Later On

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Archive for April 2017

Turkey Thighs with Bacon, Tomatoes, and Porcini

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This started out as a Mark Bittman recipe, but I made a fair number of changes. It is really tasty:

Step 1: Take turkey thighs out of the fridge for 1-2 hours before you start so they can come to room temperature. If you use straight from fridge, it will significantly affect timing: this is a low-temperature recipe, so it takes a long time to warm up a slab of fridge-cold meat.

Step 2: About half an hour before you really get to work, mince the garlic and make the “preserved” lemons. – Mark Bittman “preserved” lemon: Wash 1 lemon, cut off the ends and discard, then slice into slabs and across the slabs to dice the lemon. Put it in a small bowl, add 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1.5 teaspoon sugar, stir, and let sit 20 minutes.

2-3 slices thick bacon—or you can use 5 oz diced pancetta; original recipe called for a slab of prosciutto (mine was 4 oz, about right), diced, and with the prosciutto you used 2 tablespoons olive oil to lightly brown the prosciutto. I’ve now tried all three and they’re all good. Diced pancetta for the next one.

2 turkey thighs, removed from fridge 1-2 hours before cooking; I’ve also used 2 turkey drumsticks with good success. And salt and pepper well just before you brown them.

The following ingredients, down through the garlic, are all added at the same time, so I suggest you use a large bowl and add the ingredients to that bowl as you prepare them.

• 3 cups chopped aromatic vegetables—for example, 1 cup chopped celery (about 2-3 stalks), 1 diced carrot, 1/2 cup chopped parsley, and 4 shallots chopped (or other allium such as: 1 big onion; or, 2 spring onions; or a large leek or 2 small leeks; or, 1-2 bunches of scallions).
• Optional: 3-4 mushrooms, chopped (optional because dried porcinis added later)
• 1/3 cup barley—pearled, hulled, or pot barley (steel-cut barley)
• 1 packet dried porcini mushrooms, broken into pieces
• 1 teaspoon dried crushed rosemary
• 1 teaspoon dried thyme
• 8-10 garlic cloves, chopped fine (do this early so the minced garlic can sit for 10-15 minutes)

• splash of sherry (Amontillado or Cream) to deglaze the pan

• good dash Red Boat fish sauce (optional but I always use: ups the umami; you could substitute 4-5 anchovy fillets (those that come in a jar, not a tin))
• 1 cup sliced cherry or grape tomatoes
• 1 cup good black olives, pitted (or not, but then be careful when you chew— I usually use Kalamata olives and I halve them: more olive per bite, and halving them detects pits)
• 1.5 tablespoon good horseradish (get it from the refrigerated section)
• 1 lemon “preserved” as described above
• 1-2 tablespoons vinegar (sherry, red wine, rice, whatever, though not balsamic, I think)

White wine, dry vermouth, water, red wine, or stock to almost cover veg. (I use white wine; original calls for red wine: to-may-to, to-mah-to.)

I tried my 10″ 4-qt All-Clad sauté pan and it worked fine, but note that the thighs sit fairly high. (Lid must fit tight for the oven cooking.) The most recent batch required the 10″ 6-qt All-Clad pot.

Get all the vegetables chopped and ready before you start—more chopping time required than I expected. And when you start putting the dish together, you do a series of steps and if you’re still prepping, it’s easy to get rattled and confused. Trust me.

Brown the bacon pieces (or diced pancetta; if using prosciutto, add 1-2 tablespoons olive oil and brown the prosciutto in that). Remove browned pieces with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Salt and pepper turkey thighs (or drumsticks) well on both sides. Brown the turkey in the bacon fat or olive oil, skin side first. Brown the skin side 5 minutes minimum without disturbing. The skin side should be well browned. Then flip and brown other side for 2 minutes. Remove turkey pieces to a bowl, plate, or pan.

At this point the pan may contain a lot of fat. Pour off fat to leave about 1-2 tablespoons in the pan. (Discard the excess fat.)

Preheat the oven to 250ºF.

Add chopped vegetables, rosemary, thyme, garlic, mushrooms, and barley to the oil in the pan. Stir vegetables as they sauté and season with salt and pepper as they cook.

When the vegetables are softened, deglaze the pan with a splash of sherry. Then add the tomatoes, olives, “preserved” lemon, and a good dash of Red Boat fish sauce if you have it. (If you don’t, rethink your priorities.)

Add liquid to almost (but not quite) cover the vegetables. (I generally use white wine or dry vermouth for this.)

Lay the turkey pieces, skin side up, on the vegetables and add the cooked bacon (or pancetta or prosciutto) on top of the thighs. Cover and cook in 250ºF oven for 4.5 hours (drumsticks) to 5 hours (thighs). Turkey meat should be falling off the bone.

Thighs: Use tongs to remove the two bones, and break up the meat with the edge of a spoon. Stir it all together.

Drumsticks: use a fork to pick off the meat (which will be tender and falling away from the bone), removing the small bones that are embedded in the meat around the main bone. Some of these are small, so pick carefully. You’ll quickly get the hang of it. Once all the little bones are out, remove the main bone, and then stir to locate small bones you missed. (Thighs are easier, obviously, but drumsticks are quite tasty.)

Garnish with chopped parsley (or perhaps minced chives) if you like and serve. This is incredibly tasty, as revised.

Turkey meat has little fat, thus the pork (bacon, pancetta, or prosciutto-and-olive oil) helps.

PS: I just had some sprinkled with coarsely grated Parmesan cheese, and I suddenly get the idea of grating some Parmesan over food as a finishing touch: umami! That’s why.

Written by Leisureguy

30 April 2017 at 4:52 pm

Scientists in many disciplines see apocalypse, soon

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Phil Torres writes in Salon:

While apocalyptic beliefs about the end of the world have, historically, been the subject of religious speculation, they are increasingly common among some of the leading scientists today. This is a worrisome fact, given that science is based not on faith and private revelation, but on observation and empirical evidence.

Perhaps the most prominent figure with an anxious outlook on humanity’s future is Stephen Hawking. Last year, he wrote the following in a Guardian article:

Now, more than at any time in our history, our species needs to work together. We face awesome environmental challenges: climate change, food production, overpopulation, the decimation of other species, epidemic disease, acidification of the oceans. Together, they are a reminder that we are at the most dangerous moment in the development of humanity. We now have the technology to destroy the planet on which we live, but have not yet developed the ability to escape it.

There is not a single point here that is inaccurate or hyperbolic. For example, consider that the hottest 17 years on record have all occurred since 2000, with a single exception (namely, 1998), and with 2016 being the hottest ever. Although 2017 probably won’t break last year’s record, the UK’s Met Office projects that it “will still rank among the hottest years on record.” Studies also emphasize that there is a rapidly closing window for meaningful action on climate change. As the authors of one peer-reviewed paper put it:

The next few decades offer a brief window of opportunity to minimize large-scale and potentially catastrophic climate change that will extend longer than the entire history of human civilization thus far. Policy decisions made during this window are likely to result in changes to Earth’s climate system measured in millennia rather than human lifespans, with associated socioeconomic and ecological impacts that will exacerbate the risks and damages to society and ecosystems that are projected for the twenty-first century and propagate into the future for many thousands of years.

Furthermore, studies suggest that civilization will have to produce more food in the next 50 years than in all of human history, which stretches back some 200,000 years into the Pleistocene epoch. This is partly due to the ongoing problem of overpopulation, where Pew projects approximately 9.3 billion people living on spaceship Earth by 2050. According to the 2016 Living Planet Report, humanity needs 1.6 Earths to sustain our current rate of (over)consumption — in other words, unless something significant changes with respect to anthropogenic resource depletion, nature will force life as we know it to end.

Along these lines, scientists largely agree that human activity has pushed the biosphere into the sixth mass extinction event in the entire 4.5 billion year history of Earth. This appears to be the case even on the most optimistic assumptions about current rates of species extinctions, which may be occurring 10,000 times faster than the normal “background rate” of extinction. . .

Continue reading.

Trump is dismantling the EPA. Corporations in general and the fossil fuel industry and going to ride this all the way down. The goal is to set profit records and make enough money to find a safe haven, wherever that may be.

Written by Leisureguy

30 April 2017 at 1:47 pm

It took Toshiba 70 years to reach its peak—and just a decade to fall into an abyss

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Josh Horwitz has a fascinating article on Toshiba’s rise and fall. From the article:

A 334-page report by an investigation committee set up by Toshiba stated that Nishida at times encouraged accountants to fudge the numbers. In January 2009, when an employee told Nishida the PC division would incur an operating profit loss of ¥18 billion (about $203 million then) over a six-month period, Nishida demanded an “improvement” in profit of ¥10 billion, lest the unit face closure. “Do all that you can as if your life depends on it,” Nishida reportedly told subordinates (pdf, p. 245).

While the scandal didn’t lead directly to Toshiba’s downfall, it exposed deeper problems at the company, shared by many tech conglomerates in Japan. Managers accustomed to beating out the competition were afraid to deliver bad news to the leadership, who didn’t want to hear it in the first place. As a consequence, this culture stifled Toshiba’s ability to innovate, at a time when it badly needed to. (Toshiba declined an interview request for this story.)

Professor Ulrike Schaede, who researches Japanese conglomerates at the University of California, San Diego, described Toshiba and its ilk as “full of yes men that do things because they think the boss wants them to do it, rather than what they think is a good idea or the right thing to do.” As a result, “everyone’s moving in lockstep in the direction of the bosses, and you don’t get any new ideas.”

Sound familiar?

Written by Leisureguy

29 April 2017 at 8:00 pm

Posted in Business

Now Trump (or Bannon) is trolling us: Former Director of Anti-Immigration Group Set to Be Named Ombudsman at U.S. Immigration Agency

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Marcelo Rochabrun and Jessica Huseman report in ProPublica:

A former director of an anti-immigration group, Julie Kirchner, is expected to be named as ombudsman to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on Monday, according to a person with knowledge of the pending appointment.

Kirchner was from 2005 to 2015 director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a group that has advocated for extreme restrictions on immigration.

The ombudsman’s office at USCIS provides assistance to immigrants who run into trouble with the agency, such as immigration applications that take too long to process or applications that may have been improperly rejected. The ombudsman also prepares an annual report for Congress in which they can issue audits and policy recommendations without consulting with USCIS in advance.

As the nation’s immigration agency, USCIS handles a wide range of legal immigration matters, including applications for citizenship and green cards. The agency can also grant legal status to those in extreme circumstances, such as refugees and asylum seekers. In addition, the agency is in charge of adjudicating applications from undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children, sometimes referred to as “dreamers” or DACA recipients.

The person with knowledge of Kirchner’s planned appointment is a former USCIS official.

The Department of Homeland Security, which appoints the USCIS ombudsman, declined to comment. USCIS said the agency doesn’t comment “on potential personnel announcements.” Customs and Border Protection, where Kirchner was most recently chief of staff, also declined to comment. FAIR did not respond to a request for comment.

She worked at CBP as a temporary political appointee.

FAIR was founded by John Tanton, a well-known eugenicist who has written papers on the subject and founded a pro-eugenics society. Personal papers he donated to the University of Michigan express his concern at the changing demographics of the United States and his personal interest in the genetic differences between races.

On its website, FAIR says the organization “seeks to reduce overall immigration to a level that is more manageable and which more closely reflects past policy.”

But controversy has surrounded FAIR since its inception, with . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

29 April 2017 at 6:42 pm

Well worth watching: The Absurdity of Detecting Gravitational Waves

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That was part 1. Now watch part 2:

Written by Leisureguy

29 April 2017 at 3:25 pm

Posted in Science, Video

Gluing polypropylene: Superglue by itself doesn’t work, but this does

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Kevin Drum has a good post that includes a 1-minute video on what works.

Written by Leisureguy

29 April 2017 at 12:33 pm

Posted in Daily life

The Milky Way from the cockpit of a plane making a night flight

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Via Jason Kottke, who writes:

Sales Wick is a pilot for SWISS and while working an overnight flight from Zurich to Sao Paulo, he filmed the first segment of the flight from basically the dashboard of the plane and made a timelapse video out of it. At that altitude, without a lot of light and atmospheric interference, the Milky Way is super vivid.

Just as the bright city lights are vanishing behind us, the Milky Way starts to become clearly visible up ahead. Its now us, pacing at almost the speed of sound along the invisible highway and the pitch-black night sky above this surreal landscape. Ahead of us are another eight hours flight time, but we already stopped counting the shooting stars. And we got already to a few hundred. . .

Written by Leisureguy

29 April 2017 at 12:28 pm

Posted in Daily life, Video

A Cosmic-Ray Hunter Takes to the Sky

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NASA successfully launched its football-stadium-sized, heavy-lift super pressure balloon (SPB) from Wanaka, New Zealand, at 10:50 a.m. Tuesday, April 25 (6:50 p.m. April 24 in U.S. Eastern Time), on a mission designed to run 100 or more days floating at 110,000 feet (33.5 km) about the globe in the southern hemisphere’s mid-latitude band.

While validating the super pressure balloon technology is the main flight objective, the International Extreme Universe Space Observatory on a Super Pressure Balloon (EUSO-SPB) payload is flying as a mission of opportunity.

Natalie Wolchover reports in Quanta:

On April 25, at 10:50 a.m. local time, a white helium balloon ascended from Wanaka, New Zealand, and lifted Angela Olinto’s hopes into the stratosphere. The football stadium-size NASA balloon, now floating 20 miles above the Earth, carries a one-ton detector that Olinto helped design and see off the ground. Every moonless night for the next few months, it will peer out at the dark curve of the Earth, hunting for the fluorescent streaks of mystery particles called “ultrahigh-energy cosmic rays” crashing into the sky. The Extreme Universe Space Observatory Super Pressure Balloon (EUSO-SPB) experiment will be the first ever to record the ultraviolet light from these rare events by looking down at the atmosphere instead of up. The wider field of view will allow it to detect the streaks at a faster rate than previous, ground-based experiments, which Olinto hopes will be the key to finally figuring out the particles’ origin.

Olinto, the leader of the seven-country EUSO-SPB experiment, is a professor of astrophysics at the University of Chicago. She grew up in Brazil and recalls that during her “beach days in Rio” she often wondered about nature. Over the 40 years since she was 16, Olinto said, she has remained captivated by the combined power of mathematics and experiments to explain the universe. “Many people think of physics as hard; I find it so elegant, and so simple compared to literature, which is really amazing, but it’s so varied that it’s infinite,” she said. “We have four forces of nature, and everything can be done mathematically. Nobody’s opinions matter, which I like very much!”

Olinto has spent the last 22 years theorizing about ultrahigh-energy cosmic rays. Composed of single protons or heavier atomic nuclei, they pack within quantum proportions as much energy as baseballs or bowling balls, and hurtle through space many millions of times more energetically than particles at the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s most powerful accelerator. “They’re so energetic that theorists like me have a hard time coming up with something in nature that could reach those energies,” Olinto said. “If we didn’t observe these cosmic rays, we wouldn’t believe they actually would be produced.”

Olinto and her collaborators have proposedthat ultrahigh-energy cosmic rays could be emitted by newly born, rapidly rotating neutron stars, called “pulsars.” She calls these “the little guys,” since their main competitors are “the big guys”: the supermassive black holes that churn at the centers of active galaxies. But no one knows which theory is right, or if it’s something else entirely. Ultrahigh-energy cosmic rays pepper Earth so sparsely and haphazardly — their paths skewed by the galaxy’s magnetic field — that they leave few clues about their origin. In recent years, a hazy “hot spot” of the particles coming from a region in the Northern sky seems to be showing up in data collected by the Telescope Array in Utah. But this potential clue has only compounded the puzzle: Somehow, the alleged hot spot doesn’t spill over at all into the field of view of the much larger and more powerful Pierre Auger Observatory in Argentina.

To find out the origin of ultrahigh-energy cosmic rays, Olinto and her colleagues need enough data to produce a map of where in the sky the particles come from — a map that can be compared with the locations of known cosmological objects. “In the cosmic ray world, the big dream is to point,” she said during an interview at a January meeting of the American Physical Society in Washington, D.C.

She sees the current balloon flight as a necessary next step. If successful, it will serve as a proof of principle for future space-based ultrahigh-energy cosmic-ray experiments, such as her proposed satellite detector, Poemma (Probe of Extreme Multi-Messenger Astrophysics). While in New Zealand in late March preparing for the balloon launch, Olinto received the good news from NASA that Poemma had been selected for further study.

Olinto wants answers, and she has an ambitious timeline for getting them. An edited and condensed version of our conversations in Washington and on a phone call to New Zealand follows.

QUANTA MAGAZINE: What was your path to astrophysics and ultrahigh-energy cosmic rays?

ANGELA OLINTO: I was really interested in the basic workings of nature: Why three families of quarks? What is the unified theory of everything? But I realized how many easier questions we have in astrophysics: that you could actually take a lifetime and go answer them. Graduate school at MIT showed me the way to astrophysics — how it can be an amazing route to many questions, including how the universe looks, how it functions, and even particle physics questions. I didn’t plan to study ultrahigh-energy cosmic rays; but every step it was, “OK, it looks promising.”

How long have you been trying to answer this particular question?

In 1995, we had a study group at Fermilab for ultrahigh-energy cosmic rays, because the AGASA (Akeno Giant Air Shower Array) experiment was seeing these amazing events that were so energetic that the particles broke a predicted energy limit known as the “GZK cutoff.” I was studying magnetic fields at the time, and so Jim Cronin, who just passed away last year in August — he was a brilliant man, charismatic, full of energy, lovely man — he asked that I explain what we know about cosmic magnetic fields. At that time the answer was not very much, but I gave him what we did know. And because he invited me I got to learn what he was up to. And I thought, wow, this is pretty interesting.

Later you helped plan and run Pierre Auger, an array of detectors spread across 3,000 square kilometers of Argentinian grassland. Did you actually go around and persuade farmers to let you put detectors on their land? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

29 April 2017 at 12:19 pm

Posted in Science

100 Days, 100 Horrors

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Nancy LeTourneau writes in the Washington Monthly:

As we approach Donald Trump’s 100th day in office, we are seeing competing narratives. The president and his fan base in the right wing media are pretending that he has made historic accomplishments. In the reality-based world, the consensus is that he has done almost nothing.

Both of those narratives involve the kind of metric we normally use to evaluate presidencies. If this one has been anything, it’s unprecedented. Using an alternative metric – the number of face-plants, falsehoods, flip-flops, etc, – there is no question that Donald Trump and his aides have brought us at least 100 horrors in the last 100 days. We thought that was worth documenting.

1. Gave a dystopian inaugural address that has been titled “American Carnage.”

2. Insisted on a special press conference (the first of his presidency) to claim that his inaugural crowd was the largest in history, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

3. Scrubbed the White House web site of pages related to LGBT rights, civil rights, climate change and health care on the first day.

4. Counselor Kellyanne Conway attempted to justify White House lies about the size of the inaugural crowd by calling them “alternative facts.”

5. Chose the former executive chair of Breitbart News and white nationalist Steve Bannon to be his Senior Counselor and Chief Strategist.

6. Signed an executive order reorganizing the National Security Council, giving Bannon a seat on the “principals committee” while downgrading the roles of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of national intelligence. After appointing H. R. McMaster as National Security Advisor, this executive order was reversed.

7. Issued a travel ban that was incompetently administered, leading to chaos.

8. Repeatedly claimed that 3-4 million people voted illegally in the 2016 election.

9. Authorized a raid in Yemen in which “everything that could go wrong did.” While the al Qaeda leader who was the target was neither captured nor killed, it resulted in the death of a Navy Seal and dozens of civilians, many of whom were children.

10. Said that the media is the opposition party and tweeted that the press is the enemy of the people.

11. Hired Sebastian Gorka to be his top counter-terrorism aide – a man with long-standing ties to a Hungarian group that the State Department labeled as having been “under the direction of the Nazi Government of Germany” during World War II.

12. Nominated Jeff Sessions to be Attorney General – a man that the Senate had previously determined was too racist to serve as a federal judge.

13. Nominated Betsy DeVos to be Secretary of Education – a billionaire heiress with no experience or training in public education who has focused on advocacy for charter schools and vouchers. . .

Continue reading for the full depressing list.

Written by Leisureguy

29 April 2017 at 9:49 am

Rooney Finest Style 2, Meißner Tremonia Black Beer No. 1, and the iKon X3 (on a UFO handle)

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I thought I’d try back-to-back shaves with the iKon 102 (yesterday) and the iKon X3 (today). So I used another Meißner Tremonia soap. Yesterday was Strong ‘n Scottish, today is Black Beer No. 1. The rosemary and lemongrass in the formulation remove it some distance from a straight-up beer fragrance, and the lather was quite good (thanks in part to the wonderful Rooney Finest, which I treasure).  Indeed, as I rinsed after each pass my face was noticeably slick.

The X3, here mounted on a UFO handle, did a fine job and was extremely comfortable: totally smooth and trouble-free result in three easy passes.

A splash of Fine’s l’Orange Noir aftershave, and the weekend begins.

Written by Leisureguy

29 April 2017 at 9:31 am

Posted in Shaving

Man Trump Named to Fix Mortgage Markets Figured in Infamous Financial Crisis Episode

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Matt Taibbi writes in Rolling Stone:

In early 2007, a group of Morgan Stanley bankers bundled a group of subprime mortgage instruments into a package they hoped to sell to investors. The only problem was, they couldn’t come up with a name for the package of mortgage-backed derivatives, which they all knew were doomed.

The bankers decided to play around with potential names. In a series of emails back and forth, they suggested possibilities. “Jon is voting for ‘Hitman,'” wrote one. “How about ‘Nuclear Holocaust 2007-1?'” wrote another, adding a few more possible names: Shitbag, Mike Tyson’s Punchout and Fludderfish.

Eventually they stopped with the comedy jokes, gave the pile of “nuclear” assets a more respectable name – “Stack” – and sold the $500 million Collateralized Debt Obligation with a straight face to the China Development Industrial Bank. Within three years, the bank was suing a series of parties, including Morgan Stanley, to recover losses from the toxic fund.

The name on the original registration document for Stack? Craig S. Phillips, then president of Morgan Stanley’s ABS (Asset-Backed Securities) division. Phillips may not have written the emails in question, but he was the boss of this sordid episode, and it was his name on the comedy-free document that was presented to Chinese investors.

This is just another detail in the emerging absurd narrative that is Donald Trump naming Phillips, of all people, to head up the effort to reform the Government-Sponsored Entities, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

As ace investigative reporter Gretchen Morgenson of the New York Times noted in a piece back on April 7th, Phillips headed a division that sold billions of dollars of mortgage-backed investments to Fannie and Freddie. Many of those investments were as bad as the ones his unit sold to the Chinese. In fact, as Morgenson noted, Phillips became a named defendant in a lawsuit filed by the Federal Housing Finance Authority (FHFA), which essentially charged, as the Chinese did, that Morgan Stanley knowingly sold Fannie and Freddie a pile of crap.

Morgan Stanley ended up having to pay $625 million apiece to Fannie and Freddie to settle securities fraud charges in that case.

Phillips worked in an area of investment banking that was highly lucrative and highly predatory. The basic scam in the subprime world in particular was buying up mortgages from people who couldn’t possibly afford them, making those bad mortgages into securities, and then turning around and hawking those same mortgages to unsuspecting institutional dopes like the Chinese and Fannie and Freddie.

Phillips had a critical role in this activity. As Morgan Stanley’s ABS chief, he was among other things responsible for liaising with fly-by-night subprime mortgage lenders like New Century, who fanned into low-income neighborhoods and handed out subprime mortgages to anyone with a pulse.

In a 2012 suit, a group of Detroit-based borrowers accused Morgan Stanley of discriminatory practices, claiming the bank helped New Century target minority areas with predatory loans. One Morgan Stanley due diligence officer, Pamela Barrow, joked in an email about how to go after borrowers.

“We should call all their mommas,” Barrow wrote. “Betcha that would get some of them good old boys to pay that house bill.”

Phillips was named in the suit and quoted in the complaint. He said that New Century was “extremely open to our advice and involvement in all elements of their operation.”

The worst actors in the financial crisis worked in this shady world involving the creation of subprime-backed securities.

Of those bad actors, there is a subset of still-worse actors, who not only sold these toxic investments to institutional investors like pension funds and Fannie and Freddie, but helped get a generation of home borrowers – often minorities and the poor – into deadly mortgages that ended up wiping out their equity. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 April 2017 at 6:52 pm

Jennifer Rubin: Republicans are kidding themselves about Trump’s foreign policy

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In the Washington Post:

Human nature, I suppose, compels us to adapt to and try to make sense out of chaotic, even dangerous situations. We want things to be less than horrible, so the inclination to ignore persistent signs of danger and convince ourselves all is well can overwhelm common sense and honest perception. This tendency, coupled with reluctance to admit error, has prompted some Republicans of late to declare President Trump is navigating toward the “mainstream” on foreign policy. Using the favorite word in an abnormal time, they insist he is “normalizing.” We beg to differ.

Their rationalizing strikes us as not unlike the reaction in the West when each new Soviet leader emerged on the world stage. Oh, but he has Western suits! Oh, he went to an Ivy League school in his youth! The straw-grabbing often involves excessive praise for not doing insane things. (Well, he hasn’t said he would invade any countries!) We are adept at self-delusion.

“Even the hardest line NeverTrumpers such as myself would, for the country’s sake, like to say this is normal. But it’s not. It’s better than it was because of some of the key appointments at the top, particularly the replacement of Michael Flynn by H.R. McMaster,” said former State Department official Eliot Cohen. “But it won’t be normal  even when the new team gets past their backlog of appointments in a year’s time, because of the man at the top. He thinks of foreign policy almost exclusively in personal and transactional terms rather than enduring interests, relationships and values.” Cohen added, “He has advisers who do not agree with one another. And above all, he remains what some of us described last March as ‘unmoored in principle’ — not to mention untrustworthy ignorant, impulsive and narcissistic.” Cohen therefore argued that “in foreign as in domestic policy presidential character counts, and his character remains reprehensible.” . . .

Continue reading.


Inconveniently interrupting the “He’s getting better!” meme, Trump’s interview with Reuters on Thursday is nothing short of terrifying. His cluelessness about the world persists. “This is more work than in my previous life,” he says. “I thought it would be easier.” That smacks of “Nobody knew health care could be so complicated,” which amounts to admission of complete ignorance of the world’s complexity and insistence that everyone is as blind as he was.

It’s even worse than Rubin says: Trump’s remark shows that he thinks he is informing us, that he is far ahead of us in grasping this, since (in his mind) he always is the winner, the best, the greatest. He’s explaining his discovery to us to astonish us with his (new) knowledge. He thinks he’s showing us how smart he is. His view is distorted by narcissistic delusion, so he simply cannot see himself as most others do—and he makes sure to surround himself with those who are willing to participate in the delusion.

As Rubin says, we are truly heading for disaster.  I would not rule out a nuclear strike on North Korea, civilian casualties be damned! Nor would she, apparently.

Donald Trump is a clear and present danger to the United States. And the GOP Congress is so devoid of principle and so cowardly that they are not merely enabling him, they’re supporting and protecting him.

This could get very grim very quickly.

Do read the entire column. We may have cause to look back it as a clarion-clear warning, one that was, alas, ignored.

Written by Leisureguy

28 April 2017 at 3:19 pm

Are Trump voters ruining America for all of us?

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Tom Nichols writes in USA Today:

President Trump’s record in his first 100 days, by any standard of presidential first terms, is one of failure. Aside from the successful nomination of the eminently qualified Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, there are almost no accomplishments — and a fair number of mistakes.

The president’s first national security adviser had to quit after a record-setting tenure of only 24 days. The administration’s first major legislative initiative, on health care, crashed and burned in a spectacular political wreck. Foreign policy has lurched from alienating China to relying on China to help us with North Korea. A rain of cruise missiles on a Syrian air base led to a brief moment of hope for those who care about humanitarian intervention (and a moment of despair for Trump’s isolationist base); less than a month later it is all but forgotten by supporters and critics alike because no actual policy emerged from this stunning use of American force.

Meanwhile, almost every day produces a cringe-worthy moment of messaging failure, from spokesman Sean Spicer’s bizarre comment about how Hitler didn’t use chemical weapons on his own people to Trump’s claim that his ratings on a television news program were bigger than 9/11.

Not surprisingly, Trump is at this point the most unpopular new president in the history of modern polling. What is bewildering is that at the same time, 96% of Trump voters say they have no regrets about their choice. How can this be? Is it just partisanship, with Americans so divided that they will simply cheer on their own team and stay loyal beyond all rational thought?

Possibly. A hard knot of Hillary Clinton’s supporters, for example — led by Clinton herself — refuse to accept that her defeat was anything less than a plot by the Russians or the FBI (or both). The idea that Clinton was an awful candidate who ran a terrible campaign is utterly alien to them.

The wide disagreement among Americans on the president’s performance, however, is more than partisanship. It is a matter of political literacy. The fact of the matter is that too many Trump supporters do not hold the president responsible for his mistakes or erratic behavior because they are incapable of recognizing them as mistakes. They lack the foundational knowledge and basic political engagement required to know the difference between facts and errors, or even between truth and lies.

As the social psychologist David Dunning wrote during the campaign, “Some voters, especially those facing significant distress in their life, might like some of what they hear from Trump, but they do not know enough to hold him accountable for the serious gaffes he makes.” In other words, it’s not that they forgave Trump for being wrong, but rather that they failed “to recognize those gaffes as missteps” in the first place.

This was most evident during the campaign itself, when candidate Trump’s audiences applauded one fantastic claim after another: that he saw Muslims cheering the 9/11 attacks, that the United States pays for over 70% of NATO’s costs, that he knew more than the generals about strategy. When he became president, he continued the parade of strange assertions and obsessions.

To be sure, some of Trump’s voters, like any others, are just cynical and expect the worst from every elected official. Others among them grasp Trump’s failings but fall back on the sour but understandable consolation that at least he is not Clinton. But many simply don’t see a problem. “I think I like him more now that he is the president,” Pennsylvania voter Rob Hughes told New York Post writer Salena Zito.

There is a more disturbing possibility here than pure ignorance: that voters not only do not understand these issues, but also that they simply do not care about them. As his supporters like to point out, Trump makes the right enemies, and that’s enough for them. Journalists, scientists, policy wonks — as long as “the elites” are upset, Trump’s voters assume that the administration is doing something right. “He makes them uncomfortable, which makes me happy,” Ohio Trump voter James Cassidy told the Toronto Star’s Daniel Dale. Syria? Korea? Health care reform? Foreign aid? Just so much mumbo-jumbo, the kind of Sunday morning talk-show stuff only coastal elitists care about.

As the social psychologist David Dunning wrote during the campaign, “Some voters, especially those facing significant distress in their life, might like some of what they hear from Trump, but they do not know enough to hold him accountable for the serious gaffes he makes.” In other words, it’s not that they forgave Trump for being wrong, but rather that they failed “to recognize those gaffes as missteps” in the first place.

This was most evident during the campaign itself, when candidate Trump’s audiences applauded one fantastic claim after another: that he saw Muslims cheering the 9/11 attacks, that the United States pays for over 70% of NATO’s costs, that he knew more than the generals about strategy. When he became president, he continued the parade of strange assertions and obsessions.

To be sure, some of Trump’s voters, like any others, are just cynical and expect the worst from every elected official. Others among them grasp Trump’s failings but fall back on the sour but understandable consolation that at least he is not Clinton. But many simply don’t see a problem. “I think I like him more now that he is the president,” Pennsylvania voter Rob Hughes told New York Post writer Salena Zito.

There is a more disturbing possibility here than pure ignorance: that voters not only do not understand these issues, but also that they simply do not care about them. As his supporters like to point out, Trump makes the right enemies, and that’s enough for them. Journalists, scientists, policy wonks — as long as “the elites” are upset, Trump’s voters assume that the administration is doing something right. “He makes them uncomfortable, which makes me happy,” Ohio Trump voter James Cassidy told the Toronto Star’s Daniel Dale. Syria? Korea? Health care reform? Foreign aid? Just so much mumbo-jumbo, the kind of Sunday morning talk-show stuff only coastal elitists care about. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 April 2017 at 10:46 am

The iKon 102: Not a universal razor, but absolutely terrific in the right situation

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At long last I think I’ve found the answer to why some report the iKon 102 clogs (for them). I was mystified by the complaints I read, since I have never experienced any clogging at all. I thought of several possible causes of the clogging that some have reported: dry lather, hard water, using shave oil, shaving extremely long stubble. Yesterday in an exchange with a redditor on Wicked Edge, I think I nailed it: the 102 is prone to clog for men whose beards are quite thick and dense and who do not shave every day or two. If a guy with dense, thick stubble shaves a four-day growth with the 102, the razor will clog.

UPDATE: It turns out that another part of the problem is when the lather is too thick (insufficient water). A subsequent message from the redditor mentioned above:

Eureka!! I changed the thickness of the lather and the SC102 had NO clog issues on a good 3+ days of stubble.

When I whip lather I always make it very thick and creamy (opacity level = 1). So if we were to use a opacity scale, with 1 being no transparency while 10 being transparent. I made my lather with an opacity of about 7-8 and this solved the problem.

Extremely happy now!

So it was not simply that he had a thick, dense beard, but also that his lather was too thick. /update

And another update: Even after this man got the lather right, he still had an occasional instance of clogging, and he finally figured out that it was that his beard was, in itself, oily enough that it could clog. Not every day, but he has (obviously) oily skin, and on somedays the oil on the beard made the stubble clog the razor. He has started washing his stubble with a high-glycerin soap (e.g., MR GLO) at the sink just before lathering. He washes his stubble, rinses partially with a splash, and applies a good lather (not too thick). Since doing this, he has not experienced a single instance of his 102 clogging. /update2

It’s common for tools to be suited to particular purposes: we have framing hammers and finish hammers, rip saws and crosscut saws, wide chisels and narrow chisels, fore planes and smoothing planes, luxury sedans and Formula 1 racers. The 102 is a great choice for a daily shaver, and also works well for shaving a multiday stubble on men with normal or light beards. It clogs when men with dense beards shave a multi-day stubble, so it seems logical in that situation to do a first pass with a razor that doesn’t clog. The Merkur Progress, for example, seems immune to clogging and since it’s adjustable, a higher setting can be used for longer stubble; or—at considerably less cost—an efficient and comfortable open-comb razor like the RazoRock Old Type or the Maggard V2OC could be used for the first pass, since open comb razors are not so prone to clogging (which is irrelevant for men who shave every day or two but important for those who shave only every week or two).

Bruce Everiss uses a different razor for each pass to optimize the match between razor and stubble length. He describes that method in three posts: first post, second post, and third post. It’s worth noting that each of the three razors are kept loaded with a blade and ready to go: on finishing a pass, you rinse the razor as usual and put it down, pick up the brush and apply lather for the next pass, and pick up the appropriate razor for the next pass. Thus it takes no more work or time than using the same razor for all three passes. (I mention this because some have the idea that they must transfer the blade from one razor to the next as they go. Not only is this unnecessary, it is undesirable for two reasons: first, blades should be handled as little as possible (normally, you touch the blade only twice: once when you load the razor with the blade and once when you remove the blade to discard it); and second, the brand of blade that works well in one razor may not work well in another. Three different razors may well use three different brands of blades.

Now I know to recommend the (wonderful) iKon 102 specifically to men who shave every day or two (or who have normal or light beards), and to mention that the 102 doesn’t work so well for men with dense, thick stubble who shave infrequently—at least it would not be a good choice for the first pass.

You can read the exchange on reddit. The above summary of findings covers the essential content. Obviously having to deal with clogs makes the shave inefficient and also seems to be hard on the razor. (I have used a 102 for some years and have had zero problems with the threads, though of course I do have quite a few razors in rotation so I don’t use it daily. However, some do use the 102 daily and I’ve not heard reports of problems from them.)

In recognition of finally settling this problem, I brought out the 102 for today’s shave. Prep was done with the Kent Infinity brush, a very nice little synthetic, and Meißner Tremonia’s Strong ‘n Scottish shaving soap, which Maggard Razors describes as “Masculine, strong and incredibly intense. Plenty of genuine Scotch whisky, pure sheep wool fat with the peaty-smoky fragrance of burnt oak.”

The 102 did a superb job: simply wiping away the stubble and, of course, no clogging at all: I shaved yesterday, plus my beard is of normal density. No nicks or burn—the 102 is extremely comfortable and not inclined to nick—but a BBS result without effort.

A splash of Bulgari served as an aftershave, and I’m ready for the day.

Written by Leisureguy

28 April 2017 at 8:14 am

Posted in Shaving

Politics of climate change, a video by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)

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Written by Leisureguy

27 April 2017 at 6:41 pm

A party that protects its ignorance: LA Times “GOP shuts out doctors, experts, Democrats — pretty much everybody — as they work on Obamacare repeal”

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The GOP is willfully ignorant, and Noam Levey’s article in the LA Times provides an excellent example.

President Trump and House Republicans, in their rush to resuscitate a bill rolling back the Affordable Care Act, are increasingly isolating themselves from outside input and rejecting entreaties to work collaboratively, according to multiple healthcare officials who have tried to engage GOP leaders.

The White House and its House GOP allies are hoping to reschedule a vote on their overhaul plan in the coming days, following last month’s embarrassing retreat when the bill was pulled shortly before a vote.

But they continue to refuse to reach out to Democrats. Even Senate Republicans have been largely sidelined, though their support will be crucial to putting a measure on Trump’s desk.

And senior House Republicans and White House officials have almost completely shut out doctors, hospitals, patient advocates and others who work in the healthcare system, industry officials say, despite pleas from many healthcare leaders to seek an alternative path that doesn’t threaten protections for tens of millions of Americans.

“To think you are going to revamp the entire American healthcare system without involving any of the people who actually deliver healthcare is insanity,” said Sister Carol Keehan, president of the Catholic Health Assn., whose members include many of the nation’s largest medical systems.

Health insurers, who initially found House Republicans and Trump administration officials open to suggestions for improving insurance markets, say it is increasingly difficult to have realistic discussions, according to numerous industry officials.

“They’re not interested in how health policy actually works,” said one insurance company official, who asked not to be identified discussing conversations with GOP officials. “It’s incredibly frustrating.”

Another longtime healthcare lobbyist, who also did not want to be identified criticizing Republicans, said he’d never seen legislation developed with such disregard for expert input. “It is totally divorced from reality,” he said.

The result may be a short-term victory for House leaders and the White House as Trump nears his 100-day mark, assuming they muster the votes this time. But prospects for final passage of a healthcare overhaul bill remain dim.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Trump and senior House Republicans have steadfastly defended their bill, however, promising it would lower healthcare costs while preserving protections for vulnerable Americans.

“The plan gets better and better and better,” Trump said last week at the White House. “And it’s gotten really, really good. And a lot of people are liking it a lot.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

27 April 2017 at 5:29 pm

The Noakes trial exposes the power and dishonesty of business-funded research

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I blogged yesterday links to posts about the Noakes trial in South Africa: he tweeted a recommendation for weaning a baby onto a low-carb high-fat diet (e.g., not focused on cereals) and as a result became the target of a vindictive campaign to smear his name and wreck him professionally, a campaign that failed utterly.

It’s an amazing clown show. The organization charging Noakes stalled until they could do a meta-analysis to disprove his findings, but the meta-analysis was so badly flawed it was clearly intended merely as an attack: it included studies that did not meet the criteria established by the meta-analysis authors, it included several studies that showed that supported the advice Noakes gave.

In addition the organization issued a press release in October of last year saying that Noakes had been found guilty. But the trial was not over and in fact the final decision was just announced. Although the press release was quickly retracted (after it had gone viral on social media in South Africa), its release does show bad faith (and incompetence) by the organization that brought the charges.

It’s quite a drama if you read it all. Nina Teicholz (a favorite of mine for her excellent book The Big Fat Surprise).

The best articles seem to be in, and they have a category for the Noakes trial. The articles are listed in descending chronological order, so start with the last article listed and read your way up. It really is fascinating.

Written by Leisureguy

27 April 2017 at 4:00 pm

How the South betrays its citizens

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Kevin Drum has a good post. Here’s one of the charts from the post:

Written by Leisureguy

27 April 2017 at 3:02 pm

Salt: The single most important ingredient

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Samin Nosrat writes in the NY Times:

Growing up, I thought salt belonged in a shaker at the table, and nowhere else.

I never added it to food, or saw Maman add it. When my aunt Ziba sprinkled it onto her saffron rice at the table each night, my brothers and I giggled. We thought it was the strangest, funniest thing in the world.

I associated salt with the beach, where I spent my childhood seasoned with it. There were the endless hours in the Pacific near our home in San Diego, swallowing mouthfuls of ocean water when I misjudged the waves. Tidepooling at twilight, my friends and I often fell victim to the saltwater spray while we poked at anemones.

Maman kept our swimsuits in the back of our blue Volvo station wagon, because the beach was always where we wanted to be. She was deft with the umbrella and blankets, setting them up while she shooed the three of us into the sea. We would stay in the water until we were starving, scanning the beach for the sun-faded coral-and-white umbrella, the landmark that would lead us back to her.

She always knew exactly what would taste best when we emerged: Persian cucumbers topped with sheep’s milk feta cheese, rolled together in lavash bread. We chased the sandwiches with handfuls of ice-cold grapes or wedges of watermelon to quench our thirst.

That snack, eaten while my curls dripped with seawater and salt crust formed on my skin, always tasted so good. Without a doubt, the pleasures of the beach added to the magic of the experience, but it wasn’t until many years later, while I was working at Chez Panisse, that I understood why those bites had been so perfect from a culinary point of view.

It was there that Chris Lee, a chef who took me under his wing, suggested I pay attention to the language the chefs used in the kitchen, how they knew when something was right — these were clues for how to become a better cook. Most often, when a dish fell flat, the answer lay in adjusting the salt. Sometimes it was in the form of salt crystals, but other times it meant a grating of cheese, some pounded anchovies, a few olives or a sprinkling of capers. I began to see that there was no better guide in the kitchen than thoughtful tasting, and that nothing was more important to taste thoughtfully for than salt.

One day, as a young cook in the prep kitchen, I was tasked with cooking polenta. Milled from an heirloom variety of corn, the polenta at Chez Panisse tasted of sweetness and earth. The chef, Cal Peternell, talked me through the steps for making it, and I began cooking. Consumed by the fear of scorching and ruining the entire pot — a mistake I had seen other cooks make — I stirred maniacally.

After an hour and a half, I brought Cal a spoonful of the creamy porridge to taste, looking up at him with equal parts respect and terror. “It needs more salt,” he deadpanned. Dutifully, I returned to the pot and sprinkled in a few grains of salt, treating them with the preciousness I might afford, say, gold leaf. I thought it tasted pretty good, so I returned to him with a spoonful of my adjusted polenta.

This time he marched me back to the pot and added not one but three enormous palmfuls of kosher salt. The perfectionist in me was horrified. I’d wanted so badly to do that polenta justice, and the degree to which I’d been off was exponential. Three palmfuls!

Cal grabbed spoons and together we tasted. The corn was somehow sweeter, the butter richer. All of the flavors were more pronounced. I had been certain he had ruined the pot and turned my polenta into a salt lick, but the term salty did not apply to what I tasted. All I felt was a satisfying zing with each mouthful.

Having experienced the transformative power of salt, I wanted to learn how to get that zing every time I cooked. I thought about the foods I loved to eat growing up — and that bite of seaside cucumber and feta, in particular. I realized then why it had tasted so good. It was properly salted.

Salt and Flavor

James Beard, the father of modern American cookery, once asked, “Where would we be without salt?” I know the answer: adrift in a sea of blandness. Salt has a greater impact on flavor than any other ingredient. Learn to use it well, and food will taste good.

Salt’s relationship to flavor is multidimensional: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

27 April 2017 at 2:29 pm

Posted in Food

America’s Other Drug Problem

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Marshall Allen reports in ProPublica:

Every week in Des Moines, Iowa, the employees of a small nonprofit collect bins of unexpired prescription drugs tossed out by nursing homes after residents died, moved out or no longer needed them. The drugs are given to patients who couldn’t otherwise afford them.

But travel 1,000 miles east to Long Island, New York, and you’ll find nursing homes flushing similar leftover drugs down the toilet, alarming state environmental regulators worried they’ll further contaminate the water supply.

In Baltimore, Maryland, a massive incinerator burns up tons of the drugs each year — for a fee — from nursing homes across the Eastern seaboard.

If you want to know why the nation’s health care costs are among the highest in the world, a good place to start is with what we throw away. Across the country, nursing homes routinely toss large quantities of perfectly good prescription medication: tablets for diabetes, syringes of blood thinners, pricey pills for psychosis and seizures.

At a time when anger over soaring drug costs has perhaps never been more intense, redistributing discarded drugs seems like a no-brainer. Yet it’s estimated that American taxpayers, through Medicare, spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year on drugs for nursing home patients — much of which literally go down the tubes.

“It would not surprise me if as much as 20 percent of the medications we receive we end up having to destroy,” said Mark Coggins, who oversees the pharmacy services for Diversicare, a chain of more than 70 nursing homes in 10 states. “It’s very discouraging throwing away all those drugs when you know it can benefit somebody.”

No one tracks this waste nationwide, but estimates show it’s substantial. Colorado officials have said the state’s 220 long-term care facilities throw away a whopping 17.5 tons of potentially reusable drugs every year, with a price tag of about $10 million. The Environmental Protection Agency estimated in 2015 that about 740 tons of drugs are wasted by nursing homes each year.

This is, of course, part of a bigger problem. The National Academy of Medicine estimated in 2012 that the United States squanders more than a quarter of what it spends on health care — about $765 billion a year.

ProPublica is investigating the types of waste in health care that academics and politicians typically overlook. Our first installment examined the tens of millions worth of equipment and brand new supplies that hospitals jettison.

Today we look at the wasteful, and potentially harmful, ways nursing homes dispose of leftover meds — and how some states, like Iowa, have found a solution.

On a recent Wednesday in Des Moines, Ami Bradwell, a certified pharmacy technician, popped open the lids of several 31-gallon bins full of prescription drugs. In each were hundreds of what are known as “bingo cards” filled with rows of pills in sealed bubbles.

“Metformin — for diabetics,” Bradwell said, holding up a card of large white pills. “It’s not crazy expensive, but it’s in high demand.”

She held up an entire box of the anti-nausea drug Ondansetron. It goes for about $5 a pill, according to the website “Expensive.”

Another card had three large pills stuffed in each chamber, a find Bradwell called “a ‘jackpot’ card. You can’t live without it because it’s a seizure medication.”

Bradwell works for the nonprofit SafeNetRx. Each week the group takes in dozens of bins full of such drugs, as well as boxes mailed in from across Iowa and several other states — pharmaceutical trash that exists because, for convenience and cost, long-term care pharmacies often dispense nursing home patients’ medications in bulk, a months‘ worth at a time.

Should a patient die, leave or stop taking the drug, what’s left is typically tossed. The drugs have already been paid for, by Medicare in most cases, so there’s little incentive to try to recycle them. In some states, such reuse is against the law.

Some of the cards Bradwell examined that day were missing only a few pills. One card had been thrown out even though it only lacked one of its 31 doses of oxybutynin, which reduces muscle spasms of the bladder. The remaining 30 are worth more than $13.

“There are literally millions of dollars of prescription medications thrown away every day in this country,” said John Forbes, an Iowa pharmacist who dispenses SafeNetRx’s recovered drugs to his low-income patients.

Although most states technically allow some leftover drugs to be recycled, Iowa is one of the few rescuing a significant percentage of the drugs from destruction. The state funds the program for about $600,000 a year, said SafeNetRx CEO Jon Rosmann, who calls it a “common sense” solution. In fiscal 2016 the program recovered and distributed drugs valued at about $3.4 million. This year it’s on pace to top $5 million. . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more, and it is interesting.

Written by Leisureguy

27 April 2017 at 2:06 pm

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