On February 4, 2016, former Turing Pharmaceuticals CEO Martin “PharmaBro” Shkreli, infamous for jacking up the price per pill of Daraprim, an anti-parasitic drug commonly used in treating cancer and AIDS from $13.50 to $750, appeared before House Oversight Committee in Washington D.C. There, with disdain in his eyes and a smug grin stretching across his face, bringing to mind a cross between Pee-Wee Herman and Montgomery Burns, he fielded pointed questioning from Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), and Representatives Trey Gowdy (R-SC) and Elijah Cummings (D-MD), but offered the same response to nearly every query:
“On the advice of counsel I invoke my Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination, and respectfully decline to answer your question.”
Shortly after being excused by a visibly annoyed Jason Chaffetz, Shkrelli gloated via Twitter:
Hard to accept that these imbeciles represent the people in our government.
— Martin Shkreli (@MartinShkreli) February 4, 2016
The next day, Shkreli Tweeted:
The only thing I regret about my Congressional testimony is forgetting to bring my Nintendo DS.
— Martin Shkreli (@MartinShkreli) February 6, 2016
Surprisingly, Shkreli gave straight answers when Congressman Gowdy asked him about the pronunciation of his last name and when Congressman Cummings asked him if he was listening to his points about how raising prices on critical drugs harms the consumers, but nonetheless refused to testify when Congressman Gowdy questioned Shkreli about his purchase of the only known copy of the Wu-Tang Clan album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin!
Though such a question seems irrelevant at first blush, it certainly seems suspect that Shkreli bought the record a mere two months after it was revealed that he had hiked the price on Daraprim, especially since reports have surfaced that in the wake of the increase, Turing Pharmaceuticals’ approved spending nearly $700,000 on pay raises for three of its executives and nearly $300,000 on a lavish party held on a yacht. This evidence certainly undermines Shkreli’s claim that Turing Pharmaceuticals needed to cover the cost of its research and education programs. Though Martin Shkreli’s arrest on December 17, 2015 for securities fraud has no direct link to his price hike, it would not be surprising in the least that Shkreli had been planning on using his earnings gained from the Daraprim price hike to cover his ass amid accusations of losing money for investors and lying about it dating back to his beginnings as a hedge fund manager.
In an interview with Vice, Shkreli used a defense along the lines that other pharmaceutical companies were raising the prices on their product, and cited Pfizer’s decision to raise prices on over 100 of its drugs effective January 1, 2016, including a 9.4 percent increase for pain reliever Lyrica, a 12.9 percent increase for erectile dysfunction pill Viagra and a 5 percent increase for Ibrance, a drug used to treat breast cancer. However, all of these increases are decidedly modest compared to Shkreli’s decision to raise the price on Daraprim by 5,556 percent.
Despite his legal battles and the vilification he has experienced, many of the folks chiming in on Martin Shkreli’s Twitter feed have shown support for him, praising him as “charismatic and smart,” a “HERO” and “the epitome of the American Dream.” Though Martin Shkreli came a long way from his modest upbringing as the son of janitors and was ridiculed as a nerd in his youth by his peers for his interest in the stock market, this goes to show how superficial, credulous and completely fucking dumb the average member of the American general public is.
In 1931, American historian and writer James Truslow Adams declared that the American Dream entailed that “life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.” In that case, Martin “PharmaBro” Shkreli acquiring a fortune by inhibiting the American poor’s access to a crucial drug in the treatmeant of AIDS and cancer is not an epitome of the American Dream but a perversion of it, considering that AIDS is more prevalent among economically disadvantaged demographics and that Shkreli’s shamelessly greedy gesture inhibits a better and richer life for those who are afflicted with AIDS, cancer or both.
Perhaps it was all leading up to this, given American society’s long history of rejecting universal federal health care (dating all the way back to the Franklin Pierce administration) and allowing greedy CEOs like PharmaBro to be exempt from the consequence of their choices.
Featured image credit: Martin Shkreli (CNBC)