I have a feeling this won’t be a popular column. Don’t ask me why. Just a feeling, I suppose. I want to talk about Martin Shkreli, who also happens to be the subject of this week’s Unpopular Opinion podcast …
… where I’m joined by comics Chet Wild and Annie Lederman. Specifically, I want to make the case that Martin Shkreli’s existence is not the complete and total blight on society that it’s been made out to be. I mean, don’t get me wrong; he’s still mostly a monster, I’m sure. But I think one could argue that we’re ultimately better off for having him around. Why? Glad you asked!
I’ve mentioned this before, but just to be clear, everyone knows that what Martin Shkreli did with the price of that AIDS drug is not at all a new or recent phenomenon, right? The percentage of the price increase may not always have been quite as drastic, but pharmaceutical companies have been buying the patents to drugs and jacking the prices up exponentially for a long time now. Not only are the prices dramatically increased when a patent is taken over by a new company, but price increases are also used to offset the losses from decreases in demand that tend to happen when, you know, drugs do their job and make people better. The conditions that allow drug companies to reap windfall profits from insane price increases was one of the driving forces behind the passage of the Affordable Care Act.
Perhaps you’ve read about it in emails from your racist relatives.
Historically, Medicare hasn’t been allowed to negotiate drug prices with manufacturers. Be it $13.50 or $750, if the drug company says that’s what they pay, then that’s what they pay. Democrats have long wanted to put an end to this, but Obama’s promise that profits would stay intact is what ultimately led the pharmaceutical industry to invest millions into ads supporting Obamacare. It’s been estimated that the industry stands to make as much as $35 billion in additional profits as a result of the law.
At least, that used to be the case. With his time in office winding down, Obama has executed one of the most victimless backstabbings of all time by going back on his promise to protect drug companies’ profit margins. That’s why they are now pumping their millions into PACs dedicated to overturning the Affordable Care Act.
However, none of that explains why drug company price gouging is big news right now. That all comes down to one thing: this stupid face.
How is that dog not even sort of making a play for his windpipe?
To be honest, I’d probably hate that guy no matter what he was doing. He could be curing AIDS, and I feel like a lot of people would still kind of want to punch him in the face.
Don’t get me wrong; raising the price of Daraprim the way he did was an abhorrent thing to do. But if almost anyone else had done it, the ensuing media outrage wouldn’t have been nearly as intense — if there was any at all. The circumstances that allow people like Martin Shkreli to do this kind of thing need to be addressed. As awful as he is, we should at least acknowledge that his unrelenting douchebaggery played a huge part in giving drug price gouging the attention it deserves in the media.
Let’s shift to a slightly less controversial scandal. Not long before his arrest in December, it was revealed that Shkreli was the mystery shopper who spent $2 million to own the sole copy of the Wu-Tang Clan album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin. The reaction to this news was mixed, but for my part, I couldn’t have been happier with it.
To give you some background, on the off chance you’re unfamiliar with the story: The Wu-Tang Clan announced in January 2015 that they’d be auctioning off a single pressing of their new album via the auction site Paddle8. Even better, they were expecting at least $1 million for it.
Which is $1 million more than I’ve paid for any Wu-Tang album this decade.
The buyer would be prohibited from making money off the album’s release for 88 years, but could upload it online or otherwise release it for free if they chose.
Several months passed before we learned the outcome of that auction. When it was revealed that the “lucky” buyer was Martin Shkreli, the Wu-Tang Clan had a massive public relations nightmare on their hands. The auction had been carried out well before the drug pricing scandal became news, so they couldn’t really be blamed for selling their album to one of Yakub’s most hated devils, but they also couldn’t take money from Shkreli in good conscience. Unsurprisingly, they donated their proceeds from the auction to charity.
Again, if you ask me, this is the best possible ending to that story. The Wu-Tang Clan hoped to remind people of the “value” of music with their elaborate release scheme. It’s certainly a worthwhile lesson, but there are ways to do that without putting the music solely in the hands of an online version of a Bond villain and running the risk that he’ll just hold it over the fans’ heads forevermore.
Unfortunately for almost everyone involved, it seems like that’s exactly what’s going to happen.
On the bright side, the album probably isn’t that great anyway.
And why wouldn’t that be the case? If you were Martin Shkreli, what would be your motivation for letting the general public in on your wildly overpriced Wu-Tang Clan listening party? It’s not like it’s going to make people like him more. Nothing short of traveling back in time and deciding not to raise the price of Daraprim by more than 5,000 percent is going to make that happen.
We’re not hearing that Wu-Tang Clan album anytime soon, even if the terms of the deal grant Bill Murray the right to steal it back. This is a possibility the group should have been prepared for well before deciding to follow through with their stupid plan.
Naturally, not everyone in the Wu-Tang has been quiet about their newest investor. RZA, the man who came up with the auction idea, had to have lunch with Shkreli, as outlined in the terms of the sale. When asked how it went, he simply said that the two “didn’t have a ton in common.”
Some other members of the group were slightly less diplomatic with their responses. The most vocal so far by a long shot has been Ghostface Killah. He’s engaged Shkreli in a public feud, mostly by way of videos uploaded to YouTube. Improbably, if I had to declare a winner in this battle so far, my points would go to the piece of shit in the Brand New T-shirt.
Ghostface Killah kicked off the beef when he called Shkreli a “shithead” after TMZ cornered him and asked his opinion on the buyer of the album. This response surprised absolutely zero people. None. Ghostface Killah threatens public figures all the time, with the most recent before this being Action Bronson, a rapper he clearly “influenced” heavily.
There are legitimate murder threats in that video. He says he has “shooters” who will come in from out of town to handle his problems. He says he’s going to gut the guy like a pig at one point. Being threatening as fuck online is something Ghostface Killah has experience with, is what I’m getting at. That’s why it’s so disappointing that he’s putting up such a terrible showing in this particular battle.
For one thing, Martin Shkreli tweeted this in response to the TMZ rant…
He’s dead now, right?
… and wasn’t murdered immediately. However, Ghostface did swing back into action with a response video. That’s the good news. The bad news is that in place of the threats of real violence like Action Bronson received, Shkreli gets nothing more than the most cryptic promise of all time.
Obviously emboldened by the lack of actual or verbal violence his interactions had produced so far, Shkreli struck back again with a ludicrous threat video in which, surrounded by a team of masked “goons,” he calls Ghostface by his real name (Dennis) and labels him an old man before demanding a written apology.
No way. No one taunts Ghostface Killah like that and gets away with it. The world waited in breathless anticipation for the inevitable backlash from Shkreli’s latest bout of foolishness, and when it arrived, almost all of them were disappointed to find that it was mostly just a 12-minute infomercial for the new line of medical marijuana Ghostface is selling these days. There are no graphic threats of bodily harm, but at one point his mom, his sister, and an unidentified white lady do come out to scold Shkreli for being a bad person.
This is depressing.
It’s the absolute opposite of what we’ve come to expect from the man who threatened to set Action Bronson’s beard on fire just a few short months ago. The most annoying part is that intermingled with all of the shenanigans and shilling in this video are constant pleas for the price of Daraprim to finally be lowered. Why is that annoying? Because …
Shkreli doesn’t work for Turing Pharmaceuticals anymore. He resigned back in December after his arrest on securities fraud charges. It’s been a full two months since that happened. Do you know what hasn’t happened in that time? The price of Daraprim hasn’t dropped whatsoever.
So … who are we supposed to be hating for that now? If Shkreli is gone, then surely someone else has taken up his responsibilities, and assuming they aren’t also a soulless piece of human trash, they should have full authority to swoop in and drop the price of Daraprim.
As it turns out, the name we’re looking for is Ron Tilles, a man so apparently unimportant to this story that a Google image search of his name just brings up pages and pages of pictures of Martin Shkreli.
You’ll always be the AIDS guy to us!
His past is so shady that several outlets which looked into claims about his past experience in the pharmaceutical field were unable to find any evidence that he’d ever held the positions the Turing Pharmaceuticals website claimed. You know who cares about that? No one, apparently, because the name “Ron Tilles” has barely made its way into headlines at all.
Keep in mind that Tilles is just one of several unscrupulous pharmaceutical CEOs who’ve had a hand in raising drug prices for no other reason than profit, sometimes at the expense of those who rely on those drugs to stay comfortable or alive. We still have no idea what most of the people responsible for this kind of profiteering even look like, but thanks to Martin Shkreli and his stupid rat face, we at least know they exist and need to be stopped.
This is a start!
Call me crazy, but taking the necessary action to make sure none of them can carry on as they have been strikes me as a strategy that would benefit the general public far more than continuing to direct all of our thoughts and energy on the subject toward finding new ways to give the world’s most hate-worthy emo fan even more attention.
Also, the fact that he’s no longer “that guy” casts another of his most controversial moments in a slightly new light …
Shkreli’s most recent brush with the general public’s eye came as a result of his testimony before Congress. Over the course of ten remarkably awkward minutes, he smirks, chuckles, and pleads the fifth in response to almost every question that comes his way. The exception is when someone asks if they’re pronouncing his name correctly.
It was rightly pointed to as another sign of his lack of remorse for the pain he’s thought to have caused, but at the same time, he’s not completely out of line to treat the entire thing like some kind of circus sideshow. That’s what it is, if we’re being honest with ourselves. The people asking these questions know everything there is to know about these drug price increases and why they happen. As mentioned before, it’s not some kind of secret that’s just been exposed. Drug companies have been doing this forever, and their ability to keep doing that was central to the passage of Obamacare. If the people asking the questions here don’t already kind of know the answers, they’re just fucking terrible at their jobs.
This has nothing to do with fact-finding; it’s a notoriously inactive branch of the government pretending to do something about a problem, solely because recent headlines have forced their hand. He’s got criminal charges pending against him, and you want him to come talk about how he games the healthcare system to generate windfall profits? What were they expecting was going to come from this stunt, aside from the endless string of fizzifs they got?
I’ll tell you! It makes them look like they’re trying to fix things, but their efforts are being hindered by the evil pharmabro who won’t help them figure out what to do. That’s nonsense. This is a problem we know how to fix. I get that seeing Martin Shkreli smirk at the government is infuriating, but that he’s there at all should bother you every bit as much. Money came out of your paycheck to put on this production.
Meanwhile, Daraprim is still $750 per pill. Martin Shkreli could go to prison forever and that fact wouldn’t change one bit. Focusing all of our efforts on making sure he’s personally punished for his price-gouging exploits is like fighting the drug epidemic by incarcerating users. As long as the means to make money in this way exists, drug companies are going to take advantage of it. If you want the problem to go away, then fix that. Anything else is just theatrics, as we’ve learned all too well over the past few months.Continue reading
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JP Morgan Chase is increasing the minimum asset level for such services as big banks focus on their richest clients and the rest of us are underserved
So youve just sold those Facebook shares that your high school buddy, Mark Zuckerberg, let you buy years before it went public, and youve made an after-tax profit of $4m. Youre feeling very, very rich.
Until, that is, you talk to a private bank that specializes in managing money for rich people. Thats when you realize that youre nothing more than a single-digit millionaire. Youre just not that special.
In fact, the rate at which the ranks of millionaires is expanding is so great, youre actually pretty boring. Last year alone, the US welcomed 300,000 new millionaires: that translates into a growth rate of 3%, outpacing the growth in the US gross domestic product.
In fact, there are now so many millionaires out there that the private banking system simply cant cope.
JP Morgan Chases private bank has been raising the minimum amount of assets you need to become of its clients slowly and steadily for many years. Early this year, it announced that the minimum asset level to remain a private banking customer would double from $5m to $10m. When that takes effect early next year, about 10% of the banks customers could be shuffled off to a less deluxe service, Private Client Direct. While a private banker might work with only 20 or so people, those working with single digit millionaires might have 100 clients meaning that every one of them gets much less of their advisers time and attention.
JP Morgans move was partly aimed at convincing clients to shift any assets they might be stubbornly holding at other banks, bringing them up above the $10m threshold. But its also a recognition that with the proliferation of millionaires, the private banks that youve heard about the ones that will walk your dog, deliver gold bars with your monogram stamped into them and provide wealth therapy so your children dont grow up entitled brats can pick and choose the clients that they deal with.
A sign of just how ruthless they have become is that JP Morgans new rule even applies to the corporate lawyers with whom its investment bankers work closely on big deals. Until now, access to private banking programs have been among the perks offered to lawyers at firms like Skadden Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom; now, the word is that they too will be shut out from this special treatment (and the access to hedge fund investments and other products and events that only the super-elite can tap into). Imagine how the poor lawyer who does a deal for a Silicon Valley billionaire must feel: hes negotiating with the very bankers who have thrown him out of their private club, on behalf of a client who is welcome to join it.
If you dont feel much empathy for that hypothetical lawyer, worth millions, just because he cant qualify for super-special treatment from banks, I dont blame you. The fact is that as banks scramble to emphasize with wealthier clients, it comes at the expense of serving the rest of their clientele.
JP Morgans private clients might feel offended at being demoted. On the other hand, those of us who merely toil for our money and whose net worth hasnt reached seven digits yet might be flattered to be invited to join Private Client Direct, a program serving the mass affluent that offers after-hours access, a phone number to reach a banker any time and a few special perks. (Yes, even if that also involves some heavy pressure to buy the banks proprietary investment products.)
But even then, well need $500,000 in investments or $250,000 in deposits to qualify, and minimums for other such programs at other banks arent very different.
All of which brings me to an important point.
Big banks are struggling to make money. Thats why Wells Fargos 5,300 rank-and-file employees were encouraged, or at least not discouraged, to set up phony accounts in the names of existing clients, earning the bank more in fees (phew) and helping those employees hit sales targets. The bank opened 1.5m of these ghost accounts and has paid out $185m in penalties to various regulators, including a record $100m to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Its also why the banks want to focus on their richest clients. Investing time and money in working with those of us who may only have a few thousand dollars to put to work is a waste of their resources in their eyes.
The problem is that as they keep conducting triage, and denying access to investment guidance to one group after another, more and more of us will end up without the ability to turn to the banks to help us manage our investments. Lets face it, JP Morgan and other private banks can boost their investment minimums dramatically, but the incomes of most Americans are barely budging. Were less and less likely to have the minimum level of assets that most investment counselors want to see before accepting us as a client.
Robo-advisers the new breed of automated investment platforms that use algorithms to invest your money, taking into account factors such as age, income and risk tolerance offer sensible alternatives. But they work best for those people who are familiar with how financial markets work. Someone who isnt comfortable with markets, doesnt understand the concept of an index fund, isnt completely sure about how an asset allocation will help them, or isnt certain about the relationship between stocks and bonds may not want to simply hand over their money to a robo-adviser and then step away.
So, big banks are in love with the billionaires who generate the bulk of their profits. Even the single-digit millionaires these days are starting to realize that they just dont count as much as they used to. But at least if those folks make an error or two along the way, they have financial padding to cushion their fall.
The rest of us? Like everyone else, were increasingly underserved by the banks and the rest of the financial services industry, and our needs are growing. A third of all Americans lack any retirement savings in a 401(k) plan or other tax-deferred account. That isnt the fault of the banks, but its something that the banks could help to fix by offering even basic financial education and counselling to those who dont have balances with many, many digits. Then wed at least feel we were getting value for the account fees were already paying.
As it is, if I were a single-digit millionaire tossed out of the paradise of private banking, Id walk away from that bank altogether. They dont want me? Heck, I dont want them either. There are plenty of independent financial advisers out there who unlike the banks arent intent on making more money flogging their own proprietary investment products. Instead, they vow to put their clients financial interests before their own, come what may. Try one of those instead.
For the rest of us? Well, we can keep demanding better financial education, however and whenever possible. And that the banks at least try to employ a better-functioning moral barometer.Continue reading
Advertisements are coming to the world of Pokmon Go.
This is likely to upset tons of people, seeing as we’ve all gotten so used to not having to pay for any of our entertainment. The fact that a money-making company would try to make money is abhorrent to us.
Apparently, according to the CEO of Niantic (the company that developed the app), the ad revenue will come in the form of sponsored locations, where companies pay us to be locations within the virtual game board the premise being that is an inducement that drives foot traffic.
Now, apart from the fact that he is now the second person in history to actually use the word inducement the first was Shakespeare’s more pretentious brother, Phil this is the world’s most effective advertisement model ever.
These companies can literally make people walk into their stores.
There could be a million uses for this. Icould get people to go to my extremely poorly attended shows with my band we’re called “The Obamacarebears,” by the way or protest organizers could call in a legion of Pokmon-obsessed citizens to a rally.
Maybe, once these people finish catching their 69th Ratattas, they’d look up andfind themselves accidentally taking part in something that actually matters.
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In an extract from a new book, Scholes talks about how he has fallen out of love with the Premier League and why he is not sure he will ever go into management
I dont find elite football as interesting to watch any more, especially in England. You hear about people saying English footballs the best football there is around. I think Spains by far the best league. Germany has better teams. In Italy probably the strength in depth isnt great. They talk about Italy being a bad league but I dont think English people look at it. They say its boring. No chance. The Juventus team would beat any team in this league. They came up to Manchester City and beat them easy. But we have this interpretation of the Italian league that its rubbish. They only try to defend. No chance.
The Spanish leagues the best by far if youre judging on the European competitions. In the quarter-finals of the Champions League and the Europa League in 201516, they had six of the 16 teams. Nearly half of them. The Premier League had just two.
There needs to be a real step up in quality in England. Other than Sergio Agero, Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva, we dont have the best players. All the best players are in other countries.
The best players are in Spain or at Bayern Munich and Juventus. Were linked with big players Gareth Bale is a top player but we dont get them now. Not any more. You never see a Lionel Messi coming over here, you never see a Neymar in the Premier League.
I probably do enjoy watching Salford more. I dont know if its as much that I dont like the hassle of going to the game, getting in, sitting in traffic. Going to Salford, I park up behind the goal and get out of my car. But I genuinely get more enjoyment from watching even my sons team, Royter Town. Its like a mens team, but hes 16. He started playing a few games for them last season. I went to watch him once, it was 5-4. Its just entertainment.Continue reading
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