge fund manager and all around libertarian idiot Martin Shkreli bought the only company making the generic drug and raised the price 5,556%. But it seems there was a special circumstance regarding this drug so that “compounding business” could make it an sell it without going through a big process with the FDA.

What’s remarkable is that the company, Imprimis, says that it is going to make a tidy profit selling the drug for one dollar. That is in contrast to Shkreli who was going around telling the world that they were losing money selling it for $13.50. I don’t think that anyone really bought that, but no reporter ever countered it. Who can say in the specific case because companies can do accounting in an endless number of ways. But the Imprimis CEO, Mark Baum, said, “We’re not going to make hundreds of millions of dollars, but we’ll make a beautiful profit.”

The other thing that Shkreli went around telling people was that the extra money that he was charging for Daraprim would allow his company to create new drugs.

What is happening with Daraprim could not be done with all drugs. So there are lots of other generic drugs that the FDA still must approve, allowing psychopaths like Shkreli to gouge customers — just in a less public way. And in most of those cases, the drugs (which are also generic) can’t be reproduced from compounding businesses. That’s the thing: we don’t have a free market. The bigger companies control the political system and therefore what we call a “free market.” That’s why I bristle at the conservative claims about how “natural” capitalism is.

The other thing that Shkreli went around telling people was that the extra money that he was charging for Daraprim would allow his company to create new drugs. This would have been nonsense if it had been a real drug company like Roche, which actually does research. But the fact that Shkreli uses this line when all he does is collect rents shows that it is all a con. If it weren’t for government funded research, all we’d be getting is longer and longer acting ED drugs.

But there’s no doubt: it is really nice to see Martin Shkreli get screwed in this way. But it also shows that these super rich business types really don’t know much. He was very public with this move — confident in the knowledge that there was nothing that anyone could do. He showed a shocking lack of sophistication when it came to PR. But in the end, he didn’t seem to know that this was a drug that a compounding business could put on the market — not only undercutting him in price but showing him to be a fraud.

We live in the worst of all worlds from an economic standpoint. Where it is to the benefit of the rich, we live in a free market. So there is supposedly nothing we can do about the price gouging of Shkreli. But when a free market would be to the benefit of the poor — as in allowing unlimited immigration of doctors and lawyers — then we live in a very controlled market, because God forbid that the rich would have to compete with others.

So what Imprimis has done is really great. But under most circumstances, it is not possible to do. And the Martin Shkrelis of the world continue to prey upon the weakest people in our society.

Ted Cruz Whined About Five Substantive Questions

Ted CruzThe biggest moment in last week’s CNBC Republican presidential debate came when Carl Quintanilla asked Ted Cruz a very serious and valid question, “Congressional Republicans, Democrats, and the White House are about to strike a compromise that would raise the debt limit, prevent a government shutdown, and calm financial markets that fear of another Washington-created crisis is on the way. Does your opposition to it show that you’re not the kind of problem-solver American voters want?” It’s a question that a lot of Republicans would like an answer to. But not surprisingly, Cruz did not answer the question. Instead, he attacked the media.

Ezra Klein addressed the issue last week, Ted Cruz’s Best Moment of the Republican Debate Was Also Completely Wrong. He went through part of it, and I thought I would go through each of Cruz’s points because it is important to note just what big liars the Republicans are. After slamming the media in a general way, Cruz presented five specific complaints about the questions in the debate:

  1. Donald Trump, are you a comic-book villain?
  2. Ben Carson, can you do math?
  3. John Kasich, will you insult two people over here?
  4. Marco Rubio, why don’t you resign?
  5. Jeb Bush, why have your numbers fallen?

Donald Trump, are you a comic-book villain?

John Harwood did not ask that question. He instead said:

Mr Trump, you’ve done very well in this campaign so far by promising to build a wall and make another country pay for it; Send 11 million people out of the country; cut taxes $10 trillion without increasing the deficit; and make Americans better off because your greatness would replace the stupidity and incompetence of others. Let’s be honest: is this a comic-book version of a presidential campaign?

It says a lot about Ted Cruz that he heard “comic-book villain.” Everything that Harwood mentioned is true of Trump, as well as the other candidates to one extent or another. Cruz must know that asking questions about the candidates’ policies does make them look like comic-book villains. Regardless, Harwood didn’t say what Cruz claimed.

Ben Carson, can you do math?

Certainly Carson was not asked if he could do math. In fact, Becky Quick was very nice to him. She asked:

Dr Carson, let’s talk about taxes. You have a flat tax plan of 10 percent flat taxes, and — I’ve looked at it — and this is something that is very appealing to a lot of voters, but I’ve had a really tough time trying to make the math work on this.

There was then a back-and-forth during which Carson simply reiterated that his tax plan made sense and that some day, when he comes out with the full plan, everyone will see that it all fits together. Certainly Ben Carson showed that he can’t do math. But he was never asked about that.

John Kasich, will you insult two people over here?

Cruz is more correct on this one. But this wasn’t out of the blue. And it wasn’t anything like what we got at the CNN debate. Kasich had already been railing against the other candidates; he just had refused to say their names. Harwood was right to ask:

Well, let’s just get more pointed about it. You said yesterday that you were hearing proposals that were just crazy from your colleagues. Who were you talking about?

That hardly seems inappropriate — especially given that the Republicans think it is wrong to even point out when they are wrong. Remember the 2012 debate when Candy Crowley said that Mitt Romney was wrong about what President Obama had called the Benghazi attack? So apparently, Republicans want debate moderators to mention no facts and to not ask the candidates to mention any facts. But that doesn’t mean that media establishment should follow along.

Marco Rubio, why don’t you resign?

This one is just an outrageous statement. The issue of resignation didn’t even come up until Rubio didn’t answer the initial question. Carl Quintanilla’s question was fundamentally about the issue that Rubio is basing his whole campaign on: his youth. It’s a perfectly reasonable question:

You’ve been a young man in a hurry ever since you won your first election in your 20s. You’ve had a big accomplishment in the Senate, an immigration bill providing a path to citizenship the conservatives in your party hate, and even you don’t support anymore. Now, you’re skipping more votes than any senator to run for president. Why not slow down, get a few more things done first or least finish what you start?

The critical thing here is that he worked on the immigration bill. But when it got push back from the crazies in the party, he dumped it. He’s also made claims that he doesn’t like being a Senator. In a way, his approach is that of the party: unless he has all the power, it isn’t worth doing anything at all. I think the American people have a right to know that about him.

Jeb Bush, why have your numbers fallen?

John Harwood’s question for Bush is harder to summarize because there was so much cross talk. But it came down to this:

Governor, the fact that you’re at the fifth lectern tonight shows how far your stock has fallen in this race, despite the big investment your donors have made. It’s a question about why you’re having difficulty. I want to ask you in this context. Ben Bernanke, who was appointed Fed chairman by your brother, recently wrote a book in which he said he no longer considers himself a Republican because the Republican Party has given in to know- nothingism. Is that why you’re having a difficult time in this race?

It’s a horse race question. It’s also a gimme for Bush. It was a way for Bush to talk about what he offers that someone like Trump or Carson do not. And he used it for that purpose, but like with every other opportunity, he used it highly ineffectively.

Substantive Questions

All five of the questions that Ted Cruz complained about were perfectly acceptable. Ted Cruz brought up his complaints because he didn’t want to discuss the biggest issue with his campaign: his inability to work with his own party. So he used the tried and true tactic of lashing out at the questioners. All the questions asked were substantial — most especially his own. But the audience roared with approval when he provided the lack of substance that he was complaining about.

Morning Music: Coming Round the Mountain

Ramblin'Generally, when a song seems to make no sense whatsoever, it is a religious song. That is certainly the case with today’s song, “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain.” When I was a kid, I thought it very odd indeed. It is kind of tautology: she will come when she comes. But more than that, what really bothered me was how she could be riding six white horses. It was only later that I learned the line was, “She’ll be driving six white horses.” But I’ve always been bad about that kind of thing.

According to Wikipedia, it is about the second coming of Jesus. And the “she” is not a woman (Of course!) but the chariots that Jesus will be riding on. You have to remember that this next time he comes, he’s going to be pissed off — kicking ass and taking names.

This version is by country and rockabilly legend Ramblin’ Tommy Scott. It’s actually pretty damned fun. I especially like the woman on accordion. But I don’t know who she is.

Anniversary Post: Yitzhak Rabin’s Assassination

Yitzhak RabinOn this day, exactly 20 years ago, the Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated. It’s interesting that he was murdered by a right wing Israeli extremist. But it is hardly surprising. The truth is that for a long time, the Israeli government has suffered from the same thing that the modern Republican Party here suffers from. They cried wolf so much that they’ve created a huge base of the population that actually believes their extremist rhetoric. In fact, as far as I can tell, Benjamin Netanyahu is one of the those true believers. And that makes him (and Israel) very dangerous.

Here in the United States, the behavior of Israel doesn’t make much sense. They continue to allow (encourage, actually) the building of illegal settlements. I don’t think this is primarily because they are interested in destroying any chance of the two state solution. I think that — just like the Republican elites and their crazy base — the Israeli government is afraid of their settlers. They are afraid (with good reason) that if the government holds the settlers accountable, the settlers will start to commit acts of terrorism.

I know this seems unthinkable here in the United States. But there is a long history of Israeli terrorism — and I’m not even talking about the government attacks on Palestinian civilian populations. As bad as that is, it isn’t technically terrorism. But before Israel was officially recognized and in its early days, Zionists most certainly did practice terrorism. And there is little doubt that the settlers — who are among the most extreme and racist people in Israel — would use terrorism if they weren’t simply given everything they want.

Rabin was murdered because of his part in the Oslo Accords. And although his murder was given a life sentence, people in Israel still campaign to get him released. I’m all for mercy, but this is just nonsense. There is a sizable portion of the people of Israel who would simply commit a genocide to get rid of the Palestinians to get control of the whole region. I’m not saying that there aren’t Palestinians who think the same thing. But in this country, it is never the Israelis who are presented in this way.