Financialism

Some Wealth Is Real—Based on Actual Products and Services That Fill a Need—Then There Is Financialism

One of the things that really bothers me about this economy is that, increasingly, it is based not on satisfying real needs, but on playing games with finance. According to an essay by Ezra Wasserman Mitchell:

Financialism is a system in which the real economy plays a secondary role to the financial economy, in the process stripping future real economic profits for present consumption. While it bears similarities to the process often identified in the economic literature as “financialization,” it differs both in historical scope and in its suggestion that financialism differs fundamentally from capitalism.

Let me give you several examples:

  • Executives in such “gamed” industries as pharmaceuticals, insurance, or rental real estate get together and decide what level of profit they want for the coming year. In order to achieve their goals, they raise prices to achieve goals that are based on how much money they want—not how much money they can reasonably be expected to earn in the course of business.
  • Crypto-currencies like Bitcoin represent financial speculations divorced from providing products and services. It’s not so much the finger pointing at the moon so much as it is a finger pointing at a finger pointing at the moon.
  • Bank charges and airline nickel-and-dime fees can cause real economic pain that is far removed from the actual value of the services being accounted for.

This came home to me today when I discovered that the forms of insulin I must take for my Type 2 Diabetes have been removed from Anthem Blue Cross’s drug formulary. Outraged, I called Blue Cross and suggested they accompany their “drug not in formulary” notices with ads for cemetery plots and mortuaries. That didn’t go over well with them, but I was pissed. Evidently, if Anthem Blue Cross saw their projected profit as more important than they basic services they provided.

 

On the Bus

The MTA Santa Monica Blvd, #704 Express

Since I am now on a fixed income, I avoid expensive parking lot charges. For some of the places I hang out, I take the bus: It only costs 35¢ a ride rather than, say, the $25.00 or more it would cost to park downtown or $10.00 it would cost at the Fairfax Farmers Market. Today, I had to endure the abusive chatter of a Tourette’s Syndrome bum who was serially abusing all the passengers on the bus. Fortunately, he disembarked in Beverly Hills, where—no doubt—he started abusing the tourists who congregate there.

The Many Aspects of Tourette’s Syndrome, On the Surface and Below

I have found that Los Angeles has a fair number of angry African-American homeless persons who are angry and verbally abusive. Several months ago, on the same bus line, a bum started shouting at me. Angrily, in Hungarian, I told him I hoped he would be f*cked in the ass by a horse. Not hearing me right, he thought I was using the N-word at him, which is something I would never do. That ended with the police being called by the driver and the bum being evicted from the bus.

This time, I saw this bum approaching from a hundred feet away, enraged at the world and various unspecified rednecks. I knew he was going to be trouble. Fortunately, this particular bozo did not pick on me in particular; so I was able to maintain a neutral pose.

When I read the papers about the growing number of homeless in Los Angeles, I rarely see anything about mental illness and drug abuse. And yet those are the dominant characteristics of most homeless. It is not shelters they want (that would impinge on their freedom, such as it is), but either mental healthcare or drug treatment—that is, if they would submit to treatment at all.

 

(Don’t) Ask Your Doctor

So You Think You Can Second-Guess Your Physician?

You don’t have to watch a whole lot of television before you start running into a barrage of commercials attempting to influence you in “asking your physician” about the various nostrums that are being advertised. And you wonder why prescriptions cost so much?

Here is a brief survey of three such drugs I have seen lately together with a list of things that can happen to you if you were dumb enough to urge your doctor to prescribe them. Please note that while a sotto voce voice in the background warns you of impending disease and death, you are watching attractive actors indulging in an active, trouble-free lifestyle.

Humira (Adalimumab) – Abbvie Inc. – For Psoriatic Arthritis

Serious infections have happened in people taking HUMIRA. These serious infections include tuberculosis (TB) and infections caused by viruses, fungi, or bacteria that have spread throughout the body. Some people have died from these infections. Your doctor should test you for TB before starting HUMIRA, and check you closely for signs and symptoms of TB during treatment with HUMIRA, even if your TB test was negative. If your doctor feels you are at risk, you may be treated with medicine for TB.

Cancer. For children and adults taking TNF blockers, including HUMIRA, the chance of getting lymphoma or other cancers may increase. There have been cases of unusual cancers in children, teenagers, and young adults using TNF blockers. Some people have developed a rare type of cancer called hepatosplenic T-cell lymphoma. This type of cancer often results in death. If using TNF blockers including HUMIRA, your chance of getting two types of skin cancer (basal cell and squamous cell) may increase. These types are generally not life-threatening if treated; tell your doctor if you have a bump or open sore that doesn’t heal.

Taltz (Ixekizumab) – Eli Lilly – Also for Psoriatic Arthritis

Taltz affects the immune system. It may increase your risk of infections, which can be serious. Do not use Taltz if you have any symptoms of infection, unless your doctor tells you to. If you have a symptom after starting Taltz, call your doctor right away.

Your doctor should check you for tuberculosis (TB) before you start Taltz, and watch you closely for signs of TB during and after treatment with Taltz.

If you have TB, or had it in the past, your doctor may treat you for it before you start Taltz.

Do not use Taltz if you have had a serious allergic reaction to ixekizumab or any other ingredient in Taltz , such as: swelling of your eyelids, lips, mouth, tongue or throat, trouble breathing, feeling faint, throat or chest tightness, or skin rash. Get emergency help right away if you have any of these reactions. See the Medication Guide that comes with Taltz for a list of ingredients.

Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis (inflammatory bowel disease) can start or get worse with Taltz use. Tell your doctor if you have any of these symptoms or if they get worse: stomach pain, diarrhea, and weight loss.

You should not get live vaccines while taking Taltz. You should get the vaccines you need before you start Taltz.

Chantix (Varenicline) – Pfizer – To Stop Smoking (This ad uses a pixillated turkey rather than live actors)

Some people have had new or worse mental health problems, such as changes in behavior or thinking, aggression, hostility, agitation, depressed mood, or suicidal thoughts or actions while taking or after stopping CHANTIX. These symptoms happened more often in people who had a history of mental health problems. Stop taking CHANTIX and call your healthcare provider right away if you, your family, or caregiver notice any of these symptoms. Before starting CHANTIX, tell your healthcare provider if you ever had depression or other mental health problems.

Some people have had seizures during treatment with CHANTIX. Tell your healthcare provider if you have a history of seizures. If you have a seizure, stop taking CHANTIX and contact your healthcare provider right away.

New or worse heart or blood vessel problems can happen with CHANTIX. Tell your healthcare provider if you have heart or blood vessel problems or experience any symptoms during treatment. Get emergency medical help right away if you have symptoms of a heart attack or stroke.

Sleepwalking can happen with CHANTIX, and can sometimes lead to harmful behavior. Stop taking CHANTIX and tell your healthcare provider if you start sleepwalking.

Do not take CHANTIX if you have had a serious allergic or skin reaction to it. These can happen with CHANTIX and can be life-threatening. Stop taking CHANTIX and get medical help right away if you develop swelling of the face, mouth, throat or neck; trouble breathing; rash with peeling skin, or blisters in your mouth.

Use caution when driving or operating machinery until you know how CHANTIX affects you. Decrease the amount of alcohol you drink while taking CHANTIX until you know if CHANTIX affects your ability to tolerate alcohol.

The most common side effects of CHANTIX include nausea (30%), sleep problems (trouble sleeping, vivid, unusual, or strange dreams), constipation, gas and/or vomiting. If you have side effects that bother you or don’t go away, tell your healthcare provider.

Now if you still want to tell your doctor what to prescribe for you, you’d be letting him off the hook. After all, he doesn’t have to research and find the best drug for your condition. And it’ll make you look smart, at the possible cost of discomfort, disease, or even death.

My advice? Mute all prescription commercials. The risks far outweigh the advantages.

 

Talking About Homelessness

Most Discussions About Homelessness Are Too Vague

As an independent (no party) voter, I am dismayed by the way most liberals view the homeless. For one thing, I refuse to take a bleeding heart view of the hobo encampments that are spreading across American cities, particularly in the West. When I think of the homeless, I have three populations in mind, with a lot of overlap among the categories:

  1. People who, for various reasons, are homeless
  2. People who are addicted to various drugs such as alcohol, heroine, cocaine, and crystal meth.
  3. People who are mentally ill.

The Venn Diagram above shows that there are many overlaps. Some of the homeless have some hope and expectation of finding a place to live. These are mostly homeless who are not addicted to drugs or mentally ill. These constitute the majority of homeless who are living in organized shelters.

Wherever drug addiction and mental illness are involved, it is much more difficult to find shelter. These shelters have rules regarding drugs, alcohol, theft, and violence. Many of the bums in Los Angeles would not be likely to live in a shelter, if only because they have no intention of following the rules.

If you have about an hour to spare, I recommend you watch this video by news station KOMO entitled “Seattle is Dying,” which takes a no-holds-barred view of the dire homeless situation in Seattle:

 

No, Don’t Ask Your Doctor About Abflubimadab

You’ve Seen the Drug Ads … Everywhere

Do you know why prescription drugs cost so much? No, forget about development costs. Just turn on your television and look at all the glossy commercials requesting that you ask your doctor about their pricey pharmaceuticals. You’ll see a whole lot of healthy looking older couples doing fun things together while a voice in the background warns that if you take Abflubimabad (I invented this drug name, so don’t try to buy it or even ask your doctor about it), you may suffer from St. Vitus Dance, rickets, premature ejaculation, memory loss, Ebola, a moist handshake, heart failure, or death. But you’re not listening to this voice droning on, and those old couples look so happy.

Wait until you find out how much Abflubimabad costs: Just finding out may cause St. Vitus Dance, rickets, premature ejaculation, memory loss, Ebola, a moist handshake, heart failure, or death. It costs a whole lot of cash to place ads on prime time TV, especially the cable channels that old people like to watch for their retro programming.

For one thing, the U.S. is only one of two countries that allow this type of advertising. (The other is New Zealand.) Could this be why American drugs are so much more expensive than Canadian or Mexican equivalents?

Whereas the market for TV advertising in general has been flat for the last few years, the direct-to-consumer drug ads have grown 62% since 2012. The pharmaceutical industry is one of those industries where marketers could call a meeting at the beginning of year and pretty much decide what their profit is going to be. (The insurance industry is in the same category.) So it doesn’t matter what these drugs cost. They want to create a buzz, so that viewers will directly participate in their doctors’ decisions, which, of course, they are clearly not qualified to do. Then Big Pharma just raises the prices by astronomical amounts.

Guess who pays for it in the end.

 

A Rare Beauty

Whitney Houston

The 1980s were a strange decade for me. Befoe I met Martine, I was in love with two gorgeous black women—though I was firmly ensconced in the “friend zone” with both of them. There was Melinda, with whom I worked, and Janice, a young physician. And my favorite singer was the lovely Whitney Houston, whose 1985 album, “Whitney Houston” contained some of the most beautiful singing I had ever heard. That plus the fact that she looked like an angel come down to earth made her my favorite listening choice, to the annoyance of some of my friends. The first tape I bought for my new 1985 Mitsubishi Montero was her first album.

Today I saw Kevin Macdonald’s documentary entitled Whitney. The singer’s life was neatly divided into two parts: the spectacular rise and the equally spectacular fall. As beautiful and talented as she was, Whitney was sexually abused as a child—by one of her female relatives—and then she fell in love with and married a debauched ogre, alias singer/dancer Bobby Brown, who help turn her hopes and dreams into mud.

When I look back at the early eighties, I think of the twin scourges of AIDS and cocaine. Cocaine was everywhere. If one was a celebrity, one had no problem getting as much nose powder as one wanted. It is pathetic to see Whitney toward the end of her life, aware that somewhere she had taken a wrong turning, but still faithful to many of the people who were living off her fame and intent on killing the goose that laid their golden eggs.

Serendipity: Getting High on … Bananas?

How I Learned About Bananadine aka Mellow Yellow

It was the March 24, 1967 issue of the Los Angeles Free Press that taught me all about how to get high on bananas. You can see the cover of the issue in question illustrated above. Did I run to the nearest supermarket and buy up all the bananas in sight? No, I didn’t. It was just six months after my brain surgery to remove a chromophobe adenoma from the center of my head; and I was not about to go experimenting with psychedelic drugs. I was just finishing my first quarter as a graduate student at UCLA’s Film School. Although I loved the Free Press and looked for it religiously each week, I was both impressed and somewhat repelled by the whole hippie phenomenon.

What is this about getting high on bananas? Just read this excerpt from Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice, which reminded me of this news story that happened some half century ago:

Bigfoot had been driving around once a week to Kozmik Banana, a frozen-banana shop near the Gordita Beach pier, creeping in by way of the alley in back. It was a classic shakedown. Kevin the owner, instead of throwing away the banana peels, was cashing in on a hippie belief of the moment by converting them to a smoking product he called Yellow Haze. Specially trained crews of speed freaks, kept out of sight nearby in a deserted resort hotel about to be demolished, worked three shifts carefully scraping off the insides of the banana peels and obtaining, after oven-drying and pulverizing it, a powdery black substance they wrapped in plastic bags to sell to the deluded and desperate. Some who smoked it reported psychedelic journeys to other places and times. Others came down with horrible nose, throat, and lung symptoms that lasted for weeks. The belief in psychedelic bananas went on, however, gleefully promoted by underground papers which ran learned articles comparing diagrams of banana molecules to those of LSD and including alleged excerpts from Indonesian professional journals about native cults of the banana and so forth, and Kevin was raking in thousands.  Bigfoot saw no reason why law enforcement shouldn’t b cut in for a share of the proceeds.

So, as you see, however much I dearly loved the Freep, the whole thing was an early instance of fake news on the (far) left.

The Free Press Called it “Bananadine”

I remember that the Free Press even had a bookstore on Fairfax, specializing in subversive titles, but with enough interesting general literature available to whet my appetite. A big plus is that it was right across the street from Canter’s Deli, which was open all hours, making it a popular nosh stop for film addicts discussing the pictures they had just seen. Martine and I still go there from time to time for their corned beef, pastrami, and other delights.

Yes, It Does Make Sense …

Martin Shkreli of Turing Pharmaceuticals

Martin Shkreli of Turing Pharmaceuticals

There used to be a comic strip appearing in the sunday paper called “Hatlo’s Inferno” drawn by Jimmy Hatlo whose intent was to show annoying people in hell who are being pointed out to those touring Hades, presumably in air-conditioned buses. (See illustration below.)

Well, I would like to add a whole circle to the inferno for a young ex-hedge fund manager who purchased a drug company called Turing Pharmaceuticals which manufactured Daraprim, which is used to treat life-threatening parasitic infections in pregnant women and immuno-compromised individuals such as AIDS patients. Mr. Martin Shkresli—may his name go down in infamy—promptly raised the price of Dataprim from $13.50 per dose to $750.00 per dose.

Hatlo’s Inferno Cartoon

“Hatlo’s Inferno” Cartoon

Then he had the cojones to claim that the 5,500% increase wasn’t too much, considering. “It really doesn’t make any sense to get any criticism for this,” Shkreli claims.

Nonetheless, the criticism is coming in fast and furious, to the extent that Mr. Shkreli probably regrets his insatiable greed.

“Terribly-Sad-Life Syndrome”

Feeling Blue? Commit Suicide with the Help of Big Pharma!

Feeling Blue? Commit Suicide with the Help of Big Pharma!

Back when I was a teenager in Cleveland, we used to have a neighbor named Elizabeth (though in Hungarian, it was pronounced Bözsi) who was separated from her husband and whose life was a sea of troubles. Her back yard abutted ours, and there was no fence to keep her out. (More’s the pity!) Whenever I saw her mournfully trudging across our lawn to visit Mother, I would groan and immediately resolve to take a nice long hot bath until she was finished spilling all her troubles, most of which—in my opinion—were self-inflicted. But Bözsi was one of Mom’s “dear-hearts,” and thus beyond criticism. She probably thought I had a cleanliness fetish. The way I see it, she made me feel dirty.

Now one such “dear-heart” named Lina has fastened herself onto Martine. She tried bringing me into her circle of sympathetic listeners, but I would just disappear. The first time she saw me, she thought to enlist my aid in finding her a good workman’s compensation attorney. Ever since I threw her out of my apartment last year for overstaying her welcome, she rightfully thinks I don’t like her. Her problems are, of course, legion; and she is, of course, an innocent victim of circumstances.

In the May 5, 2014 issue of The New Yorker, there is an excellent investigative article by Rachel Aviv entitled “Prescription for Disaster: The Heartland’s Pain-Pills Problem.”

In certain parts of the country, people like Bözsi and Lina go to sympathetic doctors who prescribe pain pills such as OxyContin, Actiq, Duragesic Patches, and a whole array of habit-forming medications that numb the taker to life, and possibly drain that life away in the long run. Rachel Aviv’s story tells of one osteopathic physician named Stephen Schneider who opened a medical clinic in a suburb of Wichita. Because the good doctor was upbeat, sympatico, and not at all reluctant to prescribe what the patient wanted, before long many of them started to die of heart failure and other causes.

Agents from the Kansas Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Administration led Schneider into one of the clinic‘s fourteen exam rooms and asked him why he had been prescribing so many opioid painkillers. He responded that sixty percent of his patients suffered from chronic pain, and few other physicians in the area would treat them. The agents wrote, “He tries to believe his patients when they describe their health problems and he will believe them until they prove themselves wrong.” When asked how many of his patients had died, Schneider said that he didn’t know.

How does one draw the boundary line in cases such as these? One psychiatrist refers to this complex of possibly physical/possibly psychological pain as the “terribly-sad-life syndrome.” Many of these patients are at a dead end and feel that life has dealt them a bad hand. They are hurting and want to be numbed. And, since it is less embarrassing to admit to physical pain when, in fact, it is primarily psychological, they are actually putting themselves in harm’s way. In effect, they are dopers and the nice doctor is a dealer.

If I were a saint, I would be more sympathetic to these people. Instead, I feel somewhat repelled by them. My Mom didn’t, but then she was something of a saint. I guess, if I am to be a saint, I would choose a different class of people to help.

 

 

“Fun With Substance”

David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace

At first, you have:

“fun with substance, then very gradually less fun, then significantly less fun because of like blackouts you suddenly come out of on the highway going 145 kph with companions you do not know, nights you awake from in unfamiliar bedding next to somebody who doesn’t even resemble any known sort of mammal, three-day blackouts you come out of and have to buy a newspaper to even know what town you’re in; yes, gradually less and less actual fun but with some physical need for the Substance, now, instead of the former voluntary fun; then at some point suddenly just very little fun at all, combined with terrible daily hand-trembling need, then dread, anxiety, irrational phobias, dim siren-like memories of fun, trouble with assorted authorities, knee-buckling headaches, mild seizures, and the litany of what Boston AA calls Losses … then more Losses, with the Substance seeming like the only consolation against the pain of mounting Losses, and of course you’re in Denial about it being the Substance that’s causing the very Losses it’s consoling you about—”—David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest