Monday, September 5, 2016

Epipen's Omar Little Moment ( Courtesy of Gretchen Morgenson)

The Wire's Omar Little 
There is a wonderful moment in "The Wire" when Omar Little, a street thug who robs low level drug dealers for a living confronts the lawyer for a man Omar has identified as the murderer who the lawyer is defending. Trying to discredit Omar's testimony before the jury the lawyer strikes an incredulous tone: "You have just admitted you are a thief. You rob people for a living, at gun point. Why should this jury believe a word you have said?"

Omar smiles and shrugs. "Just like you," Omar remarks, unperturbed. 
The lawyer, who has turned his back to Omar, to face the jury, whirls around, "What?" he asks.
"I do it with a shotgun. You do it with that briefcase," Omar says, pointing to the lawyer's attache case, open on his desk. 
The lawyer looks to the judge and spreads his hands, palms up, in mute protest, tacitly raising the objection, but the judge, (who we know well by now) simply smiles and shrugs and he doesn't even have to say, "You asked the question. He gave you his answer. It's up to the jury who to believe."
It's all over in a flash, but it's a moment which comes back to haunt us as we hear Bernie Sanders talk about a "rigged system." 
Of course, Omar's thefts amount to hundreds of dollars, thousands on a big day. The lawyer deals in exponential amounts of that.

But even the slimeball lawyer is a piker compared to the members of corporate boards and leadership in this country. 
Gretchen Morgenson

As Gretchen Morgenson depicts in her September 4th piece on Heather Bresch, the C.E.O. of Mylan, the company that makes Epipen, the reason Mylan has raised the price of Epipen from $50 in 2004 to $600 in 2013 is to fatten Ms. Bresch's paycheck by a minimum of  $13.2 million on top of her annual salary of $32 million. She is not the only officer or board member of the company to reap these profits, but she is the most visible. Her spokeswoman answered Ms. Morgenson's questions by saying Mylan sells more than 2,700 products in 165 contries and more than 600 products in the US alone, so raising the price of Epipen could hardly enhance Ms. Bresch's personal fortune much. But Morgenson then unravels the byzantine structures within this $9.4 billion dollar company (of which $1 billion comes from Epipen) and the explanation makes it clear, even if you cannot follow all the math and all the accounting tricks Morgenson elaborates, that there was more than enough incentive for Ms. Bresch to hike the price to school kids, if Ms. Bresch still cared about adding $13-20 million to her annual $32 million and, personally, I can believe she does care about that because, well, she wants to make $32 million dollars and anyone who wants to make that much money probably wants to make $52 million.
Heather Bresch needs no shotgun

And that person doesn't give a damn about some poor family trying to buy an Epipen for their kid when the family makes $17,000 a year.

Morgenson writes the New York Times financial column and I often start reading her articles which often expose unfathomable avarice on Wall Street but then I get lost in the complexities of these deliberately complicated financial schemes and give up. When she explains Epipen, however, the complexities fall from the bone and you can see the underlying structure.  

You are left with an Omar moment:  Ms. Bresch and all those who sail with her are thieves, not in the legal sense, but in every other important sense.  And they don't carry shotguns. They keep their hands clean.  They steal big.

The sad thing is that enough (mostly Republican) Congressmen are complicit. Our Tea Party Congress shackles the SEC and every other regulatory agency our government can bring to bear. When an Elizabeth Warren tries to scream bloody murder about all this, they refuse to confirm her, so she has to run for the Senate, where she is still in the minority. The pigs are in cahoots with the people who run things, as George Orwell noted, and you can look from pig to person to pig and not be able to tell one from the other. 

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