By Steven Brill
June 18 STORIES I'D LIKE TO SEE:
VETTING THE SYRIAN REBELS
Most of those pushing for providing arms and other aid to
the Syrian rebels - which the Obama administration announced
last week it will now do - have promised that the rebels could
be "vetted" so that weapons and other assistance don't end up in
the hands of jihadists and other bad actors.
I wish I could see a story explaining how that's going to be
done. We seem to have a hard enough time vetting Americans, like
Edward Snowden, before giving them top secret security
clearances. What's the plan to separate the good rebels from the
bad ones in Syria before letting them lock and load?
A GENE-SCREENING COMPANY'S STOCK GYRATIONS
Two weeks ago, I suggested a story about how hedge funds
must be using lawyers to handicap an imminent make-or-break
Supreme Court decision concerning Myriad Genetics. That's the
company whose claimed patent of a gene has allowed it to charge
more than $3,000 for the kind of test used by actress Angelina
Jolie to determine whether she was likely to become a breast
Last Thursday at 10:30 am (1430 GMT), the high court issued
a unanimous and seemingly dispositive decision - that genes
cannot be patented. Yet it seems that there was as much or more
speculation and uncertainty after the Court announced its ruling
as there was before.
For more than an hour after the decision was handed down -
and headlined on most major news websites as a definitive defeat
for the gene testing company - Myriad stock was actually up
about 8 percent, to an all-time high of $38.27.
Prompted by statements issued by Myriad's PR people, some
hedge funds and analysts might have been thinking the way
CNN.com was when it tempered its headline, published at 10:51
a.m., with this caveat: "But in something of a compromise
decision, all nine justices said a synthetic version of the gene
material may be patented. Initial reaction from investors," CNN
added, "sent the stock of Myriad Genetics higher."
But by lunchtime, amid frenzied trading, the stock started
dropping, and it closed the day down about 6 percent. On Friday,
it plunged another 13.8 percent, to $27.59, and on Monday,
another 3.5 percent, to $26.62.
All the speculation can't have had anything to do with some
insiders getting information earlier than others. No one has a
timing advantage when it comes to knowing Supreme Court
decisions. Everyone had the same document at the same time, and
the roller coaster started after everyone had the chance to read
it. And, again, those who reacted first actually drove the stock
So what caused the stock to soar then dive, with lots of ups
and downs in between? I'd love to be a fly on the wall at one or
more of those trading floors. Who were the go-to lawyers who
were giving which funds and analysts which advice?
Did the same people analyzing the decision change their
minds, or is it that those who took the most time to figure out
a ruling full of arcane terminology and mind-numbing points of
patent law took longer to reach what it seems, for now, to have
turned out to be the smarter consensus?
IS THE YANKEES' FRONT OFFICE ROOTING FOR A-ROD?
This column () by the New York Post's Joel Sherman raises the intriguing
idea that the Yankees' front office may be cheering on the
renewed investigation of Alex Rodriguez for alleged use of
performance enhancing drugs. As Sherman puts it:
"It is understandable why the front office is fixated on
Rodriguez. If he doesn't play this year because of his hip
surgery, the Yankees will recoup about 80 percent of his
contract via insurance. If he is actually suspended for 100
games, that would be about $15 million saved. Maybe the right
set of dominoes could play out where A-Rod just decides to
retire, which might provide another insurance-based financial
bonanza. Or the MLB investigation could open the slim road for
the Yankees to try to void the remainder of his contract (don't
hold your breath)."
I am a big Sherman fan, but his description of the
incentives the Yankees may have to see A-Rod stay on the
disabled list, be suspended by the league, or even retire is way
too vague. Can't a sports or business reporter somewhere get to
the bottom of exactly what both his contract with the Yankees
and the Yankees' contract with the insurer covering him - as
well as contracts covering more typical players - say about who
is obligated for how much in the event he stays injured, is
suspended or retires? We Yankee fans would love to know if some
big money might be freed up for us to go after some real talent.
GE'S ALLEGED CREDIT CARD SCAM
This story () in the trade publication Modernhealthcare.com reports that a
company called CareCredit - which distributes credit cards to
patients "inside the offices of more than 160,000 healthcare
providers" - has agreed to a settlement with the New York State
attorney general's office after it was accused of charging
interest rates of nearly 27 percent while promising initial
rates of 0 percent.
CareCredit, it turns out, is owned by GE Capital Retail
Bank, a division of the corporate icon that "Brings Good Things
"About one-quarter of all the people who signed up for zero
percent introductory rates ended up paying 26.99 percent,"
Modernhealthcare.com reported, quoting the attorney general's
Just the fact that a unit of one of America's most respected
blue chip companies is apparently engaged in this kind of bait
and switch, boiler room activity ought to get the national press
interested. There's also the question of what else the company
may be engaged in that won't make its way into GE's perpetual,
and perpetually effective, corporate imaging campaigns. A check
of the GE Capital website, for example, lists consumer financing
units covering not only healthcare but everything from auto
parts to home improvement to glasses and eye care.