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Archive for March 3rd, 2019

The Surprising Benefits of Serving Prisoners Better Food

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Madison Pauly writes in Mother Jones:

Jose Villarreal remembers going to bed hungry most nights during his 10 years in solitary confinement at California’s Pelican Bay State Prison. Dinner might consist of mashed potatoes, bread, and a slice of processed meat—never with salt, and always cold. Shouting through air vents between their cells, his neighbors would count the number of vegetables on their trays: eight string beans one day, 26 peas the next. “It became almost a joke,” Villarreal recalls.

This low-nutrient fare is typical of many corrections systems, which calibrate menus to meet budget demands and minimum calorie counts. Prices per meal range from about $1.30 to as low as the 15 cents that Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio once bragged about spending. The high-starch meals are often served up by scandal-plagued private companies. Meats are typically processed, and fresh fruit is rare, in part because it can be turned into booze.

To supplement tasteless grub, prisoners turn to the commissary, says Kimberly Dong, a Tufts University assistant professor researching prisoner health. This behind-bars bodega stocks items like Fritos and ramen, which inmates mix together to concoct dishes such as “spread,” a San Francisco County Jail specialty often made from noodles topped with hot chips, cheese sauce, and chili beans. “It’s like a carrot and a stick,” Villarreal says of the choice between commissary and facility-provided food. “But even the carrot is dipped in poison.”

This uninspiring diet is likely taking a toll on inmates’ health. It’s not just that prisoners are 6.4 times more likely to be sickened from spoiled or contaminated food than people on the outside, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determined in 2017. Prison food can damage their long-term wellness. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, about 44 percent of state and federal prisoners have experienced chronic disease, compared with 31 percent of the general population, even after controlling for age, sex, and race. Chronic illnesses common among prisoners—high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart problems—are linked to obesity, which is in turn associated with highly processed, high-carb jailhouse fare. And because inmates disproportionately come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, they’re already more likely to experience chronic disease than the general public, so prison grub can exacerbate preexisting conditions.

Corrections facilities often cut corners on food in an effort to save money. But this may cost taxpayers more in the long run. According to a 2017 analysis by the Prison Policy Initiative, after staffing, health care is the public prison system’s largest expense, setting government agencies back $12.3 billion a year. Outside prisons, there’s ample evi­dence that improving diets can shrink health care spending: One study of food stamp recipients found that incentivizing purchases of produce while reducing soda consumption could save more than $4.3 billion in health care expenses over five years. Extrapolating from these numbers, similar changes for America’s 2.3 million prisoners could save taxpayers more than $500 million over the same time period.

That’s not counting the added savings on security, since prisoners often protest when they notice food quality deteriorating. In the last few years, dietary discontent helped spark riots in at least three states. As part of the national prison strike that started in August, prisoners in North Carolina hung a makeshift banner demanding better food. Public officials sometimes take the hint: In February, prison officials in Washington ended a nearly 1,700-person food strike at medium-security prison by agreeing to replace sugary breakfast muffins with hard-boiled eggs. Last year, Michigan upped its prison food spending by $13.7 million to replace maggot-ridden mealsprovided by Trinity Services Group.

But nutritious chow doesn’t always have to cost more money. While harsh farm labor was once common at rural lockups, prison agricultural programs increasingly involve smaller-scale gardens that enable inmates to consume produce they’ve grown. Such programs have also been found to improve mental health, reduce recidivism rates, and provide job skills. One initiative, run by the Oregon-based nonprofit Growing Gardens, has graduated more than 900 inmates with gardening certificates.

A year and a half after his release, Villarreal still isn’t . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

3 March 2019 at 1:00 pm

One particular mass shooting—Amy Bishop shooting faculty members after being denied tenure—and the (fascinating) backstory

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One paragraph from the article by Patrick Radden Keefe in the New Yorker:

Andrew Solomon, in his recent book “Far from the Tree,” writes, in a discussion about how parents cope with children who have killed, “There’s a fine line between heroic love and willful blindness.” Parental denial may be driven by compassion, Solomon argues, but it can also be profoundly confusing for the child. If the child has committed a terrible crime, the parent may refuse to confront it because that feels like the surest strategy for restoring a stable existence. But that very refusal may actually be further destabilizing. In Solomon’s view, it can be “alienating—even traumatic” when parents refuse to acknowledge the horrible things that their children have done. In her novel “Amazon Fever,” Amy Bishop describes the father of her heroine as “willfully blind,” and wonders whether that blindness might make him, on some level, “complicit.” The passage made me wonder about Sam. Had he considered that Amy might have been intent on shooting him? And had he and Judy ever discussed this possibility?

Fascinating accounts of what happened—very Rashomon. Well worth reading.

It occurs to me that, as a nation, much of the US is in the same emotional situation as this article clearly depicts: terrible things are happening, and they are happening a lot, and yet there’s a willful blindness and self-deception that everything is okay, that everything can go along, that it will be just like it was before. But that is not in fact what is happening. It is getting worse.

I don’t think denial and self-deception is a sustainable (or survivable) strategy.

But read the article and see for yourself what denial does.

Written by Leisureguy

3 March 2019 at 11:51 am

Elijah Cummings’ closing remarks at Cohen hearing

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Written by Leisureguy

3 March 2019 at 7:08 am

Cat Bites The Hand That Feeds; Hospital Bills $48,512

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This story offers a sharp contrast to the medical system in Canada, where the patient would have had to pay nothing. Julie Appleby writes for NPR:

Compassion for a hungry stray kitten led to a nip on the finger — and also took a bite out of Jeannette Parker’s wallet.

In a rural area just outside Florida’s Everglades National Park, Parker spotted the cat wandering along the road. It looked skinny and sick, and when Parker, a wildlife biologist, offered up some tuna she had in her car, the cat bit her finger.

“It broke my skin with his teeth,” she recalls.

After cleaning off the wound, she did some research and began worrying about rabies since Miami-Dade County had warnings about that potentially fatal disease in effect at the time.

She then drove back to her home in the Florida Keys and called the health department, but it was closed.

So she headed to the emergency room at Mariners Hospital, not far from her house. She spent about two hours in the emergency room, got two types of injections and an antibiotic and says she never talked with a doctor.

“I went home happy as a clam,” she said.

Then the bills came.

Patient: Jeannette Parker, a 44-year-old state fish-and-wildlife biologist. Insured through the American Postal Workers Union because her husband works for the federal government at Everglades National Park.

Total bill: $48,512, with $46,422 of that total for one preventive medication

Service provider: Mariners Hospital, part of Baptist Health South Florida, a faith-based nonprofit chain with eight hospitals and a variety of other facilities

Medical service: Parker’s wound was examined, and she received the first in a series of rabies shots, as well as an injection of 12 milliliters of rabies immune globulin, an antibody that kick-starts the immune system to provide protection from the virus until the vaccine kicks in.

What gives: When you are potentially exposed to a fatal disease, you need treatment. In the moment, it’s hard to shop around or say no to high prices.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that post-exposure preventive treatment for rabies, which includes the immune globulin and four doses of vaccine given over a two-week period, usually costs more than $3,000 on average. An estimated 40,000 to 50,000 people annually get such treatments following exposure to potentially rabid animals, the CDC says. Each hospital can set its own prices for treatment.

In Parker’s case, the majority of the cost was for the rabies immune globulin. For that injection alone, the hospital billed her and her insurer $46,422. That’s well above what’s considered typical.

“I have never heard anything that high for immune globulin,” said independent biomedical consultant Charles Rupprecht, a World Health Organization technical adviser on rabies who ran the rabies program at the CDC for 20 years. “How is that possible?”

Parker thought that seemed high after she requested and received an itemized bill from her insurer, so she Googled it.

“I saw that immune globulin was expensive, but it wasn’t that expensive,” she said. “I sat on it for a while because I was upset. Finally, I went by the hospital to confirm, and they said, ‘Yes, that is right.’ ”

The rabies immune globulin is a complex product, made from blood plasma donated by volunteers who have been immunized against rabies. Three manufacturers make the product, and there are no shortages right now, the Food and Drug Administration says. Currently, the average wholesale acquisition price — the amount paid by wholesalers that then mark it up when they sell it to distributors or hospitals — is $361.26 per milliliter, according to Richard Evans, a drug industry analyst at SSR Health, part of the boutique investment firm SSR LLC.

Using that average, the cost for the 12-milliliter dose Parker received would have been $4,335. . .

Continue reading.

It seems a lot like a scam. Read the rest of the article.

Written by Leisureguy

3 March 2019 at 6:31 am

Nepotism rules exist for a reason. Jared Kushner shows why.

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Jennifer Rubin writes in the Washington Post:

The Post reports:

President Trump early last year directed his then-chief of staff, John F. Kelly, to give presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner a top-secret security clearance — a move that made Kelly so uncomfortable that he documented the request in writing, according to current and former administration officials.

After Kushner, a senior White House adviser, and his wife, Ivanka Trump, pressured the president to grant Kushner the long-delayed clearance, Trump instructed Kelly to fix the problem, according to a person familiar with Kelly’s account, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions.

Kushner’s lawyer, Ivanka Trump and President Trump all falsely stated that he got no special treatment.

As Trump defenders have pointed out, the president has the authority to grant clearances to anyone, so why is this even a problem? Attorney Mark S. Zaid, who represents individuals in security clearance matters, tells me, “The question isn’t whether President Trump has the lawful authority to grant his son-in-law a security clearance, as he clearly does, but what are the mechanisms for Congress to conduct legitimate, nonpartisan oversight of presidential actions in the national security arena.” He explains, “It is apparently unprecedented for a President to override security professionals in this manner. … What is necessary to keep the system afloat is consistency, which this case lacks.”

The House Oversight Committee, which has tried to review the White House clearance procedures (which came to light when staff secretary Rob Porter was accused of spousal abuse), is going to get to the bottom of this. The committee’s chairman says time’s up. “In a letter to the White House, House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) urged ‘full and immediate compliance’ with requests that Democrats on the panel have made related to security clearances for much of the past two years,” The Post reports. “’I am now writing a final time to request your voluntary cooperation with this investigation,’ Cummings said in the letter to White House counsel Pat Cipollone.”

This raises two main questions: Why didn’t the intelligence professionals want to give him a security clearance? Second, how bad is this?

The first question raises the issue as to whether Kushner was compromised and therefore shouldn’t have gotten a clearance. Prior reports revealed officials from four foreign countries believed he could be manipulated because of his financial situation. Congress needs to determine whether this was the root of the problem.

In addition, Kushner revised his application for a clearance multiple times after omitting mention of foreign contacts. CNNpreviously reported:

Democrats have called on the White House to revoke security clearances granted to Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, and Ivanka Trump over reports of their use of personal email accounts and Kushner’s multiple updates to his security clearance questionnaire, known as SF-86, for failing initially to include meeting with foreign officials.

Democrat Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois asked [the director of the National Background Investigations Bureau, Charles] Phalen, “Can you recall if there has ever been an applicant having to submit four addenda detailing over 100 errors and omissions being able to maintain their security clearance once those errors and omission have been identified?”

Phalen said he has not seen “the breadth” of all applications “but I have never seen that level of mistakes.”

Congress needs to find out whether these revisions has to do with Kushner’s contacts with Russians and/or with the investigation of those contacts in the special counsel probe.

So how bad is this? Well, that depends in part on why the clearance was denied by professional intelligence personnel and why they all lied about it. (And the constant lying to the voters and the media matters, too; the president and his family apparently will lie about everything and anything.)

The scandal matters for another reason, actually the same reason Trump was so hysterical about Hillary Clinton’s email server. If higher-ups don’t abide by the same rules as everyone, those down the chain lose respect for the rules. The Trump family seems to specialize in eroding norms of conduct essential to the effective operation of a democracy.

In a larger sense, this all goes back to the original sin: hiring an utterly unqualified son-in-law and assigning him an enormous range of critical issues. Nepotism rules are there for a reason. They protect the people from the self-serving and dangerous practice of putting incompetent relatives in government. Kushner shows why incompetent relatives are worse than incompetent non-relatives: It’s really hard to fire relatives.

“This is one more example of this president lying to the public about really important things,” observes former FBI official Frank Figliuzzi. “On a larger level, we see a president who views his intelligence agencies with disdain yet uses access to their intelligence as a tool or weapon by pulling his detractors from access while ensuring his allies get coveted clearances.”

A final question needs to be answered here. Kushner needs to be questioned under oath, and all relevant documents need to be reviewed to determine whether he used information he has clearance for to advance his personal business interests and/or use to trade in exchange for financial favors from foreign governments. Everyone involved, including Kelly, should be dragged behind closed doors and grilled until we get to the bottom of this. The House and Senate Intelligence Committees . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

3 March 2019 at 6:22 am

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