273 (13 July 2016)

Welcome to week 273!  The articles below caught my attention this week.  Please note that what are intended to be relatively objective “briefs” are preceded by dashes (——–), whereas additional material or relatively subjective comments are preceded by asterisks (********).  The links to articles preceded by [SR] require a subscription to be read in their entirety, although complete articles may frequently be found by an Internet title search.

(12 May 2016): “Open the Cages!” (http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2016/05/12/humane-economy-open-the-cages/)

********On 11 July 2016 a review of The Humane Economy, by Wayne Pacelle appeared in The Wall Street Journal.  The review was brief, very positive, but not accessible to non-subscribers of the Journal.  Here, instead, is a lengthy review by philosopher Peter Singer, who is well-known in the academic world for his article “Animal Liberation.”  Singer notes:

When my article “Animal Liberation appeared in these pages forty-three years ago, many people told me that we will not stop exploiting animals until we get rid of capitalism.  Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the country’s largest animal protection organization, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), takes the opposite view.  In The Humane Economy he describes how “capitalism at its best” is a force against animal suffering, “applying human creativity to answer the demands of a morally informed market.

This book will undoubtedly provide much food for thought.  The review in the Journal is “The Savviest Lobbyist” [SR](http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-savviest-lobbyist-1468183798), and contains a great story about how a call from activist investor Carl Icahn helped change the policy of McDonald’s.

(7 July 2016): “More than 1 million OxyContin pills ended up in the hands of criminal and addicts.  What the drugmaker knew.” (http://www.latimes.com/projects/la-me-oxycontin-part2/)

——–[This article, part 2 of a series, lifts up the excessive prescribing of OxyContin by a Los Angeles-area physician.]  In a single week in September 2008, Dr. Eleanor Santiago of the Lake Medical clinic “issued orders for 1,500 pills, more than entire pharmacies sold in a month. . . . By December, she had prescribed more than 73,000, with a street value of nearly $6 million.”  Purdue Pharma, which makes OxyContin, knew about the situation and investigated it.  Eventually it concluded that the clinic at which the physician worked “was working with a corrupt pharmacy in Huntington Park to obtain large quantities of OxyContin.”  But when sales manager Michele Ringler asked company officials, “Shouldn’t the DEA be contacted about this?” no action was taken.  Purdue “did not tell authorities what it knew about Lake Medical until several years later when the clinic was out of business and its leaders indicted.  By that time, 1.1 million pills had spilled into the hands of Armenian mobsters, the Crips gang and other criminals.”  The Lake Medical case was not an isolated one.  “A Los Angeles Times investigation found that, for more than a decade, Purdue collected extensive evidence suggesting illegal trafficking of OxyContin and, in many cases, did not share it with law enforcement or cut off the flow of pills.”

********This article clearly shows how hard it can be to “Do the right thing” when doing so will reduced sales, and perhaps earnings and future career prospects.  It also shows how the failure to do the right thing tends to give rise to moral dilemmas for others, e.g., pharmacist Tihana Skaricic who “raised questions about prescriptions from the Lake Medical clinic.”  Evidently, identifying unusual sales patterns at pharmacies was relatively easy for employees of drug companies (and the DEA) to do.  What wasn’t easy was determining if there was a problem or not.  For example, DEA investigators had access to a databased that “encompassed dozens of drugs sold by more than a thousand companies” but the database was unwieldy.

********Part 1 of the OxyContin series, published on 5 May 2016, can be found at: http://www.latimes.com/projects/oxycontin-part1/.  Prescription pain relieve abuse has become so prevalent that it has even shown up in the comic strip “Mary Worth” (http://maryworthcomics.com/comics/july-10-2016/).  Of course, Vicodin played a continuing role in the television series “House.”

********In thinking about this, the JSTOR Daily post “Why We Make Doctors Get Licenses” (http://daily.jstor.org/why-we-make-doctors-get-licenses/) is relevant.  As the article points out, there was a time when doctor licensing was problematic.  But the 1910 Flexner Report, “pushed the nation toward new medical licensing laws by arguing for professionalization of medical practice in the service of the social good.”  As it turned out, licensing did more than serve the social good, or so Stephen J. Kunitz argued in “Professionalization and Social Control in the Progressive Era: The Case of the Flexner Report.”  In that article, accessible via the post, he “describes the public health function of physician licensing as inseparable from the service of elite interests.”

(9 July 2016): “America’s forests: Ravaged woodlands” (http://www.economist.com/news/briefing/21701751-stricken-trees-provide-clues-about-how-america-will-adapt-global-warmingbut-little-hope)

——–“Politicized, documented and culturally sensitive, the ravaging of America’s forests is an important gauge of man’s ability to mitigate and adapt to the warming he has caused.  The scale of the tree loss is staggering.  Last year over 10m of America’s 766m acres of forest were consumed by wildfires, sparked by lawn mowers, campers or lightning . . . The growth of wildfires is a worldwide problem, with even bigger burns elsewhere.  Siberia, Tasmania, Canada and Indonesia have seen record-breaking fires in recent years.”  Although fires have been damaging, “The devastation wreaked in American forests by insects is less headline-grabbing but ecologically as dramatic.  Last month the United States Forest Service . . . said that, since October, it had recorded 26m trees killed by the mutually-reinforcing effects of bugs and drought in the southern part of California’s Sierra Nevada range alone. . . . Such destruction, caused partly by warming, will itself cause more warming.

********The invisible forces, of course, are both conditioned by and influencing of the physical environment.  I.e., the invisible forces and the physical environment are part of a system.  Consequently, the condition of the forests of the United States are both conditioned by the invisible forces and influence them, too.  What modifications of the invisible forces must take place if the ravaging of the forests is to be attenuated?

May you have a good week!

Bruce

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