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The sting of greed PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 31 August 2016 20:29

It’s yellow jacket season in Wisconsin, the time of year when aggressively nasty black and yellow striped wasps buzz around places where humans are eating or drinking and sometimes deliver smarting stings to those who get in their way.

Wasp stings are painful for everyone, but for some they can be deadly, triggering an allergic reaction that can send victims into shock that can cause death. People at risk for severe reactions from insect bites and other sources, including food allergies, carry EpiPens.

Many a life has been saved by the shot of adrenaline dispensed by one of these devices. EpiPens are lifesavers that millions of Americans, many of them children, dare not be without. Which makes the greed of the pharmaceutical company that markets the EpiPen all the more unconscionable. 

People who have to buy EpiPens as a life-saving measure for themselves or their children are appalled that Mylan, the company that acquired the decades-old product in 2007, has raised the wholesale price for a two-pen set by 500% to more than $600. 

There is no justification for the exorbitant price increases. The EpiPen sold today is essentially the same product it was when it was being sold for $100 per set.

Those vulnerable to deadly allergic reactions are advised to carry two EpiPens at all times. The devices, which with a stab in the thigh deliver an injection of a powerful dose of epinephrine to counter extreme swelling and closing of airways, usually have to be replaced each year because of expiration dates.

Public outrage has spread to Congress, where there are calls for investigations and hearings. That’s fine, but Congress needs to do more.

Allergy sufferers in countries such as Canada and Britain pay far less for EpiPens (and most prescription drugs) because their governments are empowered to negotiate the price of drugs with pharmaceutical companies on behalf of national health care programs. That is not the case in the United States, but Congress could make it so.

Overall, the price of prescription drugs in the U.S. has increased 38% in the last decade. Inflation in that period was 18%, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports.

When it comes to prescription drugs, the law of supply and demand can be a burden on the American health care system. In the case of EpiPens, Mylan controls the supply, having a virtual monopoly (the only alternatives to EpiPens are syringes and vials of medicine, which are difficult to carry and clumsy to use, and a single competing product that is hard to find and rarely prescribed), and the demand will be strong for as long as humans suffer from allergies. 

Mylan has taken full advantage of the situation. Its revenue from EpiPen sales is estimated at $1 billion per year by Bloomberg News, up from $200 million when it acquired the product.

Even those in Congress who genuflect to the ideal of totally unfettered free market capitalism must see that failure to apply anti-trust regulations to companies that game the system by fighting the development of less costly generic drug products and that the resistance to allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices are taking a toll on the economic health, as well as the physical health, of Americans.

Yet Congress has shown few signs of acquiring that vision. Perhaps its eyesight is clouded by the enormous amounts of its profits Big Pharma spends on political contributions and lobbying.

Feeling the heat PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 24 August 2016 20:18

Global warming is a hoax perpetrated by China to trick the United States into cracking down on carbon emissions and making itself less competitive in the world economy.

Donald Trump said that. Considering the source, most people know the statement is utter nonsense.

“The climate hasn’t warmed in quite a few years. That is proven scientifically.”

That’s nonsense too. But the source wasn’t Trump. The outlandish statement was made  by U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, and it was surprising. Coming across as sincere, thoughtful and committed to conservative principles, Johnson seems like the quintessential anti-Trump Republican.

Johnson’s comment, made in an interview on a Racine radio station, received national attention because it was so astonishingly wrong. 

NASA reported in January that an analysis by its scientists and a separate study by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration both found that surface temperatures on the earth in 2015 were the warmest since modern record keeping began in 1880.

The NASA report noted that 2015 temperatures extended a long-term warming trend, with 15 of the 16 hottest years on record occurring since 2001.

Johnson’s comment went even further than Republican climate-change-denying orthodoxy, which must have disturbed some of his environmentally aware supporters in Wisconsin.

Before he became successful in politics by defeating Russ Feingold in the 2010 Senate race, Johnson was successful in business. If he would apply some of the acumen that made him a lot of money in the plastics business to the issue of global warming, Johnson might see what is becoming clear to business leaders throughout the developed world: The cost to national economies of failing to deal with climate change will be far greater than the cost of reducing carbon emissions.

Multiple studies, including one by the international finance and banking giant Citigroup, project that the effect of global warming on agriculture, water, biodiversity and human health will cut gross domestic product by economically crippling amounts as early as 2030. By 2100, the Citigroup report says, unchecked global warming could erode world GDP by 23%.

ExxonMobil, which got to be the second largest company in the world by selling carbon in the form of petroleum, agrees that fossil fuel emissions cause warming and have to be reduced. The company states on its website that global warming could raise Earth’s surface temperature by a calamitous 6 degrees Celsius or more if steps aren’t taken now to slow the release of carbon. The Exxon website calls for a revenue-neutral tax on carbon-producing oil, gas and coal.

And speaking of China, in 2015 it spent $103 billion, more than any other country, on renewable energy, suggesting that America’s biggest business competitor sees global warming not as a Trumpian hoax, but as a threat to its economic interests.

Meanwhile, the process of harnessing renewable energy is achieving cost efficiency faster than almost anyone predicted, as technological breakthroughs in harvesting and storing energy generated by the sun and the wind outpace predictions. In the U.S., which can claim to be the birthplace of the entrepreneurial spirit, the shift from earth-warming fossil fuel-derived energy to renewable energy technology should be seen as an opportunity for history-making economic stimulus.

Worldwide, energy from renewable sources has risen to 15% of all energy production, a trend that could literally save the world if it continues.

Sen. Johnson must be aware of this. We’re pretty sure he doesn’t want any political tips from a community newspaper as he campaigns to keep his Senate seat, but we’ll offer some well meant advice anyway: Avoid insulting the intelligence of Wisconsin voters by denying climate change. In this (and in everything else) you can’t go wrong by being an anti-Trump Republican.

Blame the news media PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 17 August 2016 20:05

You know things aren’t going well for a Republican candidate for president when polls show him tied with the Democratic candidate in a region of southeast Wisconsin that is considered one of the most dependable GOP strongholds in the country.

That’s what the latest Marquette University Law School poll says about Donald Trump’s esteem among voters in a corner of the state, which includes Ozaukee and Waukesha counties, that favored Mitt Romney over Barack Obama by 14 points in 2012.

Trump is getting similar bad news from polls in areas of other states that usually vote Republican, and he’s making it clear in his boisterous rallies that he knows whom to blame: It’s the news media’s fault.

Trump may be a liar of unprecedented prolificacy among presidential candidates—the nonpartisan fact-checking organization PolitiFact rates more than 60% of his campaign statements as false or worse (“pants on fire”)—but he is telling the truth about the news media.

Political analysts attribute Trump’s slide in the polls to blunders such as his bizarre claim that President Obama founded ISIS, his provocative suggestion that gun enthusiasts could act against Hillary Clinton and his cruel attack on the parents of an American army soldier of the Muslim faith who was killed in action in Afghanistan, but it has really been the news media’s unwavering reporting of these disturbing statements that has given voters more reason to doubt Trump’s fitness for the presidency.

In each case, Trump reacted to overwhelmingly negative fallout by blaming the press for distorting his comments. This led to further scrutiny of his odd pronouncements, which led to confirmation that the mainstream print and electronic press had in almost every instance reported on them accurately and fairly.

The press, after a rough start, is finally doing its job covering a presidential race that is unconventional to say the least.

Early on, Donald Trump schooled the news media. He exploited news organizations, particularly those of ratings-hungry cable TV, with colorful behavior that garnered free exposure far in excess of that granted other candidates and propelled his surge in Republican primaries.

Meanwhile, the press, particularly the print variety, resorted to its old false equivalence habit to demonstrate its objectivity, equating the latest damning revelation about Trump with something negative about another candidate, suggesting the candidates were equally untrustworthy.

Hard lessons were learned. Today the same cable TV organizations, including CNN, MSNBC and others, that lavished uncritical attention on Trump now broadcast real-time fact-checking—pointing out misstatements on the screen as Trump speaks.

Newspapers, along with the Associated Press and network TV, now routinely add detailed context to reporting on Trump statements that exposes untruths, distortions and frequent factual mistakes.

Trump once merely ridiculed journalists (including a vicious impression of a respected reporter with a degenerative neurological condition), but he now rails against them in long diatribes. His frequent characterization of members of the press as “the lowest form of life” at campaign appearances is red meat fed to his true believers, who have been known to physically menace reporters while excoriating them as “fags” and “traitors.”

Trump’s performance at his rallies has been likened to playing to a mob, an assessment that is supported by a widely viewed video compiled by a team of New York Times reporters who have covered the rallies for the past year. In the video, Trump is heard inciting his audience to a frenzied point where a mention of Hillary Clinton elicits chants of “hang the bitch” and a reference to the current president of the United States is met with repetitions of an epithet that includes both the F-word and the N-word.

Trump blames the news media for his problems. He’s right to the extent that accurate reporting on a candidate’s penchant for spewing a toxic mix of vitriol and lies may to be leading Americans of various political beliefs to the conclusion that he should not be allowed anywhere near the White House.

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