Later On

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Archive for December 3rd, 2019

Tempeh batch 9: Bigger and better

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I think I’ve got it down now: for this batch I took 4 cups of soybeans. I soaked, cooked, drained, dried, and cooled them, then add 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) white vinegar and one packet of starter (which the instructions say is good if you’re cooking 2 cups of beans, but I figure that once the mold is growing, it will grow: mold’s gonna do what mold’s gotta do. And I used the dishtowel cover and kept them in the oven. Photos below are at the 24-hour mark.

It was enough so that, to keep the tempeh from being too thick, I used an ancillary pan (9″x9″) in addition to the main dish (9″x13″):

That the big one, and this is the small one:

Written by LeisureGuy

3 December 2019 at 8:36 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Plant-based diet

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Technology in service to the public and not oligarchs: The One-Traffic-Light Town with Some of the Fastest Internet in the U.S.

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Sue Halpern writes in the New Yorker:

Before Shani Hays began providing tech support for Apple from her home, in McKee, Kentucky, she worked at a prison as a corrections officer assigned to male sex offenders, making nine dollars an hour. After less than a year, she switched to working nights on an assembly line at a car-parts factory, where she felt safer. More recently, Hays, who is fifty-four, was an aide at a nursing home, putting in a full workweek in a single weekend and driving eighty-five miles to get there. Then her son-in-law, who was married to Hays’s oldest daughter, got addicted to crystal meth and became physically abusive. Hays’s daughter started using, too. The son-in-law went to jail. Their kids were placed in foster care. Then Hays’s stepmother got cancer. “There was a lot going on,” Hays told me. “I was just trying to keep it all together.” She began working from home last summer, which has allowed her to gain custody of her three grandchildren. (Her daughter has since completed treatment for her addiction.) During Hays’s half-hour lunch break, she makes supper. “I wouldn’t be able to do this without the Internet we have here,” she said.

McKee, an Appalachian town of about twelve hundred tucked into the Pigeon Roost Creek valley, is the seat of Jackson County, one of the poorest counties in the country. There’s a sit-down restaurant, Opal’s, that serves the weekday breakfast-and-lunch crowd, one traffic light, a library, a few health clinics, eight churches, a Dairy Queen, a pair of dollar stores, and some of the fastest Internet in the United States. Subscribers to Peoples Rural Telephone Cooperative (P.R.T.C.), which covers all of Jackson County and the adjacent Owsley County, can get speeds of up to one gigabit per second, and the coöperative is planning to upgrade the system to ten gigabits. (By contrast, where I live, in the mountains above Lake Champlain, we are lucky to get three megabytes.) For nearly fifteen million Americans living in sparsely populated communities, there is no broadband Internet service at all. “The cost of infrastructure simply doesn’t change,” Shirley Bloomfield, the C.E.O. of the Rural Broadband Association, told me. “It’s no different in a rural area than in Washington, D.C. But we’ve got thousands of people in a square mile to spread the cost among. You just don’t in rural areas.”

Keith Gabbard, the C.E.O. of P.R.T.C., had the audacious idea of wiring every home and business in Jackson and Owsley Counties with high-speed fibre-optic cable. Gabbard, who is in his sixties, is deceptively easygoing, with a honeyed drawl and a geographically misplaced affection for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He grew up in McKee and attended Eastern Kentucky University, thirty-five miles down Route 421; he lives with his wife, a retired social worker, in a house next door to the one in which he grew up. “I’ve spent my whole life here,” he said. “I’m used to people leaving for college and never coming back. The ones who didn’t go to college stayed. But the best and the brightest have often left because they felt like they didn’t have a choice.”

When Gabbard returned to his home town after college, in 1976, he took an entry-level job at the telephone coöperative. “I had this degree in business management that I thought was really cool, but I got a job answering the phones,” he said. “At the time, we were all on party lines, and everybody was calling and complaining about somebody on their line and they couldn’t get the phone. I was taking those complaints. And I remember thinking that, once we got everyone their own lines, we won’t have any more problems. I didn’t have a clue what was coming.”

At the time, telephone service itself was relatively new in Gabbard’s corner of eastern Kentucky. The area was served by an electric co-op, created in the nineteen-thirties to take advantage of the Rural Electrification Act, New Deal legislation that brought electricity to the most isolated parts of the country. But no commercial telephone company wanted to spend the money to plant the poles and string the wires to connect Jackson and Owsley Counties to the rest of the world. When the R.E.A. was amended, in 1949, to enable co-ops to take advantage of low-interest loans to build and operate telephone services, a group of local businesspeople went door to door assessing the desire and asking residents to demonstrate their commitment by paying a modest membership fee. With a loan from the federal government, they built a telephone company, as Gabbard describes it, “from scratch.” In 1953, Peoples Rural Telephone Cooperative began providing party lines to five hundred and seventy-five subscribers. There are now around seven thousand active members.

After a few years fielding customer complaints at P.R.T.C., Gabbard became a dispatcher, sending out repair crews and scheduling installations. He dabbled a bit in engineering, spent a few years assisting the C.E.O., and, in 1996, replaced him. As chief executive, Gabbard moved the company into the cable-television business, added dial-up Internet, and partnered with four regional telecommunications companies to create Appalachian Wireless, a cell service that now covers twenty-seven Kentucky counties. These upgrades, however, did little to improve the local economy. In 2005, a fire at a manufacturing plant in McKee put seven hundred people out of work overnight. “Our economy fell off a cliff that day,” Jackson County’s chief elected officer, Shane Gabbard, who is no relation to Keith Gabbard, told me when we met in his office in the county courthouse, a redoubt of taxidermy and crucifixes. “The car lot next door to the factory went out of business. The gas station went out. Every business in town was affected.”

When Gabbard returned to his home town after college, in 1976, he took an entry-level job at the telephone coöperative. “I had this degree in business management that I thought was really cool, but I got a job answering the phones,” he said. “At the time, we were all on party lines, and everybody was calling and complaining about somebody on their line and they couldn’t get the phone. I was taking those complaints. And I remember thinking that, once we got everyone their own lines, we won’t have any more problems. I didn’t have a clue what was coming.”

At the time, telephone service itself was relatively new in Gabbard’s corner of eastern Kentucky. The area was served by an electric co-op, created in the nineteen-thirties to take advantage of the Rural Electrification Act, New Deal legislation that brought electricity to the most isolated parts of the country. But no commercial telephone company wanted to spend the money to plant the poles and string the wires to connect Jackson and Owsley Counties to the rest of the world. When the R.E.A. was amended, in 1949, to enable co-ops to take advantage of low-interest loans to build and operate telephone services, a group of local businesspeople went door to door assessing the desire and asking residents to demonstrate their commitment by paying a modest membership fee. With a loan from the federal government, they built a telephone company, as Gabbard describes it, “from scratch.” In 1953, Peoples Rural Telephone Cooperative began providing party lines to five hundred and seventy-five subscribers. There are now around seven thousand active members.

After a few years fielding customer complaints at P.R.T.C., Gabbard became a dispatcher, sending out repair crews and scheduling installations. He dabbled a bit in engineering, spent a few years assisting the C.E.O., and, in 1996, replaced him. As chief executive, Gabbard moved the company into the cable-television business, added dial-up Internet, and partnered with four regional telecommunications companies to create Appalachian Wireless, a cell service that now covers twenty-seven Kentucky counties. These upgrades, however, did little to improve the local economy. In 2005, a fire at a manufacturing plant in McKee put seven hundred people out of work overnight. “Our economy fell off a cliff that day,” Jackson County’s chief elected officer, Shane Gabbard, who is no relation to Keith Gabbard, told me when we met in his office in the county courthouse, a redoubt of taxidermy and crucifixes. “The car lot next door to the factory went out of business. The gas station went out. Every business in town was affected.”

By 2009, unemployment in Jackson County was more than sixteen per cent. (In Owsley County, which sits at the edge of coal country, it was about twelve per cent.) Few places in the country were as down-and-out—and even fewer had fibre-optic service to the home. But, as Gabbard and his crew saw it, when it came time to upgrade infrastructure in parts of both counties, it made no sense to replace old copper wiring with new copper wires, which don’t have the capacity for broadband. “It’s no more difficult to build fibre than it is copper,” he said. “It was just a matter of money and time.” With twenty million dollars borrowed from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and twenty-five million dollars in Obama-era stimulus—some of it a grant and some of it a loan—P.R.T.C. pulled a thousand miles of cable, to all seven thousand structures in the county. In the most rugged terrain around McKee, the crews relied on a mule named Old Bub to haul the cable two or three miles a day. “We’ve got mountains and rocks and not the greatest roads, and there were places we couldn’t get a vehicle to,” Gabbard told me. “Farmers here have been using mules for centuries. It just made sense that, if a place was hard to get to, you went with the mules.” Old Bub, he said, was able to do the work of eight to ten men.

The effort took six years, at a cost of fifty thousand dollars per mile. “Someone has to build to the last mile,” he said. “The big telecom companies aren’t going to do it, because it’s not economical and they have shareholders to answer to. We’re a co-op. We’re owned by our members. We answer to each other.” The grants they got, he said, were a matter of good timing and good luck. P.R.T.C. failed the first time it applied for stimulus money but got it on the second round, and with better terms than it had asked for originally. “One of the things we pitched was how impoverished our region was, how high our unemployment was, and how much this would help us,” Gabbard said. Even so, P.R.T.C. was initially five million dollars short of what it cost to wire the last, most remote residences with fibre-optic broadband; profits from Appalachian Wireless supplied the remaining capital that it needed to finish the job. “Our board and staff, we really wanted to do it all,” Gabbard said. “We wanted everyone to have the same thing.”

Once Jackson and Owsley Counties were wired, Gabbard was approached by the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program (ekcep), to see if they could use P.R.T.C.’s broadband to bring Internet-based jobs to the region. In 2015, Teleworks U.S.A., a job-training nonprofit, opened a branch in Jackson County. It is a collaboration between ekcep, the phone coöperative, and a number of other civic groups. P.R.T.C. supplies the hub with Internet connectivity and gives three months of free service to anyone who completes a workshop there. In nearly five years, it has created more than six hundred work-at-home jobs in the county. Participants learn enough basic computer skills to get placed at companies such as Hilton Hotels, Cabela’s, U-Haul, Harry & David, and Apple.

Shani Hays, who knew nothing about computers six months ago, is now fielding calls about iPads, AirPods, iPhones, and Apple Watches. “The training was really extensive and really, really hard,” she said. “There was all this technical stuff I knew nothing about, but I just kinda nickel-and-dimed my way through.” Hays has received two raises so far, and now earns more than fourteen dollars an hour. She will soon be eligible for health insurance, paid vacation time, and other benefits. Working at home saves her money, too. When we talked, she had a hard time remembering the last time she had to put gas in her car. “And there’s none of that stopping to get gas and driving away with a coffee and a candy bar and there goes another ten dollars,” she said.

The Teleworks office is in a small industrial park about ten miles south of McKee, in a one-story brick building that sits on a rise looking out on the Daniel Boone National Forest. Inside is a warren of cubicles where people who can’t work from home sit with headsets on, talking and typing, and a conference room where job fairs and workshops are held. On the morning I visited, I spoke with Betty Hays, the operations manager, who has been with the program from the beginning. “The first workshop we had, five years ago, was supposed to be straight-up customer service, like, how to deal with people on the phone,” she recalled. “But I tossed in a little computer tech, because I realized people didn’t know how to do simple things like open tabs or copy and paste.”

There were fifteen people in the class, all of them women whom Betty Hays had worked with at BAE Systems, a defense contractor, sewing military backpacks. In 2014, the company shut its factory in McKee, taking two hundred jobs with it. By the time the workshop ended, all fifteen had been offered jobs paying more than ten dollars an hour, plus benefits. (The minimum wage in Kentucky is $7.25.) Once the placement agencies understood how reliable and fast the Internet was in Jackson, and that there was an untapped workforce, they started offering more jobs. A call center moved in. A factory where helicopter rotors are fabricated was expanded. Hays began taking advantage of the county’s fast, lag-free Internet herself. Between five and eight every morning, before she heads to Teleworks, she talks with schoolchildren in China who are trying to improve their English. The conversations each last twenty minutes and Hays is paid twenty-five dollars an hour. “We joke that there are going to be all these kids in China with Southern accents,” she said.

P.R.T.C. has also partnered with the Department of Veterans Affairs to create a telemedicine office and private lounge inside the county library, where veterans can talk discreetly to mental-health providers and hang out with one another. (The space doubles as a G.E.D. testing center on Mondays, when the V.A. does not schedule appointments. The librarian proctors the exam.) P.R.T.C. not only paid to outfit the room with comfortable furniture; it provides Internet to the entire library. Because so many people sit in their cars after hours and log onto the library’s Wi-Fi, the library now beams it out to the parking lot, too. Shane Gabbard, the Jackson County executive, told me that more people were moving into the county than away from it. “Land is cheap here, taxes are low, and we have more jobs than we can fill,” he said. Unemployment in Jackson County is now under five and a half per cent.

“Rural broadband seemed wonkish to people for a long time, but they’re starting to see it in kitchen-table terms,” the F.C.C. commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel told me. “It doesn’t matter if you’re from red-state America or blue-state America—you’re going to want your kids to be able to do their homework and to succeed in the digital economy.” What this has meant, in real terms, is that the F.C.C. and a number of other federal agencies, most notably the U.S.D.A., now consider broadband to be infrastructure, just as roads and bridges were in the twentieth century. “We used to have to beat our way through policy doors to talk to people about our issues,” Bloomfield, of the Rural Broadband Association, told me. “Suddenly people are focussing on this in a bipartisan fashion.”

Candidates, too, have latched onto rural broadband, seeing it, perhaps, as a way to woo voters in the hinterlands. But it goes beyond the transactional business of electoral politics. The widening rural-urban digital divide is leaving behind whole swaths of the country, exacerbating educational and economic inequalities and thwarting innovations in agriculture. Elizabeth WarrenJoe BidenPete Buttigieg, and Tom Steyer have each offered plans to bridge the gap. Amy Klobuchar has been writing legislation to expand rural Internet services for years.

Meanwhile, in April, the Trump Administration, led by the F.C.C.’s chair, Ajit Pai, announced its own broadband initiative, the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, which, as critics have pointed out, is essentially a renaming and repurposing of an Obama-era program called the Connect America Fund. That program uses a portion of the Universal Service Fund, a pool of money collected from customers by their service providers and passed along to the F.C.C., to subsidize, among other things, phone and broadband service in places where it is not otherwise economical. Some companies receive more money back from the U.S.F. than they contribute. Others pay in more than they receive. P.R.T.C., for example, gets a U.S.F. subsidy every month that enables the coöperative to avoid passing along the real—and prohibitive—cost of service to its members, which Gabbard estimates to be two or three times what P.R.T.C. actually charges.

The big telecom companies also receive U.S.F. money, often taking advantage of a loophole in the law that lets them claim to be operating in an underserved area as long as they are providing service to a single customer in a rural census block. These “false positives,” Bloomfield told members of the House of Representatives in September, too often result in areas without service appearing on maps as if they were covered. (As a case in point, many of the residents of Lee County, Kentucky, which is adjacent to Jackson and Owsley Counties, while “served” by A.T. & T., are still only offered dial-up Internet.) The solution, Bloomfield told me, is better mapping. “It’s the No. 1 thing,” she said. “We really need to get carriers to really be honest about what areas they’re serving, what they’re not serving, and what the speeds are.” Better maps will enable U.S.F. money to be distributed more equitably, freeing up funds for coöperatives, municipalities, and smaller, regional companies to build the necessary infrastructure to deliver broadband to otherwise overlooked communities.

Owsley County, even more than Jackson County, might seem the least likely community in the country to be wired with fibre-optic cable. In 2016, Al Jazeera found it to be the “poorest white county” in the United States. Even now the median household income is about twenty-three thousand dollars a year, and a third of Owsley residents live at or below the poverty line. The county has been hit hard by the Appalachian trifecta of opioid addiction, the collapse of the coal industry, and the decline of tobacco farming. Tim Bobrowski, the county’s school superintendent, estimated that thirty-five per cent of his students were being raised by their grandparents or someone else because their parents were in jail, addicted, or dead. It was hard, he said, to get adults to care much about education. “It’s not different here than in urban areas: where there’s poverty, there’s apathy. Where there’s apathy, there’s poverty.”

Bobrowski, the son of a Methodist minister, grew up in Booneville, a town of about a hundred and the county seat. He returned after college to teach science and social studies before becoming principal and then superintendent. A few years ago, the school district gave every student, starting in the third grade, a Chromebook computer in lieu of textbooks. “Sometimes, kids will open their computers in class and roaches will crawl out,” Bobrowski said, putting a fine point on the hardships faced by his students. But he’s clear that Internet access has helped close the homework gap and exposed young people to resources outside of their community. Last year, for the fifth year in a row, a student was able to earn an associate’s degree while enrolled at the local high school. (Only about a fifth of Owsley adults have an associate’s degree or more.)

The Owsley County school district has been able to take advantage of the Internet in other ways, too. It has established . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

3 December 2019 at 4:29 pm

Researchers Find A Remarkable Ripple Effect When You Give Cash To Poor Families

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It’s the opposite of strip-mining the poor: it’s pump-priming economic activity. Nurith Aizenman reports for NPR:

Over the past decade there has been a surge of interest in a novel approach to helping the world’s poor: Instead of giving them goods like food or services like job training, just hand out cash — with no strings attached. Now a major new study suggests that people who get the aid aren’t the only ones who benefit.

Edward Miguel, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, and a co-author of the study, says that until now, research on cash aid has almost exclusively focused on the impact on those receiving the aid. And a wealth of research suggests that when families are given the power to decide how to spend it, they manage the money in ways that improve their overall well-being: Kids get more schooling; the family’s nutrition and health improves.

But Miguel says that “as nonprofits and governments are ramping up cash aid, it becomes more and more important to understand the broader economy-wide consequences.”

In particular, there has been rising concern about the potential impact on the wider community — the people who are not getting the aid. A lot of them may be barely out of poverty themselves.

“There’s a fear that you just have more dollars chasing around the same number of goods, and you could have price inflation,” says Miguel. “And that could hurt people who didn’t get the cash infusion.”

So Miguel and his collaborators teamed up to conduct an experiment with one of the biggest advocates of cash aid. It’s a charity called GiveDirectly that, since 2009, has given out more than $140 million to impoverished families in various African countries.

The researchers identified about 65,000 households across an impoverished, rural area of Kenya and then randomly assigned them to various groups: those who got no help from GiveDirectly and a “treatment group” of about 10,500 families who got a one-time cash grant of about $1,000.

“That’s a really big income transfer,” notes Miguel. “About three-quarters of the income of the [recipient] households for a year on average.” It also represented a flood of cash into the wider communities where they lived. “The cash transfers were something like 17% of total local income — local GDP,” says Miguel.

Eighteen months on, the researchers found that, as expected, the families who got the money used it to buy lots more food and other essentials.

But that was just the beginning.

“That money goes to local businesses,” says Miguel. “They sell more. They generate more revenue. And then eventually that gets passed on into labor earnings for their workers.”

The net effect: Every dollar in cash aid increased total economic activity in the area by $2.60.

But were those income gains simply washed out by a corresponding rise in inflation?

“We actually find there’s a little bit of price inflation, but it’s really small,” says Miguel. “It’s much less than 1%.”

The study — recently released through the website of the National Bureau of Economic Research — also uncovered some evidence for why prices didn’t go up: A lot of local businesses reported that before the cash infusion they weren’t that busy.

“They may be a shopkeeper that doesn’t really have that many customers [because] it’s a poor area. They may be someone working at a grain mill that only has one or two customers an hour.”

So when they suddenly get more customers, they don’t have to take extra steps like hiring more workers that would drive up their costs — and their prices. In economic parlance, there was enough “slack” in the local economy to absorb the injection of cash.

Eeshani Kandpal is an economist with the World Bank who has done research of her own on cash transfers — including a study that found that a cash aid program in the Philippines did drive up the cost of certain perishable food items.

But Kandpal says the lens she and her collaborators applied was narrow — focusing on a limited set of food items in an area where local businesses were particularly isolated. This meant they were likely to face extra difficulties shipping in additional supplies to meet stepped-up demand.

By contrast, the new study has a far broader scope, says Kandpal — encompassing not just a much larger number of participants but a vast range of goods and businesses whose pricing practices the researchers meticulously monitored.

“It’s a super credible, interesting study,” says Kandpal. “And very carefully done.”

Her main caveat about the results concerns the timing.

“I’d be curious to see if they persist in the longer run,” she says. “Eighteen months is certainly not short. But it’s not terribly long either.”

Indeed, some studies of one-time cash grants have suggested that over time those who did not get the aid ultimately catch up to those who did — reaching similar levels of income and other measures of well-being.

But Michael Faye, co-founder and president of GiveDirectly, says even if it turns out that a one-time cash infusion provides only a temporary boost, “I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.” After all, he points out, during the period people are getting the boost, their lives are substantially better. And that has become all the more significant “when we now know that the people not receiving cash may also be benefiting indirectly.”

The finding also adds a new twist to an argument that GiveDirectly has been making about how donors should judge their noncash aid programs. The charity has long maintained that donors should ensure that any noncash program provides more benefits than simply giving recipients an equivalent amount of cash. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

3 December 2019 at 3:11 pm

Strip-mining money from the poor: They Loan You Money. Then They Get A Warrant For Your Arrest.

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Anjali Tsui writes in ProPublica:

Cecila Avila was finishing a work shift at a Walmart. David Gordon was at church. Darrell Reese was watching his granddaughter at home. Jessica Albritton had pulled into the parking lot at her job, where she packed and shipped bike parts.

All four were arrested by an armed constable, handcuffed and booked into jail. They spent anywhere from a few hours to a couple of days behind bars before being released after paying a few hundred dollars in bail or promising to appear in court.

None of the four, who live in northern Utah and were detained last year, had committed a crime. They had each borrowed money at high interest rates from a local lender called Loans for Less and were sued for owing sums that ranged from $800 to $3,600. When they missed a court date, the company obtained a warrant for their arrest.

Avila was handcuffed and marched down the main aisle in the Walmart in front of customers and co-workers. “It was the most embarrassing thing,” said Avila, 30, who has worked at the store for eight years. At the time of the arrest, Loans for Less had applied to garnish her wages. “It just didn’t make any sense to me,” she said. “Why am I being arrested for it?”

It’s against the law to jail someone because of an unpaid debt. Congress banned debtors prisons in 1833. Yet, across the country, debtors are routinely threatened with arrest and sometimes jailed, and the practices are particularly aggressive in Utah. (ProPublica recently chronicled how medical debt collectors are wielding similar powers in Kansas.)

Technically, debtors are arrested for not responding to a court summons requested by the creditor. But for many low-income people, who are not familiar with court proceedings, lack access to transportation, child care options or time off, or move frequently and thus may not receive notifications, it’s a distinction without a difference.

Reese, a 70-year-old Vietnam veteran, said he missed a hearing because he couldn’t afford to put gas in his car. Gordon, 46, said he was never personally notified of the court date. Avila and Albritton, 32, said they couldn’t take time off work.

In Utah, payday lenders and similar companies that offer high-interest, small-dollar loans dominate small claims court. Loans for Less, for example, filed 95% of the small claims cases in South Ogden, a suburban city of 17,000 about a half-hour north of Salt Lake City on the interstate, in fiscal year 2018, according to state data.

Across Utah, high-interest lenders filed 66% of all small claims cases heard between September 2017 and September 2018, according to a new analysis of court records conducted by a team led by Christopher Peterson, a law professor at the University of Utah and the financial services director at the Consumer Federation of America, and David McNeill, a legal data consultant and CEO of Docket Reminder.

Companies can sue for up to $11,000 in Utah’s small claims courts, which are stripped of certain formalities: There are rarely lawyers, judges are not always legally trained and the rules of evidence don’t apply.

Lenders file thousands of cases every year. When defendants don’t show up — and they often don’t — the lenders win by default. Once a judgment is entered, companies can garnish borrowers’ paychecks and seize their property. If borrowers fail to attend a supplemental hearing to answer questions about their income and assets, companies can ask the court to issue a bench warrant for their arrest.

Arrest warrants were issued in an estimated 3,100 small claims cases during the period studied by Peterson’s team. Almost all of the warrants — 91% — were issued in cases filed by payday, auto title or other high-interest lenders. The number of people who are jailed appears to be small. The state does not track the information, but ProPublica examined a sampling of court records and identified at least 17 people who were jailed over the course of 12 months.

Most people scramble to meet bail to avoid being incarcerated. Others, like Avila, Gordon and Albritton, are booked into jail and held until they pay. They often borrow from friends, family, bail bonds companies and even take on new payday loans.

“Bail” has a different meaning in Utah than it does in other states — one that tilts the power even more in the direction of lenders and other creditors. In 2014, state legislators passed a law that made it possible for creditors to get access to bail money posted in civil cases. Prior to that, bail money would return to the defendant. Now, it is routinely transferred to high-interest lenders. The law has transformed the state’s power to incarcerate into a powerful tool to guarantee that loan companies get paid.

As Peterson put it, “They’re handcuffing and incarcerating people in order to get money out of them and apply it towards insanely high interest rate loans.”


Small claims cases are heard once a month at City Hall in South Ogden, a former frontier town nestled between Hill Air Force Base and the Wasatch Mountains. On a sunny Monday morning in July, I walked past black-and-white portraits of City Council members and paused in front of a metal detector outside the courtroom on the ground floor.

“Are you here for small claims court?” a bailiff asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“You can check in with her,” he said, pointing at a makeshift station in a hallway in front of the courtroom. “You probably won’t need to go inside to see the judge.”

The person standing at a high-top post office-style table a few feet from a wall decal that read “Welcome to the South Ogden City Kiosk” was not a court official.

She was Valerie Stauffer, 44, a senior collections officer with Loans for Less. Reddish-brown hair tied back, the bespectacled Stauffer clutched dozens of beige and blue file folders, one for each borrower whose case was on the docket that day. She then piled them into a foot-high stack on the table next to her car keys and phone.

Loans for Less offers auto title and installment loans, which are higher-stakes versions of payday loans. Traditional payday loans, often for sums in the low hundreds of dollars, are typically due on the borrower’s next payday. The loans carry interest with annual percentage rates that run into triple digits. Borrowers provide postdated checks or access to their bank account as collateral. Auto title loans involve similarly stratospheric interest rates — Loans for Less charges up to a 300% APR — and larger sums of money, since the money is secured by the title to a borrower’s car. The loans are then paid back within a month, or in installments that might stretch over several months.

Loans for Less has six employees across two branches in Salt Lake City and Ogden. More than half of its borrowers, the company said, are repeat customers. The company’s website promises to help borrowers “get the cash you need” for the “lowest possible rates.” Loans for Less, the website says, is “up-front, fair, and honest with everyone.”

At 9 in the morning, there were already a handful of defendants lining up to meet with Stauffer. She quickly . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

3 December 2019 at 12:45 pm

A Theory for Why Trump’s Base Won’t Budge

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Dan P. McAdams, Psychology professor at Northwestern University, writes in the Atlantic:

Senator Ted Cruz once described Donald Trump as “a narcissist at a level I don’t think this country’s ever seen.” That characterization echoes what many psychological researchers and therapists have long concluded. Although the American Psychiatric Association strongly discourages mental-health professionals from assigning mental-illness labels to public figures, some clinicians have even suggested that President Trump has narcissistic personality disorder, or NPD. In a recent article in The AtlanticGeorge T. Conway III argued that Trump exhibits all the classic signs of NPD, and that for that reason, among others, he is unfit for office.

But Trump is stranger than any diagnostic category can convey. Narcissism is a psychological construct with profound implications for an individual’s well-being and interpersonal relationships. Personality and social psychologists have done hundreds of studies examining narcissistic tendencies, revealing certain patterns of behavior and outcome. In some ways, Trump fits those patterns perfectly. But in at least one crucial respect, he deviates.

Back in June 2016, I wrote in this magazine about how narcissists “wear out their welcome”:

Psychological research demonstrates that many narcissists come across as charming, witty, and charismatic upon initial acquaintance. They can attain high levels of popularity in the short term. As long as they prove to be successful and brilliant—like Steve Jobs—they may be able to weather criticism and retain their exalted status. But more often than not, narcissists wear out their welcome. Over time, people become annoyed, if not infuriated, by their self-centeredness. When narcissists begin to disappoint those they once dazzled, their descent can be especially precipitous. There is still truth in the ancient proverb: Pride goeth before the fall.

Nearly three years into Trump’s presidency, how does this generalization about narcissism hold up for him? On the one hand, many of the people who have staffed Trump’s administration have learned that he is not the “stable genius” he claims to be. Disappointed and beaten down, they have left in droves. On the other hand, Trump has retained the loyal backing of many voters despite scandal, outrage, and chaos. How is this possible? Why has Trump followed the predictable course for narcissism in one way, alienating many who have served in his administration, and defied expectations in another way, by continuing to attract an adoring core?

At its mythic heart, narcissism is a story of disappointment. The ancient source is the Greek tale of Narcissus, a beautiful young boy who falls in love with his reflection in a pool. Captivated with his beguiling image, Narcissus vows never to leave the object of his desire. But the reflection—forever outside his embrace—fails to reciprocate, and as a result Narcissus melts away (in one version of the story), a victim of the passion burning inside of him. The lover’s inconsolable disappointment is that he cannot consummate his love for the reflection, his love for himself.

A real-life narcissist, by contrast, manages to take his eyes off himself just long enough to find out if others are looking at him. And if the narcissist has admirers, this makes him feel good. It temporarily boosts his self-esteem.

Likewise, his admirers feel a rush of excitement and allure. They enjoy being in the presence of such a beautiful figure—or a powerful, creative, dynamic, charismatic, or intriguing figure. They bask in his reflected glory, even if they find his self-obsession to be unseemly. As time passes, however, the admirers grow weary. Once upon a time, they thought the narcissist was the greatest, but now they suspect that he is not. Or maybe they just get tired of him, and disgusted with all the self-admiration. They become disappointed, for very few narcissists can consistently provide the sufficient beauty, power, and greatness to sustain long-term unconditional devotion. In the end, everybody loses. The former fans loathe themselves for being fools, or else they blame the narcissist for fooling them. And the narcissist never attains what can never be humanly attained anyway: supreme and unending love and adoration of the self.

During the time when the young Donald Trump was laying plans for the construction of Trump Tower in New York City, the social critic Christopher Lasch published The Culture of Narcissism, in which he lamented the American preoccupation with self-glorification. According to Lasch, the 1970s narcissist saw the world as “a mirror of himself,” and had “no interest in external events except as they throw back a reflection on his own image.” The narcissistic person is adept at manipulating others for his own ends, Lasch wrote, but he has no genuine feeling for other people, because he is too caught up in the love affair with himself.

Lasch’s cultural critique dovetailed with clinical writings from Otto Kernberg and other psychoanalytic theorists of the time, who detected dark and malevolent features of narcissism in a number of their most difficult patients. Kernberg wrote that “malignant narcissists” often exhibit a superficial but seductive charm, a “glittery fascination” in the eyes of others. At the same time, they are interpersonally ruthless, incapable of expressing empathy, and suffering from fragile self-esteem. They have an impoverished inner life, to the point of feeling empty inside, and they are roiled by anger, resentment, and grandiose fantasies of revenge.

Contemporary researchers tend to focus on two core features of narcissism: grandiosity and vulnerability. Grandiosity comes across as unabashed hubris, boasting, and the projection of one’s perceived magnificence onto the world. Vulnerability manifests as defensiveness, emotional fragility, resentment, and the derogation of enemies. The grandiosity is more apparent early on, and it can serve to attract others. With time, the narcissist’s vulnerability becomes apparent too, which tends to push people away.

Picking up the vulnerability theme, research shows that people high in narcissism tend to show more anger and hostility when challenged or insulted, compared with people low in narcissism. They show sharper mood swings, oscillating between exuberance and negativity. As they rage against those who cross them, they make enemies. Many narcissists rise to positions of leadership in various kinds of groups because group members are initially impressed with their confidence and strength, but research shows that many of them turn out to be bad leaders, incompetent and unethical. In matters of romance, narcissists often have little trouble attracting mates—the peacock with the brightest plumage is hard to miss. But their romantic relationships turn out to be highly volatile and unstable.

In love, leadership, or social life more generally, the predictable narcissistic arc thus resembles yet another ancient Greek myth: the story of Icarus. He flew high and magnificent, until the sun melted the wax in his wings. Then Icarus plummeted to the sea below.

Trump’s relationship to the important players in his administration seems to have followed that rise-and-fall arc over time. He filled his Cabinet and the White House staff with early supporters such as Jeff Sessions and Hope Hicks; military generals such as Michael Flynn and John Kelly; Tea Party conservatives such as Mick Mulvaney; nationalist firebrands such as Steve Bannon; and even a few establishment Republicans such as Reince Priebus. The day before his inauguration, he announced, “We have by far the highest IQ of any Cabinet ever assembled.” In the first full Cabinet meeting, televised to the world, each participant (beginning with Vice President Mike Pence) began with a little speech proclaiming how proud or humbled or honored he or she was to serve in this great and historic administration, basking in the reflected glory of their leader—all except Secretary of Defense James Mattis, it should be acknowledged, who kept his dignity and praised the American armed forces instead. This kind of sycophantic love fest would make most people cringe, but narcissists love it.

The majority of those advisers and officials are now gone. As national-security adviser, Flynn lasted 24 days. Chief of Staff Priebus was gone in six months. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price made it eight months. Anthony Scaramucci held the position of White House communications director for all of 10 days, following the 49-day tenure of Sean Spicer, who was preceded by Mike Dubke (88 days), who was preceded by Spicer the first time (45 days). In less than three years, six different people have held the position of White House communications director.

A recent study by the Brookings Institution shows that the turnover rate in the Trump White House is higher than that of any other recent administration. “It’s historic, it’s unprecedented, it’s off the charts,” the study’s author, Kathryn Dunn Tenpas, remarked in an interview with NBC News. In just 32 months, Trump’s rate of change has surpassed that of “all of his predecessors who served four-year terms.”

The study focused on the top 65 positions in the executive office of the president, which includes jobs such as national security adviser, chief of staff, press secretary, and director of national intelligence. The study found that 51 of the 65 positions (78 percent) have turned over since Trump took office, and that 16 of those positions (25 percent) have turned over twice or more. Of the 15 Cabinet positions in the presidential line of succession (which are not included in the 65 executive-office positions), nine have turned over at least once. Tenpas attributed the high rate of change to “the president himself.” She said: “In all of my studies, I’ve never seen a chief executive who fires staff more frequently and more publicly than President Trump.”

After she left her role as a top White House aide, Omarosa Manigault Newman wrote that Trump, as both a businessman and president, “chooses people who are very loyal, who subscribe to the fame and charisma that is Donald Trump’s magnetism. And I was one of those people.” But Trump’s charisma faded for her. She eventually recoiled from his self-centeredness and the disregard he expressed for other people. “Nothing has more meaning to Donald than himself.”

In the long run, it is tough to work with, or to love, a narcissist. Some can survive it all, perhaps because, like Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, they lurk behind the scenes. Trump pays virtually no attention to them. He has no interest in education or housing and urban development. But for those who are part of the everyday action in the White House, whose portfolios or reputations place them within the orbit of the chief executive, life is precarious. They live at the whim of an impulsive, self-centered man whose fragile self-esteem soars and then threatens to plummet from one moment to the next. Their boss demands constant praise and unquestioning fealty. For most, the end result is frustration and disappointment.

Trump’s turnover rate is unprecedented—and so are his approval numbers. They are as stable as his administration is volatile. In every other presidency, approval ratings have fluctuated as a function of events over time. For example, Richard Nixon’s approval ratings plunged 40 points from the days following his reelection in late 1972 to his resignation in the wake of Watergate a couple of years later. George H. W. Bush’s approval ratings skyrocketed to nearly 90 percent at the time of the U.S. victory in the 1991 Gulf War, but fell to below 40 percent just a year later, during the 1992 recession. Ranging from the low 60s to about 40 percent, Barack Obama’s approval ratings fell gradually during his first term, rose steadily from 2012 to 2013, fell again from 2013 to 2014, and then climbed from then on.

Trump’s ratings run closer to a straight line. That line is consistently lower than what other presidents have shown: Trump’s approval ratings have generally hovered in the low 40s. Unlike all other presidents, he has never exceeded a 47 percent approval rating. But he has rarely dipped much below 37 percent.

He has a sizable core of support that refuses to shrink. In fact, a recent poll of voters in six battleground states showed that 90 percent of Trump’s supporters from 2016 approve of his performance as president. The support persists despite the constant upheaval in his administration; despite Robert Mueller’s investigation and the impeachment proceedings; despite repeated accusations of sexual misconduct and financial irregularities; despite the roughly 13,000 documented instances of Trump publicly uttering a blatant falsehood (usually via Twitter); despite countless cruelties and insults and instances of shockingly “un-presidential” behavior; and despite his initiating some policies that do not even have a scintilla of support among his loyal Republican allies, such as caving to North Korean demands, betraying the Kurds in Syria, and cozying up to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

If Trump actually did shoot somebody in the middle of Fifth Avenue, as he once famously joked, it’s possible that his approval ratings wouldn’t budge at all. A CNN reporter recently interviewed six loyal Trump supporters in Pennsylvania. When one woman admitted that there was virtually nothing Trump could do to lose her vote, the interviewer asked how she might react if the president were to shoot somebody. She responded that she would want to know what the victim had done to deserve being shot.

Some of Trump’s hard-core supporters can point to specific policies or perceived achievements that keep them on the president’s side. Many conservatives strongly endorse Trump’s judicial selections. Anti-abortion enthusiasts hope that Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh will help strike down Roe v. Wade, or at least sharply reduce the number of abortions in the United States. Wealthy voters may be happy about Republican tax cuts. Many in the business community may applaud Trump’s deregulatory agenda. Voters who hated Obama may delight in Trump’s efforts to undo nearly everything Obama did. For many white working-class Americans, Trump’s promise to bring back heavy industry may give them hope for better jobs. His anti-immigration crusade, as well as his implicit endorsement of white racism, represents their last hope, they may suspect, for keeping America white and Christian.

Those who can’t point to specific achievements may remain loyal supporters because they hear relatively little that is expressly negative about their hero. If the president shot somebody in the middle of Fifth Avenue, would Fox News even cover it? Trump supporters and Trump detractors live in different worlds. They may not speak to one another about politics, knowing that such a conversation is likely to end badly. They get their news from different sources. They stay faithful to their respective political tribes.

But the crux of the matter—the secret to Trump’s success with the base—may be that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 December 2019 at 12:42 pm

Exotic Elemi, the Baroness, and the Game Changer

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The Baroness is a very nice little brush, but Wet Shaving Products no longer seems to offer that model. It worked up a great lather with an exotic fragrance, though whether I’m smelling elemi or cananga blossoms I have no idea.

Three passes with the Game Changer .68-P (the original) and then a splash of Diplomat, whose fragrance also carries an exotic note. Very nice.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 December 2019 at 8:49 am

Posted in Shaving

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