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If Hollywood had created Martin Shkreli as the monster from Wall Street, we would have accused it of unfair characterization. But Shkreli — a 32-year-old hedge fund director in T-shirts, dabbler in the punk rock music world — has saved Tinseltown the trouble.

Shkreli has also done the American people a service by showing in high def how the pharmaceutical industry gouges us. The pharmaceutical industry is angry with him for the same reason.

Drugmakers prefer a subtler approach. Do it quietly and with a touch more nuance. For example, the day Valeant Pharmaceuticals acquired two heart drugs, it raised the prices for them by only 525 percent and 212 percent.

That was a model of self-control next to Shkreli’s instant 5,455 percent price hike on a 62-year-old lifesaving drug. This wasn’t a good visual for the industry. The audio wasn’t so hot, either.

To recap, Shkreli’s startup company recently bought the marketing rights to Daraprim and proceeded to raise the price from $13.50 a pill to $750 a pill. (It used to cost $1 a pill.) Daraprim is often the last hope for cancer patients and others with weak immune systems suffering from parasitic infections.

Some Shkreli decoders explained that his drug company raised prices to recoup the $55 million it had just spent for the rights to sell Daraprim. Thing is, the $55 million acquisition price for a drug serving a relatively small number of patients seemed justified by the belief that one could raise the per-pill cost more than fiftyfold overnight. You can only get away with that in the United States, but we’re a big, big market.

No other industrialized country lets drugmakers pick prices out of thin air and assume patients, insurers and taxpayers will somehow come up with the ransom. The U.S. setup comes courtesy of our lawmakers in Washington, above all our Republican lawmakers.

In the Valeant case, Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent seeking the Democratic presidential nod, demanded documents defending the price increases. Valeant said no, that such information is “highly proprietary and confidential.” Wouldn’t it just.

Governments elsewhere, however far to the left or right, see negotiating drug prices for their people as a duty of leadership. The United States does little of that. In fact, the law establishing the Medicare prescription drug benefit specifically forbids the government to negotiate drug prices.

Let’s talk about markets, OK? We believe in a market system, buyers negotiating prices with sellers, right? U.S. taxpayers fund 73 percent of the Medicare drug benefit. They are the buyers.

But in our skewed political language, Republicans denounce proposals to have the federal government negotiate Medicare drug prices as an attack on our allegedly free-market system. Somehow letting the taxpayers defend their interests is “socialism.”

It is true Medicare beneficiaries obtain drug coverage through private insurers who do negotiate prices. And it is true that, as Republicans say, the Medicare drug program is costing less than originally projected. But this is a shell game.

The relevant comparison is what the drug benefit costs next to what it would have cost had the government been allowed to bargain on prices. Taxpayers could save up to $16 billion a year if Medicare did the negotiating, according to a recent estimate in The Wall Street Journal.

The week Shkreli revealed the creepy reality of drug pricing, Hillary Clinton issued a proposal to curb “profiteering” by the drug industry. Biotech stocks promptly took a hit on Wall Street.

That hedge funder let the cat out, for sure, and it will be screeching right through Halloween. Some boys are so bad they do good.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com.

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Mark Meadows

Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wanted a presidential pardon. He had facilitated key stages of Trump’s attempted 2020 coup, linking the insurrectionists to the highest reaches of the White House and Congress.

But ultimately, Meadows failed to deliver what Trump most wanted, which was convincing others in government to overturn the 2020 election. And then his subordinates, White House security staff, thwarted Trump’s plan to march with a mob into the Capitol.

Meadows’ role has become clearer with each January 6 hearing. Earlier hearings traced how his attempted Justice Department takeover failed. The fake Electoral College slates that Meadows had pushed were not accepted by Congress. The calls by Trump to state officials that he had orchestrated to “find votes” did not work. Nor could Meadows convince Vice-President Mike Pence to ignore the official Electoral College results and count pro-Trump forgeries.

And as January 6 approached and the insurrection began, new and riveting details emerged about Meadow’s pivotal role at the eye of this storm, according to testimony on Tuesday by his top White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson.

Meadows had been repeatedly told that threats of violence were real. Yet he repeatedly ignored calls from the Secret Service, Capitol police, White House lawyers and military chiefs to protect the Capitol, Hutchinson told the committee under oath. And then Meadows, or, at least White House staff under him, failed Trump a final time – although in a surprising way.

After Trump told supporters at a January 6 rally that he would walk with them to the Capitol, Meadows’ staff, which oversaw Trump’s transportation, refused to drive him there. Trump was furious. He grabbed at the limousine’s steering wheel. He assaulted the Secret Service deputy, who was in the car, and had told Trump that it was not safe to go, Hutchinson testified.

“He said, ‘I’m the f-ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’” she said, describing what was told to her a short while later by those in the limousine. And Trump blamed Meadows.

“Later in the day, it had been relayed to me via Mark that the president wasn’t happy that Bobby [Engel, the driver] didn’t pull it off for him, and that Mark didn’t work hard enough to get the movement on the books [Trump’s schedule].”

Hutchinson’s testimony was the latest revelations to emerge from hearings that have traced in great detail how Trump and his allies plotted and intended to overturn the election. Her eye-witness account provided an unprecedented view of a raging president.

Hutchinson’s testimony was compared to John Dean, the star witness of the Watergate hearings a half-century ago that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon for his aides’ efforts to spy on and smear Democrats during the 1972 presidential campaign.

“She IS the John Dean of the hearings,” tweeted the Brooking Institution’s Norman Eisen, who has written legal analyses on prosecuting Trump. “Trump fighting with his security, throwing plates at the wall, but above all the WH knowing that violence was coming on 1/6. The plates & the fighting are not crimes, but they will color the prosecution devastatingly.”

Meadows’ presence has hovered over the coup plot and insurrection. Though he has refused to testify before the January 6 committee, his pivotal role increasingly has come into view.

Under oath, Hutchinson described links between Meadows and communication channels to the armed mob that had assembled. She was backstage at the Trump’s midday January 6 rally and described Trump’s anger that the crowd was not big enough. The Secret Service told him that many people were armed and did not want to go through security and give up their weapons.

Trump, she recounted, said “something to the effect of, ‘I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the mags [metal detectors] away. Let the people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.

As the day progressed and the Capitol was breached, Hutchison described the scene at the White House from her cubicle outside the Oval Office. She repeatedly went into Meadows’ office, where he had isolated himself. When Secret Service officials urged her to get Meadows to urge Trump to tell his supporters to stand down and leave, he sat listless.

“He [Meadows] needs to snap out of it,” she said that she told others who pressed her to get Meadows to act. Later, she heard Meadows repeatedly tell other White House officials that Trump “doesn’t think they [insurrectionists] are doing anything wrong.” Trump said Pence deserved to be hung as a traitor, she said.

Immediately after January 6, Hutchinson said that Trump’s cabinet discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove a sitting president but did not do so. She also said that Meadows sought a pardon for his January 6-related actions.

Today, Meadows is championing many of the same election falsehoods that he pushed for Trump as a senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a right-wing think tank whose 2021 annual report boasts of “changing the way conservatives fight.”

His colleagues include Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who pushed for Trump to use every means to overturn the election and leads CPI’s “election integrity network,” and other Republicans who have been attacking elections as illegitimate where their candidates lose.

Hutchinson’s testimony may impede Meadows’ future political role, as it exposes him to possible criminal prosecution. But the election-denying movement that he nurtured has not gone away. CPI said it is targeting elections in national battleground states for 2022’s midterms, including Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Trump did not give Meadows a pardon. But in July 2021, Trump’s “Save America” PAC gave CPI $1 million.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

Tina Peters

YouTube Screenshot

A right-wing conspiracy theorist who was indicted in March on criminal charges of tampering with voting machines to try to prove former President Donald Trump's lies of a stolen 2020 presidential election on Tuesday lost the Republican primary to run for secretary of state of Colorado, the person who oversees its elections.

With 95 percent of the vote counted, Tina Peters, the clerk and recorder of Mesa County, Colorado, was in third place, trailing the winner, fellow Republican Pam Anderson, 43.2 percent to 28.3 percent.

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