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What Does Dylan Matthews Think The Worst New York Times Article Published in the Last Decade Is?

[ 196 ] October 3, 2015 |


Dylan Matthews tweeted a while ago:

So naturally, I clicked. It was Paul Theroux writing about the hypocrisy of corporate campaigns for charity when their own outsourcing policies caused the economic decline of the American working class in the first place. A selection:

Take a Delta town such as Hollandale, Miss. Two years ago, the entire tax base of this community of around 3,500 was (so the now-deceased and much-mourned mayor Melvin Willis told me) less than $300,000. What the town had on hand to spend for police officers, firefighters, public works, outreach, welfare and town hall salaries was roughly the amount of a Bill or Hillary one-night-stand lecture fee; what Tim Cook, the chief executive of Apple, earns in a couple of days.

When Hollandale’s citizens lost their jobs in the cotton fields to mechanization they found work nearby, in Greenville and elsewhere, in factories that made clothes, bikes, tools and much else — for big brands like Fruit of the Loom and Schwinn.

They are gone now. Across the Mississippi River, Monticello, Ark., and other towns made carpets and furniture while Forrest City produced high-quality TV sets. The people I spoke to in the town of Wynne, known for its footwear, said they’d be happy to make Nikes if they were paid a living wage.

I found towns in South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas that looked like towns in Zimbabwe, just as overlooked and beleaguered. It’s globalization, people say. Everyone knows that, everyone moans about it. Big companies have always sought cheaper labor, moving from North to South in the United States, looking for the hungriest, the most desperate, the least organized, the most exploitable. It has been an American story. What had begun as domestic relocations went global, with such success that many C.E.O.s became self-conscious about their profits and their stupendous salaries.

To me, globalization is the search for a new plantation, and cheaper labor; globalization means that, by outsourcing, it is possible to impoverish an American community to the point where it is indistinguishable from a hard-up town in the dusty heartland of a third world country.

This is by and large true. Globalization has led to a global race to the bottom that has deeply undermined the American working class, led to the decline of unions (the only collective voice that American workers have ever had in politics) and their replacement in the political realm by untold amounts of corporate cash leading to equally untold influence over policy. It also also allowed for wealthy capitalists to make tremendous amounts of money by exploiting the poorest of the world’s people, dooming them to death on the job, massive pollution exposure, low wages, sexual assault on the job, violence when they try to organize unions, and the constant, never-ending threat of capital mobility if they organize to improve their lives. Globalization has also led to the creation of a global elite and smaller middle-class that has created real economic benefits for those lucky enough to rise into it, whether in India, China, or the United States. The question to whether we can have one without the other is what people who care about issues of global trade and inequality try to hash out. But the impact of capital mobility upon working-class American communities is pretty much not arguable. Whether the Mississippi communities Theroux describes, the Oregon logging communities without jobs, or old factory towns like Schenectady and Johnstown and Pawtucket and Flint, we can see the impact of globalization on the American landscape, or at least we can if we ever leave the Beltway.

So the basic point should be pretty well accepted. In any case, it’s hardly the abomination Matthews describes. Matthews’ objection is that Theroux wants to doom the poor around the world to poverty for nationalist reasons and thus he is a moral monster or something. First, that’s not true and any cursory reading of Theroux’s own work shows that. The chances that Matthews has ever read anything by Theroux, someone who knows far more about the developing world that Matthews sitting at his Vox desk could ever dream of, seems unlikely, although how I am to know. Second, Theroux makes no such claim. He points out that globalization has decimated working class communities and that the Chinese have benefited. Third, Theroux rightfully calls out the business community for being hypocrites, claiming they care about communities while taking all their jobs away. I guess that doesn’t mean you have reject corporate money to improve decimated communities, but it’s obvious that business, ranging from their strong anti-union positions to the Chamber of Commerce’s attack on the ACA, is opposed to any actual policy that would help working people outside of the dribbling of charity from their own beneficence.

But Matthews has the same kind of neoliberal centrist economic position staked out by his own Vox compadre Matt Yglesias when he talked about it being OK for Bangladeshis to have lower workplace standards and allow over 1100 workers to die at the Rana Plaza collapse in 2013. This is a wholly abstract notion of the world economy developed in an atmosphere of Washington boardrooms, raw data analyzed without historical or anthropological context that ignores the messiness of what happens on the ground, and the elite confidence in their own rightness developed at Ivy League schools and continued through the networks that keeps these people on top. What it is totally disconnected to is how actual workers live, what they want, the real sufferings they deal with, and their own demands in the system of global capitalism. These are questions that receive indifference from Matthews, Yglesias, and the like, who are far more comfortable taking on the mantle of Official Explainer of Data to the American upper-middle class in ways that justify their readers’ current position on the economic scale than they are in articulating just how they see American communities recovering from globalization or how we should support the desires of Bangladeshi textile workers to live a better life.

As far as I can tell, Dylan Matthews is completely indifferent to the suffering of the American working class so long as he can justify it by data that shows that some other people’s lives are improving because of it. And of course, I want the lives of Bangladeshi workers and American workers to both improve. That’s why I wrote a book connecting the two nations and trying to think through ways that we can tame a global economy that decimates communities in both nations. Matthews, Yglesias, and others of their ilk are happy to support better health care policy and the like, and that’s good. But they really struggle to understand how important it is for people to have work and how much of what they don’t like about where this nation is right now–the fear of immigrants, the post-Citizens United political landscape, stagnating incomes, long-term unemployment, etc.–stems in parts larger or smaller from the decline of unions and the undermining of the American working class turned middle class. Without the jobs that Matthews is more than happy to send overseas if the workers unionize, (and really, have either Matthews or Yglesias ever actively written in support of a single labor struggle, even if they support unions in theory? Not that I have ever seen), none of this gets fixed. It certainly doesn’t happen if we just let all the smart people in DC decide what to do, a long-standing mythology held on to with great aplomb by those who could potentially be part of that conversation.

This doesn’t mean that one can’t criticize Theroux’s arguments. It’s really not the best piece one could write on the impact of globalization. He presents the global economy as more of a zero-sum game than it is. His own discussions of the impact of charity in Africa, while not entirely untrue, are certainly cranky and problematic. He’s been criticized before for his recent writings on Africa that blame foreign aid for a lot of the continent’s current problems. Theroux himself doesn’t seem to get or he doesn’t articulate the importance of worker power and unions in American work, not that one per se must address that in a relatively short op-ed. And if you frame all of this as a zero-sum game, then it does become problematic because you open yourself up to Matthews’ response that by bringing the jobs back to America you want the Chinese to be poor (although that’s not really any more morally problematic than Matthews’ own predilections.)

But in the end, Matthews called an article concerned about the poverty of the American working class the worst thing the New York Times has published in maybe a decade. This is the conclusion to Theroux’s supposed abomination.

Some companies have brought manufacturing jobs back to the United States, a move called “reshoring,” but so far this is little more than a gesture. It seems obvious that executives of American companies should invest in the Deep South as they did in China. If this modest proposal seems an outrageous suggestion, to make products for Nike, Apple, Microsoft and others in the South, it is only because the American workers would have to be paid fairly. Perhaps some chief executives won’t end up multibillionaires as a result, but neither will they have to provide charity to lift Americans out of poverty.

Wow, what a moral monster.

Matthews deserves a good bit of pushback on this. I’ll be curious to see if he writes more on it. But it’s not wrong to be concerned about the lack of good jobs in your homeland, nor to document how global trade policies have driven some people into poverty. If attacking such statements as being morally monstrous is by someone who is identified as a smart center-left commenter, we have real problems.


Afghanistan: Another Nation That Should Be Grateful to the West

[ 40 ] October 3, 2015 |


Cass Sunstein is right once again. The West brings nothing but gifts wherever it goes, totally eliminating any claims from those nations for justice. And what nation has received more of these gifts than Afghanistan:

A hospital run by Doctors Without Borders in Kunduz was badly damaged early Saturday after being hit by what appears to have been an American airstrike. At least 19 people were killed, including 12 hospital staff members, and dozens wounded.

The United States military, in a statement, confirmed an airstrike at 2:15 a.m., saying that it had been targeting individuals “who were threatening the force” and that “there may have been collateral damage to a nearby medical facility.”

The airstrike set off fires that were still burning hours later, and a nurse who managed to climb out of the debris described seeing colleagues so badly burned that they had died.

What’s a little collateral damage (everyone’s favorite euphemism for state-sponsored murder of civilians during war) when we have targets in the area? A Doctors Without Borders hospital is just an acceptable price to pay I guess for our government.

Indonesia: Another Nation That Should Be Grateful to the West

[ 18 ] October 3, 2015 |


October 1 marked the 50th anniversary of another of Cass Sunstein’s noted gifts from the West to the developing world–the Suharto coup in Indonesia that led to between 500,000 and 1 million deaths and was promoted by the U.S. government. Samantha Michaels has a primer.

What sparked the mass murders? In the early hours of October 1, 1965, a group of army conspirators killed six generals in Jakarta, the country’s capital. Maj. Gen. Suharto, who would soon become Indonesia’s dictator for more than three decades, took control of the armed forces, claiming that the killings were part of an attempted communist coup. Then he and the military launched a campaign to purge Indonesians believed to be connected with the communist party or left-leaning organizations. They also targeted hundreds of thousands of Indonesians unconnected to the party who they saw as potential opponents of their new regime, including union members, small farmers, intellectuals, activists, and ethnic Chinese. The carnage was so intense that people stopped eating fish—fearing that the fish were consuming the human corpses flooding the rivers.

So, how was the United States involved? Speculation abounds over the US role in the 1965 military takeover, though there’s no concrete proof in the public record that America had a direct hand in it. However, investigations by journalists, as well as government documents, have made it clear that the United States provided money, weapons, and equipment to the Indonesian military while it was undertaking the killings. What’s more, according to excerpts of contemporary cables released by the US State Department, officials at the US embassy created lists of thousands of names of communists and provided them to the military. It has been reported that the CIA worked on the lists, too, but the agency has denied involvement, Harsono says.

How was the genocide covered by the US press? “It was presented in the American media as good news,” says Joshua Oppenheimer, a filmmaker who has spent the past 12 years investigating the mass murders and producing two award-winning documentaries about them. He cites a 1966 story in Time magazine that said the killings were the “best news for years in Asia.” In a report at the time for NBC News, a correspondent spoke with an Indonesian man in Bali who claimed that the island, famous for its tourism, had “become more beautiful without communists,” and that “some of them wanted to be killed.” The correspondent noted that Indonesia boasted “fabulous potential wealth in natural resources” before showing footage of so-called communist prisoners at a labor camp on the island of Sumatra, some of whom, he said, would be starved to death or released from the camp to be killed by local citizens.

The U.S. government was good friends with Suharto for a very long time. None of this is maybe so surprising given that we are all familiar with the terrible moral choices the American government made in its dealing with other nations during the Cold War. But the stories we tell ourselves about the U.S. in this era do not often include Indonesia, where the death toll might not match that of our involvement in Vietnam, but is higher than that of Guatemala, Iran, Cuba, and other nations where the U.S. did horrible things in the name of fighting communism.

I will say that I’m not really comfortable with the term “genocide” here. All mass murders are not genocide, nor are all mass state-sponsored murders. There was no intent to kill off an entire ethnic group or all the people on one island, at least not that I’m aware of. But this misuse of the term is common so I won’t belabor the point, especially considering the crimes of Suharto and his US supporters are far more important than pedantic discussions. We should be thinking more about our impact in Indonesia over the long-term and reminding ourselves that the impact of U.S. anti-communist policies had a tremendous and usually devastating impact everywhere in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

Over the Tallest Bridge in the State of Ohio

[ 44 ] October 2, 2015 |

We haven’t had a thread about the nation’s best band of the last decade lately, so it’s worth noting that “Little Miami” might be the best song Wussy has ever recorded. Chuck Cleaver thinks so anyway. I can’t really argue, although there are 5 or 6 others that I think have a claim to the title.

For Corporations, Sticks, Not Carrots

[ 19 ] October 2, 2015 |


Before this story gets totally forgotten, I want to revisit the Volkswagen issue. For it shows something that I point out repeatedly in Out of Sight (now available for a James Blaine campaign price of $18.84 if you have not purchased it) as well as Empire of Timber. Corporations simply cannot be trusted to self-regulate. It will never work because all the incentive is there for them to cheat. They want to profit and if the government isn’t watching, they will cut corners to do so. The auto industry has shown this for decades. Only sticks will work. You have to punish corporations–and specifically corporate executives with massive fines and jail time if you want corporations to obey the law and take safety and pollution seriously. One estimate has the Volkswagen emissions leading to approximately 106 deaths in the United States. VW will be punished for this, but if we want to stop other companies and other industries from similar evasion of regulations, we simply have to beef up our regulatory powers and funding for regulatory agencies significantly. Otherwise, other versions of this will happen again and again.

Jamaica: Another Nation That Should Be Grateful to the West

[ 94 ] October 2, 2015 |


Slaves in Jamaica

David Cameron visited Jamaica this week. Presumably, the farmer’s pig farmers locked up their stock for the duration. Anyway, Cameron went full Cass Sunstein in his speech to the Jamaican Parliament, telling the nation to get over slavery and focus on all the great things the British brought the island.

David Cameron has called for Jamaica and the UK to “move on” from the deep wounds caused by slavery but ducked official calls for Britain to apologise for its role or pay reparations.

Speaking to the Caribbean country’s parliament, the prime minister struck a defiant note as he spoke of his pride that Britain had played a part in abolishing the “abhorrent” trade, without highlighting its historic involvement in the transfer of slaves from west Africa and ownership of slaves in the Caribbean.

He called for the two countries to “move on from this painful legacy and continue to build for the future”.

His trade trip to Jamaica, the first for 14 years by a UK prime minister, has been overshadowed by the issue of slavery. Cameron was warmly received by a military band playing God Save the Queen on arrival at the airport and received a hug from the country’s prime minister, Portia Simpson Miller.

Reparations obviously are controversial and could be problematic, although given the amount of wealth the British stole from the island, one could argue for them on a number of levels. But to not apologize over slavery? Why? Oh yeah, because David Cameron is a massive jerk.

But hey, Sunstein would be proud because of yet another gift from the western world to a developing nation!

The UK is to spend £25m on building a prison in Jamaica so that foreign criminals in the UK can be sent home to serve sentences in the Caribbean.

More than 600 Jamaican nationals are in UK jails but cannot be deported because of Jamaica’s poor prison conditions.

Prime Minister David Cameron announced the deal as he began a visit there.

Importing Africans to work on brutal sugar plantations, holding Africans under colonialism until 1962, and now building them prisons to incarcerate Africans. It’s gifts all the way down!

A Day in Mass American Death

[ 86 ] October 2, 2015 |


So let me tell you about my day yesterday.

I am on one of my periodic trips to western Pennsylvania and I chose this day to do some exploring. If you are out here, most of the history is kind of depressing, although I did run across the Edward Abbey historical marker since he is actually from here. Anyway, among my destinations yesterday were the newly opened Flight 93 National Memorial visitor center (very minimalist, not sure what I think about it) and a visit to the the site where the wealthy Pittsburgh-based hunting club’s dam broke causing the Johnstown Flood. These are 2 of the 6 worst disasters in American history by death toll.* So I was feeling pretty great about our history, as you can imagine. Then while I was out, I heard about the shooting at Umpqua Community College. This hits a bit close to home, although not quite as close as in 1998 when my high school Spanish teacher was killed by her son who then went on to shoot up the other high school in town. It’s an hour south of my home town. In fact, in high school I was dragged to a hilariously awful Christian rock show in the auditorium at that school.**

So yesterday was a full embrace of the massive death that happens to the people of this nation. That it has become so common because people love their guns so much is even more depressing. There’s almost nothing to say at this point, except that I would like to see the Second Amendment repealed, the government to invade your homes and take all your guns, and those who resist should serve time in prison for breaking my new anti-gun laws. And yes, I would indeed like a pony.

But I notice that each of these three disasters have a particularly evil person behind them. So it’s time for an LGM readership poll. Who is the most evil? Is it Osama Bin Laden, mastermind of 9/11? Henry Clay Frick, the comically evil capitalist who was head of the club that did not maintain the dam that caused the Johnstown Flood? Or Wayne LaPierre, head of an organization that is the U.S. equivalent of the wealthy Saudis who fund terrorism?

Personally, I’d say it’s a tie. Wayne LaPierre and his henchmen are as evil as Osama Bin Laden and his henchmen. And Frick and his fellow Gilded Age capitalists are as evil as the other two. But maybe we can lighten up our morning by discussing who is actually the most evil.

Good times America. Good times.

*In order, it’s the 1900 Galveston hurricane, the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the 1928 Florida hurricane, 9/11, Pearl Harbor, and the Johnstown Flood. Hurricane Katrina is 8th.

** The music was, of course, atrocious. But the real comedy came when the drummer for this band, who, even obvious to my 1990 very unhip self, was not very far in the closet for a Christian rock band, got upset that his electric drum kit was having some problems. He had to switch to real drums. He then told us how he asked God for His forgiveness over his anger and frustration over the electric drums and that it was a lesson for all of us. Truly a classic moment.

I Guess Imperialism and Colonialism Never Happened

[ 112 ] October 1, 2015 |


One of the many people who owe the West for all the benefits of colonialism and climate change

Cass Sunstein said some no good, very bad things in his article rejecting the idea of climate reparations for poor nations. Now, one can wonder why a major figure felt the need to repudiate an idea that is never going to come to fruition anyway. And one can also suggest that climate reparations are probably not a very workable idea, to some extent for reasons Sunstein suggests. But then Sunstein decides to tell these poor nations that, despite this tiny problem of climate change, the West has brought them so much and made their lives so much better!

Their contention is that rich nations, which created the problem of climate change, have an obligation to fix it, not least by providing compensation for the high costs that, in their view, global warming has already imposed. Their argument adds that rich countries have gotten rich as a result of cheap energy (mostly coal); poor countries should be paid if they are to be deprived of the same opportunity.

That isn’t entirely crazy, but like other arguments for reparations, it runs into serious objections. For one thing, it depends on notions of collective responsibility. Most people in wealthy nations — whether rich or poor, or whether American or British or German — did not intend, and are not personally responsible for, the harms faced by citizens of India. Are they nonetheless obliged to pay reparations?

The corrective justice argument also conflates current generations with past generations. Much of the current “stock” of greenhouse gas emissions was produced by the actions of people who are now dead. The median American was born in 1979. How, exactly, does he or she owe reparations to people now suffering from warmer climates in India, Vietnam or Bangladesh?

It’s nice of Sunstein to copy the arguments of conservatives talking about it was their ancestors who owned slaves so what do we have to do with racial inequality today? Yes, the people of Britain and Germany might not have personally burned the coal that is leading to the inundation of Bangladesh–but they are sure benefiting from it in their rich nation society. The same for dead Germans and English and Americans. So this is a shockingly stupid argument. But it gets worse.

There is a subtler problem. Through industrial activity, trade, and technology, rich countries have conferred big benefits on poor ones, not least in the form of improved health and opportunity. Consider the recent response to the Ebola crisis, life-saving medical innovations or the dissemination of cell phones throughout the world.

A full accounting might require poor countries to pay the rich ones back for those benefits. No one in rich nations is asking for any form of restitution. (And they shouldn’t.) But if we are really interested in measuring who has helped and hurt whom, a claim for reparations puts the issue on the table.

So…… Rich nations have provided nothing but benefits to poor nations and maybe those poor nations should pay back rich nations for those benefits? I mean, sure 10-11 million slaves were taken from west Africa between 1500-1800, but some Nigerians owe us today because they use cell phone technology developed in the United States! And hey, sure the British let Indians starve during El Niño-induced famines in order that they maintained the proper level of exports back to the home country, but they also now speak English and call work in call centers! What gifts we have brought them!!! And let’s not forget the enormous debt the people of Congo owe the Belgians!

And certainly it’s quite clear that even though the U.S. blasted their Pacific island colonies after World War II with nuclear weapons and today those islands are disappearing because of climate change, the people who live actually owe us because they have television and sliced bread.

How did an article like this get through the editing process? Or is Cass Sunstein now like Niall Ferguson and can say any old horrifying thing with impunity because of who he is?

Irving Fields

[ 6 ] October 1, 2015 |

The other day I was listening to an album by the great Irving Fields, the brilliant pianist who merged jazz, the sort of Jewish-American popular music I associate with Catskills resorts in the 1950s, and Latin music in the 1950s, making legendary albums like Bagels and Bongos and Champagne and Bongos, which are just flat out pleasant and fun albums to listen to. I knew Fields was still working even though he is very old. I did a little research and found out that he just turned 100 and still plays at an Italian restaurant in New York. I’ve actually known about that for awhile and have never gone when I’m in the city, which is a huge error, even when time is limited as it often is there. The video in the attached article plays him up a bit as a lovable and slightly silly very old man, unfortunately not uncommon in a society that infantilizes the very old. But he can still play. And if you haven’t heard Bagels and Bongos, do it. He also recorded some excellent albums for Tzadik, John Zorn’s label, and the one with the percussionist Roberto Rodriguez is really fantastic. Highly recommended.

Lynd on Alinsky

[ 58 ] September 30, 2015 |
Saul Alinsky in 1965. (Tribune Archive photo) ..OUTSIDE TRIBUNE CO.- NO MAGS,  NO SALES, NO INTERNET, NO TV, CHICAGO OUT..

Saul Alinsky in 1965. (Tribune Archive photo) ..OUTSIDE TRIBUNE CO.- NO MAGS, NO SALES, NO INTERNET, NO TV, CHICAGO OUT..

I have no idea why the right has so demonized Saul Alinsky as the greatest evil of all time, although that was really more a 2008-12 demon than today. But in any case, his organizing strategies were certainly influential. But there’s a strong critique to made against them from the left and the radical historian and colleague of Alinksy, Staughton Lynd, makes it. It’s not an easy thing to excerpt, so I would recommend just reading it for Lynd’s stories of trying to work in an Alinsky organization after 1968 and had quickly it all fell apart.

In so many cases, the building of the organization was actually the point of Alinsky’s style of organizing, which could be disastrous in the case of the United Farm Workers, when Cesar Chavez actively opposed empowering workers who could threaten the organization and frankly preferred working with white volunteers who would simply do whatever he told them. Chavez would purge members who disagreed with him, take resources away from the lettuce workers who actually wanted to organize to focus on the grapes where Chavez decided the fight should exist, etc. Focusing on building around preexisting issues and fostering natural leaders are certainly good strategies, but it’s long been clear to me that Alinksy-style organizing had very real limitations, including lacking a broader agenda or long-term goal, centralizing authority in a few people’s hands, and could deemphasize or even demonize the political agenda of members. Coming out of the New Left falling apart, some of that makes sense in some circumstances–organizing is hard and complicated and there’s no clear way to do it–but Alinsky and his followers went way too far. Alinsky-style organizing may provide useful strategies for current organizers but it’s hardly a model to follow to the letter.

Which brings us back to the bizarre question of why Alinsky is so scary for conservatives, but then I don’t really have a good answer for that except to say that he was key in the founding of the community organizing model, Barack Obama was a community organizer for 5 minutes, and therefore Kenyan Muslims come to power illegally or something.


[ 64 ] September 30, 2015 |


A couple of years ago, the NFL changed its kickoff rules to minimize this dangerous play. Moving the kick up has allowed for more touchbacks, which means less returns, and less damage to players’ bodies. I suppose it might have taken a little excitement out of the game and it’s certainly created a lot of bad decisions by players taking out from 6 yards deep and returning it to the 11. College football did something of the same thing by creating a stronger incentive not to return kicks by making a touchback bring the ball out to the 25.

It’s certainly time to do the same with punting, probably banning the practice entirely. It’s the most dangerous play in football.

One week earlier, a sixteen-year-old freshman football player in Winnsboro, Louisiana, was fatally injured during a punt return in the fourth quarter of a Friday-night high-school game. His neck was reportedly broken when an opposing player hit him. “He loved his family, his team, and the game of football. He will be missed,” his school’s Facebook page read. It was Tyrell Cameron’s first and last high-school football game. His coffin was decorated with the colors of his Franklin Parish Patriots.

“Sure, it’s one of the more dangerous positions,” the Atlanta Falcons return specialist and receiver Devin Hester, who holds the N.F.L. record for punt-return touchdowns and total return touchdowns, told me recently. Football is thrilling and dangerous at every level, as fans of the game are increasingly aware. A 2013 study by the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research found that a dozen high-school and college football players die each year during practices and games. There hasn’t been a death during an N.F.L. game since 1971, but the league itself expects a third of all its retired players to develop some form of long-term cognitive problem, such as Alzheimer’s or dementia, as a consequence of head injuries endured on the gridiron. And a new independent report conducted by researchers with the Department of Veterans Affairs and Boston University found that chronic traumatic encephalopathy—or C.T.E., a disease caused by repeated head trauma, which can result in depression and dementia—affected ninety-six percent of N.F.L. players and seventy-nine percent of all football players whom researchers examined. (The researchers have examined the brain tissue of one hundred and sixty-five former players.)

Obviously, the CTE problem is much larger than punting but subjecting players to getting their bodies smashed, usually for not much as the average punt return is around 8-9 yards, means that a real step forward in safety would be a “punt” that just gave possession of the ball to other team 40 yards down the field, or perhaps halfway to the goal for punts inside the opponents’ 50. Something like this anyway. That’s the kind of adjustment that can actually make the game somewhat safer.

Pharmaceutical Price Gouging

[ 103 ] September 30, 2015 |


Last week, we all got a refresher on the problems with capitalist markets in pharmaceuticals. Martin Skhreli raised the cost of an HIV drug by 5000 percent, causing an outrage that forced him to backtrack (although as soon as he said that, all the media attention went away and so he’s probably still going to raise the price by a lot, just not as much as he originally said). There’s no good reason for companies not to do this, not when the American government lets them. Drug companies are doing the same thing with cancer drugs:

And now, research reveals the yawning gap between the price of widely used cancer drugs and their actual cost.

The true cost — what drug makers have to spend to get those pills to your local pharmacy — is made up of the active ingredient and other chemicals, their formulation into a pill, packaging, shipping and a profit margin.

British researchers, in a report to be delivered this weekend at a European cancer conference, say the price of five common cancer drugs is more than 600 times higher than they cost to make.

For instance, the analysis figures the true cost of a year’s supply of Gleevec (generic name imatinib), used to treat certain kinds of leukemia, at $159.

But the yearly price tag for Gleevec is $106,322 in the U.S. and $31,867 in the U.K. A generic version costs about $8,000 in Brazil.

“We were quite surprised just how cheap a lot of these cancer drugs really are,” pharmacologist Andrew Hill of the University of Liverpool said in an interview. “There’s a lot of scope for prices to come down.”

And the implications stretch way beyond these specific cancer drugs. Overall prices for cancer medications have been going up at a fast clip. Dr. Peter B. Bach of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York has documented a nearly 100-fold increase in cancer drug prices since 1965 after adjusting for inflation.

“The rate of rise exceeds the rise in benefits from these drugs,” Bach says. “This is a ginned-up pricing structure that isn’t a product of careful analysis. It’s not a bunch of guys in green eye-shades but a bit of dart-throwing and chutzpah. And if there’s a critical Op Ed piece or a Twitter avalanche [in response to a high price] they’ll lower it.”

Bach speaks from experience. Three years ago, he and two other colleagues announced in a New York Times Op Ed piece that Memorial Sloan Kettering would not be prescribing a new colon cancer drug because it didn’t improve outcomes despite its high price tag. The manufacturer responded by halving the price.

I grant that in some of this pricing comes from the cost of research. However, a lot of this price gouging is from capitalists like Skhreli who buy up drugs and never put a dime of research into them. Also, a lot of drug research is federally-funded. So what we are really seeing here is an American medical system that rewards killing people who can’t afford these drugs because just enough can to keep these companies making money. Even with the advances of the ACA, the American medical system is still a hot mess and greed is at the core of the problem. Really, only the government can solve this problem and politicians need to turn away the Big Pharma money and look toward acquiring affordable drugs for Americans that has some connection to the cost of production plus a reasonable profit for the companies, with “reasonable” not defined by venture capitalists or shareholder wishes.

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