Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for August 25th, 2022

SCOTUS Will Probably Kill Student Debt Relief. But Biden Has a Backup Plan.

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Mark Joseph Stern has an interesting article in Slate:

On Wednesday, President Joe Biden unveiled his long-awaited plan for student loan forgiveness. For borrowers making under $125,000 a year, the program will cancel $10,000 in student loan debt (and $20,000 for Pell Grant recipients). It will provide relief to 43 million Americans—if five justices on the Supreme Court let it take effect. Will they? The short answer is: probably not. But there’s good news for beneficiaries: The administration may have already identified another way to enact relief if the judiciary stands in the way of Plan A.

To understand where this is going in the courts as well as the likely workaround, recall a basic fact that many critics of Biden’s program do not appear to understand: The federal government forgives student loans all the time. Multiple statutes give the Department of Education sweeping authority to cancel loans for a broad range of reasons. Before Wednesday, the administration had already approved $32 billion in student loan relief for more than 1.6 million borrowers.* These actions did not provoke substantial controversy or litigation. Nobody raised a legal challenge when Biden canceled $5.8 billion in student loans for more than 323,000 disabled borrowers. Nobody raised a legal challenge when Biden announced rolling loan forgiveness for borrowers who entered public service—a plan that has already granted $10 billion in debt relief to more than 175,000 borrowers.

The Department of Education has tackled so much student debt already because Congress gave it a number of tools to do so. One of those tools is the Heroes Act, passed in the wake of 9/11. This law gives the secretary of education authority to “waive or modify” any provision of the law applicable to student aid programs “in connection with a war or other military operation or national emergency.” (Emphasis mine.) The secretary may exercise this power to “ensure” that borrowers “are not placed in a worse position financially” in relation to their loans because they were “affected” by the emergency. A “national emergency” is defined as any national emergency declared by the president. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic surely qualifies, since Donald Trump declared it a national emergency and Biden has extended that declaration.

Congress intended the Heroes Act to apply swiftly and widely. It waived a number of procedural requirements that would slow down the education secretary’s efforts to grant relief. And it clarified that the secretary “is notrequired” to act “on a case-by-case basis,” allowing him to provide relief to an entire class of borrowers at once. The Trump and Biden administrations both used this law to freeze student loan payments during the pandemic.

Biden’s secretary of education, Miguel Cardona, already relied upon the Heroes Act to forgive $10 billion for public service borrowers. Now the administration is using the law as its basis for a much bigger, less targeted student debt relief program. This idea is not new: At the end of her tenure, Trump’s education secretary Betsy Devos tried to stop Biden from embracing it. She solicited a memo arguing that the Heroes Act does not permit “mass cancellation” of student debt. (In a twist, the memo was issued four days after DeVos resigned in protest of Jan. 6, and it violated basic procedural requirements.)

Under Biden, the Department of Education concluded that DeVos’ eleventh-hour memo was wrong, and that the agency can . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

25 August 2022 at 4:32 pm

When Private Equity Takes Over a Nursing Home

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The world “evil” is often casually tossed around, but in the situation described in Yasmin Rafiei’s article in the New Yorker (no paywall), I think it clearly applies. The article begins:

When St. Joseph’s Home for the Aged, a brown-brick nursing home in Richmond, Virginia, was put up for sale, in October, 2019, the waiting list for a room was three years long. “People were literally dying to get in there,” Debbie Davidson, the nursing home’s administrator, said. The owners, the Little Sisters of the Poor, were the reason. For a hundred and forty-seven years, the nuns had lived at St. Joseph’s with their residents, embodying a philosophy that defined their service: treat older people as family, in facilities that feel like a home.

St. Joseph’s itself was pristine. The grounds were concealed behind a thicket of tall oaks and flowering magnolias; residents strolled in manicured gardens, past wooden archways and leafy vines. Inside the bright, two-story building, the common areas were graceful and warm—a china cabinet here, an upright piano there. An aviary held chirping brown finches; an aquarium housed shimmering fish. The gift shop, created in 2005, to fund-raise for tsunami relief in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean earthquake, sold residents’ handmade aprons and dish towels. People gathered everywhere: in line for the home’s hair salon, over soup in the dining rooms, against handrails in the hallway, where the floors were polished to a shine. “Take a deep breath,” a resident, Ross Girardi, told me, during a visit in May of 2021. He reclined in a plush armchair. “Deeper! What don’t you smell? A nursing home.”

The home fostered unexpected relationships. Girardi, a former U.S. Army combat medic, first discovered St. Joseph’s as a volunteer, in the early nineteen-eighties; thirty years later, he and his wife, Rae, decided to grow old there. Jennifer Schoening, a floor technician, was unhoused before she started at St. Joseph’s. A social worker from the nursing home had approached her on a street corner in Richmond, where Schoening was panhandling, and told her that the Little Sisters had an opening. She began working in the pantry, serving meals and brewing fresh coffee, and found an apartment nearby. Ramon Davila, the home’s maintenance technician at the time, worked in a shop next door to Schoening’s supply room. The two got married on the terrace in front of St. Joseph’s last year. “It got to be that the building wasn’t just my safe spot,” Schoening said. “He was my safe spot.”

The Little Sisters of the Poor was founded by Jeanne Jugan, who, in the winter of 1839, took in an elderly widow off the streets of Brittany. Jugan is said to have carried the woman, who was blind and partially paralyzed, up her home’s narrow spiral staircase—and given up her own bed. (Jugan herself slept in the attic.) From this first act of care, the Little Sisters grew. Jugan took in two more women, then rented a room to house a dozen. A year later, she acquired a former convent to support forty elderly people. Charles Dickens, after visiting one of Jugan’s homes in Paris, described the experience in the English magazine Household Words. “The whole sentiment,” Dickens wrote, “is that of a very large and very amiable family.”

At the organization’s peak, in the nineteen-fifties, the Little Sisters of the Poor owned fifty-two nursing homes in the United States. Today it runs twenty-two. “In general, we like to have ten Little Sisters in each home,” Sister Mary John, a former assistant administrator at St. Joseph’s, said. But, since 1965, the number of Catholic sisters in the U.S. has dropped from roughly a hundred and eighty thousand to some thirty-nine thousand, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. As a result, the Little Sisters have withdrawn from many of their nursing homes. Typically, the facilities have been sold to nonprofits. A large Catholic health-care system had expressed interest in buying St. Joseph’s, as had the Catholic Diocese of Richmond. “But the pandemic and the lockdowns of nursing homes made it difficult,” Sister Mary John said, of securing a buyer. In the spring of 2021, an offer materialized from the Portopiccolo Group, a private-equity firm based in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, which then had a portfolio of more than a hundred facilities across the East Coast. “They said they like to keep things the way they are,” Sister Mary John told me.

The deal was finalized by June. Portopiccolo’s management company, Accordius Health, was brought in to run the home’s day-to-day operations. Staffers recall that, at an early town hall, Kim Morrow, Accordius Health’s chief operating officer, repeatedly said the company wouldn’t institute significant changes. But many staff members felt a disconnect. Someone asked if the number of residents in each room would change. A staffer remembered Morrow saying, “That might change. We might double it.” (Morrow doesn’t recall saying so.) At another town hall, Celia Soper, Accordius Health’s regional operations director, told St. Joseph’s staff, “We see that you all work hard. But it’s time we start working smart.”

Nearly a quarter of the hundred-person staff had been with the home for more than fifteen years; the activities director was in her forty-fifth year. But the ownership change precipitated a mass exodus. Within two weeks, management laid out plans to significantly cut back nurse staffing. Some mornings, there were only two nursing aides working at the seventy-two-bed facility. A nurse at the home, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, told me, “It takes two people just to take some residents to the bathroom.” (When reached by e-mail, a Portopiccolo spokesperson said, “We never made any staffing cuts during the transition.”)

The home was renamed Karolwood Gardens, and the new management filed for a license to admit higher-needs residents, who can be billed at higher rates through Medicare. The aquarium on the second floor disappeared. So, too, did the aviary. Residents’ crafts were removed from the gift shop. No longer did the kitchen serve an eclectic variety of main dishes: turkey tetrazzini, salmon with lobster sauce, or Reuben sandwiches. Now residents were commonly given an option of ground beef. Some days, the kitchen was so short-staffed that the dining hall wasn’t set up, and residents took meals alone in their rooms.

The attentiveness of the nursing staff plummeted. Mary Cummings, a ninety-seven-year-old resident who had lived at St. Joseph’s for six years, went seven days without a bath. Betty Zane Wingo, a ninety-four-year-old resident, went several months without having her hair washed. A resident who suffered from a severe lung disease told me that, one evening, her oxygen tube slipped out, and it took an hour and a half and a call to 911 to get it plugged back in. Several family members told me they called the nursing station to express concerns but that no one picked up. On morning shifts, the home’s nurse aides now changed briefs so saturated with urine they’d turned brown.

Bob Cumber cherished the care that his mother, Bertha, had received under the Little Sisters. One Christmas Eve, a nun had stayed late to file a hangnail on Bertha’s foot. After Portopiccolo acquired the home, Bertha appeared increasingly unkempt. Her hair was dirtier, her teeth coated in plaque. Whenever Cumber visited, she asked him for water. Bertha was a hundred and four years old, but the decline in her care was conspicuous. She had lost weight and developed open bedsores on her hip and buttocks and near her anus. Cumber tried to share his concerns with her nurses. “When I called there, I was put on eternal hold,” he said. Bertha told her son she was ready to pass away. “Mama,” Cumber said, “I don’t want you to leave.” . . .

Continue reading. (no paywall)

Treating people as private equity does for the sole purpose of making money is evil. A good government would protect its citizens from this mistreatment.

Written by Leisureguy

25 August 2022 at 12:25 pm

Good explanation of China’s ghost cities

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This video is from nine months ago (released on Pearl Harbor Day, 2021), but (a) it has proved accurate in its predictions, and (b) has a clear explanation of China’s ghost cities. I found it worth watching — and keep in mind that this is from more than 9 months ago.

Written by Leisureguy

25 August 2022 at 11:37 am

So where is the number designated by “1”?

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The comic strip at the left ponders a well-worn question: Is the subject of mathematics real? or not? Or, to put it another way, are mathematical entities discovered? or invented?

My view is that mathematics has a kind of intermediate reality. The reality of mathematics, unlike, say, the reality of the Moon, is restricted to human culture. Within human culture, the number one is real, but if there were no humans, there would be no number one.

In other words, math is as real as a human language. Sounds exist within nature, and humans can make complex sounds, but language — those sounds together with their meaning — exists only insofar as there are people who understand the meaning of sounds. The meaning is not “out there” — where the sounds are, in the vibration of air — but “in here,” where the brain extracts the meaning conveyed. 

The meaning clearly exists in a sense, and indeed has consequences “out there” in the “real” world — the Industrial Revolution and the consequences (such as the climate change we now are experiencing) wold not have occurred without language. But once all those who understand some language are gone, the language is no more. There may be carvings in rocks or marks on vellum, but the meaning of those is absent, so the incisions and marks no long longer are language but just physical things, bereft of the meaning they once conveyed.

(For that matter, sound is not “out there.” What’s “out there” are vibrations in the air. Sound is the way our brain interprets air vibrations that have been fed to it as electrical impulses from the motion of tiny hairs in the liquid contained in the cochleae of our ears. Until that transition is made, there is no sound, only air vibrations. Thus a tree falling in a remote forest with no animals nearby will produce air vibrations but not sounds, because there’s no one to translate air vibrations to brain signals.)

So a sheep on a hillside is not “one” sheep unless it is observed by a person who has learned the human idea (the meme) of counting, and only such a person might observe that there are “zero” horses and “zero” cows on the hillside.

Math, like language, like music, like fashion, and like religion, is a cultural construct, a set of memes. Math has the reality of memes (as does, say Don Quixote or unicorns) but it is “in here,” not “out there.”  And even “in here” there are problems, as Kurt Gödel pointed out.  

And yet, consider this poem by Clarence R. Wylie Jr.:


Not truth, nor certainty. These I forswore

In my novitiate, as young men called

To holy orders must abjure the world.

‘If…,then…,’ this only I assert;

And my successes are but pretty chains

Linking twin doubts, for it is vain to ask

If what I postulate be justified,

Or what I prove possess the stamp of fact.

Yet bridges stand, and men no longer crawl

In two dimension. And such triumphs stem

In no small measure from the power this game,

Played with the thrice-attentuated shades

Of things, has over their originals.

How frail the wand, but how profound the spell!

Written by Leisureguy

25 August 2022 at 11:32 am

D.R. Harris Rose shaving cream and the blue Baby Smooth

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Even though I’m using a shaving cream, I still used Grooming Dept Moisturizing Pre-Shave to begin with. Then I wet well the knot of my Rooney Style 3 Size 1, shook it until it was damp, and squeezed a good amount — about the size of a shelled almond — of shaving cream into the damp brush. In accordance with the LABL method, I pictured an almond that was somewhat larger than normal.

Then I brushed my wet and pre-shave-moisturized face to begin the lather. Once all the stubble was covered, I added a little water to the brush to expand the lather. It worked its magic, and my RazoRock Baby Smooth did a really superb job in whipping off the stubble.

Three passes later, I rinsed and dried my perfectly smooth face, then finished with a splash eir reof D.R. Harris Pink After Shave to which I had added a couple of squirts of Grooming Dept Hydrating Gel.

I do like a rose shaving soap and aftershave — a classic fragrance.

The tea today is Murchie’s Ode to Joy, a Christmas holiday blend not part of their regular line but tasty withal

Written by Leisureguy

25 August 2022 at 10:01 am

Posted in Caffeine, Shaving

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