Serpent on the Rock

The Book of the Week is “Serpent on the Rock” by Kurt Eichenwald, published in 1995.

This volume contained an egregious error. It appeared in an anecdote about a member of the Belzberg family, Canadian Orthodox-Jews. In the late 1970’s, Belzberg was acquiring a large quantity of stock of the retail brokerage named Bache, so one of Bache’s executives met with him, to find out his intentions.

As the meeting ended, the author wrote that Belzberg shook hands with the Bache executive. That was obviously a fictionalized detail of the story, because Orthodox Jews do not shake hands with, or touch others, except for close family members.

Anyway, in the second half of the 1970’s, tax shelters became trendy in the securities industry. In the 1980’s, Bache (with a shady reputation in the first place) sold tax shelters in the form of limited partnerships of various kinds (oil and real estate were the most common) and reaped fat fees of as much as 8%. On a bunch of them, printed marketing communications illegally contained material omissions and misstatements.

Bache’s clients were clearly unsophisticated, because anyone with a minimal knowledge of finance should have seen that the objectives of the investment were contradictory: “income, growth and safety” (!)

Brokers dispensed with the printed prospectuses (which contained disclaimers required by law), and focused on verbally selling the money-losing financial instruments to their clients. They lied about the projected financial returns (14 to 15%, when they were pretty sure there would actually be disastrous losses). They called the investments “safe”– a word that should NEVER be used on Wall Street. The proper lingo should be “low-risk” and only when that’s the truth. The limited partnerships were “high-risk.”

One man, Jim Darr, became particularly powerful in the Direct Investment Group, and engaged in a boatload of excessively greedy, unethical activities and white-collar crimes that made him fabulously wealthy. In 1983, he flew all the way to a small thrift bank in Arkansas to get a home loan of $1.8 million to purchase a mansion in Connecticut. At that time, there were plenty of local lenders he could have approached.

Another sleazy character, Clifton Harrison, after pulling his last act of unbelievable thievery, gave the excuse, “I’ve just been borrowing some money against future fees.” Read the book to learn more about the various individuals who shaped Bache’s history, and what became of them.

ENDNOTE: The above shenanigans happens every few years in the United States. The line from the movie “That Thing You Do” describes it perfectly: A very common tale, boys, a very common tale. Here is a brief elaboration of the last forty years:

Steps of the American Politico-Economic Cycle

  1. An extremely pro-business president comes to power.
  2. Excessive deregulation ensues.
  3. Shady financial instruments and money-making vehicles spike in popularity (tax shelters, savings and loan associations, goodwill valuations, junk bonds, derivatives, dot-com stocks, stock-options-repricing, subprime mortgages, payday lenders, for-profit colleges, the PACE program, etc., etc., etc.)
  4. Out-of-control greed ensues.
  5. Profiteers of all political persuasions dispense with ethical behavior.
  6. The bubble bursts. A financial crash ensues.
  7. Lawsuit time!
  8. The impoverishment rate accelerates for the middle class and the poor.
  9. Election time. “It’s the economy, stupid.” Whether true or not (usually not!), campaign-propaganda convinces voters that the president is solely responsible for their personal financial situations.
  10. The reelected president, or one from the same party, continues some of the same hog-wild policies, or the new president reverses what he can. Re-regulation ensues.
  11. Time for another round of Survival Roulette (See this blog’s post, “Blind Ambition”).
  12. Opposition-propagandists pull strings to reverse what the new president reversed. They make voters impatient for improvement, even though undoing the damage takes years and years.
  13. Election time. Repeat steps 1-12.

Betrayers of the Truth

The Book of the Week is “Betrayers of the Truth– Fraud and Deceit in the Halls of Science” by William Broad & Nicholas Wade, published in 1982.

Scientists have always emphasized that their ilk are “a rational, self-correcting, self-policing community of scholars.” They consider themselves to be superior because they believe their field of work is more “factual” and requires more education than other kinds of work. Yet even they behave in unethical ways– likely in the same proportion as the population at large– because they too, possess the unattractive traits of human nature.

The authors remarked that even some of the most famous scientists in history (such as Ptolemy, Galileo and Netwon to name just three) have fudged data, plagiarized, or lied about performing experiments they didn’t actually perform. The scientists wanted the data to fit their theories; they were lazy, greedy or glory-seeking, or a combination of those.

The authors lamented that the scientific community’s culture encouraged an atmosphere in which fraud could be perpetrated and perpetuated easily, and not be discovered for decades. In fact, the authors provided numerous, specific examples in which fraud flourished.

The reason scandals of misrepresentation in science are so dangerous is that they have a ripple effect on so many other areas of life– testing of food and drugs, matters of class and race, immigration, and education– to name a few.

At the book’s writing, publishing articles about their new discoveries in professional journals was the major way scientists furthered their careers. There was an avalanche of publications. The obscure publications had a decided lack of fact-checking of article-contents.

In 1962, and again in 1973, researchers sought to test honesty in the community. The results were less than stellar. “Fewer than one in four scientists were willing to provide raw data on request, without self-serving conditions, and nearly half of the studies analyzed had gross errors in their statistics alone.”

As is well known, science in academia has a hierarchical structure. The elitism feeds on itself. Big-name scientists at prestigious universities are necessarily trusted more for integrity than nobodies are, so their articles and grant applications are less carefully vetted, and they therefore get more prizes, editorships, and lectureships. Their reputations as “experts” become even more widespread.

However, history is rife with stories of nobodies who fought fiercely for recognition because they knew their methods or theories were superior. And often late in their careers, or posthumously, their contributions were recognized. Such greats included, but were certainly not limited to: George Ohm, Gregor Mendel, Alfred Wegener and Sister Kenny.

Sadly, it seems as though, now more than ever, many “science” shows on once-reputable cable-TV channels purport to educate viewers, but at best, convey trivia put out by profiteers, propagandists and attention whores.

Another indication of ignorance of science was highlighted during the coronavirus pandemic in America. Government at all levels ordered masking of all individuals while its propaganda machine squelched the fact that:

covering one’s face with non-sterile fabric and breathing in one’s own toxic exhalations more likely propagates illness rather than minimizes the spread of it!

According to NIH News, “Your mouth is home to about 700 species of germs, like bacteria, fungus, and more.”

Read the book to learn a wealth of additional details on how the scientific community takes care of its own, and other reasons dishonesty in science is actually more prevalent than it appears to be.

The Real Cost of Fracking / The Buffalo Creek Disaster / A Trust Betrayed – BONUS POST

The first Bonus Book of the Week is “The Real Cost of Fracking, How America’s Shale Gas Boom is Threatening Our Families, Pets, and Food” by Michelle Bamberger and Robert Oswald, published in 2014.

Through the decades, monster-sized American corporations have mastered the game of political machinations, public relations and propaganda in doing tremendous harm to Americans (and getting away with it!), and in defending themselves against environmental-damage lawsuits, and premises-liability, personal-injury and wrongful death lawsuits. These corporations tend to be energy companies. See the following posts in this blog for several other examples (in no particular order):

  • Klondike
  • The Law of the Jungle
  • Sons of Wichita
  • Fateful Harvest
  • The World According to Monsanto
  • Superpower: One Man’s Quest…
  • The Oil Road
  • In the Name of Profit
  • Killers of the Flower Moon, and
  • Let the People In (see boldfaced paragraphs)

American companies that do fracking is the same story. The authors loosely define fracking as “unconventional drilling” for gas and oil, and hydraulic fracturing. The fracking industry has successfully convinced landowners (through omissions, half-truths and outright lies in their pitches) that they (the owners of small farms) could make big bucks from leasing their land for the purpose of fracking (when it turned out to be the other way around, most every time).

There are three major reasons it takes so long for the public to catch on to companies that damage the earth and people and can destroy communities and/or a way of life:

  • The companies put political pressure on the EPA and state-politicians to shut up;
  • The companies have the damaged parties sign non-disclosure agreements; and
  • The companies pay hush money to, or threaten any other parties who might give them bad publicity.

“Proving proximate cause for illness is complex because the water, soil and air have multiple chemicals of varying toxicities, and [have] hardly any pre- and post-drilling testing of air, and water, soil, people and animals.”

The consequences of fracking have far-reaching potential to contaminate the nation’s food supply, when cows, chickens and other food-animals are exposed to fracking toxins.

Sadly, Pennsylvania is only one of several states that has sold out to the pro-fracking interests. The authors had hours of discussions with those very adversely affected by the litany of unpronounceable toxins very likely produced by fracking. Beginning in September of 2009, those owners of small farms developed the following health problems: rashes, burning eyes, sore throats, headaches, nosebleeds and unpleasant gastrointestinal symptoms.

The victims’ farm animals and pets had trouble reproducing, or they died. Air pollution resulted from dust, dirt and noise from heavy earth-moving vehicles and tanker trucks. In spring 2010, one family’s only water supply was terminated by the fracking company.

In addition, the family lost their livelihood breeding horses and dogs. They couldn’t afford to buy bottled water for the horses. The fracking company graciously offered to incinerate the horse’s corpse. One of their dogs also died even though it was drinking bottled water and was barely two years old. The suspected reason was that it drank wastewater that was poured on the family’s property.

Further, tests sufficiently specific to provide evidence of proximate cause between:

the family’s health problems, their animals’ deaths, and the drop in their property’s value due to contamination; and

the fracking company’s toxic practices

were prohibitively expensive.

Also, apparently, the company wasn’t legally required to disclose which toxins were produced by its operations, because it didn’t– when the leasing documents were signed with the landowners.

In central Arkansas, fracking wastewater was recycled when it was injected into deep wells, causing small earthquakes. Other states that allowed fracking at the book’s writing included: Ohio, Texas, Louisiana, Colorado, North Dakota and New York.

Read the book to learn a wealth of additional details on fracking, its adverse effects, of the complicated laws governing (or not governing) land in Pennsylvania and New York State at the book’s writing, and the authors’ suggestions for how to regulate the oil and gas industry to strike a balance between extracting needed fossil fuels and public health and safety; and sensible energy policy.

The second Bonus Book of the Week is “The Buffalo Creek Disaster, The Story of the Survivors’ Unprecedented Lawsuit” by Gerald M. Stern, published in 1976.

“If the government ever did knock on my door, I’d probably expect harm and harassment instead of help.”

-The [Caucasian] author’s attitude when he was a federal civil-rights attorney, personally visiting unannounced, helpless black families in Southern States, to inquire whether they required assistance with registering to vote, or with being protected, during the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s.

In West Virginia coal country in the 1950’s, one dam overflowed. Then two more dams were built. The construction of the third dam– built cheaply– was subpar pursuant to civil engineering standards. The dam-builder was the Buffalo Creek Mining Company. Its holding company Pittston Company knowingly allowed a burning pile of coal waste-products to obstruct the stream, so that sooner or later, a tidal wave would flood the area.

In February 1972, it happened. More than 125 people drowned and hundreds were left homeless in a valley when the third dam broke, causing a stream to overflow in Middle Fork Hollow.

The possible causes of action in the ensuing class action suit included involuntary manslaughter and criminal negligence, but “psychic impairment” was a relatively new concept that had yet to be commonly litigated. It was known as “shell shock” in WWI. The new label for it after the Vietnam War was “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder” (PTSD).

In April 1972, the author and his public-interest law firm, Arnold & Porter began to represent people harmed by the flood. They had to take the case on contingency, a rarity, only because those survivors couldn’t afford to pay the lawyers with any other fee structure. There occurred the usual frustrations, uncertainties and wrenches in the works that complicated the case, making it more expensive and time-consuming. Just a few included:

  • the fact that the wife of and daughter of, and the rival himself of the recently elected United Mine Workers Union’s president were murdered;
  • Once the lawyers decided whom to sue and in which court, it was hard to guess which of three judges would be assigned to the case (bringing up the cliche, “good to know the law, better to know the judge”);
  • At that time, there was a limit of $110,000 that could be awarded to each personal injury / wrongful death victim in the state of West Virginia; and
  • The disaster occurred less than two months prior to the West Virginia gubernatorial election.

Read the book to learn of the slew of additional details on the case and the fate of the stakeholders.

Yet one more largely similar disaster case was documented in the third Bonus Book of the Week, “A Trust Betrayed, The Untold Story of Camp Lejeune and the Poisoning of Generations of Marines and Their Families” by Mike Magner, published in 2014.

Like the fracking and coal-country stories, this story involved contaminated water, too. However, it was not a monster-sized corporation’s, but the United States government’s, negligence and secrecy that harmed people.

This story also differed in that the residents of the community were fluid– living there only months or a few years, compared to the fracking and coal-country victims. So they didn’t immediately connect the harm done to them with their drinking water, and communication among them was more scattered.

At the dawn of the 1980’s, an under-resourced water-testing lab at Camp Lejeune (where U.S. Marines were stationed) in North Carolina began to get an inkling that wells that provided drinking-water contained toxins such as THM’s, TCE, PCE, pesticides, PCB’s, VOC’s and benzene.

New federal clean-water laws were going into effect, so the Navy had to comply. The water was supposed to be tested regularly for grease, oil and suspended solids. If results showed contamination above a certain level, the lab was supposed to tell the EPA, but it didn’t handle cleanup.

The lab’s five (alarming) test-results between October 1980 and February 1981, were sent to Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Atlantic Division, where they disappeared into a black hole; not necessarily because there was a cover-up at that time, but merely due to bureaucracy– the lab workers thought the Navy knew what they were doing and would do the testing and regulating.

Camp Lejeune’s base commanders didn’t want to know whether individual wells were polluted. They hoped the base had sufficient clean wells to dilute the water from the contaminated ones. Shutting down any of the wells would produce a water shortage for the whole base during the summer, when demand for water was highest. Besides, water-testing was expensive.

Starting in the 1960’s and for decades thereafter, the military families and employees who lived in a certain geographic area on the base saw a disproportionate number of miscarriages, birth defects, and in later years, cancer. The suspected sources of pollution (or legal-defense scapegoats) included a dry cleaners, fuel tanks and a pumping station that exuded gallons and gallons of fuels and chemicals (through spills, leaks and inadequate safety practices) all the time.

In spring 1985, the crisis started to hit the fan, when the Navy was compelled to notify the residents that their drinking water might be unsafe (when in reality, for decades, it definitely had been).

Read the book to learn lots of additional details of what happened then (hint: the usual federal and state inter-agency (and military-branch) fighting, finger-pointing, report-writing, excuses for delays in the form of follow-up-research, and all manner of bureaucratic secrecy and shenanigans; after which the victims and taxpayers were the ones who paid the price).

Panama, The Whole Story

The Book of the Week is “Panama, The Whole Story” by Kevin Buckley, published in 1991.

“Weapons cost money, and selling, or helping in the sale of, cocaine produced the enormous revenues that produced the weapons.”

As is well known, democracy is not usually a “thing” in countries that have extensive black markets in weapons and drugs. So by the mid-1980’s, Panama had become a military dictatorship.

Over the course of two decades, Manuel Noriega, a general in the Panamanian army, became the king of trade in illicit weapons and cocaine. He was cozy with president Ronald Reagan, vice president George H.W. Bush, CIA head William Casey, secretary of state George Shultz, colonel Oliver North and a few other top American officials, plus the Drug Enforcement Agency and Fidel Castro.

Noriega controlled Panama’s ports, customs and railroads. The U.S. State Department was well aware of his drug trafficking, money laundering and human rights abuses. President Reagan loved him because he provided training facilities for the Contras– the militia who were fighting supposed Communists in Nicaragua. A major goal of the Reagan administration was to provide funding, weapons and military assistance for the Contras so that Central American countries wouldn’t fall to the Communists like dominoes. Assistance by any means necessary. Even via adolescent-boy spy, secret, treasonous means.

Anyway, through the 1980’s, Noriega engaged in various actions that angered common Panamanians– including ordering a hit on one of his Panamanian political enemies. He had one major American political enemy– Senator Jesse Helms. When the senator’s assistant visited Panama on a fact-finding mission, the American press (was told to) spread smears and lies about her. In June 1986, New York Times journalist Seymour Hersh finally outed Noriega as the detestable creature that he was, revealing details of his wickedness. But the U.S. was still not ready to oust Noriega.

In June 1987, patience among ordinary Panamanians was running short. Panama’s true fearless leader Noriega had crashed the economy (never the mind the figurehead Panamanian “president”) with his dictatorial shenanigans in collaboration with the United States. A minority of Americans were also fed up. They helped form the National Civic Crusade at Panama’s Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C. Their goal was to oust Noriega and bring ethical behavior back to Panama’s government.

The U.S. Senate even voted to suspend Noriega’s leadership while it investigated charges that he fixed his country’s “presidential” election in 1984. February 1988 saw Noriega indicted in absentia on drug charges in Miami– which indicated that Americans finally viewed drug trafficking as more anathema than Communism(!).

In spring 1988, as per usual for a non-democratic country, government troops fired at civilian protesters in Panama City streets, killing tens or thousands (no source was able to verify its own estimate). However, a U.S. Army memo admitted that the U.S. Defense Department wanted to deny compensation to the deserving victims’ families who asserted that the U.S. was legally liable for the harm done, as there might be too huge a number of such claims.

Read the book to learn of wrenches in the works that kept Noriega in power way longer than otherwise (hint: the Panama Canal Treaties, the 1988 U.S. presidential election, Elliott Abrams’ misleading pronouncements, etc., etc., etc.) and the events that finally forced matters to come to a head (hint: 23 Americans died in the fighting.)

Close Encounters

“… the network executives he would be contacting were apt to regard him as a headline-seeking troublemaker who could not be trusted to behave with dignity and discretion.”

The above was written about Mike Wallace in the early 1960’s.

The Book of the Week is “Close Encounters, Mike Wallace’s Own Story” by Mike Wallace & Gary Paul Gates, published in 1984.

Born in 1918, Wallace grew up in Brookline, Massachusetts. As have countless others on the idiot box before and since, he made a career of sitting in judgment of others, so of course, it was impossible for him not to be a hypocrite. Like the folks whom he caught behaving dishonestly, he and his employer-broadcasters had their share of legal kerfuffles.

In spring 1957, Wallace hosted a hard-hitting live TV-interview show called “The Mike Wallace Interview” on ABC. Organized-crime figure Mickey Cohen– a guest on the show– slandered the then-chief of police of Los Angeles, saying he was corrupt. The chief sued ABC. As a result, during the show’s airing, the court required that an attorney hold up cue cards indicating when Wallace’s questions were becoming too controversial. Wallace commented, “Like a baby with its bib and a dog with its leash, I was judged to be in need of a legal teleprompter.”

At the end of 1957, as a result of one of Wallace’s countless minor TV-journalism scandals– involving the Kennedy family– the funding source of his show changed to the Ford Foundation. The show got a new name, “Survival and Freedom” and a more educational format. Unsurprisingly, it became boring.

In the autumn of 1962, Wallace decided to give up lucrative jobs: a) hosting entertainment-oriented radio and TV broadcasts that reported on trivial slice-of-life minutiae, b) hosting game shows, and c) acting in cigarette ads; in order to narrowly focus on serious TV journalism.

Wallace spent two months in Vietnam in spring 1967. He and a colleague ended up broadcasting a “60 Minutes” story in 1972 that was radically different from the one everyone else was narrating. Wallace said, “I responded by telling him [the colleague] what I thought of ‘knee-jerk, bleeding heart liberals’ who allow themselves to be taken in by a trendy media blitz.” With an open mind, they followed where the evidence led in connection with over-decorated Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Herbert.

Another aspect of serious TV journalism that Wallace claimed to espouse, in addition to doing the hard work of collecting evidence through best-efforts / due diligence research, was primary sources: “… an eyewitness account– ‘I was there, and here’s what happened’– is more reliable than a version that has gone through two hundred years of rewrites.”

Wallace’s method of doing said research involved a “Candid Camera” type set-up, a prelude to the hidden-camera reality shows of the early 2000’s. But– his major goal was to catch people committing crimes, rather than evoke laughter at their naivety.

The situation had to be a “national disgrace” to air on “60 Minutes.” One segment in early 1976 showed how easy it was for residents of the state of Maryland, to obtain false identity documents in order to commit financial crimes.

Other stories broadcast up until the book’s writing involved Medicaid kickbacks, corruption in health-, building-, and fire-department inspections, tax evasion in cash-oriented businesses, a shady California health resort, a California diploma mill, and an anti-poverty program in Los Angeles. Also, an entrepreneur offered classes to teach business executives how to answer questions asked by the likes of Mike Wallace.

Read the book to learn plenty of additional details on all of the above.

Pharma

The Book of the Week is “Pharma– Greed, Lies, and the Poisoning of America” by Gerald Posner, published in 2020.

In 2016, the “superbug” Enterobacteriaceae turned out to be resistant to 26 different antibiotics. About half of patients who contract it, die. There are a bunch of other similar bacteria in the world. The author warned that in the future, a bacterial pandemic was on the way, for which there would be no antibiotic cure. Apparently, there can be a viral pandemic, too– one that cannot be treated with antibiotics at all.

For, antibiotics kill only bacteria, if that. Yet, in the United States, for decades, antibiotics have been prescribed to treat (mild!) viral illnesses. That is one major reason that superbugs have become a trend. And there has been an epidemic of diabetes type II. And many other adverse consequences.

Anyway, the author recounted the history of big-name drug companies, which began selling morphine to soldiers during the American Civil War. In the second half of the 1800’s, Pfizer, Squibb, Wyeth, Parke-Davis, Eli Lilly, and Burroughs-Wellcome began mostly as family proprietorships that sold highly addictive, unregulated drugs. Bayer produced heroin in 1898. The twentieth century saw Merck put cocaine in its products; other companies jumped on the cocaine bandwagon.

In 1904, the head of the United States government’s Bureau of Chemistry, Harvey Wiley, was concerned about contaminants in the nation’s food supply. Consumers were being sickened by chemicals that were supposed to retard spoilage or enhance the appeal of foods. They included, but were far from limited to: borax, salicylic acid, formaldehyde, benzoate, copper sulfate and sulfites. Trendy patent medicines were also doing harm to consumers. The word “patent” gave the impression of approval or regulation of some kind, but actually meant nothing.

Through the first third of the twentieth century, the government continued categorizing, monitoring and taxing drugs, but the pharmaceutical companies continued using trade groups and legal strategists to protect their profits. The 1930’s saw the big drug companies start research laboratories. Finally in 1938, the government established the Food and Drug Administration, and began to require extensive product-testing and labeling, and factory inspections. That same year, the Wheeler-Lea Act prohibited false advertising of drugs, except for previously manufactured barbiturates and amphetamines.

After Pearl Harbor was attacked in December 1941, America sought to manufacture penicillin in volume. For, the newly introduced antibiotic would be very helpful to the war wounded. But the drug’s fermentation process required a rare ingredient. In spring 1942, one patient who had friends in high places was cured. That largely used up the penicillin supply in the entire country. Other kinds of antibiotics were produced in the next decade, but their profitability was hampered by the bureaucratic processes of patent applications and FDA approval applications.

In the late 1940’s, Arthur Sackler and his brothers founded a family drug-company dynasty. The author revealed excessive trivia from FBI files on them and other greedy characters whose tentacles pervaded all businesses that could help sell (translation: maximize profits of) the family’s healthcare goods and services. This meant consulting, advertising, publishing, charities, public relations, database services, etc. The parties failed to disclose countless conflicts of interest.

In the early 1950’s, drug companies successfully lobbied the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to allow drugs with strikingly similar molecular structures to be deemed different so that they could be granted separate patents. A higher number of drugs could then be rushed to market sooner, and make the most money.

In 1952, farmers fed Pfizer’s antibiotics to their animals so that they grew bigger (both Pfizer and the animals). In the mid-1950’s, Pfizer, Lederle, Squibb, Bristol and Upjohn engaged in an illegal tetracycline price-fixing scheme. They reaped hundreds of millions of dollars in earnings. The FDA chief was in Sackler’s back pocket. So when violations came to light, the FTC and FDA gave the offenders a slap on the wrist. However, senator Estes Kefauver was a thorn in their side.

Kefauver led an investigation as to why America’s drug prices were so excessively high when compared with those in other nations. In fighting back, the drug industry smeared Kefauver as a liberal pinko, claiming he had designs on forcing socialized medicine on the United States. The nineteen drugmakers under the gun gave bogus excuses. The real reason is that America’s drug prices and patents are subjected to minimal or no regulation, unlike everywhere else.

In 1956, Americans were told they were stressed, but a wonder drug called “Miltown” would help calm them down. The mild tranquilizer became a best-seller, until it was counterfeited and appeared on the black market, and its adverse side effects gave it bad publicity. Oh, well.

Then in the 1960’s came the culture-changing birth control Pill, and Valium– also called “mother’s little helper” that was marketed as a weight-loss aid. The next game-changer was thalidomide. Kefauver used the worldwide backlash against this drug to push through some drug safety and effectiveness regulation in the United States in 1963. For a change. Even so, in 1972, when the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed certain regulatory powers conferred on the FDA, drugmakers merely sought additional markets for their products on other continents.

In 1976, there was a swine flu epidemic in America. Healthcare companies were reluctant to develop a vaccine for it, fearing an orgy of litigation from victims if any harm was done. So the government unwisely agreed to foot any legal bills. Sure enough, some vaccine recipients developed cases of Guillain Barre syndrome, and neurological complications. The (taxpayer-funded) Justice Department took the hit. Other parties piled on. “The CDC had exploited ‘Washington’s panic’ to ‘increase the size of its empire and multiply its budget.’ “

Moving on, the author told the whole sordid story of the “opioid crisis” in America. In a nutshell: in May 2002, Purdue Pharma, maker and unethical marketer of OxyContin, hired Rudy Giuliani’s firm to defend it against the firestorm from its host of illegal activities. The firm collected a $3 million fee per month. Purdue collected $30 million per week from OxyContin sales. To be fair, Purdue and the Sackler family were the poster-scapegoats of the crisis. Numerous other parties aided and abetted them: other pharmaceutical companies, doctors, FDA bureaucrats, and pain management “experts” and pharmacists. The far-reaching consequences have caused a lot of trouble for society as a whole in the areas of: increased healthcare costs, criminal justice, social services, drug rehabilitation services, lost productivity and earnings, etc.

Read the book to learn an additional wealth of details and the details of wealth of the healthcare industry’s evolution into a hegemonic legal behemoth / excessive profit center, in the form of a series of cautionary tales in various topic areas– drug advertising, blood donations, biotech, epidemics, pharmacy benefit managers– that wrought major good and bad (mostly bad) cultural and regulatory changes (including the Hatch-Waxman Act and the Orphan Drug Act); plus the family battles following the sudden death of Arthur Sackler.

Samsung Rising

The Book of the Week is “Samsung Rising, The Inside Story of the South Korean Giant That Set Out to Beat Apple and Conquer Tech” by Geoffrey Cain, published in 2020.

In 2009, the author, a Korean-speaking journalist moved to South Korea to find out all he could about the then-electronics company Samsung, the most famous company in the country. In the ensuing years, Samsung’s relationships with technology-products makers became incestuous because it decided to make its own products while simultaneously supplying its competitors with parts for their products.

The author personally visited the city of Daegu, hometown of Samsung’s founder. In March 1938, Samsung started as a produce stand. The founder followed the Japanese business model of building an empire owned by family members, that involved complicated, group-focused, loyalty-oriented arrangements. Sounds somewhat familiar.

Anyway, in the 1950’s, he branched out into different industries, such as wool clothing, sugar refining, insurance, banking, retailing etc. The corporate culture involves slogan-chanting, and a drill team. But different divisions of the company harbor petty jealousies. The company’s success as a whole is treated as a zero-sum game, so one division’s success is considered to come at the expense of another’s. Sounds somewhat familiar. In autumn 2011, when Samsung’s division in America successfully marketed its new phone and stole a significant amount of market share from Apple, Samsung’s marketing division in South Korea lost face.

The founder made valuable government contacts that invited the kind of corruption that used to be frowned upon in the United States twenty years ago. Ironically, the United States has always provided significant financial aid to South Korea beginning with the Cold War and thereafter.

In 1999, Samsung and Sprint cooperated in a venture to make and export cell phones to the United States. Pursuant to South Korean culture, “After the bonding over booze and karaoke, it’s an accepted practice to roll out bags of cash and other gifts for your partners [American telephone service companies].” However, Samsung had to learn that Americans don’t do business that way (at least not explicitly).

In April 2008, Samsung’s chairman was charged with stock manipulation and tax evasion. In August 2010, and again in July 2011, Apple and Samsung launched an orgy of patent litigation against each other. In October 2011, Samsung already supplied parts for Google’s Android phone, but decided to introduce a phone of its own, the Galaxy Note series. It was a cross between a phone and a tablet, that would compete with Apple’s iPhone. Samsung sought to steal Apple’s customers. Apple had a reputation for making only one version of an overpriced product that delivered exactly what customers desired, that made them feel they were in the “in” crowd. Samsung would offer a choice of different-sized screens. It came late to the market, but improved upon existing products.

In August 2016, Samsung launched a new Galaxy Note phone. In October 2016, Samsung compounded its problems by denying that its phone burst into flames without warning. Its employees who were native South Koreans were under pressure not to express any negative sentiments about anything associated with their employer. For they risked ruining their careers, as word would get around to the few other competing employers in the country, and they would never work anywhere in their homeland again. Sounds somewhat familiar.

Read the book to learn about a wealth of additional details on the culture of South Korea (which is the same as the corporate culture of Samsung), how Samsung came to focus solely on technology parts and products, and much more.

Klondike

The Book of the Week is “Klondike, the Alaskan Oil Boom” by Daniel Jack Chasan, published in 1971.

For decades, oil has been a political football that has caused international strife. This book recounts the story that has become a cliche: what transpired when oil was discovered in Alaska in March 1968.

Through the 1800’s, Alaska’s economy was based on fur trading (exploited by the Russians whose activities left many native Alaskans dead of disease and from weapons), canneries, sawmills, gold, and whaling (exploited by the Americans, who forced many native Alaskans to migrate or else they would starve); by the mid-1900’s, it was based on salmon, lumber, gold, copper, hunting, private prop planes, and during wartime– military bases.

In January, 1970, the author visited an Eskimo village, whose residents hunted caribou for food, lived in plywood cabins, and got around in snowmobiles. They sold masks made of caribou in tourist shops in Alaskan cities to make a living. On average, they passed away in their mid-30’s.

In 1912, the Alaskan Native Brotherhood was formed to help aboriginal Alaskans assert their legal rights. Through the decades, various tribes of natives, including the Tlingits, Haidas, Tanacross, Minto, and Inupiat had their lands grabbed by the United States federal government. Finally, in 1966, they formed a group called the Alaska Federation of Natives but it became a political front that actually separated the tribes from their lands. Different tribes had beefs with other tribes, and there were divided loyalties. In the last three years of the 1960’s, Alaska’s state government had political differences with the federal Department of the Interior.

Just a few of the actual consequences (which were ongoing, and were likely to get worse in the future, due to ongoing legal wrangling at the book’s writing) of oil discovery included:

  • Eskimos’, Indians’ and Aleuts’ ways of life were disrupted emotionally, financially and property-wise, due to the mere planning of the oil companies involved.
  • Many activities associated with the extraction of the oil were environmentally damaging to the land and air due to the construction of: a pipeline to be completed in 1972, and the flying in of temporary housing, vehicles and facilities for workers, etc. (Los Angeles would get the oil if it was ever extracted, thus decreasing oil prices and increasing its smog), and
  • Some of the parties involved with the whole extravaganza profited before a drop of oil was even extracted: lawyers, oil workers, Alaska Airlines, and Alaska’s state government– which collected revenues from lease payments, filing fees, drilling permits, etc.

There was always the incalculable potential for ecological disasters which could rear their ugly heads at any time: oil spills and earthquakes. Of course, “The Interior Department had no such trouble computing the possible benefits of the pipeline.”

Read the book to learn a wealth of additional details of why Alaska’s natives were at many disadvantages in their fight with “city hall” (hint– one was that an Alaskan senator doubled as the chair of the Senate Interior Committee, who was friendly with president Richard Nixon’s Environmental Quality Council) and which kinds of compensation, if any, to which some of them might be entitled.