Real discussion: drug prices

Martin Shkreli

As I read the news and social media feeds today, I am finding a lot of hate for Martin Shkreli, the CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals. According to media sources, he is defending his company’s decision to raise the price on a drug used to treat toxoplasmosis from $13.50 a pill to $750. As one can imagine, the vast majority of people expressing an opinion are outraged, criticizing Shkreli for making a life-saving drug unaffordable.

However, like so many issues we see, this is not a simple, black-and-white issue.

Why was the price raised?

Say what you want about Shkreli, at least he has granted media interviews to talk about why he felt the need to raise the cost of the drug. In an interview with CNBC, Shkreli states the price of the drug was raised for two reasons.

The first reason for raising prices is that the company is losing money. This explanation is simple economics–if a company cannot make money selling products and services at current price points, then raising the price to increase revenue should be considered. Certainly no one would begrudge a company for wanting to turn a profit, right? He also states the profit the company will make after the price hike will not be outrageous but reasonable. Granted, these are relative terms, and the profit deemed reasonable by a CEO may be outrageous to a patient needing this drug.

Another reason for raising prices is to fund research and development for a better version of the drug. Shkreli states there is a need for a better version of the drug, explaining that people still die each year from toxoplasmosis.

So what’s the big deal?

If we ignore the fact that lives are at stake, it’s no big deal. However, Twitter and Facebook have been aflame with hatred for this CEO because of the possibility of people dying from the lack of access to medication. However, Shkreli states the company has active plans to make the drug available to those who cannot afford it. If this is true, what’s the big deal? Why have Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders expressed outrage at the price hikes?

The truth is that healthcare is a touchy issue for Americans. Many of us do not want our taxes raised to provide healthcare for everyone, or to allow the government to control medical services. Others believe that healthcare is a God-given right, and the federal government should control it for just that reason.

The current state of healthcare

Right now, Americans are not guaranteed full healthcare. If I show up at an emergency room without money or insurance, I will likely receive enough medical care to stabilize my condition, but it is not comprehensive or preventative care.

Providers may receive government funds for services through programs like Medicare or the ACA (Affordable Care Act), but these businesses are privately funded and created. This includes the vast majority of research and development for new medications and treatments. So, when Pfizer develops a new drug, they have to raise the funds for that research from somewhere…most likely from sales of current drugs.

Therefore, when companies like this raise prices so they can invest in R&D, should we not be happy about it?

What is really going on?

I see this debate in a couple of different ways.

The first view will certainly offend some people. I believe that too many people have had knee-jerk reactions to this announcement. The company has answered concerns regarding consumers that cannot afford the drug. They are not out to kill anyone, they just want to make a profit and develop product improvements. I do not believe we can issue condemnation of this organization as quickly as we have.

Now that’s out of the way, let’s discuss the real, underlying issue. We are the only first-world country where healthcare is not provided as a direct product of the government. Many Americans believe that healthcare is a right, not a privilege. When companies make decisions to raise prices or restrict access to products in the healthcare arena, people insist on government involvement to prevent anyone from suffering or dying.

As a corollary to that point, who is really paying for these drugs? Some people do pay for these drugs out of their own pocket; nonetheless, insurance companies will likely be the most frequent customers.

This reality shapes the true essence of this debate. If this guy was selling any ordinary product for $13.50 then jacks the price to $750, his company would have made its last sale–unless his company is Apple. He was able to raise the price for only two reasons: it is a life-saving drug without a cheaper equivalent, and also because the cost is hidden to the average consumer because it is borne by the insurance companies.


We need to stop having such extreme reactions to headlines. We have more information at our disposal than any other group of people at any other time in history, but we make rash decisions based on nothing more than a sentence or two. People have crucified this CEO for trying to make a company profitable and sustainable, even as he has promised that access to the drug will not be hindered because someone cannot afford it.

Martin Shkreli

“Martin Shkreli, CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals” by Source (WP:NFCC#4). Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia –,_CEO_of_Turing_Pharmaceuticals.jpg#/media/File:Martin_Shkreli,_CEO_of_Turing_Pharmaceuticals.jpg

Category: Current Events, Society

Back to the oven

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I’ve been in Wisconsin for more than four months…and have to admit that I have not found a job that would allow me to make enough money to get my wife to quit her job and move up here with me. Therefore, we’ve made the decision to have me move back to Arizona. Apparently, my time wandering around in the desert has not been completed.

Aimee and I are still planning on moving to Wisconsin to partner with Luke and TCF, learn how they are serving their community, and then possibly plant a church somewhere in that region. Our eventual goal hasn’t changed, but we have to take a step back to regroup.

Even though our primary goal has not been accomplished, God has done so many other things in our lives that neither of us see this as a failure or loss. Aimee was able to do so much at her job, gaining a tremendous amount of respect from the executive team at her company. Additionally, this has been a season of emotional growth and healing for me as I have dealt with the death of my mother and other past hurts which have hindered me from making strong relationships with other people.

I have also gained a lot of love and respect for the folks here in the Thorp, Stanley, and Boyd areas. People are genuinely nice, and would do anything for you if something was needed. In less than five months, I have people telling me how sad they are that I will not be staying in Wisconsin. Additionally, Trinity Christian Fellowship is a church with few resources meeting some very large demands from the community. They feed the hungry, visit the sick, and meet other needs. In other words, they are doing the work of Jesus–work that is near and dear to my heart.

Here’s the plan: I have put in my two weeks’ notice at the station. In less than two weeks, Aimee will be flying into the Cities to join me. After staying in Stanley for a couple of days, we will drive to Columbus to attend the National Conference. I will then drop Aimee off at the airport after getting to see family for a couple of days. Finally, I’ll drive back to Stanley, pack up, and drive back to Arizona.

I have made many memories and built relationships with friends I will not forget anytime soon. I would mention names here but don’t want to out of fear I would leave someone out and offend them. Nonetheless, I will miss all of my Wisconsin friends, and promise to visit again soon. As my friend Michael says — it’s not goodbye, it’s see you later.

Until next time, enjoy this sample Arizona forecast.


Category: Christianity, Personal

Should Never Be Forgotten

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Creative Commons license used. The U.S. Army, 'Flags-In' at Arlington National Cemetery for Memorial Day 2008.
Creative Commons license used. The U.S. Army, 'Flags-In' at Arlington National Cemetery for Memorial Day 2008.

Creative Commons license used. The U.S. Army, ‘Flags-In’ at Arlington National Cemetery for Memorial Day 2008.

James’ mother and father came from England
Wanting freedom from the Crown
He lined up side by side with his brothers
As the Redcoats shot him down
His sacrifice should not be forgotten.

Samuel grew up on a farm
Believing a human is not a slave
At Gettysburg he killed seven Confederates
Before a Southerner put him in an unmarked grave
His sacrifice should not be forgotten.

Bobby flew from Iowa to Normandy
Heeding his President’s call
On a beach in France
He gave the world his all
His sacrifice should not be forgotten.

Frank went to Korea
To give freedom to people in another land
He gave his life
His remains are in foreign sand
His sacrifice should not be forgotten.

Donald found himself in Vietnam
In a war many opposed
He was tortured for many years
Before his now peaceful body was carelessly disposed
His sacrifice should not be forgotten.

Tanisha had to serve after 9/11
She knew terrorism had to go
In the sandbox her Humvee hit an IED
A painful death was the last thing she’d know
Her sacrifice should not be forgotten.
Their sacrifices should not be forgotten.
Their sacrifices should never be forgotten.

The cost of cheap

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As I’ve gotten older, I’m reminded of the true cost of things. No, not their price — but their cost. The opinion I now hold after years of rampant American consumerism is that almost no one knows the labor, materials, time, and energy that goes into any of the items or services they purchase day in and day out. I saw a comment the other day saying that a gallon of milk could never be worth more than $4.00. As a boy I spent more than a little time on dairy farms, and saw what farmers do to extract milk from a cow and get it to market. I can tell you if that person knew how much effort went into that gallon, he would declare it a miracle to get the cost that low.

American businesses have done a fantastic job of cutting costs, enabling goods to be sold at a price far below what we could incur if we had to make them ourselves. But sometimes corners are cut too far, resulting in low wages, environmental harm, poor-quality products, and other harmful consequences.

Check out the video below. As of today, 1€ is equal to about $1.11 USD. Would you expect a t-shirt to cost $2.22?

We all want a bargain. God knows I’m not made of money. But instead of worrying about what you have to pay to get something…think about the real cost of what you’re buying. The old adage says if it’s too good to be true…well, you know the rest.

Category: Uncategorized

Merry Christmas, 2014

This has been an interesting holiday season, to say the least.

It all started when I left my position at PayPal. I knew that it was the right thing to do, but I also know that it was going to hamper our ability to give Christmas gifts this year.

Then my uncle passed away. His death was not totally unexpected but definitely came a bit sooner than some expected. I rushed to purchase a ticket to fly back to northern NY to attend his funeral and spend time with family. Because of the holidays and a last-minute decision to fly, the only airport with semi-reasonable fares was Cleveland, Ohio…which was normally a seven-hour drive (that turned into 8+ hours because of lake-effect snow). I ended up giving the eulogy at the funeral service, and spending some quality time with family members that I haven’t spent nearly enough time with.

While all of this was going on, my sister was in a hospital in Detroit and wasn’t doing so well. I won’t share any details, but it was bad enough that I made the decision to drive to Detroit to lend my support (and possibly some advocacy) to her. Because I went through Canada to get there, I had to have Aimee overnight me my passport. However, I’m glad I went. My sister is fighting a fierce battle, but she is improving and expected to make a full recovery.

So now, I’m sitting in the hospital cafeteria at 5:22pm on Christmas Eve afternoon (or night if I pay attention to the total lack of daylight outside) writing this post just to touch base with my friends and family who I am ignoring (temporarily) to attend to others. Here’s what is next:

  1. Christmas cards have been made but are still sitting in my office/bedroom. Aimee and I will try to get those out when I get back.
  2. Gifts are just not a possibility this year. While I feel somewhat bad about this, I am extremely grateful to get to spend time with family members and support those who have lost a father, a husband, and friend.
  3. I will go up and say goodbye to Kim after writing this…then drive to Cleveland to catch tomorrow morning’s flight back to Arizona. It’s going to be a long night…but I can’t wait to see m’girl and the critters.
  4. After I get back I have to get busy in my job as web developer — I have a site to build. Earning money is a good thing.

If you’re reading this, please accept my warmest wishes for a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. I am looking forward to what God has in store for us in 2015. May God bless you and yours during this season and the upcoming year.

Category: Personal | Tags: ,

Making some sense of Ferguson

Creative Commons license used. Debra Sweet, 2014-Ferguson-GK on Flickr.

The events that have occurred in Ferguson have gotten my wife and me to think long and hard about why. We have had a lot of discussions between the two of us about the grand jury results, the protests, and what this means to society as a whole. We’ve seen debates on Facebook and Twitter, prayed, and sought God’s wisdom not only about what was happening, but our response.

But first, a little background about me if you are not familiar with who I am because my friend Luke pointed out that “our starting point matters.” I have usually identified myself as a right-wing, conservative Republican but have grown weary of many in that camp as I’ve seen most of the communication lean towards anti-Obama rhetoric instead of trying to make a difference in people’s lives. I believe that I serve a God who wants to make a difference in all of our lives. White, black, poor, rich, Hispanic…all of our lives. Therefore, I want what I do to reflect that same hope.

So this morning, because I have many conservative friends, I ran across an article with a very heavy right-wing slant ridiculing some young black men about their point of view regarding businesses that had been destroyed by some of the riots in Ferguson. One quote stood out, summarizing what I’ve learned about the actions not only in Ferguson but in many African-American communities in the United States.

Trey opined, “That’s why people loot: ’cause they can’t get no job.”

That quote in the article turned on a light bulb for me. To show you what I am seeing in that quote, however, I’d like to take it a step further: “That’s why people loot: ’cause they have no hope.”

As I mentioned before, our starting point matters. I am a white male living in a middle-class suburb of Phoenix. Because of that, I’d like to point out some of the differences I have with Trey and other young African-American males:

  • I believe that if I want something in life, I just need to come up with a plan and work for it. I believe this is possible because of the country I live in. Trey believes that as a black male in a racist society, it doesn’t matter what he does — he is resigned to his role in a lower class than other citizens who aren’t black. Who is right? Well, we both are. First, I realize that if you believe it, it’s either true now or will become true. Second, Trey has some additional obstacles that I will not have to face.
  • I believe now that I have lost some weight, my appearance does not immediately cause people to discriminate against me. Trey believes that many people will see his skin color and make assumptions about being a thug, lying, stealing, and he will not be judged fairly. Once again, we’re both right. Racism is alive and well. It may be hidden a lot more than before, but I believe that racism still influences many to deny opportunities to black people.
  • I believe that if I am pulled over by the police, I will be just fine if I comply with the officer’s directives and obey the law. Trey believes that an officer will already have judged him to be a criminal, and furthermore, his life may be in jeopardy. My own experience tells me this to be true. In addition to the many black friends I’ve had tell me stories about being pulled over for DWB (driving while black), I had an experience that taught me how well things go for me…and how badly they will likely go for others.

I was pulled over about a year ago for having one of the two license plate bulbs burn out. This wasn’t a safety issue — I think other drivers can see me just fine as all the other lights were functional. I thought this was a little picky of the police officer, but what happened next really concerned me after I thought about it. When the officer approached my car, he asked for license (but not registration or proof of insurance). He explained why he pulled me over, and I responded that I will get it fixed. He looked at my license briefly, then handed it back to me and told me to have a good night.

What was concerning to me is that I was pulled over for a minor, non-safety issue, and then he didn’t even run my license or check to see if I was driving without insurance. If this is the case, why bother to pull me over at all? Then I thought — I wonder what would have happened if I was black. Would he have run my license? Checked for insurance? Asked me if the car was stolen? Asked to search my car for drugs? Of course, we will never know, and anything I say is mere speculation. But I’d bet large amounts of money that if I had more melanin in my skin, the officer would have been a lot more critical.

I say all of that to say this: paradigm matters. I can only imagine what a black male has to endure, I can’t say that I know. But here are some topics to think about:

  • When the prosecutor in Ferguson revealed the findings of the grand jury, many whites (including myself, initially) said “see? The officer was justified. Michael Brown was a thug who caused his own death.”
    • Why did Michael Brown have a rap sheet?
    • Why did he steal cigars from a convenience store?
    • I believe it is because he had no hope.
  • When the results were carefully explained by the prosecutor, the crowds demonstrated and rioted anyway.
    • Why didn’t they listen to the reasons for not indicting Officer Wilson?
    • Why did they destroy their own community?
    • I believe it is because they had no hope.

Please think about that statement. What would you do if you have no hope? Would you commit petty crimes? Would you resist a peace officer’s commands if you believed your life was in danger? Would you assault, rape, and kill? I firmly believe I would be a much different person if I lacked the hope that I have.

I want some things to be perfectly clear: I do not expect officers to put themselves in jeopardy by refusing to shoot if their lives are in danger. I do not expect us, as a society, to stop punishing criminal behavior. And I don’t expect that we just excuse bad behavior. However, what society is doing to discourage crime and rehabilitate offenders isn’t working:

  • Almost one third of black males in their 20s are either in prison, jail, parole, or probation.
  • Black men between 30 and 34 are incarcerated more often than any other race.
  • A black man born in 1991 has a 29% chance of being in prison some time in their life. Not jail, prison.

The solution: minorities need hope. They need to feel like society cares for them. They need to feel like an interaction with a police officer is not a direct threat to their freedom and life.

My part of the solution: I will stop acting like a victory has been won when an officer has been exonerated from liability in a fatal shooting. The end result is still a dead man or woman.

I welcome your ideas below to make America land of the free and home of the brave…for everyone.

Creative Commons license used. Debra Sweet, 2014-Ferguson-GK on Flickr.

Creative Commons license used. Debra Sweet, 2014-Ferguson-GK on Flickr.

Resurrecting an old blog

As part of starting a web development business, I figured that updating my old websites would be a good thing. I moved my most recent blog to The Better Bubba Blog, and I moved The Redneck Desert Dweller to my own hosting platform. I changed the theme and made some minor improvements.

I hope to be writing a lot more than I have in the past, and look forward to hearing what you have to say about some of my thoughts.

Category: Uncategorized

Goodbye, Cappuccino

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This weekend was a sad weekend as m’girl and I made the difficult (and necessary) decision to put an end to our cat’s suffering.

Cappuccino lived almost 17 years, and my wife was her owner for almost all of her life. To hear my mother-in-law talk about the first meeting, Cappuccino was the one that adopted my wife when, as a kitten, she hopped up on her cowboy hat and wouldn’t let go.

Cappy (as we have called her) moved from her birthplace of Texas to Arizona about 12 years ago. Since we’ve only been together for about 2 years, I don’t know much about her early life…so I’ll blather on about the time I had with her.

When I moved in with m’girl, Cappy didn’t warm up to me quickly. I started calling her “The Grumpy Old Curmudgeon” because when she wanted to be fed, she let me know. And if I tripped over her because it was dark, she reacted in a way that I imagined her calling me 4-letter words.

But like fungus, I eventually grew on her. She started rubbing up against my legs like a normal cat, and liked it when I petted her. But she didn’t turn into the nicest cat, either. She had a particular way she wanted to be petted…and if I didn’t follow suit as ordered, she’d try to nip me. She wasn’t mean, per se, but she had NO problem letting me know what she didn’t like.

Later, we moved her bed out from the closet to the corner of the bedroom next to my side of the bed. However, after finding out that MY big recliner was in front of HER much smaller bed…well, she’s a cat. She took over MY recliner.

And when I say took over, I don’t mean she just laid there on the seat. Every time I passed by, she made a sound closer to a growl than a meow. I may not know how to describe the sound, but I knew exactly what she was saying. “Pet me, dammit!” It didn’t matter if it was 9:00pm, 2:00am, 10:00, whenever. Every. single. time.

A couple of months ago we noticed she would make a weird howl at random times of the day (and sometimes the night). Concerned about any suffering she might be experiencing, we took her to the vet. After a few hundred dollars of testing, all they knew is that her kidney functions were getting worse.

Some time later, she started getting much worse. We went back to the vet to learn how to give Cappy subcutaneous fluids much like an IV but just under the skin, and not necessarily in a vein. That helped for a couple of days…but not for long.

After coming back home from Tucson on Saturday afternoon, we found that Cappy had been vomiting, and was now hiding under the bed and would not come out. When I went to retrieve her, I knew the end was near. We spent the night cleaning her up from a couple of accidents, and just held her.

Sunday morning we knew it was time. I won’t go into details except to say the Goodyear Animal Hospital went absolutely above and beyond what they had to do to accommodate us. We received a card in the mail yesterday, signed by everyone that was there that sad morning, expressing their condolences.

Today was the day I picked up the final step in our journey with Cappy. After we left, they made an imprint of Cappy’s paw in clay, fired it in a kiln, and painted it with her name.

With moist eyes and a heavy heart I say goodbye to the second cat we’ve lost during our short marriage. But I’m glad I knew you, you grumpy old curmudgeon.



Category: Personal

Mother’s Day, Bubba Style

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I have always found family holidays like Mother’s Day a bit of a challenge. However, after years of lamenting that my family is more than a little dysfunctional, I’ve come to the realization that everyone has their challenges in this area. No longer are we the country that has mom within driving distance, or has both parents still married “after all these years”.

This year, I am going to celebrate Mother’s Day by telling you the four mothers I am blessed to have.

First of all, there is the woman that gave me birth. If you have been reading this for a while, you know that she lives about 2-3 hours away and is the closest blood relative that I have. I would talk to her and go see her except the fact that she wants nothing to do with me because, in her words, I am “strange.”

After four and a half decades of life on this earth, I have made peace with the fact that I may never see her again. The decision to estrange herself from me is hers, not mine; all I can do is accept it for what it is.

That being said, she is the woman that gave me life and for that she has my respect and my love, if not my presence.

The next woman that comes to mind on Mother’s Day is my stepmother. She married my dad over 25 years ago and has stuck it out with him for better and for worse. To say we didn’t get along when I was growing up is an understatement. I resented the fact that I didn’t have my “real” mother anymore, and I’m sure she resented the fact that she had four more kids in her house when my birth mother abandoned us by leaving us at our grandmother’s house for almost two months before dad drove eight hours to come get us.

Nonetheless, this is the woman I call “mom” the most. Not only has she stuck it out with dad all this time but she took care of us kids in the best manner she knew how to do. We were never forced to call her mom, but even then I recognized the sacrifices she made to guide us to adulthood.

For this, she is the main person I think of when I think of “mother.” And not only does she have my love and respect but my undying gratitude for filling a tough, demanding, and certainly thankless role.

The third woman is my ex-mother-in-law. Counting the time we dated, I was with her daughter for seven years. She always did her best to make me feel welcome when we were together. After we both got divorced in the same year, we became friends and support systems for each other. I was really worried about her when she divorced her husband of 37 years; she had always been a stay-at-home wife and mother and her identity was her husband’s wife and her children’s mother. Finding her identity has been a struggle, but she has grown tremendously since.

I am proud to call her not only friend but mom.

The last person that serves the role of mother to me is my current mother-in-law. To say this woman has the gift of hospitality would be an extreme understatement. She came to Arizona from Ohio when we got married, and spent almost every hour either baking cookies or doing something else to make things easier on everyone else.

My father-in-law has some health issues that require her to provide assistance every day, and she performs those responsibilities admirably. On top of all of that, she’s just a good person and friend.

For that, she’s someone I am proud to call my mom.

I guess I could still focus on the dysfunction of my life and have a negative attitude. Or I could recognize my situation for what it is: extremely blessed.

Thanks to all the moms: mine, yours, and everyone else’s, for making this world the wonderful place it is.

Family pic 2010

Category: Personal

The latest on Kobe: bad word, even worse excuse

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According to ESPN, Kobe Bryant has been fined $100,000 for mouthing a gay slur during a game after he was called for a technical foul. After attracting the ref’s attention by calling him by name, Kobe is then said to have mouthed the words “f**cking f*ggot.”

What is worse about this incident is the half-*ssed apology he issued for his outburst.

What I said last night should not be taken literally. My actions were out of frustration during the heat of the game, period. The words expressed do NOT reflect my feelings towards the gay and lesbian communities and were NOT meant to offend anyone.

Well, then. I guess that makes it alright, because you did NOT mean to call the ref a homosexual in an unflattering light.

But wait a minute. If I was an NBA player frustrated at a ref for calling me for a technical foul, would it be OK if I called him a “f**king n***er” as long as I said later that I “should not be taken literally?”

I would hope not.

Hey, I’m not trying to crucify you for a mistake, Mr. Bryant. We all make mistakes. And God knows I am GLAD I don’t have a camera on me all the time, capturing every screw-up I make.

But here’s a tip: if you do something wrong and you’re called on it…apologize. Fully. Don’t offer excuses or try to explain it away. Just say yeah, I did it, and I’m sorry.

You may be a billionaire. You may have more money sitting in the change tray of your Hummer than I will make this year. But until you learn how to handle yourself as a gentleman, you’ll never get the respect you deserve for your ability to put a ball in a hoop.