• Quote of the Day: “This is most likely the largest cartel in the history of the United States”

    Roman Vondrous/CTK via ZUMA

    Aren’t generic drugs great? Once a drug patent expires, generic manufacturers are allowed to copy the drug and sell it for far less than the brand name. Since the production cost of most generics is just a few pennies per pill and competition is fierce, this is a great deal for consumers.

    More accurately, it would be a great deal if all the generic manufacturers weren’t conspiring with each other to fix the price of generic medications. However, if the US government is to be believed, executives at these companies meet regularly to split up the market like gentlemen and keep prices nice and high. Naturally they’ve developed their own special patois:

    The “sandbox,” according to investigators, was the market for generic prescription drugs, where everyone was expected to play nice. “Fair share” described dividing up the sales pie to ensure that each company reaped continued profits. “Trashing the market” was used when a competitor ignored these unwritten rules and sold drugs for less than agreed-upon prices.

    ….What started as an antitrust lawsuit brought by states over just two drugs in 2016 has exploded into an investigation of alleged price-fixing involving at least 16 companies and 300 drugs….“This is most likely the largest cartel in the history of the United States,” Nielsen said. He cited the volume of drugs in the schemes, that they took place on American soil and the “total number of companies involved, and individuals.”

    ….In just one instance of extraordinary cost spikes, the price of a decades-old drug to ease asthma symptoms, albuterol, sold by generic manufacturers Mylan and Sun, jumped more than 3,400 percent, from 13 cents a tablet to more than $4.70. The example is documented in a lawsuit brought against the generic industry by grocery chains including Kroger.

    ….The alleged collusion transformed a cutthroat, highly competitive business into one where sudden, coordinated price spikes on identical generic drugs became almost routine. Competing executives were so chummy they had an alphabetical rotation for who picked up the tab at their regular dinners, according to a person familiar with the investigation who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the case remains under investigation.

    This is why we have antitrust rules. I sure wish we used them more often, not just in open-and-shut cases like this.

  • Lunchtime Photo

    I mentioned on Thursday that I had replaced a picture of a bird at the last minute in order to post a picture of a rose that had been rained on. Here’s the picture that got bumped. The bird itself is just a common duck, but I was lucky to catch it in flight near the sun an hour before sunset. Someday I’d like to get a picture like this of a flock of Canada geese, but that will require me to be at just the right place at just right time and then to snap the shutter at just the right moment. And it will require the autofocus to work perfectly. So far that hasn’t happened.

    April 8, 2018 — Irvine, California
  • Donald’s Next Deal: Handing Afghanistan Over to the Taliban

    From the LA Times:

    The Trump administration is pressing to open formal peace talks with insurgents in Afghanistan by April, a timetable driven by the president’s mounting impatience with the stalemated 17-year-old war. The short-term goal, current and former officials say, is a cease-fire agreement to at least temporarily curtail an alarming rise in attacks by Taliban insurgents that have caused hundreds of Afghan civilian and military casualties a month.

    But prospects for a far-reaching political settlement still appear dim….Without signs of progress in coming months, Trump could face the same dilemma as his predecessors: withdraw all or most of 14,000 U.S. troops and risk a Taliban takeover, or leave them there indefinitely, even though he and his advisors consider the war unwinnable.

    I’m sure the Dealmaker-in-Chief will have no problem with this. Just like he’s had no problem negotiating with China, North Korea, Canada, Mexico, Russia, and about half of Europe.

    But the thing that should make it go really swimmingly is that he’s apparently made it plain that he’s sick of the whole war and just wants to withdraw. That’s exactly the kind of thing that usually brings fanatical insurgents to the table, amirite? Nice work, Donald.

  • Today’s Outrage: A 14-Year-Old Tweeted Anti-Gay Slurs Back in 2011

    Scott Gleeson, USA Today reporter.

    Here’s an entry from my once-in-a-blue-moon series “I Agree With a National Review Writer.” It’s my way of showing that we could all get along if only we’d restrict ourselves to a tiny subset of the political issues that divide us.

    You may have heard that Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray won the Heisman Trophy on Saturday. Good for him! — although personally I thought Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa should have gotten the nod. But shortly after his win, the entire country learned that he had written some homophobic tweets and he was forced to apologize for them.

    I was busy and didn’t really know about this until this morning, when I read that the tweets were six years old. Six years old? The guy is a sophomore. So, um, subtract 19 and carry the four and he was—

    Fourteen years old when he wrote those tweets. That’s eighth grade, isn’t it? Without any kids of my own, I’m a little fuzzy on this. Anyway, here is Charles Cooke:

    All shame to Scott Gleeson, of USA Today, who waited until the exact moment that Murray had been selected for the award before amplifying a national shaming campaign that had been built atop a handful of tweets that Murray wrote when he was 14….Gleeson’s story begins with these words:

    Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray had a Saturday to remember. But the Oklahoma quarterback’s memorable night also helped resurface social media’s memory of several homophobic tweets more than six years old.

    Ah, I see. It was Murray’s “memorable night” that “helped resurface social media’s memory of several homophobic tweets more than six years old,” and not, say, Scott Gleeson — and others in the press — who decided to run with the story and hype it all around the Internet. How tough it must be to serve as a bystander to your own work!

    ….What, one has to ask, is the public interest angle here? Fourteen-year-olds say stupid things constantly. Yes, all of them. What possible good can it do to punish them as adults for the thought crimes they committed as minors? Had Murray committed an actual crime — say, shoplifting or joyriding or the like — it would likely have been expunged from his record when he reached the age of majority, especially given how impressive a young man he has become in the interim. And even if it hadn’t, the press would likely have been circumspect about bringing it up. But tweets? Apparently, we just Have to Know — and on the day of his triumph, to boot.

    Cooke is right. This stuff has gotten way out of hand. It’s one thing if we’re dealing with adults. Or if the tweets are a year old. Or if they reveal something truly newsworthy. But dumb anti-gay tweeting from a 14-year-old? Back in 2011? Come on. This accomplishes nothing except to convince people that the cultural tolerance movement has completely jumped the shark. Knock it off.

  • Bitcoin Strikes Back!

    Apparently the crypto folks are really mad at me. Overnight I received 9,546 pieces of spam email, asking me to sign up for newsletters, buy shoes, end world hunger, or a variety of other things that require my username and password. Although they come in many languages, by a remarkable coincidence a large proportion of them are in Russian. Here’s one:

    According to Google Translate, here’s what it says:

    Hello pomqwrth1979!

    Thank you for registering with LLC NEO. Your account has been created and must be activated. You can activate your account by clicking on the activation link, or by copying the link to your browser: http://ctoneon.ru/index.php?option=com_user&task=activate&activation=…

    After activating your account, you will be able to login to http://ctoneon.ru/ using the specified username and password:

    Username – pomqwrth1979
    Password – 5c0e76.

    So charming. On the bright side, the email account they’re attacking has been so larded up with spam for so long that I hardly use it anymore. However, since this is obviously bot-driven, I suppose I ought to deactivate it for a while so their spam gets bounced.

    These crypto folks are pretty easily offended, aren’t they? Maybe I should start using blockchain technology to operate my blog just to assuage them.

  • An Inside Look at the Crypto Con

    This is John McAfee, by far the biggest draw of the cruise. If you don't know who he is, just Google him. Do you expect me to do *all* your work for you?CoinsBank

    It used to be libertarians. I’d mention something unflattering about Ron Paul and the result would be hundreds of angry, illiterate insults from true believers who were convinced that Ron Paul was just short of the second coming of Christ.

    Now it’s crypto crackpots—unsurprisingly, I guess, since there’s a huge overlap in the crypto fan base and the Ron Paul fan base. After writing a couple of posts about Bitcoin over the weekend, my Twitter feed is bursting with—you guessed it: angry, illiterate insults from true believers who are convinced that Bitcoin is the only thing standing between us and monetary Armageddon. It would be amusing if it weren’t for the fact that so many of these people are obviously not well off themselves and are being taken for a ride by con men who care only about their bank accounts—and by that, I mean their real bank accounts, not their crypto wallets.

    There’s not much I can do about that. As Jesus didn’t say, the con artists you will always have with you. But in the meantime I can recommend “Four Days Trapped at Sea With Crypto’s Nouveau Riche,” by Laurie Penny. It’s all about her invitation to spend time on a Mediterranean cruise dedicated to wining and dining crypto enthusiasts. The passenger list is about two-thirds crypto nerds and one-third “hostesses” from Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus:

    On this half-empty passenger ship with its swirling ’80s carpets right out of The Shining, there is very little sober talk of blockchain’s obstacles or limitations. Nobody mentions how wildly ecologically unsound the whole project is—some estimates have bitcoin burning as much energy as the entire nation of Ireland for a relatively small pool of users. Instead, the core and only existential question is which of the various coins and ICOs (initial coin offerings) will make you the richest the fastest before dawn.

    Freedom here means freedom of money, and only freedom of money—and what freedom of money means is the freedom to amass great stocks of it without being taxed or traced. Occasionally, people even talk about this on panels, though nobody is really here for the conference part of the conference.

    ….On most ideological bandwagons, there is usually a distinction between grifters and true believers. The grifters are in it for the fame and the money and will say any old bollocks to get either. The true believers accept the money and fame as an inevitable proof of their genius. And then there is a rare subset of incredibly dangerous sociopaths soaked in Dark Enlightenment nightmare libertarianism for whom grifting is true belief. For many of them, including not a few on this boat, screwing over other people for your own gain is not just a side effect of economic philosophy, or proof of concept. It is a sacred calling. To them, the presence of thieves and Ponzi scheme dealers means the new free market is thriving.

    Roger Ver is a true believer. “My ideal future,” he tells me, about 10 seconds after I turn on the recorder, “is that each individual has 100 percent complete control over their own money and they don’t have to get permission from any politician or banker or anybody at all to send or receive that money with whoever they want anywhere in the world. I’m trying to build the tools to enable that for everybody all over the planet.”

    The crypto fad will eventually burn itself out as the marks lose their money and the grifter run out of new chumps to play. It feels to me like that day is near, but as Keynes didn’t say, “Con artists can keep the con going longer than you’d think.” Still, the Ron Paul bubble eventually burst, didn’t it? This one is bound to as well.

  • Why Are Democrats Such Milksops?

    In November, the citizens of Wisconsin had the gall to elect a pair of Democrats to the offices of governor and attorney general. The Republican legislature, by remarkable coincidence, quickly decided that December was the perfect time to strip the governor and attorney general of many of their powers. This needed to be done quickly so the legislation could be signed by the lame duck Republican governor before he steps down in January.

    So what does the incoming Democratic governor plan to do about this?

    Wisconsin Gov.-elect Tony Evers (D) said Sunday that he may take legal action to block Republicans’ lame-duck measures to limit his authority upon taking office, calling their effort “a mistake.”

    I’m not making any promises one way or the other, but we’re looking at all issues, all options on the table,” Evers said in an interview on NBC News’s “Meet the Press.”

    Have you ever seen the difference between Democrats and Republicans demonstrated so starkly? If the roles were reversed, Republicans would have long since declared war. They’d have a huge team of lawyers with lawsuits ready to file the moment the legislation was signed into law. Fox News would be screaming 24/7. The incoming governor would go on TV to loudly declare that he was going to ignore the law and continue exercising his traditional powers—and the incoming attorney general would back him up completely.

    But Tony Evers, a Democrat? He “may” take legal action but he’s not promising anything.

    Fucking hell.

  • Raw Data: Household Income Since 1975

    Just in case you’re curious, here is the growth of household income over the past 40 years:

    Please note a few things:

    • I have used the PCE inflation index in order to keep all the PCE folks happy.
    • The income data comes from the Census Bureau. It is market income. It does not include food stamps or Section 8 vouchers or other social welfare payments.
    • The growth rate since 2000 has been 0.44 percent per year. This is not “stagnant.” However, it is “sluggish.”
    • Thanks to high growth since 2013 (about 4.2 percent per year) households have finally recovered the income they lost in the Great Recession. However, that is flattening out and will most likely return to the ~0.5 percent growth rate of the post-2000 era.

    Anyone who wants to call income growth of 0.44 percent anything better than sluggish is welcome to do so. But if you do, your understanding of the English language is different than mine.

  • Bitcoin Is a Long Con Aimed at Those Least Able to Affort It

    Here’s a fairly typical email I got in response to my post last night about Bitcoin:

    You write reckless articles without dd , s recent international survey shows bitcoin mining is 60% mined with renewables on top of that your foolish article is reckless because as price dropped it also reduced the difficulty by 24% in the last week , the lightning network has grown by 16000% in 2 months .

    Please let me know what info you would like to know about crypto since you are clueless .

    Thank you
    Finance Director
    John P….

    This is one of the reasons I continue to say that Bitcoin is a con. This email is obviously illiterate nonsense, but it’s a typical defense of Bitcoin and it’s the kind of thing that keeps innumerate chumps pumping money into the crypto market.

    As near as I can tell, the Bitcoin market is split between cutthroat Chinese miners running huge racks of servers, and hopeful but clueless marks who would be better off putting their money into lottery tickets. So this is the test: Are you a cutthroat Chinese miner running huge racks of servers? No? Then you’re one of the clueless marks. Sorry.

  • The Bitcoin Con May Soon Be Over

    Bitcoin continues to plummet in value:

    Putting aside the fact that the Bitcoin crash is teaching idiots a lesson, there really is a reason you should care about this. John Quiggin explains:

    The good news is that a lower Bitcoin price makes the energy-wasting process of Bitcoin mining unprofitable for many, so lots of miners are turning off their servers. Most estimates of the marginal cost of mining are around $4500 per coin, but the market price has just fallen to $3500.

    ….The rapidity with which Bitcoin prices are falling give some hope that the entire disastrous episode will soon be over. If the current rate of decline (50 per cent per month) is maintained, Bitcoins will be worth less than dollar coins in a year’s time, and their impact on electricity demand will be negligible. That’s equivalent to taking a small country like New Zealand off-grid.

    Cryptocurrencies are inherently a dumb idea. But aside from being a con, they also waste enormous amounts of energy in service of a pointless goal. The sooner Bitcoin crashes the better off the entire world will be.