Friday, May 19, 2017

Members of Congress actually do something right about outrageous drug prices. Maybe.

Perhaps this will wipe the smirk off drug gouger 
Martin Shkreli’s face. Or not.

If a bi-partisan amendment to a Congressional bill passes on the House floor, drug gouger Martin Shkreli will have less to smirk about.

The bill started out merely to reauthorize fees that the Food and Drug Administration charges to makers of pharmaceuticals and devices.

But then, Representatives Kurt Schrader, a Democrat from Oregon, and Gus Billirakis, a Florida Republican, wrote an amendment to the bill, which would encourages drug manufacturers to compete against the gougers. The price gougers typically purchase a cheap drug whose patent has expired and then raise the price sky-high.

For example, Shkreli, the smirking poster boy for greed in the drug industry, obtained the manufacturing license for a drug called Daraprim and raised its price from about $23.50 per pill to $750 per pill.  The ability to purchase Daraprim, an anti-parasitic agent, can be a life-or-death matter for some patients.

And Shkreli’s not the only one. Among others high on the list of people not likely to be widely mourned if they were to get crushed by a wayward meteorite is Heather Bresch, who jacked up the price of the life-saving EpiPen by 700 percent. Needless to say, her bloodthirsty profiteering didn’t please mothers of allergic children likely to die of anaphylactic shock, an emergency condition that EpiPen treats. If you can afford it.

Schrader and Billirakis’ amendment, supported by lawmakers from both parties, encouraged manufacturers  to compete against drugs like Daraprim and EpiPen that are out of patent but made by only one supplier. The new competitors would get six months of exclusive rights to compete. The amendment additionally puts their product applications on a six months timeline for approval, and offers certain other benefits.

Theoretically, this ought to aid in the creation competition that will thwart the drug gougers. But only theoretically.

First, the trade publication Modern Healthcare is saying that “Some observers have questioned whether the legislation would have any effect.”

Further, the legislation with the attached amendment is a long way from getting passed. Despite the group of Congressmen finally acting in a bipartisan matter to benefit sick and vulnerable Americans, there’s no telling whether the entire House will go along. And second, even if the House passes the bill, there’s still the U.S. Senate to deal with.

Further, you can count on the Trump administration to try throwing a monkey wrench into the works. Modern Healthcare also reports that Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Tom Price, a Trump appointee, now wants to “recalibrate” the fees that drug manufacturers pay for the FDA to examine and approve their medicines. That could lead to slowing down passage of the bill, and eliminating items like the Schrader-Billiarkis amendment.

You can almost be sure that the Shkrelis and Bresches of this world will fight to kill any bill that might keep them from stuffing their pocket with the money of the poor. And that might certainly include persuading Trump and Price to stomp on the bill, or its  competition-encouraging amendment. You know, competition is so….unAmerican.

All the same, we can hope.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Better than an insanity defense: the stupidity defense

From the New York Times:
In private, three administration officials conceded that they could not publicly articulate their most compelling — and honest — defense of the president for divulging classified intelligence to the Russians: that Mr. Trump, a hasty and indifferent reader of his briefing materials, simply did not possess the interest or the knowledge of the granular details of intelligence gathering to leak specific sources and methods of intelligence gathering that would harm American allies.
Mr. McMaster all but said that publicly from the briefing room lectern.
In other words, your honor, my client is so lazy, so intellectually thick, so uneducated, so damn downright stupid, he could not possibly have committed the crimes he's charged with. The defense rests.

Cross-posted at No More Mister Nice Blog

Monday, May 15, 2017

A very short essay on the latest news about Trump and the Russians

The President has the legal right to declassify any top secret information he chooses to declassify.

That said, if you or I had given to the Russians the kind of information that Donald Trump is accused of having given to the Russians, we could be arrested and tried for treason, which is still a death penalty crime in this country.

Lock him up!

America's criminal-minded drug companies: here we go again.

Don't ask why. Just open your wallet
wide and swallow this.
Martin Shkreli, the grinning ripoff artist whose infamy in part came from raising the price of a take-it-or-die drug from under $14 to $750 a pill — and who was charged with securities fraud in another matter — is no longer merely  a smirking sleaze bag. 

He's now also a pharmaceutical industry role model. 

The latest to follow his ethical lead is Avanir Pharmaceuticals. Here are some excerpts from a recent article by Julie Appleby in the New York Times. The story concerns TV commercials for Avanir’s drug Nudextra, which treats uncontrolled laughing or crying.  (And you thought cancer was a scourge!) 

The phenomenon is called Pseudobulbar, or PBA.
PBA mostly affects those with neurological conditions such as multiple sclerosis, a recent stroke or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Because the definition of the condition is ambiguous, estimates of its prevalence vary. Doctors may find PBA common or uncommon, depending on their specialty. Avanir sets the number at two million Americans. 
The market has proved lucrative. Nuedexta’s sales rose to $218 million last year from about $37 million in 2012, according to EvaluatePharma, which tracks pharmaceutical pricing and markets. 
“I suspect this disease is being redefined to include overly emotional people” through advertising, said Adriane Fugh-Berman, a doctor who teaches at Georgetown University Medical Center and has investigated pharmaceutical marketing practices. The United States is one of two countries that allows advertising of prescription drugs.
Nuedexta has also attracted attention because it is expensive, more than $700 a month for a supply of twice-a-day pills. The drug is a combination of two low-cost ingredients — an over-the-counter cough medicine and a generic heart drug — that, purchased separately, would run roughly $20 a month, according to online cost estimators.
The Times article goes on to point out that the proportions of the two medications are different in Nudextra than the normal dosages of each drug. So even if you find out what the two ingredients are, do not play pharmacist at home. 

But then this note:
Nuedexta doesn’t cure PBA, but it must be taken for the rest of a patient’s life to help reduce episodes of laughing or crying. While it’s the only drug approved specifically for PBA by the Food and Drug Administration, doctors have successfully used several less expensive treatments, all antidepressants, to treat the condition. 
“The cost for mixing two old drugs together is unconscionable,” said Dr. Jerome Avorn, a professor at Harvard Medical School and the chief of the Division of Pharmacoepidemiology and Pharmacoeconomics at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Right. Get ‘em on it, and hook ‘em for life. And not only do people who may (or may not) have Pseudobulbar pay through the nose. So does everybody else, through higher insurance rates.

It’s enough to make you want to laugh — or cry — uncontrollably.

Saturday, May 06, 2017

The power broker, the paper bag, the honest cabbie, and the Trumps — a true tale of corruption and ethics

Ethical Crook
Unethical Crook

Way back in 1957, a political boss named Carmine De Sapio made a grave mistake.

De Sapio was no run-of-the-mill power broker. As leader of a political machine called Tammany Hall, founded by the notorious “Boss Tweed” in the 19th Century, De Sapio controlled the Democratic Party when the Democratic Party controlled just about all the elected offices that mattered in New York State.

He had been credited, for example, with “handpicking” both the Governor of New York, a patrician heir to a railroad fortune named W. Averall Harriman, and the Mayor of New York, Robert Wagner  Jr., whose father before him had been a United States Senator.

Fear and toadyism in New York

“Time magazine put Mr. De Sapio on its cover as a national force to be feared and admired,” the New York Times recalled in his obituary. “And at fund-raising dinners, favor seekers would push past Governor Harriman and Mayor Wagner to shake hands with Mr. De Sapio, whom they viewed as the most powerful politician in the room.”

De Sapio came by his power as a would-be reformer. He took over Tammany Hall with promises to end its back room shady deals and its almost world-famous corruption. This “reform” was sometimes greeted with slightly more than a few degrees of skepticism. Tammany Hall was one hell of a huge ship to turn around. The very mention of its name conjured up visions of cigar-puffing men in smoky rooms, stuffing kicked-back cash into little tin boxes. 

It didn’t help his image that De Sapio, a sharp dresser if ever there was one, always wore a pair of dark sunglasses that somehow gave him a thuggish look. But this was not an affectation. It was an irony. De Sapio suffered from an eye condition that made him hyper-sensitive to light, even as he promised to shed light on political dealings.

A bagful of money

Now, on to that paper bag. One day in 1957, De Sapio seems to have absentmindedly left something in the back seat of the taxi that he was taking to the now-vanished Biltmore Hotel, where he had one of his several offices. 

That object was variously described  in the press as a paper bag and as an envelope. The taxi driver who discovered the object also discovered that it contained $11,200 in $100 bills. That’s quite a fat wad of cash to stuff into an envelope. So I’ll go with paper bag.

The cabbie who drove DeSapio was an honest working man. He not only turned over the paper bag to the police, complete with contents. He also identified the owner. He knew what De Sapio looked like from newspaper pictures, the driver said, and the man who left the bagful of bucks in the back seat was most certainly Carmine De Sapio. Not to mention that the alleged De Sapio got off in front of one of De Sapio’s offices.

Note well, please, that this was back in the day when men were men and a buck was still a buck. Run $11,200 through an online inflation calculator and you’ll discover that De Sapio’s 11.2 grand is more like $97,000 in 2017 money. So the dough was nothing to sneeze at, even for a guy who might have been handling buckets of it under the table. And do you know what De Sapio did?

The elegance of denial

De Sapio denied — yes, adamantly denied !— that the bagful of money was his, or that he had anything to do with it. He wouldn’t touch it, refused to take it, walked away from it, making his driver perhaps the luckiest cabbie in the history of New York. The driver was awarded the money. 

By now only God and the ghost of De Sapio know exactly how De Sapio ate the loss. Maybe it simply but tragically meant $12,500 less unreported income for him that year. Maybe the money was meant to pay off some political debt, and paying it back now had to involve finding political appointments and no-show jobs for an impressive number of creditors. Or maybe De Sapio had to hock his wife’s jewelry and empty out his bank account. 

We’ll never find out because, unlike the leaky Trump administration, De Sapio and the people around him could, when they wanted to, keep their lips zipped for eternity. (Sometimes he didn't want to. De Sapio evidently had a little side job informing for the FBI. But that's another story.)

I recall that De Sapio’s denial of the money in the taxi prompted  Murray Kempton, a columnist for the then-liberal New York Post, to comment with only a very vague soup├žon of satire, that whatever else you might have thought of the Tammany leader, this incident demonstrated that “De Sapio is a real gentleman.”

And so De Sapio was. He may have been something of a crook and conniver, an extorter, and a judicial nomination peddler. But at least he was a crook with class. He would pay dearly to avoid so much as the appearance of impropriety. Hs bearing, his modesty, and his willingness to eschew greed, even when a big bagful of what was perhaps his own money was at stake, mark him with indelible stamp of noblesse oblige.

Class vs. no class

Now, compare De Sapio to Donald and the rest of the Trumps.

Do the Trumps owe you money on your investment for a project — say a gambling casino — that Donald Trump has incompetently blown? You can kiss your money goodbye. The Trump modus operandi is simply to declare bankruptcy and leave investors (or in one case, duped Trump “University” students) holding the bag — a completely empty bag whenever Trump is involved.

Foreign emoluments in violation of the Constitution of the United States? Every time a foreign diplomat stays at a Trump hotel, the Trumps pocket more bucks. He rents space out at a profit to the U.S. Government to contain the Secret Service agents who protect him. Even when he proposes a ban on visitors from Muslim countries, he exempts visitors from Muslim countries in which he owns hotels. Hey, that might be bad for his bottom line. And he has refused to divest himself of his holdings.

All other chief executives in recent history have sold their financial holdings and put their money in a blind trust. But Trump? 

He turns his holdings over to his sons, and promises not to peek. As if he didn’t know what and where the Trump properties are. As if he didn’t know that not putting the screws to a nation where he owns hotels might fatten his greasy bottom line. As if Trump’s new tax “reforms” and his mockery of a healthcare replacement program would not benefit the Trump family richly, while depriving the poor and working people in this nation of  doctors and drugs when they are sick.

It’s not just the corruption,
it’s also the unmitigated greed

The terrible truth is, Trump and his den of nepots and cronies and crazies are not merely corrupt thieves. They are hopelessly greedy thieves, unfettered by even a faint whiff of propriety. It seems that nothing keeps them from reaching with both arms deep into the thick barrel of corruption and moral sludge that is their playground, to scoop up and stuff into their bulging pockets more, and more, and still more wealth for themselves.

We have not seen the end of it, and will not see the end of it until either the Trump administration is voted out of Washington, or they bumble into a nuclear war that wipes all of us off the face of the earth.

Can you imagine someone  trying to hand Donald Trump a big bagful of money, and Trump denying that it was his?

We know we have arrived at a horrible place in history when we get nostalgic for the corruption of Tammany Hall.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Your money or your life, part II: Take four of these a day, and swallow hard.

The hardest pill to swallow is what sick people,
health insurance customers, and taxpayers are getting
forced to pay for drug companies' greed.
Less than a year ago, I had a hissyfit in this space about the drug gougers Martin Shkreli and Heather Bresch, who charged outrageous prices and made outrageous profits by selling  life saving drugs at unconscionable markups.

Now comes news that Shkreli’s old company, Valeant Pharmaceuticals, is at it again. This time it involves a formerly dollar-a-pill, four-times-a-day, or $1,460-a-year drug called Syprine. It’s a drug that saves sufferers of a rare malady called Wilson Disease from death by liver failure. New cost? Why, it’s only up to a mere $300,000 a year, a more than twenty times increase.

What’s even more upsetting, according to an article by former New York Times columnist Joe Nocera, published in Bloomberg View, is that the heartlessly greedy bastards who run the company are not only refusing to lower their markup, but also bribed a nonprofit association that supposedly represent sick patients with Wilson Disease to back off.

The tiny Wilson Disease Association, with revenue just a hair over $90,000 in 2014, was suddenly paid $100,000. according to Nocera. Whereupon, Valeant began declaring that it is in “partnership” with the Wilson Disease Association. The association protested, but its so-called protest did not including giving back the hundred grand. In my book makes them bought, whatever benefit they claim the $100,000 brought them.

The purpose of the bribe, according to Nocera’s article?
 For $100,000, Valeant purchased the right to say that it was working hand in glove with the Wilson Disease Association. As for the “conditions” it agreed to, consider this: Every time it uses its assistance programs to cover part or all of a patient’s co-pay, it is generating revenue that would be lost if the patient could no longer obtain the drug. 
Yes, Valeant has an “assistance” program that helps people who otherwise couldn’t afford to take the once buck-a-pill drug. But despite this assistance, it’s not only patients who suffer. It’s also you, if you pay taxes, or carry medical insurance with drug coverage. 

Nocera explains:
No matter what the patients’ out-of-pocket costs are, insurance companies and Medicare are still paying Valeant millions of dollars for a drug that just 11 years ago cost $1 a tablet. Which means that we’re all paying for Syprine, either as taxpayers or as insurance customers.  
Finally, though it is not something most of us think about, the need to rely on a drug so exorbitantly expensive takes a tremendous toll on patients and their families. They are always conscious that their insurance needs are costly to co-workers, especially if they work for a company that is self-insured.  
Brennan [a relative of a patient who needs Syprine] told me that some of his relatives are reluctant to go to the doctor fearing they could lose their jobs if escalating insurance costs hurt their employers. “It is a terrible feeling,” he said.  
[Former Wilson Disease Association president] Graper’s son who has the disease works in a small office that recently changed insurance plans. Under the new plan, everyone in the office now has to pay a $4,000 deductible. “How do you think it feels,” she told me, “to know that everyone in your office is paying for your Syprine?” 

If you haven't already done so, go here and read the whole horrifying article.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Who's on Trump? What's running the State Department? I don't know Where on Healthcare.

The total chaos and confusion in the Trump Administration has a precedent.

So if you're not sure what our foreign policy is vis-a-vis Syria, for example; or whether repealing Obamacare and replacing it with some form of "better" insurance is on or off; or whether the Trump tax cut will raise or lower your take home pay, and at whose expense, or to whose profit, check out the video below.

I'd say it was created as a metaphor for the Trump Administration, except that it was done long, long ago during the Truman Administration.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Was Ledell Lee murdered? And if so, who did it?

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson

Trump U.S. Supreme Court appointee Neil M. Gorsuch
Last Thursday, April 20th, in a middle-of-nowhere prison called the Cummins Unit, the State of Arkansas strapped Ledell Lee on his back to a gurney-like execution apparatus. 

Asked to make a statement, Lee declined. Somebody stuck an intravenous needle into him, and pumped a three-drug “cocktail” into his body. About 13 minutes later, he was dead.

You can favor capital punishment or not. This is not about that. This is about the rushed killing of a possibly innocent man, which would make Ledell Lee’s execution a cold-blooded, state sanctioned murder. 

Lee had always proclaimed his innocence. And there is a convincing body of evidence that indicates he indeed was innocent. Consider these excerpts from the Innocence Project’s Death Penalty Blog:
Mr. Lee has always maintained his innocence of the 1993 murder and sexual assault of Debra Reese.  Numerous unknown fingerprints were found at the crime scene, yet none were from Mr. Lee. 
At trial, the prosecution claimed that two small spots of “human blood” on shoes recovered by the police from Mr. Lee were likely the victim’s blood.  Yet despite the extremely bloody nature of the crime, no other blood was found anywhere on Mr. Lee’s shoes, or any of his clothing.  Newly available DNA testing could prove whether the spots were in fact the victim’s blood 
Attorneys are also seeking to test hairs of purported African-American origin that were recovered at the scene.  At trial, the state argued that the hairs came from the defendant, after witnesses reported seeing a lone black male enter and exit the home of the victim, who was white.   
The state’s experts claimed that the hairs were “consistent” with Mr. Lee’s, based on microscopic examination – a forensic method that has since been discredited.
DNA testing could prove not only if the hairs came from Mr. Lee, but a DNA profile could also be identified from the hairs that could help determine who really committed the crime – including comparing it to the millions of DNA profiles in the national DNA databank.  DNA testing and databank searches were not available at Mr. Lee’s trial, but are standard practice in 2017. 
The criminal justice system has completely failed Mr. Lee since he was arrested for the crime.  Mr. Lee was tried by a judge who concealed that he was having an affair with the assistant prosecutor on the case, whom he later married. 
Mr. Lee’s first state post-conviction counsel introduced the evidence of the affair by calling the judge’s ex-wife, who testified about the affair after opposing the subpoena. Mr. Lee’s lawyer, however, was so intoxicated at the hearing that the prosecution asked for him to be drug tested after he slurred, stumbled, and made incoherent arguments. 
Most of the Arkansas appeals court that heard this cased chose to ignore the evidence pointing to the likelihood that Lee was innocent. An exception was Judge Josephine Linker Hart. Again, the Innocence Project reports:
In a dissenting opinion denying Lee a stay issued today, Arkansas Supreme Court Judge Josephine Linker Hart made a powerful argument for why DNA testing was in the interest of justice. Justice Hart characterized Lee’s claim for DNA testing of hairs the state claimed linked Lee to the crime as a “modest request,” noting that the hair evidence had been used against him at trial and “tilted in the State’s favor a very weak case based entirely on circumstantial evidence. 
Judge Hart also emphasized the unfairness and arbitrariness of the Arkansas court’s grant of a stay to Stacey Johnson for DNA testing while denying one to Lee, adding, “I am at a loss to explain this Court’s dissimilar treatment of similarly situated litigants.” Judge Hart concluded by stating, “The court’s error in denying the motion for stay will not be capable of correction.”
Well, it might have been capable of correction had the United States Supreme Court provided a stay of execution until valid forensic evidence could be analyzed. Fat chance. Donald Trump’s newly-minted appointee, Neil Gorsuch, voted with the majority to kill the man first and ask questions later.

I hope the Innocence Project will not let this matter rest even though Lee is dead, and that it will continue to demand a forensic analysis of the “blood” — if it was blood — on Lee’s shoes, and of the hair samples found at the murder scene.

If those are not a match with Lee, the people who in effect will have murdered an innocent man will include more than just the judge and prosecutor in Lee’s original trial, who for all I know may have arranged his death sentence in bed. There are others. Among them:

• Arkansas State Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, who succesfully fought tooth and nail to get Lee executed before the forensic evidence could undergo DNA testing.

• Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, who has been pressing for the equivalent of an excution assembly line — evidently whether the men he executes are guilty or not — because one of the drugs used in the “cocktail” is approaching its “use by” date, and he’ll have one hell of a problem replacing it once it’s expired.

• Perhaps, most shamefully of all, newly appointed U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neill Gorsuch, another “execute ‘em first and ask questions later” judge, who made his bones with his first decision on the high court.

If DNA analysis eventually proves Ledell Lee’s innocence — or if the Rutledge, Hutchinson, Gorsuch and others somehow manage to block an examination of the evidence or allow its destruction, I hope that wherever they go, crowds of  chanting Americans will call them out for what they have been shown to be.

“Murderer! Murderer! Murderer!”

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Take your tech and shove it!

This is where all the trouble began

Okay, before I begin, I need to confess.  More than a half century ago I turned in my press card and took a job in advertising. No excuses. I’m just telling it like it is. Or was.

My first advertising assignment was to write copy for IBM’s corporate campaign. The advertising was designed by my bosses — I swear this is the truth — to convince people that not only were computers incapable of thinking, but that they were also of incapable of taking jobs away. 

Don’t be afraid. It’ll flash
it’ll blink, but it won’t think.

Remember, this was back when a computer was a bunch of metal boxes that could nearly fill a banquet hall, and people were terrified of  those flashing, blinking, whirring “thinking machines.” I was instructed to tell people that computers would “electronically compare” millions of tiny bits of data and use this data to save lives and do other impossibly wonderful things for humanity, 

My first ever-published advertising headline said, “IBM computers don’t think, but they do help find rare blood to save a life.” (The ad had to do with computers browsing blood donor files to find, say, a pint of type AB Negative, so that an army of desperate clerks wouldn’t have to. Instead, I suppose, the clerks were free to anxiously wring their hands.)

Another of my ads revealed that “IBM computers don’t think, but they do help find lost ships at sea.” Yup, another info retrieval story. Notice, in both headlines — and in others that followed — computers never actually did anything. They just helped do the job, which was a task that still belonged to people. 

One ad even joyfully revealed that computers would “help make bank lines shorter,” a considerable benefit back when there was no such thing as automatic deposit or cash machines, and long payday bank lines could eat up an entire lunch hour. Alas, when I last went to a human-staffed teller window at my bank a few months ago, there was still a long line. But there were only two tellers in a bank that used to have over twenty  of them.

The other eighteen tellers? The copy used to say computers were freeing up people so they’d have more time to think. My guess is, they’re thinking, “How the hell am I going to find a new job?”

The TV spot that terrified
an ad agency biggie

Eventually, the campaign got on television and somebody, not I because I was too junior, was assigned to write a TV spot about computerized speech synthesis. (Hey Siri, did I spell “synthesis” right?) At any rate I was there when another proud copywriter unveiled his storyboard, which involved scientists staring at displays of wave forms on oscilloscope tubes, while other scientists spoke into microphones to generate the wave forms, while still other scientists studied how babies learn to speak. 

In the last few seconds,  somebody feeds a piece of film with nothing but a wave form on it into a computer, and the computer was supposed to cry, “Mama!”

The most senior account manager in the room was the first to try to murder the copywriter. “You crazy sonofabitch!” he yelled. “That’s going to scare the living crap out of people! Who hired this nincompoop?”

Needless to say, the commercial was never made, and the storyboard was buried in an unmarked grave.  

All this by way of bringing up a study reported on in an advertising trade journal called “Campaign,” under the headline, "IBM study finds most people are disappointed with digital brand experiences.”

Ya think?

IBM exec is shocked. Shocked!

You bet. In fact, “the results were ‘shocking,’” according to Robert Schwartz, Global Lead of Strategy and Design at IBM’s Interactive Experience Division.” I’ll pause for a moment in case you tried to say that name and title out loud and need to unclench your jaw and catch your breath. 

All set now?

Turns out — who’d-a thunk it? — that rather than spend half their lives pressing buttons or talking their way through phone trees to explain that the cable is out, and they’ve already unplugged the flippin’ cable box and then plugged it back in, and whatever else the machine tells freaked out people to do while they’re missing their favorite shows….turns out people would rather speak to a live human being.

Read between the lines and what you discover is that the “consumer experience” sucks whenever corporations throw people out of work and tell machines to answer the phone and deal with customers. 

Listen up, corporations. “Didn’t work as expected,” was the top reason “consumers are disappointed” with your damn habit of throwing people out of work and having machines answer the phone so that you can reduce your payroll. That’s quickly followed up by “Not convenient,” “Hard to use” and “Too confusing.”

Do the captains of America’s C-suites give a flying microchip? Not if the last incident with United Airlines is any indication. Corporations will try to get away with as much as they can, and let the customer get roasted in hell for eternity, as long as the company gets ever-increasing profits. 

Business doesn’t love you.
It loves profits. Period.

Industry will ignore you. It will have machines that can’t quite grasp your problem talk to you. It will beat the stuffing out of you on an airplane, or rip you off if you deposit at their bank, or chase you to the deep end of hell for the money you owe on your student loan….and the list goes on.

That’s why government regulation is so important, and why Donald Trump has done immeasurable damage to this nation — and continues to do it every time he underfunds, underpopulates, or undercuts a government regulatory agency.

Yes, we need capitalism. We also need vicious guard dogs. But both need to be kept on a tight leash.

Donald Trump, you see, is like a computer. He doesn’t think. But he does help destroy whatever used to be civil in civilization.

Over to you, Congress. Oh wait, I forgot.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

UAL board of directors, it’s time to fire Oscar Munoz. Congress, it’s time to get off your butts and re-regulate airline travel. (Fat chance!)

What next? Will United Airlines throw you off the plane in
mid-air if they don't like your looks?
Oscar Munoz, the CEO of United Airlines, thinks he can tough it out and not resign, after the horrifying incident in which a paying and seated passenger was ordered off the plane for the convenience of United, and then beaten by a pair of thugs when he refused to go.

After first issuing a line of doublespeak, worthy of George Orwell, about “re-accommodating” passengers, instead of apologizing for beating the crap out of one of them….

After then praising the crew for this incident as an example of  “continuing to go above and beyond to ensure we fly right”…

After United Airlines showed such brutal and wanton disrespect of the implicit contract it signs when you buy and pay for a ticket, that you'll get a seat on the ticketed flight...(And please don’t tell me about the  mind-boggling list of terms and conditions, set in nearly unreadable mouse type, that take it all back somewhere on the back of the ticket)….

After all that, the backlash was so powerful, and the impact on United’s stock so devastating that it created over a quarter of a billion dollar loss for stockholders in just one day. Munoz finally realized he was in deeper doodoo than he at first imagined. 

So he offered a new statement contradicting everything he said before, declaring, “It’s never too late to do the right thing.”

Not so quick, Mr. Munoz. Your airline beat the crap out of a passenger for legitimately sitting in the seat he had bought and paid for. You defended the practices that led to this atrocity. You changed your mind only when you saw the press, airline passengers, and stockholders coming for you with torches and pitchforks. 

So far as I’m concerned, you’re now speaking with all the sincerity and humanity of a pit viper. And you deserve to be treated like the pit viper you are.

This is not the first time United has affronted passengers. Nor the second. Nor the third, fourth, fifth. They’ve thrown a family off a flight because their teen-aged daughter was autistic. They stranded a ten year old child at a major airport. They even killed somebody’s pet golden retriever. All those stories and others here:

For that matter, they unsympathetically stranded The New York Crank in Dayton, Ohio for 24 hours, as I previously reported on this blog. 

And this just in: "A MapLight/International Business Times review of records kept by the Center for Responsive Politics found that during the last two-year session of Congress, the airline spent $7.26 million to fight legislation that included measures to create minimum airline seat sizes; require airlines to allow families to sit together on flights; and prohibit airlines from charging customers to use an airplane bathroom."

Alas, mistreating paying passengers is so wide spread that even an airline I once adored, Jet Blue, has begun straying  into the passenger abuse business.

So I’m not late to the party with this commentary. I’ve just come back to it with more beer. We’re going to have to stick it out — and keep up the pressure — until we get a Congress and a president who are willing to re-regulate the airlines, so that you’re not risking your life or the shape of your face the  every time you get on an airplane.

It won't happen under a President Trump or a Congress and Senate full or Republicans. But that is simply another reason to stay politically active and throw out the Republican bums in Congress and the Senate. Real change will happen if you never stop demanding. Keep up the pressure!