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Category: General

Today in Human Scum

[ 124 ] September 22, 2015 |


The worst person in the entire world may well be the pharmaceutical capitalist Martin Shkreli.

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

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

This is not the first time the 32-year-old Mr. Shkreli, who has a reputation for both brilliance and brashness, has been the center of controversy. He started MSMB Capital, a hedge fund company, in his 20s and drew attention for urging the Food and Drug Administration not to approve certain drugs made by companies whose stock he was shorting.

In 2011, Mr. Shkreli started Retrophin, which also acquired old neglected drugs and sharply raised their prices. Retrophin’s board fired Mr. Shkreli a year ago. Last month, it filed a complaint in Federal District Court in Manhattan, accusing him of using Retrophin as a personal piggy bank to pay back angry investors in his hedge fund.

Mr. Shkreli has denied the accusations. He has filed for arbitration against his old company, which he says owes him at least $25 million in severance. “They are sort of concocting this wild and crazy and unlikely story to swindle me out of the money,” he said.

Of course Shkreli is only using the logic of capitalism in his decisions:

Noting that the pill sold for $13.50 and the course of treatment “to save your life was only a $1,000,” Shrkeli said he had to make a change.

“We know, these days, in modern pharmaceuticals, cancer drugs can cost $100,000 or more, whereas these drugs can cost a half of a million dollars,” he explained. “Daraprim is still under-priced relative to its peers.”

Asked if the pill really only costs $1 to manufacture, Shkreli agreed and said, “It costs very little to make Daraprim.”

Shkreli then listed off manufacturing, distribution, and FDA costs as well as paying the people “who make it to specifications.”

Pressed even further on the $750 cost per pill, the CEO defended the price by noting how much it brought into the pharmaceutical company annually.

“This drug was making $5 million in revenue,” he said with a smile. “And I don’t think you can find a drug company on this planet that can make money on $5 million in revenue.”

Shkreli stated that the drug is made for a “very very tough disease.”

“It requires a lot of attention and focus. The drug company needs to partner with the patients and make sure that it’s a very cared for community. And that costs a lot of money too,” pointing out that the company also “gives away” the drug for $1 for those who can’t afford it.

In other words, Shkreli is simply doing what any capitalist would do if they are following the ideological precepts of their system. It’s up to us to reject capitalism and demand that these drugs be free or very inexpensive if we want to defeat people like this. But so long as we believe in the profit motive, it’s hard to really see the logical alternative here. Otherwise, the people marketing these drugs are simply being bad at their jobs. If people die or go bankrupt to stay alive, well, what is that to the capitalist? I mean sure Shkreli is an utterly loathsome human who adds nothing positive to the world by staying alive. But he just represents an economic system that Americans love and adore.


I Made Rick Perry’s 2012 Campaign Look Competent: The Scott Walker Story

[ 205 ] September 21, 2015 |

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker

Scott Walker announced an EXCITING NEW PLAN to once again vault him ahead of George Pataki in the polls:

It’s been a thrilling—and harrowing—roller coaster ride for Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

First, the Republican presidential candidate suddenly rose and broke from the pack with a well-received speech at the Iowa Freedom Summit in January, where he repeatedly brought the crowd to its feet with thunderous applause. Almost immediately afterward, support for Walker surged. Iowa polls conducted during late spring and early summer showed him with almost enough support to potentially win the state’s Feb. 1 first-in-the-nation caucuses amid an unusually crowded field.

But then came Donald Trump, whose June 16 entry into the race blindsided his GOP rivals, perhaps none more so than Walker. Suddenly Walker was hurling down the ride, faster and faster, seemingly to the bottom. In a span of two months, the Wisconsin governor has gone from leading the Iowa race with 18 percent support in a Qunnipiac University survey released July 1, to just 3 percent support in the polling organization’s Sept. 11 tally.

Whether there’s another climb up the tracks isn’t likely to be known for weeks or months, as Walker deploys a new strategy that places virtually all his chips on Iowa.

The signs of his precipitous fall were all too vivid Sunday afternoon inside Serena’s Coffee Café in Amana, Iowa, where about 40 stoic supporters showed up for his first retail campaign event in the state since Wednesday’s debate.

And don’t kid yourself, he’s committed to seeing it through:

Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin has concluded he no longer has a path to the Republican presidential nomination and plans to drop out of the 2016 campaign, according to three Republicans familiar with his decision, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Mr. Walker called a news conference in Madison at 6 p.m. Eastern time.

“The short answer is money,” said a supporter of Mr. Walker’s who was briefed on the decision. “He’s made a decision not to limp into Iowa.”

The supporter said Mr. Walker’s fund-raising had dried up after his decline in the polls and that campaign officials did not feel they could risk going into debt with the race so uncertain. The governor, who was scheduled to be in New York and Washington this week, partly to raise money, had built up an expansive staff, bringing on aides and consultants detailed to everything from Christian conservative outreach to Super Tuesday states. But his fund-raising did not keep pace with the money needed to sustain such an infrastructure.

Mr. Walker’s intended withdrawal is a humiliating climb down for a Republican governor once seen as all but politically invincible. He started the year at the top of the polls but has seen his position gradually deteriorate, amid the rise of Donald J. Trump’s populist campaign and repeated missteps by Mr. Walker himself.

When the Bad Campaigns Hall of Fame goes up, the goggle-eyed homunculus hired by Koch Industries to manage their midwest subsidiary formerly known as the state of Wisconsin goes in on the first ballot with Perry and Phil Gramm.
…Alec MacGillis was prescient.


[ 33 ] September 21, 2015 |


This bar graph represents the ten best career touchdown to interception ratios among all NFL quarterbacks, past and present (minimum 1500 attempts).

Statistically, the number two man on the list is, at 2.79, a big outlier from numbers three through ten, who range between 2.26 and 1.96. Then you’ve got the #1 guy. (According to Sports Illustrated, four of his five interceptions last year hit the intended receiver in the hands first).

For history buffs and hip-hop aficionados…

[ 10 ] September 21, 2015 |

hamilton 2

Do yourself a favor and listen to this. Farley turned me onto it this morning, and I’m not sure I’m going to be listening to anything else anytime soon. It’s stunning as a history of both Alexander Hamilton’s life and ’90s era hip-hop.

I can’t recommend it highly enough, whatever that means. (Been working all day, I’m not sure words make sense anymore.)

There’s a train wreck picking up survivors from a plane crash

[ 123 ] September 21, 2015 |


This is a truly impressive flameout:

Five other candidates received less than one-half of 1 percentage point support: former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former New York Gov. George Pataki and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

Walker’s collapse is especially stark.

Celebrated by conservatives — in the party’s base and its donor class alike — for his union-busting efforts in Wisconsin, Walker at one point led the field in the key early voting state of Iowa.

His support had already dropped to 5% in a CNN/ORC poll in early September, but the bottom appears to have fallen out completely since then — with a second flat debate performance coming after criticism of his disparate answers on issues like birthright citizenship.

All credit to djw, who identified Walker as being not ready for public access while I still thought he was a strong candidate.

Obviously, ignore me since I once thought Walker was the most likely nominee, but at this point I’d be somewhere between surprised and shocked if Rubio wasn’t the nominee.

Update [PC]: Bye bye

Free Market/Slave Labor: L.A. Edition

[ 6 ] September 21, 2015 |


Yesterday I talked about the California bill for a meaningful wage theft law. On this particular issue, the problem is not Walmart or McDonald’s. The problem are employers who rely on immigrant labor who don’t have an easy ability to speak out about their exploitation. But in these industries, especially the apparel sweatshops of Los Angeles, are not just rogue employers at the global economic margins. Rather, they are central to global capitalism, just the kind of employer we might expect more in Bangladesh than the United States. The apparel industry, which has operated on a system of extreme exploitation since its beginning, rewards employers who can steal as much from workers as possible while the department stores and apparel brands get off scot free. Charles Davis has more, particularly about Thai migrants to the United States. A brief excerpt:

Outraged that identified trafficking victims had to fight to stay, activists then fought for legislation that would grant future victims an automatic visa: the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Prevention Act of 2000. Now those the government considers “trafficked” can work legally while receiving medical care and housing. But the problem has become a labeling issue. Extreme cases warrant condemnation and the “trafficking” label—the El Monte case was even prosecuted as slavery—but other low-wage immigrants who are victimized by their employers, denied money they are owed and forced to work in dangerous conditions, are ignored or even treated as criminals. “I have experienced workers coming forward, reporting abuses, who are undocumented and then get summarily deported after getting picked up,” says Martorell, “and, of course, denied justice and their back wages.” Those who aren’t immediately kicked out of the country have the option of working behind bars, scrubbing floors for 13 cents an hour in an immigrant detention center.

“I see it as a manifestation of what the U.S. has done abroad,” Martorell says of those who come here hoping for a better life, only to suffer even more indignity. We “talk about democracy,” she says, “then end up installing puppet governments that support the U.S. at the expense of their own people.” Those people then come here; a few are officially recognized as victims, considered the rescued prey of traffickers. But many more are deemed exploited, perhaps, but their victimhood not worthy of asylum. All of them suffer.

It’s to protect these workers that we need a strong national wage theft law and to stop seeing the workplace as a site to enforce immigration law, which empowers employers to exploit workers. Right now, there are situations of not only wage theft but slave labor in these sweatshops. It hasn’t received nearly as much attention from policymakers as it should. That needs to change.

Chicken Thighs Braised in Tomato-Ginger Sauce

[ 14 ] September 21, 2015 |


One of my favorite cookbooks from early in my marriage was “While the Pasta Cooks,” because the author appreciated the fact that tomatoes pair beautifully with so many ingredients, even unexpected ones. One of my favorite sauce recipes from the book was a simple one comprised mainly of tomato, ginger and green onions. Though I haven’t cracked the cookbook in a long time, I’ve often thought back fondly to that sauce. Recently I tried to do a take on it, using it as a braising liquid for some chicken thighs.


  • 4-6 chicken thighs (I used bone-in, skin-on because that’s what I had, but I think boneless skinless is easier. If you use the former, be sure to crisp the skin before submerging in the sauce.
  • 1 28 can crushed tomatoes
  • 4-6 green onions, minced
  • 1 dash red pepper flakes or 1 minced, seeded jalapeno
  • 1 tsp. curry powder
  • 1 1/2-2 inches of fresh ginger, grated
  • 4-5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1-2 tbsp. oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Chopped fresh cilantro



  1. Heat oil to medium heat.
  2. Taking care not to burn the garlic, stir the green onions, pepper flakes or jalapeño, ginger and garlic, ’til fragrant. Stir in the curry powder and some salt and pepper.
  3. Stir in the tomatoes, along with least a cup of water (sauce thickens up in the oven).
  4. Salt and pepper the thighs, then submerge in the sauce.
  5. Braise in a 325 degree oven for 1 1/2 hours, or until sauce has thickened up and chicken is tender. (Cook uncovered for a spell if sauce is not thickened to your liking.)
  6. Serve over rice and top with cilantro.




Sprawl Notes

[ 56 ] September 21, 2015 |


A bunch of stories about urban sprawl that deserve attention:

1. If you live in Louisville, Miami, or Salt Lake City, you suffer the nation’s highest urban heat island effects.

2. Even in liberal California, a meaningful state climate bill had to sacrifice the goal to reduce the state’s gasoline consumption in order to pass. Nothing, and I mean nothing, is going to get in the way of Americans love to drive.

3. What will traffic look like in the Washington DC area by 2040 with expected population growth? It will suck.

4. Chinese sprawl, 1988 and 2015. Dang.

5. At least one area of sensitive habitat in the Bay Area is protected from a housing development for now at least.

Indigenous Mexican Migrants to American Farms

[ 3 ] September 21, 2015 |

Mixtec Immigrant Picking Strawberries

David Bacon, who has done so much great work over the years exposing the plight of Mexican migrants to the U.S., has an excellent piece on how so many of the farmworkers in the U.S.–and more specifically the farmworker activists–are indigenous Mexicans, primarily from poor regions of Oaxaca, the state in southern Mexico where my wife does her academic research.

Agribusiness farming started in San Quintin in the 1970s, as it did in many areas of northern Mexico, to supply the U.S. market with winter tomatoes and strawberries. Baja California had few inhabitants then, so growers brought workers from southern Mexico, especially indigenous Mixtec and Triqui families from Oaxaca. Today an estimated 70,000 indigenous migrant workers live in labor camps notorious for their bad conditions. Many of the conditions are violations of Mexican law.

Once indigenous workers had been brought to the border, they began to cross it to work in fields in the U.S. Today the bulk of the farm labor workforce in California’s strawberry fields comes from the same migrant stream that is on strike in Baja California. So does the migrant labor force picking berries in Washington State, where workers went on strike two years ago.

Two of the 500 strikers at Sakuma Farms were teenagers Marcelina Hilario from San Martin Itunyoso and Teofila Raymundo from Santa Cruz Yucayani. Both started working in the fields with their parents, and today, like many young people in indigenous migrant families, they speak English and Spanish – the languages of school and the culture around them. But Raymundo also speaks her native Triqui and is learning Mixteco, while Hilario speaks Mixteco, is studying French, and thinking about German.

“I’ve been working with my dad since I was 12,” Raymundo remembers. “I’ve seen them treat him bad, but he comes back because he needs this job. Once after a strike here, we came up all the way from California the next season, and they wouldn’t hire us. We had to go looking for another place to live and work that year. That’s how I met Marcelina.” They both accused the company of refusing to give them better jobs keeping track of the berries picked by workers – positions that only went to young white workers. “When I see people treat us badly, I don’t agree with that,” Hilario added. “I think you have to say something.”

For these workers, Spanish is not their first language. They are discriminated against in Mexico–perhaps not to the same degree as Native Americans in the United States, but this is mostly because of the reservation system in the US and the sheer number of indigenous people in Mexico–and are taking the hardest jobs in the United States when they migrate. Many of these indigenous villages are almost completely devoid of people between the ages of 15 and 50 except during Fiesta when people come back if they can. This discrimination is trans-national, as they are likely to be undocumented, may lack Spanish language skills not to mention English (although this is increasingly less common among younger people), and have little capital–financial or cultural–to be upwardly mobile in either country. But they are willing to fight for better lives. Progressives do a terrible job of recognizing indigenous issues in the U.S., not to mention Mexico, but we also have to recognize when we think about immigration that indigenous status is a really important part of that.

The SUPERGENIUS of Chip Kelly, SUPERGENIUS: A Progress Report

[ 144 ] September 20, 2015 |


You may recall that Chip Kelly, the second best former PAC-12 coach currently employed as a head coach in the NFL and with two reasonably successful seasons as a head coach under his belt, was given complete control of team personnel this offseason. He HACKED the NFL with the innovative strategy of throwing money at name running backs and a famous but not very good and injury-prone QB. In even better news, in week 2 he faced a Dallas defense that is injury-riddled and not terribly good to begin with and a Dallas offense missing one of the best receivers in the league. And as a bonus, Dallas also lost their very fine QB in the third quarter, leaving the team with the quarterback-like stylings of Mr. Brandon Weeden. So that must have worked out well, right?

Well, expensive QB Sam Bradford was hideous, posting 6.1 yards/A and 2 picks, and with the former padded with garbage time yards. (His QBR was 5.6. To put this in context, Geno Smith has a QBR of 44.3 last year.) The first very expensive RB, DeMarco Murray, parlayed 13 carries into 2 yards. His second, some less expensive RB got 1 carry for zero yards. The decentish #2 CB Kelly paid like an elite #1 did force a fumble, but was also torched on a decisive 42-yard touchdown by the Canton-bound duo of Weeden and Terrance Williams.

None of these players are this bad. But it’s pretty clear that Kelly didn’t have some kind of mystical insight that would make moves that looked ghastly on paper good. And while the Eagles were over a barrel, giving Kelly complete control of personnel never made any sense. In the contemporary NFL, it’s enormously difficult to do both jobs well. Sure, Belichick more or less does it, but 1)do not try what works for one of the very greatest coaches in the history of North American professional sports at home, and 2)Belichick has been around the NFL since the Ford administration. Even if Kelly eventually could have been a good personnel guy, the chances that this would work out after two years of seasoning were remote. He really should have known this.

And, worse for Eagles fans, they’ve underachieved enough to make you wonder about Kelly’s coaching, which looked solid. Bradford has been a below-average QB by any metric and it is was foolish to trade a draft pick to drive massive dumptrucks of money up to his house, but Kelly had previously gotten adequate performance from QBs with even worse track records. Giving big money to running backs who have been worked hard has a horrible track record, but this doesn’t explain why Murray has made Trent Richardson look like Jim Brown. In fairness to these gentlemen, the abysmal Eagles offensive line and the sketchy wideouts don’t help matters, but while that mitigates the performance of Bradford and Murray to some degree it’s not a mitigating factor for Kelly: he chose to allocate his resources this way.

And yet, for all this, the team it still not out of it. While Kelly is in a class with Josh McDaniels as a personnel director I don’t think he’s suddenly lost it as a coach. And with Romo and Bryant out the division currently has nothing remotely resembling a good team. (The Giants have to be kicking themselves for blowing two 4th quarter leads, the first one with incomprehensibly bad game management.) If Kelly’s offseason moves allow Daniel Snyder to get into the playoffs, though…

Wage Theft Enforcement in California

[ 16 ] September 20, 2015 |


California is leading what should become a federal law to crack down on wage theft:

The bill, known as SB 588, was sponsored by state Senator Kevin de León of Los Angeles. It would allow California’s labor commissioner to place a lien on the property of an employer cited for wage theft.

It would also help prevent cited employers from skipping out on paying penalties and back wages by requiring them to post a bond of at least $50,000 to continue doing business. It would also prohibit the company from closing down and re-opening with a different name.

“Stealing the pay of employees who don’t make that much money to begin with is unconscionable. It takes food off their tables and makes it difficult – if not impossible – to provide for their families,” said De León in an emailed statement. “It also violates the fundamental promise of an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work. With SB 588 we can give the Labor Commissioner the tools necessary to enforce the law for the workers and target the bad actors to level the playing field for honest businesses.”

As I’ve said repeatedly, the only way to deal with employers and corporations is to punish them where it hurts. Forcing employers to post bonds is one way to do that. For some, it wouldn’t matter that much because of their large amount of capital, but most of the employers engaging in wage theft are lower end businesses like nail salons. So this would threaten them with really hard times if they don’t comply. There is potential here to move employee rights forward in a meaningful way.

The Seahawks Debate Black Lives Matter

[ 153 ] September 20, 2015 |


I’m not particularly optimistic about the Seahawks beating the Packers today. Part of that is the holdout of Kam Chancellor (which the Seahawks simply cannot budge on, not if they don’t want all their stars holding out in the future) but part of it is that I think the Packers are a better team all around right now. But in an era of Tom Brady endorsing Donald Trump (and really, Brady may be the world’s biggest douche), it is refreshing that the Seahawks’ internal culture allows its players to debate the nation’s issues of the day with great honesty and it’s no big deal. In this case, Richard Sherman mouths some cliches about bootstraps while Michael Bennett publicly corrects him about the very real discrimination black people face against police forces. It’s just nice to have athletes willing to talk about these things, something that the Pete Carroll atmosphere encourages.

Let this all serve as the open thread for this weekend’s football. LOL to USC, Texas, Alabama, and Auburn fans. And really, Ohio St. as well.

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