Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Top 10

The end of the year brings the list of the 10 best or worst of ....fill-in-the-blank... that the writer, reviewer has seen/read/heard/assessed for the past year.

Sure, I have read books, watched, TV, seen movies, gone to theater, eaten stuff and have a ton of opinions so writing a Top 10 list would be easy if I just condensed it into one size fits all of random thoughts and opinions on what I have seen/read/thought/did this year.  So of course here are my top 10 or so (I have no draft of this I am totally free balling, free basing, whatever) of the things I liked and didn't this year.

Of Movies I loved, Room and Carol for they are stories about women and the way women are seen in the eyes of others and how they find themselves despite it.   That said the Diary of a Teenage Girl was kiddie porn utterly offensive and I felt sick watching it, despite the acting which is why this film made many top 10 lists as they made utterly repellent self involved narcissists interesting.    The other worst film of the year was Beasts of No Nation.  There was a story there but I think it went with the second season of True Detective, despite the pedigree of both (irony was the director of Beasts was the director of TD Season one.. he should have stayed with that and dumped the other).

Spotlight, I have no words but utter amazement at the story telling about story tellers. Journalists have an ability if not obligation to tell a story and to do so to both inform, educate and inflame and all of that has the ability to bring change.  And from that comes change both good and bad.   This movie does all of that, it tells a story about the most horrific aspect of what a community can do when it protects itself and its benefactor and that is Boston and its relationship with the Catholic church. We condemn varying factions of Islam for its abuse but again in America are we in any position to criticize?  We just do it differently.   If you come out of this movie not feeling rage, anger or shame you need to ask yourself why. 

I have not yet seen Big Short will be my favorite as the financial crisis is a crisis that is another aspect of our damaged institutions and culture.   But as a reader I prefer non fiction so it is more of a "read the book, saw the movie, liked/hated it" and Michael Lewis wrote a great book so how bad could it be with a cast of attractive white men?  Hmm.. angry white men, can we ever get away from them?

 I also loved Truth as well, Cate Blanchett and Robert Redford can do no wrong. I also loved Jobs as frankly anything Michael Fassbender is in is automatically great, the same with the two Matts - Damon and McConaughey - that said Martian was everything Interstellar wasn't.   As for the movie Truth and Jobs, they were flawed as we know the endings but in reality we don't know these people at all. Dan Rather is a complex man who has a long history in journalism and the lack of ego and pretense was utterly missing, I cannot believe he has none.

 As for the movie, Jobs,  that was all ego. And that we know but his dead corpse supporters were in high dudgeon when the film was released (which reminded me of the dead Reagan supporters).   And Sorkin admitted that none of that film came from any documented fact, which included Wozinak who admitted it was made up and yet collected consulting fees, but they both claim the story was to illuminate Jobs relationship with his daughter, whom I believe has said little to deny or confirm any of it. So take it for what it is worth just interesting acting and storytelling, however,  the documentary about Jobs that aired on CNN was superior in every sense of the word.

Which brings me to documentaries.  Wow just wow a wealth of them this year starting with the Jinx. Then we have the Jobs one, Going Clear on Scientology, The Hunting Ground, Making of a Murderer on Netflix are all amazing ways of telling a story and trying to put a new spin on what is reality for those who lived it.  Documentaries are no different that fiction telling as we have seen in dozens of movies, they have an angle and a purpose but they have some freedom in the how the narrative is told.  So listening to Serial, and the podcast about Adnan Syed or Bowie Bergdahl is how the host, the director or filmmaker wished to present the story and that has to be considered as in any case.  But I do think that it ultimately leaves that decision to you.    And yes even the Jinx as Robert Dursts quote "what do they want me to say, I killed them all" could be perceived as a rambling incoherent comment and not a declaration.  I again will leave that to you.

 There are no bests in theater or concerts as they are all great or I would not have gone.  I am lucky to have seen some great shows on Broadway and even here with a local production or two that were enough to make me think a little bit more. And the same for live music, would you go if you did not love them? 

The books I have read have been fewer than I would like but I read Missoula, Katrina, Unfair, Dead Wake,  Leah Remini's book on Scientology, and dozens of books that I checked out from my local library, the greatest resource ever, always a top 10 on any list.  I wish I had read more and I have a shelf full of books unfinished or never started and I think it is my television obsession that keeps me from reading more frankly.

And my television obsession.  I used to love Bravo but it so obnoxious now that I watch the housewives franchise to see who is currently in or out of jail and to know what they are talking about on the only talk show that matters - Watch What Happens Live. 

Which brings me to all the talk shows that have changed.  I enjoy Larry Wilmore who took over for Steven Colbert but it is not a must but I had long abandoned both the Daily Show and Colbert, I find humor reading the real newspaper, who knew!!  The same for Letterman, whom I used to love but like Cosby I bailed during the sex scandal (at least he is not a serial rapist) so  Steven Colbert talking the Letterman was something I thought I might enjoy.  I do not it is a debacle.  The same with the Daily Show, Craig Ferguson, Late Night and well any other show on the TV that turned hands.  The truly make me go, really is this the best they could find.  Although,  I actually have been coming around to Seth Myers on Late Night. But how many men do we need to change a lightbulb?  The same amount apparently that host late night shows.

The exception is John Oliver.  His HBO series is beyond outstanding. He can be one angry white man but in a way that resonates.  And his rants are on YouTube so no you don't need HBO to see them.  And see them you must.

But back to Colbert, there was much concern that the real Steven Colbert would not be as interesting or amusing or provocative.  He isn't.  In fact I don't think Steven Colbert knows who Steven Colbert is. And the talented band John Batiste is just well out of place and almost minstrel-esque as he seems to be grinning and smiling to the white owner out of obligation.  No edge, no real opportunity to show musical chops as Questlove does with the Roots on Jimmy Fallon, so this band is just a waste of both talent and space.  

Which brings me to Fallon. I watch the comedy and the music the rest I press fast forward.  Don't care and even some of the comedy bits with his buddies is annoying but there is a positive which again is there any on Colbert?

Netflix and Amazon TV.. well I really don't need more TV but thankfully I have and I have watched many on both, some good to great and some not.  I never thought I would enroll in Amazon Prime but alas that and subscribe to the Washington Post ensures me that I have become Jeff Bezo's bitch.

Which brings me to the Post and the New York Times. They have never been perfect and never will as the perfect paper like said person is non existent. Not even that adorable Pope who should be on every top 10 list.    The series on criminal justice in the Post and the ones on wealthy and their tax dodges and obfuscation are always illuminating, enlightening and goddamn frustrating.  If there is one thing I have learned is that anger is a top 10 quality we share in America, which explains Trump on one side and Bernie Sanders on the other.

I expect more of the same in 2016 and I hope this year is my year out of here. Not in any final sense but out of Seattle, out of its horrific public school system, the end of my never ending saga in the justice system - both criminal and civil - and the end to some of my own anger.

I don't know if there are 10 things on that list I just wrote, or even if it matters. Today is the end to mark a new beginning. And then we move onward, forward and upward or downward (depending on your economic status) but we all just keep on trucking. And that is not a bad thing as long as you don't cross the lines into oncoming traffic.

So the best and worst of the year is yours to make. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A Very Good Year

Well for the rich isn't every year?

Well maybe not for the affluenza teen or the douchebag Pharma bro or Bill Cosby. They don't seem to be ending on a high note but they are of course the exception to that rule.

The year ended with our beloved Congress averting another faux disaster and the tax breaks signed into the budget once again protects the rich. Their country estates, their private planes and they ability to money laundry through fake LLC's, fake foundations, fake financial statements that obscure earnings, and the many many ways their team devises within the rules of law to protect their wealth. They in fact have their own industry - wealth management.  It takes full time work to manage that money.

As I wrote about Warren Buffett and George Soros who claim to be the everyman and want to pay taxes and don't, the reality is they don't have to thanks to the endless loopholes and caveats written into law by their lackey's, whoops I mean Congresspeople they have on the payroll. And by payroll I mean those whose "donations" and varying other perks such as hiring family members, etc that are again perfectly legal thanks again to the endless loopholes written into the vary laws that the Congress writes to enable them to do so. Is that not a conflict of interest?  Confused? Well it is sort of like following the money through the trail or maze that is built in order to hide the money and make it difficult if not impossible to track it appropriately. And to think they want to try this for terrorists. Well, let's see how that works out shall we?

The rich have had a good week. Despite the fact that hedge funds are having a bit of downer week, including one of the men profiled here that goes by the moniker "activist" investor. And no that is not the same type of "activist" that say Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Cesar Chavez were, no these are rich people activists who go after companies to push them in whatever direction they need to the stock and valuation of the company to go in order to make more money. Confused? Good that is what they want you to be. But see the Big Short that is a great illustration of how the convoluted system works.

And another of the Richie Rich's profiled in the article and his money trail is about a property he owns in Lyford Cay. This month's Vanity Fair, the glossy for the rich and famous, profiled his property battle with another equally rich but way more interesting character (it was as if he stepped out of the time machine from the 70's but he is Canadian that might explain it) and all of it over a shared driveway. And yes even his conservation to preserve the land is tax deductible. But then again what isn't when you are rich.

As I read the below article I wanted to be angry or at least shocked. No, it was "same ole, same ole." We have a country that is well divided and that is not just by race it is by income and the reality is that we will do nothing about either.. or should I say neither as in a double negative. That is sort of like the tax laws than enable the rich to hide their wealth from the IRS but not from us as we can see it but we just can't touch it.


WASHINGTON — The hedge fund magnates Daniel S. Loeb, Louis Moore Bacon and Steven A. Cohen have much in common. They have managed billions of dollars in capital, earning vast fortunes. They have invested large sums in art — and millions more in political candidates.

Moreover, each has exploited an esoteric tax loophole that saved them millions in taxes. The trick? Route the money to Bermuda and back.

With inequality at its highest levels in nearly a century and public debate rising over whether the government should respond to it through higher taxes on the wealthy, the very richest Americans have financed a sophisticated and astonishingly effective apparatus for shielding their fortunes. Some call it the “income defense industry,” consisting of a high-priced phalanx of lawyers, estate planners, lobbyists and anti-tax activists who exploit and defend a dizzying array of tax maneuvers, virtually none of them available to taxpayers of more modest means.

In recent years, this apparatus has become one of the most powerful avenues of influence for wealthy Americans of all political stripes, including Mr. Loeb and Mr. Cohen, who give heavily to Republicans, and the liberal billionaire George Soros, who has called for higher levies on the rich while at the same time using tax loopholes to bolster his own fortune.

All are among a small group providing much of the early cash for the 2016 presidential campaign.

Operating largely out of public view — in tax court, through arcane legislative provisions and in private negotiations with the Internal Revenue Service — the wealthy have used their influence to steadily whittle away at the government’s ability to tax them. The effect has been to create a kind of private tax system, catering to only several thousand Americans.

The impact on their own fortunes has been stark. Two decades ago, when Bill Clinton was elected president, the 400 highest-earning taxpayers in America paid nearly 27 percent of their income in federal taxes, according to I.R.S. data. By 2012, when President Obama was re-elected, that figure had fallen to less than 17 percent, which is just slightly more than the typical family making $100,000 annually, when payroll taxes are included for both groups.

The ultra-wealthy “literally pay millions of dollars for these services,” said Jeffrey A. Winters, a political scientist at Northwestern University who studies economic elites, “and save in the tens or hundreds of millions in taxes.”

Some of the biggest current tax battles are being waged by some of the most generous supporters of 2016 candidates. They include the families of the hedge fund investors Robert Mercer, who gives to Republicans, and James Simons, who gives to Democrats; as well as the options trader Jeffrey Yass, a libertarian-leaning donor to Republicans.

Mr. Yass’s firm is litigating what the agency deemed to be tens of millions of dollars in underpaid taxes. Renaissance Technologies, the hedge fund Mr. Simons founded and which Mr. Mercer helps run, is currently under review by the I.R.S. over a loophole that saved their fund an estimated $6.8 billion in taxes over roughly a decade, according to a Senate investigation. Some of these same families have also contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to conservative groups that have attacked virtually any effort to raises taxes on the wealthy.

For the Richest, Lower Taxes

In the heat of the presidential race, the influence of wealthy donors is being tested. At stake is the Obama administration’s 2013 tax increase on high earners — the first substantial increase in two decades — and an I.R.S. initiative to ensure that, in effect, the higher rates stick by cracking down on tax avoidance by the wealthy.

While Democrats like Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have pledged to raise taxes on these voters, virtually every Republican has advanced policies that would vastly reduce their tax bills, sometimes to as little as 10 percent of their income.

At the same time, most Republican candidates favor eliminating the inheritance tax, a move that would allow the new rich, and the old, to bequeath their fortunes intact, solidifying the wealth gap far into the future. And several have proposed a substantial reduction — or even elimination — in the already deeply discounted tax rates on investment gains, a foundation of the most lucrative tax strategies.

“There’s this notion that the wealthy use their money to buy politicians; more accurately, it’s that they can buy policy, and specifically, tax policy,” said Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow at the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities who served as chief economic adviser to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. “That’s why these egregious loopholes exist, and why it’s so hard to close them.”

The Family Office

Each of the top 400 earners took home, on average, about $336 million in 2012, the latest year for which data is available. If the bulk of that money had been paid out as salary or wages, as it is for the typical American, the tax obligations of those wealthy taxpayers could have more than doubled.

Instead, much of their income came from convoluted partnerships and high-end investment funds. Other earnings accrued in opaque family trusts and foreign shell corporations, beyond the reach of the tax authorities.

The well-paid technicians who devise these arrangements toil away at white-shoe law firms and elite investment banks, as well as a variety of obscure boutiques. But at the fulcrum of the strategizing over how to minimize taxes are so-called family offices, the customized wealth management departments of Americans with hundreds of millions or billions of dollars in assets.

Family offices have existed since the late 19th century, when the Rockefellers pioneered the institution, and gained popularity in the 1980s. But they have proliferated rapidly over the last decade, as the ranks of the super-rich, and the size of their fortunes, swelled to record proportions.

“We have so much wealth being created, significant wealth, that it creates a need for the family office structure now,” said Sree Arimilli, an industry recruiting consultant.

Family offices, many of which are dedicated to managing and protecting the wealth of a single family, oversee everything from investment strategy to philanthropy. But tax planning is a core function. While the specific techniques these advisers employ to minimize taxes can be mind-numbingly complex, they generally follow a few simple principles, like converting one type of income into another type that’s taxed at a lower rate.

Mr. Loeb, for example, has invested in a Bermuda-based reinsurer — an insurer to insurance companies — that turns around and invests the money in his hedge fund. That maneuver transforms his profits from short-term bets in the market, which the government taxes at roughly 40 percent, into long-term profits, known as capital gains, which are taxed at roughly half that rate. It has had the added advantage of letting Mr. Loeb defer taxes on this income indefinitely, allowing his wealth to compound and grow more quickly.

The Bermuda insurer Mr. Loeb helped set up went public in 2013 and is active in the insurance business, not merely a tax dodge. Mr. Cohen and Mr. Bacon abandoned similar insurance-based strategies in recent years. “Our investment in Max Re was not a tax-driven scheme, but rather a sound investment response to investor interest in a more dynamically managed portfolio akin to Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway,” said Mr. Bacon, who leads Moore Capital Management. “Hedge funds were a minority of the investment portfolio, and Moore Capital’s products a much smaller subset of this alternative portfolio.” Mr. Loeb and Mr. Cohen declined to comment.

Organizing one’s business as a partnership can be lucrative in its own right. Some of the partnerships from which the wealthy derive their income are allowed to sell shares to the public, making it easy to cash out a chunk of the business while retaining control. But unlike publicly traded corporations, they pay no corporate income tax; the partners pay taxes as individuals. And the income taxes are often reduced by large deductions, such as for depreciation.

For large private partnerships, meanwhile, the I.R.S. often struggles “to determine whether a tax shelter exists, an abusive tax transaction is being used,” according to a recent report by the Government Accountability Office. The agency is not allowed to collect underpaid taxes directly from these partnerships, even those with several hundred partners. Instead, it must collect from each individual partner, requiring the agency to commit significant time and manpower.

The wealthy can also avail themselves of a range of esoteric and customized tax deductions that go far beyond writing off a home office or dinner with a client. One aggressive strategy is to place income in a type of charitable trust, generating a deduction that offsets the income tax. The trust then purchases what’s known as a private placement life insurance policy, which invests the money on a tax-free basis, frequently in a number of hedge funds. The person’s heirs can inherit, also tax-free, whatever money is left after the trust pays out a percentage each year to charity, often a considerable sum.

Many of these maneuvers are well established, and wealthy taxpayers say they are well within their rights to exploit them. Others exist in a legal gray area, its boundaries defined by the willingness of taxpayers to defend their strategies against the I.R.S. Almost all are outside the price range of the average taxpayer.

Among tax lawyers and accountants, “the best and brightest get a high from figuring out how to do tricky little deals,” said Karen L. Hawkins, who until recently headed the I.R.S. office that oversees tax practitioners. “Frankly, it is almost beyond the intellectual and resource capacity of the Internal Revenue Service to catch.”

The combination of cost and complexity has had a profound effect, tax experts said. Whatever tax rates Congress sets, the actual rates paid by the ultra-wealthy tend to fall over time as they exploit their numerous advantages.

From Mr. Obama’s inauguration through the end of 2012, federal income tax rates on individuals did not change (excluding payroll taxes). But the highest-earning one-thousandth of Americans went from paying an average of 20.9 percent to 17.6 percent. By contrast, the top 1 percent, excluding the very wealthy, went from paying just under 24 percent on average to just over that level.

“We do have two different tax systems, one for normal wage-earners and another for those who can afford sophisticated tax advice,” said Victor Fleischer, a law professor at the University of San Diego who studies the intersection of tax policy and inequality. “At the very top of the income distribution, the effective rate of tax goes down, contrary to the principles of a progressive income tax system.”

A Very Quiet Defense

Having helped foster an alternative tax system, wealthy Americans have been aggressive in defending it.

Trade groups representing the Bermuda-based insurance company Mr. Loeb helped set up, for example, have spent the last several months pleading with the I.R.S. that its proposed rules tightening the hedge fund insurance loophole are too onerous.

The major industry group representing private equity funds spends hundreds of thousands of dollars each year lobbying on such issues as “carried interest,” the granddaddy of Wall Street tax loopholes, which makes it possible for fund managers to pay the capital gains rate rather than the higher standard tax rate on a substantial share of their income for running the fund.

The budget deal that Congress approved in October allows the I.R.S. to collect underpaid taxes from large partnerships at the firm level for the first time — which is far easier for the agency — thanks to a provision that lawmakers slipped into the deal at the last minute, before many lobbyists could mobilize. But the new rules are relatively weak — firms can still choose to have partners pay the taxes — and don’t take effect until 2018, giving the wealthy plenty of time to weaken them further.

Shortly after the provision passed, the Managed Funds Association, an industry group that represents prominent hedge funds like D. E. Shaw, Renaissance Technologies, Tiger Management and Third Point, began meeting with members of Congress to discuss a wish list of adjustments. The founders of these funds have all donated at least $500,000 to 2016 presidential candidates. During the Obama presidency, the association itself has risen to become one of the most powerful trade groups in Washington, spending over $4 million a year on lobbying.

And while the lobbying clout of the wealthy is most often deployed through industry trade associations and lawyers, some rich families have locked arms to advance their interests more directly.

The inheritance tax has been a primary target. In the early 1990s, a California family office executive named Patricia Soldano began lobbying on behalf of wealthy families to repeal the tax, which would not only save them money, but also make it easier to preserve their business empires from one generation to the next. The idea struck many hardened operatives as unrealistic at the time, given that the tax affected only the wealthiest Americans. But Ms. Soldano’s efforts — funded in part by the Mars and Koch families — laid the groundwork for a one-year elimination in 2010.

The tax has been restored, but currently applies only to couples leaving roughly $11 million or more to their heirs, up from those leaving more than $1.2 million when Ms. Soldano started her campaign. It affected fewer than 5,200 families last year.

“If anyone would have told me we’d be where we are today, I would never have guessed it,” Ms. Soldano said in an interview.

Some of the most profound victories are barely known outside the insular world of the wealthy and their financial managers.

In 2009, Congress set out to require that investment partnerships like hedge funds register with the Securities and Exchange Commission, partly so that regulators would have a better grasp on the risks they posed to the financial system.

The early legislative language would have required single-family offices to register as well, exposing the highly secretive institutions to scrutiny that their clients were eager to avoid. Some of the I.R.S.’s cases against the wealthy originate with tips from the S.E.C., which is often better positioned to spot tax evasion.

By the summer of 2009, several family office executives had formed a lobbying group called the Private Investor Coalition to push back against the proposal. The coalition won an exemption in the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, then spent much of the next year persuading the S.E.C. to largely adopt its preferred definition of “family office.”

So expansive was the resulting loophole that Mr. Soros’s $24.5 billion hedge fund took advantage of it, converting to a family office after returning capital to its remaining outside investors. The hedge fund manager Stanley Druckenmiller, a former business partner of Mr. Soros, took the same step.

The Soros family, which generally supports Democrats, has committed at least $1 million to the 2016 presidential campaign; Mr. Druckenmiller, who favors Republicans, has put slightly more than $300,000 behind three different G.O.P. presidential candidates.

A slide presentation from the Private Investor Coalition’s 2013 annual meeting credited the success to multiple meetings with members of the Senate Banking Committee, the House Financial Services Committee, congressional staff and S.E.C. staff. “All with a low profile,” the document noted. “We got most of what we wanted AND a few extras we didn’t request.”

After all the loopholes and all the lobbying, what remains of the government’s ability to collect taxes from the wealthy runs up against one final hurdle: the crisis facing the I.R.S.

President Obama has made fighting tax evasion by the rich a priority. In 2010, he signed legislation making it easier to identify Americans who squirreled away assets in Swiss bank accounts and Cayman Islands shelters.

His I.R.S. convened a Global High Wealth Industry Group, known colloquially as “the wealth squad,” to scrutinize the returns of Americans with incomes of at least $10 million a year.

But while these measures have helped the government retrieve billions, the agency’s efforts have flagged in the face of scandal, political pressure and budget cuts. Between 2010, the year before Republicans took control of the House of Representatives, and 2014, the I.R.S. budget dropped by almost $2 billion in real terms, or nearly 15 percent. That has forced it to shed about 5,000 high-level enforcement positions out of about 23,000, according to the agency.

Audit rates for the $10 million-plus club spiked in the first few years of the Global High Wealth program, but have plummeted since then.

The political challenge for the agency became especially acute in 2013, after the agency acknowledged singling out conservative nonprofits in a review of political activity by tax-exempt groups. (Senior officials left the agency as a result of the controversy.)

Several former I.R.S. officials, including Marcus Owens, who once headed the agency’s Exempt Organizations division, said the controversy badly damaged the agency’s willingness to investigate other taxpayers, even outside the exempt division.

“I.R.S. enforcement is either absent or diminished” in certain areas, he said. Mr. Owens added that his former department — which provides some oversight of money used by charities and nonprofits — has been decimated.

Groups like FreedomWorks and Americans for Tax Reform, which are financed partly by the foundations of wealthy families and large businesses, have called for impeaching the I.R.S. commissioner. They are bolstered by deep-pocketed advocacy groups like the Club for Growth, which has aided primary challenges against Republicans who have voted in favor of higher taxes.

In 2014, the Club for Growth Action fund raised more than $9 million and spent much of it helping candidates critical of the I.R.S. Roughly 60 percent of the money raised by the fund came from just 12 donors, including Mr. Mercer, who has given the group $2 million in the last five years. Mr. Mercer and his immediate family have also donated more than $11 million to several super PACs supporting Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, an outspoken I.R.S. critic and a presidential candidate.

Another prominent donor is Mr. Yass, who helps run a trading firm called the Susquehanna International Group. He donated $100,000 to the Club for Growth Action fund in September. Mr. Yass serves on the board of the libertarian Cato Institute and, like Mr. Mercer, appears to subscribe to limited-government views that partly motivate his political spending.

But he may also have more than a passing interest in creating a political environment that undermines the I.R.S. Susquehanna is currently challenging a proposed I.R.S. determination that an affiliate of the firm effectively repatriated more than $375 million in income from subsidiaries located in Ireland and the Cayman Islands in 2007, creating a large tax liability. (The affiliate brought the money back to the United States in later years and paid dividend taxes on it; the I.R.S. asserts that it should have paid the ordinary income tax rate, at a cost of tens of millions of dollars more.)

In June, Mr. Yass donated more than $2 million to three super PACs aligned with Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who has called for taxing all income at a flat rate of 14.5 percent. That change in itself would save wealthy supporters like Mr. Yass millions of dollars.

Mr. Paul, also a presidential candididate, has suggested going even further, calling the I.R.S. a “rogue agency” and circulating a petition in 2013 calling for the tax equivalent of regime change. “Be it now therefore resolved,” the petition reads, “that we, the undersigned, demand the immediate abolishment of the Internal Revenue Service.”

But even if that campaign is a long shot, the richest taxpayers will continue to enjoy advantages over everyone else.

For the ultra-wealthy, “our tax code is like a leaky barrel,” said J. Todd Metcalf, the Democrats’ chief tax counsel on the Senate Finance Committee. ”Unless you plug every hole or get a new barrel, it’s going to leak out.”

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Join the Buffett Line

I have never thought Warren Buffett was a "good" billionaire. Just the statement alone is an oxymoron, as I would have to be on oxy or an utter moron to believe that one amasses that kind of wealth through kindly benevolence, see the Catholic church on that.

My favorite bullshit is when he whines, complains, bemoans that he only pays 19% on his tax returns versus that of his secretary.  Where if he actually did prepare and file his own taxes he could check the box that allows him to pay more than the law requires.  Oddly George Soros, is he part of the "Giving Pledge?" also bemoans the little man's income inequity while establishing offshore businesses to avoid taxes as I am sure Mr. Buffett does as in avoiding paying more in taxes, I have no confirm about any of Berkshire Hathaway's subsidies he may or may not have to stash cash.

I am always amazed at the sheer fascination Americans have with wealthy, that Puritan meets Randian collective versus the individual that I wrote about may be the issue. See the odd trajectory of Donald Trump for President asa an example.

We truly believe that these men, and yes they are largely men although Oprah is the exception and she too is a part of that rule: That they are wealthy so they must be smart about everything - regardless.  So a neurosurgeon is also possible Presidential Candidate, a wealthy software mogul is knowledgeable about global health, education and anything else he wants to write a check to.  Those checks are largely for the salary of those who are experts but are well stashed behind the closed doors that also enclose the Tax Attorney's and C.P.A's who manage the portfolios.

So the professed friend of the "working class" is no different when exploiting the poor, most notably through his Clayton Homes operations, aka "trailer park trash."

This is not the first time Clayton has been written about. Clayton attracts investors as they do tenants by marketing them as safe as mobile home "parks"in which to cater to those registered on sex offender lists.  Lists that I have said are so random, so discriminatory and so illegal that several states are now declaring some of the requirements as unconstitutional.  Just this description of this "housing" sounds like a dream solution of how to integrate offenders back into society, that is  if you define this nightmare as a dream.    As this is irony wrapped in irony as Clayton Homes also markets their home developments as safe from sex offenders.  That housing development sounds like a cross between Knot's Landing and hell.  Frankly, after reading that pitch I would rather live in a trailer park with a sex offender as my neighbor.

The Seattle Times this week, along with Buzzfeed, did  a story on Clayton Homes and how they exploit the poor and largely minorities who are the largest cohort of poor in buying these dumps and then of course doing what the banks did so well - bait and switch.

Well they should just wait it out Buffett is old and maybe they are on his Giving Pledge bucket list!

Report Finds Warren Buffett’s Modular Housing Company Ripped Off Minorities

Investigation alleges systematic exploitation of minorities.

There are good billionaires and bad billionaires, we’re led to believe. But mostly, they’re bad. On the one hand you have the powerful political puppetmasters of Sheldon Adelson and the Koch brothers, who buy elections with Super PACs, we hear. On the other hand you have the younger, tech savvy ones who seem like Bond villains, with their cruel tactics to quash the competition and their whimsical explorations into space travel.

And then you have a few old, “good” billionaires who bestow trustworthy, grandfatherly advice, and spread the wisdom of prudent management and boring, reliable investing strategies. But according to a new investigative report, even Warren Buffett, the poster, uh, grandfather for this kind of benevolent magnate doesn’t have the cleanest hands.

Recently, the Seattle Times published a special report in conjunction with BuzzFeed News on the business practices of Clayton Homes, a massive modular housing company owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, the holding company that serves as a massive investment vehicle. The report does not paint a rosy picture of Clayton, which is the country’s largest homebuilder.

“Clayton systematically pursues unwitting minority homebuyers and baits them into costly subprime loans, many of which are doomed to fail,” Mike Baker and Daniel Wagner write. Their alarming piece details practices such as Clayton employees lying about being the only lender on a Navajo reservation — and getting caught on tape telling the falsehood.

The report found that Vanderbilt Mortgage, the lending arm of Clayton, lends with extremely high interest rates for minorities as opposed to their white counterparts. According to Baker and Wagner, “Federal data shows that Vanderbilt typically charges black people who make over $75,000 a year slightly more than white people who make only $35,000.”

A slew of more qualitative problems is detailed as well: employees complaining about institutional misleading of Spanish-speaking borrowers with non-translated documents; a company culture laden with racist comments and insults; and plenty more. All together the Times and Buzzfeed News talked to more than 280 experts, former employees, and customers.

Buffett declined to comment, but has told Berkshire Hathaway shareholders he “makes no apologies whatsoever about Clayton’s lending terms.” Meanwhile, Clayton is doing great, raking in over half a billion dollars in the first nine months of this year.

Today Buffett enjoys a reputation akin to a public intellectual, doling out reasonable investing advice (buy something, preferably index funds, and don’t touch them) and zingers directed at Donald Trump. He’s almost seen as the no-nonsense grandfather this country needs, the sage “Oracle of Omaha” who runs one of the world’s most admired companies, enjoys a famously frugal, non-flashy lifestyle, and seems to prove there’s a responsible alternative to the excess and greed of Wall Street. But as Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan noted in relation to the Seattle Times report, “It is impossible to accumulate and control $67 billion without presiding over many sorts of repugnant business practices.”

But there’s even more irony here, provided in an anecdote by the Times’ piece. Employees entering the Maryville, Tenn., headquarters of Clayton Homes see a poster with Buffett himself on it:
“I want employees to ask themselves whether they are willing to have any contemplated act appear the next day on the front page of their local paper — to be read by their spouses, children and friends — with the reporting done by an informed and critical reporter,” it reads.
“I’d pass by that and I was just, like, ‘Are you kidding me?’” one former Clayton employee who worked as a collector and handled borrowers’ bankruptcies said to the Times.
All of which begs the question: What is the largest ethically-sound (ethical, within mainstream goalposts) fortune in the world today?

Update: Here is Clayton’s statement regarding the Seattle Times’ article.


Happy New Year?

When one is pronounced dead you want to be assure its been confirmed, sort of like Santa's list where at least it's confirmed twice. Apparently no.

This is not just about aging and terminal illness with regards to end of life care; that should be part of wellness care and in some actual cases and hospitals has a set of protocols and demands that should take many factors into account with regards to the patients best interest.  Those should include  that confirmation part by the patient, if conscious/rational and able to consent,  the family, as well as an unbiased individual advocate deigned to provide balance, legal obligations, etc.  Yes a "para lawyer" a cross between a moron, whoops I mean, Social Worker and an Asshole, whoops I mean Lawyer.

But what if you are dead but not.  Well that one is a little tougher.  I think it does depend on the hospital but also frankly once again the money train.  For that is what really defines care or death upon arrival at a hospital.  And of course malpractice insurance.  Speaking to a former air transporter for medical evacuations done, he was told to make sure that NONE died enroute.  The reality was even when dead they weren't declared as such until admission.  Harborview Medical Center that contracted with the group, and also run by its Chief Trauma Manager, wanted to ensure that options could be made and payment guaranteed.   No conflict of interest and not for any other purpose as such as teaching as Harborview is not just a public and trauma designated hospital, it is a teaching one. It is a three way in everything but the good sense and explains the discrepancy and irregularity of care.

So yes it definitely depends on the hospital and of course the dead or not dead.  That is the question.

When are you dead? It may depend on which hospital makes the call.


The narrow, inscrutable zone between undeniably still here and unequivocally gone includes a range of states that look like life but may not be: a beating heart, a functioning digestive system, even moving fingers and toes. Death is less a moment than a process, a gradual drift out of existence as essential functions switch off, be it rapidly or one by one.

It was exactly midnight when Colleen Burns was wheeled into the operating room at St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Center in Syracuse, N.Y. She had been deep in a coma for several days after overdosing on a toxic cocktail of drugs. Scans of electrical activity in her brain were poor, and oxygen didn’t seem to be flowing. Burns was brain dead, her family was told; if they wanted to donate her organs, now was the time to do it.

But there, under the bright lights of the prep room in the OR, Burns opened her eyes. The 41-year-old wasn’t brain dead. She wasn’t even unconscious anymore. And doctors had been minutes away from cutting into her to remove her organs.

This is the nightmare scenario, the one that sends doctors and neurologists into cold sweats. It’s the reason that, in 2010, the American Academy of Neurology issued new guidelines for hospitals for determining brain death — the condition that legally demarcates life from whatever lies beyond. Those standards, according to Yale University,  neurologist David Greer, who worked on them, are meant to ensure that no patient is declared dead unless they really are beyond all hope of recovery.
“This is truly one of those matters of life and death, and we want to make sure this is done right every single time,” he told NPR.

But five years later, according to a study led by Greer that was published in the journal JAMA Neurology Monday, not all hospitals have adopted the guidelines.

Of the nearly 500 hospitals Greer and his colleagues surveyed over a three-year period, most facilities did not require that someone with expertise in neurology or neurosurgery be present to determine brain death. At more than half of hospitals, the person who makes the call doesn’t even have to be the patient’s attending physician. A majority also didn’t require doctors to test for hypotension (abnormally low blood pressure) or hypothermia, both of which can suppress brain function which could mimic the appearance of brain death.

There were large improvements in standardization of brain death assessments across hospitals since the 2010 criteria were published. The survey also looked at standards, not practices.
But the lingering lapses are still worrying, Greer told NPR.

“There are very few things in medicine that should be black and white, but this is certainly one of them,” he said. “There really are no excuses at this point for hospitals not to be able to do this 100 percent of the time.”

Burns’s near-disastrous declaration of death happened in 2009, before the new guidelines were released, though a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report on the incident found that St. Joseph’s had failed to meet previous standards for assessing death. Hospital staff missed several signs that Burns’s brain was still functioning the night she was due for organ donation surgery: her nostrils flared, her lips and tongue moved, she was breathing “above the ventilator” (meaning, taking breaths of her own accord). And when a nurse performed a reflex test, scraping a finger along the bottom of Burns’s foot, the woman’s toes curled inward, according to the Syracuse Post-Standard.

Doctors failed to order repeat CT scans and inexplicably and inaccurately said that she suffered from cardiac arrest when she hadn’t. Crucially, they also failed to measure whether the drugs she had taken still lingered in her system, preventing her from exhibiting even the most primitive reflexes expected of someone with brain activity.

This is a widespread problem, Greer’s report indicates: only about 32 percent of hospitals surveyed required drug tests to rule out toxic levels that can mimic the loss of primitive reflexes associated with brain death.

As soon as Burns opened her eyes, she was rushed back into the ICU and her doctors resumed treatment. She ultimately recovered from her overdose and was discharged two weeks later. But 16 months after the near-miss in the OR Burns committed suicide, her mother told the Post-Standard.
Burns’ mother, Lucille Kuss, said that depression, not what happened at the hospital, is what drove Burns to her death.

“She was so depressed that it really didn’t make any difference to her,” Kuss said of the incident.
Cases like Burns’s are increasingly rare, but they are emblematic of an anxiety at the root of all discussions about brain death. If death is a process, at what point in the process is the person no longer alive?

For most of history, this question was mostly moot. In the Victorian era, for example, doctors couldn’t keep blood pumping through a permanently unresponsive person’s body, even if they wanted to, and a person who lost brain function would surely quit breathing shortly after. Determining the exact point of death was less a medical necessity than a philosophical diversion: In the early 1900s, Boston doctor Duncan MacDougall recruited a number of terminally ill patients to lie down on a massive scale during their final moments. By measuring fluctuations in their weight at the moment they died, MacDougall claimed, he could determine the mass of the soul.

The advent of organ donation procedures in the 1960s changed that. That period of collapse as functions failed became not only a tragic inevitability, but a vital window when organs could be taken from a dead body and used to keep another alive. Yet defining that window is medically and ethically complicated. Open it too early, as Burns’s doctors almost did, and you risk sacrificing a patient who might have survived. Too late, and the organs will deteriorate along with the life they once sustained.

This is how we arrived at a definition of death as brain death, the complete and irreversible loss of brain function, including in the brain stem (which controls the heart and lungs). It comes largely from a 1968 definition written for the The Journal of the American Medical Association by an ad hoc Harvard Medical School committee, and then affirmed by a blue ribbon medical commission just over a decade later. A person can also be declared dead if they suffer an irreversible cessation of respiratory and circulatory functions — in other words, their heart and lungs permanently stop.
Of course, the extraction of organs from a failing body is not the only reason to come up with a legal definition of death. It also helps hospitals to determine when and how to end life-saving interventions and remove a patient from life support.

The logic behind marking brain death as the end of life is that existence without a brain isn’t living.
“The brain is the person, the evolved person, not the machine person,” Cornell University neurologist Fred Plum said at a symposium on comas and death in 2000, according to the New Yorker. “… We are not one living cell. We are the evolution of a very large group of systems into the awareness of self and the environment.”

But not everyone agrees. Cultural and legal definitions of life and death vary —  in an interview with NPR, Georgetown University medical ethics professor Robert Veatch called defining death “the abortion question at the other end of life.”

Right now, the family of Jahi McMath, a California teenager who was declared brain dead two years ago but has been kept on life support, is suing to have her death certificate invalidated according to the Associated Press. The McMaths are devout Christians, their lawyer wrote in a brief, who believe that “as long as the heart is beating, Jahi is alive.”

McMath is currently on a ventilator in New Jersey, where state law allows hospitals to take a family’s religion into consideration when making decisions about end-of-life procedures.

Yet despite the legal, medical and moral complexities in determining brain death, there is no federally mandated procedure for doing so, according to the New York Times. There are only the guidelines issued by neurologists, and how hospitals choose to apply them.

That they do so inconsistently only exacerbates the anxieties people have about death and organ donation, Leslie Whetstine, a bioethicist at Walsh University in Ohio, told NPR.

“If one hospital is using a testing method that’s different from another hospital,” she said, “people might wonder: ‘Are they really dead?'

Fear Factor

“Those who work much do not work hard.”
- Henry David Thoreau

I woke up to BBC radio discussing the obsession of work in our global "workplace." They found that Americans of course work 300 hours more annually than the French the much oft cited as the least hard working country in the globe. And I point to all things French and think, well given that they produce most of what love as do many others, those French have figured it out.

But the story neglected to mention Sweden, who when it comes to countries and work life balance, have an edge over even the French.

The readings or one should say the writings of Thoreau is one whom I had forgotten until I had to study for this absurd professional exam to add English to my Teaching license. The test is absurdly random with subjects that are so disparately connected that it is impossible to actually feel one knows any of this properly and thoroughly, meeting the saying: A Jack of all trades is a master of none. And during the random queries about the massive field of what defines Literature**, stumbled on of course Thoreau. And I found his seminal Journal by utter accident. Wow, I suck as a Teacher. Well no like many I read only Walden and then check and move on. It is like Moby Dick those who read it do so by requirement and not by choice. Well some may but it is not an easy read by any stretch of the imagination. Melville was not short on words and concepts both metaphysical and transcendental, as I suspect Bartlelby, and his Wall Street would define. Funny how Wall Street then and now always comes up.

No one can teach any one subject of any field as each is layered in its own complexities, skill sets, knowledge sources and expertise. I have never believed that you can be a true Humanities teacher, teaching both history and language arts without sacrificing one for the other. Teaching literature, the subjects of history, economics, sociology, and of course linguistics which encompasses writing and more importantly grammar is a skill set that requires endless education and experience and yet many public teachers have said endorsements. The same for math and science and so forth. Wow you are really smart for someone whose average salary is just over 50K and works supposedly only 9 months of the year. Thoreau would be proud.

The idea of work is self defined and the reality is that we define ourselves by our work. And that definition explains why I think people talk about their endless work hours as a way of validating one's existence and identity.

Watch people on planes and how many click on computers and endlessly seem preoccupied with 'working'. I believe that white men seem the most obsessive compulsive and I have written about the slovenly dude who was relocating from the Virgin Islands to a town outside Portland. He was endlessly updating information and constantly reviewing Linked In and Facebook throughout the flight. It is then when I finally read over his shoulder and looked at the odd utterly not current photo on one of the sites and his profession - Technology Teacher at a rural high school.

After I stopped laughing he looked over to me and I just shrugged and went back to the movie I was watching. I knew instantly this sad little man in filthy clothes, beard, flip flops was just a Teacher like me and he was nothing more. Not a department head, nor a highly acclaimed individual moving to a major new city with a new job, but a Teacher. Sorry dude but I truly know that many Teachers do work ungodly hours, and why I am unsure but okay, but this was June, the particular field or curriculum he was teaching is not one that does (trust me I have subbed in these gigs as they are unfilled and usually part time) and yes moving logistically is a challenge and certainly across country and from an island, but you are on a 6 hour flight, you have to connect again upon landing so really what are you doing? At one point you just have to wait it out.

During the program the reporter discussed with many their work hours and attitude towards work as well as providing studies about how work productivity declines over a certain number of hours worked, we peak out after 55 hours a week.

What she found is that many who claim to work 10 to 12 hours a day do little actual work during the day and that in reality many don't work. And for those who changed their work hours and cut them they found their productivity and in turn happiness and attitude towards work improved.

 My favorite was the man who worked in a company so large that he went to school for an advanced degree, spent a year at home as he was literally forgotten and when he returned to the office he had no work at all so he spent his days faking it and in turn writing a book. He described it as both demoralizing and debilitating as having to spend days looking busy and creating non existent work as he feared telling anyone would mark him as unnecessary and therefore redundant and in turn unemployed.

One woman talked about reading the papers (which I do daily as the lesson plans left leave more than ample time to read at least 2), checking social media (don't), and doing about 4 hours of work a day but clocking in 10. Wow.  I clock in at 8 and usually work 6 hours.  And yes I try to actually teach the lesson plans when left and even when not (well more in those cases as it is essential) so this tells you a lot about teaching but I suspect if they were paid more they might actually do more.  It is a positive equivalent that is really the issue not tenure as I know no Teacher who actually quotes that, that is post secondary folks that quote that bullshit.  

This might also be why we have issues surrounding wages. As the wage "slaves" know they are not working full tilt boogie so they have no understanding or comprehension of those hourly workers who don't have the luxury of faking it til making it. Their time is well documented, observed and supervised and down time is just taking the required by law breaks.

But surprise the white collar professions don't either.

In July, the BBC published a video showing that not only are US workers not guaranteed vacation time by law, but that 40% choose not to take all of the days to which they are entitled.

In the US, work plays a big part in how people identify themselves and many take pride in working long hours. When we asked the BBC's audience why so many Americans chose not to take full advantage of their vacation days, these were some of the answer: Americans like money, Americans are not lazy, Americans are hard working but many replied that they were angry and afraid. Yes afraid, as if they took the time off they would come back to no longer having a job to come back to.

One of the responders:
Gerald Audet earned a PhD in physiology and has been working in science for the past eight years at three different work places (none of which he wanted to disclose for fear of retribution). At every company he was expected to think about his job 24 hours a day, he told the BBC.

"Don't mention any other things that you do, because that is looked down upon and looked at as a weakness," Audet, who is also a keen amateur triathlete, says.

He is allowed to take time off, but in Audet's case it means scrambling to get work done ahead of his vacation and working twice as hard when he comes back.

"This is how America is: you are expected to give everything you have, and if you don't you're unsuccessful

Another said this: Alaine Megan said of her employer, whose name she doesn't want published for fear of losing her job, stopped paid vacation days and now wants notice a month in advance for unpaid days off. Taking off the day before or after Christmas is almost impossible; wanting to see your family just isn't a "good enough" reason, she says.

And lastly from Ryan Zane a Silicon Valley recruiter who said this: The idea of unlimited vacation The newest trend swings in the opposite direction: "unlimited vacation days". He told the BBC that many start up firms offer this benefit because they don't have enough cash on hand to pay out an employee's remaining vacation days if he or she leaves the company. He followed this up with this comment: "In truth, what they end up doing is fostering a cloud of fear over the employees as even though they are "allowed" to, the employees feel immense fear and pressure to never leave their desks out otherwise they will be seen as "lazy" or "don't care enough."

And remember this is the industry that is built around the cool workplace with the free food, ping pong and other bullshit. But according to Lotte Bailyn, professor emeritus at MIT, who studies the effects of work life business relationships:
Companies are competing with each other for employees through fringe benefits like serving food and a free gym, s

These perks can give companies reputations as great places to work, but in reality, Baylins says, "They just make it easier to stay at work and to keep working."

She says people would be better off in a company that says "Take four weeks and don't call in", rather have no guidelines around unlimited vacation days.

"Most of the data that I've seen shows that if anything people are taking less vacation days because without guidelines there's too much uncertainty."

And you wonder why there are movements by white collar wearers to organize while their blue collars struggle to do so be it choice or simply fear from uncertainty.

And some of this comes from our Puritan work ethic ingrained in the DNA of Americans and reiterated through the absurd libertarian rantings of a non American, Ayn Rand, and the cult of individualism that resonates in American culture.

I think this says it all

But this is what defines our Unicorn and our philosophy of the American dream the "work hard" mantra that is espoused on a hourly basis in this country.

2008 really through the concept of work and life into the metaphysical paper shredder. And while I have said that the MEME generation has never seen hardship they also have no sense of balance or perspective.

This is their lives so they are sure these apps are time saving life altering new ideas that will provide the missing elements such as friends, social connections, relaxation and of course money. That is the real issue, the aspirant class wants to be rich so they think they won't have to work so hard.

Be afraid be very afraid. That should be the American work ethic and motto.

**for the record of all the Literature, genres and authors, Ayn Rand and her notion of individualism is one of the few questions about writers and their works on this Teaching credential test.  The others center around Zora Neale Hurston and on dialect and the Harlem Renaissance, with a couple more random authors thrown in to show "equality" I think.  Those are in between grammar questions, stylistic requirements, and teaching strategies. The lack of cohesiveness, randomness and sheer lack of depth on pedagogy shows that testing for adults is as absurd to assume one would be a good Teacher in  a field so complex.   So what defines a good Teacher? Hell if I know. But giving a damn and having a life outside a classroom that enriches the one within it might be a good start, but there is no test for that.***

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Express Degree

I have written about Washington State's experiment with the Legal Technician program at its inception and its apparent death with the termination by its board pointing fingers at the Bar Association and their resistance to the program.  And while the same  newspapers and journals that trumped or queried its birth have notably been quiet as to the current state of the program and its possible future.  

As of October, 15 applied and 10 were approved for the license.   The program and respective course work, and needed qualifications are still listed on the the Washington State Bar website but one wonders if this is just a money grab that will once again prove a job killer versus creator, with larger debt loads and few, if any, opportunity for professional work.

Then another shocking blow to the legal community is the closing of Northwestern's 2 year express law degree program.  And of course the legal community does little with clutching of pearls as they, like their Medical equivalent, refuse to see that change is not just in the wind, it is essential to retain professional appeal.  The old "do as I did and live with it" is not cutting it with the new MEME's. They like to rebrand everything and education is another field that they are reforming regardless of its success or failure.   Remember MOOC's?

In reality a program that has not had at least double its length in existence is difficult to measure its success or failure.  So in 4-5 years it would be interesting to see the percent of graduates who found employment in the field, their debt to income ratio and overall skill set and knowledge in comparison to those who elected conventional law school (other than the Ivies that should not count for anything other than networking and alumnus ass covering).

No, we cannot wait to see that this works as it is not paying now. So in other words it is about the money - for the school.  As I have said, ed reform has little to nothing to do with students.  And to be honest any field run by Lawyers has little to no intention, motivation or incentive to change, the same with Medicine and the demand for reforms and changes to their expectations and demands.  That will not happen.   It's all about the Benjamin's baby.

The 2-Year Law Education Fails to Take Off


A quicker, cheaper law degree — which got a major vote of confidence when President Obama, a lawyer and former law professor, unexpectedly endorsed it in August 2013 — has been widely promoted as an ideal way to slash growing student debt and give beginning lawyers a leg up in a difficult job market.

But one of the most visible experiments, the two-year law degree, has foundered so far. The only elite school to adopt it, the Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law, this fall ended its accelerated two-year juris doctor program after it failed to attract enough applicants.

“We thought this program was the holy grail alternative to bring in students who might otherwise not have considered law school,” Daniel B. Rodriguez, the Northwestern law school dean. “It was like ‘Field of Dreams,’ ” he said, referring to the Kevin Costner baseball movie. “If you build it, they will come.”

The Northwestern program was a bellwether for innovation in legal education at a time when law school has lost some of its luster and applications have declined — except to top-tier schools — as prospective students see higher tuition costs, but fewer legal job opportunities.

Only two years ago Mr. Rodriguez and Samuel Estreicher, a professor at the New York University School of Law, publicly praised the streamlined degree as “a big step in the right direction” to rapidly train lawyers, ease student financial burdens and encourage innovation in third-year law curriculum.

Despite the closure, a handful of other law schools are still successfully offering a two-year degree option. They include Brooklyn Law School, University of Kansas, University of Dayton School of Law and Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles. But such degrees largely do not reflect retooling of the law school curriculum because accreditation rules require the same number of course credits to graduate. The degree in a truncated time frame typically costs the same as the three-year version.

Even so, a number of law schools — confronting the reality of plunging applicants and perhaps spurred by the president’s seal of approval — are trying to push the boundaries of conventional legal education in other ways.

This month, for example, the Loyola University Chicago School of Law said that, starting in fall 2016, it planned to offer a weekend juris doctorate program that would allow part-time students to earn a degree using both physical classes and distance learning. Other law schools also are experimenting with mixing online learning and in-class sessions to attract law degree seekers who want more flexibility.

A speedy degree, however, is not the only issue facing law schools. Employers are demanding that law graduates have the skills to work as lawyers from their first day of employment.

In response, some schools are overhauling their third-year offerings. The University of California Hastings College of the Law began a program called Lawyers for America in 2011 that lops off the last year of academic classes. Instead, students gain hands-on experience by spending their final year in places like a district attorney’s office, where they learn tasks like taking depositions and filing legal motions.

Law schools have been cautious about too much tinkering, unwilling to disrupt a proven earnings model and to avoid the wrath of alumni reacting to any diminution of the school’s brand.

“We are trying to change a system that’s been the same for more than 80 years,” said Blake D. Morant, dean of George Washington University Law School and current head of the Association of American Law Schools. “At the same time, employers — law firms, corporate counsel and federal agencies — are telling us that they no longer want to train these lawyers.

“They want lawyers with the critical-thinking skills they learn in law school, but who also are ready to hit the ground running.”

As the popularity of law school has slumped, the schools are trying to figure out how to assure a steady stream of applicants, and tuition dollars, while juggling entrenched institutional costs like six-figure professor salaries and upscale facilities. Changing the longstanding law school model can be expensive and chancy.

Northwestern, for example, did the market research and tailored its program to appeal to slightly older students with workplace experience, but its pipeline of students was unexpectedly narrowed by economic and regulatory forces, said Mr. Rodriguez, Northwestern’s dean. The program, which started in 2010, “began before the world changed and there was a free-fall in applications.”

The law school has labored to reach its goal of 30 students per class each year, a typical number for many such two-year programs. Students with solid job experience like John A. Prinzivalli, 29, of Chicago, found the program ideal.

“It was a good step for me after spending five years in an economic consulting firm,” said Mr. Prinzivalli, who is set to graduate in May 2016 from the two-year program. “I wanted to be with like-minded peers yet be able to quickly rejoin the work force.”

He has a job offer from a major law firm, where he interned last summer, so he is saving a year’s living expenses and also gaining a year’s salary with an earlier job start date. The accelerated program “is a chance to show ambition and hard work,” he said, but “it’s also a lot of work in a compressed time frame.”

Another stumbling block for law school experimentation can be American Bar Association accreditation rules. As a university-affiliated law school, Northwestern was allowed to recruit a percentage of high-achieving undergraduates, who might have otherwise gone to another law school, to go directly to its law school, using results from tests like Graduate Record Exam (GRE) rather than the more traditional Law School Admissions Test (LSAT).

Increasingly, higher education institutions are opting out of relying on standardized testing in evaluating applicants, but most of the A.B.A.’s 200-plus accredited law schools use the test as a significant marker for admission decisions.

The rule change was criticized by some stand-alone law schools as a shortcut that helped university-affiliated law schools corral good students. About two dozen independent schools pressed the accrediting body, the A.B.A. Section on Legal Education, to rescind the new rule. Last summer, citing too many law school requests for variances to its rule, the A.B.A. reversed itself effective in 2017, so that currently enrolled students can complete their degrees.

Even with the overturned rule, Barry Currier, the A.B.A. section’s managing director for accreditation and legal education, said law schools could continue to recruit high-performing undergraduates who have completed three-fourths of their education to participate in “3 + 3” accelerated programs. The six-year program allows qualified rising seniors to enter law school and complete both a bachelor’s and law degree in less time than the typical seven years.

Such streamlined programs have been more popular with the legal academy. So far about 30 schools, including Northwestern, Fordham University School of Law and Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law, have adopted such programs.

Schools committed to the two-year law degree, like Brooklyn Law School, say there is an extra layer of scrutiny for those applying to the program, which allows students to complete their studies in 24 months. Students must undergo a formal interview, either in person or via Skype, to “make sure that students understand it is a vigorous program,” said Nicholas W. Allard, the school’s dean.

For some, the briefer, cheaper degree is invaluable. For example, Frank P. Michielli, 24, of Westchester, N.Y., who worked at a legal recruiting firm before entering Brooklyn Law School’s two-year program, works part-time and lives in law school housing to avoid too much education debt.

“I saved a year of living expenses, which can really add to your debt,” he noted. “So while others will be paying a third year of tuition, I’ll be getting a paycheck.”

Among schools committed to a third year, the University of California Hastings School of the Law has a Lawyers for America program that provides students with the option of spending their final year getting hands-on skills. Students also commit for a year following their graduation to work in the same place, for an annual stipend of $35,000, according to Marsha N. Cohen, a law professor and founding executive director of the program.

“I really wanted a tactile learning experience,” said Ali Nicolette, 28, of Huntington Beach, Calif., a third-year student who works for Disability Rights California, a statewide agency, where she interviews new clients, conducts negotiations and drafts pleadings.

“Having the practical skills will be a huge advantage if I have to go up against graduates with perfect law school records,” she said.

However, she said, there is a downside. “The salary is subsistence pay, especially in this area,” she noted, “but the experience is an investment, too.”

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Drug Money

Usually that is referred to the ill gotten gains of drug dealers and pushers.  And in turn has led to the bizarrely over applied Civil Forfeiture Act that enables law enforcement to seize property without any legal conviction let alone charge for drug possession.  It is has been a boon to local law enforcement and the feds as any good dealer does, makes sure they get a cut to those who allow them to work the streets.  Interesting parallel there, that law enforcement mirrors the very industry they are attempting to stop.

Which always brings me to the eternal question:  If they stopped all drug dealing and sales then what would they do? Make new laws to find new ways to do the same thing only different.   As my mother used to say: "If they cure cancer then we would expect the Medical profession to cure all diseases and then what would they do?"

I read this in the Intercept and well I laughed and went: "Duh."

Makers of OxyContin Bankroll Efforts to Undermine Prescription Painkiller Reform 
Lee Fang
The Intercept
Dec. 23 2015, 7:08 a.m.

The pharmaceutical companies that manufacture and market OxyContin, Vicodin, and other highly addictive opioid painkillers — drugs that have fueled the epidemic of overdoses and heroin addiction — are funding nonprofit groups fighting furiously against efforts to reform how these drugs are prescribed.

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was close to finalizing voluntary prescribing guidelines for opioid painkillers next month, it abruptly changed course. According to a report from the Associated Press, the CDC “abandoned its January target date, instead opening the guidelines to public” comment after a number of “industry-funded groups like the U.S. Pain Foundation and the American Academy of Pain Management warn[ed] that the CDC guidelines could block patient access to medications.”

The new guidelines would encourage doctors to prescribe opioids as a last choice for chronic pain, a sharp departure from the status quo, in which many doctors, under pressure from pharmaceutical sales representatives, often prescribe painkillers for mild back pain or a toothache. As experts note, many painkiller and heroin addicts start abusing opioids after receiving a legitimate prescription for pain-related medical issues.

An investigation by The Intercept has found that the pharmaceutical companies that dominate the $9 billion a year opioid painkiller market have funded organizations attacking reform of the prescribing guidelines:
  • The Washington Legal Foundation, a nonprofit that litigates to defend “free-market principles,” threatened the CDC with legal action if the agency moved forward with the proposed opioid guidelines. The WLG claimed the CDC’s advisory panel for the guidelines lacked “fair ideological balance,” because it included a doctor who is part of an advocacy effort against opioid addiction. The WLG does not disclose donor information, but has filed friend-of-the-court briefs on behalf of Purdue Pharma, the makers of OxyContin. In a recent article with Pain News Network, a spokesperson for Purdue Pharma conceded: “We’re long-standing supporters of WLF, in addition to several other business and legal organizations. We’ve provided them with unrestricted grants.”
  • The Pain Care Forum organized opposition to the CDC prescribing guidelines, mobilizing regular meetings among stakeholders opposed to the idea, according to an investigation by AP reporter Matthew Perrone. A recently re-filed complaint by the City of Chicago found that Burt Rosen, the chief in-house lobbyist for Purdue Pharma, controls the Pain Care Forum. A former drug company employee allegedly told investigators that Rosen tells the Pain Care Forum “what to do and how we do it.” The Pain Care Forum is funded through contributions by Purdue Pharma, as well as major opioid manufacturers Cephalon, Endo, and Janssen, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson.
  •  The Power of Pain Foundation, a group funded by Purdue Pharma, asked supporters to contact the CDC in opposition to the guidelines, claiming that “taking away pain medication and making providers afraid to prescribe due to your guidelines is only going to make more abusers, increase suicides, and tear apart the lives of millions.”
  • The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a corporate lobbying group that represents opioid manufacturers, including Johnson & Johnson, issued a press release masquerading as a news story criticizing the CDC guidelines. (The U.S. Chamber operates a public relations effort dressed up as a bona fide media outlet called Legal Newsline, which it uses to disseminate stories that support the political priorities of its member companies.)
The over-prescription of opioid products has made the United States the center of the painkiller abuse epidemic. Americans consume about 81 percent of the global supply of oxycodone products (the active ingredient in OxyContin) and almost 100 percent of hydrocodone (the active ingredient used in brands such as Vicodin). More than 16,000 people die from opioid painkiller overdose every year.

The skyrocketing use of opioids in America is also closely linked to the rising heroin crisis, which reached new heights this year. Prescription opioids, which provide a high that is very similar to heroin, are often a gateway drug. As many as four out of five heroin users get started with opioid painkillers.

Throw the Dice

I presume that many think my loathing of the medical field began in 2008 and the subsequent abuse by the staff at Harborview Medical Center. No. I think it was around age 7 when I went for a blood test, the "Doctor" took the blood and broke the needle in my arm. Later I found out that he was an Osteopath, an odd category of non Doctor, Doctor that later reappeared in my life in the Big Brother series with Will Kirby. Why I remember that, no not the blood test but the Will Kirby part shows I watch way too much TV.

But that never improved in my life. My mother went to Dr. Feelgood in the 70s who prescribed Valium to my mother making her a drug addled mess.  This I know now was not unusual as at the time as it was just another way of oppressing women;  I do think the real issue was that she was menopausal and that was the real problem of which he knew nothing nor how to treat.

I have had some good some bad and some who served the purpose. I have always gone to a Doctor with my "problem" and "need" and it was a Doctor who told me no more antibiotics as they are not great for every ailment. He was ahead of that curve apparently.  But most are pushers as we have learned not just drugs but tests and treatments that serve no purpose but lining their pocket.

And the same for Dentists. I have no relationship with my current Dentist who when I was 16 was willing to work with me and changed my perspective on dental crisis.   Today I have no faith nor trust in any of his suggestions, so before he destroys my mouth any further I will wait, and in turn interview three new Dentists to find which one suits my needs both dentally and personally. It is the later that of which I am most concerned.

I have never understood the personal connection until as the editorial points out - until it happens to you.  So I see why people are so vested in the drama about Obamacare and medical needs, the fear that you have to go through this again seems to be taking a risk that is about your health.

The reality is that they are all crappy and the crap shoot is finding the one that isn't.

The Doctor Is Out. For Good.

The New York Times
DEC. 25, 2015

I HAD heard stories of doctors disappearing — gone, suddenly, their offices closed and no forwarding address to be found — but I never expected it from my physician of 12 years. After weeks of phoning his office, I finally reached him. He referred to himself in the third person: Dr. J. was unavailable, the practice was closing and if I wanted my medical records, I should come fetch them.

This was a man who had peered into my nose and mouth, performed prostate examinations and talked me through afflictions. He knew I was married, had children, and what I did for a living. That he would skip town without notice seemed an abrupt ending. He didn’t even tell my health insurance provider that he had shut his doors.

When I arrived the next day, the doctor handed me my records and said he was closing the practice and moving it to Texas. He had not notified anyone because there were too many patients to contact, an explanation I accepted without contention, the way I had adopted so much of his advice over the years.

Everyone seems to have a health care provider they swear by — a dentist who can pull teeth without painkillers, a chiropractor who can realign spines one-handed. “My doctor is the best,” I’ve heard countless friends say. Rarely do they say “my doctor is the worst” — partly because people don’t usually stay with bad doctors very long, but also because bad doctors aren’t always obvious, at least until they do something obviously bad. Like, say, suddenly closing their practice and relocating 2,000 miles away.

In hindsight, there were signs I did not have the best practitioner. The nurses were fresh out of school, using my veins for target practice as they stabbed for blood. I was often prescribed serious medications for mild ailments. I was once left in an examination room for over an hour. When I emerged half-dressed in a cheap gown to check on the wait, a receptionist apologized, saying the doctor had left for the day. He had forgotten about me.

Doctors are a responsible lot, generally speaking, but sudden departures are not unheard-of. According to Lori Jenkins, a health care consultant in Clifton Park, N.Y., closing a practice without notifying patients is often a sign of business troubles, personal problems or impending malpractice suits. All the while, a patient might have no idea what lies behind the stethoscope. “You see things happening, but think it’s normal,” she explained.

After weeks of navigating health care bureaucracy, I’ve discovered no misconduct. Dr. J. is still registered to practice medicine in New York State. The Department of Health claims his practice is in good standing.

And yet, no Dr. J. On the practice’s Yelp page, a Brooklyn reviewer inquired if anyone knew the whereabouts of Dr. J., claiming the office doorman said he disappeared seemingly overnight. Another reviewer, a client for over 10 years, confirmed he had vanished without a forwarding address.

I found a new doctor. She promises not to skip town for the southern border. She discovered a stockpile of wax in my ear she called “alarming,” something that Dr. J. had never noticed. Since our first consultation she’s called twice to check on ear maintenance. My new doctor is the best.