Saturday at the Movies Open Thread: Netflix & “the Success of Adam Sandler’s Ridiculous 6

Half of the population is below average, so it’s hardly surprising that there’s a market for fart jokes/racism/misogyny from a reliable delivery agent like Adam Sandler. Kevin Lincoln, at NYMag, explains why the outsized success of Netflix’s least loveable product shouldn’t be a shock, either:

[Wednesday] Netflix announced that The Ridiculous 6, Adam Sandler’s abysmal Western movie-thing, has been watched more in its first 30 days on the service than any other film during its 30 days. The. Ridiculous. Six.

Now, the instinct here—and it’s an understandable one, because, again, The. Ridiculous. Six.—is to say that Netflix is lying, or, more specifically, putting dizzying spin on their data. “Of course they’re saying it’s their most-watched movie,” you think. “Netflix made it! It’s a Netflix original! They’ve got a stake in this!” You’d be making a legitimate point. We have no glimpse into the metrics behind this claim; for all we know, Netflix has been auto-playing the movie on your Apple TV while you sleep. For all we know, nobody has watched The Ridiculous 6. Have you?

But far more likely is that they’re telling the truth. The most important thing is to consider what Netflix is. Then, once we come to terms with that, we have to consider what this means. Because it means something significant, both about filmmaking in general and what Netflix is as a company in particular.

Since Netflix started streaming movies and not just sending them by mail, it’s had an eclectic selection. Netflix licenses movies to stream; they don’t own any of this content. At any given time, a movie can disappear or appear on the service based on the unforeseen jockeying of its distributor and Netflix…

..[One] case in particular stands out. Back in 2012, the Duplass brothers executive-produced a movie called Safety Not Guaranteed. They made it for just $750,000, and Mark acted in it, along with Aubrey Plaza and Jake Johnson. It was directed by a first-timer named Colin Trevorrow. During a limited theatrical run that never reached 200 theaters, it made $4 million — good money for such a cheap film, but nothing that’ll buy anyone an estate in Malibu.

Safety Not Guaranteed then landed on Netflix some time in early 2013, where it stayed until August 2014. I’ve spoken with multiple filmmakers who stressed that the exposure Safety Not Guaranteed obtained on Netflix transformed their ideas about distribution. For whatever reason — likely a mix of positive response from audiences and its surprisingly wide-ranging appeal — Safety Not Guaranteed seemed to basically live on the Netflix front-page the entire time it was on the service, showing up as a recommendation and in the various category scrolls. Now its director, who had never overseen a movie that cost more than a million dollars prior to 2015, directed Jurassic World, which was briefly the highest-grossing opener of all time. Next up, he will direct a Star Wars movie…

Pecunia non olet: Money has no stink.

Speaking of crappy movies, what overrated / underrated films have you perused with discernment recently?



Gas Up Your Tumbrels

I think that this has already been discussed in a comment thread or two, but today (a) The New York Times reminded us that it can do essential, truly top-notch journalism and (b) exposed truly grotesque practices within a “justice” system that offers scant justice to anyone that doesn’t sport “Inc.” as a last name:

Encore and rival debt buyers are using the courts to sue consumers and collect debt, then preventing those same consumers from using the courts to challenge the companies’ tactics. Consumer lawyers said this strategy was the legal equivalent of debt collectors having their cake and eating it, too.

The use of arbitration by the companies is the latest frontier in a legal strategy orchestrated by corporations in recent years. By insertingarbitration clauses into the fine print of consumer contracts, they have found a way to block access to the courts and ban class-action lawsuits, the only realistic way to bring a case against a deep-pocketed corporation.

Their strategy traces to a pair of Supreme Court decisions in 2011 and 2013 that enshrined the use of class-action bans in arbitration clauses.

The result, The New York Times found in an investigation last month, is that banks, car dealers, online retailers, cellphone service providers and scores of other companies have insulated themselves from challenges to illegal or deceptive business practices. Once a class action was dismantled, court and arbitration records showed, few if any of the individual plaintiffs pursued arbitration.

Bottom feeders buy old debt.  They sue to collect.  Doesn’t matter if the debt is too old legally to collect.  Doesn’t matter if the sharks don’t have proper documentation. Doesn’t matter if they string up little old ladies by their big toes.  (Hyperbole alert).

Rembrandt_Christ_Driving_the_Money_Changers_from_the_Temple (1)

Crappy judges at the trial court level, insulated — guided — by crappy justices with robes, lifetime appointments, and no moral compasses whatsoever, make sure the Man gets his cash:

In the cases that The Times examined, judges routinely sided with debt collectors on forcing the disputes into arbitration.

In Mr. Cain’s case, Midland Funding, the unit of Encore Capital, persevered despite originally lacking a copy of a Citibank arbitration agreement they said he signed in 2003. Instead, the debt collector presented as evidence a Citibank contract that one of Encore’s lawyers signed when he opened an account.

In Mississippi, Midland Funding won a court judgment to compel Wanda Thompson to pay more than $4,700 on a debt that was too old to be collected under state law, court records show.

When Ms. Thompson filed a class-action suit on behalf of other state residents, Encore invoked an arbitration clause to have the lawsuit dismissed. Ms. Thompson’s lawyers argued that the company had clearly chosen court over arbitration when it sued her to collect the debt. By going to court, the lawyers said, Encore waived its right to compel arbitration.

Unpersuaded, the judge ruled that Encore’s lawsuit to collect the debt was separate from Ms. Thompson’s case accusing the company of violating the law.

I can’t put into words my revulsion for the people who steal from the weakest in our system, except to note that my loathing of those who enable these pen-armed robbers is far greater.  The GOP  hopes most people will be too scared of Syrians, gun-grabbers, and the Kenyan in the White House to notice who’s doing what to whom.  There’s an opening here for our side — and an obligation to take it.

Image:  Rembrandt van Rijn, Christ driving the money changers from the temple, 1626.



Just Die Already

I know this is evil and wrong (and I apologize in advance to those of you who have had someone succumb or battle this disease), but I’m gonna go all Sean Penn and hope this guy dies of rectal cancer:

After dropping $2 million on a Wu-Tang Clan album, the pharmaceutical executive Martin Shkreli has found a new project: making an essential treatment unaffordable for poor immigrants from Latin America.

Shkreli, otherwise known as “pharma bro,” gained notoriety earlier this year when his company, Turing Pharmaceuticals, increased the price of a drug used to treat AIDS patients from around $13.50 to $750. He’s now the CEO of KaloBios Pharmaceuticals, which recently announced its plans to submit benznidazole, a treatment for Chagas disease purchased earlier this month, for Food and Drug Administration approval next year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 300,000 people in the United States have the deadly disease. Most of them are immigrants from Latin America, where as many as 8 million people are infected.

The third most common parasite disease in the world, Chagas, also known as the “kissing bug disease,” is transmitted via the painless bites of Triatomine insects. Untreated, it can lead to heart failure and death. Last year, researchers at the Baylor College of Medicine identified Chagas in several patients who hadn’t traveled outside of the country, positing that they may have come into contact with the bugs through camping and hunting. That said, the risk of contracting the parasite in the U.S. remains small; most people who have the disease in the United States already had it when they arrived.

“Chagas is a disease of the poor. It’s not a disease where people have access if prices are high.”

Right now, doctors in the U.S. obtain benznidazole free of charge through the CDC. According to Rachel Cohen, the regional executive director of the Drugs for Neglected Disease Initiative in North America, the drug sells in Latin America for somewhere between $60 and $100 for each course of treatment. Both of these would change the moment the FDA approved benznidazole from any company—and Shkreli, in particular, seems determined to price this drug out of reach of the people who need it. In filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, KaloBios wrote that it expects to price the Chagas drug similarly to antivirals for Hepatitis C, which can cost almost $100,000 for a single course of treatment in the United States.

“You’re talking about a 100,000 percent or 150,000 percent price increase” from the current cost in Latin America, Cohen said.

This is one reason among many why people hate glibertarians and free market fetishists. The irony, of course, is this is anything but the free market with the patent involvement. And you are going to have higher insurance costs because this guy needs his cut.



Riding The Red Line In Richmond

Meanwhile, in Post-Racial America(tm)…

Black borrowers in Richmond are less likely to be approved for home loans and refinancing than white applicants regardless of their income levels, according to a study by fair-housing advocates.

The effect is a continuation of the “redlining” that explicitly denied loans to minorities in the 20th century, according to Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia.

“Certainly lenders and banks tell you money is all the same color and they’re an equal opportunity lender, but when you get down to it, you have individuals who are underwriting loans who have biases,” said Brian Koziol, the nonprofit organization’s director of research and the report’s author.

The group’s study found that between 2010 and 2013, the most recent year for which mortgage data is available, 13.7 percent of white borrowers had loan applications denied while black applicants experienced a 34.6 percent denial rate.

The report found that Hispanic residents also faced higher denial rates than white residents, but overall were granted loans more frequently than black borrowers.

Koziol said that a lenders’ willingness to finance home purchases directly corresponded to a neighborhood’s racial makeup.

The study found that for each percentage point increase in the minority population of a census tract, 12.5 fewer mortgages would be made.

The neighborhoods impacted are the same ones historically excluded for lending through redlining, and more recently, targeted for subprime loans, Koziol said.

While those neighborhoods have disproportionately high poverty rates, a borrower’s income doesn’t account for the difference: The report found a 9.9 point disparity in loan approval rates among black and white low-income applicants and a 27.5 point disparity among black and white upper-income borrowers.

That’s the best part, really.  The higher your income as a black potential mortgage borrower, the larger the disparity in actually being approved for a mortgage. Because a black family making good money is automatically more suspect, you see. They could afford the house in the nicer white neighborhood, but why would the bank want to lower the property value of the houses of their other mortgage clients? Mortgage loan decisions aren’t made by banks, they’re made by people.

Redlining has been going on for decades, folks.  It’s been going on not just in the South but all over the country, in red states and blue states and liberal enclaves and conservative strongholds.

And if you don’t think this isn’t happening in just about every decently sized US city in America right now, with the rush to segregate schools and neighborhoods through gentrification and exurban gated communities where “we don’t think it’s a good idea that you move in to this neighborhood, you see”, well I have some property for sale for you that you mysteriously can’t get a mortgage on.

Very little has changed in the last few decades, social media and instant news just makes it more visible.



Today in Sociopaths

This jackass is getting 15 minutes of fame he probably shouldn’t want, but seems to like anyway:

Martin Shkreli (above) is a former hedge fund manager and the current CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals. In August Shkreli bought a drug called Daraprim. It’s been around for 62 years and is used to treat toxoplasmosis, a life-threatening parasitic infection. “Turing immediately raised the price to $750 a tablet from $13.50, bringing the annual cost of treatment for some patients to hundreds of thousands of dollars,” reports the New York Times.

It’s fun to single out Shkreli for his questionable ethics, but plenty of other pharmaceutical companies also jack up the the price of formerly cheap drugs to levels that will bankrupt people who need them. The antibiotic Doxycycline was $20 a bottle in 2013. Today, the same bottle costs $1,849. Cycloserine, a tuberculosis treatment, used to cost $500 for a 30 pill bottle, until Rodelis Therapeutics acquired the drug and increased the price to $10,800.

Clinton commented on this first class douchebag’s practices and said she was developing a plan to deal with bullshit like this, and Biotech stocks crashed.

I have a solution but I probably shouldn’t say it in public.



Yooge, Classy Jobs Report

Economy added 173,000 jobs in August, a bit of a miss, but upward revisions in June and July added 44,000 jobs to make up for it.  Unemployment rate down to 5.1% from 5.3%.  Not stellar, but very solid.

Hours worked and hourly wages up 0.3%, up 2.2% for the year.  Labor force participation rate unchanged.

Open thread otherwise.



Medicare 101: Part D

Yesterday we briefly talked about Medicare Part A and Part B. Part A covers in-patient/overnight stays at the hospital while Part B covers most other services that involve interacting with other people.  When Medicare started, prescription drugs weren’t a big cost driver.  Basic drugs were available, they treated most common cases to some degree of effectiveness and unsusual cases were out of luck.  And then drugs got expensive as they got more complex and the US patent regime encouraged non-market pricing of drugs.  Additionally, the US Congress also discouraged non-market pricing of drugs as the federal Medicare program is not allowed to use the simple fact that it is the biggest buyer of medical supplies in the world to get a good price.  Drug costs for old people became a massive political issue.

And thus an opportunity for Republicans in 2003 to do two things.  The first was to offer a solution that emphasized “compassionate conservatism” for old people to help them get their drugs.  Secondly, it was an opportunity to shovel a massive amount of money at drug companies without asking for a whole lot in terms of policy concessions.  Thus Medicare Part D was born.

The initial design of Medicare  Part D was a kludge of managed market competition.  Private insurers offer plans that cover a variety of different drugs according to a basic benefit design.  Companies could offer limited lists of covered drugs (formularies) or expansive (and expensive) lists of covered drugs.  They could create two tiers (generic and brand) or seventee tiers of coverage with different co-pays and cost sharing.  They could decide to require that all beneficiaries try Drug X before they would authorize Drug Y.  The rules and plan requirements for Mayhew Insurance would be diametrically opposed to the rules for Big Blue Drug Value Super Duper Plus.

There are common benefit design elements for the individual beneficiary responsibility of costs.  The individual would be responsible for a medium sized deductible of roughly $250.  After that, the insurer would pay 75% of the contracted costs until the donut hole started at $2,250.  From $2,250 to $3,600, the individual was responsible for all of the cost.  After $3,600 in total drug costs, the insurer would pay roughly 97% of the remaining drug costs.

Compared to the previous Medicare drug benefit of almost nothing, Medicare Part D as originally designed was significantly better than nothing.  It does provide some significant benefits to seniors while being confusing, complex and a massive give-away to drug makers as Medicare was expressly forbidden from getting good deals.

The Affordable Care Act made several signifcant technical changes to Medicare Part D.   It still maintains the managed competition design but changes the payment structure.   Over the long run, the goal is to get rid of the donut hole completely while in the short run, the goal is to minimize the out of pocket expenses for seniors who are still stuck in the donut hole.

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