Category Archives: Current Events

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.

Conclusion

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 – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Martin_Shkreli,_CEO_of_Turing_Pharmaceuticals.jpg#/media/File:Martin_Shkreli,_CEO_of_Turing_Pharmaceuticals.jpg

Category: Current Events, Society

Making some sense of Ferguson

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.

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.

Stay Current AND Classy, America

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WARNING: Angry old curmudgeon rant follows.

Today is March 2, 2011. President Obama was sworn in on January 20, 2009. He has held the office of President of the United States for approximately 770 days, give or take a week.

In the context of the Internet, 770 days ago is ancient history. I mean, if it’s 9pm and someone talks to me about something that happened this morning, I complain that they’re talking about old news.

Why do I say this? Because I believe it’s time to expect a little bit of context from our political discussion.

First of all, President George H. W. Bush has been out of office for over two years. To all of you still taking pot shots at him, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and anyone else in that administration: shut up. That administration is gone. If you’re still complaining about what they did, you need to grow up. They’re not going to be indicted for anything, and just because you didn’t agree with their decisions doesn’t mean that they lied about anything. Find something else to occupy your time.

And you Republicans, wipe the smug look off your faces. You are just as bad, if not worse, than Democrats. Those of you in the “birther” camps that believe that President Obama was born in Kenya: shut up. The state of Hawaii says he was born there. Just because they haven’t complied with your constant requests for a piece of paper called a birth certificate doesn’t mean there’s a huge conspiracy. The discussion is over. Even if he WAS born outside the United States, we’ll never achieve a smoking gun that proves it.

And now, just when I thought us Republicans couldn’t sink any lower, one of my state’s representatives is saying he’d support impeachment proceedings against President Obama because he won’t order the Attorney General to defend the Defense of Marriage Act.

Really? On what grounds would you impeach him? As President, he vowed to defend the Constitution. Believe what you want about non-traditional ideas of marriage (i.e. “gay marriage”), a sane and rational person would have to acknowledge that not allowing gay marriage could be seen as interfering with “the pursuit of happiness” whether or not you agree.

Therefore, he has every right as President to not defend the DOMA. If you are saying he should be impeached: shut up.

So, what am I saying in this rant? If you’re going to hold political discussions, talk about something that did not happen over two years ago, and stop having a hissy fit over everything someone else does that doesn’t line up with your political beliefs.

In other words, stay current AND classy, America.

The Ruination of America

I got really ticked off today.

Check that, I got absolutely fed up today.

A person I was following on Twitter and FriendFeed said that the USA should kill itself. The reason given for promoting the suicide of a nation (don’t ask me how you’d do that) is because the top two selling books in America this week were from President Bush (W) and Sarah Palin.

Anyone that knows Bubba knows that I lean heavily, although not completely, to the right. I like both Bush and Palin; I even stood in line for 2 hours to get my copy of Palin’s latest book autographed.

That being said, I don’t get easily offended if someone on my social media streams is Democrat, or politically liberal. I don’t believe liberals are all wrong, any more than I believe conservatives are right about everything. Making a joke about a political person I like isn’t going to get my panties in a wad.

But this person advocating the death of America because these two books were bestsellers really pissed me off.

I have been listening to people roundly criticizing the new TLC show “Sarah Palin’s Alaska” based solely on their dislike for Sarah Palin. I understand the sentiment; there are some shows I will not watch if I know someone is going to be on them. For instance, if you tell me Fran Drescher is going to host a talk show (and she is), I will not watch. This is not because I hate Fran, or think she’s a bad person. I just don’t like her voice.

Therefore, if someone asks me about Fran’s show, all I will say is that “I don’t watch it.” I might even mention that her voice drives me nuts. But will I call it a bad program? No! How could I do that if I haven’t seen it?

Unfortunately, this does not stop people from criticizing Sarah Palin’s show. Or her book. Now, if you have seen the show or read her book, and you want to criticize based on content, go for it.

But what I am ticked off about is people levying unwarranted negative feedback without experience.

George W Bush’s book, Decision Points, is currently the best selling book in the USA. I have not read the book (yet), but hope to based on the interview he gave at Facebook headquarters (video of the chat is here). No longer in the role of President of the United States, President Bush is relaxed, funny (“people are surprised I can read a book, much less write”), and genuine. He told the founder of Facebook that Decision Points was written not as a total memoir of his life (“because that would be too boring”) but instead details the decision-making process for several major events and decisions he faced while in office.

I am excited to read the book because the issues the President faces are extremely complex. Any person assuming the role of President of the United States accepts a job with 360 million bosses — us. The average person generally has issues reporting to two or three bosses; I cannot imagine what President Bush faced the eight years he played the part of most powerful leader of the world.

Whether or not you agree with his political philosophies, I believe Decision Points is going to be a fascinating read.

If you want to criticize the book, though, I just ask that you do one thing prior to criticizing it.

READ IT.

I wasn’t going to point out the person making the “kill yourself” statement. I don’t like picking on people, mainly because I’m not keen on people pointing me out. However, as I pulled up her timeline, her previous tweet is…well, I think it’s more than a little strange.

Twitter feed 12/2

At 2:57, “we need to start revering facts”. Five minutes later, however, she advocates the suicide of America because of our reading choices. I did ask her if she read the books; however, I never got a response.

If you haven’t read the books, Miss Allison, how can you make such a statement? If you really believe “we need to start revering facts”, how can you make a statement about two books you haven’t read? And finally…if you believe that the USA should “kill itself”, does that mean you are going to take your own advice? You live here, right? Or are you moving to another country?

And just what did you mean when you said the USA should kill itself? Or is that something only a political science major would understand?


My impression of our Founding Fathers is a group of men with differing opinions that united for one purpose: break away from Old Mother England. They probably had many a heated debate over issues like states’ rights, representation, and the republic model of electing a national leader. I am guessing that some of those “discussions” even resulted in physical confrontation. But at the end of the day, I believe they listened to each other, compromised, and worked together to make America a free country.

The free exchange of ideas is what makes any organization great, whether that organization is a marriage, family, company, church, or country. And this free exchange doesn’t happen unless all parties listen; otherwise, it’s just a bunch of idiots auditioning for a spot on the Jerry Springer show.

I don’t care if you’re Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, or even Socialist. If you want to make the world a better place, you gotta listen at least as much as you talk, and probably more. Start examining ideas on their merits, and not just basing their worth on the person speaking. After all, endorsing everything that someone says is just as stupid as trashing everything somebody else expresses.

I don’t know where else to go with this. All I know is that I am sick and tired of people in positions of influence making asinine statements that do nothing but inflame and belittle people trying to make a positive change in the world. Political science majors advocating that a nation kill itself because of the books on the New York Times Bestseller list need to listen a lot more, and talk a lot less.

Bubba sez ’nuff said.

DO ANYBODY NO HOW TO THINK?

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The passing of the healthcare reform bill over the weekend seems to have re-ignited the polarization of American politics. From where I sit, people seem to be divided into two camps:

  • This is great! We all need healthcare…and now, no American will ever go without again!
  • Obama is a socialist, and we don’t need him telling us how to get our healthcare!

I have to confess that I do not know the first thing about the bill because I have not had the time to research. Bills have become way too long to read through hundreds of pages. If I accept someone else’s summarization of the bill, I usually have to accept their bias, too.

I am ready to start having honest conversations about politics and issues without the usual party lines about crap. I do not want to hear about President Obama’s birth certificate, Chicago politics connections, or anything with the words “socialism” or “Hitler.” The same can be said about right-wing hatred based on religious connections, George W. Bush, and contradictory stances.

I believe government works best when it takes a minimal role in our lives. I believe when we look to the government to regulate or provide us with services, the cost often outweighs the benefit. That being said, there are some services that need government direction like the military.

I am anxious to see the effect HCR has on individuals, businesses, and government. Governor Jan Brewer has already complained that HCR will cost the Arizona state government $1 billion per year but has not defined how.

Talk to me, folks. Tell me where real discussions on issues are taking place. Because I am sick and tired of business as usual in the world of politics.

Balloon Boy

It’s been a few days since all the fuss surrounding Falcon Heene. Balloon Boy.

I have to admit; since I’m no longer working full-time, and instead doing schoolwork and business stuff from home, I tuned to the major news stations when Twitter was all abuzz with the balloon floating over Denver that contained a 6 year old boy.

It held my interest for about 20 minutes or so as they talked about all the possibilities. Should we bring it down with a net? Oh, don’t get helicopters too close! Then, they started interviewing everyone who had anything to do with hot-air ballooning. I felt left out. I mean, I’ve seen a lot of hot-air balloons! Why wasn’t someone calling me for MY opinion?

But after a while, I got sick of it and turned it off. I believe I turned TweetDeck off for a while too, because I just didn’t want to hear about it anymore. Plus, I suppose I had work to do. Predictably, mom and dad did all the morning talk shows, and Falcon even barfed on two of them. Precious.

Then we find out it was a scam, and everyone is aghast. We were duped!

My question for everyone: why are we sucked into this stuff?

Let me rephrase that. Why do we feel the need to follow these stories for hours, and then tune in to the morning shows to see them again?

Yes, the thought of a 6 year old floating thousands of feet over the earth is intriguing enough to turn on the TV and find out what happened. However, the news stations stay on these stories for hours because we’re watching them, folks. To blame CNN, MSNBC, FOX, and everyone else is ridiculous. If we don’t like what they’re showing, we have to be adult enough to reach for the remote and turn the channel.

When we hear the saying “everything in moderation”, it’s not just alcohol they’re talking about.

Category: Current Events

Sarah Palin on SNL

Holy. Cow. She KILLED it!!!

System for mentally ill spurs worry

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I told a friend that I would be posting about people expressing their opinions during this presidential election…because, I guess, I’ve been getting fed up with some of the comments I’ve heard about the candidates.

However, I saw this article in the East Valley Tribune, and it kind of stirred something up in me.

The article talks about how care for the mentally ill in Maricopa county has deteriorated. About a year ago, Magellan was awarded the contract by Maricopa county to care for those people suffering from a mental illness, replacing the previous provider, Value Options. Because of my ex-wife, I had a lot of experience with Value Options, but I have no experience (or opinion) about Magellan. But it sure sounds like little has changed. Overwhelmed case managers and doctors, lack of treatment and followup still seems to be the status quo. I wish I had an answer for this, because lack of care for SMI individuals is absolutely unacceptable.

But the author of this piece also briefly touches on what I perceive to be a bigger issue: the rights of mentally ill patients versus society at large. Two cases mentioned involved patients who had either assaulted or murdered innocent victims shortly after receiving care and assessment. This is such a tough subject to tackle. People should not lose their basic civil rights based solely on the fact that they have a mental illness; but the question could also be posed about society’s safety.

My ex-wife has borderline personality disorder. This psychiatric illness often results in cutting and suicide attempts. I’ve seen research that claims a mortality rate as high as 10%, meaning that as many as 1 out of 10 people with BPD are successful in their suicide attempt.

As a spouse, here’s some of the fun I got to deal with: assault (I still have physical scars), emotional blackmail and manipulation, loss of friends, battles with healthcare providers to get proper care and medication, many calls to 911, and a constant vigilance to keep her from killing herself. Now, if you know me, I’m definitely not the smallest guy out there, and while I won’t be enrolling myself in any boxing matches, I think I can handle myself under normal circumstances. But the ex turned out to be a challenge I should have never signed up for. I remember one time that she attacked me so fiercely that I had to bend her arm behind her back and smother her face into the bed until the cops got there. At that point, I was prepared to go to jail because I just didn’t care; I had to do what I needed to do to protect myself. Fortunately, the police had been there enough to know that I wasn’t the one assaulting her. In fact, because of the path of destruction she left in the house, they told HER that SHE was the one in danger of being arrested for domestic violence.

The interaction we had with mental health providers, and the system that was established to balance her rights with everyone else’s, was often a real source of frustration. The worst times came when she was in crisis mode, threatening to hurt herself or others. Under Arizona law, this is defined as danger to self (DTS) or danger to others (DTO). I can recall multiple times when she would tell a police officer that she wanted to kill herself or others. When an officer hears that, they have no choice but to ensure that the consumer gets help. If she refused to go for help voluntarily, she was literally handcuffed and transported to what is more or less an emergency room for DTS/DTO individuals.

More than once she was taken to this center, only to be released several hours later. The last incident I experienced involved her swallowing a bottle of meds, producing a reaction that made her heart stop twice in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. She spent 3 days in ICU getting rid of the drugs in her system…and after that was transferred to a psychiatric center for evaluation. It took them 6 hours to come to the conclusion that she was no longer DTS/DTO, and needed to go home. I got the phone call at 2:00am to come get her. How can anyone really say that someone is no longer a danger to themselves less than 4 days after swallowing a bottle of pills?

The reason for letting you into this piece of my life is this: while I know that anyone suffering with a mental illness is in an extremely difficult situation, I also know all too well that the suffering extends into everyone else surrounding that person. That means family, friends, coworkers, and for that matter, anyone that crosses that person’s path.

The battle to balance the rights of the mentally ill with the rights of society in general is a fragile balance. It used to be that consumers (one term used for mentally ill individuals) were institutionalized for life, a practice that was used as recently as the mid-1970s. Most people would agree that approach is wrong for many reasons. But what’s the balance? How do we prevent someone from walking out of their psychiatrist’s office and assaulting someone less than 4 hours later?

The answer is not to blame Magellan, Value Options, or whatever mental health provider happens to be at the helm. While I personally believe that they share some responsibility for the welfare of consumers, the real problem is that the laws do not seem to strike that balance between consumers and society. I don’t have the solid gold answer, and I haven’t met anyone else that does. But instead at pointing fingers at providers, someone needs to take a good, hard look at the legal balance of rights between these two groups…and determine what changes are needed.

It’s broke. Let’s fix it.

Video for McCain

This video, taken off of Rush Limbaugh’s site, was too moving for me NOT to post. The video features Army Specialist Joe Cook, a veteran of our occupation in Iraq. Enjoy.