Sunday, April 23, 2017

Update: The Ninth Circuit Is Once Again Back To A Three Judge Panel, On 45's Muslim Ban 2.0

This order was entered while I was in the air on Friday.

It restores the Ninth Circuit's clear timing advantage, in getting an opinion out first. And I for one believe the Ninth will preserve the nationwide injunction against the Ban 2.0. The order, then:

. . . .The full court was advised of the petition for initial hearing en banc. A judge requested a vote on whether to hear the matter en banc before the limited en banc court. Another judge requested a vote on whether to hear the matter en banc before the full court. The matter failed to receive a majority of the votes of the nonrecused active judges in favor of initial en banc consideration. Fed. R. App. P. 35. Therefore, initial en banc proceedings are concluded, and all remaining issues will be decided by the three-judge panel. . . .

Now you know. G'night to all of good will.


While I Was Away... News On Samsung/Merck; And J&J Remicade® Connections...

We have been following this specific arc of narrative for just over four years now (and the more general S-P Remicade® choke, for going on eight). Whilst we were off grid, our buddy John Carroll very-ably picked up the slack. Do go read all of his, from Friday, past. It is spot-on.

Even so, there is more history to be re-told here. As they say, one's history is defined by the narrator, after the fact. [We hinted at some of this when we discussed J&J results, last week.]

In this case, the story (in our opinion) starts with less than careful lawyering by the then-GC at legacy Schering-Plough. And it devolves into a multi-billion dollar arbitration with J&J -- in the settlement of which, Merck is required to surrender the US rights to Remicade®, to its opponent -- J&J. So, when John closes below by saying that Merck will compete in the US against the branded version, while selling its new biosimilar with collaborator Samsung Bioepis -- that leaves unsaid WHY that odd state of affairs now exists (with Merck still selling the branded version in Europe). It exists, in my opinion, due to a far too cute attempt to skirt a plainly enforceable contractual provision (which favored J&J/Centocor) -- by the lawyers who (last-minute) tried to engineer a more-favorable sale -- of legacy Schering Plough -- to Merck, in late 2009/early 2010.

. . . .The FDA has approved a new knockoff of J&J’s top earning drug Remicade, which may finally start to shift the market dynamics toward greater competition with lower prices.

This new one is dubbed Renflexis and comes from Samsung Bioepis, one of the big players in the biosimilars field. And it arrives in the US market close to a year after the EMA approved it for Europe.

J&J’s Remicade earned close to $7 billion last year, making this by far its biggest drug in the portfolio. And as J&J noted a few days ago during its Q1 call with analysts, the pharma giant has yet to feel much of an impact from the first Remicade biosimilar from Pfizer, Inflectra (infliximab-dyyb), which was developed by Celltrion and then bagged by the pharma giant in its acquisition of Hospira. That was approved last fall.

Now Merck will pick up the commercialization work of this second knockoff as J&J enters a new stage in defending the huge franchise. Ironically, Merck will now market Remicade in Europe, while competing with it in the US. . . .

But if you're a regular reader, here -- you already well-knew that the irony mentioned above was born in the feverish opium den of drug and biologic non-discovery that was Fred Hassan's version of Schering-Plough. . . smile.

And so, as we slip into the easy chair in our city-flat, on another languid, clear Sunday night -- we will observe that this all unfolded, just as we had predicted -- in 2010, 2013, 2014 and 2015. Grin-worthy. Onward. . . as we "wait for sleep to find us" -- but tonight, we'll not need to wait very long, at all [as sometimes it feels like we "write like we are running out of time," indeed].


Thursday, April 20, 2017

As I Head Off-Grid -- For A Long Weekend, Of "Unwasted Grace"...

This evening, I will note the sublime synchronicity here -- gossamer-like, and gracefully twisting, the dark-amber, almost cinnamon hued Cassini (at least as seen by these eyes, in the perpetual half-light that is Saturn, and her moons). . . will this weekend make her final close fly-by of the haze-shrouded big moon Titan.

[It seems I too will make a derivative-equations-laced version, of such a final fly-by, within hours of that time -- but in our own southern states.] This has put me in mind of ways to best handle things that come naturally, but sweetly. . . to their ends. As all good things. . . do.

So as we often are wont, on such occasions, we will offer some poetry, welded to an image of that moment [click it to enlarge] -- and a solid space science video, after the NASA pull-quote. Do enjoy, the wonder here offered:

. . . .NASA's Cassini spacecraft will make its final close flyby of Saturn's haze-enshrouded moon Titan this weekend. The flyby marks the mission's final opportunity for up-close observations of the lakes and seas of liquid hydrocarbons that spread across the moon's northern polar region, and the last chance to use its powerful radar to pierce the haze and make detailed images of the surface.

Closest approach to Titan is planned for 11:08 p.m. PDT on April 21 (2:08 a.m. EDT April 22). During the encounter, Cassini will pass as close as 608 miles (979 kilometers) above Titan's surface at a speed of about 13,000 mph (21,000 kph).

The flyby is also the gateway to Cassini's Grand Finale -- a final set of 22 orbits that pass between the planet and its rings, ending with a plunge into Saturn on Sept. 15 that will end the mission. During the close pass on April 21, Titan's gravity will bend Cassini's orbit around Saturn, shrinking it slightly, so that instead of passing just outside the rings, the spacecraft will begin its finale dives which pass just inside the rings. . . .

So do treat each other well, whilst I'm twisting around Alabama -- for if you do not, I will know of it, via astro-dynamics -- and come visit, as a shipwreck -- amongst those shepherded orbital ellipses -- smile. . . . [Oh. And, my -- did those 'Hawks looked awful, tonight. Congrats to Nashville. Next year. Next year. . . .]


Another Excellent Brief -- By Amici -- In The Ninth Circuit, Tonight...

This time, the amicus brief is authored by a coalition of the most esteemed Constitutional law professors our nation has to offer. So, I'd trust their views.

And this time, a great bit of scholarly attention is paid (in a 43 page PDF) to the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses of the First Amendment -- and long standing precedents there under. As you might imagine, Mr. Trump's twin (but serial) Muslim banning orders flunk every imaginable test -- and so, the Framers' whose views are recounted here, and the language the amici use to convey the same is. . . towering, in its command of our system of ordered liberties (as this case is almost -- but only almost -- without precedent):

. . . .The bill against which James Madison famously remonstrated has been consigned to the dustbin of history. But the underlying evils against which Madison warned are still with us. This case does not present them in disguise. No, “this wolf comes. . . as a wolf.” Morrison v. Olson, 487 U.S. 654, 699 (1988) (Scalia, J., dissenting). President Trump repeatedly and ostentatiously expressed the animus that brought it forth in his calls, and subsequent acts, to ban persons of a single faith from entering the United States. For liberty to endure, the Order must be rejected. . . .

The Framers thus understood that their task was to design a “government for a pluralistic nation — a country in which people of different faiths had to live together.” Jon Meacham, American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation 101 (2006). As George Washington wrote, “the government of the United States. . . gives to [religious] bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.” Letter from George Washington to the Jews (Aug. 18, 1790). . . .

Thomas Jefferson, in turn, saw the Establishment Clause as “proof that [the people] meant to comprehend, within the mantle of [the law’s] protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo. . . [and] every denomination.” Thomas Jefferson, Writings 40 (Merrill D. Peterson ed., Library of Am. 1984). . . .

Even acknowledging the deference due to the President in matters of immigration and national security, it is hard to imagine a clearer case of governmental action motivated by animus toward a single religion. . . .

[A]s a matter of law, the Supreme Court has never suggested that statements in some fora — such as campaigns — are uniquely irrelevant to motive analysis. To the contrary, courts must consider “the historical background of the decision under challenge, the specific series of events leading to the enactment or official policy in question, and the legislative or administrative history, including contemporaneous statements made by members of the decisionmaking body.” Lukumi, 508 U.S. at 540 (opinion of Kennedy, J.) (citing Arlington Heights, 429 U.S. at 266). That reflects simple common sense: “[T]he world is not made brand new every morning.” McCreary, 545 U.S. at 866. . . .

[Now, as to that last bolded bit -- in other contexts, I do so wish. . . that it were.] But so it goes -- we try anew, tomorrow. And. . . a reckoning soon arrives -- on swift and dark wings, indeed. That much is now a certainty -- so I will smile -- and smile widely, tonight. . . . Word.


Merck Adds Another $300,000 In Cash -- To Neglected Disease Eradication -- In Africa...

The total will rise to $600,000, as it is a matching grant -- for anyone else who decides to chip in [that's a hint, Mr. Reed. . . grin]. And the World Health Organization has set an aspirational goal of eradicating this scourge, and many others, throughout Africa -- by 2020. This latest cash commitment is in addition to some 2.5 billion doses of free medicines.

This underscores our post of Monday -- and reminds the world of Kenilworth's almost solitary original role (since the late 1980s -- later picked up by GSK and others) in ending river blindness, in Africa. This is the highest and most noble calling -- of stewardship, at a life science company blessed with the resources Merck enjoys. [In fact, in October of 2015, a former Merck scientist did win a Nobel for this work.] Kudos, Mr. Frazier -- and a bit:

. . . .Merck announced today a $300,000 cash donation to support non-governmental organization (NGO) partners working to eliminate river blindness (onchocerciasis) and lymphatic filariasis (LF) in Africa. The donation will be offered to 10 NGOs beginning this year, and will be administered through the MECTIZAN® Donation Program (MDP), a public/private partnership established in 1987 following the announcement by Merck to donate MECTIZAN® to control and eliminate river blindness.

River blindness and LF are targeted for elimination in the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Roadmap on Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs), and NGOs have long played a critical role in the broad partnership focused on achieving those targets. Grants will be given to support activities focused on the elimination of river blindness or LF, and will be offered to our partner NGOs who are directly involved in the distribution of MECTIZAN®. Eligible NGOs will be able to request funds through an application process in which they will be required to secure a 50-50 matching grant, effectively doubling the resources to $600,000. . . .

Now you know. And now with feelings of a sweet reckoning abounding -- and copper colored satellites once again twisting gracefully overhead -- I cannot stop smiling. Word. . . .


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Q1 2017 Forecasting: Will Merck's Sales Lines Look Light, Again -- As J&J's Just Did?

As is often the case, we take a moderate amount of "Kentucky windage" -- on Kenilworth's prospects -- by looking at other similar large cap mulinational life science companies. One of those would be J&J. And J&J this past quarter saw the first truly pronounced full-quarter's effect -- of biosimilars to, and Pfizer's branded alternative for, infliximab on market, post-launch. But sales were soft in several of its traditional pharma strongholds -- including the diabetes space. And that might be worrisome for Merck.

[J&J is also in devices, while Merck is not -- but that isn't comforting for followers of Merck, since J&J's growth in devices was reasonably robust -- and Merck doesn't offer any entrant, in any device segment.]

While we ought not get ahead of ourselves, I would expect only modest constant currency growth in most of Merck's franchises -- with Keytruda® as the stand out growth franchise -- on both volume and price. J&J has no such flagship oncology product, so overall we remain sanguine for an in-line quarter at Merck. The company reports nearer month's end.

It is also true that both J&J and Merck have now seen a full quarter's effect of more aggressive price negotiating at US formularies by insurers (and similar toughness -- by government payers in the UK and EU). In any event, here is Morningstar's take on J&J latest results:

. . . .J&J reported first-quarter results largely in line with our expectations, and we don’t expect any major changes to our $108 fair value estimate. We continue to view the stock as slightly overvalued as the growth prospects for the company’s divisions don’t appear strong enough to support the current market price. . . .

Backgronders here, on infliximab going bio-similar (from October 2015), and the overall arbitration fight, from 2010 -- triggered by poor deal lawyering, at legacy Schering-Plough. Now you know. Onward -- toward the University of Alabama campus.


Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Meanwhile -- Out West, In The Ninth Circuit -- Another Muscular Amicus Brief Was Filed, This Afternoon...

This amicus brief was filed just today, by the MacArthur Justice Foundation. It -- as much as any of the others -- has buried 45's chances, on appeal, in my estimation.

In my view, an unflinchingly accurate and impolite recitation of the facts -- in this case, will all but compel the result (a complete loss for 45's Ban 2.0), sua sponte. . . even at the Supremes.

Here is just a bit -- but do go read all 33 pages:

. . . .This President of the United States, Donald Trump, selected an unpopular minority faith that makes up 1% of the nation’s population, ran a campaign that vilified and spread propaganda about that minority faith, and built an administration that has repeatedly equated the members of that faith with terrorists. He now expects the Court to turn a blind eye to that record of animus and, instead, accept the Government’s pretextual assertion of national security. . . .

That would be a serious abdication of the Court’s critical role in safeguarding discrete and insular minorities, and in preventing the use of Executive power to attack unpopular groups — the sort of abdication that has, in the past, left a permanent stain on American history [Ed. Note: the reference to Korematsu here is crystal clear -- a U.S.S.Ct. case that belatedly stands for exactly the opposite of its original holding -- against just these sorts of general and bigoted actions]. . . .

As early as April 11, 2011, Mr. Trump began advocating that a “Muslim problem” exists in the U.S., and suggesting that Islam teaches a “very negative vibe” and “tremendous hatred.” He recounted: "Bill O’Reilly asked me is there a Muslim problem? And I said absolutely, yes. In fact I went a step further. I said I didn’t see Swedish people knocking down the World Trade Center. . . . I mean I could have said, ‘Oh absolutely not Bill, there’s no Muslim problem, everything is wonderful, just forget about the World Trade Center.’ But you have to speak the truth. . . . The Koran is very interesting. . . . I’m certainly not an expert, to put it mildly. But there’s something there that teaches some very negative vibe. . . . there’s tremendous hatred out there that I’ve never seen anything like it. . . ." [Ed. Note: Except of course whenever 45 himself. . . speaks, on the topic.]

[And again -- Mr. Trump, speaking in December 2015 about then-President Barack Obama, with a questioner]. . . .

"Questioner: “We have a problem in this country. It’s called Muslims.”

Mr. Trump: “Right.”

Questioner: “You know our current president [Mr. Obama] is one. You know he’s not even an American.”

Mr. Trump: “We need this question.”

The President has adhered to his view that people of the Muslim faith are a “problem” and vilified them on numerous other occasions. . . .

On November 22, 2015 [Mr. Trump] stated: “There were people that were cheering on the other side of New Jersey, where you have large Arab populations. They were cheering as the World Trade Center came down. . . there were people cheering as that building came down—as those buildings came down. And that tells you something . . . . There were people over in New Jersey that were watching it, a heavy Arab population, that were cheering as the buildings came down. Not good. . . . [Ed. Note: this Trump assertion is universally known to be a complete lie.]

This man (along with others) must be brought to heel -- like the unruly animal he clearly but vainly tries to be.

I'm taking a bit of time to enjoy a flawless afternoon in the sun, and express gratitude, to our founders for leaving us a very solid means to protect ourselves from animals like him. It is called judicial review -- and I for one like the taste of it. I no longer want to taste lies, spit into my own mouth. Out.


WHO: With Aid From GSK And Merck, Togo Becomes First Nation In Africa To End Lymphatic Filariasis as a Public Health Problem

After over 10 billion doses of a pair of medicines -- essentially all donated by charitable arms affiliated with the two multinationals, over almost two decades -- Togo has eliminated both elephantiasis and river blindness, as public health concerns, in the country.

The WHO has certified Togo as the first African nation to reach this milestone. Here's a bit -- and to be certain, Kenilworth should rightfully be lauded for this (as should GSK):

. . . ."We celebrate this important achievement with the people of Togo. Lymphatic filariasis is a debilitating, but preventable, disease that not only affects patients and their families but also communities and health care systems,” said Dr. Julie L. Gerberding, Merck’s chief patient officer. “Working with our partners for nearly two decades, we strive to eliminate LF in Africa and Yemen to help improve the lives of tens of millions of people.”

Phil Thomson, president of Global Affairs, GSK said “Achieving elimination of LF is a fantastic achievement for Togo and is testament to the commitment of the Togolese Government and the dedication of the health workers delivering treatments on the front line. We are committed to playing our part with the donation of albendazole for as long as it is needed to replicate this success throughout endemic countries, freeing communities from the burden of LF.”

The MDP’s director, Dr. Yao Sodahlon, is a Togolese national and expert in tropical diseases who worked closely over the years with the ministry of health and other partners to ensure Togo’s success. . . .

This is a story not told often enough, about the morally just contributions of many life sciences companies -- to "the humbled, the lowly -- the least able to pay -- of our brothers and sisters. . ." (to refer to Luke 10:30-37, as Pentecost looms). . . But brothers and sisters. . . all of us, are -- just the same. Now you know. Onward -- with a fiercely independent smile.


Monday, April 17, 2017

Op Ed: I Don't Think An RA/QA Expert Is A "Must Have" -- At Merck's Board Of Director Level...

I debated with myself, about whether to even mention this, when the proxy filed last week. I chose not to, back then. . . .

But just this morning, the shareholder proponent of a proxy proposal (called Trillium) filed so-called "free writing" solicitation material, ostensibly to answer the company's suggestion that the proponent's proposal isn't worthy of the shareholders' affirmative vote. [NOTE: This post is not intended as proxy soliciting material, of any stripe -- and this blog is affiliated with no one on either side of this debate -- this is merely business journalist commentary and legal analysis, of the issues involved. Merck's position on the matter may be found here (at page 78).]

In essence, the shareholder proponent would like a report, on how best to "strengthen" Merck's QA/RA chops -- at the full board level. From Trillium's SEC filing:
. . . .[Please] issue a report (at reasonable cost, in a reasonable time and excluding confidential information) evaluating the merits and feasibility of Merck (1) strengthening Board expertise in pharmaceutical manufacturing and product quality and safety, (2) adopting an independent board chair leadership structure, and (3) any other related governance improvements the Board wishes to consider. . . .

Aside from the language problems I see with the proposal (that arguably make it inappropriate, under existing SEC rules and releases and no action letters, as a subject for advisory vote by shareholders), I am convinced that the proponent's premise is ill-founded. [And it matters quite a bit that at none of the companies Trillium mentions, is the Chairman and CEO also a lawyer -- Merck's is, and (based on my eight years of close observation) he sets a very appropriate regulatory focus, "at the top."]

That is, I think even though some other multinational public pharmaceutical and life science companies have QA/RA experts at the board level -- it doesn't strike me that such a person is a requirement for effective corporate governance, at Merck -- given its Chairman/CEO's legal background.

True enough, a strong QA/RA function is an absolute requirement for any large pharmaceutical concern, but that is largely an operations and management function (i.e., well below board level). And Merck's is robust, in my independent estimation. Kenilworth may make various mistakes, from time to time. . . but this -- RA/QA -- is one of their long suits, in my view.

If Merck had seven 483s pending right now (it does not), or the FDA shutting down its facilities left and right (nope), then "tone at the top" would be a very important priority -- even reaching into the board room. That may have been the old legacy Schering-Plough problem (i.e., pre-2010) -- but that is clearly not the profile of New Merck.

So. . . were I a shareholder (I am not), I'd vote no on the Trillium proposal.

Now you know. Onward. [I welcome a reply, from Trillium, in comments. I will run it -- as a new post. But note to Trillium: yours will also be "free-writing" material, so do comply with SEC rules. I will run all that you need to do so, should you choose to respond.]


An Excellent Fourth Circuit Brief, Filed Over The Long Holiday Weekend...

Do go read it all (a 67 page PDF file) -- but it is no longer even remotely clear to me that the Fourth Circuit will rule in 45's favor.

In fact, it is increasingly likely that the Trump Administration's appeal to the Supremes will come on the heels of both the Fourth (unexpected) -- and Ninth (widely expected) -- Circuits ruling against the Constitutionality his Muslim Ban 2.0.

. . . .The facts of this case are extraordinary. President Trump publicly committed himself to an indefensible goal: banning Muslims from coming to the United States.

The President refused to repudiate that goal on multiple occasions, including after he was elected, and he continues to advertise it to this day on his own website. . . .

The President also explained how he would implement his impermissible goal:

Because people objected when he used “the word Muslim,” he announced, he would instead be “talking territory, not Muslim.”

He followed through on this promise in an Executive Order signed one week after inauguration, and prepared with no input from the relevant federal agencies. . . .

The government has never contested that the extraordinary record in this case, taken in full, establishes that the President adopted the Order with the primary purpose of targeting Muslims. . . . Nor has it ever argued that the government could ban people because of their religion consistent with the commands of the Establishment Clause. . . .

Now you know. Late this week, I'll fly down south, and drive into rural Alabama, for the collegiate Nationals (triathalon); then Mississippi the following weekend. . . smile.


Large Genome Study: 2014-2016 West African Ebola Epidemic Traveled (Mostly) By "Short Hops"...

From late 2013 to 2016, for the first time in the history of infectious diseases -- and in an Ebola outbreak (actually, in any real viral epidemic of size) -- a vast (near universal) sampling of the blood, and thus the genomes, of infected patients took place. . . .

As the University of Minnesota's CIDRAP reported last week, this in turn led to a treasure trove of data, about how and where, and when the virus was transmitted, and mutated. Do go read it all -- but the learning is that the virus traversed only small geographic distances, in the main. It was spread by very local communities of contact, as a general rule (with urban centers being an exception). Do go read it all, as another study is also detailed there, at CIDRAP:

. . . .The largest genome sample ever analyzed for a human epidemic reveals that the West Africa epidemic unfolded with small, overlapping outbreaks as the virus spread over short distances and that urban settings amplified the spread. . . .

Meanwhile, another study harnessed different advanced scientific tools in the blood of a single sick patient to detail gene-level response during infection. . . .

Now you know -- breakfast at the train station diner, with my graduating senior -- then a walk to the office, on a flawless Easter Monday. Smile. . . be well, one and all. The Universe will sing midnight black rain-songs, tonight, for certain. . . .


Saturday, April 15, 2017

This Past Week, Several Large Terrestrial Radio Telescopes Cooperated -- To "Image" A Black Hole's Event Horizon...

Using a virtual radio scope, essentially the size of the Earth itself (a half-dozen radio dishes, spanning the globe, were lashed to one another, by software links) -- the idea was to capture a non-visible light "image" of the black hole (and its event horizon) at the center of our own galaxy.

It seems that effort has succeeded. Late in 2017, we will see a representation at least -- of the most lonely of places -- a place from which no light, no heat  -- and no soft, lilting voices ever escape -- an event horizon. Where time itself. . . stops. [It will take weeks to process the data, into an image.]

Until we have that image -- transformed into visible wave-lengths -- for our human eyes to decipher. . . I will leave you with this, at right.

And. . . as I write this down, I know that any amount of  feeling alone is merely a matter of relative degrees -- it dawns on me that we are (as I've modified Taylor) -- simply raindrops on the midnight pavement of stars. . . . among hundreds of billions, in this local cluster alone.

Or as Milton wrote -- we look up, into a Milky Way, "powdered with stars. . . ." powdered with. . . in all likelihood, billions more of. . . us.

Humbling indeed, in her glistening, crinkled space near-eternity. . . [as she increments -- by two. Smile.]

Be well, one and all.


Friday, April 14, 2017

Without Any Ado, At All -- Or Any Explanation... I Give You... Kim Jon Shkreli!

I genuinely cannot tell if the Facebook user who photo-shopped this (click at right, to enlarge) intended it as deflating satire, or loving homage (as to either character) -- and I don't. . . care. Fair use -- for editorial comment -- is claimed by this site.

My comment is. . . damn.

Just. . . damn.

Enjoy one and all -- that's an (early) Easter goodie!

[Apparently Mr. Shkreli has been trolling undergrad meme boards at the University of Chicago, in Hyde Park -- this week. I am certain he is unaware just how. . . sad that seems to most of the sentient world. Hanging out with undergrads, as he approaches 1-1/2 times their age -- since (obviously) he had no comparable experience, at that point in his life. Speaks to a deep hole, in his soul. . . .]

All grins, here now. . . Nothing to be. . . serious about! नमस्ते

A Sign Of Domestic Policy Desperation? Of 45's Threats -- Against America's Neediest Patients...

I have resisted for almost three weeks -- resisted even mentioning the near daily lunacy 45 utters about his now plainly unraveling lies -- on health care. But with Christ now on the cross (according to my former covenants) -- I will venture forth, to tell Mr. Trump -- of his ultimately impotent and banal depravity.

To speak the truth -- to that vain, and small handed power. And tell the readership -- though I suspect most of you saw it in the New York Times, this very morning (Paul Krugman's opinion piece is spot on, as well). [He is threatening a wide array of the support payments (some of which he lacks the power to change, without an Act of Congress), now embedded in the US health care delivery system -- well beyond de-funding Planned Parenthood, overnight.]

Although I continue to firmly believe 45 will be unable to broker any deal on his broad promises about health care delivery, it is enlightening to see his latest tactics. They smell of. . . desperation. The desperation his Congress-critters now convey to him -- fresh from the town halls as they (and he) are confronted with the lies they told. And told -- and told.

His latest gambit is the classic New York con-artist/thug's gambit: "that's a very nice safety net (basic health care for the poor) you worked so hard to build, there (Mr. Obama and the Democrats). . ." then he snarls -- "it would be a shame if it imploded" (because I cut the existing funding streams). . . .

This is a form of brazenly immoral posturing -- and it must be resisted. Let him own the implosion, if he dares go through with it.

He won't. Just like a few weeks ago, with his empty threats -- this is. . . just that. He will have to step away from the threat, because even the GOP Congress will not back him, in adequate numbers. It is a disgusting, odiously pungent and vain little threat, just the same. "We, the People" must tell him so. Over and over and over again.

"We, the People" are not one of the many, many subcontractors on his former building projects -- the ones he didn't pay, or bullied into taking a fraction of what he owed them. We need to stand as one, and put the lie to his cheap, charlatan theatrics, on health care. No Act of Congress, until later in 2018, is my abiding bet. Even if he tries to put it ahead of the tax legislation debates -- and perhaps especially so, if he is foolish enough to do so.

I'm off the grid for the weekend. Be well one and all; enjoy dying eggs if the spirit moves you! Whoosh!


A Quiet Good Friday Update: NuvaRing® Settlement Status Hearing Delayed, Again...

It was early 2014, when an agreement in principle was reached to settle this litigation for $100 million.

As near as I can tell, there are still some class plaintiffs awaiting their checks. And the lawyers (especially on the defense side) continue to bill time, potentially delaying individual fundings (and in truth, even the plaintiffs' counsel -- likely not on an hourly rate any longer -- may be slowing the process a bit here, as well) -- in closing out this litigation.

So. . . I will admit to being frustrated -- as both sides seem to play (at least in part) a game of kick the can down the alley, from a prior April 18, 2017 status date -- to an unspecified date in June 2017, overnight. [See this Colorado side note, from over a year ago, now -- of some significant pathos, as background.]

Were I to simply adhere to my former covenants -- of Christian charity -- I would hold the thought that both sides are in earnest working diligently to close this out, and get the disbursements to all injured parties. And so, the thinking would run -- they didn't need to appear before the able federal District judge in Missouri, next Tuesday.

But for at least the last decade, I've lived as a Zen realist -- and held that one's life on Earth is as exactly as pleasant (or as awful) as one treats others -- even relative strangers.

Under this view, then -- there is no hell, after death (and thus no need for a church's forgiveness -- only the forgiveness of our fellow travelers) -- only the hell (or heaven) we create for ourselves here on Earth. Then the cycle starts anew -- next lifetime. I will hold the hope that only a few more women will have to wait for "their next life-times," to see this payout. Now you know. Onward, in somber fashion -- on Good Friday. Be safe and well, one and all of good will.


Thursday, April 13, 2017

[U] Additional News, Out Of Austin, Texas: Council Approves Merck IT Incentives Package

Voting 7-3 in favor of the package, after less than an hour of discussion and debate, the Austin City Council this evening is making its bid to win the right to host Merck's fourth IT "hub" facility. [Our backgrounder, here.]

Kenilworth is reportedly talking to as many as 50 cities around the globe, about the IT hub, and the fairly high income jobs it will provide. Even so, the city council acknowledged that at least initially, most of the best jobs would be filled by people relocating from other Merck facilities around the globe -- not native Texans. Here's a bit -- from The Austin Statesman:

. . . .According to the proposal, the company would aim to create 119 full-time jobs and spend almost $6.4 million to equip a temporary facility by the end of this year.

The company also said it would invest almost $29 million over the next decade to build and equip its new innovation center, which would focus on large data collection and the design of technology platforms for “personalized, proactive and preventative health care,” the firm said in its application documents.

An economic impact analysis estimated the project would directly contribute $1.9 million to the city after subtracting the cost of the incentives.

Merck didn’t request incentives from Travis County. Projects of this size and scope often receive an additional grant from the Texas Enterprise Fund when they receive local incentives. Gov. Greg Abbott hasn’t announced any such grant. . . .

Now you know. . . Ahem. I hear some upstart warm-weather hockey franchise (what on Earth might those youngsters know of cold steel, on hard ice?) is still ahead, 1-0 on my storied tribe of 'hawks, on the west side -- and in the third, to boot. Hmmmm. . . this simply won't do. Won't do -- at all. I guess I'll have to put the TV on, and straighten things out -- wasn't even looking.

[Updated, Good Friday 2017, at dawn:] The upstart's goalie, one Pekka Rinne, looked flawless in net, last evening -- so congrats, whippersnappers -- but will he sustain that immaculate net-minding, for a best of seven? We shall see. . . Smile. . . .


[U] Any Evidence Of Organic (Life-Made) Methane, On Saturn's Enigmatic "Tiger-Striped" Moon Enceladus?

It is time to find out -- NASA press briefing just now beginning. More soon.

Updated: It is more likely chemical methane, but see graphic at right. Per, then:

. . . .The new study indicates that the floor of Enceladus' ocean likely features hot water vents, similar to the ones that host lush ecosystems at the bottom of Earth's oceans. . . .

The alien ocean also features a type of molecule frequently used as a food supply by life-forms on Earth. . . . . . . .

Be well, one and all. May just be geo-chemical methane. . . . sigh.

And now, in every bit as vulgar a fashion -- as the Cassini golden spacecraft, twisting slowing out there, in the dark is elegant . . . 45 is dropping massive GBU-43/B conventional weapons -- in Afganistan. I am deeply saddened, and may not update this until late tonight. . . . Why does it always eventually turn to hate -- and death, with him? This after we killed 18 local friendly forces, this morning, by mistake. Is he just trying to control the news cycle, with this giant of a bomb? Disgusting.

[And, from Longfellow, modified:] Voices soft, and deep, and serious. . . words that whispered ["thy skin -- like. . . heroin"]. . . songs that haunted. . . . G'morning, on a Good Friday. . . .


Apple Watch Science Team Working On Inner-Bezel Non-Invasive Blood Sugar Monitoring...

There are over 30 million people living with diabetes in the US alone. Of those, some 22 million have been diagnosed, so some eight to nine million do not know they have it. Millions more are living with pre-diabetes -- and millions more of both -- living in the EU, and Japan.

So it should come as no surprise, given Apple's foray into the HealthKit app (our coverage; March 2015), that it would be working on much more sophisticated, hard core med device/diagnostics -- embedded right into the bezel or strap of its flagship watch. And it would target the very high end of the market, of course.

Here is a bit from AppleInsider -- on it all:

. . . .Apple has reportedly hired a team of biomedical engineers to develop noninvasive glucose sensors for integration in Apple Watch, a solution that could lead to continuous monitoring of blood sugar levels for users with diabetes. . . .

As a (long ago) ex-diagnostic device hand, here -- even though Merck is no longer in the hand-held diagnostic apps/devices space proper, I'll conjecture that this news is likely to send a minor shockwave through the device giants out there.

True enough, a robustly functional bezel-skin-sensor of this sort is no small feat of miniature engineering, but with Apple's hoard of cash -- and deep bench of available talent -- I'd predict they'll get it. . . solved.

If your Apple Watch can feed you (or your doc) a continuous data set, of blood sugar levels, and alert you to a need for insulin, in near real time -- all carried on the back of your usual time-piece and personal assistant. . . at least the high end of those 31 million people may well be. . . lost to the old line med device/diagnostic marketeers. Word.

Cold, windy, gray and rain-soaked here, this morning. Ugh. But onward, just the same.


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

UPDATE: A Year And A Quarter Later, Four Possible Planet "X" Candidates Float -- Well Beyond Pluto

"...All the melodies mysterious,
Through the dreary darkness chanted;
Thoughts in attitudes imperious,
Voices soft, and deep, and serious,
Words that whispered, songs that haunted....

All the soul in rapt suspension,
All the quivering, palpitating
Chords of life in utmost tension,
With the fervor of invention

With the rapture of creating

-- Longfellow (again)

I am still floating, suspended above the Earth, here (from a great day, indeed!) -- so space science is on tap as a night cap, once again. . . smile.

It seems that citizen scientists using distributed computing power have identified at least four possible candidates for the elusive, large, dark and distant planet we mentioned in the dead of a deep snowstorm, at the nadir of our funk, in January 2016.[Backgrounder from January 2016 here.] What is astonishing, to me -- is that the world, working together, has identified -- in a year -- what any one science team would have likely taken a generation, to work out.

All by using strictly mathematical models, of where and when, it ought to be seen. Do indeed watch (again!) the Caltech story of Planet 9 unfold, before your eyes (about 2 minutes in duration):

Here's last week's blurb from

. . . .Citizen scientists have flagged four objects for follow-up study in the hunt for the hypothetical Planet Nine.

The four unknown objects were spotted in images of the southern sky captured recently by the SkyMapper telescope at Siding Spring Observatory in Australia. More than 60,000 people from around the world scoured these photos, making about 5 million classifications, said researchers with the Australian National University (ANU), which organized the citizen-science project.

Astronomers will now use Siding Spring and other telescopes around the world to investigate the four objects to determine if they're viable Planet Nine candidates. . . .

Do sleep well, all you precious cargo, on our little third rock. . . as we each traverse separate, but entangled, and yes angled-elliptical orbits -- spanning hundreds of generations of our own life-times, grinning to John Legend acoustics and Vanessa Williams in retro mode -- now we nod off, imagining anew another body of unwasted grace, floating as a shepherd moon -- to various other little world-itas. . . fantastic! Be excellent to one another. . . it's almost the holiday weekend!


Minor Update: State Of Hawaii Seeks En Banc Review, In The Ninth Circuit...

Attorneys for the State of Hawaii parties have overnight asked the Ninth Circuit to make the initial merits brief and oral argument an en banc proceeding. Citing "the exceptional importance of the questions presented" -- and the outcome's nationwide effect on our system of ordered liberty -- in addition to quoting portions of the Fourth Circuit's own order which granted en banc review, out east (on the same general matter), I would bet that the Ninth Circuit's Chief will poll the judges -- and let a majority vote decide, as it did last time, in late February/early March.

The only potential downside is that the Ninth Circuit decision will be on essentially the same time line as the Fourth's. [As a prior three member panel, logistically speaking, the Ninth was all but certain to be the first to publish a decision.] Here's a bit:

. . . .Yesterday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ordered initial hearing en banc in a similar case that involves a challenge to the same Executive Order. In light of the Fourth Circuit’s action, Appellees respectfully move this Court to hear this case en banc as well. Appellees have conferred with the Government, which states: “In light of the government’s interest in an expedited resolution of the important legal issues presented by both the stay motion and the merits appeal, the government supports initial review by the full Court if, but only if, the Court determines that initial en banc consideration would not delay the briefing, argument, or resolution of the stay or the appeal. . . ."

Countering that small concern of "which Circuit gets an opinion out first", however, is the reality that by its very nature, the much larger Ninth Circuit en banc roster is decidedly sympathetic to First Amendment claims -- so this greatly reduces the chance that (by a draw of lots), Hawaii gets an unduly narrowly-minded three member panel. Now you know. Grinning -- at the prospect of making new law.