Month: October 2018


Manufacturing confidence all-time high…

Optimism among U.S. manufacturers is soaring as the Republican-led tax cuts help fuel a white-hot economy with the lowest unemployment numbers in over a decade, but a significant labor shortage is undermining the gains, a new report shows.

Nearly 93 percent of manufacturers are projecting further expansion for their businesses, and positive sentiment among smaller companies is up to 91.3 percent, according to a quarterly survey from the National Association of Manufacturers. It’s one of the best outlooks the group has seen in the 20 years it has conducted the survey among its 14,000 members.

“We used to be happy when that number would get up to the mid- and high 50s,” Chief Executive Officer Jay Timmons told the Washington Examiner.

Many of the Trump administration’s largest achievements have been overshadowed by simultaneous controversies, but the strength of the U.S. economy has earned accolades even outside of the conservative base. While only 38 percent of voters approve of President Trump, 70 percent say the U.S. economy is “excellent,” according to a Quinnipiac University poll released in September.

Republicans are hoping the comprehensive tax overhaul signed into law in January that permanently lowered the top corporate rate and temporarily cut individual obligations – along with the deregulation efforts by the White House – will drive momentum in the 2018 midterms and help the GOP retain control of the House and Senate.

But lower expenses are only part of the picture, and other pieces are unsettling. Nearly 74 percent of manufacturers say they are concerned about attracting or keeping a quality workforce, and one in four companies have had to turn down business because of labor problems.

“The workforce issue is where we are focused like laser beams making sure we can attract young people,” Timmons said.

The shortfall may slow the development of advanced technology, such as autonomous vehicles or fifth-generation wireless transmission that require a skilled workforce. Many young adults don’t think manufacturing jobs exist, Timmons said, or envision the positions as the blue-collar jobs of their grandparents’ generation that have largely shifted overseas, where labor is cheaper.

“We have to have a fundamental restructuring, re-calibration of our education system from start to finish in this country,” Timmons said.

Any major education overhaul would be a heavy lift, and it’s unclear how Democratic takeovers of the House, Senate or both might affect the odds of such an initiative.

There may be more subtle ways Congress can help, though. The federal government spends billions of dollars each year on training and apprenticeship programs, and allowing states to manage them could would be a “more efficient use of those tax dollars and more efficient use of these programs,” Timmons said.

If Republicans lose control in Washington, however, the trade group may have a higher priority than education reform. Democrats have vowed to roll back the tax law should they get the chance, dealing a stinging blow to an industry that Timmons said has proved it is “keeping its promises” on hiring more workers and raising wages.

“For those who would like to roll back the progress we made, our question is really simple: Which investments do you not want to see happen in America?” he said.

Apart from advocating for the tax overhaul, much of the association’s focus recently has been on Trump’s trade skirmishes with countries like China, Mexico, and Canada. A recent update of the North American Free Trade Agreement earned praise from the group, but it is opposed to the administration’s tariffs on $250 billion in Chinese goods. And while many U.S. business have expressed concerns over the separate tariffs on steel and aluminum imports – which hit trading allies like Canada, Mexico and the European Union – the group has not taken a position on it.

Timmons is hoping that, once the NAFTA overhaul is approved by the U.S., Canada and Mexico, there will be “some effort by the administration to move away from the tariffs.”

Publicly, many U.S. companies are critical of the duties and warn they plan to raise prices to protect their bottom lines. But privately they agree that Chinese practices like theft of intellectual property must be addressed.

“We’ve had problems with China for 20 years,” said Timmons, who hopes the world’s two largest economies can reach a trade deal. “We’ve been very concerned about the fact that they cheat.”

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LACROIX sued for alleged cockroach insecticide in sparkling water…

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First Lead Role in Decade…

Eastwood’s lastest directorial effort is opening this December from Warner Bros.

"The Mule"

Warner Bros./YouTube

Warner Bros. made a surprise announcement last month when it revealed Clint Eastwood’s latest directorial effort, “The Mule,” was finished and ready to be released in December. The movie is Eastwood’s second directing project of the year, following “The 15:17 to Paris,” but it’s notable for bringing the 88-year-old back in front of the camera as an actor for the first time since 2012’s “Trouble With the Curve.”

Read More:Clint Eastwood Invades Oscar Season: Warner Bros. Sets ‘The Mule’ for December Release

“The Mule” stars Eastwood as Earl Stone, an 80-year-old who becomes a drug courier for a Mexican cartel. The story is based on the real life of World War II veteran Leo Sharp. Eastwood hasn’t been the lead actor in a film since 2008’s “Gran Torino,” and “The Mule” might just be his final acting role. The supporting cast includes Eastwood’s “American Sniper” star Bradley Cooper, plus Dianne Wiest and Michael Peña.

Warner Bros. will release “The Mule” nationwide December 14. Watch the official trailer below.

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Era of bank secrecy ends as Swiss start sharing account data…

ZURICH (Reuters) – The era of mystery-cloaked numbered Swiss bank accounts has officially come to a close as Switzerland, the world’s biggest center for managing offshore wealth, began automatically sharing client data with tax authorities in dozens of other countries.

FILE PHOTO: A surveillance camera (CCTV) of the Swiss National Bank (SNB) is pictured in front of the Swiss Federal Palace (Bundeshaus) in Bern, Switzerland, July 2, 2018. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo

The Federal Tax Administration (FTA) said on Friday it had for the first time exchanged financial account data at the end of September under global standards that aim to crack down on tax cheats.

Bank secrecy still exists in some areas — Swiss authorities cannot automatically see what citizens have in their domestic bank accounts, for example — but gone are the days when well-paid European professionals could stash wealth across the border and beyond the prying eyes of their tax man.

FILE PHOTO: Climbers place a huge 80×80 metres (262×262 feet) Swiss national flag on the western face of the north-eastern Swiss landmark Mount Saentis, Switzerland July 31, 2018. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann/File Photo

The initial exchange was supposed to be with European Union countries plus nine other jurisdictions: Australia, Canada, Guernsey, Iceland, Isle of Man, Japan, Jersey, Norway and South Korea.

“Cyprus and Romania are currently excluded as they do not yet meet the international requirements on confidentiality and data security,” the FTA said.

Transmission of data to Australia and France was delayed “as these states could not yet deliver data to the FTA due to technical reasons”, it said, adding that it also had not yet received data from Croatia, Estonia and Poland.

About 7,000 banks, trusts, insurers and other financial institutions registered with the FTA collect data on millions of accounts and send them on the Swiss tax agency. The FTA in turn sent information on around two million accounts to partner states. It put no value on the accounts in question.

FILE PHOTO: A Swiss flag is pictured in front of the Federal Palace (Bundeshaus) is pictured in Bern, Switzerland, January 16, 2017. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo

The information includes the owner’s name, address, country of residence and tax identification number as well as the reporting institution, account balance and capital income. This lets authorities check whether taxpayers have correctly declared their foreign financial accounts.

The annual data swap will expand next year to about 80 partner states, provided they meet requirements on confidentiality and data security. The OECD Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Purposes reviews states’ implementation of the accord.

Under international pressure, Swiss banking secrecy has weakened for years, meaning rich people from around the world can no longer easily use the Alpine republic to hide wealth.

The changes have put Switzerland in fierce competition with faster-growing centers like Hong Kong and Singapore.

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Chinese spy chips said to be found in hardware used by APPLE, AMAZON…

Chinese spy chips said to be found in hardware used by APPLE, AMAZON...

(Second column, 11th story, link)

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Stealing secrets…

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Far-right candidate gains women voters, despite sexist remarks…

RIO DE JANEIRO/BRASILIA (Reuters) – Luzia Amaral took a long hard look at Brazil’s presidential candidates, and eventually settled on far-right Jair Bolsonaro, viewing him as the only option to prevent the return of the leftist Workers Party (PT) in this weekend’s vote.

FILE PHOTO: Supporters of presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro attend a demonstration pro Bolsonaro in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil September 29, 2018. REUTERS/Pilar Olivares

Amaral is part of a growing number of women who opinion polls show have recently warmed to Bolsonaro, a divisive candidate whose comments belittling rape and defending the gender pay gap have long alienated many female voters.

If the trend continues, some of the women who previously balked at the former army captain could help propel him to the presidency, and possibly a first-round victory on Sunday, pollsters and analysts say.

That prospect cheers investors who fear a return of the PT’s state-run policies, but terrifies Bolsonaro’s critics, who say his views echo those of U.S. President Donald Trump or even hardline Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.

Amaral said she was not thrilled by Bolsonaro’s pledge to loosen gun laws and disliked his homophobic statements, but ultimately she was willing to overlook those if he was able to beat PT candidate Fernando Haddad.

“In truth, my vote is a protest vote,” said Amaral, a 64-year-old retired civil servant in downtown Rio de Janeiro. “Right now, among the current crop of candidates, none of them would be my choice to govern the country.”

Slideshow (12 Images)

After ruling Brazil for 13 of the last 15 years, the PT is blamed by many for a crippling recession, rising violence and voracious corruption.

An Ibope poll released on Wednesday night showed Bolsonaro with a strong first-round lead over second-placed Haddad.

That survey and others indicate that a run-off vote between the two, which would take place on Oct. 28 if nobody clinches a majority on Sunday, would be close.

The signs that Bolsonaro is gaining momentum led Brazil’s stock index .BVSP up to a near five-month high and its currency BRBY to its strongest level in almost two months on Wednesday.

“(The polls are) bringing euphoria to the market … which is already beginning to price in the possibility of a (Bolsonaro) victory in the first round,” said currency strategist Fernanda Consorte from bank Ourinvest.


Bolsonaro’s support among women has risen some 6 percentage points in the last week alone, the polls suggest.

That is all the more surprising given it comes just days after his candidacy provoked the largest female-led street demonstrations Brazil has seen in decades.

Far from slowing Bolsonaro, a federal congressman who was hospitalized for much of September after being stabbed in an assassination attempt, the protests appear to have helped him, particularly among some women who viewed the young, progressive protesters as PT supporters.

Luzinete Silva, a 55-year-old lawyer in Rio who recently decided to vote for Bolsonaro, said the women who participated in the marches were “misinformed.”

“I don’t think those women are well-educated and they’re not looking at and reading (Bolsonaro’s) proposals and analyzing what’s going on in the whole country,” she said.

Nobody has won the presidency in Brazil in the first round since 1998.

But sudden last-minute waves of anti-PT sentiment have impacted recent local elections, such as Joao Doria’s landslide first-round victory over Haddad to become mayor of Sao Paulo in 2016.

    Bolsonaro’s chances of winning on Sunday would be boosted if there is high abstention, and if many voters cast blank or spoiled ballots, said Leonardo Barreto, head of Brasilia-based political consultancy Factual.

    “If the trends detected by Ibope and Datafolha this week continue with further growth for Bolsonaro, we could have a final wave of support for him,” said Barreto.

Click here for a graphic on Brazil’s 2018 election.

Reporting by Gabriel Stargardter in Rio and Anthony Boadle in Brasilia; Additional reporting by Claudia Violante in Sao Paulo; Editing by Brad Brooks and Rosalba O’Brien

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Patient deaths bring scrutiny to addiction treatment centers…


A young mom died under questionable circumstances at an Arizona detox center. Surveillance video obtained from investigators
under a public records request shows what happened during the woman’s stay.

During her nearly three days at an Arizona drug detox center, law enforcement reports show, an Ohio mother repeated the same request to multiple staff members: Take me to the hospital.

Madison Cross, 22, traveled from her home outside Columbus, Ohio, last Oct. 7 to check into Serenity Care Center, a state-licensed drug detoxification center in suburban Phoenix. Her family said she wanted to kick her addiction to opioids and other drugs for her 2-year-old daughter.

Once at the center, she showed escalating signs of distress.

She had trouble breathing. Her pulse raced. She was wheezing, and her lungs sounded “crackly,” staff members told investigators.

She appeared lethargic and ill. One technician told investigators her complexion was jaundiced, and her lips were purple. Another said she went from pale to yellow to blue.

Technicians reported her vital signs to nurses, who consulted with medical staff about her care, according to medical records from the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office obtained by USA TODAY under a public records request. She was ordered several medications.

But she was not sent to the full-service hospital less than a mile away. She collapsed in her room at Serenity and was soon pronounced dead.

The Maricopa County medical examiner concluded Cross’ death was an accident caused by “septic complications of acute bronchopneumonia in the setting of heroin toxicity.”

An attorney representing the young woman’s family called the center’s treatment of Cross “outrageous.”

“This woman was basically begging for them to save her life by sending her to the hospital, and they refused,” attorney John Wrona told USA TODAY. 

He plans to file a lawsuit on behalf of the family.

A spokesman for Serenity said the center provided appropriate care and monitoring for Cross. The center performs regular room checks, vital signs readings and intervenes when required, spokesman George Haj said.

Patients who are undergoing withdrawal and trying to stay clean are particularly vulnerable to medical emergencies. As the opioid epidemic causes demand for addiction treatment to surge, industry veterans said tougher standards, better screening and greater oversight are needed to improve patient safety.

More than 1.4 million people sought treatment for alcohol or drug addiction from inpatient, outpatient and residential treatment programs in 2015, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The federal agency recorded 3,362 deaths.

States separately report death investigations at residential treatment centers. In California alone, state regulators have investigated more than 150 deaths at treatment facilities since 2014. That includes 44 during the fiscal year that ended June 30.

Industry officials said the for-profit centers that have flooded the growing market for addiction treatment are in some cases providing aggressive marketing and substandard care.

“This is a huge issue for the industry,” said Marvin Ventrell, executive director of the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers. “It is a critical time where we can get this right or we can get this wrong.”

Ventrell was speaking generally. He was not addressing Cross’ death, Serenity or any particular center.

His organization, which represents about 850 facilities in the USA, tightened its policies this year to require members to adhere to an updated code of ethics that prohibits such practices as “patient brokering” – paying recruiters to bring in patients who can generate lucrative insurance payments for services that must be covered under the Affordable Care Act.

The association is cracking down on websites that deceive consumers about treatment as well as inducements to get people in treatment.

Unscrupulous providers try to sell the service to the prospective patient, industry leaders said, rather than assessing his or her individual medical needs. Many patients, leaders said, might fare better if they received medications such as suboxone or methadone from a doctor rather than checking into a facility and detoxing.

“The key is not to be assessed by a marketer on a website but by a clinical provider at a reputable center,” Ventrell said.

More: Mom who lost 2 sons in 1 day to opioids: Give kids a life-saving exit strategy

More: Senate advances plan to combat opioid epidemic

More: Naloxone can reverse opioid overdoses, but does the drug belong in elementary schools?

More: The opioid crisis hits home. Mine.

The burgeoning industry has attracted the attention of congressional investigators. The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations called industry leaders to a hearing in July on advertising and marketing practices. 

Longtime treatment organizations said they welcome tighter regulations for an industry flooded with newcomers seeking to profit off the addiction crisis.

Mark Mishek, president and CEO of Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, told lawmakers that the industry is underregulated and lacks consistent quality standards.

“Our industry has seen the rise of unprofessional, unethical and sometimes illegal practices such as deceptive marketing and patient brokering – not to mention excessive consumer billing and insurance fraud,” Mishek testified. “In too many cases, people who need help are instead being harmed.”

More people need addiction treatment than there are beds or outpatient facilities available. A federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration report estimated about one in 10 people who needed substance-abuse treatment in 2016 received it. 

Advocates said for-profit treatment centers provide Americans much-needed access to care. They said it’s inaccurate to say bad business practices have led to poor care at for-profit centers.

Mark Covall is CEO of the National Association of Behavioral Healthcare, an industry organization that represents about 1,000 nonprofit and for-profit members that provide inpatient, outpatient and residential treatment for mental health and substance abuse. 

Covall said association members adhere to state licensing requirements and often are scrutinized by third-party accrediting organizations such as the Joint Commission and the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities.

“For-profit or nonprofit is a tax status,” Covall said. “That doesn’t necessarily give any indication of how well or not well a provider is doing.”

‘A lot of the problems we see come from the business model’

When Shaun Reyna contacted a Murrieta, California, treatment center in 2013, he was told he would receive a medical detoxification, an attorney for the family said in a lawsuit.

Reyna, battling alcohol and benzodiazepene addiction, was desperate for help, attorney Jeremiah Lowe says.  

“I feel like I can’t hold on any longer,” Reyna said in a recorded conversation with a company employee.

“I get it, brother. I get it,” the employee responded. “We’re reaching crisis mode … you need to get into a safe environment.”

He took a train from his Atwater, California, home to A Better Tomorrow, the treatment center. He was admitted, and left unattended in his room. He slashed his arm, chest and neck with a razor and bled to death. 

Reyna’s family sued American Addiction Centers Inc., the publicly traded company that owned A Better Tomorrow. In February, a jury awarded the family $7 million in damages.

American Addiction Centers denies it is responsible for Reyna’s death. It has appealed the judgment.

The company closed the Murrieta facility in 2017 as part of a consolidation. 

Cody Arbuckle died at a Las Vegas addiction treatment facility owned by AAC last July. A coroner listed the cause as toxicity from loperamide, an ingredient in the anti-diarrhea drug Imodium A-D.

His mother has filed a lawsuit against AAC in the Clark County District Court. Kathryn Deem, Arbuckle’s mother, is represented by Jeremiah Lowe’s San Diego law firm, Gomez Trial Attorneys.

According to Deem’s attorneys, staff at the Solutions Recovery house reported that Arbuckle was under the influence of drugs. But rather than transporting him to a hospital, they say in a lawsuit, they sent him to a “non-medical residential detoxification house” in Las Vegas. 

Arbuckle was supposed to be under 24-hour monitoring, the lawyers say in the lawsuit, but he was not checked over 14 hours overnight. He was found dead the following morning. 

The lawyers say in the lawsuit that AAC kept Arbuckle “in their non-medical program for business reasons, because they did not want to let go of their paying client.”

He became the seventh patient who died shortly after entering an AAC facility, the attorneys say in the lawsuit. 

Attorneys for AAC filed a motion to dismiss that lawsuit and compel arbitration, and the court has scheduled a hearing for Oct. 30. Arbuckle, like other patients, signed an arbitration agreement when he entered detox.

Attorneys for Arbuckle’s mother say they will argue that the agreement is not enforceable, in part, because patients entering detox are vulnerable.

AAC representatives would not respond to USA TODAY’s questions about the Arbuckle and Reyna cases, citing federal patient confidentiality laws.

‘We are using this data to improve our services’

Company officials said AAC facilities are accredited by the Joint Commission or the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities and meet or exceed the licensing requirements of the states in which they’re located.

Tom Doub, AAC’s chief clinical officer and chief compliance officer, said in a statement that AAC seeks “to set a standard in reporting quality outcomes.”

The company paid for a study by Centerstone Research Institute that surveyed former AAC patients. Of those former patients, 63 percent maintained abstinence one year after treatment, a higher mark than national benchmarks, according to Doub.

“As we prepare for the next phase of research, we are using this data to improve our services as part of our ongoing commitment to clinical excellence,” Doub said. 

Lowe says the Reyna and Arbuckle cases represent a larger phenomenon in the industry. 

“A lot of the problems we see come from the business model that allows for big profiteers to come in and make a whole bunch of money off the most vulnerable population,” he said.

Six minutes, 25 seconds

Video footage taken in Cross’ small detox room during the early morning hours of Oct. 10, 2017, shows her struggling.

She attempted to open a restroom door but seemed confused. Legs wobbling, she stumbled away from her bed and fell to her knees. She grabbed a shelf and held on for several seconds. Her right arm dangled to her side. She collapsed to the floor and lay still.

Six minutes and 25 seconds passed before a Serenity employee entered the room. The technician took her pulse – there was none, medical and sheriff’s reports showed – rolled her on her back and began chest compressions.

Paramedics arrived minutes later and took her to Banner Del E. Webb Hospital, blocks away on the same street.

Efforts to revive her were unsuccessful. She was pronounced dead at the hospital.

Joshua Michael Kennedy, the technician who discovered Cross’ body, was interviewed by sheriff’s investigators that morning. Serenity’s attorneys listened to the interview over the phone.

Kennedy said Cross asked to be sent to the hospital because she didn’t think she was getting the medication she needed. She worried she might have contracted strep throat from her daughter, investigators wrote.

Kennedy took her vital signs at 3 a.m. He noted an elevated pulse rate and less-than-ideal blood pressure, investigators wrote. He reported this to nurses at Serenity, but he “felt as if their response to him was as if he were being a nuisance,” the investigators said.

Wrona, the family’s attorney, argued that Serenity’s nurses failed to recognize the seriousness of Cross’ condition soon enough. He said the problem was compounded by a policy that limits communication from family members during detox.

“There is a difference between someone who is going through a garden-variety detox and one who has a life-threatening medical condition,” Wrona told USA TODAY. “If they had spoken to her family, they would have been able to advocate for her in some way.”

Haj, the Serenity spokesman, said privacy laws prohibit the center from discussing the details of Cross’ case.

“Our policy is that medical personnel constantly monitor a patient’s condition … including regular in-person monitoring of vital signs and in-person room checks,” he said.

Staff members “do not rely solely on the video feed,” he said.

“Patients undergoing withdrawal frequently request transfers to hospitals in the hopes of relieving anxiety or in the hopes of obtaining drugs,” Haj said. “If all requests are satisfied, a patient’s substance use disorder treatment can be severely hampered. Patients are monitored to see if medical intervention is required.”

Haj said Serenity has treated 2,472 patients since opening in May 2016; Cross is the only patient who died in the center’s history.

The state of Arizona cited Serenity Care Center for a deficiency in how it screened a patient arriving at detoxification on the night of Oct. 7.

The Arizona Department of Health Services, the state agency that licenses and regulates detox facilities, did not name the patient, but the time of intake and description matched details of Cross’ arrival and condition.

According to Arizona’s notice of deficiency, Serenity’s policies require a registered nurse to assess a new patient’s medical condition and history. Two Serenity employees said that a licensed practical nurse, not a registered nurse, conducted the screen and assessment, according to state health department records.

Serenity was not fined by the state. The company submitted a plan of correction in May that detailed how the facility would address intake screening. 

‘He had been clean’

Fernin Eaton says his son had struggled with addiction on and off since he was a teenager. But he was hopeful when Nathan entered the Center Point residential treatment home in San Rafael, California, in 2013.

“He had been clean,” Eaton said. “He had not been using. It was a huge success.”

While at the home, Nathan Eaton complained of a toothache. He left the home to go to a dentist’s appointment, but he didn’t make it there. He met his girlfriend instead and took two methadone pills, according to Center Point staff reports obtained by the family. He didn’t feel better, so he took three more. 

Fellow residents at Center Point recognized that he was high and urged him to notify the residential facility’s managers.

Rather than sending him to a drug-detoxification center or a hospital, staff chose to keep him at Center Point. His body was discovered in his room the next morning, according to the Center Point staff reports .

Fernin Eaton received a call from a Center Point representative informing him that his son had died from a drug overdose.

Eaton thought his son had merely relapsed.

Three years later, he learned the details from the father of the Center Point resident who discovered Nathan Eaton’s body.

‘Large number of deaths at drug rehab facilities’

Paul Schraps, who runs the nonprofit Parent Teen Bridges to help families coping with addiction, requested information about Nathan Eaton’s death, the autopsy and the facility’s licensing. He shared it with Fernin Eaton.

Eaton filed a wrongful death lawsuit. Center Point Inc. paid $245,000 to settle the case. It did not admit liability.

Schraps has since probed several other deaths at addiction-treatment centers. He’s convinced it’s a national problem. 

Schraps said overloaded medical examiners don’t have the resources to adequately investigate deaths at addiction treatment centers, and state regulators often fail to conduct comprehensive inspections and investigations.

“We all know there’s an opioid epidemic,” Schraps said. “What most people don’t know, there are a large number of deaths at drug rehab facilities.”

Ventrell, of the addiction treatment industry group, says treating a person with substance abuse disorder is fraught with risk. 

“This disease is so deadly,” Ventrell said. “There are many good centers that follow good protocols and have had patients die in their care.”

Tips for choosing an addiction treatment center

• Avoid centers that use high-pressure sales tactics.

• Be careful when searching online. Do not decide solely from online directories, generic websites or offers of free treatment placement through a toll-free number. 

• Avoid centers that offer incentives such as free airfare.

• Be wary of facilities that don’t contract with major insurance companies. They may bill excessively as out-of-network providers.

• Ask a doctor or other medical provider for a recommendation.

Source: National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers, USA TODAY research


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'Anti-meme law' could see Mexicans jailed for posting…

Strict new cyberbullying laws could lead to internet users in Mexico being jailed for posting insulting memes, it has been claimed.

Veracruz state voted in favour of reforms that will criminalise the dissemination of “harmful or malicious” images, video and messages deemed to damage a person’s “reputation or self-esteem”.

Offenders can be jailed up for to two years.

Jose Kirsch Sanchez, the left-wing congressman who proposed the reforms, said they were intended to protect vulnerable internet users from abuse. 

But critics have said the legislation is broad, with local media dubbing it “anti-meme law”.

Some suggested local politicians were seeking to prevent themselves from being ridiculed online.

The eastern state’s outgoing governor, Miguel Angel Yunes, said he planned to veto the law, which he described as “unconstitutional for violating the freedom of expression of the people of Veracruz”.

His successor, governor-elect Cuitlahuac Garcia, also criticised the legislation and said he would ask Veracruz congress to review it when he enters office later this year.

“I find the writing excessive and ambiguous,” he said.

In 2015, a Mexican parliamentarian tried to introduce a law which banned people from making memes that inflicted “unjustified damage to human dignity”.

Legislation proposed by Selma Guadalupe Gomez, congresswoman for Sonora, would have seen offenders punished $1,600,

But the plan backfired in predictable fashion, after she was herself mocked online in a variety of memes. The proposal was later dropped.

Last month Sweden’s advertising watchdog ruled the famous “distracted boyfriend” meme was sexist. 

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If all goes as planned, the pair of films will kick off October in high style — especially if Lady Gaga fans turn out in force.

Sony’s comic book movie Venom and director Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born — starring Cooper opposite Lady Gaga in her acting debut — could make for one of the most interesting starts to the October box-office history this weekend.

Venom is expected to top the chart with a domestic debut in the $57 million to $65 million range, an October record. One tracking service even suggests $70 million, while Sony remain more conservative in projecting $55 million. Warner Bros.’ A Star Is Born could cross $30 million, a stellar start for an adult-skewing movie. And who knows how high the musical-infused romantic drama climbs if Lady Gaga fans turn out in force.

To date, the record-holder for biggest October opening is Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity, which rocketed to $55.7 million in 2013, not adjusted for inflation. Second up is The Martian (2015) with $54.3 million. In other words, October has never been viewed as a corridor for mega-openings; rather, films — and especially adult-skewing titles — can enjoy a long run.

Venom is a defining moment for Sony as it tries to expand its stable of superhero films beyond just Spider-Man and exploit other Marvel characters it licenses. The $100 million movie, starring Tom Hardy as the titular antihero, is the first comic book movie since Ant-Man and the Wasp in early July, while there isn’t another superhero film until Aquaman in December.

Chinese company Tencent recently took a major stake in Venom, which opens in 59 markets timed to its U.S. launch for a possible foreign debut of $85 million-plus. It has yet to land a China release date.

The story follows investigative journalist Eddie Brock as he comes across an villainous alien creature, or symbiote, who ends up using his body as a host. Directed by Ruben Fleischer, Venom co-stars Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Scott Haze and Reid Scott.

Marking Cooper’s directorial debut, A Star Is Born is the fourth adaptation of the classic tale of a tortured, hard-drinking celebrity — in this case, a country-western star — who falls in love with a woman on the brink of fame. The $40 million movie has generated significant buzz, and critical praise, since making the rounds on the fall festival circuit in hopes of being an awards contender. Its current Rotten Tomatoes score is 95 percent.

Comps are tough. In 2014, the adult-skewing thriller Gone Girl, starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, opened to $37.5 million over the Oct. 3-5 weekend on its way to grossing $167.8 million domestically.

Overseas, A Star Is Born will roll out more slowly. It bows in a handful of major markets this week, including France, the U.K. and Germany.

A Star Is Born is hardly the other new film hoping to entice awards voters. Another round of fall festival titles open in select runs at the specialty box office, including Fox 2000’s police shooting drama The Hate U Give, starring Amandla Stenberg as a young girl who witnesses a police shooting in George Tillman Jr.’s critically acclaimed adaptation of Angie Thomas’ best-seller; and Zeitgeist’s Studio 54, filmmaker Matt Tyrnauer’s doc about the iconic New York City nightclub Studio 54, which was synonymous with the rise and fall of disco. Both films currently boast a stellar 97 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes.

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NKorea said to have stolen fortune in online bank heists…

WASHINGTON (AP) — North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests have stopped, but its hacking operations to gather intelligence and raise funds for the sanction-strapped government in Pyongyang may be gathering steam.

U.S. security firm FireEye raised the alarm Wednesday over a North Korean group that it says has stolen hundreds of millions of dollars by infiltrating the computer systems of banks around the world since 2014 through highly sophisticated and destructive attacks that have spanned at least 11 countries. It says the group is still operating and poses “an active global threat.”

It is part of a wider pattern of malicious state-backed cyber activity that has led the Trump administration to identify North Korea — along with Russia, Iran and China — as one of the main online threats facing the United States. Last month, the Justice Department charged a North Korean hacker said to have conspired in devastating cyberattacks, including an $81 million heist of Bangladesh’s central bank and the WannaCry virus that crippled parts of Britain’s National Health Service.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security warned of the use of malware by Hidden Cobra, the U.S. government’s byword for North Korea hackers, in fraudulent ATM cash withdrawals from banks in Asia and Africa. It said that Hidden Cobra was behind the theft of tens of millions of dollars from teller machines in the past two years. In one incident this year, cash had been simultaneously withdrawn from ATMs in 23 different countries, it said.

North Korea, which prohibits access to the world wide web for virtually all its people, has previously denied involvement in cyberattacks, and attribution for such attacks is rarely made with absolute certainty. It is typically based on technical indicators such as the Internet Protocol addresses that identify computers and characteristics of the coding used in malware, which is the software a hacker may use to damage or disable computers.

But other cybersecurity experts tell The Associated Press that they also see continued signs that North Korea’s authoritarian government, which has a long track record of criminality to raise cash, is conducting malign activity online. That activity includes targeting of financial institutions and crypto-currency-related organizations, as well as spying on its adversaries, despite the easing of tensions between Pyongyang and Washington.

“The reality is they are starved for cash and are continuing to try and generate revenue, at least until sanctions are diminished,” said Adam Meyers, vice president of intelligence at CrowdStrike. “At the same time, they won’t abate in intelligence collection operations, as they continue to negotiate and test the international community’s resolve and test what the boundaries are.”

CrowdStrike says it has detected continuing North Korean cyber intrusions in the past two months, including the use of a known malware against a potentially broad set of targets in South Korea, and a new variant of malware against users of mobile devices that use a Linux-based operating system.

This activity has been taking place against the backdrop of a dramatic diplomatic shift as Kim Jong Un has opened up to the world. He has held summits with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and with President Donald Trump, who hopes to persuade Kim to relinquish the nuclear weapons that pose a potential threat to the U.S. homeland. Tensions on the divided Korean Peninsula have dropped and fears of war with the U.S. have ebbed. Trump this weekend will dispatch his top diplomat, Mike Pompeo, to Pyongyang for the fourth time this year to make progress on denuclearization.

But North Korea has yet to take concrete steps to give up its nuclear arsenal, so there’s been no let-up in sanctions that have been imposed to deprive it of fuel and revenue for its weapons programs, and to block it from bulk cash transfers and accessing to the international banking system.

FireEye says APT38, the name it gives to the hacking group dedicated to bank theft, has emerged and stepped up its operations since February 2014 as the economic vise on North Korea has tightened in response to its nuclear and missile tests. Initial operations targeted financial institutions in Southeast Asia, where North Korea had experience in money laundering, but then expanded into other regions such as Latin America and Africa, and then extended to Europe and North America.

In all, FireEye says APT38 has attempted to steal $1.1 billion, and based on the data it can confirm, has gotten away with hundreds of millions in dollars. It has used malware to insert fraudulent transactions in the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication or SWIFT system that is used to transfer money between banks. Its biggest heist to date was $81 million stolen from the central bank of Bangladesh in February 2016. The funds were wired to bank accounts established with fake identities in the Philippines. After the funds were withdrawn they were suspected to have been laundered in casinos.

The Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington think tank, said in a report Wednesday that North Korea’s cyber capabilities provide an alternative means for challenging its adversaries. While Kim’s hereditary regime appears to prioritize currency generation, attacks using the SWIFT system raise concerns that North Korean hackers “may become more proficient at manipulating the data and systems that undergird the global financial system,” it says.

Sandra Joyce, FireEye’s head of global intelligence, said that while APT38 is a criminal operation, it leverages the skills and technology of a state-backed espionage campaign, allowing it to infiltrate multiple banks at once and figure how to extract funds. On average, it dwells in a bank’s computer network for 155 days to learn about its systems before it tries to steal anything. And when it finally pounces, it uses aggressive malware to wreak havoc and cover its tracks.

“We see this as a consistent effort, before, during and after any diplomatic efforts by the United States and the international community,” said Joyce, describing North Korea as being “undeterred” and urging the U.S. government to provide more specific threat information to financial institutions about APT38’s modus operandi. APT stands for Advanced Persistent Threat.

The Silicon Valley-based company says it is aware of continuing, suspected APT38 operations against other banks. The most recent attack it is publicly attributing to APT38 was against of Chile’s biggest commercial banks, Banco de Chile, in May this year. The bank has said a hacking operation robbed it of $10 million.

FireEye, which is staffed with a roster of former military and law-enforcement cyberexperts, conducted malware analysis for a criminal indictment by the Justice Department last month against Park Jin Hyok, the first time a hacker said to be from North Korea has faced U.S. criminal charges. He’s accused of conspiring in a number of devastating cyberattacks: the Bangladesh heist and other attempts to steal more than $1 billion from financial institutions around the world; the 2014 breach of Sony Pictures Entertainment; and the WannaCry ransomware virus that in 2017 infected computers in 150 countries.

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