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Business

Miley Cyrus buys Hidden Hills home in off-market deal



Singer-actress Miley Cyrus has purchased a Hidden Hills home for a little over $4.95 million in an off-market transaction.

The “Wrecking Ball” singer used a trust to facilitate the deal, which closed in late June, according to real estate records. The seller was Steven Baio, the brother of actor Scott Baio.

The Traditional-style house was built in 1957, but was recently renovated and expanded. Wide-plank wood floors, vaulted ceilings and a new-look kitchen are among the features of note. A snazzy wet bar near the entry is decked out in Mercury glass.

The 1.18-acre estate in Hidden Hills has a sunken dining area, a lagoon-style swimming pool and a fenced pasture.

(NearMap)

A home theater with a snack bar, formal living and dining rooms, a family room, six bedrooms and 4.5 bathrooms also lie within about 6,000 square feet of living space.

Outdoors on the 1.18-acre site are a sunken dining area, a barbecue pavilion and a lagoon-style swimming pool. A white-picket fence encloses a grassy hillside to the rear.

The property was most recently listed last summer at $5.099 million. Multiple Listing Service records indicate it was leased out last fall at $39,000 a month.

Cyrus has a history with the area, having sold another home in the guard-gated equestrian community two years ago for $5 million, The Times previously reported.

The daughter of musician Billy Ray Cyrus, Cyrus gained fame at an early age as the child star of Disney’s “Hannah Montana.” As a singer, the 27-year-old has released six studio albums, most recently “Younger Now” in 2017. Her seventh album, “She is Miley Cyrus,” is expected to be released later this year.

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World

Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon Is Found Dead


SEOUL, South Korea — The mayor of Seoul, South Korea, the country’s most powerful official after the president, was found dead by the police, hours after his daughter reported him missing, the police said Friday.

A Seoul police officer confirmed the discovery of Mr. Park’s body in a hill in northern Seoul, but said he could offer no further detail until there was a formal announcement.

His disappearance came a day after a secretary in the mayor’s office told the police that he had been sexually harassing her since 2017, two Seoul television stations reported, attributing the information to unidentified police sources.

Mr. Park, 64, canceled his official schedule for Thursday and called in sick to City Hall. His daughter told the police that he had left home after leaving a cryptic, “will-like message,” according to Yonhap, the national news agency, which cited an anonymous police source.

When Mr. Park had not returned home after five hours, his daughter called the police.

On Thursday evening, 580 police officers and emergency medical workers, aided by police dogs, searched the hills in northern Seoul.

The mayor of Seoul, a city of 10 million, is considered the second most powerful elected official in South Korea after the president. Mr. Park, who is serving his third term, has often been named as a possible candidate to replace President Moon Jae-in, whose single five-year term is set to end in 2022.

Mr. Park has been the mayor of Seoul since 2011. His latest term was scheduled to end in 2022.

Before becoming mayor, Mr. Park was a prominent human rights attorney who founded the country’s most influential civil rights group.

As a lawyer, he won several major cases, including South Korea’s first sexual harassment conviction. He also campaigned for the rights of so-called comfort women, Korean sex slaves who were lured or forced to work in brothels for the Japanese army during World War II.

A tireless critic of inequality, Mr. Park was a vocal antagonist of former President Park Geun-hye, and supported huge rallies against her in central Seoul that led to her impeachment and ouster on corruption charges in 2017.

Mr. Park has been one of the most aggressive leaders in South Korea in fighting the coronavirus, issuing a series of municipal steps aimed at containing its spread, like shutting down nightclubs. Seoul has reported only 1,390 cases.

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World

‘Whack-a-Mole’ Against Virus Sounds Reasonable, Unless You’re the Mole


LEICESTER, England — Fresh buttercream wastes away in an empty cake shop. Young men slip past the lockdown border to reopened pubs in nearby towns. And neighbors blame neighbors for a new outbreak of the coronavirus that has stalled their return to something resembling normal life.

In Leicester, a city of ramshackle garment factories and multigenerational homes in the heart of England, the imposition of a second lockdown late last month has induced a sort of whiplash among people who were still recovering from the first.

The city of 340,000 in the East Midlands was shuttered as part of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plan to play ‘Whack-a-Mole’ with the virus, bringing a mallet down on any areas suffering an outbreak.

But carving a stay-at-home border around one region while others hurry back to pubs and jobs has proved to be a convoluted and divisive step. And it illuminates the difficulties that countries across Europe and Asia will face as they try to battle local flare-ups of Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.

Weeks of delays by the government in giving local officials in England details about test results made it difficult to detect clusters of new infections before they spread.

With sweatshops employing mostly underpaid South Asian immigrant workers operating during lockdown, Leicester was a prime candidate for a second outbreak. Its garment workers were packed together not only in the factories but also at home — confined spaces where the virus can easily spread.

Once known for “clothing the world,” Leicester has struggled as larger manufacturers moved overseas. It recently ranked as the 21st most deprived of more than 300 local authorities in England.

And now, residents complain, it has to shoulder the reputation of becoming England’s first city to be convulsed a second time by the coronavirus.

“The only time people have known how to say ‘Leicester’ is when we won the Premier League and we found a dead king,” said Dharmesh Lakhani, the owner of Bobby’s, an Indian restaurant, on the city’s normally bustling Belgrave Road. The city soccer team won the 2016 championship and archaeologists in 2012 found Richard III’s remains under a parking lot where a 16th century priory once stood.

“Now these are the three highlights,” he said. “Being locked down again attaches a stigma to us.”

In Leicester (pronounced “Lester,” in case anyone was wondering), recriminations are flying over why local officials were not given centrally held data showing a spike in infections sooner.

“We are a very centralized country — probably one of, if not the most, centralized in the democratic world,” Sir Peter Soulsby, the mayor of Leicester, said in an interview. “And if it’s all done from the center, they’re missing out on local expertise, and we’re sitting here very frustrated at not being trusted.”

Pouncing on an outbreak depends upon testing and tracking cases down to the level of single office buildings and neighborhoods, a strategy that England has struggled to develop. Chief among its problems has been a network of privately run testing sites that for weeks processed tens of thousands of daily tests, without the government sharing detailed results with local officials. Only testing results from public hospitals were being quickly shared.

Those blind spots made Mr. Johnson’s decision to reopen England seem hasty to some experts. Leicester’s lockdown was triggered by an infection rate of 135 cases per 100,000 people, nearly three times as high as the bar set by Germany. Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, said that the lifting of the national lockdown appeared timed to the easing of the virus in London, and not its more stubborn spread elsewhere.

In an internal report on the outbreak, Leicester officials said the government had denied them testing data in recent months on the grounds that “it hadn’t been cleaned.” Government officials have said the data processing had not yet been automated, causing delays.

When Leicester was given citywide test results on June 1 showing an elevated number of new cases, city officials were alarmed.

But on a call in the following days with Leicester’s public health director, national health officials denied anything was amiss, the report said. The city’s public health director “was told it was probably ‘a small numbers issue’ and may well go down again in the following week’s data release,” the report said.

A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said, “At no point did the department or Public Health England seek to downplay the situation in Leicester. In fact, our close monitoring of the outbreak allowed us to take early action, including through extra testing capacity and providing additional data analysis.”

Extra testing was not introduced until June 20, Leicester officials said, shortly after the government publicly confirmed an outbreak. With government health officials struggling to pinpoint the hotspot, and deliberating whether to delay future reopenings or ask everyone to stay at home, it took until June 29 for a lockdown to be announced.

Even now, Leicester officials said, they were being notified of positive results only in local areas, and not the overall number of tests, preventing them from determining the rate of new infections. The data also have missing or incorrect information about people’s workplaces — as with a reputed eight-year-old health care worker — making it difficult to trace the spread.

Government officials have said that Leicester was slow to complete data security forms required to access testing information. The mayor also publicly questioned the lockdown shortly before it was announced, saying that he was “deeply skeptical” of what it would achieve.

On a recent gloomy day, with rain threatening from a leaden sky and shops sitting empty behind closure notices, the city looked ghostly. Pubs and restaurants once poised to open along with those elsewhere in England were shuttered, and boxes of supplies sat stacked on tables.

At Sugar and Ice, a cake shop that had reopened in mid-June only to partly close again because of the lockdown, Debbie Bass, the owner, tallied her looming losses. Forty kilograms of buttercream was nearing its expiration date. So was £200, or $250, of sponge cake bases.

Three cake orders had already been postponed or canceled. And an employee whom Ms. Bass had rehired off furlough had been sent home.

“Now she’s back on furlough and we go through it all over again,” Ms. Bass said. “It’s rather a waste of money and a waste of time.”

Adding to the stress for residents was confusion over the lockdown borders. Even the mayor said on the day the lockdown started that he did not know where it applied.

“Sitting up all night refreshing social media to see if we had any updates wasn’t very good,” Ms. Bass said.

With caution tape still fluttering from the bars of playground equipment, some of the heaviest activity in Leicester was centered last week in the garment factories that analysts fear could have seeded the outbreak.

The so-called dark factories — housed in the shells of old buildings, their windows often papered over inside — pay workers as little as £3.50, or $4.40, an hour, a fraction of the national living wage.

Their biggest buyers are cheap online retailers like Boohoo, which thrived in the pandemic by switching to leisure wear. The factories — exempt, like other manufacturers, from lockdown — forced workers to show up sick, workers told an advocacy group, Labour Behind the Label. At one 80-person factory, a fifth of the staff had the virus.

Labor unions have criticized the government’s Health and Safety Executive, which had been promised an extra £14 million to enforce workplace safety during the pandemic, for not inspecting factories and other facilities more aggressively.

“It’s almost like an open secret,” said Dominique Muller of Labour Behind the Label, referring to the longstanding labor abuses. “But there hasn’t been any coherent response from the government.”

The high rate of infection in nearby South Asian neighborhoods fed a false perception that nonwhite residents were to blame for the outbreak, spawning racist remarks online. For a city with a long history of immigrant arrivals, the racism has stung.

“People are labeling the whole Asian community,” said Priti Raichura, who runs a wedding business in the city. “I have seen lots of racist comments.”

Like many places walloped by the coronavirus, Leicester is a deeply unequal city: The gap in life expectancy between the healthiest and sickest neighborhoods is more than six years. The prevalence of diabetes is among the highest in England and rising.

But rather than supply public health teams and local doctors with infection data they could have used to warn patients, the government left them in the dark, said Professor Kamlesh Khunti of the University of Leicester, who is also a general practitioner.

“We know the family structures better than most,” he said. “Like others, we suffered all these months, but now we have to wait before we can get back to something the rest of the country already has, which seems unfair.”

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World

Melania Trump Statue in Slovenia Set on Fire


LONDON — After a wooden statue of Melania Trump was burned near her birthplace in Slovenia on July 4, the American artist who commissioned it said that he now wants to interview the arsonist as part of a new project.

The life-size, rustic sculpture of Mrs. Trump, which was carved out of a linden tree last year by a local folk artist, showed the first lady waving a hand in the powder blue cashmere dress she wore at her husband’s inauguration in 2017.

“There’s a lot of buzz around the destruction of monuments, so it could come from left-leaning people,” Brad Downey, the artist who commissioned the statue, said about the charred work near Sevnica, a rural town of 5,000 people where Mrs. Trump grew up. “Or it could be from right-leaning people, because they don’t like how it looks or think it’s disrespectful, aesthetically.”

Standing nine feet tall on the banks of the Sava, a major river in Slovenia, the sculpture drew mixed reactions when it was unveiled: with its rough-hewed features and naïve appearance, locals deemed it grotesque or said it looked like a scarecrow. But Mr. Downey said that people there generally liked the sculpture and had taken care of it — until last weekend.

“The face is burned but the features are intact — we can still see the face,” said Mr. Downey, who has stored the sculpture in a temporary studio in Slovenia. He said that he planned to show the charred version at an exhibition in the country in September. “The blue dress is still all blue,” he noted.

From the state of the remains, Mr. Downey said that whoever had set the statue afire had most likely put tires around the head and then dumped gasoline on it.

A local police officer said the investigation was continuing and refused to comment further. A wooden statue representing President Trump in northeastern Slovenia was burned to the ground in January.

The town of Sevnica has built a tourism industry around the Mrs. Trump’s origins ever since her husband entered the presidential race in 2015, with offerings such as Melania salami, Melania slippers and Melania wine. While the rural town has attracted tens of thousands of visitors, the first lady hasn’t visited Slovenia since then.

Mr. Downey, a 39-year-old Berlin-based artist who defined his work as “contextual public art,” said that the sculpture was intended to question President Trump’s anti-immigration policy and what he described as a “heavy rhetoric of xenophobia.”

He said he had commissioned a local sculptor, Ales Zupevc, known as Max, to create the statue because Mr. Zupevc was born in the same hospital the same month and year as Mrs. Trump: April 1970.

Mr. Zupevc said in a 2019 short film made by Mr. Downey that he had never met the first lady — and that he had never before made a full human statue.

Mr. Downey said that he did not want to press charges against the culprits, but he expressed a wish to interview them. “Why did you do this? Who are you? I’d love to speak to you,” he said.

He added that the charred sculpture, wrapped in plastic, would remain in his temporary studio near the seaside town of Koper, in southwestern Slovenia.

“I had also made a silicon mold of it, just out of precaution,” Mr. Downey said. “The statue is still here.”

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World

NASA Scientist Jailed in Turkey for 3 Years Recounts His Ordeal


ISTANBUL — When Turkish police officers stopped him as he set out for the airport to return to the United States after a family vacation in Turkey, the country of his birth, Serkan Golge, an NASA scientist and American citizen, was in disbelief.

It was July 2016, eight anxious days after a failed coup tried to unseat President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the police told Mr. Golge that they had received an anonymous tip that he worked for the C.I.A. and was part of a terrorist group accused of masterminding the plot.

The idea was so far-fetched that Mr. Golge expected to sort it out quickly and changed his flight to the next day. “I was quite shocked, but I was like, ‘This will go away,’” he said. “This is probably a mistake and the police and prosecutors would figure this out.”

It would take four years. Mr. Golge and his family returned to Houston just last week, ending a nightmare in which he was held for three years in solitary confinement as he became a bargaining chip in a series of high-level disputes between the Turkish and American governments.

In his first interview since arriving home, Mr. Golge described with exasperation but little rancor the ordeal of being charged and found guilty of terrorist activities on evidence so flimsy he called it “garbage.”

His account provides a rare insight into the Turkish judicial machine from the side of a defendant. Some 70,000 people have been accused in the Turkish courts in connection with the failed coup. Many, still fearful of the whims of Turkish justice, prefer to keep silent even once they are freed.

Mr. Erdogan’s government has blamed the coup attempt on Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric who lives in Pennsylvania. Soon after the coup, pro-government Turkish media outlets began accusing the American government of being behind the plot, suggesting that it was in league with Mr. Gulen.

For Mr. Golge, who has a doctorate in physics and worked as a senior research scientist at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, being an American citizen was enough to be presumed guilty.

“You fit the profile,” he recalled his lawyer telling him at one point. “It does not really matter if you are innocent or not. They won’t release you.”

After 14 days, Mr. Golge appeared before a judge who told him the police had found an American dollar bill in his parent’s house, which the Turkish authorities alleged was a badge of membership to the Gulen movement, by then designated a terrorist group.

He was held in a general prison in southern Turkey, alongside high-ranking military officers, judges and prosecutors, some of whom told him that they were being held without any evidence at all.

Senior military officers and civilian supporters of Mr. Gulen have been charged over their part in leading the coup and ordering the bombing of the Parliament and clashes that killed 250 people.

But thousands of others who were accused had only tenuous links to Mr. Gulen’s movement, or, like the military cadets who were ordered out on the night of the coup, had little idea what was going on. Journalists and political opponents of Mr. Erdogan with no connection to the events were prosecuted as well.

Mr. Golge was sent to a prison in the town of Iskenderun, where in the August heat 32 men were crammed in a cell made for eight. He slept on a blanket on the floor and soon fell ill with bronchitis.

Within a month, he was moved to solitary confinement and faced charges of overthrowing the government and the constitution, which carried a life sentence, and a charge of belonging to a terrorist organization, which carried a 15-year sentence.

“‘That’s it, I’m never getting out of here,’” he recalled thinking. “That was a collapse psychologically, and I cried a lot.”

“It is a very small room — it barely sees the sunlight, and the guards took me out only one hour a day,” he said. “And I stayed in that room, in that small single cell, for three years.”

For a long time, Mr. Golge clung to the fact that the evidence the Turkish prosecutors presented was hardly incriminating. The anonymous tip turned out to be from a relative who bore a grudge against Mr. Golge’s sister and later admitted he did not know if his allegations were true.

The prosecutors drew on other evidence, and even Mr. Golge acknowledges that he fits the profile of a possible member of the Gulen movement.

He went to Fatih University, which was one of the most prominent Gulen schools, on a scholarship to study physics; he banked with Bank Asya, which was part of the Gulen network of companies. But none of that, he points out, amounts to a crime.

“A one dollar bill, an anonymous tip, a bank account? How is this terrorism?” Mr. Golge asked. “Nobody could explain, but I think this is how laws and courts still work in Turkey.”

Mr. Golge has condemned the coup attempt and says he had nothing to do with the Gulen movement.

“I am not part of this organization,” he said. “I am very sorry for the people who lost their lives. This is something unacceptable. Violence is never a solution. I have always believed in democracy, and I think currently it is the best solution we have.”

But he says Turkey missed an opportunity by not dealing justly with the coup attempt. Instead, zealous prosecutors have pursued people far beyond the actual perpetrators, sweeping up many who have been judged guilty by association.

Mr. Golge recalls a fellow inmate, a former judge, telling him the government had no evidence against him. “At least there was some bogus evidence about you,” he told Mr. Golge, “but I don’t know why I was arrested.”

He shared time in the exercise yard with a one-star general who told him he had opposed the coup but had been convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment anyway because his name appeared on a list of appointments made by the coup plotters.

“If Turkey only prosecuted the responsible people, instead of prosecuting hundreds of thousands of innocent people, I think that Turkish democracy would come out of this horrible act much stronger,” Mr. Golge said.

Gradually, with American officials including President Trump pressing Turkey for his release over the lack of evidence, the charges against Mr. Golge were reduced. He was eventually convicted of aiding a terrorist organization, and the sentence was reduced on appeal.

He said he sensed the Turkish judges knew the case against him was “garbage” but were compelled to drag out the process. “I felt they were scared of something,” he added.

He was released from prison in May 2019 and in April this year was cleared to leave the country. But then he was hospitalized with stomach ulcers, and the coronavirus pandemic grounded flights.

The strain of the past four years on his wife, Kubra, and two boys, ages 4 and 10, erupted at the airport, when Mr. Golge was pulled aside at passport control and held for 40 minutes.

“My wife started crying, the kids started crying,” he said. “I tried to stay calm because I knew they had no basis to hold me, but they were shaking so hard. My son was crying a lot, grabbing me, holding on to me, saying ‘No Dad, not again, not again.’”

Officials at the U.S. Embassy, who were tracking his progress, ensured he made the flight.

Back in Houston, he is rebuilding his life, applying for his old job and looking for a house. “Your life — four years, three years in prison — will not come back,” he said. “But that’s life. Sometimes you lose, sometimes you win.’’

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World

U.S. Visa Changes Leave International Students in Limbo


LONDON — Oliver Philcox was nearing the end of his first year of graduate studies in astrophysics at Princeton University when the coronavirus outbreak began. Classes were halted in March, and then moved online. By May, he had decided to travel home to Britain.

“In the long run, that was a terrible idea,” said Mr. Philcox, 24. “But I had assumed I would be able to go back in September.”

Now, the return to an American institution has been thrown into question for Mr. Philcox and countless other international students after a directive by the Trump administration that students whose classes were moving entirely online for the fall would be stripped of their visas and required to leave the United States.

Many universities see the move as a political one — an attempt to pressure them to reopen rather than hosting all classes online during the pandemic. For some international students, the directive poses frustrating questions of logistics and uncertainty. But for others — notably those whose home countries are embroiled in conflict or have communications technologies that are insufficient for online learning — the decision has the potential to disrupt their lives and drastically alter their futures.

The Trump administration’s plan to require in-person classes for international students would affect around one million students, according to data from the 2019 Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange. China sends the highest number of students — with about 370,000 enrolled in American universities in 2018-2019 — followed by India with just over 200,000 students enrolled that year.

As the reality has sunk in, outrage has grown from those around the world who are now met with the possibility that they may not be able to return to, or stay in, the United States for their education. Many are rethinking whether the choice to enroll in an American institution, despite the expertise and prestige, was worth it.

Macarena Ramos Gonzalez, a native of Spain who is nearing the end of a Ph.D. program in applied physiology at the University of Delaware, was blunt: “If they really don’t want me here — and the administration has made that very clear in a number of ways — maybe I shouldn’t have come.”

The decision highlights a wide disconnect between the diversity that most universities strive for among students and staff members and a government that shuns those principles, she said.

Hundreds of thousand of students and their supporters have signed petitions demanding that the government rethink the decision and urging their universities to protect students from abroad. Some universities are reassessing their fall reopening policies in an attempt to enable some in-person classes.

For some international students, the United States has been a haven, offering safety from conflict in their home countries and relief from infrastructure that cannot support remote learning. But that sense of security has now been upended.

In Ifat Gazia’s hometown in Kashmir, India’s government cut off internet access in August as part of moves to strengthen its grip over the disputed territory. Although the service was restored in January, only 2G is available, making it nearly impossible to make calls over Skype, let alone support the video that would be needed if she were to try to attend lectures via Zoom.

Ms. Gazia arrived in the United States last August, just as India was cracking down on her region. She was unable to call her parents to let them know she had arrived safely, as the Indian government had cut landline and mobile phone service in Kashmir.

“I considered myself lucky when I landed,” Ms. Gazia said. “But when this order came this week, I felt only despair.”

She pointed out that higher education is often a pathway for the United States to draw in highly skilled workers.

“That is what makes America great,” she said. “But so many Americans think we are just here to just take from their country. They don’t realize how much we contribute.”

For students like Kunal Singh, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in political science at M.I.T., there is no way even to get home. He has been unable to fly to India, as it shut its borders in March to stem the spread of coronavirus.

The anti-foreigner sentiment has also stripped away some of the prestige of graduating from a top American university.

“If I had known that something like this would happen when I was applying to American schools, I wouldn’t have applied,” Mr. Singh said. “I would have applied to Australia or Britain.”

For some, it isn’t worth the money or stress to continue. Andres Jaime, 48, whose 19-year-old son is a student at the Berklee School of Music in Boston, said they had decided that he would postpone his studies and return to Colombia.

Mr. Jaime said they had previously asked the university to lower fees for the coming semester “because the online experience wasn’t the same,” but the university refused. The visa decision further strengthened their resolve that he should return home.

Other students have begun assessing other options, like Andy Mao, 21, from Shanghai, who is studying biology at New York University. He was preparing for the Graduate Record Exam when he heard the news.

This was his final year in an undergraduate program, and he had planned years of study in the United States because of its legacy as a research leader. But now, he said he would add universities in Canada and Singapore to his list.

“I still like this country,” he said. “But if Trump gets re-elected, we will face huge uncertainty.”

In many cases, graduate and Ph.D. students have spouses and children with them in the United States, which means that the directive will also result in the uprooting of whole families. In some cases, children will be displaced from the country that they were born in and the only country they have ever known.

Among those students is Naette Lee, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in communications at the University of Maryland. Ms. Lee, 38, from Trinidad and Tobago, lives with her husband, who is Belgian, and infant son, who was born in the United States and is an American citizen. They would be unable to travel to Europe together because of a ban on nonresident travelers from the United States.

And if Ms. Lee has to return home, she will be separated from her family — Trinidad and Tobago have barred foreigners from entering the country during the pandemic, which would extend to her husband and son.

“This is not about the campus experience,” she said. “This is about leaving our lives behind.”

Many students are even struggling to understand whether they will be affected by the directive, particularly those studying for advanced degrees that are focused on research. They would typically have no in-person classes and instead study independently.

Kelsey Bryk, 29, a Canadian, left the University of Delaware in a scramble in March, driving 26 hours to her home in Winnipeg as border closings loomed. Having spent the last four years working toward a Ph.D., she may now not be able to return.

“I’ve invested so much time money and effort, and now it’s just being potentially ripped away,” she said.

While her university is still trying to figure out a way to ensure that international students can stay, the uncertainty looms.

“Right now, I don’t think anyone has any answers,” she said. “And we are just sitting here expecting the worst and hoping for the best.”

Megan Specia reported from London, and Maria Abi Habib from Los Angeles. Karan Deep Singh contributed reporting from New Delhi, Cao Li from Hong Kong and Elian Peltier and Iliana Magra from London.

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Business

Vacation homes for $400,000 in Riverside County



Here’s a look at what roughly $400,000 buys in Palm Desert, La Quinta and Indio in Riverside County.

PALM DESERT: Designed by Hollywood Regency architect-to-the-stars John Elgin Woolf, this bright pink villa boasts a courtyard in front and golf course views out back.

Address: 47465 Tangier Drive, Palm Desert, CA 92260

Listed for: $399,000 for two bedrooms, two bathrooms in 2,068 square feet (4,356-square-foot lot)

Features: Gated community; open floor plan; walls of glass; large back patio

About the area: In the 92260 ZIP Code, based on 28 sales, the median price for single-family homes in May was $495,000, up 3.6% year over year, according to CoreLogic.

61240 Portulaca Drive, La Quinta

(Realtor.com)

LA QUINTA: Misters, flagstone accents and water features touch up the backyard behind this single-story home in the Trilogy community.

Address: 61240 Portulaca Drive, La Quinta, CA 92253

Listed for: $399,900 for two bedrooms, two bathrooms in 1,845 square feet (7,841-square-foot lot)

Features: Tile floors; built-ins; kitchen with breakfast bar; covered patio

About the area: In the 92253 ZIP Code, based on 61 sales, the median price for single-family homes in May was $475,000, down 13.6% year over year, according to CoreLogic.

82540 Lordsburg Drive, Indio

(Realtor.com)

INDIO: A guest casita with a private entrance provides flexibility in this spacious five-bedroom home full of earthy tones.

Address: 82540 Lordsburg Drive, Indio, CA 92203

Listed for: $379,000 for five bedrooms, 3.75 bathrooms in 3,517 square feet (7,840-square-foot lot)

Features: Landscaped front yard; living room with fireplace; second-story bonus room; outdoor kitchen

About the area: In the 92203 ZIP Code, based on 34 sales, the median price for single-family homes in May was $335,000, down 5.7% year over year, according to CoreLogic.

77020 New York Ave., Palm Desert

(Realtor.com)

PALM DESERT: There’s a small swimming pool tucked behind this newly remodeled home with a modern open floor plan.

Address: 77020 New York Ave., Palm Desert, CA 92211

Listed for: $399,900 for three bedrooms, 1.75 bathrooms in 1,258 square feet (7,405-square-foot lot)

Features: Drought-tolerant landscaping; tile kitchen with walnut cabinetry; carport; mountain views

About the area: In the 92211 ZIP Code, based on 33 sales, the median price for single-family homes in May was $485,000, up 29.3% year over year, according to CoreLogic.

51925 Avenida Vallejo, La Quinta

(Realtor.com)

LA QUINTA: This cozy three-bedroom expands to a variety of outdoor spaces such as a walled courtyard, a patio with a mounted TV and a saltwater swimming pool.

Address: 51925 Avenida Vallejo, La Quinta, CA 92253

Listed for: $399,000 for three bedrooms, two bathrooms in 1,220 square feet (4,792-square-foot lot)

Features: Covered entry; French doors; master suite with backyard access; two-car garage

About the area: In the 92253 ZIP Code, based on 61 sales, the median price for single-family homes in May was $475,000, down 13.6% year over year, according to CoreLogic.

81905 Avenida Estuco, Indio

(Realtor.com)

INDIO: Tan interiors lead to a colorful backyard with a fire pit outside this waterfront home in a golf course community.

Address: 81905 Avenida Estuco, Indio, CA 92203

Listed for: $414,900 for two bedrooms, two bathrooms in 1,450 square feet (5,227-square-foot lot)

Features: Tile floors; window-lined sunroom; extended patio; two-car garage

About the area: In the 92203 ZIP Code, based on 34 sales, the median price for single-family homes in May was $335,000, down 5.7% year over year, according to CoreLogic.

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Business

New payday-loan rule may hit Black, Latino borrowers hardest



The Trump administration this week threw out a rule aimed at protecting working people from payday lenders.

This isn’t just the latest example of a business-friendly White House placing the interests of companies ahead of those of consumers.

It’s also the latest example of Trump ignoring the economic disadvantages of Black and Latino Americans and other people of color.

At issue is a common-sense regulation formulated by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau under former President Obama.

It required payday lenders to “reasonably” make sure that low-income borrowers can repay loans that typically carry annual interest rates as high as 400%.

The idea was to prevent people from getting trapped in endless cycles of high-interest debt by repeatedly taking out new loans to pay off the previous obligations.

More than 80% of payday loans end up being rolled over into new loans or followed within days by a new loan, the CFPB determined in 2014. Half of all payday loans result in 10 additional loans to cover the original debt.

“Payday lenders prey on poor, low-wage earners and people of color,” said Linda Sherry, a spokeswoman for the advocacy group Consumer Action.

“The federal agency specifically tasked with protecting consumers from financial abuse has thrown consumers under the bus,” she told me.

Christine Hines, legislative director for the National Assn. of Consumer Advocates, echoed that sentiment.

“Payday lenders disproportionately target Black and Latino communities, hawking their high-cost loans on working families and trapping them in a cycle of debt,” she said.

The CFPB, under Trump’s appointee as director, Kathy Kraninger, says deregulating payday lenders will “maintain consumer access to credit and competition in the marketplace” by making it easier for people to get their hands on some fast cash.

“A vibrant and well-functioning financial marketplace is important for consumers to access the financial products they need and ensure they are protected,” Kraninger said in a statement, ignoring her own agency’s data on the dangers of payday and car-title loans.

The CFPB has determined that many short-term loan recipients are “likely to stay in debt for 11 months or longer,” making them ongoing sources of revenue for a $50-billion industry that preys almost exclusively on the poor and financially distressed.

The Pew Charitable Trusts determined that 12 million U.S. adults take out payday loans every year, with the average borrower receiving eight loans of $375 apiece and paying $520 in interest.

It found that Black people are at least twice as likely as other races to seek payday loans.

Twelve percent of Black Americans turn to the high-interest loans to make ends meet annually, Pew found, compared with 6% of Latino people and 4% of white people.

Bartlett Naylor, financial policy advocate for Public Citizen, said reducing accountability for payday lenders “throws blood in already turbulent waters.”

“And yes,” he told me, “in the end it’s a racist decision.”

Maybe it’s a reflection of the times, maybe just a clear-eyed appraisal of the economic landscape. Whichever, consumer advocates see an administration implementing policies that go out of their way to harm people of color.

“Pure and simple, the CFPB has put working families of color at greater risk of falling into debt traps,” said Mike Litt of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

Along with racial disparities, Pew found use of payday loans is higher among renters, people without college degrees, and people who are separated or divorced.

Knowing all this, the CFPB originally intended the new safeguard to take effect last summer.

The Trump administration delayed implementation of the rule in response to complaints from payday lenders that the ability-to-pay requirement was too burdensome and would cut into profits.

D. Lynn DeVault, chairman of the Community Financial Services Assn. of America, the leading trade group for payday lenders, welcomed the administration killing off the rule entirely.

He said requiring payday lenders to look into the creditworthiness of loan recipients is “simply unworkable.”

Fun fact: Payday lenders held their annual convention for the first time at the Trump National Doral Miami resort in 2018 and returned to the Trump-owned property last year.

The industry has contributed more than $1.2 million so far in the current election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Three-quarters of that money has gone to Republicans.

Defenders of short-term loans make a fair point in saying borrowers often may not qualify for traditional bank loans, and that the high interest rates merely reflect the higher risk involved in lending to people living paycheck to paycheck.

That’s why the CFPB was correct in not cracking down too heavily on payday lenders. The companies perform a service needed by millions of Americans.

That said, it’s clear that this business is predicated for the most part on forcing people to keep taking out new loans and thus remain financially enslaved — and, yes, I use that word deliberately.

Payday loans are a form of economic servitude, keeping borrowers beholden to companies that know full well they profit most handsomely when customers have no escape.

There is no rational defense of such malicious business practices.

The CFPB under Obama was clear-eyed about the utility of payday loans. It repeatedly emphasized that it wasn’t trying to put payday lenders out of business.

Rather, it wanted the lenders to behave in a responsible manner, making funds available without trapping people in perpetual debt.

The CFPB under Trump has different priorities, not least giving providers of financial services as long a leash as they desire.

“The bureau protects consumers from unfair, deceptive or abusive practices, and takes action against companies that break the law,” the CFPB’s Kraninger declared.

“We will continue to monitor the small-dollar lending industry and enforce the law against bad actors,” she pledged.

If that rings hollow in light of the administration’s latest consumer-unfriendly measure, you’re not mistaken.

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Business

As COVID-19 patients fill beds, many hospitals choose not to cancel nonemergency surgeries



Three months ago, the nation watched as COVID-19 patients overwhelmed New York City’s intensive care units, forcing some of its hospitals to convert cafeterias into wards and pitch tents in parking lots.

Hospitals elsewhere prepped for a similar surge: They cleared beds, stockpiled scarce protective equipment, and — voluntarily or under government orders — temporarily canceled nonemergency surgeries to save space and supplies for coronavirus patients.

In most places, that surge in patients never materialized.

Now, coronavirus cases are skyrocketing nationally and hospitalizations are climbing at an alarming rate. But the response from hospitals is markedly different.

Most hospitals around the country are not canceling elective surgeries — nor are government officials asking them to.

Instead, hospitals say they are more prepared to handle the crush of patients because they have enough protective gear for their workers and know how to better treat coronavirus patients. They say they will shut down nonessential procedures at hospitals based on local assessments of risk, but not across whole systems or states.

Some hospitals have already done so, including facilities in South Florida, Phoenix and California’s Central Valley. And in a few cases, such as in Texas and Mississippi, government officials have ordered hospitals to suspend elective surgeries.

Hospitals’ decisions to keep operating rooms open are being guided partly by money. Elective surgeries account for a significant portion of hospital revenue, and the American Hospital Assn. estimates that the country’s hospitals and healthcare systems lost $202.6 billion between March 1 and June 30.

“What we now realize is that shutting down the entire healthcare system in anticipation of a surge is not the best option,” said Carmela Coyle, president of the California Hospital Assn. “It will bankrupt the healthcare delivery system.”

The association estimates that California hospitals will lose $14.6 billion this year, of which $4.6 billion has so far been reimbursed by the federal government.

But some healthcare workers fear that continuing elective surgeries amid a surge puts them and their patients at risk. For instance, some nurses are still being asked to reuse protective equipment such as N95 masks and gowns, even though hospitals say they have enough gear to perform elective surgeries, said Zenei Cortez, president of the National Nurses United union.

“They continue to put us at risk,” Cortez said. “They continue to look at us as if we are disposable material.”

Elective surgeries, generally speaking, are procedures that can be delayed without harming patients, such as knee replacements and cataract surgery.

At least 33 states and the District of Columbia temporarily banned elective surgeries this spring, and most hospitals in states that didn’t ban them, such as Georgia and California, voluntarily suspended them to make sure they had the beds to accommodate a surge of coronavirus patients. The U.S. surgeon general, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American College of Surgeons also recommended healthcare facilities suspend nonemergency surgeries.

The suspension was always intended to be temporary, said Dr. David Hoyt, executive director of the American College of Surgeons. “When this all started, it was simply a matter of overwhelming the system,” he said.

Today, case counts are soaring after many states loosened stay-at-home orders and Americans flocked to restaurants, bars and backyards and met up with friends and family for graduation parties and Memorial Day celebrations.

Nationally, confirmed cases of COVID-19 have topped 3 million. In California, cases are spiking, with a 52% jump in the average number of daily cases over the last 14 days, compared with the two previous weeks. Hospitalizations have gone up 44%.

Governors, county supervisors and city councils have responded by requiring people to wear masks, shutting down bars and restaurants — again — and closing beaches on the July Fourth holiday weekend.

But by and large, government leaders are not calling on hospitals to proactively scale back elective surgeries in preparation for a surge.

“Our hospitals are telling us they feel very strongly and competent they can manage their resources,” said Holly Ward, director of marketing and communications at the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Assn. If they feel the situation warrants it, “they on their own will delay surgeries.”

In some states, such as Colorado, public health orders that allowed hospitals to resume nonemergency surgeries in the spring required hospitals to have a stockpile of protective equipment and extra beds that could be used to treat an influx of COVID-19 patients.

States also set up overflow sites should hospitals run out of room. In Maryland, for example, the state is using the Baltimore Convention Center as a field hospital. California last week reactivated four “alternative care sites” — including a hospital that was on the verge of closure in the San Francisco Bay Area — to take COVID-19 patients should hospitals fill up.

But the decision to reduce elective surgeries in California will not come from the state. It will be made by counties in consultation with hospitals, said Rodger Butler, a spokesman for the California Health and Human Services Agency.

The question is whether hospitals have systems in place to meet a surge in COVID-19 patients when it occurs, said Glenn Melnick, a professor of health economics at USC.

“To some extent, elective care is good care,” Melnick said “They’re providing needed services. They are keeping the system going. They are providing employment and income.”

In Los Angeles County, more than 2,000 COVID patients are currently hospitalized, according to county data. While that number is projected to go up by a couple of hundred people over the next few weeks, hospitals believe they can accommodate them, said county Health Services Director Christina Ghaly. In the meantime, hospitals are preparing to bring on additional staff members if needed and informing patients who have scheduled surgeries that they could be delayed.

“There’s more patients with COVID in the hospitals than there has been at any point previously in Los Angeles County during the pandemic,” Ghaly said. “Hospitals are more prepared now for handling that volume of patients than they were previously.”

Although hospitals have not stopped elective surgeries, many have not ramped up to the full schedule they had before COVID-19. And they say they are picking and choosing surgeries based on what’s happening in their area.

“We were all things COVID when it was just starting,” said Joshua Adler, executive vice president for physician services at UCSF Health. based at UC San Francisco. “We didn’t know what we were facing.”

But after a couple of months of treating patients, hospitals have learned how to resupply units, how to transfer patients, how to simultaneously care for other patients and how to improve testing, Adler said.

At Scripps Health in San Diego, which has taken more than 230 patients from hard-hit Imperial County to the east, its hospitals have scaled back how many transfers they will accept as confirmed COVID-19 cases rise in their own community, said Chris Van Gorder, president and CEO of Scripps Health.

A command center set up by the hospital system reviews patient counts and medical supplies and coordinates with county health officials to study how the virus is spreading. Only patients who need urgent surgeries are being scheduled, Van Gorder said.

“We’re only allowing our doctors to schedule cases two weeks out,” Van Gorder said. “If we see a sudden spike, we have to delay.”

In California’s Central Valley and in Phoenix, where cases and hospitalizations are surging, Mercy hospitals have suspended elective surgeries to focus resources on COVID-19 patients.

But the other hospitals in the CommonSpirit Health system, which has 137 hospitals in 21 states, are not ending elective surgeries — as they did in the spring — and are treating patients with needs other than COVID, said Marvin O’Quinn, the system’s president and chief operating officer.

“In many cases their health deteriorated because they didn’t get care that they needed,” said O’Quinn, whose hospitals lost close to a $1 billion in two months. “It’s not only a disservice to the hospital to not do those cases; it’s a disservice to the community.”

This story was produced by Kaiser Health News, which publishes California Healthline, an editorially independent service of the California Health Care Foundation. KHN is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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Innovations

Mike Rowan solicitor guarantee the rule of law

Mike Rowan solicitor is the founder of the independent professional body for solicitors around London and Gloucester. Mike Rowan solicitor is the voice of excellence in the profession. His mission is to guarantee the rule of law, work to make sure no-one is skipping the law, and making sure that everybody has right and access to justice.