It’s time — past time, really — to name the person of the year. (TIME Magazine does it. Why not me?)
There were many worthy candidates in 2015: the Pope, the Donald, and Luke Skywalker, to name just a few. But only one symbolized the spirit of the year.
I speak, of course, of Martin Shkreli.
For those of you with short-term memory problems, he’s the weasel/drug honcho who bought the rights to a life-saving drug that had been on the market for years, and immediately raised its $13.50-a-pill price to $750 — a 5,000 percent hike.
He said he’d use the extra money for research to develop a life-saving drug of his own, but nobody believed him. He was just doing what a long line of drug company executives do — gouge desperately sick people.
There’s nothing illegal about this, and it’s not even the worst example. Questcor Pharmaceuticals paid $100,000 for an existing drug that treated breathing problems in newborns and raised its price over a relatively short time from $40 a vial to $23,000.
New cancer drugs often cost $10,000 a month or more.
Drug companies are allowed to charge whatever they can get away with, so long as they claim they’re using the profits to develop new drugs. They don’t have to actually do it. All they need to do is say that’s their intent. It’s the American way.
What sets Shkreli apart is that making a fortune by cheating people legally wasn’t enough for him. He fancied himself a financial wizard and set up a hedge fund scheme that allowed him to lie, cheat, and steal his way to another fortune. This one was illegal.
The whole thing finally caught up with the 32-year-old in December. The feds showed up and threw him in jail, from which he’s been released on $5 million bail.
Now I’m asking you: Does that make Shkreli the person of the year or what?
The only real surprise is that he isn’t running for president on the Republican ticket as the leader of the Stick-It-to-Sick-People caucus. I’m sure he’d be right up there with Donald Trump in the polls.
If I hadn’t picked Shkreli for this honor, I suppose I’d have been forced to choose the entire GOP slate of presidential candidates. What a hoot they are.
They’ve been fighting for the better part of a year now over who’s the toughest kid on the block.
No sooner does one of them come up with a mean proposal, like building a fence across the southern boundary of the United States to keep out Mexicans, then another says: “Oh yeah? I’d not only build a fence, I’d round up all the Mexicans here illegally and send them back where they came from.”
To which another will say: “I’d not only do all that, I’d make Mexico pay for the fence. Besides which, I wouldn’t let any Muslims in either.”
Which leads another to add, “I’d make the ones already here register and wear name tags.”
Apparently, all that tough talk wasn’t enough, because the last Republican “debate” sounded like a strategy meeting of Mafia warlords.
One of the candidates wanted to “carpet bomb” the terrorists. Another not only wanted to kill all the terrorists, he wanted to seek out their children and kill them too. Sort of a family plan.
All of them agreed that President Barack Obama wasn’t being tough enough and that any one of them would be tougher. At any moment I expected one of them to jump up and say, “Let’s go to the mattresses.”
For all that toughness, no one thought to say an unkind word about the role that unfettered gun ownership is playing in the serial massacres we keep experiencing. Or a kind word about attempts to slow down global warming before it kills us all.
And just think, we’ve got nearly a year to go before the election.
Happy New Year.
OtherWords columnist Donald Kaul lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.