Monday, August 14, 2017

Week of 08/14/2017

Marty Shkreli Is The Face Of Everything Wrong With Healthcare In America
On August 4th, 2017, a federal jury found former hedge-fund leader and so-called “Pharma Bro” Martin Shkreli guilty of three counts of securities fraud.
You remember Marty, right?  This is the man who bought the company that made the life-saving drug Daraprim and then jacked up the price some 5000 percent.  He then smirked as he invoked the Fifth Amendment in front of Congress over his actions. 
Yeah, that’s Marty.
Unfortunately, the convictions are not for what he did with Turing Pharmaceuticals.  They involved his actions prior to his infamous price hike, and it concerned another company that he took over.  Because, you know, it’s like potato chips; you can’t just stop at one.
Of course, that’s not all that he did to win the title of “Eternal Arrogant Prick”.  He did a few other things too.  Like buy the rights to an unreleased album by the Wu-Tang Clan and then said it will never be heard by anyone else but him.  And then later he promised a “one-time only” broadcast, and it was a live-stream of him playing the album while talking over it. 
And let’s not forget that he didn’t change his attire one bit when he was in federal court facing a judge and jury over his actions.  When most people are in court, they wear a suit and a tie if they’re not obligated to wear a prison jumpsuit.  Not Marty!  He shows up for the verdict in a polo shirt like it was traffic court.  No respect for the process or for the idea that he could be sent to prison.
What really bothers me, though, is that there are some people that think that Shkreli should be freed!
One author, Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, penned a head-bashing argument for “The Week” magazine where he declared that Shkreli shouldn’t have faced charges in the first place, and that he should be hailed as an “American hero” for doing what he did.  I don’t know if Mr. Gobry is being satirical or if he needs to pee in a cup and be tested for hallucinogens.  Then again, brutal mob boss Al Capone was considered an “American hero” at one time.  So were Bonnie and Clyde.
And then I realized what was really behind the arrogant smirk just begging to be slapped off.
I suspect that Marty Shkreli really doesn’t believe that he did anything wrong... because he’s just mimicking the actions shown by the two biggest pillars in America today: Big Finance and Big Healthcare.
Take a look at Wells Fargo, one of the “too big to fail and too big to jail” banks that the American taxpayers helped bail out in 2008.  Just last year they got caught creating multiple fake accounts of their account-holders for services they never asked for or agreed to.  And that may be just the tip of the iceberg.  We are talking about rampant and systemic fraud in an industry that already got bailed out for their fraud and misrepresentation during the Great Recession without one single key player in that collapse ever facing trial for their criminal activities.  Not one!
Do you honestly think that anyone in the executive level at Wells Fargo – past or present – will ever face trial for their criminal actions?  Of course not!  The instigators and the people that profited the most from lies and fraud will never face justice.  Ever.
You don’t think people like Marty Shkreli don’t see this and learn from it?  If you have money, you can get away with anything.  That’s the lesson that was taught to America by then-Attorney General Eric Holder when it came to the banks: you can buy your way out of justice.  Hell, we just elected a man who boasted that he can do anything he wants as long as he has money into the White House! 
I’m guessing that Marty is thinking he didn’t know whose palms to grease.  Hey, if it worked for Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Chase, Capitol One, and Wells Fargo, why not “Pharma Bro”?
And then there’s Big Healthcare... and here it is easy to see where people like Marty get their arrogance.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it here: healthcare in America has always been seen as a matter of financial privilege, not as a right.  Not only that, but it has also been a system that has been gamed for a really long time, and not just by the scam artists.  The real scams are done within the healthcare system itself, and they’re not only legal, but they’re considered normal business!
Think about the games played by Big Insurance and Big Hospitals, where you get stuck with the bill for out-of-network doctors that show up without your permission for a “consultation”.  Think about the number of instances where people get pestered from bill collectors because the “reliable insurance provider” is slow to pay a bill that they know they are obligated to cover.
And how about Big Pharma, Marty’s home turf when he isn’t snatching up unreleased albums and then taunting fans?  Think about all of the drugs out there that are needed that are in the hands of one company exclusively.  Isn’t that a blatant violation of federal anti-trust laws?  Well apparently not if the monopoly is created through corporate disinterest or government manipulation.  After all, Big Pharma is in it for the profit, not the people.
That, boys and girls, is the true purpose of healthcare in America.  It’s not about healing people or helping people.  It is about profit, plain and simple.  Sell a pill, sell a treatment, sell a program or a therapy, write up that extra expense, throw in that added consultation, drag out the payment until the next quarter and pocket the interest, and hope that the patient doesn’t die… or, even worse, get healthy.
Let’s get brutally honest here… Martin Shkreli is the arrogant smirking face of everything wrong with healthcare in America.  He is the epitome of greed… one might even say “American Greed”… that motivates the parasitic industries that prey on our mortality and on our misery.
This is the reason why every idea to “fix” the problem with healthcare in America is doomed to fail.  This is the reason why the Affordable Care Act or “Obamacare” is failing right now.  Here is a system that was almost literally written word-for-word by the industry, designed to give the billionaires insurance companies and billionaire pharma companies and billionaire hospital corporations and millionaire doctors access to every American and their wallets, and it still is not enough to satisfy their blind, stinking greed!  It is the very reason why people will push for the single-payer or government-controlled healthcare system, and it is also the very reason why every one of the Marty Shkrelis in Big Healthcare will fight it at every opportunity… because of their own blind, stinking greed.
People like Martin Shkreli are a product of the failures in our society. The failure of the financial sector to contain their greed.  The failure of those in government to represent the people and not big corporations.  The failure of the healthcare industry in not reining in the systemic fraud within their own ranks and instead whine about the external fraud.  Maybe we are holding Shkreli to account for the sins of the healthcare industry as a whole.  But we have to start somewhere, and the first place you go after to clean up a systemic failure is the loudest, the most blatant, and the most unrepentant. 
And that, Mister Martin Shkreli, is you.  Own it.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Week of 08/07/2017

America’s Real Mental Health Problem
As a nation, America has had a piss-poor history of dealing with problems that aren’t physical and visible.
If someone has a broken leg, we can address it.  We can set the bone.  We can put on a cast.  We know that this person has a broken leg so we don’t expect them to instantly run a race for us.  If they’re missing a limb, we recognize it. 
But we can’t deal with problems that aren’t visible.  Or if we do, we make the mistake of treating it with a physical solution.  Try telling a blind person that they can’t see because they just aren’t “trying hard enough” and see how far that will get you.
We dealt with the problem of alcoholism as just something that we could outlaw.  Make alcohol illegal and suddenly everyone would stop drinking.  That was the simplistic mindset of religious extremists and corrupt politicians.  It ended up being an abysmal failure that took over a decade to realize and correct at a terrible cost.  Instead of dealing with the problem when it was visible, Prohibition pushed it underground and made it that much harder to recognize and treat.
But we refused to learn the lesson of our pompous self-righteous arrogance, because we would make the same mistakes over and over again with similar problems.  We pulled out the prohibitionist handbook to deal with the problem of marijuana, and, later on, with all sort of drugs that only got more and more destructive and made the criminals wealthier.
The real problem, of course, wasn’t just with the drugs or with alcohol, but with the mindsets of those that pompously believe that we can outlaw anything as a solution.  Nobody told them that they were wrong, and they certainly had no wherewithal to admit being wrong.  Because we don’t consider self-righteous arrogance to be a problem.  We consider it a virtue and we reward it.
We delude ourselves into thinking that we would be able to see problems before they happen.  “If you see something, say something” has become our post-9/11 mantra.  Of course it only works when (1) someone does say something, and, more importantly, (2) the people we say something to recognizes it as “something”.  Just ask the folks at Fox News, who have a systemic problem with predatory personalities in positions of power and authority that went on for years until it was finally exposed just last year, and even today they’re still plagued with it.
But every shooting spree, every workplace tragedy that goes on, have all had people described the assailant as “a nice quiet guy, keeps to himself, never caused a problem until now”.  But did they really know those people before the incident?  Or were they just passing faces with an occasional name and a polite greeting?
Most of us live in a state of blissful ignorance and denial.  We don’t want to acknowledge that there is a problem, never mind know what the problem is, unless it’s physical.  If we hear loud noises from our neighbor’s place and we see one of them with cuts and bruises the next day, then we will say there’s something wrong.  But, even then, we’ll buy into the lie that they “fell down a flight of stairs” or “ran into a door” because then we don’t have to take action and run the risk of being wrong.
That brings us to the current occupant in the White House, President Donald J. Trump.  There are plenty of people that will say there is something “wrong” with him.  Since taking office just six months ago (as of this column’s posting date), President Trump has been behaving less like a leader of a free nation and more like a third world junta. 
His early-morning Twitter-tantrums alone have sent red flags from all political corners that there is something “wrong” with him.  He makes outlandish claims of persecution and over-exaggerations of his presidential victory.  At one interview, he handed out colored charts of his electoral victory in 2016 as if that justifies everything he has said or done since.  He faults the Democrats when his own party fails to carry out his agendas, even though the Dems have no political power or testicles to actually do anything.
His appointments have been less like “The Apprentice” and more like outtakes from a certain hotel commercial where the person says “I don’t know how to perform brain surgery, but I just spent a night in a brand-name motel, so that makes me qualified”.  An Education Secretary that knows nothing about public education except on how to demonize it for her for-profit charter schools.  An Environmental Protection head whose only experience is that he sued the EPA for doing their jobs.  A USDA head whose only experience is being a radio talk show host.  A communications director who started off by claiming that he isn’t trying to auto-fellate himself, then has an open pissing contest with the Chief of Staff that ends up forcing them both out of a job in just ten days.
Pre-candidate Trump used to complain when then-President Barack Obama would go on vacation, whining like a spoiled child that Obama was not “doing his job”.  Just six months into his occupation, now-President Trump has spent more time away from the White House than in it.  Worse yet, several people have heard Trump call the White House “a dump”, which he now denies saying, and then proceeded to go on vacation for seventeen days while the people’s home went through renovations.  If it’s not “a dump”, Mister President, why have it renovated?
This is the man that lies about little things, then denies ever having lied, and then his myrmidons excuse it as simply having “alternative facts”.  Then when confronted with those lies, he dismisses it as “fake news”.
I could go down the list of things that Trump has done that have set off warning flags for people in the past six months of his occupation, but I think I’ve proven my point.  There is something wrong with the current occupant of the White House, and I know that I’m not the only one saying it.  But I am the one that will say what it is.
We have a narcissist in the White House.
Now I can say this because, one, the First Amendment prevents Trump or his acolytes from shutting me up for saying what I believe in, and, two, because as someone who has studied psychology and sociology and criminology and has a degree studying the fields of human condition, I’ve seen the traits being exhibited by our current president and recognize them as someone with a narcissistic personality.  If criminologists and criminal profilers can go in front of the cameras and “diagnose” common criminals, then the same applies to the President of the United States.  Screw you and go pound salt, “Goldwater people”.
And once you recognize what the problem is, it’s easier to understand the man.  It’s easy to see why he does what he does.  There is a method to his madness.  He is easily distracted.  He is obsessed with image and feeding his ego.  He is merciless to those who criticize him or don’t blindly support him, and he projects his failings onto others.  He makes Marvel’s Tony Stark look outright altruistic.  And maybe that’s been his secret in the business world, but that’s not something America needs as a world leader.
Let me make my position clear on this: I don’t want to see the man fail.  I expect every incoming president to prove me wrong and actually be the kind of leader that America needs, not the one that the voters and non-voters deserve.  I expected Trump to step up and be that kind of leader.  I still expect it.
I also know, however, that it is difficult to see that happen, because Trump is not the only one with a problem that is not being either identified or addressed.  He is surrounded by enablers, by people who don’t want Trump to change because they think they can “handle” him, and he’s supported by legions of red-hat-wearing myrmidons that have been conditioned to blindly follow whomever is put in front of them as if they were Jesus Christ on Earth.  They don’t respond to reason, especially reason that does not conform to their confirmation bias, they react to emotional propaganda usually designed to scare or enrage them, and you cannot convince them that they even have a problem, much less get them to deal with it.  When I refer to these folks as the “Cult of Trump”, I am not exaggerating about that.  They really do behave like a cult.
Let’s get brutally honest here... if there is ever a time for America to wake the hell up and actually try to address the problems of mental health in this country in a meaningful, positive way, now is that time!  We need to identify the problem, acknowledge the problem, and then work towards a meaningful solution.
Feeding impeachment dreams or thinking that removing Trump from office would somehow resolve the problem is nothing more than idle fantasy.  The problem is still there; you’re just delaying the solution.  Removing Trump doesn’t deal with the cult members or the enablers that rely on those cult members for their support.  They just find another figurehead and hope that the next one won’t be like the first.
Addressing mental health problems does not mean removing the person.  It means helping that person so the problem doesn’t control them.  If we dealt with the problem of alcoholism a century ago in a meaningful way instead of something physical to simply outlaw, then it wouldn’t be a “hidden disease” as it is today.  We wouldn’t have a “Drug War” because we would approach drug addiction in the same way as alcohol.
Like I said earlier, I don’t want Trump gone.  I want him functioning as the kind of leader we need.  That’s the only way that America will really be “great” again and not just serve as a cheap and empty hat slogan.