Dr. Eilon Caspi on Dementia Care

By:

Dave Kingsley

I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Eilon Caspi, an expert on the care of dementia patients, speak about the problem of “dementia patient on dementia patient harm” in skilled nursing facilities. More about what he had to say will be covered on this blog in future posts.  Although I have always thought that the U.S. is unprepared to care for dementia in the burgeoning 65+ population, Dr. Caspi opened my eyes widely by explaining the neglectful treatment of dementia patients that leads to the frequent harm they cause each other.

I will be writing more about what I heard Dr. Caspi speak about at the “Elder Justice Past, Present and Future 2022” Conference in Albany, New York last week. For instance, he discussed how the term “memory care” is a euphemism and misleading and how the design of facilities leads to lack of oversight and care for dementia patients. These will be among the topics I would like to discuss with him and elaborate on for wider dissemination.

Visit Dr. Caspi’s website at http://dementiabehaviorconsulting.com.

The Importance of Words & More About the “Elder Justice Past, Present and Future 2022” Conference in Albany, New York

By:

Dave Kingsley

“Words Matter!”  Has This Important Message Become Trite and Banal?

Words do matter but does anyone in the “nursing home system” really care about the importance of linguistics in the political process – a process crucial to how we care about people in skilled nursing facilities. Let’s take the terms “resident,” “home,” “memory care,” “the elderly,” and “low net income,” as examples of commonly used words and phrases injected into the stream of communication about Americans institutionalized for lengthy periods in medical facilities. 

In leveraging government on behalf of special interests, lobbyists commonly use words, phrases, and aphorisms as major instruments for moving legislators to give them what they want and to quell resistance from adversaries.  The terms I mentioned above pertaining to skilled nursing facilities are inappropriate for describing reality. Nevertheless, advocates, media, and the public in general have failed to appreciate the potency of these terms in guiding politicians’ voting and oversight activities.

I do want to reiterate what I told attendees at the Albany conference last week – the so-called “nursing home” system is all about politics.  To call institutions for long-term medical care “homes” is to engage in a political act.  At the very least it is an act that validates and legitimizes political acts undergirded by propaganda.  To ignore a meaningless and misinforming term like “low net income” is to reinforce the use of corporate finance terminology for justification of inhumane and medically unethical treatment of human beings.

The 800-Pound Gorilla in the Room that We All Too Often Ignore

The all-important political process and the blatant use of propaganda by a powerful and wealthy industrial lobbying system is the 800-pound gorilla in the room that is commonly ignored by media, advocates, and professionals.  To be fair, professionals working for government agencies such as CMS are constrained by the increasingly corrupt nature of politics and the pressure from legislators that can be brought to bear on them if they stray into taboo territory.  Nevertheless, I think that professionals in these regulatory agencies are far too compliant and passive in the face of industry political pressure and the cheating, lying, and stealing it generates.

The American Health Care Association (AHCA) as just one piece of the conglomeration lobbying congress on behalf of SKN profiteering is extremely well-funded.  With an annual revenue of $30 million and the better part of a century of practicing propaganda, the AHCA can summarily steamroll advocates in Washington and in the statehouses of the 50 states.  They have borrowed the “big lie” principle from Goebbels – tell a lie so big and so preposterous that the masses believe a person wouldn’t tell it if it weren’t true.  What is the main big lie?  It is this: “Although it is a losing proposition financially, highly sophisticated investors are investing in Medicaid funded SKN and need more government help to survive.”

Although I put quotes around the above lie by practiced liars like Mark Parkinson, AHCA CEO, that is not exactly how they phrase this masterfully scurrilous lie.  But a continuous implication that operators are making a very low to nonexistent return on their investment, can only lead to an inference that SKN on a long-term basis is not a good investment.

The Need for an Advocacy Narrative & Strategy

For the past decade, I have been hectoring my colleagues in the LTC/SKN advocacy community to develop a narrative and political strategy of their own because they have none now.  Legislative hearings, publications, media, and other forms of communication I have observed suggest to me that those of us attempting to change the god-awful, “nursing home” (so-called) system need to come together and design the frames and narratives for countering industry propaganda and legislator corruption.

For instance, I have yet to see coherent, effective, frames and narratives regarding the industry’s financial prowess employed by anyone at legislative hearings.  The industry only needs to continue its “low net” big lie for justification of how we treat patients in facilities because an opposite narrative is nonexistent.  There is no doubt that plentiful amounts of capital are flowing into the system – much of it from taxpayers – and excessive amounts of cash are flowing out at the expense of decent, humane care. 

I will continue to hector leading advocates, activists, and professionals to take the necessary steps to consider the importance of narratives and political strategies and to take further steps to work together to develop narratives and effectively utilize them in the political process.  I may be whistling in the wind, but if you continue to watch this blog, I will be writing about propaganda, narratives, and the politics of poor medical care.

The “Elder Justice Past, Present and Future 2022” Conference in Albany, New York: A Synopsis of My Presentation

By:

Dave Kingsley

This past week I spoke at the Elder Justice Past, Present, and Future 2022 conference in Albany, NY.  This conference, organized by the Long-Term Care Community Coalition and supported by the New York Office of the State Long Term Care Ombudsman, was not only a platform for sharing my research and opinions regarding long-term and skilled nursing care, but it was also an opportunity to network with an impressive group of New York professionals providing support to ombudspersons, patients, families, and caregivers.  This blog post includes the main points I attempted to impart to attendees and will continue to impart on a wider scale through this blog, webinars, and podcasts.

I was honored to be included among the other speakers, all of whom gave impressive presentations regarding the legal rights of patients, the state of dementia care, research into corrupt operators, and the availability of data, and other services.  The valuable information provided by each of these highly qualified presenters will be discussed in upcoming blog posts.  I will also discuss the following major points of my presentation in the months ahead:

  • The “nursing home industry” underwent a transformation at the turn of the 21st century as real estate investment trusts (REITs), private equity (PE), institutional investors, and limited liability companies (LLCs) began to define the legal and financial structures of private, for-profit operators.

  • The legal and financial complexification of the “nursing home system/industry” was driven by macro-economic shifts characterized by accumulating pools of capital in insurance, retirement, college endowment, and sovereign wealth funds.  Pressure on legislators by powerful real estate and financial interests to modify tax codes resulted in the entry of REITs, LLCs, and PE firms into the industry in a transformational way.

  • The primary mission of the “big players” entering the industry around 2000 is protecting and enhancing shareholder value.  The large, publicly listed corporations providing LTC/SKN have access to an immense amount of capital from asset managers for institutional investors such as BlackRock, and Vanguard.

  • Chains not listed publicly have developed networks of LLCs for the purpose of escaping liability and taxes, hiding assets, and purchasing goods and services from their related parties, i.e., from LLCs they own.

  • Complex corporate legal structures are designed to hide cash extraction at the expense of patients needing a high level of medical care.  Medical ethics have less priority than shareholder value and most of the time are ignored altogether.

  • Along with the increased dominance of real estate and financial interests with access to immense amounts of capital, the industry has massive resources for influencing legislation and regulation.  Indeed, the power relationship between the industry and advocates is asymmetrical. 

  •  Because of the industry’s financial clout, regulation and oversight of operations are weak and allow for flouting of legal requirements for accurate financial reporting and other procedures.  In the field of political economy, we call this “agency capture.”  The lobbying and political juggernaut comprised of finance, insurance, real estate (FIRE) swamps any effort by the advocacy community to transform the system.  This is the 800-pound gorilla in the room that is far too often ignored.

  • Patients and families have no well-organized lobby with a political narrative and strategy.  Hence, the industry can push its weight around without significant opposition from the advocacy community.  Most legislative hearings and investigations these days are a sham because the industry’s false, propagandistic, narrative of financial hardship and low reimbursement is taken at face value without adequate pushback from those invited to testify on behalf of patients.

I did not, in this post, discuss cost report research by the Long-term Care Community Coalition in collaboration with Tallgrass Economics.  Thanks to Richard Mollot’s leadership, we have been able to collect, organize, and analyze data from cost reports submitted by 525 New York LTC/SKN facilities. We have been led to conclude that the proportions of reported net income and other financial metrics are so extra ordinary and unbelievable that auditing by the state is seriously deficient. My experience in conducting cost report research across the U.S. suggests that New York is not unique in this regard.  Our data has opened up avenues for further research into the actual extraction of cash by investors as they obfuscate the flow of capital through blatantly erroneous cost reports.  This phenomenon will be a major feature of this blog in the days, months, and years (unfortunately) ahead.

A right-wing religious PAC just received a $1.6 billion donation, and the medical-industrial complex will now be a whole lot harder to fight.

By:

Dave Kingsley

Leonard Leo and the Marble Freedom Trust

As head of the Federalist Society, Leonard Leo has had a major role in picking Catholic right-wing Supreme Court justices such as Alito, Roberts, Kavanaugh, and Barrett.  Leo is himself a fanatic, right-wing, Catholic who has no respect for the separation of church and state.  This brand of Catholicism works well with the Christian Nationalist Movement[1] that cuts across most fanatical, fundamentalist, Protestant sects.  

Although the Federalist Society is an organization for the promotion of legal conservatism and includes a variety of far-right believers in a sort of faux libertarianism and assorted other rightwing philosophies, Leo has locked in the Notre Dame law school theocrats as a powerhouse in the grooming and promotion of suitable candidates for future government legal positions and jurists.

Barre Seid, a Chicago industrialist, and ardent libertarian, has donated his entire company – Tripp Lite – to the Marble Freedom Trust, a 501(c)(4) political entity controlled by Leonard Leo.  The Marble Freedom Trust sold the company to the Eaton Corporation for $1.6 billion. This intersection of radical, libertarian, industrialists and the assortment of theocratic movements does not bode well for those of us who are working to deindustrialize healthcare, and other government functions.  The religious right shares many values of super-rich, self-proclaimed libertarians such as the Koch brothers. They believe that wealthy industrialists are godly insofar as they either share or are willing to tolerate the Christian Nationalist value system.

History has taught us that major religious institutions and industrialists are willing to accommodate regimes and politicians that serve their interests no matter how corrupt, anti-democratic, and debasing to the public interest.  The Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United has already placed corporate political activities in a protective bubble.  We can look for corporations threatened with movements for reform to look to the current lopsided court and politicians on the make to protect their interests.

Therefore, Marble Freedom Trust money will be directed toward politicians and court actions that place property over people, profit over health, capital over labor, and the super-rich over the broad mass of citizens.  This will make changing a life-shorting, inhumane nursing home system far more difficult.  Gouging the public for life-saving medications and denial of medical care to the uninsured will be difficult to end. Let’s face it, we cannot ignore politics in our quest for social justice. 


[1] Christian Nationalism has been studied and reported on by journalist Katherine Stewart.  In her book, The Power Worshippers, she discusses this movement’s belief that the U.S. is a Christian Nation, and that the U.S. should be ruled in accordance with what they consider “Christian values.”  The values they endorse include are anti-gay, anti-democratic, pro-super wealthy, and freedom from government, except when they want to leverage government for imposing their radical beliefs on the rest of society.

The “medical industrial complex” is not capitalism, so let’s change the narrative.

By:

Dave Kingsley

Genuine Capitalist Enterprises are Not Operating in Anti-Competitive, Government Rigged, Systems.

As a proponent of capitalism, I resent the U.S. privatized, government-funded, health care system and the implication that it is a suitable representative of a capitalist system.  It is not.  The system of nursing homes, hospitals, and clinics through which patients pass for care is a financialized[1], corrupt, rigged, system.  Furthermore, some services important to society should not be industrialized under the farcical notion that return on capital will drive quality care.

Reformers have failed to create a narrative to defeat the financiers’ mantra that privatizing appropriate government services will increase quality and productivity.  History has taught us a very clear lesson:  industrialization and privatization of medical care and a host of other government services are unproductive and lead to excess extraction of capital, lower productivity, and reduction of innovation and reinvestment.

You Can’t Shame the Shameless

There is an unfounded belief that exposing bad operators in sensational mainstream media articles will force a change for the better in nursing homes and hospitals.  The misguided view that the medical-industrial complex will be moved by horror stories reminds me of an old T-Shirt in my closet with the following silkscreened on it: “We Don’t Care, We Don’t Have to Care, We’re EXXON.”  You could substitute the words medical-industrial complex, The American Health Care Association (AHCA), Ensign Group,” Welltower Corporation, Centene, United Health, and thousands of other corporate associations and entities for EXXON on such a T-Shirt.

Nursing home and hospital corporations don’t care about the shaming they deserve because politicians in federal and state legislatures have their backs.  Furthermore, they have captured the agencies charged with regulating them.  The Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services, and 50 state agencies are dominated by the industry and their well-financed lobbying organizations (not to mention the FDA, the FTC, the CFTC, etc.).  You can shame private equity as a business model, scurrilous operators, low wages/salaries, understaffing, and other outrageous practices, but financiers in the healthcare business are, for the most part, shameless. 

For at least a decade, I have been urging advocates to form a narrative and political strategy.  Playing rope, a dope with an industry that has a very well devised, effective, and well-funded narrative will change nothing.  The nursing home industry has a narrative based on falsehoods, which are comprised of frames related to the hardships endured by noble businessmen and investors.  Frames in which the industry purports to be suffering from low Medicare/Medicaid reimbursement, and low net income (profits) are blatantly false and misleading.  Regardless of how unbelievable the frames comprising industry propaganda, they are never seriously challenged by the constellation of nonprofit and government entities representing the elderly.  Furthermore, do-gooder commissions charged with studies of nursing homes, hospitals, and other health care subsystems generally whitewash and paper over the unethical, inhumane, and anti-democratic nature of the entire medical-industrial complex.[2]

Let’s Get Technical

I propose that advocates create frames that can be integrated into and support this narrative: “The privatized U.S. healthcare system is not fair, capitalistic, or ethical.”  Frames accusing industrialists of manipulation of markets, financial machinations, pay offs/bribes to legislators, and covering up corruption through well-funded lobbying entities such as the AHCA (nursing home lobby) are necessary but risky for professionals who want to go along to get along.

Industry moguls and their minions in government know from 70 years of history that their propagandistic efforts work well. They have been able to convince the public that privatized, for profit, services are better than non-profit and government services.  This mantra has gained traction and is embedded deeply in the American zeitgeist.  It will take a concerted effort across a broad array of nonprofit advocacy organizations to destroy a narrative based on industry lies and complex financial maneuvers.

However, before advocates can suitably frame messages for the media and legislators, a considerable amount of research, data collection, and analysis must be undertaken.  Data and evidence related to “rent seeking,”[3] “net operating income,” and “cash flow,” is necessary for debunking the “low net,” “thin margins,” and other hardship frames of the industry.  The nursing home system must be unraveled and explained as a network of capital flows from taxpayers and other sources through Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs), private equity firms, LLCs/LLPs, and C-Corporations.

It is necessary to show how excessive capital flows through nursing homes and hospitals to investors and executives.  REITs have been existing under the radar and never discussed at legislative hearings (See my blog post: “Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) are Big Players in the Nursing Home Industry:  That Should Concern All of Us” February 13, 2021).  We must recognize how the entry of private equity and REITs around 2000 literally transformed the industry.

Advocacy research must include data from cost reports submitted by facilities to CMS and state agencies.  Falsehoods in these reports are pervasive.  Nevertheless, it is important to organize the data to make a case and support our frames pertaining to corruption and excessive extraction of capital at the expense of care.

We Are on It!

A team of people across the U.S. have come together to initiate solid, evidence-based, research.  With some help from the LTCCC and a lot of volunteer work, a group of us have been organizing data from cost reports and digging into financial machinations, ownership, and the flow of capital from various sources (including taxpayers) to investors, executives, and family wealth. 

We want to direct attention to more than horrendous examples of nursing home abuse and neglect.  The industry justifies poor care with a well-honed, richly funded, propaganda campaign. We should not respond to their “woe is me pleas for increased funding.”  Rather we should follow the money and make the trail available to legislators and journalists that we know will utilize it (think Senator Elizabeth Warren).  I don’t want to engage them in their claim that investors in the nursing home industry are suffering.  My only response to that is investors are not stupid.  If returns were no good in public-funded, skilled nursing care, investors would be investing somewhere else. 


[1] By labeling the system “financialized,” I mean that financial maneuvering for extracting cash takes precedence over increased productivity and quality of services.  Shareholder value is the primary mission of most healthcare private corporations.  Stakeholders are of secondary importance.  Often stakeholders suffer for the sake of enhancing and protecting shareholders’ interests.

[2] While COVID was surging in the Spring of 2020, CMS convened an “independent” commission the management of which was outsourced to the Mitre Corporation.  The report of this commission was a whitewash and papered over general neglect by the nursing home industry which resulted in 200,000 patient and employee deaths.  Contrary to suggesting accountability for lack of infection control and no preparation for a pandemic that scientists had been warning about for decades, the final report recommended more financial assistance for the industry.  Recently, a commission under the auspices of the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) in operation for a number of years entitled “National Imperative to Improve Nursing Home Quality” issued a report of their work. This commission tiptoed around the corruption, deceit, and excessive extraction of capital at the expense of quality care.

[3] “Rent seeking” has evolved in the field of economics to describe corporate efforts to extract wealth without a correlative increase in the production of goods and services.  The nursing home, finance, real estate, lobby is constantly hectoring legislators for an increase in reimbursement without any real, scientific, evidence that the cash flow and return on their investment is inadequate.

Nursing Home History as Pablum:  Creating a Comfortable Reality for the Powerful

By:

Dave Kingsley

A commission to study the nursing home system, conducted under the auspices of the National Academies, of Science, Engineering, & Medicine (NASEM), recently released its report entitled The National Imperative to Improve Nursing Home Quality: Honoring Our Commitment to Residents, Families, and Staff.[1] The report included a very brief history of the nursing home system – a 400-year history reduced to a couple of pages.  Furthermore, it is a history that will not upset officials, proprietors, investors, executives, politicians, and others who are benefitting from the status quo. 

Basically, the commission is feeding the public historical pablum.  Left out of the multi-century account are such salient features as ongoing and intensifying financialization, and pivot points such as the 1950s-60s’ development and codification of “the medically indigent,” the role of states’ rights, and the influence of racist, segregationists.  Also excised were many significant changes of 1980s-90s such the transformation of macroeconomic and corporate philosophy from managerial capitalism into what is known as “agency theory,” – basically meaning that shareholder value is not just the highest ethic of capitalist management but the only ethic.

Between the late 1990s and early 2000s, capital markets and tax codes were conducive for the entry of real estate investment trusts (REITs), private equity (PE), and other corporate legal structures (e.g., limited liability companies or LLCs) into the senior housing market.  Large pools of capital had been accumulating through pension, college endowment, sovereign wealth, and insurance funds that needed to flow into businesses that would provide desired yields and return on investment.  These funds are managed by institutional investors such as Vanguard and BlackRock.  The number and size of publicly listed companies have grown considerably over the past two decades as REITs have expanded their power and financial dominance in the senior housing market.  To ignore these players in the industry is to ignore the proverbial 800-pound gorilla in the room.

These changes have been accompanied by massive investments of cash into political campaigns and politicians’ coffers by PACs, Corporations, and lobbying firms representing the medical-industrial complex, Wall Street, and real estate.  What worthwhile history would tiptoe around the corruption wrought by money in politics?

It is easy to become known as a radical and marginalized. Taking a hardnosed stand regarding the truth is an annoyance.  History is written from a “point of view” of the powerful and their version of events. They choose the people, places, and things to include and exclude.  Challenging those points of view will typically evoke hostility.  This is currently noticeable in the backlash to “critical race theory.”  African Americans would benefit greatly from a factually accurate history of race in America, which would facilitate an honest look at institutional racism still pervasive in the United States – including in the nursing home system. It would also be helpful to the elderly to have a movement that could be called critical elder theory – perhaps CET would be an appropriate acronym.

Unfortunately, humans are beset with psychological defense mechanisms that serve the avoidance of truth and lend support to the creation of a comfortable reality.  There are many defense mechanisms recognized by psychoanalysts.  However, four main defenses in history: denial, rationalization, repression, and fantasy are essential for understanding how official bodies such as commissions paper over reality and prevent real change. 

Fantasy is seeing the world not as it is but as the way we would like it to be.  No American wants to think that the elderly, as humans, are only worth what the treatment in a typical nursing home would suggest.  We believe we are better than that.  Our creed does not permit widespread shortening of life and suffering because of financial considerations.  Somehow the incongruence between our creeds and our deeds must be reconciled.  So, we retreat into a fantasy world in which medically fragile and frail elderly and disabled persons are living in as system with a few tweaks can be fully staffed and made into a “home-like culture” (a vague term if ever there was one).

Fantasies can only be maintained through denial of reality (out of sight-out of mind), repression (just don’t think about it), and rationalization (Medicaid reimbursement is too low).  Human nature being what it is, these defenses operate mostly at a subconscious level. 

Window dressing called “home culture” as it has been conceived and implemented thus far will not substantively change the structure and function of the nursing home system as it has evolved.  However, it will assuage our consciences.


[1] National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine 2022. The National

Imperative to Improve Nursing Home Quality: Honoring Our Commitment to

Residents, Families, and Staff. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

https://doi.org/10.17226/26526

The U.S. Economy is Poised for a Renaissance: Let’s Push for a Cultural Renaissance to Accompany It

By:

Dave Kingsley

Ignore the Cassandras in the Media: The Economic Future of the U.S. Looks Bright

An old joke is that pessimists see a glass that is half empty, optimists see a glass that is half full, and engineers see underutilized capacity. I am throwing in with the optimists and engineers. The chokehold of extremist neoliberal U.S. and global economics has run its course and isn’t working – in fact hasn’t worked for most Americans at any time in the past. Furthermore the cultural decadence and political proto-fascism that has been the logical conclusion of a value system of greed, narcissism, and sadism, is no longer acceptable to the broad mass of American residents.

Following a post-War Capitalist golden age, a world-wide economic dark ages commenced with conservative industrialists’ counter to the 1960s-Enlightenment movement. In reaction to perceived threats from left-wing radicalism, an economic right wing circled their political wagons as expressed in the Powell memo. Due to macroeconomic trends pertaining to oil and offshore manufacturing, labor lost the clout it had gained during the “golden age.” The power of industrial reactionaries reached a zenith with installation of Milton Friedman’s radical, irrational, economic theories as the dominant modus operandi of corporations. Public policy and the cultural zeitgeist adapted to the brutish, coarse values of fanatical neoliberalism; the working classes were thrown overboard and forgotten.

Macroeconomic trends – indeed survival of humankind – are driving the future of global economics. It has suddenly become apparent that a “just-in-time” global supply chain is so tenuous that the time has come to build manufacturing operations nearer to assembly facilities. If anyone thinks we live in a digital world, they haven’t seen anything yet. The “green revolution” will drive an exponential growth in digital devices. The impact of a disruption in chip supplies from Taiwan is forcing a return of manufacturing to the U.S. Intel Corporation is investing in plants in Ohio and Arizona. Also, that company’s massive investment in R&D (a huge expenditure on their income statement) will make it more competitive with the Taiwanese – the leader in chip manufacturing.

Along with Intel, companies such as Tesla, Qualcom, AMD, and Apple, will displace some of the older blue chips in manufacturing such as GM. Furthermore, disrupters and startups on the scene will become household names in the future (e.g., Unity Software, Rivian, Lucid).

The truth of the matter is that the current economic downturn in the U.S. and inflation hysteria aren’t due to the old Econ 101 adage of too much demand chasing too few goods. For decades, the global economic system has been beset with excess capacity, excess labor, and excess capital. The world-wide economic system has the capacity to produce so much unneeded junk that deceitful marketing can’t be made deceitful enough to make people want it enough to take up slack in manufacturing capacity.

What we are now seeing is a reallocation of resources. Like water seeks its own level, capital flows toward ROI. That will not be in throw away plastic junk for Walmart. Rather, it will be in electric vehicles, solar panels, 5-G, entertainment, metaverse, and a host of digital advancements not yet conceived. Furthermore, the U.S. population is on the verge of shrinking due to a low birth rate, shortening of life expectancy, and fascist-racist, right-wing (think Republicans) shut down of immigration. But immigration must happen, will happen, and will cause a marvelous intensification of multiculturalism. We will be reallocating labor (to the U.S.), manufacturing (to the green revolution), and capital (closer to home).

The massive CHIPs bill that was passed by Congress is an exciting step toward robust economic growth and a greener environment. If indeed Senator Manchin is on board with the climate bill as he says he is, we can say that although we haven’t turned the corner, we are approaching the corner and will turn it in the near future. As an antithesis to the old neoliberal regime, these bills are a synthesis with a lot of ugly tax benefits and other goodies for the old industrialists and Wall Street financiers. Nevertheless, in regard to the disgusting tax codes, consciousness among the people is rising and politicians are feeling the heat.

The Cultural & Values Revolution we Need

What we also must reallocate are the benefits of abundance. A powerful, corrupt, greedy, power elite has become increasingly bold at leveraging political power in directing an increasingly disproportionate share of the value produced by the economic system to themselves. However, Americans are highly tolerant of wealthy people and their machinations. Nevertheless, at the point the super-rich poke the bear too much it will react (the American bear, not the Russian bear in this context).

Broad affluence and opportunity among the bottom four SES quintiles (bottom 80%) leads to higher educated and a more democratic populous. That is exactly what the current power elite wants to avoid. That is why we have seen hyper-inflation in college tuition and the elimination of low cost and even free college (like benefitted me in the 1960s and 70s).

The wealthy elite and the dark forces of politics (i.e., the Republican Party) are underestimating Americans’ broad support for universal human rights and basic fairness. My guess is that the Trump movement includes a large proportion of individuals damaged by the destructive conditions induced by the tilted economic system. It takes a fascist con man like Donald Trump to mobilize what is actually a small proportion of Americans who are decent but confused, angry, hurting, and aggressive into a political movement with some clout. However, the horrific outcome of that is becoming increasingly obvious.

What Has Reaganomics Wrought?

By:

Dave Kingsley

“In the Age of Show Business, Public Discourse Has Become Dangerous Nonsense” Neil Postman in Amusing Ourselves to Death

Shareholder Value is the Only Value:  Even the Taxpayer Funded
Life & Death Care in the Healthcare System Has been Reduced to a Matter of
Return on Investment

Welltower, Inc. – one of the major players in the senior living industry – states in its annual report to the Securities and Exchange Commission that the company’s primary goal is to “protect and enhance shareholder value.”  Although Welltower is a dominant force in the taxpayer funded, skilled nursing and long-term care system, nothing is mentioned in company financial reports about a duty to provide ethical medical care to patients.

I consider these nursing home corporations to be no less evil than corporations in the fossil fuel industry, tobacco industry, and the assault weapons industry.  Like big oil, big tobacco, and big firearms, they value people only as consumers with little to no human worth other than parting with their money for the benefit of investors.

Unlike the tobacco, fossil fuel, and gun industries, nursing home corporations earning extraordinary returns from taxpayer funded medical care are excused for their pervasive patient neglect and abuse by carefully selected members – often naïve academics or industry shills – of various commissions (e.g., the recent National Academy of Sciences and the COVID-related Mitre Corporation Commissions).  Without any empirical, scientific, justification, the industry’s propagandistic claims about skimpy Medicaid reimbursement are taken at face value in the media and generally by the public.  The industry has a richly funded a very effective PR machine.

Unquestioned misinformation – whether intentional or unintentional – is creating a crisis in American governance and the well-being of residents.  The anti-vax, anti-science, assault on the public health system during this era of COVID has long been in the making.  What has become known as proofiness (or truthiness) has polluted public discourse.  I have spent untold hours collecting, organizing and analyzing corporate financial reports submitted by nursing home corporations to state and federal agencies.  Much of it is fraudulent, much of it is financial machination, and much of it is laughably ridiculous, but hardly any of it is seriously questioned. So, deadly conditions in nursing homes continue unabated.

“Nihilism, the devaluation of the highest values of Western culture.”  Ashley Woodward in Understanding Nietzscheanism

Ronald Reagan Propelled a Destructive Economic & Social Philosophy Forward Through Government Policy:  Trumpism is the Apotheosis of Reaganomics

The previous post by Kent Comfort chronicles the economic revolution that commenced with the Reagan Administration. This post addresses the values wrought by the economic superstructure described by Kent.  A deep dive into philosophical movements that seeped into the American zeitgeist along with Friedman/University of Chicago radical free market nonsense is beyond the purview of this post.  Suffice it to say that Ayn Rand’s philosophy of selfishness, dog-eat-dog capitalism, and Nietzschean ubermensch (John Gault) seeped far deeper into the American zeitgeist than is readily apparent to most observers.  Along with the Randian virtue of selfishness, the nihilism and rejection of Enlightenment values of the postmodernist philosophical movement became de rigueur among intelligentsia – eventually on the right of American politics.

The changes we’ve seen entrenched in U.S. culture over the past 40 or more years can be characterized as the triumph of self-interest over public interest and community, the prevalence of wealth and power over equality, and the weakening of science engendered by disregard of and disrespect for reason and objectivity.  We are in a post-truth age characterized by deceit, manipulation, and cheating without accountability.  Any claim based on pseudoscience is deemed legitimate – especially if it is legitimated by journalists, politicians, and influential voices in academia.

In the winner take all, survival of the fittest, milieu, it is OK to spout falsehoods and engage in practices that would have been otherwise unethical and unacceptable in the pre-Reaganomics era.  Lying, cheating, stealing, and preying on the vulnerable and weak can be justified by absolutist beliefs in abstract principles.  In its most extreme form, Reaganomics is conflated with Christian fanaticism and right-wing, proto-fascist political movements.  Furthermore, extreme principles of the movement include total deregulation and dismantlement of the administrative state except insofar as it can further a free-wheeling corporate state.

In post-truth America, shareholder value as the highest value of business enterprise, doesn’t need to be justified scientifically as beneficial to the American people in general.  Universal human rights of equality and fairness handed down to us from the Enlightenment have been devalued while the powerful and wealthy leverage their power to degrade democratic processes and direct more and more economic resources from the middle- and low-income classes to themselves.  In the long run, we will see an increasing amount of tragedy and farce detrimental to the future of the planet and all living things.

REAGANOMICS, FRIEDMANOMICS, WELCHIANISM

The RFW Debacle

By:

Kent Comfort

How Ronald Reagan, Milton Friedman and Jack Welch combined to misalign American Capitalism and the Economy

“In the beginning…”, there was Ronald Reagan, Milton Friedman, and Jack Welch. Or at least there are too many people who would like to think that they started a positive economic revolution. We have been living with the damage ever since.

Reagan was a convenient fool and puppet, Friedman was a misinterpreted false prophet, and Welch was just a crook. There you have it, three sacred cows butchered in one sentence!

Each of these men are now deceased, of course, but the legacy of the damage they caused lives on and on.

Reagan was a patsy for the deregulation crowd and that lead to immeasurable loss of many services for the commons. Airlines and railroads are two important examples of industries that no longer serve the public good beyond the extent to which they are forced to. They have been free to strip away humanitarian services and create mini monopolies. A mini monopoly is one which controls specific segments or geographical regions of the markets they serve with the advantage of not having to worry about competitors entering their space. Another prime example of this is the cable TV industry. Your zip code dictates who you have available for your household.

Friedman preached, do anything you want, buyer beware! He included a safety valve in his self-proclaimed predilections that everyone fails to mention if they even knew about it. He realized that many of his ideas contained considerable risk to American society. To protect those members of society who were not equipped to enter the business scrum, he advocated for a version of what we today call UBI, or Universal Basic Income. But his intentions were not necessarily noble. Rather, if the masses could count on some level of economic safety net, the business bandits could go about the task of creating metaphoric strip pits anywhere and everywhere they desired for their personal gain.

Welch rose to the top of a corporate mountain, namely General Electric, and drove it upside down in the ditch while trying to reinvent ancient accounting principles, and pile up a strange combination of acquisitions to create the impression of rapid growth. He ran for the hills just before the consequences caught up with him. For greater details about this travesty, check out a recent book titled “The Man Who Broke American Capitalism” by David Gelles. This might be the best biography about Welch ever written.

The ”everyone else is doing it” momentum took over for the following decades leading up to present time. Welch declared that American business only had one obligation. That was to serve the shareholders. It could be said that because this view became the norm, the words shareholder and stakeholder became no longer interchangeable. The American capitalism model damage is continuing unabated to this day. It does not matter which of the two political party monopolies are in the majority, neither has been willing to give up the largess they collect and instead focus on working to end these rotten practices.

That is an abbreviated overview of how we got to the low point we are at today. Let’s look at the four primary elements of the current capitalist system and how they harm more than help most of us.

They are the formula, the impact, the culture, and the future.

The Formula –

The American business formula can be boiled down to a simple equation: Deliver the least possible value for the highest possible price. If you pause for a moment to think about that statement, it is probably very easy to identify examples you encounter every day.

The skill required by a business entity to benefit from this formula demands that they do not take either end of the equation too far. On the low value end, if that is taken too far, loss of sales results. The same outcome applies to trying to charge too much for the value delivered. The practice becomes one of trying to balance both ends without giving up sales and consequent profits.

Let’s not forget that an important element of this formula has been the suppression of middle-class wages. They have actually gone down when adjusted for inflation, while the executive suite has been raiding the corporate coffers on a level not even imaginable prior to the RFW (Reagan-Friedman-Welch) era.

When one’s master is the shareholder, this is the only perceivable option. If a business is not beholden to masters who would dump their shares in a blink if they do not think it is making enough money, it can instead focus on delivering as much value as possible for the lowest price possible to earn a sufficient profit to sustain the business. That is truly possible and it is more typical of the way business was done before the advent of the RFW era.

A successful business could build a great reputation and be rewarded with repeat business from a satisfied customer. The profits from such high operating integrity could be reinvested both inside and outside the business to grow owner wealth over time. The quarterly report was never a necessity or useful tool.

The Impact –

The long-term impact of the above-described formula has been analogous to the well-known aphorism of the frog sitting calmly in the bottom of a pot of slow boiling water. Many would agree to the fact that the water is boiling today.

What is at the root of the impact? There has been a continuously growing gap between the value of a service and commodity and the escalating prices for them. Consider the “Made in” label on nearly any item in your house. “USA” is nearly non-existent. In fact, it is a selling point to proclaim a product as made domestically today because it is so uncommon.

Of course, the initial benefit to the product originator has been marginally reduced manufacturing costs. America has endeavored to impose regulations on child labor and other forms of involuntary and exploitative servitude that corporations have a history of not hesitating to deploy if there are no barriers. The amoral culture and policies of major corporations give leeway to these practices in the name of growing their profits for the Welchian philosophy of shareholder first no matter what. And China apparently does not aggressively enforce even the most lenient policies they proclaim regarding inhuman workplace conditions. American corporations do not interfere with Chinese labor practices and economic practices. The American people who consume the output of Chinese factories enjoy the perceived low out of pocket cost and do not question or challenge how or why they benefit from that. That is the nature of slow-boiling pots of water. The short-term benefits cloud the horizon of long-term damage.

Is this practice limited to only the multi-national corporate giants? Unfortunately, the answer is no. Here is a story that has been duplicated nationwide for decades. Yep, it is another slow-boiling pot story. Only this time, it is about a thriving midwestern family-owned multi-generational business that produced a globally popular product that you, the reader very likely have in your toolbox as you read this. If you don’t, then you may not even have a toolbox. This is the Vice Grip story. You have a pair, right?

The invention of this remarkable tool was accomplished by William Peterson in the late 1930’s. The product went through a series of refinements through the World War II years and began achieving popularity initially with farmers following the war. The location of this business was in the small agricultural community of Dewitt, Nebraska. The business grew and thrived under the able management of Dewitt’s son and two grandsons. They were a very generous family who employed and promoted people within the company until they had over 300 souls toiling away to supply a hungry market for a great tool. Community families prospered, sent their children to college, and everything about this saga epitomized the American dream. Until…..

Later generations of the Peterson family chose not to continue working in the business. Going away to college and seeing new horizons has a way of doing that to young people from small towns. So, the company was put on the market for sale, and according to the story it was a quick and easy sale. The new owners decided to close the Dewitt factory and move manufacturing to…wait for it….China! Those 330 employees were suddenly out of work. Multiply that number by and average household of four, and the negative impact to a small community is clear. Dewitt, Nebraska will never been the same.

A superbly handcrafted and high standard tool became a lower grade high volume throwaway tool, and copious profits were piled up consequently. If you were fortunate enough to have in your possession a Dewitt manufactured version of the Vice Grip, you probably still have it and it is still working as designed. If you have the Chinese made version, find and original version to compare it to. It will be clearly different.

This decline in value offset by increase in cost is not limited to your personal toolbox or any other product in your household. Consider your experience today with what is fictionally called customer service.

When you have the misfortune of needing to call your source for service, most often the individual on the other end of the call is offshore, entirely ignorant about the service or product you are having a problem with and trying to search for answers on their computer literally as they speak with you. You are nearly always placed on hold for two or three minutes several times during the call, so the support person to research what you are calling about because they do not know anything.

Most major American corporations who have products or services that require customer support use these offshore call centers. They are drastically cheaper than maintaining a state-side call center. But the damage their reputations incur often necessitate contracting with yet another specialty business. That would be the “reputation management” service.

It is uniquely American that reputation management is a growing industry. Companies are willing to spend millions having their soiled reputations professionally laundered instead of spending those same millions providing a higher quality service or product in the first place. Does that make any sense?

The Culture –

What is the downstream effect of the formula and impact described above? How does it degrade the culture of the nation and people? This is where the most severe damage is realized. Unless one is in a coma, awareness of how much cultural and economic deterioration has been accumulating during the last five decades is being realized and talked about at every tier of our social hierarchy. Virtually no one is content with the national homeostasis that has devolved during this time. Correspondingly, no one has any idea what to do about it. The social and economic deterioration was so gradual and so multi-layered that everyone has just acclimating to it while it has marched through our lives.

Disillusionment and a sense of being violated and cheated has led to a growing distrust in the institutions and commercial sources we believed we could rely on. That trust has eroded to the point that everyone has become more wary of everyone else.

When we feel powerless, fear becomes the primary emotion that guides all decisions. Strength and empowerment never emanate from fear. I would be willing to wager that most of the personal firearms sales today are motivated by little more than fear. Personal firearms are not rational protection from the kinds of fear most of us carry around. They are a symbol or metaphor for the sense of helplessness we feel in our daily environment.

The Future –

What will it bring us? That was a trick question. The better question is what kind of future we are going to bring ourselves. Whether we are individually and collectively proactive, or passive, the future is on the way. And even in passive mode, what comes will be of our making. Inaction is a form of action.

Nothing I have written about so far is unchangeable or irreparable. We made it what it is, and we can make it something else. There has to be a public will, supported by a public awareness that we are the masters of our lives and collective culture. We have been lazy. We have become addicted to the prevailing status quo, even if it is hurting us.

The regression and distrust that so many Americans live within today will have to change because nature is not static. Evolution is still very real. We can hope that history is not our guide or window of what is to come. The reason for that statement is that throughout history, sovereignties that degraded in the manner discerning humans are witnessing ultimately collapsed. Not talking about just a dip that they recovered from. They melted down into a form of dark ages that eventually led to a period of rebirth. The reset button was finally pushed after sufficient decay purged the prevailing policies that led to that downfall. I challenge anyone to find an exception to that. The best anyone will be able to do is recognize varying scales of collapse, not exceptions to collapse itself.

Are we ready to agree yet that the kind of social leadership that brought us to this threshold is not what is needed to lift us out of it?

Are we getting closer to agreeing that political parties have no solutions to the predicaments we live with today?

Can we imagine an electoral purge on a national scale that removes every electee from their perch and replaces them with new blood?

Can we turn a deaf ear to all the tired arguments about why experience matters and we need our incumbents to retain the power they have appropriated?

Can we become more personally engaged at the community level to initiate the paradigm shift that must and will happen even if we do nothing?            

I know I need to become more intimate with each of those questions in my own life, and I hope you will join me. Your comments and thoughts are encouraged and appreciated.

The Nursing Home Industry Lies, Cheats, and Steals with Government Help:  It’s Time to Stop the Wankery and Demand the Truth!

By:

Dave Kingsley

Wankery:” Definition: (Noun; Vulgar Slang British)  “Pretentious, contemptible, stupid, behavior or material.”  https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/wankery

A Message to Advocates, Activists, Journalists, & Politicians

Over the years, I have observed many legislative hearings regarding nursing home abuse and neglect. In practically every hearing, industry lobbyists claim that Medicaid reimbursement is too low. Therefore, they conclude, the public, patients, and their family members can’t expect better care.  Usually, they pull out their standard narrative of “low net” or “a thin margin.”  In essence, they are claiming that the industry is made up of incompetent businesspeople who have a tendency to invest in losing businesses.

Unfortunately, leading advocates and scholars invited to testify invariably fail to confront the industry’s hardship plea as a lie, which it is.  Basically, Medicaid is fueling a real estate industry undergirded by at least $300 billion worth of revenue producing commercial real estate.  Revenue flowing through thousands of facilities (buildings) is enhanced by a plethora of other businesses billing Medicaid and Medicare for therapies, pharmaceuticals, labor contracting, dietary provisions, management services, and anything else providers can dream up as a cost to taxpayers and as a flow of cash to one of their businesses.

Here is how it works:  the corporate entity (LLC, LP, etc.) with the license to operate a facility, i.e., provide care, also pays for services to other corporate entities owned by the same investors who own the licensed facility.  These are called “related parties.”  The LLC with the license is making a lease payment to the LLC which owns the property.  Often, nurses and nurses’ assistants are provided by a labor contractor – another LLC.  Management of a licensed facility is often provided by a management firm owned by the owners of the licenses, the properties.  This is a form of theft, but it’s legal thievery because the industry has a powerful lobby.

Payments to these related party entities increase operating expenses, lowers net operating revenue, and often result in net operating losses.  Net income therefore is often far lower for each facility because parent corporations are sucking out a huge proportion of revenue through an array of corporations.  So, lobbyists will deceitfully tell legislators that the overall “median” net income percentage (net income divided by total revenue) is a half percent or some such nonsense.

Furthermore, people not well-educated in corporate finance (which, understandably, is most people) won’t know that net income isn’t a valid metric for determining capital flowing from customers – in this case, the government – to shareholders.  A host of accounting gimmicks hide cash flow that certainly does not appear in net income.  However, that is a discussion for a later blog post.  Suffice it to say, low nets and thin margins are the warp and woof of industry propaganda – swallowed, or at least not confronted, by most everyone from advocacy groups to scholars, to journalists.

What Could We Afford if Excess Extraction of Taxers’ Money by the Nursing Home Industry Were Identified & Stopped?

We know that the nursing home business is lucrative for investors, shareholders, and executives.  We know from financial reports submitted to the Securities & Exchange Commission by publicly listed nursing home corporations that executives receive millions per year in compensation and Wall Street investors such as BlackRock and Vanguard are the largest shareholders in publicly traded nursing home stock. 

BlackRock and Vanguard are the leading asset managers on the Planet.  They would not be investing your pension, college endowment, 401K, or other assets in an industry with a track record of paltry returns. 

Some my research colleagues and I have been investing a huge amount of time compiling financial reports (otherwise known as cost reports) to various state agencies.  These reports are pervasively false, misleading, and often fraudulent.  Invariably state agencies fail to audit these documents and legislators seem oblivious to pervasive industry deception. 

Excess cash pouring out of Medicaid and Medicare through licensed skilled nursing/long-term care facilities into investors hidden behind a veil of secrecy could be utilized to keep people out of these God-awful places in the first instance or to make life comfortable for those of us who will be or are now institutionalized under horrible conditions.

The number one duty of advocates is to tell the truth to power and to force the industry to stop lying, cheating, and stealing money that could be directed toward decent, humane, treatment of disabled Americans needing assistance with basic, every day, living.  It is time to get our messaging in order.