Archive for the ‘Business’ Category
The jury has spoken, as reported by Sharon Lerner in The Intercept:
A juy has found DuPont liable for negligence in the case of Carla Bartlett, taking less than a day to award $1.6 million to the Ohio woman who developed kidney cancer after drinking water contaminated with a chemical formerly used to make Teflon. The jury declined to give Bartlett punitive damages in the federal case. Instead, the award included $1.1 million for negligence as well as $500,000 for emotional distress.
“This is brilliant,” one of Bartlett’s attorneys, Mike Papantonio, said of the verdict. “It’s exactly what we wanted.” Papantonio emphasized that Bartlett’s case, the first of more than 3,500 personal injury and wrongful death suits filed on behalf of people in West Virginia and Ohio who were exposed to C8, had been chosen by DuPont as the first to be tried and involved less egregious injuries than many others yet to be heard.
“They picked this case with the idea that it was the most winnable. Strategically they never dreamed we’d win this case,” said Papantonio, who predicts that other C8 suits in the pipeline will result in punitive damages. “Really, it’s just a matter of time.”
In a statement, DuPont said it expected to appeal the verdict and emphasized that “safety and environmental stewardship are core values at DuPont.”
Carla Bartlett lived much of her life in Coolville, Ohio, a tiny town a few miles across the Ohio River from a DuPont plant in Parkersburg, West Virginia. After years of drinking water that had been contaminated with C8, Bartlett, who is now 51, was diagnosed with a tumor on her kidney in 1997 and underwent a painful surgery that involved removing part of one of her ribs along with the tumor.
Bartlett’s attorneys argued that while she and tens of thousands of people living near Parkersburg, West Virginia, were drinking water contaminated with C8, DuPont was actively working to ensure they didn’t “connect the dots” about the chemical. One DuPont PowerPoint presented by Papantonio described the company’s strategy of keeping sensitive information from government agencies, community organizations, and “disgruntled employees.”
DuPont’s lawyers, for their part, denied any responsibility for Bartlett’s illness. “Nobody at DuPont expected that Mrs. Bartlett or anyone else in the community would be hurt,” said Damond Mace, who emphasized that the company couldn’t have predicted that scientists would find a probable link between C8 and kidney cancer, as they did in 2012.
Bartlett’s attorneys responded with voluminous internal communications showing the company did in fact foresee the damage they would later inflict. In one DuPont document, a summary of a 1984 meeting about C8, a DuPont employee concluded that “we are already liable for the past 32 years of operation.”
A good example of government failing to its job of “ensuring the general welfare”: Why Student Debtors Go Unrescued
A vast majority of the more than 10 million Americans who have defaulted on or are behind on repaying their student loans could have benefited from income-driven repayment plans that are intended to ease pressure on distressed borrowers and keep them from defaulting on their federal loans.
These plans can allow borrowers with low income or high debt — or both — to pay less each month, or even nothing, until their finances improve without being penalized or going into default. But many borrowers never even hear about these payment plans, thanks to poor customer service by the companies that are paid more than $600 million a year by the government to manage these accounts, process monthly payments and enroll distressed borrowers in alternative repayment plans.
As a result, borrowers who could easily have been spared slip into default. The government needs to demand more from these companies, which have operated with little oversight and have clearly been failing borrowers for a long time.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which has primary authority over the industry, has now issued a disturbing report on this problem. It can’t delay and should get the ball rolling by suing companies that violate the law and writing consumer-friendly rules that loan servicing companies would be legally required to follow.
The bureau’s report — drawn from 30,000 public comments filed with the agency from May to July — suggests that some servicers are actually pushing struggling borrowers toward default by giving them misinformation, by making it difficult for them to refinance at lower rates and by withholding valuable information about affordable payment plans that are in the struggling borrower’s best interest.
Instead of explaining how income-based payment plans protect the borrower’s credit, loan servicers sometimes tell people that their only options are to pay the full amount due or go into forbearance — a process in which the person can stop paying for a specified time, though the interest generally continues to accrue and the loan balance grows.
In some cases, borrowers reported, servicers chose to . . .
Continue reading. Definitely keep reading.
Think what this accumulated educational debt is doing: wringing money from those barely able to pay, blighting them with constant finacial worry. That has a real 19th Century sound, doesn’t it? (Think Scrooge (financial institutions) and Bob Cratchit—only our Scrooge is unvisited by ghosts.)
But of course that burden is exactly what is being imposed by student loan debt—and the government does nothing to help. Those struggling most with the debt and payments? They’re virtually all of voting age. If they networked, using the things available now: email, hangouts, Skype, private forums, and so on, they would be a very substantial voting bloc—particularly if they actually all vote: since most people do not vote these days, the power of each individual vote—each vote actually cast—is magnified. Thus the voting block of highly-indebted young adults (who, BTW, are pushed by the debt to struggle to be highly compensated, since it’s the only solution in sight), IF it organizations and acts, could exert quite a bit of political pressure—perhaps enough to push the government to do its job and work on behalf of the people and their general welfare, as it’s supposed to do (not helping business clamp down harder—but that seems to be a strong tendency, almost as if the politicians in question were heavily funded by the interests they protect.
UPDATE: It’s perhaps too obvious to state, but this burden falls disproportionately on the poor: the poorer you are, the more financial help you need with college costs (in general) and so the bigger burden you carry after college. It’s like the way the police, prosecutors, and courts in St. Louis County (and elsewhere) focused their policing and arrests on poor neighborhoods, to siphon money from the poor, who lacked the financial and legal resources available to those with higher incomes.
Very interesting column by James Surowiecki in the New Yorker:
at with a former peanut-company owner, Stewart Parnell, being sent to prison for knowingly selling salmonella-tainted peanut butter, and Volkswagen’s C.E.O., Martin Winterkorn, resigning after revelations about the cheat software in the firm’s diesel-powered cars, it took a special magnitude of corporate misbehavior to make the business-news headlines in the past couple of weeks. But Martin Shkreli, the C.E.O. of Turing Pharmaceuticals, managed it when his company said it was raising the price of a sixty-two-year-old lifesaving drug from $13.50 to seven hundred and fifty dollars a pill. The move quickly became a major scandal; Shkreli was called “the most hated man in America.” Yet the true scandal of Turing’s profiteering scheme was that it was entirely legal.
Daraprim—which is used to treat toxoplasmosis, a condition that afflicts AIDSpatients, among others—first came on the market back in 1953, so it has long since gone off patent. But what Shkreli recognized was that, even with a generic drug, regulatory barriers and a lack of competition can make big price hikes possible. In Daraprim’s case, only one company had regulatory approval to sell the drug in the United States. So, in August, Turing bought those rights. Shkreli knew that, in principle, other companies could produce their own versions of Daraprim. But it seemed a fair bet that none of them would try. The market for Daraprim is small—eight to twelve thousand prescriptions a year in the U.S.—and any company that wanted to enter the market would have to go through the expensive and time-consuming process of getting F.D.A. approval. As it happens, several companies already make and sell a generic version of Daraprim abroad, but they weren’t a worry, either, because they, too, would have to jump through the F.D.A.’s hoops to sell it here. Turing loaded the deck even further in its own favor by insisting on a model of “closed distribution” for the drug, restricting access to patients, doctors, and a limited number of distributors and pharmacies. In the unlikely event that another company wanted to produce Daraprim, it would be hard to buy enough of the drug to reverse-engineer.
Essentially, Shkreli is exploiting rules devised to protect consumer safety in order to create a virtual monopoly and then charge whatever he wants. Monopolies are inherent to the drug industry in the U.S.: patents, in effect, are temporary monopolies. But we have patents because they give drug companies an incentive to invest in developing new drugs. There’s no such justification in the case of Daraprim. Turing’s price gouging does not reward innovation and it doesn’t reflect the cost of production. In the United Kingdom, Daraprim sells for less than a dollar a pill.
Turing’s business model is a quintessential example of rent seeking: increasing profits not by adding real value for customers but by exploiting loopholes. And, unfortunately, Turing is not alone. Last year, another company run by Shkreli acquired the rights to a kidney-disease drug called Thiola and raised the drug’s price twentyfold. In 2011, K-V Pharmaceutical got F.D.A. approval to market a synthetic hormone that had been used for decades to prevent preterm births. Once K-V got approval and exclusive rights, it raised the price from around fifteen dollars to fifteen hundred dollars an injection. There have also been alarming increases in the prices of common drugs like doxycycline. Generic-drug makers have been merging with each other, leaving fewer competitors. “Without price competition, the generic model fails,” Gerard Anderson, a professor of public health at Johns Hopkins, told me. “Without competition, there are no market forces that limit price increases.”
That doesn’t mean there’s nothing to be done. In place of closed distribution, the F.D.A. can require companies to make samples of their drugs available to competitors. The F.T.C., as Anderson argues, should be more aggressive in limiting mergers among generic-drug makers. And the U.S. and other developed countries should also adopt an arrangement known as regulatory reciprocity: if a drug maker has approval to sell a drug abroad, it should be able to sell that drug here, and vice versa. Safety concerns may rule out importing drugs from just anywhere, but there is no good reason for a company selling a drug in, say, Germany to have to spend time and money to get the right to sell it here. Foreign competition has played a central role in holding down retail prices in industries ranging from automobiles to consumer electronics. It’s time drug prices were subject to the same rules. Shkreli has said, since the backlash, that Turing will roll back the Daraprim price increase. But the fate of toxoplasmosis sufferers shouldn’t depend on the egomaniacal whims of a “pharma bro.” . . .
Perhaps of interest: Two jaundiced looks at Ben Bernanke prompted by his recent book:
David Dayen reports in The Intercept:
Former Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke joined practically everyone in America by saying in his new memoir, The Courage to Act, that more Wall Street executives should have gone to jail for criminal misconduct that led to the financial crisis.
“It would have been my preference to have more investigation of individual action, since obviously everything what went wrong or was illegal was done by some individual, not by an abstract firm,” he wrote.
Unlike practically everyone else in America, however, Bernanke in a pretty good position to actually facilitate criminal misconduct proceedings, if he wanted to see them so badly — as head of the nation’s most powerful bank supervisory agency from 2006 to 2014.
The Fed, like all banking regulators, can initiate criminal referrals to the Justice Department for individuals they find to have broken the law. This acts as the first line of defense to discipline criminal misconduct on Wall Street.
But such activities were absent during the period when Bernanke was chair, according to criminologist and law professor Bill Black. “The Federal Reserve appears to have made zero criminal referrals; it made three about discrimination,” Black told Bill Moyers in 2013.
And when Bernanke took action, his stumbling attempts at accountability weren’t just inadequate; they were absurd. The one major action his Federal Reserve took regarding specific conduct regarding the financial crisis wound up as the most embarrassing display of fake accountability in the history of the Obama Administration.
The mortgage securitization process that fed the housing bubble and generated the financial crisis also led to widespread foreclosure fraud, and in April 2011, the Fed, along with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, issued enforcement orders against ten major banks over “misconduct and negligence related to deficient practices in residential mortgage loan servicing and foreclosure processing.” . . .
Pam Martens and Russ Martens write in Wall Street on Parade:
Will the American people ever get an honest writing of the 2008-2009 Wall Street collapse? If you think it is to be found in the new book released on Monday by former Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke (which we seriously doubt you are thinking) you will be disappointed.
What you will find in Bernanke’s book are photos of his grandparents, a photo of theTime Magazine cover with himself named “Man of the Year,” a photo of Bernanke with the masterminds of the repeal of the investor protection act known as Glass-Steagall (Robert Rubin, Alan Greenspan, Larry Summers), a photo of the grand double staircase in the Federal Reserve building, and so forth.
What you will not find is an honest accounting of how the Fed allowed Citigroup to grow into a financial Frankenstein and then quietly and secretly shoveled trillions of dollars into the firm to keep it afloat.
You won’t find any of that because on March 3, 2009, former Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke testified under questioning from Senator Bernie Sanders that “the Federal Reserve lends to healthy firms on a collateralized basis…” In reality, Citigroup was a financial basket-case at that point. Its stock closed that day at $1.22. It would take a court battle launched by Bloomberg News and legislation pushed by Senator Bernie Sanders to unearth from the Fed the fact that it had funneled over $16 trillion in cumulative loans to save the financial system. Citigroup was the largest recipient of those loans, with a take of over $2.5 trillion cumulatively, on top of $45 billion in TARP funds and over $306 billion in asset guarantees.
Bernanke’s account in his new book, The Courage to Act: A Memoir of a Crisis and Its Aftermath, attempts to resuscitate the bogus scenario that it was the collapse of Lehman and AIG that set the crisis in motion, not mega banks weakened by lax regulation by the Fed and the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, a decision supported by the Fed. (Lehman Brothers, an investment bank, and AIG, an insurance company, were not overseen by the Federal Reserve at that time.)
Sheila Bair, head of the FDIC during the crisis, has already revealed that Citigroup was far from a healthy institution when the Fed was secretly shoveling $2.5 trillion in cumulative loans into the firm, many at below 1 percent interest rates. Bair wrote in her own book, Bull by the Horns, the following: . . .
I am leery of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but Paul Krugman points out that it’s reassuring to see who is against it and why. From his brief blog post (and do click the link to read the whole thing):
What I know so far: pharma is mad because the extension of property rights in biologics is much shorter than it wanted, tobacco is mad because it has been carved out of the dispute settlement deal, and Rs in general are mad because the labor protection stuff is stronger than expected. All of these are good things from my point of view.
However, James Surowiecki in a brief New Yorker column describes some drawbacks:
In 2012, Australia implemented tough anti-tobacco regulations, requiring that all cigarettes be sold in plain, logo-free brown packages dominated by health warnings. Philip Morris Asia filed suit, claiming that this violated its intellectual-property rights and would damage its investments. The company sued Australia in domestic court and lost. But it had another card to play. In 1993, Australia had signed a free-trade agreement with Hong Kong, where Philip Morris Asia is based. That agreement included provisions protecting foreign investors from unfair treatment. So the company sued under that deal, claiming that the new law violated the investor-protection provisions. It asked for the regulations to be discontinued, and for billions in compensation.
The case has yet to be decided, but the concerns it raises help explain President Obama’s embarrassing setback last week, when the House failed to give him fast-track authority over one of two big trade agreements that had been envisaged as a key part of his legacy. Both agreements—the Trans-Pacific Partnership, with eleven Asian and Pacific countries, and an agreement with Europe called the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership—include provisions very like the ones at the heart of Australia’s fight with Big Tobacco. Known as Investor-State Dispute Settlement (or I.S.D.S.) provisions, they typically allow foreign investors to sue governments when they feel they have not received “fair or equitable treatment,” and to have their cases heard not by a domestic court but by an international arbitration tribunal made up of three lawyers.
These provisions have been opposed by an unusual coalition of progressives and conservatives, who contend that they will let multinationals override government policy, and, as Senator Elizabeth Warren put it, “undermine U.S. sovereignty.” On the other side, the Obama Administration and business groups insist that this is just fear-mongering. They point out that I.S.D.S. provisions have been around for fifty years, that lawsuits under them are rare, and that companies typically don’t win them. I.S.D.S., they argue, doesn’t limit the ability of governments to regulate but gives foreign investors some redress if they get treated unfairly. That makes them more likely to invest in countries that don’t have robust legal systems, which fuels economic growth. In the old days, aggrieved American investors would call on the Navy to protect their interests—thus the phrase “gunboat diplomacy.” How much better that now they just call their lawyers.
But these days signing such agreements is risky for countries. I.S.D.S. lawsuits used to be rare, but they’re becoming a growth industry. Nearly a hundred have been filed in the past two years, as against some five hundred in the quarter century before that. Investor protection, previously a sideshow in corporate law, is now a regular part of law-school curricula. “We’ve also seen an expansion in the types of claims that have been brought,” Lise Johnson, the head of investment law and policy at the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment, told me. I.S.D.S. was originally meant to protect investors against seizure of their assets by foreign governments. Now I.S.D.S. lawsuits go after things like cancelled licenses, unapproved permits, and unwelcome regulations.
This mission creep has been abetted by the fact that the language of I.S.D.S. provisions is often vague. Jason Yackee, a law professor at the University of Wisconsin who specializes in international-investment law, told me, “The rights given to investors are so open-ended and ambiguous that they allow for a lot of creative lawyering.” Canada lost a case where it had rejected, after an environmental study, a proposed mining and marine-terminal project. The country was also sued when Quebec imposed a moratorium on fracking. Germany is in the midst of a $4.7-billion lawsuit occasioned by its decision to phase out nuclear power. Uruguay is facing a lawsuit from Philip Morris International, much like the one brought against Australia.
There’s nothing wrong with domestic courts reviewing government regulations, but outsourcing the responsibility to international tribunals is troubling. . .
Continue reading. He suggests that I.S.D.S. should be dropped altogether.
And John Cassidy, also in the New Yorker, talks about the TPP and the likely impact on world poverty, a column also worth reading. From that column:
With a good deal of justification, critics like Bernie Sanders argue that previous deals, such asNAFTA, favored business interests at the expense of workers and the environment. Many progressives argue that the T.P.P. will be another giveaway. Meanwhile, conservative critics such as Donald Trump, with rather less justification, argue that the United States’ trading partners have outsmarted and out-negotiated us. In fact, the known details of the agreement, which include strong guarantees for intellectual-property rights and some binding resolution procedures for cross-border disputes, appear to reflect pretty closely what corporate America wanted, even if some individual interests, such as tobacco producers, aren’t happy about last-minute concessions that U.S. negotiators made in order to get a deal.
For the sake of American workers threatened by overseas competition, sick people in poor countries who buy American drugs, and many, many others, it is important to get the details right. But the larger context is also worth bearing in mind. With the remarkable rise of China and India, the global economy’s center of gravity has shifted to the east—and there, despite the problems currently facing China and other developing countries, it is is likely to stay. Not for nothing are the White House and other supporters of the T.P.P. busy promoting it as way of defining some rules for a more Asia-centric world, and also—in traditional mercantile fashion—as a means of checking a rising rival power, in this case China.
Jason Koebler reports at Motherboard:
Verizon, fresh off its acquisition of AOL, is using a controversial technology to combine the power of three major advertising networks using three different types of data mining to follow you around the internet more closely.
Earlier this year, Verizon was roundly criticized and sued for using “super cookies” that tracked its customers around the internet for advertising purposes regardless of whether or not they had deleted standard tracking cookies. So, naturally, it’s making the trackers stronger and more persistent than ever.
Verizon, however, still uses tracking headers, and its network is about to get a lot more powerful. The company has just quietly announced that tracking headers would play more of a role in its overall advertising strategy moving forward.
Earlier this year, Verizon paid $4.4 billion for AOL and all the companies it owns, including The Huffington Post, TechCrunch, and Engadget. That takeover was incredibly important because AOL does most of its business these days as an advertising company.
AOL’s advertising network serves ads on roughly 40 percent of the web, according to ProPublica. Verizon knows its customers’ home addresses, the type of cell phones they own, the number of people on a given phone plan, and customer financial information. That information can be used by AOL and Verizon to target you much more carefully, which equals better (more expensive) ads.
Here’s how Verizon pitches the move: . . .
I think the federal government needs to nip this in the bud.
Very interesting article in Medium by Steven Levy:
During Carly Fiorina’s triumphant performance in the wretched carnival that was the second Republican debate, she picked the perfect moment to play the Steve Jobs card. The subject had turned to her tenure as the CEO of HP, the single aspect of her resume that vaguely qualifies her as a presidential candidate. Industry observers have contended that she did her job poorly, and, indeed, when the board dismissed her in 2005, HP’s stock price rose by seven percent. Meanwhile, Fiorina fell to earth with the aid of a $40 million golden parachute.
Her comeback to this at the debate? Steve Jobs was on her side! She shared a story — which may well be true — about how Apple’s late CEO had called to remind her that he had been fired as well, and it wasn’t the end of the world. “Been there, done that — twice,” he told her. Unlike Jobs, however, Fiorina did not go on to start a company, buy another small company and sell it for billions, or return to the place that fired her and restore it to glory. But the point of the story was that Steve was on her side, and by aligning herself with the sainted innovator, Fiorina racked up triple-bonus debate points.
Ms. Fiorina’s trainwreck stint at HP has been well documented. But I want to address one tiny but telling aspect of her misbegotten reign: an episode that involved her good friend Steve Jobs. It is the story of the HP iPod.
The iPod, of course, was Apple’s creation, a groundbreaking digital music player that let you have “a music library in your pocket.” Introduced in 2001, it gained steam over the next few years and by the end of 2003, the device was a genuine phenomenon. So it was news that in January 2004, Steve Jobs and Carly Fiorina made a deal where HP could slap its name on Apple’s wildly successful product. Nonetheless, HP still managed to botch things. It could not have been otherwise, really, because Steve Jobs totally outsmarted the woman who now claims she can run the United States of America.
I can talk about this with some authority. Not only have I written a book about the iPod, but I interviewed Fiorina face to face when she introduced the HP iPod at the 2004 Consumer Electronics Show, and then got Steve Jobs’s side of the story.
It was at CES that year that HP announced its version of the iPod. That in itself was pathetic. The company’s motto at the time was Invent! But at the biggest event of the technology world, HP’s big newsmaking announcement was that it was selling someone else’s invention. Nonetheless in our interview on January 8, just off the show floor, Fiorina boasted about cobranding the iPod as if it were an innovative coup for her own company.
Apple chose her company, she told me, “Because HP is a company that’s an innovator. We believe innovation is our lifesblood. It’s why INVENT sits on our logo.” So why sell someone else’s product? She described her strategy as “focused innovation.” Apparently this meant throwing in the towel when a competitor came up with something really good.
It didn’t seem like a recipe for success, and indeed, HP was not successful at it, for a number of reasons. But before I get to that, let’s contemplate what Apple got in return for allowing HP to rebrand iPods and share the loot. HP agreed to pre-load Apple’s iTunes music software and store into its personal computers. This was a hugely valuable concession. Apple had only recently begun to push this key software into the Windows world. Millions of HP/Compaq customers would instantly become part of Apple’s entertainment ecosystem.
If it were a straight deal for HP to include Apple’s software, the fee might have been hundreds of millions of dollars. (Around that time, software companies were paying huge sums to have their products or services preinstalled, since people seldom deleted them and often used the default choices.) Even better, preinstalling iTunes was a way for Apple to stifle Microsoft’s competitor to the iTunes Music Store. As an Apple leader at the time puts it, “This was a highly strategic move to block HP/Compaq from installing Windows Media Store on their PCs. We wanted iTunes Music store to be a definitive winner. Steve only did this deal because of that.”
One might even argue that since Carly Fiorina wasn’t making much profit from selling computers, each machine her company sold under this deal delivered more value to Apple than it did to HP.
In return, HP got the right to sell iPods. But not in a way that could possibly succeed. Fiorina boasted to me that she would be able to sell the devices in thousands of retail outlets; up to that point Apple mostly sold them online and in its own stores. But by the time in mid-2004 that HP actually began selling its branded iPods, Apple was expanding to multiple retail outlets on its own. And soon after HP began selling iPods, Apple came out with new, improved iPods — leaving HP to sell an obsolete device. Fiorina apparently did not secure the right to sell the most current iPods in a timely fashion, and was able to deliver newer models only months after the Apple versions were widely available.
So it was no wonder that even at the program’s peak, it represented no more than about five percent of total iPod sales.
Even with a detail like the color of the iPod, Jobs totally rolled over Fiorina. . .
Continue reading. There’s more.