Sunday, February 27, 2005

From the "Coincidence Files"

Mr. Bond, they have a saying in Chicago: 'Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it's enemy action.'

--Ian Fleming, Goldfinger (1959) ch. 14

I have two stories to discuss this morning, neither of which is receiving much oxygen from the left. So I'll try to do a bit of CPR.

Last week, the New York Times revealed that a 32 member FDA oversight panel which determined the market fate of Celebrex, Bextra, and Vioxx (Cox-2 class pain relievers for arthritis, linked to heart and stroke problems) was stacked with no less than 10 advisers who had direct links to the pharmaceutical companies which make the drugs. Unsurprisingly, the panel endorsed a return all three drugs to the market. Also unsurprisingly:

...If the 10 advisers had not cast their votes, the committee would have voted 12 to 8 that Bextra should be withdrawn and 14 to 8 that Vioxx should not return to the market. The 10 advisers with company ties voted 9 to 1 to keep Bextra on the market and 9 to 1 for Vioxx's return.

And in more unsurprising news...

NEW YORK, February 21 ( – The share price of Merck & Company (MRK.NYS) closed with a 13% gain on Friday, on the news of a possible re-launch of the company's blockbuster arthritis drug, Vioxx.

A cynic might suggest that if one were able to examine the stock portfolios of the Vioxx 10, said portfolios would contain many shares of Merck and Pfizer (which suffered a similar rebound in stock price...). Here's why the stock rebounded. It had nothing to do with the safety (or not) of these Cox-2 inhibitors, because it's unlikely that either Vioxx or Celebrex will make a splashy return to the market. Some say the stock rebound had everything to do with a defense strategy, articulated in the form of the positive FDA panel ruling, against pending litigation targeted at both companies for ignoring or suppressing trial data.

In still other unsurprising news from the Land of Nod, comes this report on the dumping of stock by ChoicePoint insiders after the breadth of their information loss scandal became clear last year, but before reports of the security breach hit the news this year:

ATLANTA Feb 25, 2005 — ChoicePoint Inc.'s top two executives made a combined $16.6 million in profit from selling company shares in the months after the data warehouser learned that people's personal information may have been compromised and before the breach was made public, regulatory filings show...

Shades of Enron (and a tip of the hat to ASZ reader Uncle $cam for the heads up).

These folks don't even bother to hide the hubris anymore. This is the corporate culture that the Bush administration has embraced since its first days in office. Speaking of Enron, anyone heard from Ken Lay recently?

Just askin'.

Anyway, I'm reading a book right now, Unequal Protection - The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights, by Thom Hartmann, which was so kindly given to me by Eligere from Noblesse Oblog. It's quite eye opening and highly recommended for anyone interested (as we all should be) in the culture of corporate malfeasance and the death of democracy.