Monday, July 16, 2018

"Big Pharma and the Rise of Gangster Capitalism"

That's the title of Charles Hugh Smith's latest article.

Thanks to decades of gangster films, we all know how gangster capitalism works: the cost of "protection" goes up whenever the gangster wants to increase revenues, any competition is snuffed out, and "customer demand" is jacked up by any means available-- addiction, for example.

This perfectly describes the pharmaceutical industry and every other cartel in America. You might have read about the price increase in Acthar gel, a medication to treat Infantile Spasms. (via J.F., M.D., who alerted me to the repricing of this medication from $40 in 2001 to the current price of $38,892.)

The compound first received approval in 1950, and various branded versions have been approved in recent years. Let's be clear: this medication did not require billions of dollars in research and development, or decades of testing to obtain FDA approval; it's been approved for use for the past 68 years.

Yes, you read that correctly: a medication that's been in use for 68 years went from $40 a dose in 2001 to $38,892 today. Don't you love the pricing? Not a round 38 grand, but $38,892. You gotta love these gangsters!

There's another related term to describe this form of capitalism: racketeering.That's what mobsters do--operate rackets.

. . .

Gangster capitalism is the new model of "growth" in America, the model used by every cartel from higher education to Pentagon contractors. Eliminate actual competition, raise prices in lockstep with other cartel members, lobby the government to pay your extortionist prices, and threaten any resisters with severe consequences.

There's more at the link.

I highly recommend that you click over to Mr. Smith's blog and read the whole thing.  He's got a graph representing the rise in prescription drug expenditure in the USA over the past couple of decades.  It's grim viewing - and almost all the increase is because of corporate greed such as the case he highlights above.

The question is, what are we going to do about it?  Are we simply going to throw up our hands and give up, or will we demand that our elected representatives do something about such naked profiteering?  The RICO Act is there for a reason.  Why aren't we using it?


A final reminder about the Dragon Awards

As I mentioned some days ago, a reader contacted me to ask about nominating one of my books for this year's Dragon Awards.  That was a pleasant surprise, and I invited him to go ahead, on the understanding that there are many good books out there, and I don't think I'm likely to be in the running this year.

Be that as it may, the deadline for nominations is July 20th.  Therefore, if you think the book is good enough, please use the DragonCon nomination form to nominate "An Airless Storm" for this year's awards, in the category "Best Military Science Fiction or Fantasy Novel".

Please don't nominate any other of my books, because that would divide the nomination votes across multiple titles.  As a result, none of them would be likely to make the slate.



I laughed out loud

This tickled the cockles of my writer's heart - particularly because I've experienced that!

Click the image to be taken to a larger version at the comic's Web site.


Sunday, July 15, 2018

Sunday morning music

Here's something different for your listening pleasure.  Faun is a German group, self-described as "pagan folk".  They're in the tradition of many other modern groups who interpret old folk music styles (and occasionally original songs and tunes, as well as their own compositions) in modern rhythms and settings.  The group's name is derived from the German Faunus, the name of the mythical ancient Roman horned god of the forest, plains and fields, analogous to the ancient Greek god Pan.

Here are three songs from Faun to whet your appetite.  The first is "Hörst du die Trommeln" ("Do you hear the drums?"), the band's entry in the German preliminary round of the 2015 Eurovision song contest.  It wasn't selected to represent Germany in the finals, but is still a rousing piece in its own right.  I've chosen to leave the video in its full form, including the introduction and comments in German, to set the scene for those of you who speak the language.  The lyrics, including an English translation, may be found here.

Next, here's "Sonnenreigen" ("Sun Dance"), a song for the ancient festival of Lughnasad, which marked the beginning of the harvest season and was traditionally held on August 1st.  Lyrics may be found here.

Finally, here's "Federkleid" ("Feather Dress"), a song in praise of birds and the urge to fly like them.  Lyrics may be found here.

I find their music relaxing and entertaining, and I hope you did too.  You'll find many of their songs at the group's YouTube channel, and more information at their Web site.  Much of their music is available on


Saturday, July 14, 2018

Some more spectacular rally crashes for you

The video title refers to them as Finnish rallies (or is that Finnish rally drivers?), but some at least were filmed in other countries.  One can only admire the way the drivers hurl themselves at natural obstacles, seemingly intent on beating them into submission.  Of course, it usually ends up the other way round . . .


Friday, July 13, 2018

Doofus Of The Day #1,017

The expression "Hoist with his own petard" comes from Shakespeare's play Hamlet, and describes something not uncommon in medieval and Renaissance Europe.  A petard was an explosive device, usually a wooden keg or metal container packed with gunpowder.  A soldier, probably escorted by a raiding party, ran up to a castle door or drawbridge, placed the petard against it, and lit the fuse;  then he and his escort ran like hell before the device exploded, hopefully demolishing the door or drawbridge and opening the way for an assault.  Of course, medieval gunpowder and fuses weren't always the most reliable.  Sometimes the petard exploded before its bearer could get clear - hence the phrase, "He was hoist (i.e. blown up) with his own petard".

It's a lovely expression, and has been used ever since to describe someone who's caught out by his own cleverness or plans.  Three Democrat congressional representatives have just learned, yet again, how true it is.

Reps. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, Pramila Jayapal of Washington and Adriano Espaillat of New York introduced the Establishing a Humane Immigration Enforcement Act earlier Thursday, which would abolish ICE within one year of enactment, and also assemble a commission tasked with setting up a new immigration enforcement agency.

Hours later, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy announced he planned to bring the proposed “Abolish ICE” bill to the floor, reported The Hill.

The three congressmen promptly released a joint statement accusing Ryan of not taking their bill seriously, and as an act of protest, they will vote down their own legislation and instead use the opportunity to discuss Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, President Donald Trump’s zero-tolerance immigration policy and ICE.

There's more at the link.

Uh . . . yeah.  Introduce a politically controversial bill in an effort to pander to the extreme left wing of the Democratic Party - only to have the Republicans jump gleefully on your bandwagon, and schedule a vote on your bill.  Way to paint yourself, and your party, into an extremist corner for all the rest of the US electorate to see!  No wonder the bill's sponsors hastily reversed course.  I daresay they were being bombarded with messages from the Democrat leadership in the House, all saying, in so many words (probably rude ones), "You got us into this mess - now get us out of it, quick, or else!"

Full marks for political opportunism to the Republicans in the House, who have clearly learned from Napoleon Bonaparte's maxim, "Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake".  Not only did they not interrupt, they promptly tried to help the Democrats make an even bigger one!  I'm almost sorry they didn't succeed.  I'd have loved to hear those three try to explain their bill and justify it to the vast majority of Americans, who not only don't want ICE abolished - they want it strengthened and expanded instead!

Today's Doofus award is hereby jointly conferred upon Messrs. Pocan, Jayapal and Espaillat.  Way to go, guys!  Political theater at its most entertaining!


Lessons learned from my latest trilogy

Over at Mad Genius Club, I've written a fairly long article outlining some of the lessons learned (so far) from the publication of my latest trilogy, "Cochrane's Company", at approximately 30-day intervals.

The article is oriented towards writers more than readers, but if the subject interests you, click over there to get a feel for the state of the independent author market today.

While on the subject of the trilogy, may I once again ask those of you who've read it to please leave a review of each book on  Reviews are the life-blood of independent authors, as we don't have the marketing and advertising resources of big publishers.  We rely on word of mouth to help sell our books.  I'll be very grateful if you'll please take a few minutes to leave reviews of the three books.



California's public sector unions, money, and politics

The California Political Review calculates the money taken in every year by public sector unions in that state, and shows how it gives those unions a powerful say in the running of the state.

In the wake of the Janus ruling, it is useful to estimate just how much money California’s government unions collect and spend each year. Because government unions publicly disclose less than what the law requires of public corporations or private sector unions, only estimates are possible.

. . .

In summary, subject to the limitations in the available data and what appear to be reasonable assumptions, California’s public education employee unions, the CTA, the CFT, and the CSEA, altogether are probably collecting around $589 million per year ... California’s public safety unions, the CPOA, the CPF, and the CCPOA, along with their local affiliates, altogether are probably collecting around $135 million per year ... [and] California’s other major public sector unions, AFSCME, the CSEA including SEIU Local 1000, and the CNA (est. public sector portion at 25%), along with their local affiliates, altogether are probably collecting around $135 million per year.

Based primarily on publicly disclosed 2016 form 990s along with information obtained from their individual websites, in aggregate, California’s major public sector unions are estimated to be collecting over $900 million per year.

. . .

It would go beyond the scope of this analysis to speculate as to what impact the recent Janus ruling will have on government union membership and revenues, or to ponder the degree and kind of political influence of the three major blocks of unions; teachers, public safety, and public service.

It is relevant, however, to emphasize that the reach of these unions, because almost all of them are highly decentralized, extends to the finest details of public administration, into the smallest local jurisdictions. When recognizing the profound statewide impact of public sector union political agenda, it is easy to forget that fact, and the implications it carries for virtually every city, county, special district, or school district in California.

There's more at the link.

California's public sector unions have used their financial and political muscle to feather their members' nests.  As the Los Angeles Times pointed out in 2015:

California is among the few states where public employees make as much as 20% more in total compensation than comparable private sector employees.

To a substantial extent, these compensation premiums are driven by the rising costs of public employee pensions and healthcare. In Los Angeles, pension costs have risen to nearly 20% of the city's budget from 3% in 2000. Statewide pension liabilities are increasing at a rate of $17 billion a year, which make the state's current cash surplus a mirage.

As the city and state pay more for public services they've already consumed, there are fewer resources left for other public priorities. Government ends up spending more but doing less, which is a governing formula that pleases neither liberals nor conservatives.

Again, more at the link.

City Journal called California the "beholden state".

The camera focuses on an official of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), California’s largest public-employee union, sitting in a legislative chamber and speaking into a microphone. “We helped to get you into office, and we got a good memory,” she says matter-of-factly to the elected officials outside the shot. “Come November, if you don’t back our program, we’ll get you out of office.’

More at the link.

Public sector unions in many other states wield as much financial - and hence political - clout as they do in California, showing how they've achieved regulatory capture to an alarming extent.  This also illustrates why and how public sector unions in Illinois have succeeded in getting such a sweetheart pension deal for themselves, at taxpayer expense - so much so that it's bankrupting the state as a whole.

I hope the Janus decision will help to rein in the public sector unions' ability to fund their self-serving, antithetical-to-democracy activities . . . but I'm sure it won't go far enough.  Further reform is probably needed.


Thursday, July 12, 2018

The battle for the Internet in the third world

The Economist notes that US internet giants are squaring up to their Chinese counterparts, not so much in the USA and China as in the third world.  It calls the struggle "The most titanic commercial battle in the world".

Facing off are the towering giants of American and Chinese tech, led by the FAANGs (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google’s parent, Alphabet) on one side and the BATs (Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent) on the other. These are some of the planet’s biggest firms, with a combined stockmarket capitalisation of more than $4trn. At play are some of its most promising markets. Why, then, has the battle largely escaped attention?

One reason is where it is taking place. The titans have avoided each other in their home markets, and rising trade tensions make it ever less likely that a clash will happen there (see article). Except for Amazon and Apple, the FAANGs are already all but banned in China. America, meanwhile, is putting up barriers to Chinese firms ... So the cream of America and China are taking each other on directly only in third countries, such as Brazil, India and Indonesia.

Another reason for the battle’s low profile is that it is not being fought in the open. The American firms have, broadly, transplanted their services to other markets; Amazon has pledged over $5bn to replicate its offerings in India, for example. But the Chinese giants are taking a different tack, buying stakes in local firms and weaving them together into complex tapestries of services. The ecosystem of Tencent and Alibaba, with over 1,000 stakes in foreign firms, includes dozens in emerging markets. Along with Ant, they have backed 43% of all Asian unicorns, startups worth more than $1bn. Chinese tech firms pumped $5bn into Indian startups in 2017, a fivefold increase on the year before. America’s tech giants are wearing uniform abroad; China’s melt into the background.

. . .

America and China are vying for digital supremacy. The fight between their tech champions in other markets will inevitably have political overtones ... its outcome could put third countries in one camp or the other, increasing the risk that the world eventually splits into two techno-blocs.

There's more at the link.

It's fascinating watching this develop from a distance.  I'm most familiar with Africa, of course, being from that continent.  Chinese companies have already established what's almost a stranglehold over vital mineral deposits and mines, and are offering low-cost loans to develop the infrastructure needed to develop them.  When the host country can no longer afford payments on those loans, Chinese companies - or the Chinese government - take over the infrastructure concerned, further entrenching their position and shutting out competition from Western firms (see, for example, the port of Hambantota in Sri Lanka).  It's a full-blown commercial war, all right . . . and at present, from my perspective, China appears to be winning.


Child sexual abuse under cover of the education system?

I was astounded to read this article by a blogger calling herself "Autistic Momma".

Our story begins 3 years ago when our 6th child was born. The changes caused our then 7 year old autistic child to experience anxiety and frustration. He began biting his hands as a way to cope. We documented each bite and the school was aware. We implemented in home services and within 2 months the biting stopped. We thought this was the end of the story but we would later realize that it was only the beginning.

Fast forward 3 years, our 3 year old autistic son starts preschool in the same school as our now 10 year old. A week and a half into school we received an email saying that he had been scratched by another child on the playground. No big deal, kids will be kids.

Two weeks later our sons got off the bus. I asked my older son if he had seen his younger brother in school. He put his head down, said no and ran in the opposite direction. I thought it was odd but I didn’t push. He came back a few minutes later and said “I saw him in the nurse’s office”. We questioned why and his response was “to look at our bodies” the entire time he smacked his body and cried. We didn’t push and comforted him the best we could.

Meanwhile, I called and left the nurse a message. That night she called me back. I asked why my children were in her office and why was she looking at their bodies. She said she did it every day to them. Her reason for them being together during this process? My younger son wouldn’t comply. He cried and tried to run so they brought his older brother in to coerce him into compliance. She said it was “protocol”. I asked where the protocol was and she just kept repeating that it was protocol. I asked to see the written protocol. She replied with “it isn’t written”. I informed her that this was against my beliefs on bodily autonomy. She told me that she didn’t need my permission and didn’t need to tell me that it was being done. I informed her that she was grooming my children for a predator. She became angry. She said she had been doing it to my older son for 3 years and it was done twice a day. Wait? Did you just say 3 years? Twice a day? For 3 years you’ve been searching my child’s body without my permission or knowledge? How long did it happen to my younger son? Every day for almost 4 weeks. Years and weeks of violating their rights and privacy. I couldn’t wrap my mind around it. I just couldn’t. I informed her that my children wouldn’t be returning to school until I had answers. I hung up and started my email trail.

There's more at the link, and in a follow-up article.  I urge you to read the whole thing.  It's stomach-churning.

If this is true, then heads need to roll, and people need to be in prison.  If those had been my children, I honestly don't know how I would have reacted on learning the news.  My anger would undoubtedly have been so great that . . . well, let's not go there.

If this conduct can be proved, then every single person who either permitted it, or tolerated it, or authorized it, or carried it out, needs to be fired, and barred from ever working with children again.  Furthermore, they need to be on trial for permitting, or encouraging, or tolerating, or allowing, the sexual abuse of children.  They deserve to be in prison for the rest of their lives.

What say you, readers?  And what will you do to make sure something like this isn't happening in a school or schools in your area?

As Vox Day points out:

You know how when these pedophile arrests are announced and the police talk about how they found thousands of images on the evil bastard's computer? Well, where do you think those photographs are being taken? I'll bet that a lot of them are being taken at elementary schools, in the nurse's office, by school employees. Notice that the entire administrative system of the school, including the principal and the superintendent, was immediately summoned to try to defend the nurse against charges that should have resulted in her immediate arrest by the police.

. . .

The overall scale of the corruption in the United States is so vast, and so shocking, that ... even good Christians are going to find it very hard to accept the reality of the literally Satanic evil.

Again, more at the link.

The guilty need to be brought to justice.  Quickly.