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Archive for May 15th, 2018

Sharpest kitchen knife made from pasta

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Written by LeisureGuy

15 May 2018 at 7:55 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Recipes

Trump helps sanctioned Chinese phone maker after China delivers a big loan to a Trump project

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Matt Yglesias writes in Vox:

Is the president of the United States revising American trade policy — and possibly jeopardizing national security — because his family received a large cash bribe from the Chinese government?

Under normal political circumstances, it would be an outrageous accusation to level. But under the political circumstances of 2018, there is suggestive evidence that it possibly happened —but the 24/7 din of controversy and scandal means that very little attention is being paid to the possibility. The constant tumult of the Trump Show — who’s leaking, who’s being mean to John McCain’s family, why is the president always lying about golfing, etc. — manages to crowd out not just big-picture policy coverage but also genuine malfeasance that has real, negative impacts on people’s lives.

“The controversies,” David Frum warned a week after Election Day 2016, “will divert you from the scandals.”

And that’s what seems to be going on this week, when two below-the-radar stories — one about hotel financing in Indonesia and one about low-end smartphone sales in the United States — have a striking and potentially quite disturbing intersection. Here’s what we know so far.

ZTE and Lido City: a chronology

ZTE is a Chinese telecommunications equipment manufacturer that, among other things, manufactures Android smartphones, primarily on the cheaper, lower end of the market. Like most big Chinese companies, ZTE has various ties to the Chinese government, and there have long been questions about the security implications of relying on foreign firms with government links for sensitive communications roles. But separate from that longstanding controversy, ZTE had been in intense trouble lately for a largely unrelated issue pertaining to US sanctions policy.

  • Back in March 2017, ZTE was hit with a record $1.19 billion fine for violating US law by selling technology products containing US components in North Korea and Iran. The fine set a record both because of the volume of ZTE’s illicit business and because ZTE was found to have tried to deceive US government officials and even its own accounting firm.
  • About a year later — on March 12, 2018 — the Trump administration prevented a Singaporean company called Broadcom from buying a US company called Qualcomm. Qualcomm makes chips that are used in many smartphones, and the US government said Broadcom’s links to the Chinese government made it too risky to allow the company to purchase a key player in a strategic industry.
  • Then on April 15, the Commerce Department hit ZTE again, saying that despite the earlier fine and settlement, ZTE had continued to violate US sanctions law and lie to the US government. The new order simply barred American companies from selling anything to ZTE.
  • On May 8, the Trump administration pulled out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran and began the process of trying to make US sanctions on Iran even more stringent in hopes of crippling the Iranian economy.
  • On May 9, ZTE announced that it was going to have to shut down its entire smartphone business since it had no viable way to continue operating without Qualcomm chips.
  • On May 11, a state-owned Chinese construction company called the Metallurgical Corporation of China announced it would float a $500 million loan to Indonesian developers to facilitate the construction of a vast “integrated lifestyle resort” called MNC Lido City that includes Trump-branded hotels, residences, and a golf course.
  • On May 13, Trump tweeted: “President Xi of China, and I, are working together to give massive Chinese phone company, ZTE, a way to get back into business, fast. Too many jobs in China lost. Commerce Department has been instructed to get it done!”
  • On May 14, Trump tweeted about ZTE again: “ZTE, the large Chinese phone company, buys a big percentage of individual parts from U.S. companies. This is also reflective of the larger trade deal we are negotiating with China and my personal relationship with President Xi.”

Why did Trump change course on ZTE?

It’s of course possible to interpret Trump’s rapid turnabout on the ZTE issue as reflecting what Ana Swanson, Mark Landler, and Keith Bradsher of the New York Times term “another twist in the pitched battle inside the White House between the economic nationalists, who channel Mr. Trump’s protectionist instincts, and more mainstream advisers, who worry about the effects of hard-line policies on the stock market and long-term economic growth.”

But while there clearly are overall disagreements inside the Trump administration about trade with China, the ZTE issue isn’t really a trade policy issue at all. The charge is that ZTE repeatedly and willfully violated US sanctions against Iran and North Korea, sanctions whose integrity is the centerpiece of American policy toward those two countries and increasingly so as a result of Trump’s own moves. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more—and it’s bad.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 May 2018 at 6:29 pm

Why Trump Is Suddenly Worried About Saving Jobs in China: 6 Theories

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Margaret Hartmann writes in New York:

In recent months President Trump launched a trade war with China, a nation he’s accused, in vivid terms, of stealing American jobs, wealth, and intellectual property. “We can’t continue to allow China to rape our country, and that’s what they’re doing,” he said during one campaign rally.

Then on Sunday, Trump suddenly became very concerned about protecting Chinese jobs:

Last year the Chinese telecommunications giant, which makes inexpensive smartphones, admitted in U.S. federal court that it violated U.S. sanctions by selling to Iran and North Korea. ZTE agreed to a plea deal involving as much as $1.2 billion in fines, but last month the U.S. Department of Commerce said it didn’t follow through on the agreement, and banned American firms from selling to ZTE for seven years.

The 75,000-employee business was unable to find alternative suppliers and began shutting down its operations last week — but now ZTE might be saved, thanks to Trump. The exact reason for Trump’s abrupt turn around remains a mystery; there are reports suggesting it’s about the midterms, the upcoming negotiations with North Korea, Trump Organization business, or maybe all of the above. Here are the leading theories on why the president developed a soft spot for a sanctions-defying Chinese tech company.

This Is the Only Way to Get a Trade Deal With China
Trump is looking to strike a trade deal with China and avoid the massive tariffs threatened by both sides. High-level talks have made little progress in recent weeks, and according to the Washington PostTrump recently asked his advisers what China wants. He was told that relaxing ZTE’s punishment was a “prerequisite” to substantive discussions with the Chinese.

Chinese officials were furious about the penalties put on ZTE, which they viewed as excessive, but the Trump administration had been resisting their calls to back off. Dennis Wilder, a former China specialist at the CIA who just met with officials in Beijing, said he was told that the Chinese delegation led by Vice-Premier Liu He would not return to Washington for talks without a reprieve for ZTE. Hours after Trump’s tweet it was confirmed that Liu will meet with top administration officials in Washington later this week.

Sources said Trump doesn’t see easing penalties on ZTE as a major concession, though it doesn’t set the best example for other companies that violate U.S. sanctions.

Saving Chinese Jobs Serves Trump’s Larger Goal of Saving U.S. Jobs
ZTE is one of the U.S. telecom company Qualcomm’s biggest customers, so its shuttering would have negative consequences for Americans. In a tweet on Monday afternoon, Trump suggested he was actually focused on helping American companies:

In exchange for backing off of ZTE, U.S. officials are reportedly pushing Beijing to let Qualcomm’s proposed acquisition of NXP Semiconductors move forward (they also want China to relax tariffs on U.S. agricultural products, but more on that later). Qualcomm’s effort had been effectively blocked by a Chinese antitrust review, which was seen as payback for aggressive trade moves by the U.S.

The U.S. investment firm Rangeley Capital noticed that Chinese regulators just changed their view of the merger. “All of a sudden it was a tweet the president put out on ZTE,” Rangeley partner Chris DeMuth Jr. told the Wall Street Journal. “And then [the Chinese regulator] started up the review again.”

The Trump Administration’s Economic Nationalists Are Losing
It appears that Trump’s whims are dictating U.S.-China trade policy, as the White House seemed caught off guard by his tweets and struggled to put out a coherent message. The Post summed up the mixed messages from Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross:

After Trump’s Sunday tweet, White House officials spent much of the next 24 hours attempting to walk back his statement, saying ZTE’s fate would ultimately be left up to a review by Ross. And Monday afternoon, Ross insisted in a speech at the National Press Club that ZTE would not be a factor in the trade talks, saying, “Our position has been that that’s an enforcement action separate from trade.”

Just three hours later, Trump tweeted again, contradicting Ross’s statement that the issues would be kept apart.

The New York Times suggests that Trump’s abrupt shift is a sign that he’s once again caught between his administration’s “America First” adherents and his more mainstream advisers — and now the economic nationalists are losing out to the squares worried about what a massive trade war will do to the U.S. economy.

The nationalists took their shot when they handed the Chinese a long list of extreme demands during a trip to Beijing last month. Unsurprisingly, the Chinese were not receptive, and now Trump appears to be embracing Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s efforts to quickly resolve trade tensions before a trade war ravages the economy.

Trump Is Thinking About Other International Problems
Another possible reason for Trump’s shift: he just realized he needs to resolve economic tensions with China before he meets with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un on June 12. As North Korea’s closest ally and biggest trading partner, China will likely play a big role in any deal to end Pyongyang’s nuclear-weapons program. Trump has repeatedly said that he would cut Beijing some slack on trade if they help with North Korea.

Trump Is Thinking About Domestic Problems
Trump sabotaging the economy right before the midterm elections has always sounded like a good way to ensure that Republicans suffer massive losses in November. In practice Trump’s trade dispute with China has already irritated a key Republican constituency: farmers.

In April China retaliated against Trump’s new tariffs by announcing its own tariffs on some U.S. agricultural commodities. Last month Trump floated the idea of solving the problem with new subsidy payments to farmers, but that idea was quickly shot down by fellow Republican lawmakers.

Now, according to the Journal, the Trump administration is worried that the backlash from farmers could further endanger Republican efforts to hold on to the House and Senate in the midterms. China has reportedly suggested it will hold off on the agricultural tariffs if the U.S. goes easy on ZTE.

Trump Is Thinking About How He Can Enrich Himself
About 72 hours before Trump developed a friendlier attitude toward Beijing, the Chinese government agreed to pump $500 million into an Indonesian theme park that will benefit the Trump Organization — and thus the president himself, since he refused to divest from his company when he took office.

The Chinese government just extended a loan to the state-owned construction firm Metallurgical Corporation of China. That company inked a deal with the Indonesian firm MNC Land last week to build a theme park outside Jakarta that will feature several Trump-branded properties. Chinese companies will not be directly financing the Trump properties, but the theme park is a key part of the project. AFP reported last week:

… marketing materials for MNC Lido City refer to the theme park and Trump properties as flagship elements of the development, and corporate filings and internal documents show the Trump Organisation and the president’s sons have been directly involved in various stages of its planning.

“Even if this deal is completely and entirely above board, it simply furthers the perception of impropriety” surrounding Trump’s businesses, Christopher Balding, an economics professor at Shenzhen’s HSBC Business School, told AFP. “Especially with the potential trade war, this is not a good look … Critics will be entirely right to demand answers.”

That may be true, but it doesn’t look like they’re going to get them. When asked to explain how this doesn’t violate the Constitution’s emoluments clause, Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah referred questions to the Trump Organization — though as Noah Bierman of the Los Angeles Times pointed out, the company can’t speak on behalf of the president. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 May 2018 at 1:25 pm

Michael Pollan: “My Adventures with the Trip Doctors”

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Michael Pollan writes in the NY Times Magazine:

My first psilocybin journey began around an altar in the middle of a second-story loft in a suburb of a small city on the Eastern Seaboard. On this adventure I would have a guide, a therapist who, like an unknown number of other therapists administering psychedelics in America today, must work underground because these drugs are illegal. Seated across the altar from me, Mary (who asked that I use a nickname because of the work she does) began by reciting, with her eyes closed, a long and elaborate prayer derived from various Native American traditions. My eyes were closed, too, but now and again I couldn’t resist peeking out for a glance at my guide: a woman in her 60s with long blond hair parted in the middle and high cheekbones that I mention only because they would, in a few hours, figure in her miraculous transformation into a Mexican Indian.

I also stole a few glances at the scene: the squash-colored loft with its potted plants and symbols of fertility and female power; the embroidered purple fabric from Peru that covered the altar; and the collection of items arrayed across it, including an amethyst in the shape of a heart, a purple crystal holding a candle, a bowl containing a few squares of dark chocolate, the personal “sacred item” that Mary had asked me to bring (a little bronze Buddha a friend brought me from Tibet) and, set squarely before me, an antique plate holding the biggest psilocybin mushroom I had ever seen.

The crowded altar also held a branch of sage and a stub of palo santo, a fragrant wood that some Indians in South America burn ceremonially, and the jet-black wing of a crow. At various points in the ceremony, Mary would light the sage and the palo santo, using the crow’s wing to “smudge” me with the smoke — guiding the spirits through the space around my head.

The whole scene must sound ridiculously hokey, not to mention laced with cultural appropriation, yet the conviction Mary brought to the ceremony, together with the aromas of the burning plants and the spooky sound of the wing pulsing the air around my head — plus my own nervousness about the journey in store — cast a spell that allowed me to suspend my disbelief. Mary trained under one of the revered “elders” in the psychedelic community, an 80-something psychologist who was one of Timothy Leary’s graduate students at Harvard. But I think it was her manner, her sobriety and her evident compassion that made me feel sufficiently comfortable to entrust her with, well, my mind.

As a child growing up outside Providence, R.I., Mary was an enthusiastic Catholic, she says, “until I realized I was a girl” — a fact that would disqualify her from ever performing the rituals she cherished. Her religiosity lay dormant until, in college, friends gave her a pot of honey infused with psilocybin for her birthday; a few spoonfuls of the honey “catapulted me into a huge change,” she told me the first time we met. The reawakening of her spiritual life led her onto the path of Tibetan Buddhism and eventually to take the vow of an initiate: “ ‘To assist all sentient beings in their awakening and enlightenment.’ Which is still my vocation.”

And now seated before her in her treatment room was me, the next sentient being on deck, hoping to be awakened. She asked me to state my intention, and I answered: to learn whatever the “mushroom teachers,” as she called them, could teach me about myself and about the nature of consciousness.

PSYCHEDELIC THERAPY, whether for the treatment of psychological problems or as a means of facilitating self-exploration and spiritual growth, is undergoing a renaissance in America. This is happening both underground, where the community of guides like Mary is thriving, and aboveground, at institutions like Johns Hopkins, New York University and U.C.L.A., where a series of drug trials have yielded notably promising results.

I call it a renaissance because much of the work represents a revival of research done in the 1950s and 1960s, when psychedelic drugs like LSD and psilocybin were closely studied and regarded by many in the mental health community as breakthroughs in psychopharmacology. Before 1965, there were more than 1,000 published studies of psychedelics involving some 40,000 volunteers and six international conferences dedicated to the drugs. Psychiatrists were using small doses of LSD to help their patients access repressed material (Cary Grant, after 60 such sessions, famously declared himself “born again”); other therapists administered bigger so-called psychedelic doses to treat alcoholism, depression, personality disorders and the fear and anxiety of patients with life-threatening illnesses confronting their mortality.

That all changed in the mid-’60s, after Timothy Leary, the Harvard psychologist and lecturer turned psychedelic evangelist, began encouraging kids to “turn on, tune in and drop out.” Silly as that slogan sounds to our ears, a great many kids appeared to follow his counsel, much to the horror of their parents. The drugs fell into the eager embrace of a rising counterculture, influencing everything from styles of music and dress to cultural mores, and, many thought, inspired the questioning of adult authority that marked the “generation gap.” “The kids who take LSD aren’t going to fight your wars,” Leary famously claimed. In 1971, President Nixon called Leary, who by then had been drummed out of academia and chased by the law, “the most dangerous man in America.” That same year, the Controlled Substances Act took effect; it classified LSD and psilocybin as Schedule 1 drugs, meaning that they had a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use; possession or sale became a federal crime. (MDMA, which was still being used therapeutically, was not banned until 1985, after it became popular as a party drug called Ecstasy.) Funding for research dried up, and the legal practice of psychedelic therapy came to a halt.

But beginning in the 1990s, a new generation of academics quietly began doing psychedelics research again, much of it focusing on people with cancer. Since then, several dozen studies using psychedelic compounds have been completed or are underway. In a pair of Phase 2 psilocybin trials at Hopkins and N.Y.U., 80 cancer patients, many of them terminal, received a moderately high dose of psilocybin in a session guided by two therapists. Patients described going into their body and confronting their cancer or their fear of death; many had mystical experiences that gave them a glimpse of an afterlife or made them feel connected to nature or the universe in a way they found comforting. The studies, which were published in The Journal of Psychopharmacology in December 2016, reported that 80 percent of the Hopkins volunteers had clinically significant reductions in standard measurements of depression and anxiety, improvements that endured for at least six months.

Other, smaller studies of psilocybin have found that one, two or three guided sessions can help alcoholics and smokers overcome their addictions; in the case of 15 smokers treated in a 2014 pilot study at Hopkins, 80 percent of the volunteers were no longer smoking six months after their first psychedelic session, a figure that fell to 67 percent after a year — which is far better than the best treatment currently available. The psychedelic experience appears to give people a radical new perspective on their own lives, making possible a shift in worldview and priorities that allows them to let go of old habits.

Yet researchers believe it is not the molecules by themselves that can help patients change their minds. The role of the guide is crucial. People under the influence of psychedelics are extraordinarily suggestible — “think of placebos on rocket boosters,” a Hopkins researcher told me — with the psychedelic experience profoundly affected by “set” and “setting” — that is, by the volunteer’s interior and exterior environments. For that reason, treatment sessions typically take place in a cozy room and always in the company of trained guides. The guides prepare volunteers for the journey to come, sit by them for the duration and then, usually on the day after a session, help them to “integrate,” or make sense of, the experience and put it to good use in changing their lives. The work is typically referred to as “psychedelic therapy,” but it would be more accurate to call it “psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy.”

Though the university researchers seldom talk about it, much of the collective wisdom regarding how best to guide a psychedelic session resides in the heads of underground guides like Mary. These are the people who, in many cases, continued to do this work illicitly, long after the backlash against psychedelics during the 1960s ended most research and therapy. But their role in the current renaissance is an awkward one, as I discovered early this spring when I sat in on the nation’s first certificate program for aspiring psychedelic guides.

ON A FRIDAY AFTERNOON in late March, 64 health care professionals of various stripes — doctors, therapists, nurses, counselors and naturopaths — gathered in Namaste Hall at the California Institute of Integral Studies (C.I.I.S.), a school of psychology and social sciences in San Francisco, to begin their training to become legal psychedelic therapists. To be admitted to the program, an applicant must have a professional medical or therapy license of some kind, and most of the trainees — whose average age looked to be about 45 and whose number included nine psychologists, nine psychiatrists and four oncologists — had enrolled in this certificate program in the belief that psychedelic drugs like psilocybin and MDMA, administered with the proper support and guidance, hold the potential to revolutionize mental health treatment. The career path might not be clear or straight yet, but these people want to be ready to lead that revolution when it arrives — which may be sooner than we think.

It quickly became clear that . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. A note at the end:

This article is adapted from “How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence,” published by Penguin Press. Read the book review here.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 May 2018 at 1:12 pm

Police Are Mislabeling Anti-LGBTQ and Other Crimes as Anti-Heterosexual

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Rachel Glickhouse and Rahima Nasa report in ProPublica:

Rob heard a loud knock at his door late one night in August 2014. His landlord had been calling him about maintenance issues in his Columbus, Ohio, apartment, but that night she came with a male companion and began to scream at him. According to a police report, the man jumped into the argument and threatened Rob — who asked that we not use his full name — with a homophobic slur. Fearing an escalation, he called the police.

“A thing that I’ve dealt with my entire life as a gay man is extreme prejudice, from threats to constant harassment,” Rob said, noting that his landlord had previously told his neighbors that he was a “filthy queer.”

Columbus police acknowledged Rob’s concern that the incident may have been motivated by bias, but they got a key detail wrong in their incident report: They mistakenly marked it as a case of anti-heterosexual harassment.

Since 2010, Columbus police have reported six incidents that list bias against heterosexuals as the purported motivation. That’s more than any other local law enforcement agency in the nation reported during that period. Columbus Police Department Sgt. Dean Worthington acknowledges it’s likely that the officers who filed the reports marked the wrong box.

“Given the fact that our officers are human, we are prone to make the occasional mistake,” said Worthington. “I can assure you these mistakes were not intentional.”

Each officer has a supervisor whose duty is to check such reports, but it’s possible the errors still got through, Worthington added.

Those reports made their way from Columbus to Washington, D.C., where they were compiled with thousands of others into what the FBI calls the Uniform Crime Report. Every year a small number of anti-heterosexual hate crime reports end up in the UCR. From 2010 to 2016, the FBI reported that local law enforcement agencies noted a total of 142 of them.

ProPublica reviewed dozens of these reports, however, and found few, if any, actual hate crimes targeting people for being heterosexual.

We sent Freedom of Information Act requests to every law enforcement agency that reported a heterosexual bias crime in 2016 — the most recent year for which FBI data was available. We also sent requests to every agency that had reported two or more such crimes since 2010, as well as to any agency available in an online service used to send public-records requests called Muckrock.

In total, we were able to locate records for 58 cases.

None described hate crimes spurred by anti-heterosexual bias. As with the case in Columbus, about half were actually anti-gay or anti-bisexual crimes that were miscategorized. Seven cases appeared to reflect other types of bias, with victims targeted because they were Jewish or black or women. Some 18 cases don’t seem to have been hate crimes at all, containing no discernible bias element.

The findings reflect a larger problem: Many local law enforcement agencies do a poor job tracking hate crimes. It’s a problem that can endanger public safety and leave policy makers blind when grappling with the growing problem of hate crimes and bias incidents in America.

Rob says he was discouraged from pressing charges against his landlord due to a lack of witnesses present. The police filled out an incident report but he decided not to pursue it further, in part because he feared reprisal from his landlord. When he found out from ProPublica that the police had marked the report wrong, he said it felt like yet another slight.

“It’s just sad to hear because I know she was targeting me for being a gay man,” he said.

As ProPublica reported last year, when asked for hate crimes data, many police departments said they hadn’t investigated any hate incidents, had no records on file, or that their records were poorly kept. Some police departments don’t mark bias-motivated crimes as such, or officers aren’t sure of how to mark hate crimes within their record systems.

ProPublica found that many of the anti-LGBTQ crimes mismarked as anti-heterosexual were vandalism and involved the use of a common anti-gay slur. Even Palm Springs, California — which has one of the highest proportion of same-sex couples in the country, according to a census analysis by UCLA’s Williams Institute — misreported an anti-gay hate crime as anti-heterosexual.

In a few cases, victims were straight but were targeted by suspects who believed them to be gay. Even in cases of mistaken identity, the FBI instructs police to mark the perceived bias of the aggressor — in these cases, as anti-LGBTQ. In Columbus, Ohio, a straight man was called a “faggot” before he was assaulted. The report, however, indicated that the attack was motivated by anti-heterosexual bias. In Gainesville, Florida, a straight woman and her female roommate were targeted, police correctly marked it as an anti-lesbian hate crime on the incident report, but it was reflected in the FBI’s data as an anti-heterosexual incident. Officials weren’t sure why.

In the FBI’s bias codes system, 44 is the code for an anti-heterosexual crime, while 41 is the code for an anti-gay male hate crime, making such a mistake a matter of a single digit. Several police departments pointed to drop-down menus and online tracking systems as the reason behind mislabeling.

For example, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 May 2018 at 12:58 pm

What for-profit nursing homes can offer: She modeled in New York and worked for the Navy. At 93, parasites ate her alive at a nursing home.

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Kristine Phillips reports in the Washington Post:

. . . But the once-vibrant woman later found herself living in a nursing home, where she suffered a long, painful death, her family’s attorneys said. Parasitic mites had burrowed under her skin, living and laying eggs all over her body. By the time she died, vesicles and thick crusts had formed on her skin. Her right hand had turned nearly black, and Prieto said her fingers were about to fall off.
The scabies that infected Zeni’s body had become so severe that bacteria seeped into her bloodstream. She died in 2015 at age 93.
Zeni’s death is now the subject of a lawsuit filed against PruittHealth, a for-profit company that owns dozens of nursing homes, including Shepherd Hills in LaFayette, Ga., where Zeni lived for five years until she died. Shepherd Hills, a nursing home that had multiple scabies outbreaks in recent years and a history of health violations, failed to follow policies and procedures to prevent the occurrence and spread of the highly contagious disease, documents say. Instead of providing the care that Zeni desperately needed, the lawsuit alleges that the nursing home allowed her to die an agonizing death.
“The last six months of her life, she was in constant pain,” Prieto said. “She was literally being eaten alive from inside out.”
A troubling history
Zeni’s death raises crucial — and familiar — questions about for-profit nursing homes that have long been accused of sacrificing patient care to minimize costs and maximize bottom lines. Nursing homes owned by big corporations and private investment firms consistently performed poorly in terms of quality of care and are more likely than nonprofit and government facilities to be cited for “serious deficiencies” that harm residents, according to 2011 and 2016 reports by the Government Accountability Office. Staffing levels are usually lower, meaning trained nurses spend less time with residents each day.
“You must consider that the reimbursement rate from CMS [Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] continues to fail to keep up with rising costs that’s associated with care,” said Prieto, who focuses on nursing-home litigation. “The only variable that’s available for these for-profit facilities to ensure they continue to maximize their opportunity for profiting is staffing. Purposefully understaff facilities in an attempt to ensure maximum profit.”
Avi Mukherjee, a professor at Marshall University who focuses on health-care management, said high staff turnovers, diminishing morale, and meager pay and benefits often result in low quality of care.
“The key is to understand that low service quality and negative outcomes for patients and residents is not in the interest of the long-term survival of these companies,” Mukherjee said.
PruittHealth’s spokesman and attorneys did not respond to calls or emails seeking comment.
Federal health inspection records paint a troubling picture of the company, which describes itself as the “regional leader” of providing long-term health care to the elderly in the southeast.
Shepherd Hills was ordered to pay $337,786 in penalties over the past two years and has a one-star rating — the lowest — from Medicare based on health inspection results, staffing and quality of care.
In 2016, for example, the facility was penalized for several staff medication errors, some of which resulted in life-threatening situations. One resident was mistakenly given morphine twice within a half-hour one morning and continued to receive the medication every two hours later that night and the following day, records show. The resident overdosed and was rushed to the intensive care unit.
State health inspection records obtained by 11Alive, which first reportedon Zeni’s case, showed nearly three dozen violations in 2014, 2015 and 2016. The NBC affiliate reported that state officials threatened to withhold federal funding if the violations weren’t addressed.
Many PruittHealth-owned facilities have similarly dismal records. Nineteen other facilities in Georgia, seven in South Carolina and one in North Carolina received one- and two-star ratings from Medicare.
According to the Government Accountability Office’s 2016 report to Congress, skilled nursing facilities received $28.6 billion in federal funds in 2014. About 70 percent of these facilities are for-profit nursing homes.
‘It’s a nightmare’
Zeni was admitted to Shepherd Hills in 2010. By then, the 87-year-old had been diagnosed with dementia, diabetes and other illnesses. She was completely dependent on others and was no longer legally qualified to stay at an assisted-living facility. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 May 2018 at 12:16 pm

Sally Yates: Don’t ‘normalize’ attacks on the rule of law

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Jennifer Rubin writes in the Washington Post:

Former acting attorney general Sally Yates worries about “normalization” of behaviors that threaten democratic norms and the rule of law. Appearing with Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) at the Center for American Progress policy conference, she spoke forcefully about a critical, time-honored tradition: the “wall between the White House and Department of Justice when it comes to investigations and prosecutions.” She drilled down on President Trump’s actions, including the almost-daily hectoring on Twitter to get the Justice Department to open up investigations against political opponents. Trump’s effort to “tear down legitimacy of the Justice Department” so that people lose confidence in our legal system is no small matter.
In a progressive setting where one potential presidential candidate after another test-runs his or her message, Yates — who has rejected the suggestion to run for political office — remains one of the most (if not the most) impressive speakers. Her singular focus on preservation of democracy, matched with her considerable expertise and a low-boiling, righteous anger, gives her a stature most politicians lack. Perhaps her refusal to consider political office will fade.
Klobuchar, appearing confident and cheery in her delivery, echoed the concern about the constant onslaught against not only lower Justice Department officials but also against the special counsel and deputy attorney general. She also stressed the need for rejecting totally unqualified judicial nominees. She noted that the “blue slip” system, whereby senators from the nominee’s state can block a nominee, is no longer in place for circuit court appointments (although for now it holds on district court and U.S. attorney nominations). She ruefully pointed out that Republicans wouldn’t honor the objection from Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) to fill a seat — kept open for years via blue slip by her Republican colleague, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.). It is a small but telling example of the way in which the ground is shifting.
Yates noted that, for now, the “judiciary has done its job,” but worried that the “the president continues to attack legitimacy of courts and individual judges,” which she says will have “a corrosive effect.” Rebutting the tribal perspective of the president who thinks Democratic prosecutors act out of partisan loyalty (and conveniently ignore that the special counsel is a Republican), Yates she shared that, at the U.S. attorney’s office in Atlanta where she worked before coming to Main Justice, she didn’t know the political affiliation of the people working there. “And that’s the way it should be,” she said. “From the first day — before the first day — at the Justice Department it is hammered into you that your sole responsibility is to seek justice. It is deeply ingrained in the Department of Justice; that is the ethos.” She says she remains “optimistic” about the long-term health of her former department.
Lieu shared that the situation in the House “is worse than I expected.” “Once they retire they show some courage,” he said. He focuses on corruption, including Trump’s money-making off the properties he visits, and the antics of Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt. He stressed that we need to “close the nepotism loophole,” citing the gross unacceptability of having Jared Kushner still in the White House after serial corrections to his intelligence clearance application.
Klobuchar reeled off a list of actions Congress could take — including the bill seeking protection for the independent counsel, funding efforts to boost election infrastructure, opposing gerrymandering and voter suppression, and her Honest Ads Act, co-sponsored by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), which would apply the same disclosures to online political ads that apply to TV ads. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

15 May 2018 at 12:07 pm

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