Why I despise religious leaders, conservative Democrats and The New York Times, Reason No. 918,287,499.

[CONTENT NOTE: abortion rights.]

If I had known it was a link to the Times, I never would have clicked on it. But in my defense, I was reading a decent if lightweight article about Rep. Maxine Waters [h/t Alyssa] elsewhere, when I happened upon this passage:

Waters’ forthright condemnation of right-wing media came as a relief—and a rallying point—for Democrats sick of mainstream articles urging them to abandon abortion advocacy, or talk less about trans rights, or stop speaking out against sexism and racism. Critics have argued that these moves are necessary to broaden the party’s appeal and win back white working-class voters who swung from Barack Obama to Trump, and are credited with winning the election.

What fuckery is this? I wondered. How and why would “mainstream articles” possibly justify such demonstrably counterproductive nonsense?

So I clicked on “abortion advocacy.” And down the NYT rabbit hole I went.

Fuck.

Continue reading

Hitting them where it hurts.

On Freethought Blogs’ Freethought Resistance page, I posted a new petition (via CREDO Action*) to Democratic Senate Campaign Committee Chair Chris Van Hollen demanding he refuse to allocate campaign funds to any Democratic senator who votes or strikes a deal to advance the confirmation of right-wing extremist Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch.

Directing your activism time, energy and resources toward Democrats, particularly with regard to primary campaigns, is vitally necessary. A primary challenger does not need to win in order to pressure the prevailing candidate to move left on issues that matter. There are far too many corporatist, corrupt conservatives in the party, particularly in leadership positions. If we want to put the pressure on where it counts, we need to take every opportunity to go after wayward conservative Democrats in every way possible. (Yeah I’m looking at you, Chuck Schumer.)

Read the background on the petition and then please sign if you are so inclined.

Because fuck these d00ds, that’s why.

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*CREDO is a lefty activist mobile company: every month it allocates a portion of its revenue to various activist non-profits, as voted and allocated by its customers. (CREDO is, for example, Planned Parenthood’s largest corporate donor.) Consider switching to CREDO as your mobile carrier, and stop funding anti-democratic corporations that fund conservatives like AT&T. They offer pretty much all the same deals on phones, contract buyouts, incentives, fees, etc.

Thoughts on Paul Jay interview with Henry Giroux.

Paul Jay of The Real News had an interesting discussion (in two parts) with author and scholar Henry Giroux about a potential Trump presidency and its implications for democracy. In normal times, I would find Giroux laughably hyperbolic when he says, for instance, that under a Trump presidency the world is in serious danger of nuclear war, or that political dissent would be criminalized.

These are not normal times.

Continue reading

Your liberal media.

 

NYSCapitolPanorama

New York State Capitol building.
CC-BY-SA-3.0/Matt H. Wade at Wikipedia

The city of Albany, New York and its surrounding area is the third most populous metropolitan region in the state and 38th in the country. Over a million people live in the Capital District alone. The Capitol building is recognized as one of the most beautiful state houses in the nation, but it has an ugly side: it has long been home to the most dysfunctional and corrupt legislature in the country. Although pundits prefer euphemisms like “conservative Democratic political machine,” the entire scam is actually run by the Squirrel People, along with their BFFs and natural allies among Dick Cheney’s Lizard People. It should surprise no one that leading up the recent New York primary, the Squirrel People of Albany were loyal campaigners for Hillary Clinton; she was (and is) supported by every name brand Democratic politician in the state. Albany’s Times Union, the largest local newspaper in the region, endorsed her. Clinton won the New York primary handily by about 15 points, collecting 139 of the state’s delegates to Sanders’ 108.

Interestingly, Sanders beat Clinton in the Albany metropolitan region by almost 7 points—but Albany’s Times Union didn’t report it.

The Times Union article posted on the night of the primary didn’t mention Sanders’s victory at all. Instead, the article, headlined “Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton win in New York,” gave the impression of a Clinton and Trump sweep. “New York,” it proclaimed, “turned out to be the state where the presidential front-runners regained their mojo.” Although the article devoted a good deal of attention to the activities of primary voters in the capital district, it somehow omitted reporting on whom they had voted for.

An updated version of the article appeared the following day in the Times Union, after the five counties’ boards of election had posted the election results online. By this time it was clear that Sanders, though losing heavily to Clinton in the New York City metropolitan region, had defeated Clinton in most other areas of the state. This included not only the 20th Congressional district, but the neighboring 19th and 21st which, all together, provided Sanders with 11 delegates to Clinton’s 7. Even then, however, the writers of the article could not quite bring themselves to say that, in the capital region, where almost all the Times Union’s readers lived and voted, Sanders had won. Instead, they confined themselves to declaring that “Sanders performed well in the more rural regions of upstate―and in the Capital Region.” With a headline this time proclaiming “Big home-state wins boost front-runners,” the article once again left readers with the impression that Clinton had been victorious in the newspaper’s locale while, in reality, the clear victor was Sanders.

On the night of April 22, three days after the presidential primary, seven words buried at the very end of a Times Union blog finally let slip the fact that Sanders had won in the 20th Congressional district.

Two thoughts:

1 – I wonder whether anyone is digging into other heavily populated regions in the country and finding that this is the case.

2 – Our Free Press® informs our awareness at least as much by what they don’t tell us as by what they do.

Election Day!

It’s election day, and I am determined to exercise my hard-won right to vote! Naturally I want to make an informed decision, because DEMOCRACY!!11!!!! is depending on me! I looked up the election voter guide for my district, and saw that the only candidates up for election today are judges. But that’s okay! The judicial branch of our government is important, people. Now, I have mixed feelings about judicial elections: unlike lifetime court appointments, election requirements make judges much more likely to become beholden to special interests (consciously or otherwise). On the other hand, just imagine what our world might look like if we could vote Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, Kennedy and Alito off of the Supreme Court, and replace them all with Ruth Bader Ginsburg clones. Just sayin’.

Anyway, here is what’s on my ballot today! Exciting!

electionSo for New York Supreme Court Judicial District 1, I get to select five Justices out of a total of… five candidates.  : |

But hey, at least I get to vote for Judge of Manhattan County Civil Court!

Wait. WHAT.

There is only one candidate on the ballot.

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In case you are unaware, the political system here is exactly as beholden to real estate developers as the US Congress is to the banksters, a state of affairs which I hardly need to spell out for Loyal Readers™ of this blog. This is how we end up with people in power like the odious Democratic former City Council Speaker and mayoral candidate Christine Quinn: the infamous New York Democratic Party Machine simply picks its preferred candidates for us, and we lucky citizens get the honor and privilege of voting for them! Hooray.

Now obviously this situation is totally different than when Saddam Hussein held an election in 2002, and was the only candidate on the ballot. That was VERY BAD, and so of course the US tsk-tsked and scolded all those silly backwards Iraqis: YER DOO’IN DEEMOCKRISSY RONG, we ‘splained—right before illegally invading and utterly destroying that country, killing untold numbers of innocent civilians and displacing millions more:

Iraqi officials say President Saddam Hussein has won 100% backing in a referendum on whether he should rule for another seven years. There were 11,445,638 eligible voters – and every one of them voted for the president, according to Izzat Ibrahim, Vice-Chairman of Iraq’s Revolutionary Command Council.

The government insists the count was fair and accurate.

Saddam Hussein – who has ruled Iraq since 1979 – was the only candidate.

Before the vote, Washington dismissed the referendum as a farce after the last such vote gave the Iraqi leader 99.96% support.

“Obviously it’s not a very serious day, not a very serious vote and nobody places any credibility on it,” White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said on Tuesday.

Indeed.

TL;dr: who should I write in on my ballot today?

snowdenmanning2016

Iris has a terrible headache from drugs.

Here we have a promoted story from The Washington Post highlighting a recent “scandal,” whereby some douchebro Martin Shkreli, CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, raised the price of an off-patent AIDS drug by like 5,000 percent or something, and now the entire Internet hates him. Even all the other drug companies hate him! The Post reports:

The major pharmaceutical and biotech industry groups have portrayed Shkreli’s actions as totally repugnant and the work of just one company, acting alone, with a flippant young chief executive who doesn’t reflect the broader values, practices, or trends of other companies.

Hahaha. Sure. The Post article proceeds to demonstrate that this is rank bullshit:

For example, tetracycline, an antibiotic discovered in 1948, cost 5 cents for a 500 milligram capsule back in November of 2013…Nearly two years later, it’s coming in at $11 a pill — a nearly 2,200 percent increase. Clomipramine, an antidepressant developed in the 1960s used to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder, cost 22 cents per pill in November 2012. Now, it’s $8.17 — a 3,600 percent increase.

In 2010, Amedra Pharmaceuticals bought the rights to abendazole, an off-patent drug used to treat intestinal parasites. At the time, the average wholesale price of the drug was $6 a day. By 2013, it was $120 — a nearly 2,000 percent increase.

These are hardly the only egregious examples the Post could have mentioned: this nifty interactive infographic from Bloomberg charts 74 top-selling drugs for which the cost increased in the US between 2007 and 2014 by at least 75 percent, and sometimes many multiples of that. Why, one might be inclined to wonder what’s going on here with all these skyrocketing drug prices. Alas, the Post only offers: “The trouble is this: right now, we can’t tell why prices are high, or even if they are high.”

IT’S TRULY MYSTIFYING. *shrug*

Oh wait, no. No, it’s not. See, drug prices are not this high everywhere else, or even anywhere else: USians pay from two to six times more than the rest of the world for pharmaceuticals. Why?

Well, the short answer is that US taxpayers and consumers massively subsidize the world’s pharmaceutical research costs. For a more comprehensive answer, anyone (presumably including the bewildered author of the Post piece) can read an in-depth article at Medscape Medical News entitled, appropriately enough, Why Are Drug Costs So High in the United States?

But that is not our forte at the Palace. Here, we will just want to highlight a few perverse and corrupt policies that impact US drug pricing, and what is responsible for them. SPOILER ALERT: it’s conservatism.

Econ 101: desperation vs. demand. 

In the mythical world of the Free Market™, buyers and sellers will come to a compromise on the price for goods and services: too high, no one will buy; too low, and sellers will not have viable businesses. This is the storied principle of supply and demand, blah blah blah. But when it comes to health care, the “demand” side of the equation is driven by factors very different from those that drive demand for ordinary consumer goods. We are talking about human suffering, often profound, and sometimes the kind where life and death hangs in the balance. When that suffering human is you—or your child, or indeed anyone you love—you will pay anything for medicine and appropriate care, even if it means you lose everything.

Even post-ACA, health care is still the number one cause of personal bankruptcy in the US:

A recent Harvard University study showed that medical expenses account for approximately 62 percent of personal bankruptcies in the US. Interestingly, the study also showed that 72 percent of those who filed for bankruptcy due to medical expenses had some type of health insurance.

That said, the ACA is having a positive effect on some cost-related trends. For example, in 2012, 80 million people “didn’t visit a doctor or clinic for a medical problem, didn’t fill a prescription, skipped a follow-up, treatment or test, or did not get needed specialist care” because of the cost. Two years later, only 66 million people reported the same. That trend is encouraging, and so is the fact that in 2014 almost 9 million more people had health insurance coverage than in 2013, bringing the total share of uninsured down to 10.4 percent.

Now I really hate to be a Debbie Downer here, but I would be remiss if I did not point out that (a) bankruptcy and poverty are terrible fucking outcomes, (b) 33 million of us still remain uninsured, and (c) the 66 million of us who delayed or denied ourselves health care because we could not afford it is greater than the total population of the UK, where no citizen faces any of these problems for accessing health care. Ever. Nor do all 35,749,600 Canadians.

The ACA is based on a for-profit (read: conservative) health care reform model, one that Mitt Romney rolled out statewide as governor of Massachusetts. It did not slow medical bankruptcies there.

Price negotiation.

Elsewhere, single-payer and nationalized systems like the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) negotiate a single price with drug manufacturers for the entire country’s supply. By contrast, the US “system,” if one can even call it that, is mainly comprised of multiple for-profit insurance companies and hospital systems, all running countless different programs and plans, each of which negotiates pricing separately. In this scenario the sole supplier of any drug, patented or generic, has the upper hand. But where there are only a few large payers—or only one—drug companies are forced to come to the table and offer a reasonable price if they want access to that market.

And here’s the kicker: government-run Medicare, one of the largest payers for prescription drugs, is prohibited by law from negotiating drug pricing. You read that right. This was already true before the ACA, which only cemented it. That is because pharmaceutical companies got what they wanted with the ACA: “We got a good deal,” wrote Bryant Hall of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), one of the largest, most influential lobbying groups in Washington.

One need look no further for proof of the power of negotiation than the government-run Veterans Administration, which is not barred from negotiating drug prices: costs run 25% to 50% lower than Medicare.

In 1992, federal Medicare spending on drugs was $400 million. By 1999 it was $7 billion. By 2013, $50 billion. Gosh, I wonder what it’ll be in a decade? EXCITING.

Reimportation.

The ACA also banned reimportation: US patients cannot legally purchase less expensive drugs from another country like Canada. While the ACA was being cooked up by lobbyists and the Democratic president behind closed doors, PhRMA lobbyist Bryant Hall wrote that “WH [the White House] is working on some very explicit language on importation to kill it in health care reform.” Neat, huh?

But don’t you feel left out, my Canadian friends! PhRMA is coming for you, too:

“America’s big drug companies are intensifying their lobbying efforts to ‘change the Canadian health-care system’ and eliminate subsidized prescription drug prices enjoyed by Canadians” … “A prescription drug industry spokesman in Washington confirmed to CanWest News Service that information contained in confidential industry documents is accurate and that $1 million US is being added to the already heavily funded drug lobby against the Canadian system.” PhRMA was the leading drug industry trade group behind the increased lobbying and PR campaign. PhRMA was also independently spending $450,000 to target the booming Canadian Internet pharmacy industry, which has been providing Americans with prescription drugs at lower prices than in the United States.

And the UK’s NHS is barreling down the same road.

But fret not. This is only happening because Free Market™ health care is SUPER AWESOME! Once people wake up and smell the freedom, they will never want to pay reasonable prices for drugs again.

Comparative drug review.

Other countries compare drugs to determine whether a new, higher-cost treatment is any more effective than existing alternatives. These investigations can inform price negotiation, or determine whether a drug gets approval at all. In the US, our FDA has no legal authority to consider pricing, or to compare medications to one another. Even if it did have the authority, FDA does not even have the resources to confirm that data supplied by drug companies is accurate and complete—or, you know, not. Conservatives, chronically infected with deregulatory fever, will never task a federal agency with assessing the value of a new drug. After all, that might interfere with the Free Market™ gouging US patients on drug pricing. NO ONE WANTS THAT.

But what about research and development huh what about R&D?

The pharmaceutical industry defends its US pricing more or less thusly: it costs over a billion dollars to bring a new drug to market, and furthermore, more drugs fail to make it than succeed. We want to incentivize new and better drugs, don’t we?

YES! And that is why US taxpayers fund 85% of the basic research. No wonder US companies generate most new drug discoveries! GO USA! We also helpfully elect corrupt politicians who let the industry’s lobbyists write our nation’s health care laws. Yet strangely, we get nothing in return for any of this, while other countries reap the benefits. Consider the new hepatitis C drug, sofosbuvir. US patients will pay $80,000 to $160,000 for a course of treatment, while in Egypt and India the manufacturer has agreed to charge $900 per patient. And it’s still enormously profitable: a course of sofosbuvir costs only $138 to produce.

Nobody disputes that it’s a risky and expensive proposition to develop a new drug. But they do dispute the numbers. An oft-cited analysis by the Tufts Center pegs the development cost for a new drug at about $1.3 billion. Hagop M. Kantarjian, MD, professor and chair at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, begs to differ. In a 2013 paper he co-authored on cancer drug costs, Dr. Kantarjian and his colleagues suggest the actual figure might be as low as 10% of that:

“The figure may be inflated, because it includes ancillary expenses, salaries, bonuses, and other indirect costs not related to research or development, as well as an 11% compounded discount rate over 10 years based on stock market returns on capital investment,” they write. “Other independent estimates of cost of drug development put the figure as low as 4% to 25% of this estimate.”

Moreover, “R&D” for some new drugs apparently means “buying a smaller company that already did the R&D.” Gilead’s sofosbuvir, the hepatitis C wonder drug, is once again illustrative. When Gilead bought Pharmasset, Inc. in 2012 for $11.2 billion, Pharmasset reported $62 million in R&D costs over the three years to develop sofosbuvir (out of $177 million spent on R&D company wide over the same period). Before the Gilead buyout, Pharmasset was planning to make a reasonable profit selling sofosbuvir at $36,000 for a course of treatment; Gilead is now charging $80,000 to $160,000. Unless you live in Egypt or India, of course—then it’s only 900 bucks. FREE MARKET™ HEALTH CARE, everyone.

Another analysis published in the BMJ estimates the typical R&D cost at between $60 million and $90 million. But even if the $1.2 billion figure is accurate, there is no justification for US taxpayers and patients disproportionately footing the bill. Especially when we pay dearly in other ways, too: with people bankrupted for accessing life-saving medication, or going without it altogether.

There is a solution: Medicare For All, where “all” includes congresscritters. Just for starters, you would see drug prices negotiated so fast it would make your head spin, and we’d all find just how far they can fall. We really could have a less corrupt and more equitable system, in which corporate greed is not the driver of pharmaceutical innovation or pricing—human health is. But it’s just not going to happen unless and until we find the cure for conservatism. And it sure as shit isn’t in the interests of the pharmaceutical industry to cure that.

And listen. Lest you think I’m just a lefty kook talking out of my ass with no skin in this game: I am alive today only because of pharmaceutical innovations and the privilege to access them affordably. I’m a Type 1 diabetic, and I inject two different bio-engineered insulin analogs daily. I also take several oral medications to mitigate or prevent complications of the disease. I am grateful for this every fucking day. My grandmother’s generation had few alternatives to pig-derived insulin, which could be suddenly and violently rejected at any time by the body’s immune system (sometimes causing premature death), and rendering it useless as an intervention such that the disease would take its natural course (always causing premature death). In fact, as a young adult my grandmother’s sister died from complications of Type 1 diabetes.

I am not arguing for abolishing profits and nationalizing the drug companies. (Not yet, anyway. But if they keep this shit up I just might.) Again, I am arguing for a less corrupt and more equitable paradigm, wherein corporate greed is not the primary driver of pharmaceutical innovation or pricing—human health is.

medicare4all

Drones vs. anti-drone laser cannons for fun and profit. UPDATED. UPDATE 2.

UPDATED BELOW.

Loyal Readers™, prepare to be dazzled—if unsurprised—by my astonishing prescience.

Early last week I was dining with My Amazing Lover™, and of course the topic of drones naturally came up. We were discussing the article by The Washington Post’s Craig Whitlock that I had linked in one of my Recent Reads roundups; thanks to a whistleblower at FAA, we now know about the 700 near-collisions between planes and drones this year (so far).

“But don’t worry about it!” I scoffed. “Drone manufacturers will surely come up with a perfect solution to the very drone menace they created! Then our tax dollars will not only pay for drones themselves, we’ll also happily pay America’s Owners for the technology to neutralize them! WIN-WIN!”

We ordered another bottle of rosé. It was half-price bottle night! But let’s face it, we would have ordered another one anyway.

And then lo and behold, on Wednesday morning Boeing debuted its new compact drone-blasting laser cannon!

dronelasercannonImage: Jordan Golson/WIRED

Isn’t it cute? It looks like the infant spawn of R2D2 and the girl robot from WALL-E!

ever2d2^These two are working for Boeing now, OBVIOUSLY.

The adorable little laser weapon is designed specifically for turning drones into flaming piles of wreckage. The device is controlled with a standard Xbox 360 controller, and no, I did not just make that up. (“If it breaks, just head to the barracks to get a replacement!”).

In the demo, Boeing used the laser to burn holes in a stationary, composite UAV shell, to show how quickly it can compromise an aircraft. Two seconds at full power and the target was aflame…the compact system is small enough to fit in four suitcase-sized boxes and can be set up by a pair of soldiers or technicians in just a few minutes.

Front_View_2kW_Session_1GIF: Boeing.

What could possibly go wrong shooting high power laser beams at drones buzzing around commercial aircraft? FLAMING WRECKAGE FTW.

And what a business opportunity! The market is huuuuge, and I’m not just talking about every single airport in the U.S. (and beyond), or even the military. Last month, drones chased away firefighting helicopters from burning cars on a California highway, which means that every municipal fire department requires a laser cannon, too. There has been a rash of drones dropping all sorts of contraband—weed, weapons, heroin, porn—into prison yards in Ohio, Maryland, South Carolina and probably other places where they went undetected. Boeing blasters on top of every guard tower, anyone? Hundreds of stadiums need laser beam drone exploders, amid growing concerns about all those drones flying overhead. Better to have flaming drone wreckage falling on football fans and players than take a chance on nefarious jihadi plots involving unmanned aerial vehicles, amirite? It would certainly make watching the games much more interesting, that’s for sure. Oh and remember last year when I told you about that 400 pound military drone that crashed landed at a Pennsylvania elementary school? There are a hundred thousand or so public schools in the U.S., and all of them now require an advanced laser weapon. And a working Xbox controller.

And why stop there? The Second Amendment surely guarantees that anyone in the market for a drone blasting laser cannon should be able to get one from Boeing. I’ll certainly need a few of these babies myself, stationed atop the Palace turrets. I’ll be a goddamned one-woman well-regulated militia, necessary to the security of a free state! Whoo-hoo!

Now I ask you: besides Your Humble Monarch™, WHO ELSE COULD HAVE POSSIBLY PREDICTED BOEING’S DRONE-KILLING LASER CANNON?*

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Now that you are utterly in awe of my psychic prediction powers, here are some super fun facts about The Boeing Company:

droneattackBoeing’s Unmanned Little Bird H-6U drone under laser attack by Boeing’s new Compact Laser Weapon System.
(Artist’s rendering.)

  • Boeing paid no federal taxes from 2008 to 2010, instead receiving $178 million in tax rebates on profits of $9.7 billion. It spent $52.29 million on lobbying during the same period, when the Democratic Party controlled both houses of Congress and the White House.
  • In the 2008 presidential election, Barack Obama “was by far the biggest recipient of campaign contributions from Boeing employees and executives, hauling in $197,000 – five times as much as John McCain, and more than the top eight Republicans combined.”
  • Since 2008, Boeing has laid off 14,862 workers. In 2010 it increased pay for its top five executives to $41.9 million—a 31% raise.

Have a nice day.

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*Okay, anyone with even a minimal understanding of how U.S. capitalism and government work would have predicted precisely this development. But My Amazing Lover™ sure seemed quite impressed with me as I jumped around the Palace animatedly, shrieking “Didn’t I JUST SAY this would happen?! Huh? Weren’t we JUST TALKING about this?!” All right, so maybe “impressed” isn’t exactly accurate. But it’s what I’m going with, people.

nonprofitdefenseUPDATE:

Two things pinged my radar after posting yesterday:

Just a little reminder, from the Palace Library archives:

A study conducted by a US military adviser has found that drone strikes in Afghanistan during a year of the protracted conflict caused 10 times more civilian casualties than strikes by manned fighter aircraft.

UPDATE 2:

It turns out you don’t need a Boeing laser cannon to take down a drone after all: chimpanzees with sticks can get the job done quite nicely.

Plus, you have to admit it would be so awesome having a bunch of chimps hanging around all our airports, prisons, schools and stadiums.

IMAGE 5Boeing’s Unmanned Little Bird H-6U drone under attack by chimpanzees with sticks
(Author’s rendering.)

Anybody know whether the chimps have a lobbyist yet? Asking for a friend…

BREAKING: Martin O’Malley announces announcement.

Governor Martin O’Malley has just announced an announcement, and also announced a website announcing the announcement:

Join me on May 30th at 10am on Federal Hill in Baltimore for a special announcement. http://omalleyannouncement.com/

omalleyannounceLoyal Readers™ will recall that Your Humble Monarch® has been selflessly volunteering her time and talents to help her BFF Martin O’Malley’s pre-presidential pre-campaign (while secretly working on a national write-in campaign for Snowden/Manning 2016 on the FUCK YOU party ticket).

At this time, however, all I am authorized to tell you is this:

SHIT’S ABOUT TO GET REAL, PEOPLE.

Have a nice day.

palacehappyface