"Dr. Monica Bharel, the health commissioner, also revealed Wednesday that the state has a backlog of consumer complaints about nursing homes.Bharel said that her department will hire and train more staff but did not detail how the agency will pay for the hires. • As part of the changes Bharel announced, consumers will have access to a new online system to file complaints and find more detailed information about nursing homes. • Families with relatives in nursing homes have long expressed frustration with the state’s system for filing complaints. • Last year alone, the Department of Public Health was flooded with about 11,000 complaints from consumers and reports of problems filed by nursing homes, Bharel said. • “We need to find a better way to triage and address the backlog of complaints,’’ Bharel said as she presented the overhaul to the Public Health Council, an appointed body of academics, consumer advocates, and physicians that approves health regulations. • Roughly 40,000 residents live in the 400-plus nursing homes in Massachusetts. • Governor Charlie Baker’s proposed state budget includes money for two additional nursing home inspectors."
"The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation is dedicated to the long-term health and wellbeing of all Earth’s inhabitants. Through collaborative partnerships, we support innovative projects that protect vulnerable wildlife from extinction, while restoring balance to threatened ecosystems and communities. LDF works in 4 key areas:
"Support this question!" • "We are not a representative democracy any more. The concentration of power in the funders of campaigns has radically undermined the capacity of Congress to represent us. • The President is the only political leader who could make reforming our crippled and corrupted Congress a priority. Congress won't do it. The courts can't do it. It is up to the President to lead on this issue. • But no President would have a mandate powerful enough to make such a fundamental change unless s/he makes it a primary commitment of his or her administration. • We know that -- like 72% of voters -- every Democratic candidate for President supports reform. Each of you has committed to small dollar citizen funding of campaigns. • But which of you will commit to making that reform primary? Which of you will give us a reason to believe in government again? "
"The point of these arbitration clauses is to take away the right of consumers to bring class action lawsuits against improper practices. For example, if a telephone company charges an outlandish fee for ending a contract early, without clear notification in the initial agreement, an arbitration clause may prevent customers from bringing suit. • The point of getting the case into arbitration is not just to get a referee that is likely to be sympathetic to the company; arbitration also hugely tilts the playing field in their direction. As a practical matter, it is unlikely to make sense for an individual customer to hire a lawyer to try to win back $500 or $1,000 that a phone company is improperly charging. Legal fees can easily exceed these sums and of course there is no guarantee of winning. • The most common form of redress is to bring a class action suit. This allows hundreds or thousands of people who were victimized by the same clause to join together to bring a legal case. But the arbitration clauses specifically block legal actions. This means arbitration is the only form of redress. • The latest Times article in this series reports on how debt collectors are taking advantage of these clauses. They can use the courts for abusive forms of debt collection, and then hide behind arbitration clauses to prevent their victims from suing back. "
President Obama and congressional Democrats should do everything they can to stop these efforts. But it’s not enough simply to protect the progress we have made. As president, I would not only veto any legislation that would weaken financial reform, but I would also fight for tough new rules, stronger enforcement and more accountability that go well beyond Dodd-Frank.
My comprehensive plan has already won praise from progressives like Sherrod Brown and Barney Frank. Here’s what it would do.
First, we need to further rein in major financial institutions. My plan proposes legislation that would impose a new risk fee on dozens of the biggest banks — those with more than $50 billion in assets — and other systemically important financial institutions to discourage the kind of hazardous behavior that could induce another crisis. I would also ensure that the federal government has — and is prepared to use — the authority and tools necessary to reorganize, downsize and ultimately break up any financial institution that is too large and risky to be managed effectively. No bank or financial firm should be too big to manage.
"The proper role of Wall Street is to help Main Street grow and prosper. When our financial sector works the right way, it helps families buy their first homes, entrepreneurs start and grow small businesses and hardworking Americans save for retirement. Rather than pursuing the kind of high-stakes speculation that devastated our economy before, Wall Street should focus on building an economy that creates good-paying jobs, rising incomes and sound investments so that more families can achieve the security of a middle-class life."
"Moving back and forth between private practice and public service, several people had central roles inside the Obama administration in developing a new housing finance policy that would phase out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the huge government-backed mortgage firms. After leaving office, three of these former officials, now with connections to various large financial institutions, met several times with government officials to discuss issues related to Fannie and Freddie."
"All decent people feel sorrow and righteous fury about the latest slaughter of innocents, in California. Law enforcement and intelligence agencies are searching for motivations, including the vital question of how the murderers might have been connected to international terrorism. That is right and proper. But motives do not matter to the dead in California, nor did they in Colorado, Oregon, South Carolina, Virginia, Connecticut and far too many other places. The attention and anger of Americans should also be directed at the elected leaders whose job is to keep us safe but who place a higher premium on the money and political power of an industry dedicated to profiting from the unfettered spread of ever more powerful firearms."
"In the continuing debate over how to stop mass killings in the United States, Australia has become a familiar touchstone.
President Obama has cited the country’s gun laws as a model for the United States, calling Australia a nation “like ours.” On the campaign trail, Hillary Clinton has said the Australian approach is “worth considering.” The National Rifle Association, meanwhile, has dismissed the policies, contending that they “robbed Australians of their right to self-defense and empowered criminals” without reducing violent crime.
The oft-cited statistic in Australia is a simple one: There have been no mass killings — defined by experts there as a gunman killing five or more people besides himself — since the nation significantly tightened its gun control laws almost 20 years ago.
Mass shootings in Australia were rare anyway. But after a gunman massacred 35 people in the Tasmanian town of Port Arthur in 1996, a public outcry spurred a national consensus to severely restrict firearms. The tightened laws, which were standardized across Australia, are more stringent than those of any state in the United States, including California."
"Their wealth has forcefully shifted the state’s balance of power. Last year, the families helped elect as governor Bruce Rauner, a Griffin friend and former private equity executive from the Chicago suburbs, who estimates his own fortune at more than $500 million. Now they are rallying behind Mr. Rauner’s agenda: to cut spending and overhaul the state’s pension system, impose term limits and weaken public employee unions. • 'It was clear that they wanted to change the power structure, change the way business was conducted and change the status quo,' said Andy Shaw, an acquaintance of Mr. Rauner’s and the president of the Better Government Association, a nonpartisan state watchdog group. • The families remaking Illinois are among a small group around the country who have channeled their extraordinary wealth into political power, taking advantage of regulatory, legal and cultural shifts that have carved new paths for infusing money into campaigns. Economic winners in an age of rising inequality, operating largely out of public view, they are reshaping government with fortunes so large as to defy the ordinary financial scale of politics. In the 2016 presidential race, a New York Times analysis found last month, just 158 families had provided nearly half of the early campaign money."
"Sam Frizell’s piece in Time ('Lessig Would Not Have Qualified for CBS Debate') obscures a pretty important point: Had CBS applied the rules the DNC had originally set, Lessig would have been in the debate. Because they changed the rule, he is not. • When Lessig entered the race, the standard for inclusion in the debates as announced by the Chair was clear: 'at least 1% in three national polls, conducted by credible news organizations and polling organizations, in the six weeks prior to the debate.' This rule, we were told by the DNC, 'would not change.' • We were not convinced that rule made much sense, and we were frustrated that despite meeting that standard in a PPP poll in August, Lessig was not included in most polls after he announced, but in any case, applying that standard, Lessig did not qualify for the first debate. • As we approached the second debate, however, it looked like Lessig would qualify. Monmouth found him at 1% — as did 3 other polls (NBC, YouGov/Economist, Quinnipiac). Indeed, every poll from Monmouth on that included Lessig’s name found him at 1%."
When it comes to America’s transportation system, Congress seems determined, year after year, to do the wrong thing. The House will vote on a bill as early as Wednesday that does not dedicate enough money to improving the quality of deteriorating highways and mass transit systems, but does include policies that will make American roads less safe.
The legislation would authorize federal spending on transportation projects for six years but provide only enough money to last the first three years, or $325 billion. That’s because members of Congress do not want to raise the 18.4-cents-per-gallon federal gasoline tax. That tax has not changed since 1993 and, as a result, revenue has not kept pace with inflation. That in turn makes it harder for the government to pay for things like road repairs, bridge construction and upgrades to subway and bus systems.
To make up for the shortfall in revenue, the Republicans who control Congress are resorting to various budgeting gimmicks. The bill before the House, for example, would raise $9.1 billion by selling oil from the strategic petroleum reserve, $5.7 billion by increasing customs fees and $17.1 billion by cutting a dividend that the Federal Reserve pays banks that are required to buy stock in the Fed’s regional reserve banks. Another $2.4 billion would come from telling the Treasury secretary to use private debt collectors to collect unpaid back taxes.
"John Leonard is a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who roots for the Philadelphia Eagles, listens to sports talk radio when he is exercising, and teaches a course called Measurement and Instrumentation. When the Deflategate story broke after last year’s A.F.C. championship game between the New England Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts, he found himself fixated on it, yearning to dig into it from a scientific point of view.
On the off chance you have spent the last year on Mars, Deflategate refers to the scandal that ensued after the Colts accused the Patriots of deflating their footballs to give quarterback Tom Brady an unfair edge — an accusation that the N.F.L. and its commissioner, Roger Goodell, ultimately determined was probably true.
'Of course, I thought of the Ideal Gas Law right away,' Leonard says, 'but there was no data to test it.' Although the N.F.L. had measured the pounds per square inch (p.s.i.) of the Patriots’ footballs at halftime after the Colts complained — under the rules, game balls must be inflated to pressures ranging from 12.5 to 13.5 p.s.i. — it had not released any numbers."
Scientists reported Wednesday that 2015 was the hottest year in recorded history by far, breaking a record set only the year before — a burst of heat that has continued into the new year and is roiling weather patterns all over the world.
In the continental United States, the year was the second-warmest on record, punctuated by a December that was both the hottest and the wettest since record-keeping began. One result has been a wave of unusual winter floods coursing down the Mississippi River watershed.
Scientists started predicting a global temperature record months ago, in part because an El Niño weather pattern, one of the largest in a century, is dumping an immense amount of heat from the Pacific Ocean into the atmosphere. But the bulk of the record-setting heat, they say, is a consequence of the long-term planetary warming caused by human emissions of greenhouse gases.
“The whole system is warming up, relentlessly,” said Gerald A. Meehl, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo.
It will take a few more years to know for certain, but the back-to-back records of 2014 and 2015 may have put the world back onto a trajectory of rapid global warming, after period of relatively slow warming dating to the last powerful El Niño, in 1998.
Politicians attempting to claim that greenhouse gases are not a problem seized on that slow period to argue that “global warming stopped in 1998” and similar statements, with these claims reappearing recently on the Republican presidential campaign trail.
Statistical analysis suggested all along that the claims were false, and the slowdown was, at most, a minor blip in an inexorable trend, perhaps caused by a temporary increase in the absorption of heat by the Pacific Ocean.
Thirty years later, the midterm elections of 2010 ushered in the political system that the Kochs had spent so many years plotting to bring about. After the voting that year, Republicans dominated state legislatures; they controlled a clear majority of the governorships; they had taken one chamber of Congress and were on their way to winning the other. Perhaps most important, a good many of the Republicans who had won these offices were not middle-of-the-road pragmatists. They were antigovernment libertarians of the Kochs’ own political stripe. The brothers had spent or raised hundreds of millions of dollars to create majorities in their image. They had succeeded. And not merely at the polls: They had helped to finance and organize an interlocking network of think tanks, academic programs and news media outlets that far exceeded anything the liberal opposition could put together.
It is this conservative ascendancy that Jane Mayer chronicles in “Dark Money.” The book is written in straightforward and largely unemotional prose, but it reads as if conceived in quiet anger. Mayer believes that the Koch brothers and a small number of allied plutocrats have essentially hijacked American democracy, using their money not just to compete with their political adversaries, but to drown them out.
A staff writer for The New Yorker, Mayer spent five years working on “Dark Money,” which originated with an article on the Koch family she published in the magazine in 2010. Neither Charles nor David Koch agreed to talk to her, and several of the most important figures in their political network were unavailable. But she reached hundreds of sources who did want to talk: longtime conservative campaign operatives, business associates, political opponents and political finance scholars. Some of these sources spoke on the record and some did not, but all in all “Dark Money” emerges as an impressively reported and well-documented work.
"The use of arbitration by the companies is the latest frontier in a legal strategy orchestrated by corporations in recent years. By inserting arbitration clauses into the fine print of consumer contracts, they have found a way to block access to the courts and ban class-action lawsuits, the only realistic way to bring a case against a deep-pocketed corporation. Their strategy traces to a pair of Supreme Court decisions in 2011 and 2013 that enshrined the use of class-action bans in arbitration clauses. • The result, The New York Times found in an investigation last month, is that banks, car dealers, online retailers, cellphone service providers and scores of other companies have insulated themselves from challenges to illegal or deceptive business practices. Once a class action was dismantled, court and arbitration records showed, few if any of the individual plaintiffs pursued arbitration. • In the last few years, debt collectors have pushed the parameters of that legal strategy into audacious new territory. Perhaps more than any other industry, debt collectors use the courts while invoking arbitration to deny court access to others. The companies file lawsuits seeking to force borrowers to pay debts. Because borrowers seldom show up to challenge the lawsuits, the collectors win almost every case, transforming debts that banks had given up on into big profits. • Other industries have tested the boundaries of arbitration in different ways. Auto dealers, for example, successfully lobbied Congress in 2000 to make sure that they could go to court when they had a dispute with their manufacturers. Today, though, dealers regularly require their customers to go to arbitration, while they can still sue manufacturers in court."
"WASHINGTON — In the span of a mere 11 days this month, $1 billion in future federal tax payments vanished. • As congressional leaders were hastily braiding together a tax and spending bill of more than 2,000 pages, lobbyists swooped in to add 54 words that temporarily preserved a loophole sought by the hotel, restaurant and gambling industries, along with billionaire Wall Street investors, that allowed them to put real estate in trusts and avoid taxes. • They won support from the top Senate Democrat, Harry Reid of Nevada, who responded to appeals from executives of casino companies, politically powerful players and huge employers in his state. And the lobbyists even helped draft the crucial language. • The small changes, and the enormous windfall they generated, show the power of connected corporate lobbyists to alter a huge bill that is being put together with little time for lawmakers to consider. Throughout the legislation, there were thousands of other add-ons and hard to decipher tax changes."
"WASHINGTON — A little-noticed health care provision that Senator Marco Rubio of Florida slipped into a giant spending law last year has tangled up the Obama administration, sent tremors through health insurance markets and rattled confidence in the durability of President Obama’s signature health law. • So for all the Republican talk about dismantling the Affordable Care Act, one Republican presidential hopeful has actually done something toward achieving that goal. • Mr. Rubio’s efforts against the so-called risk corridor provision of the health law have hardly risen to the forefront of the race for the Republican presidential nomination, but his plan limiting how much the government can spend to protect insurance companies against financial losses has shown the effectiveness of quiet legislative sabotage. • The risk corridors were intended to help some insurance companies if they ended up with too many new sick people on their rolls and too little cash from premiums to cover their medical bills in the first three years under the health law. But because of Mr. Rubio’s efforts, the administration says it will pay only 13 percent of what insurance companies were expecting to receive this year. The payments were supposed to help insurers cope with the risks they assumed when they decided to participate in the law’s new insurance marketplaces. • Mr. Rubio’s talking point is bumper-sticker ready. The payments, he says, are “a taxpayer-funded bailout for insurance companies.” But without them, insurers say, many consumers will face higher premiums and may have to scramble for other coverage. Already, some insurers have shut down over the unexpected shortfall."
"Hillary Clinton, hearing criticism for her ties to the financial industry, received the critical support of Senator Elizabeth Warren on Monday for her proposal to expand the Dodd-Frank regulatory structure and urging of President Obama to veto any legislation that would weaken Wall Street regulation.
'Secretary Clinton is right to fight back against Republicans trying to sneak Wall Street giveaways into the must-pass government funding bill,' Ms. Warren, the liberal senator from Massachusetts, wrote on Facebook after Mrs. Clinton published an Op-Ed article in The New York Times with her proposals to regulate Wall Street."
"Seven years after their dubious lending practices helped push the United States economy to the brink of disaster, the nation’s largest banks are closing in on a long-sought goal: to unseat Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the mortgage finance giants, and capture their share of the profits in the country’s $5.7 trillion home loan market.
Taking place largely behind the scenes, the movement to take over the mortgage market has been propelled in part by a revolving door between Washington and Wall Street, an investigation by The New York Times has found.
While the big banks’ effort to enshrine their vision into law has failed so far, plans to replace Fannie and Freddie — which have long supported the housing market by playing a unique role as so-called government-sponsored enterprises, or G.S.E.s — are still very much alive. The Obama administration has largely embraced the idea, and government regulators are being pushed to put crucial elements into effect.
A review of lobbying records, legal filings, and internal emails and memorandums, as well as housing officials’ calendars and White House and Treasury visitor logs, illuminates the banks’ effort. Assisting in this work, the documents show, is a group of high-level housing finance specialists who have moved back and forth between public service and private practice in recent years."
That is how often, on average, shootings that left four or more people wounded or dead occurred in the United States this year, according to compilations of episodes derived from news reports.
Including the worst mass shooting of the year, which unfolded horrifically on Wednesday in San Bernardino, Calif., a total of 462 people have died and 1,314 have been wounded in such attacks this year, many of which occurred on streets or in public settings, the databases indicate."
"In November, six people were killed, five of them shot to death at a campsite in East Texas; 17 were wounded in a shootout as a crowd watched the filming of a music video in New Orleans; and four died, including twin 5-month-olds, in an episode of domestic violence in Jacksonville, Fla. So far this week, five people were wounded Sunday morning in a shooting in Kankakee, Ill., and a shooting Wednesday, before the San Bernardino attack, left one woman dead and three men wounded in Savannah, Ga."
"Since no amount of dead bodies seems enough to spur lawmakers to rein in access to guns, let’s focus on the living — the children gun violence leaves behind. • Start with the little boy and girl belonging to Jennifer Markovsky, a 35-year-old mother who was one of three people murdered last Friday during the latest mass shooting of 2015 — this time, a lone gunman’s hourslong siege of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs. For the crime of accompanying her friend to an appointment at the clinic, Ms. Markovsky lost her life in the most brutal and pointless, yet entirely American, manner. • Here’s a thought for lawmakers who refuse to consider any meaningful legislation to reduce the daily carnage of gun violence across America: Thanks to your single-minded defense of unfettered gun rights at the expense of all reason and respect for life, there is an endless supply of children to be consoled. The other two victims of Friday’s assault — Garrett Swasey, a police officer, and Ke’Arre Stewart, an Iraq war veteran — also each had two children. • Of course, children aren’t the only ones who endure this unnecessary suffering. So do parents and grandparents. Grandchildren and nieces and nephews. Husbands and wives and brothers and aunts. Lifelong friends and beloved colleagues. Every life unique and irreplaceable, yet all equally defenseless in the face of a bullet."
The day after the terrible news of mass killing in Paris, more than one person asked me, “What is happening to humanity?” Today, with the video of a teen killed in the street in Chicago, the question comes again. And right alongside it, on this day before Thanksgiving, the question of how we keep our own humanity in a fraught time of fear and anger. We reached out to famed novelist, essayist, moral thinker Marilynne Robinson – author of “Gilead” and more – to talk with us about exactly that. She’s with us. This hour On Point, Marilynne Robinson, on faith, hope and hanging on to our humanity now.
Japanese police officers in riot gear are dragging away grandparents; protesters are linking arms and lying down in front of military trucks. A local mayor is accusing the central government of lawlessness, and a governor is denouncing “iron-fisted rule” from Tokyo.
That is the tense and ugly situation in Okinawa, where an old battle is intensifying over Japan’s plan, hatched with its strategic partner the United States, to vastly expand an American military base over the long-held, impassioned objections of Okinawans.
For 20 years the American and Japanese governments have been trying to close a Marine base in crowded Ginowan, a city on Okinawa’s main island, and to build a bigger one in a northern, less populated area, Henoko Bay. Okinawa, the poorest and most put-upon of Japan’s prefectures, has long chafed under the American military presence, and many Okinawans argue that the Henoko Bay plan perpetuates their burden. They say it will just shift the dangers, noise and environmental degradation of militarization to another part of the island. They are particularly alarmed at the plan to build giant runways on landfill dumped into a pristine ocean bay, home to coral reefs and an endangered population of a manatee-like creature, the Okinawan dugong.
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