Ten states, however, have adopted their own laws that specify which patients, based on their income and family size, qualify for free or discounted care. Among them is Washington, where Providence is based. All hospitals in the state must provide free care for anyone who makes under 300 percent of the federal poverty level. For a family of four, that threshold is $83,250 a year.

In February, Bob Ferguson, the state’s attorney general, accused Providence of violating state law, in part by using debt collectors to pursue more than 55,000 patient accounts. The suit alleged that Providence wrongly claimed those patients owed a total of more than $73 million.

Providence, which is fighting the lawsuit, has said it will stop using debt collectors to pursue money from low-income patients who should qualify for free care in Washington.

But The Times found that the problems extend beyond Washington. In interviews, patients in California and Oregon who qualified for free care said they had been charged thousands of dollars and then harassed by collection agents. Many saw their credit scores ruined. Others had to cut back on groceries to pay what Providence claimed they owed. In both states, nonprofit hospitals are required by law to provide low-income patients with free or discounted care.

“I felt a little betrayed,” said Bev Kolpin, 57, who had worked as a sonogram technician at a Providence hospital in Oregon. Then she went on unpaid leave to have surgery to remove a cyst. The hospital billed her $8,000 even though she was eligible for discounted care, she said. “I had worked for them and given them so much, and they didn’t give me anything.” (The hospital forgave her debt only after a lawyer contacted Providence on Ms. Kolpin’s behalf.)

was a single room with four beds. The hospital charged patients $1 a day, not including extras like whiskey.

Patients rarely paid in cash, sometimes offering chickens, ducks and blankets in exchange for care.

At the time, hospitals in the United States were set up to do what Providence did — provide inexpensive care to the poor. Wealthier people usually hired doctors to treat them at home.

wrote to the Senate in 2005.

Some hospital executives have embraced the comparison to for-profit companies. Dr. Rod Hochman, Providence’s chief executive, told an industry publication in 2021 that “‘nonprofit health care’ is a misnomer.”

“It is tax-exempt health care,” he said. “It still makes profits.”

Those profits, he added, support the hospital’s mission. “Every dollar we make is going to go right back into Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, Alaska and Montana.”

Since Dr. Hochman took over in 2013, Providence has become a financial powerhouse. Last year, it earned $1.2 billion in profits through investments. (So far this year, Providence has lost money.)

Providence also owes some of its wealth to its nonprofit status. In 2019, the latest year available, Providence received roughly $1.2 billion in federal, state and local tax breaks, according to the Lown Institute, a think tank that studies health care.

a speech by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures.”

Ms. Tizon, the spokeswoman for Providence, said the intent of Rev-Up was “not to target or pressure those in financial distress.” Instead, she said, “it aimed to provide patients with greater pricing transparency.”

“We recognize the tone of the training materials developed by McKinsey was not consistent with our values,” she said, adding that Providence modified the materials “to ensure we are communicating with each patient with compassion and respect.”

But employees who were responsible for collecting money from patients said the aggressive tactics went beyond the scripts provided by McKinsey. In some Providence collection departments, wall-mounted charts shaped like oversize thermometers tracked employees’ progress toward hitting their monthly collection goals, the current and former Providence employees said.

On Halloween at one of Providence’s hospitals, an employee dressed up as a wrestler named Rev-Up Ricky, according to the Washington lawsuit. Another costume featured a giant cardboard dollar sign with “How” printed on top of it, referring to the way the staff was supposed to ask patients how, not whether, they would pay. Ms. Tizon said such costumes were “not the culture we strive for.”

financial assistance policy, his low income qualified him for free care.

In early 2021, Mr. Aguirre said, he received a bill from Providence for $4,394.45. He told Providence that he could not afford to pay.

Providence sent his account to Harris & Harris, a debt collection company. Mr. Aguirre said that Harris & Harris employees had called him repeatedly for weeks and that the ordeal made him wary of going to Providence again.

“I try my best not to go to their emergency room even though my daughters have gotten sick, and I got sick,” Mr. Aguirre said, noting that one of his daughters needed a biopsy and that he had trouble breathing when he had Covid. “I have this big fear in me.”

That is the outcome that hospitals like Providence may be hoping for, said Dean A. Zerbe, who investigated nonprofit hospitals when he worked for the Senate Finance Committee under Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa.

“They just want to make sure that they never come back to that hospital and they tell all their friends never to go back to that hospital,” Mr. Zerbe said.

The Everett Daily Herald, Providence forgave her bill and refunded the payments she had made.

In June, she got another letter from Providence. This one asked her to donate money to the hospital: “No gift is too small to make a meaningful impact.”

In 2019, Vanessa Weller, a single mother who is a manager at a Wendy’s restaurant in Anchorage, went to Providence Alaska Medical Center, the state’s largest hospital.

She was 24 weeks pregnant and experiencing severe abdominal pains. “Let this just be cramps,” she recalled telling herself.

Ms. Weller was in labor. She gave birth via cesarean section to a boy who weighed barely a pound. She named him Isaiah. As she was lying in bed, pain radiating across her abdomen, she said, a hospital employee asked how she would like to pay. She replied that she had applied for Medicaid, which she hoped would cover the bill.

After five days in the hospital, Isaiah died.

Then Ms. Weller got caught up in Providence’s new, revenue-boosting policies.

The phone calls began about a month after she left the hospital. Ms. Weller remembers panicking when Providence employees told her what she owed: $125,000, or about four times her annual salary.

She said she had repeatedly told Providence that she was already stretched thin as a single mother with a toddler. Providence’s representatives asked if she could pay half the amount. On later calls, she said, she was offered a payment plan.

“It was like they were following some script,” she said. “Like robots.”

Later that year, a Providence executive questioned why Ms. Weller had a balance, given her low income, according to emails disclosed in Washington’s litigation with Providence. A colleague replied that her debts previously would have been forgiven but that Providence’s new policy meant that “balances after Medicaid are being excluded from presumptive charity process.”

Ms. Weller said she had to change her phone number to make the calls stop. Her credit score plummeted from a decent 650 to a lousy 400. She has not paid any of her bill.

Susan C. Beachy and Beena Raghavendran contributed research.

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Amended Autopsy: Black Man Died Due To Sedative, Restraint

Despite the finding, the death of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old massage therapist, was still listed as undetermined, not a homicide.

A Black man died after a police encounter in a Denver suburb in 2019 because he was injected with a powerful sedative after being forcibly restrained, according to an amended autopsy report publicly released Friday.

Despite the finding, the death of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old massage therapist, was still listed as undetermined, not a homicide, the report shows. McClain was put in a neck hold and injected with ketamine after being stopped by police in Aurora for “being suspicious.” He was unarmed.

The original autopsy report that was written soon after his death in August 2019 did not reach a conclusion about how he died or what type of death is was, such as if it was natural, accidental or a homicide. That was a major reason why prosecutors initially decided not to pursue charges.

But a state grand jury last year indicted three officers and two paramedics on manslaughter and reckless homicide charges in McClain’s death after the case drew renewed attention following the killing of George Floyd in 2020. It became a rallying cry during the national reckoning over racism and police brutality.

The five accused have not yet entered pleas and their lawyers have not commented publicly on the charges.

In the updated report, completed in July 2021, Dr. Stephen Cina, a pathologist, concluded that the ketamine dosage given to McClain, which was higher than recommended for someone his size, “was too much for this individual and it resulted in an overdose, even though his blood ketamine level was consistent with a ‘therapeutic’ blood concentration.”

He said he could not rule out that changes in McClain’s blood chemistry, like an increase in lactic acid, due to his exertion while being restrained by police contributed to his death but concluded there was no evidence that injuries inflicted by police caused his death.

“I believe that Mr. McClain would most likely be alive but for the administration of ketamine,” said Cina, who noted that body camera footage shows McClain becoming “extremely sedated” within a few minutes of being given the drug.

Cina acknowledged that other reasonable pathologists with different experience and training may have labeled such a death, while in police custody, as a homicide or accident, but that he believes the appropriate classification is undetermined.

Qusair Mohamedbhai, attorney for McClain’s mother, Sheneen McClain, declined a request for comment.

Dr. Carl Wigren, a forensic pathologist in Washington state, questioned the report’s focus on ketamine, saying all the available evidence — including a highly critical independent review of McClain’s death commissioned by Aurora last year — point to McClain dying as a result of compressional asphyxia, a type of suffocation, from officers putting pressure on his body while restraining him. He was struck by one passage in the city’s review citing the ambulance company’s report that its crew found McClain lying on the ground on his stomach, his arms handcuffed behind his back, his torso and legs held down, with at least three officers on top of him.

That scene was not captured on body camera footage, the report said, but much of what happened between police was not because the officers’ cameras came off soon after McClain was approached. The cameras did continue to record where they fell and captured people talking.

Just because McClain, who said he couldn’t breathe, could be heard making some statements on the footage, does not mean he was able to fully breathe, Wigren said. Ketamine, which slows breathing, could have just exacerbated McClain’s condition, but Wigren does not think it caused his death.

However, another pathologist, Dr. Deborah G. Johnson of Colorado, said McClain’s quick reaction to ketamine suggests that it was a cause of McClain’s death, but she said its use cannot be separated from the impact that the police restraint may have had. McClain may have had trouble breathing because of the restraint and having less oxygen in your system would make the sedative take effect more quickly, she said.

Both thought the death could have been labeled as a homicide — a death caused by the actions of other people — which they pointed out is a separate judgment from deciding whether someone should be prosecuted with a crime for causing it.

McClain got an overdose of ketamine, Johnson said, noting that the paramedics were working at night when it is hard to judge someone’s weight.

“Was that a mistake to send someone to prison for? I don’t think so,” she said.

The updated autopsy was released Friday under a court order in a lawsuit brought by Colorado Public Radio, joined by other media organizations including The Associated Press. Colorado Public Radio sued the coroner to release the report after learning it had been updated, arguing that it should be made available under the state’s public records law.

Coroner Monica Broncucia-Jordan said she could not release it because it contained confidential grand jury information and that releasing it would violate the oath she made not to share it when she obtained it last year.

But Adams County District Judge Kyle Seedorf ordered the coroner to release the updated report by Friday, and a Denver judge who oversees state grand jury proceedings, Christopher Baumann, ruled Thursday that grand jury information did not have be redacted from the updated report.

Cina noted that the report was updated based on extensive body camera footage, witness statements and records that he did not have at the time of the original autopsy report, which were not made available to the coroner’s office at all or in their entirety before. Last year, Cina and Broncucia-Jordan received some material that was made available to the grand jury last year, according to court documents, but they did not say what exactly that material was.

McClain’s death fueled renewed scrutiny about the use of the ketamine and led Colorado’s health department to issue a new rule limiting when emergency workers can use it.

Last year, the city of Aurora agreed to pay $15 million to settle a lawsuit brought by McClain’s parents. The lawsuit alleged the force officers used against McClain and his struggle to survive it dramatically increased the amount of lactic acid in his system, leading to his death, possibly along with the large dose of ketamine he was given.

The outside investigation commissioned by the city faulted the police probe into McClain’s arrest for not pressing for answers about how officers treated him. It found there was no evidence justifying officers’ decision to stop McClain, who had been reported as suspicious because he was wearing a ski mask as he walked down the street waving his hands. He was not accused of breaking any law.

Police reform activist Candice Bailey had mixed emotions about seeing the amended autopsy.

“I do believe that it does get us a step closer to anything that is a semblance of justice,” said Bailey, an activist in the city of Aurora who has led demonstrations over the death of McClain.

But Bailey added that she is “extremely saddened that there is still a controversy around whether or not the EMTs and officers should be held responsible for what they did, and as to whether or not this was actually murder.”

Additional reporting by the Associated Press.

Source: newsy.com

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States Begin Receiving Money From $26B Opioid Settlement

Families hope the money can help combat an epidemic some say is just getting worse, as fentanyl claims lives and targets younger generations.

Opioids rocked households and seized people of all walks of life. 

Kim Humphrey, a commander with the Phoenix Police Department at the time, thought he had it all.

“A marriage, a home, a wonderful life raising two sons,” he said. “It was really good.”

But a call about his 15-year-old son ignited distress that would span nearly a decade:

“‘My daughter goes to school with your son and she’s very concerned that he’s going to overdose,'” he continued. 

A drug test confirmed their fear — it came back positive for opioids. The struggle spiraled and extended its grip to their second son.

“As a parent, we’re looking at this and saying, ‘We must be the worst parents on the planet,'” Humphrey said.  

It took Humphrey and his wife years to find a nonprofit support group called Parents of Addicted Loved Ones, also known as PAL, which he now leads.

“That was the first time that we were sitting in a room full of people who understood,” Humphrey continued.

The opioid crisis contributed to more than 500,000 deaths in the U.S. in two decades. At the epicenter — three major pharmaceutical distributors and manufacturer Johnson & Johnson. A yearslong multistate lawsuit led to a historic $26 billion  settlement over the next 18 years.  

Now, some of that money is starting to come in. This year, by the end of August, 27 of nearly 50 states that filed lawsuits had received a total of $310 million. Of that, Arizona received $16 million of their more than $540 million settlement — money Humphrey hopes will trickle down to PAL, which is in dire need of financial assistance following the pandemic.

“What we do is this peer-to-peer support that has plenty of research behind it that it works. And it did for us,” Humphrey said.

Each state and county has a say in how the money is spent. In Wisconsin, a spending dispute temporarily blocked funds from distribution. 

Sara Whaley, a research associate at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, says the school put together five planning principles to help guide states on spending.

“This is the opportunity to kind of look at what you’re doing and where you’re investing money, and if there are any gaps,” she said. “One, is to spend the money to save lives. Two, is to use evidence to guide spending. Three, invest in youth prevention. Four, focus on racial equity. And five, create a fair and transparent process.”

She adds that the settlement includes basic payout guidelines.

“They are things like broadening access to naloxone or increasing the use of medications to treat opioid use disorder, enriching prevention strategies, improving treatment in jail,” Whaley said.

It’s treatment desperately needed as fentanyl fuels deaths and overdoses, with a holistic and smart spending approach.

Humphrey hopes families can find the peace his has now reached. Both his sons are now clean.

Source: newsy.com

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McCarthy Unveils House GOP’s Midterm Agenda In Pennsylvania

House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy on Friday directly confronted President Joe Biden and the party in power, choosing battleground Pennsylvania to unveil a midterm election agenda with sweeping Trump-like promises despite the House GOP’s sometimes spotty record of delivering and governing in Congress.

McCarthy, who is poised to seize the speaker’s gavel if Republicans win control of the House in the fall, hopes to replicate the strategy former Speaker Newt Gingrich used to spark voter enthusiasm and sweep House control in a 1994 landslide.

The House GOP’s “Commitment to America” gives a nod to that earlier era but updates it for Trump, with economic, border security and social policies to rouse the former president’s deep well of supporters in often-forgotten regions like this rusty landscape outside Pittsburgh.

“What we’re going to roll out today is a ‘Commitment to America’ in Washington — not Washington, D.C., but Washington County, Pennsylvania,” McCarthy said at a manufacturing facility. “Because it’s about you, it’s not about us.”

On Friday, the House Republican leader stood with a cross-section of other lawmakers to roll out the GOP agenda, offering a portrait of party unity despite the uneasy coalition that makes up the House minority — and the Republican Party itself. 

The GOP has shifted from its focus on small government, low taxes and individual freedoms to a more populist, nationalist and, at times, far-right party, essentially still led by Trump, who remains popular despite the deepening state and federal investigations against him.

Propelled by Trump’s “Make America Great Again” voters, the Republicans need to pick up just a few seats to win back control of the narrowly-split House, and replace Speaker Nancy Pelosi. But even so, McCarthy’s ability to lead the House is far from guaranteed.

While Republicans and Trump did pass tax cuts into law, the GOP’s last big campaign promise, repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, collapsed in failure. A long line of Republican speakers, including Gingrich, John Boehner and Paul Ryan, have been forced from office or chose early retirement, often ground down by party infighting.

“House Republicans are really good at running people out of town,” said Matt Schlapp, chairman of the Conservative Political Action Coalition, or CPAC.

McCarthy, first elected to office in 2006, is among the remaining political survivors of those House Republican battles, and he’s a new style of leader who has shown more ability to communicate than to legislate.

A key architect of the Republican “tea party” takeover in 2010, the California Republican personally recruited the newcomers to Congress — many who had never served in public office and are long gone. McCarthy was an early Trump endorser, and has remained close to the former president, relying on his high-profile endorsements to propel GOP candidates for Congress. He abandoned an earlier bid to become speaker when support from his colleagues drifted.

The “Commitment to America” reflects the strength of McCarthy’s abilities, but also his weaknesses. He spent more than a year pulling together the House GOP’s often warring factions — from the far-right MAGA to what’s left of the more centrist ranks — to produce a mostly agreed upon agenda.

But the one-page “commitment” preamble is succinct, essentially a pocket card, though it is expected to be filled in with the kind of detail that is needed to make laws.

“They talk about a lot of problems,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. “They don’t have a lot of solutions.”

In traveling to battleground Pennsylvania, a state where President Biden holds emotional ties from his early childhood, McCarthy intends to counter the president’s fiery Labor Day weekend speech, in which he warned of rising GOP extremism after the Jan 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, with a more upbeat message.

The event is billed as more of a conversation with the GOP leader and lawmakers rather than a stirring address in a uniquely contested state.

Along with as many as five House seats Republicans believe they can pick up in Pennsylvania in November, the state has one of the most watched Senate races, between Democrat John Fetterman and Trump-backed Mehmet Oz, that will help determine control of Congress. Top of the ticket is the seismic governor’s matchup between the GOP’s Doug Mastriano, who was seen outside the Capitol on Jan. 6, and Democrat Josh Shapiro.

“If you are a hardline, populist, and you really want anger, Kevin’s a little frustrating because he’s not going to be angry enough for you,” Gingrich said. “On the other hand, if what you want is to have your values implemented and passed in the legislation, he is a really good leader and organizer.”

Gingrich has been working with McCarthy and his team to craft the style and substance of the proposal. The former speaker, who has been asked by the Jan. 6 committee investigating the Capitol attack for an interview, was on hand Thursday in Washington, joining McCarthy as he unveiled the plans privately to House Republicans, who have been mixed on the approach.

Mostly, the GOP pocket card hits broad strokes — energy independence, security and an end to liberal social policies, particularly in schooling.

Conservative Republicans complain privately that McCarthy isn’t leaning hard enough into their priorities, as he tries to appeal to a broader swath of voters and hold the party together.

Many are eager to launch investigations into the Biden administration and the president’s family, with some calling for impeachment. Legislatively, some House Republicans want to fulfill the party’s commitment to banning abortion, supporting Sen. Lindsey Graham’s bill prohibiting the procedure after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

In a sign of the pressures ahead for McCarthy, dozens of House GOP lawmakers signed on to plans from Trump-aligned Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene to prevent many gender reassignment procedures for minors, celebrating the Georgian as courageous for taking such a hardline approach.

She and others were invited to join Friday’s event, as McCarthy seeks their backing.

Republican Rep. Chip Roy of Texas, a member of the conservative Freedom Caucus, has advocated for withholding federal funds as leverage for policy priorities, the tactic that engineered past government shutdowns.

“Putting out like, you know, principles about, ‘Well, we’ll secure the border.’ I mean, okay, but what are we gonna do about it?” Roy said. “The end of the day, I want specific actionable items that’s going to show that we’re going to fight for the American people.”

It’s notable that McCarthy alone has proposed a plan if Republicans win control of the House chamber. In the Senate, Republican leader Mitch McConnell has declined to put forward an agenda, preferring to simply run against President Biden and Democrats in the midterm election.

“Kevin’s done a very good job of being in position to become the speaker. And then the question is, what do you do with that? Schlapp said. “This helps as a road map.”

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Source: newsy.com

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U.S. Aircraft Carrier Arrives In South Korea For Joint Military Drills

By Associated Press
September 23, 2022

The South Korean navy said the training is meant to boost the allies’ military readiness in response to North Korean nuclear and missile tests.

The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan arrived in the South Korean port of Busan on Friday ahead of the two countries’ joint military exercise that aims to show their strength against growing North Korean threats.

The joint drills will be the first involving a U.S. aircraft carrier in the region since 2017, when the U.S. sent three aircraft carriers including the Reagan for naval drills with South Korea in response to North Korean nuclear and missile tests.

The allies this year have revived their large-scale military drills that were downsized or shelved in previous years to support diplomacy with Pyongyang or because of COVID-19, responding to North Korea’s resumption of major weapons testing and increasing threats of nuclear conflicts with Seoul and Washington.

The South Korean navy said the training is meant to boost the allies’ military readiness and show “the firm resolve by the Korea-U.S. alliance for the sake of peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.”

“The commitment of the U.S. carrier strike group operating in and around the peninsula illustrates our commitment to stand together and our desire and focus ensuring that we are interoperable and integrated to face any challenge or threat whenever we are required,” Rear Adm. Michael Donnelly, commander of the carrier strike group, said in a news conference.

The North Korean threat is also expected to be a key agenda when U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris visits South Korea next week after attending the state funeral in Tokyo of slain former Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo.

The Reagan’s arrival in South Korea comes after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un told Pyongyang’s rubber-stamp parliament this month he would never abandon his nuclear weapons and missiles he needs to counter what he perceives as U.S. hostility.

North Korea also passed a new law that enshrined its status as a nuclear power and authorized the preemptive use of nuclear weapons over a broad range of scenarios where the country or its leadership comes under threat.

Sung Kim, the Biden administration’s special representative for North Korea, met with South Korean counterpart Kim Gunn on Thursday in Seoul, where they expressed “serious concern” over the North’s escalating nuclear doctrine spelled out in the new law, South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said.

The diplomats reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to defend South Korea in the event of a nuclear war with the full range of its military capabilities, including nuclear. The allies also maintained their months-old assessment that North Korea is gearing up to conduct its first nuclear test since 2017 and discussed “stern” countermeasures to such an action, the ministry said.

North Korea has dialed up weapons testing to a record pace in 2022, launching more than 30 ballistic weapons including its intercontinental ballistic missiles since 2017, as it exploits a divide in the U.N. Security Council deepened over Russia’s war on Ukraine.

While North Korea’s ICBMs garner much of U.S. attention because they pose a potential threat to the American homeland, the North has also been expanding its arsenal of nuclear-capable, shorter-range missiles designed to evade missile defenses in South Korea.

North Korea’s expanding arsenal and threats of preemptive nuclear attacks have triggered concerns in South Korea over the credibility of the U.S. “nuclear umbrella” protecting its allies in the event of war.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, a conservative who took office in May, has vowed to enhance South Korea’s conventional missile capabilities and work with the Biden administration to develop more effective strategies to deter North Korean attacks.

Senior U.S. and South Korean officials met in Washington this month for discussions on the allies’ deterrence strategies and issued a statement reaffirming that “any (North Korean) nuclear attack would be met with an overwhelming and decisive response.” The statement said the United States reiterated “its ironclad and unwavering commitment to draw on the full range of its military capabilities, including nuclear,” to provide extended deterrence to South Korea.

North Korea has so far rejected U.S. and South Korean calls to return to nuclear diplomacy, which have been stalled since 2019 over disagreements in exchanging the release of U.S.-led sanctions against the North and the North’s disarmament steps.

North Korea has harshly criticized Yoon for continuing military exercises with the U.S. and also for letting South Korean civilian activists fly anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets and other “dirty waste” across the border by balloon, even dubiously claiming the items caused its COVID-19 outbreak.

South Korean  after North Korea last month warned of “deadly” retaliation, triggering concern North Korea may react with a weapons test or even border skirmishes.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which deals with inter-Korean affairs, pleaded for activists to stop, citing safety reasons. Lee Hyo-jung, the ministry’s spokesperson, also said Friday that South Korea was prepared to sternly respond to any North Korean retaliation over leafleting.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Source: newsy.com

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Key Midterm Races To Watch For Congressional Control

Early in-person voting starts Friday in four states and mail-in ballots have already started going out in others.

With just under two months to go, the race for control of Congress is shaping up to be one of the tightest in recent history. 

And when it comes to which party controls the Senate, election experts say one contest stands out — Pennsylvania.

“The No. 1 race at this point that is likely to switch parties is one that could go from Republican to Democrat, which sort of defies the expectations we had at the beginning of this cycle when it looked like it would be an incredibly favorable midterm cycle for Republicans and a backlash to President Biden and the Democrats,” said Jessica Taylor, Senate and governors editor at The Cook Political Report.

Democrat John Fetterman is leading GOP Senate candidate Mehmet Oz in one of the closest watched races of the fall. 

Current Republican Sen. Pat Toomey is retiring. If Democrats flip his seat, the GOP needs to gain two seats somewhere else to retake the majority.  

Where could those seats be? Eyes are on Arizona, Nevada, New Hampshire and Georgia, where the races are close and Democrats are defending seats they currently hold.  

It’s the opposite in Ohio, Wisconsin and Florida, where Republicans are in tight races to hold on to those seats.

Adding to the unpredictability this cycle is the lack of experience among some first-time Republican candidates. Primary voters in five of those eight states put their support behind rookies without any political experience.  

“There are voters that are just so frustrated at this point. And we see this in disapprovals, we see this in wrong track/right track numbers, that there are voters — and I’ve heard this in focus groups I’ve watched this year, too — they’re like, you know, just blow the whole system up,” Taylor continued.

Political outsiders can be successful — look at former President Donald Trump, who continues to be a big influence in the Republican Party.   

“Midterm elections are a referendum on the current president,” Taylor said. “However, we have never seen a former president be this involved and insert himself so much in a way that Democrats could make this a referendum on Trump.”

Trump’s endorsement has helped first-time candidates win their primaries. But it could be a hindrance in the general election when they’re up against Democrats. 

Source: newsy.com

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Bad News From the Fed? We’ve Been Here Before.

The Federal Reserve’s decision to raise interest rates again is hardly a positive development for anyone with a job, a business or an investment in the stock or bond market.

But it isn’t a great shock, either.

This is all about curbing inflation, which is running at 8.3 percent annually, near its highest rate in 40 years. On Wednesday, the Fed raised the short-term federal funds rate for a third consecutive time, to 3.25 percent, and said it would keep increasing it.

“We believe a failure to restore price stability would mean far greater pain later on,” Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, said. He acknowledged that the Fed’s rate increases would raise unemployment and slow the economy.

last time severe inflation tested the mettle of the Federal Reserve was the era of Paul A. Volcker, who became Fed chair in August 1979, when inflation was already 11 percent and still rising. He managed to bring it below 4 percent by 1983, but at the cost of two recessions, sky-high unemployment and horrendous volatility in financial markets.

around 6 percent — and had set the country on a path toward price stability that lasted for decades.

The Great Moderation.” This halcyon period lasted long after he left the Fed, and ended only with the financial crisis of 2007-9. As the Fed now puts it on a website devoted to its history, “Inflation was low and relatively stable, while the period contained the longest economic expansion since World War II.”

mandates — “the economic goals of maximum employment and price stability”— as new information arrived.

Donald Kohn, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, was a Fed insider for 40 years, and retired as vice chair in 2010. With his inestimable guidance, I plunged into Fed history during the Volcker era.

I found an astonishing wealth of material, providing far more information than reporters had access to back then. In fact, while the current Fed provides vast reams of data, what goes on behind closed doors is better documented, in some respects, for the Volcker Fed.

That’s because transcripts of Fed meetings from that period were reconstructed from recordings that, Mr. Kohn said, “nobody was thinking about as they were talking because nobody knew about them or expected that this would ever be published, except, I guess Volcker.” By the 1990s, when the Fed began to produce transcripts available on a five-year time delay, Mr. Kohn said, participants in the meetings “were aware they were being recorded for history, so we became more restrained in what we said.”

So reading the Volcker transcripts is like being a fly on the wall. Some names of foreign officials have been scrubbed, but most of the material is there.

In a phone conversation, Mr. Kohn identified two critical “Volcker moments,” which he discussed at a Dallas Federal Reserve conference in June. “In both cases, the Fed moved in subtle ways and surprised people by changing its focus and its approach,” he said.

Congress, financial circles and academic institutions. Economics students may remember Milton Friedman saying: “Inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon.”

For Fed watchers, the change in the central bank’s emphasis had practical implications. Richard Bernstein, a former chief investment strategist at Merrill Lynch who now runs his own firm, said that back then: “You needed a calculator to figure out the numbers being released by the Fed. By comparison, now, there are practically no numbers. You just need to look at the words of Fed statements.”

The Fed’s methods of dealing with inflation are abstruse stuff. But its conversations about the problem in 1982 were pithy, and its decisions appeared to be based as much on psychology as on traditional macroeconomics.

As Mr. Volcker put it at a Federal Open Market Meeting on Oct. 6, 1979, “I have described the state of the markets as in some sense as nervous as I have ever seen them.” He added: “We are not dealing with a stable psychological or stable expectational situation by any means. And on the inflation front, we‘re probably losing ground.”

17 percent by March 1980. The Fed plunged the economy into one recession and then, when the first one failed to curb inflation sufficiently, into a second.

unemployment rate stood at 10.8 percent, a postwar high that was not exceeded until the coronavirus recession of 2020. But in 1982, even people at the Fed were wondering when the economy would begin to recover from the damage that had been done.

The fall of 1982 was the second “Volcker moment” discerned by Mr. Kohn, who was in the room during meetings. The Fed decided that inflation was coming down — although in September 1982, it was still in the 6 to 7 percent range. The economy was contracting sharply, and the extraordinarily high interest rates in the United States had ricocheted around the world, worsening a debt crisis in Mexico, Argentina and, soon, the rest of Latin America.

Fed meeting that October, when one official said, “There have certainly been some other problem situations” in Latin America, Mr. Volcker responded, “That’s the understatement of the day, if I must say so.”

Penn Square Bank in Oklahoma had collapsed, a precursor of other failures to come.

“We are in a worldwide recession,” Mr. Volcker said. “I don’t think there’s any doubt about that.” He added: “I don’t know of any country of any consequence in the world that has an expansion going on. And I can think of lots of them that have a real downturn going on. Obviously, unemployment is at record levels. It is rising virtually everyplace. In fact, I can’t think of a major country that is an exception to that.”

It was time, he and others agreed, to provide relief.

The Fed needed to make sure that interest rates moved downward, but the method of targeting the monetary supply wasn’t working properly. It could not be calibrated precisely enough to guarantee that interest rates would fall. In fact, interest rates rose in September 1982, when the Fed had wanted them to drop. “I am totally dissatisfied,” Mr. Volcker said.

It was, therefore, time, to shift the Fed’s focus back to interest rates, and to resolutely lower them.

This wasn’t an easy move, Mr. Kohn said, but it was the right one. “It took confidence and some subtle judgment to know when it was time to loosen conditions,” he said. “We’re not there yet today — inflation is high and it’s time to tighten now — but at some point, the Fed will have to do that again.”

The Fed pivot in 1982 had a startling payoff in financial markets.

As early as August 1982, policymakers at the central bank were discussing whether it was time to loosen financial conditions. Word trickled to traders, interest rates fell and the previously lackluster S&P 500 started to rise. It gained nearly 15 percent for the year and kept going. That was the start of a bull market that continued for 40 years.

In 1982, the conditions that set off rampant optimism in the stock market didn’t happen overnight. The Volcker-led Fed had to correct itself repeatedly while responding to major crises at home and abroad. It took years of pain to reach the point at which it made sense to pivot, and for businesses to start rehiring workers and for traders to go all-in on risky assets.

Today, the Fed is again engaging in a grand experiment, even as Russia’s war in Ukraine, the lingering pandemic and political crises in the United States and around the globe are endangering millions of people.

When will the big pivot happen this time? I wish I knew.

The best I can say is that it would be wise to prepare for bad times but to plan and invest for prosperity over the long haul.

I’ll come back with more detail on how to do that.

But I would try to stay invested in both the stock and bond markets permanently. The Volcker era demonstrates that when the moment has at last come, sea changes in financial markets can occur in the blink of an eye.

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Virginia Thomas Agrees To Interview With Jan. 6 Panel

By Associated Press
September 21, 2022

The wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, conservative activist Virginia Thomas, has agreed to participate in a voluntary interview.

Conservative activist Virginia Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, has agreed to participate in a voluntary interview with the House panel investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection, her lawyer said Wednesday.

Attorney Mark Paoletta said Thomas is “eager to answer the committee’s questions to clear up any misconceptions about her work relating to the 2020 election.”

The committee has sought an interview with Thomas in an effort to know more about her role in trying to help former President Donald Trump overturn his election defeat. She texted with White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and contacted lawmakers in Arizona and Wisconsin in the weeks after the election and before the insurrection.

Thomas’s willingness to testify comes as the committee is preparing to wrap up its work before the end of the year and is writing a final report laying out its findings about the U.S. Capitol insurrection. The panel announced Wednesday that it will reconvene for a hearing on Sept. 28, likely the last in a series of hearings that began this summer.

The testimony from Thomas — known as Ginni — was one of the remaining items for the panel as it eyes the completion of its work. The panel has already interviewed more than 1,000 witnesses and shown some of that video testimony in its eight hearings over the summer.

The extent of Thomas’ involvement ahead of the Capitol attack is unknown. She has said in interviews that she attended the initial pro-Trump rally the morning of Jan. 6 but left before Trump spoke and the crowds headed for the Capitol.

Thomas, a Trump supporter long active in conservative causes, has repeatedly maintained that her political activities posed no conflict of interest with the work of her husband. Justice Thomas was the lone dissenting voice when the Supreme Court ruled in January to allow a congressional committee access to presidential diaries, visitor logs, speech drafts and handwritten notes relating to the events of Jan. 6.

It’s unclear if the hearing next week will provide a general overview of what the panel has learned or if it will focus on new information and evidence, such as any evidence provided by Thomas. The committee conducted several interviews at the end of July and into August with Trump’s Cabinet secretaries, some of whom had discussed invoking the constitutional process in the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office after the insurrection.

Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, the committee’s Republican vice chairwoman, said at the panel’s most recent hearing in July that the committee “has far more evidence to share with the American people and more to gather.”

Additional reporting by The Associated Press. 

Source: newsy.com

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Pop Quiz: Can You Fall In Love With A Fictional Character?

In this segment of “Pop Quiz,” Newsy’s “In The Loop” dives into whether or not you can fall in love with a fictional character.

In 1955, a woman by the pseudonym of “Miss A” wrote in asking for advice about a crush. 

The response was: “I don’t know what you learned in college, but you are flunking the course of common sense. You have fallen for a piece of celluloid as unreal as a picture on the wall.” 

One year later, that advice column was published again in an academic paper that coined the phrase “parasocial relationship,” which was defined as a “seeming face-to-face relationship between spectator and performer.”  

Parasocial relationships have also been characterized as one-sided and basically imaginary, but they feel real, because as an audience member or a reader, we’re spending a lot of time with them. 

They have since been the focus of around 250 empirical studies over the past seven decades, and most of them analyze audience relationships with real life media figures: like TV personalities, actors, musicians, or, in more recent years, social media influencers. And some studies have looked specifically at fans of celebrities like Justin Bieber or Elvis Presley. Fun fact: there are still more than 600 active fan clubs dedicated to Elvis Presley.  

On a neurological level, we do know that the human brain is pretty good at experiencing imagined stimuli as if they were real. One study found that the auditory cortex in the brain can light up both when hearing a sound and when imagining that sound. 

So, it’s not a huge leap to suggest these fictional or “imagined” parasocial crushes might feel like the real thing. 

Fewer studies have been conducted on parasocial relationships with fictional characters; but the ones that exist have looked at anime characters, sitcoms like “Modern Family,”  readers of the “Twilight” series and, specifically, everyone who had a crush on the fictional vampire Edward Cullen.  

In a survey of around 240 women, 44% said the series had no real influence on them, and that it was all just fantasy. But 31% said the series showed them “the type of true love and strong commitment they would like to have in their own romantic relationship.”

Researchers have described parasocial relationships as identity-forming, allowing “adolescents to crystallize their beliefs, preferences and expectations.” 

Many researchers do note that parasocial relationships can lead to unrealistic expectations for real-life relationships, but others also saw them as “placeholders” for actual relationships that allowed people to romantically experiment.  

Another real-world example of a parasocial relationship is when a man named Akihiko Kondo held an unofficial wedding ceremony to marry the holographic pop star Hatsune Miku. The marriage is not actually legally recognized, but it’s one of many around the world.  

Skeptics can look at this as an example of something keeping him from making real-life relationships. In an interview with the New York Times, Kondo says he’s aware of how strange people think his attraction is. And while he knows that Hatsune Miku isn’t real, his feelings are — and he says he was able to pull himself out of depression and find a sense of love and solace because of it.  

All of that goes to show that parasocial relationships with fictional characters can, and do have real-world impacts. 

Companies have long capitalized on the appeal of parasocial relationships. And video games take this one step further, especially when you look at the entire genre of dating Sims, where players can virtually date fictional characters. 

Dating Sims have made an estimated $570 million across several platforms. “Stardew Valley” is one of the most popular ones, letting players date and marry from a pool of 12 fictional characters. And as of this spring, the game has sold over 20 million copies. 

The fandoms surrounding these games really confirm a lot of the past studies done on parasocial relationships. Players have described them as venues for escapism that provide a sense of autonomy and emotional safety, and that is especially true for queer gamers.  

One person told Huffpost: “I get to live through the experience of not being seen as weird or an outcast for being ‘different’ in my gender identity and sexuality.” 

It seems that our emotional attachments to fiction and pop culture are very real and can even have a purpose from giving us ways to form our emotional identities, providing venues for emotional escapism, as well as a way to explore and feel a real sense of love. 

Source: newsy.com

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