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Archive for September 20th, 2015

A drug goes from $13.50/tablet to $750.00/tablet overnight

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This truly is price gouging. Note that the pharmaceutical company in question is owned by a hedge-fund manager. Andrew Pollack reports in the NY Times:

Specialists in infectious disease are protesting a gigantic overnight increase in the price of a 62-year-old drug that is the standard of care for treating a life-threatening parasitic infection.

The drug, called Daraprim, was acquired in August by Turing Pharmaceuticals, a start-up run by a former hedge fund manager. Turing immediately raised the price to $750 a tablet from $13.50, bringing the annual cost of treatment for some patients to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“What is it that they are doing differently that has led to this dramatic increase?” said Dr. Judith Aberg, the chief of the division of infectious diseases at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. She said the price increase could force hospitals to use “alternative therapies that may not have the same efficacy.”

Turing’s price increase is not an isolated example. While most of the attention on pharmaceutical prices has been on new drugs for diseases like cancer, hepatitis C and high cholesterol, there is also growing concern about huge price increases on older drugs, some of them generic, that have long been mainstays of treatment.

While some price increases have been caused by shortages, others have resulted from a business strategy of buying old neglected drugs and turning them into high-priced “specialty drugs.”

Cycloserine, a drug used to treat dangerous multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, was just increased in price to $10,800 for 30 pills from $500 after its acquisition by Rodelis Therapeutics. Scott Spencer, general manager of Rodelis, said the company needed to invest to make sure the supply of the drug remained reliable. He said the company provided the drug free to certain needy patients.

In August, two members of Congress investigating generic drug price increases wrote to Valeant Pharmaceuticals after that company acquired two heart drugs, Isuprel and Nitropress, from Marathon Pharmaceuticals and promptly raised their prices by 525 percent and 212 percent respectively. Marathon itself had acquired the drugs from another company in 2013 and had quintupled their prices, according to the lawmakers, Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who is seeking the Democratic nomination for president, and Representative Elijah E. Cummings, Democrat of Maryland.

Doxycycline, an antibiotic, went from $20 a bottle in October 2013 to $1,849 by April 2014, according to the two lawmakers. . .

Continue reading.

As I’ve often mentioned, corporations will do absolutely anything to increase profits: unchecked greed is seen as a virtue by many. The Volkswagen story just blogged and this story are two prime examples.

This sort of behavior is why we need more politicians like Bernie Sanders and fewer politicians who are servants of corporations.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 September 2015 at 1:36 pm

US military in Afghanistan protects and promotes pedophiles and punishes soldiers who object to pedophilia

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The US military and its strange notions of “honor.” Joseph Goldstein reports in the NY Times:

In his last phone call home, Lance Cpl. Gregory Buckley Jr. told his father what was troubling him: From his bunk in southern Afghanistan, he could hear Afghan police officers sexually abusing boys they had brought to the base.

“At night we can hear them screaming, but we’re not allowed to do anything about it,” the Marine’s father, Gregory Buckley Sr., recalled his son telling him before he was shot to death at the base in 2012. He urged his son to tell his superiors. “My son said that his officers told him to look the other way because it’s their culture.”

Rampant sexual abuse of children has long been a problem in Afghanistan, particularly among armed commanders who dominate much of the rural landscape and can bully the population. The practice is called bacha bazi, literally “boy play,” and American soldiers and Marines have been instructed not to intervene — in some cases, not even when their Afghan allies have abused boys on military bases, according to interviews and court records.

The policy has endured as American forces have recruited and organized Afghan militia to help hold territory against the Taliban. But soldiers and Marines have been increasingly troubled that instead of weeding out pedophiles, the American military was arming them in some cases and placing them as the commanders of villages — and doing little when they began abusing children.

“The reason we were here is because we heard the terrible things the Taliban were doing to people, how they were taking away human rights,” said Dan Quinn, a former Special Forces captain who beat up an American-backed militia commander for keeping a boy chained to his bed as a sex slave. “But we were putting people into power who would do things that were worse than the Taliban did — that was something village elders voiced to me.”

The policy of instructing soldiers to ignore pedophilia by their Afghan allies is coming under new scrutiny, particularly as it emerges that service members like Captain Quinn have faced discipline, even career ruin, for disobeying it.

After the beating, the Army relieved Captain Quinn of his command and pulled him from Afghanistan. He has since left the military.

Four years later, the Army is also trying to forcibly retire Sgt. First Class Charles Martland, a Special Forces member who joined Captain Quinn in beating up the commander.

“The Army contends that Martland and others should have looked the other way (a contention that I believe is nonsense),” Representative Duncan Hunter, a California Republican who hopes to save Sergeant Martland’s career, wrote last week to the Pentagon’s inspector general. . .

Continue reading.

The US military has peculiar priorities.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 September 2015 at 1:23 pm

Posted in Military, Terrorism

The Perfidy of Corporations: Special chapter for Volkswagen

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Move over Peanut Company of America, make room for Volkswagen. Mark Kleiman blogs:

I don’t suppose we’ll never know how many people died – asthmatics, for example – because Volkswagen designed its “clean diesel” vehicles – all 482,000 of them sold in the U.S. since 2009 – to burn dirty except when they were being tested. The story reads like the most paranoid anti-corporate fantasy, until you get to the line where the firm admits what it did, and then discover that Honda and Ford got caught years ago doing the same thing in a less sophisticated way. There’s even a  term of art for such tricks: they’re called “defeat devices” because they’re designed to defeat emissions testing.

In the VW case, code was written into the engine-control software to detect the pattern of pedal and steering operations characteristic of an emissions test. Then, and only then, the car’s emissions-control machinery would kick in. Once the test was over, the software noticed that, too, and returned to normal – that is to say, illegally and dangerously dirty – operations. That meant emitting about 40x the permitted -and advertised – level of nitrous oxide, which makes smog.

Now just think about the depth of corporate depravity involved. This wasn’t one rogue engineer or engineering group at work. People up and down the chain had to be party to the crime.  And note that the conspiracy held together for six years, and was finally broken not by an internal leak but by the work of outside scientists at West Virginia University. Wasn’t there a single decent human being around when this was being planned and carried out?

Some quick comments:

1. The news stories discuss fines that might be levied against VW.  When people conspire to commit a crime that harms the health of untold numbers of people,  criminal charges are appropriate. And not only against the company, but against every official in it who can be shown to have known about the conspiracy.

2. At minimum, the civil penalties and civil-lawsuit damages should be sufficient to put VW out of business. That might make managers, and boards of directors, in other firms a little bit less casual about lawbreaking.

3. Keep this case in mind when evaluating the claim oft heard from Koch-funded “criminal justice reform” advocates that it’s wrong to “criminalize” regulatory violations. Of course no one should go to jail for paperwork errors. But deceiving the regulators is a fraud on the government, even when it isn’t – as it is in this case – a physical assault on the public.

4. Can we hear some more from the Republican Presidential candidates how business is Good and government is Evil? And is there any hope that a reporter will ask them whether they think the perpetrators of this appalling crime should face prison time for it? (Again, note that VW isn’t denying what was done, and can’t possibly deny that it was done deliberately.)

Footnote  I’ve quoted C.S. Lewis on this before, but his words bear repeating:

The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid “dens of crime” that Dickens loved to paint. It is not done even in concentration camps and labor camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voices.

The most horrible thing about this case is that very few if any of the people involved will have lost any sleep over their guilt in making sick people sicker (and killing some of them) and none will lose face among their friends and neighbors. Even if some are found guilty of felonies, life won’t be nearly as bad for them as it is for someone who gets caught committing burglary. And yet no burglar’s contribution to human suffering can hold a candle to what the VW conspirators managed to inflict.

Kevin Drum comments:

. . . This goes far beyond most safety issues with cars. Whether we like it or not, car manufacturers always face tradeoffs between cost and safety. Having those conversations is a normal part of engineering life. Even in infamous case like the Pinto gas tank, what you have is a normal conversation that went way overboard. As bad as it is, it’s understandable that stuff like this happens occasionally.

But that’s not what this is. There was no cost involved. In fact, writing the code to do this cost Volkswagen money. Nor was it something that took place just among a small group of product managers with bad incentives. This was coldly premeditated. It required substantial testing to make it work right. It happened across not just different models, but across two different nameplates. It lasted for six years until it was discovered. And it was done not as a tradeoff of some kind, but solely to make the car peppier during test drives so that VW could sell more diesel models.

How far up does this go? It’s hard to believe it doesn’t go up pretty far. And it must have left behind a significant paper trail. . .

Just as Stewart Parnell faces a possible life sentence for quite deliberately (and repeatedly) shipping salmonella-infect peanuts, I think a slate of VW managers should face prison sentences of at least a few decades.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 September 2015 at 1:13 pm

A Toxic Work World

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Some days ago I blogged about the NY Times article depicting the work environment at Amazon.com, which illustrated the phrase “wage slaves”: those who by necessity must obey the whims of their employers, even those destructive of family life, in order to keep their jobs. Anne-Marie Slaughter has a good column on the phenomenon in today’s Times:

FOR many Americans, life has become all competition all the time. Workers across the socioeconomic spectrum, from hotel housekeepers to surgeons, have stories about toiling 12- to 16-hour days (often without overtime pay) and experiencing anxiety attacks and exhaustion. Public health experts have begun talking about stress as an epidemic.

The people who can compete and succeed in this culture are an ever-narrower slice of American society: largely young people who are healthy, and wealthy enough not to have to care for family members. An individual company can of course favor these individuals, as health insurers once did, and then pass them off to other businesses when they become parents or need to tend to their own parents. But this model of winning at all costs reinforces a distinctive American pathology of not making room for caregiving. The result: We hemorrhage talent and hollow out our society.

To begin with, we are losing women. America has unlocked the talent of its women in a way that few nations can match; girls are outpacing boys in high schools, universities and graduate schools and are now entering the work force at higher salaries. But the ranks of those women still thin significantly as they rise toward the top, from more than 50 percent at entry level to 10 to 20 percent in senior management. Far too many discover that what was once a manageable and enjoyable work-family balance can no longer be sustained — regardless of ambition, confidence or even a partner who shares tasks equally.

Every family’s situation is different; some women may be able to handle with ease conditions that don’t work for others. But many women who started out with all the ambition in the world find themselves in a place they never expected to be. They do not choose to leave their jobs; they are shut out by the refusal of their bosses to make it possible for them to fit their family life and their work life together. In her book “Opting Out? Why Women Really Quit Careers and Head Home,” the sociologist Pamela Stone calls this a “forced choice.” “Denial of requests to work part time, layoffs or relocations,” she writes, will push even the most ambitious woman out of the work force.

A young lawyer I know from Virginia was offered a general counsel position, which she determined she could take but only if she could work from home one day a week to be with her two children. Her employer refused. Still another woman wrote to me about her aspiration to an executive-level position and the predicament of doing so with a 2-year-old at home: “The dilemma is in no way the result of having a toddler: After all, executive men seem to enjoy increased promotions with every additional offspring. It is the way work continues to be circumscribed as something that happens ‘in an office,’ and/or ‘between 8–6’ that causes such conflict. I haven’t yet been presented with a shred of reasonable justification for insisting my job requires me to be sitting in this fixed, 15 sq foot room, 20 miles from my home.”

The problem is even more acute for the 42 million women in America on the brink of poverty. Not showing up for work because a child has an ear infection, schools close for a snow day, or an elderly parent must go to the doctor puts their jobs at risk, and losing their jobs means that they can no longer care properly for their children — some 28 million — and other relatives who depend on them. They are often suffering not only from too little flexibility but also too much, as many low-wage service jobs no longer have a guaranteed number of hours a week.

This looks like a “women’s problem,” but it’s not. It’s a work problem — the problem of an antiquated and broken system. When law firms and corporations lose talented women who reject lock-step career paths and question promotion systems that elevate quantity of hours worked over quality of the work itself, the problem is not with the women. When an abundance of overly rigid workplaces causes 42 million American citizens to live day to day in fear that just one single setback will prevent them from being able to care for their children, it’s not their problem, but ours.

THE problem is with the workplace, or more precisely, with a workplace designed for the “Mad Men” era, for “Leave It to Beaver” families in which one partner does all the work of earning an income and the other partner does all the work of turning that income into care — the care that is indispensable for our children, our sick and disabled, our elderly. Our families and our responsibilities don’t look like that anymore, but our workplaces do not fit the realities of our lives.

Irene Padavic, a Florida State sociologist, Robin J. Ely, a Harvard Business School professor, and Erin Reid from Boston University’s Questrom School of Business were asked to conduct a detailed study of a midsize global consulting firm where top management thought they had a “gender problem.” The firm had a paucity of women at the highest levels — just 10 percent of partners were women, compared with nearly 40 percent of junior associates.

After careful study, Professors Padavic, Ely and Reid found that an equal number of men and women had left the firm in the preceding three years, a simple fact that contradicted management’s women, work and family story. Some of the men also left because of the long hours; others “suffered in silence or otherwise made do.” The firm’s key human resources problem was not gender, as management believed, but rather a culture of overwork.

The firm’s leadership resisted these findings. They didn’t want to be told that they needed to overhaul their entire organizational philosophy or that they were overpromising to clients and overdelivering (for example, making hundred-slide PowerPoint presentations that the client couldn’t even use). They wanted to be told that the firm’s problem was work-family conflict for women, a narrative that would allow them to adopt a set of policies specifically aimed at helping women work part time, or be mentored, or join support networks. As Professors Padavic, Ely and Reid wryly concluded, their attitude “required a rejection of evidence on the part of evidence-driven analysts.”

Bad work culture is everyone’s problem, for men just as much as for women. . .

Continue reading.

Anne-Marie Slaughter is the president of New America, a think tank and civic enterprise, and author of the forthcomingUnfinished Business: Women Men Work Family,” from which this essay is adapted.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 September 2015 at 9:58 am

Posted in Books, Business, Daily life

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