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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Russia Begins Orchestrating Staged Voting in Occupied Territories

Credit…Associated Press

KYIV, Ukraine — Moscow began orchestrating referendums on joining Russia in areas it occupies in Ukraine on Friday, an effort widely seen as a sham that is expected to culminate in the annexation of an area larger than Portugal.

While the Kremlin has used referendums and annexation in the past to exert its will, the boldness of President Vladimir V. Putin’s gambit in Ukraine far exceeds anything it has tried before. Huge numbers of people have fled the areas that Russia controls, the process has been rushed and referendums are taking place against a backdrop of oppression — with U.N. experts citing evidence of war crimes in a forceful new statement.

The ballots being distributed had one question: Do you wish to secede from Ukraine and create an independent state that will enter the Russian Federation?

“We will be able to make our historic choice,” Kirill Stremousov, a leader of the Russian occupation administration in the southern region of Kherson, said in a statement.

He said the wording on the ballots — in both Ukrainian and Russian — was “in accordance with international law,” but even before the first vote, the referendum plans were met with international condemnation.

President Biden, speaking to the United Nations General Assembly this week, said that “if nations can pursue their imperial ambitions without consequences,” then the global security order established to prevent the horrors of World War II from repeating will be imperiled.

Russian proxy officials in four regions — Donetsk and Luhansk in the east, and Kherson and Zaporizka in the south — earlier this week announced plans to hold referendums over four days beginning on Friday. Russia controls nearly all of two of the four regions, Luhansk and Kherson, but only a fraction of the other two, Zaporizka and Donetsk.

Ukrainian officials have dismissed the voting as grotesque theater — staging polls in cities laid to waste by Russian forces and abandoned by most residents. President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked Ukraine’s allies for their steadfast support and said “the farce” of “sham referenda” would do nothing to change his nation’s fight to drive Russia from Ukraine.

Ukrainian partisans, sometimes working with special operations forces, have blown up warehouses holding ballots and buildings where Russian proxy officials preparing for the vote held meetings..

An explosion rocked the Russian-controlled southern city of Melitopol on Friday morning before the vote got underway. Ivan Fedorov, the exiled mayor, warned residents to stay away from Russian military personnel and equipment.

To give the appearance of widespread participation, minors ages 13 to 17 have been encouraged to vote, the Security Services of Ukraine warned on Thursday.

And Ukrainian officials said that workers were being forced to vote under threat of losing their jobs.

The exiled mayor of the occupied city of Enerhodar, the satellite town of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in the south, told residents to stay away from polling stations.

“Stay at home if possible and do not open the door to strangers,” he said in a message posted on Telegram.

Olha, who communicated with friends in Enerhodar on Thursday night and who, like others, did not want to use her full name out of concern for her safety, said preparations had been going on for weeks and that security had been tightened.

“Since yesterday, they do not allow men aged 18 to 35 to leave the city,” she said. “They want to conscript them to the Russian armed forces. And Ukrainians will have to fight against Ukrainians,” she said, stopping short as she broke into tears.

It was a concern expressed repeatedly by residents in occupied areas, as well as by Ukrainian officials: that one of the first consequences of annexation would be conscription of Ukrainians into the Russian military. That is already the case in parts of Luhansk and Donetsk occupied by Russia since 2014.

Andriy, 44, who has friends and relatives in Kherson, said he had spoken with friends who said it wasn’t possible to leave the city because of the referendum. “You know, those who are smart, they sit at home and don’t go anywhere,” he said.

Anna Lukinova and Maria Varenikova contributed reporting from Kyiv, Ukraine.

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Where Online Hate Speech Can Bring the Police to Your Door

When the police pounded the door before dawn at a home in northwest Germany, a bleary-eyed young man in his boxer shorts answered. The officers asked for his father, who was at work.

They told him that his 51-year-old father was accused of violating laws against online hate speech, insults and misinformation. He had shared an image on Facebook with an inflammatory statement about immigration falsely attributed to a German politician. “Just because someone rapes, robs or is a serious criminal is not a reason for deportation,” the fake remark said.

The police then scoured the home for about 30 minutes, seizing a laptop and tablet as evidence, prosecutors said.

shot and killed by a neo-Nazi on the terrace of his house at close range, shocking the public to the depths of far-right extremism in the country and how online hate could lead to grave real-world violence.

Publicly displaying swastikas and other Nazi symbolism is illegal in Germany, as is denying or diminishing the significance of the Holocaust. Remarks considered to be inciting hatred are punishable with jail time. It is a crime to insult somebody in public.

passed a landmark law, the Network Enforcement Act, that forced Facebook and others to take down hate speech in as little as 24 hours of being notified or face fines.

Companies beefed up their content moderation efforts to comply, but many German policymakers said the law did not go far enough because it targeted companies rather than the individuals who were posting vile content. Hate speech and online abuse continued to spread after the law passed, as did the rise in far-right extremism.

The assassination of Mr. Lübcke represented a turning point, intensifying efforts to prosecute people who broke the speech laws online. And in the last year, the government adopted rules that made it easier to arrest those who target public figures online.

Daniel Holznagel, a former Justice Ministry official who helped draft the internet enforcement laws passed in 2017, compared the crackdown to going after copyright violators. He said people stopped illegally downloading music and movies as much after authorities began issuing fines and legal warnings.

“You can’t prosecute everyone, but it will have a big effect if you show that prosecution is possible,” said Mr. Holznagel, who is now a judge.

same kind of software used by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the United States.

wavered about how to find the right balance with free expression.

In June, in the town of Kassel in central Germany, a 49-year-old man was on trial for comments made on Facebook that said Mr. Lübcke, the politician murdered in 2019, had “himself to blame.”

Dirk B., the defendant whose full name is being withheld because of Germany’s strict privacy laws, told a judge that the comments were taken out of context. His Facebook post, he said, had been about Mr. Lübcke’s refusal of police protection and that he had, in the same comments, expressed condolences for Mr. Lübcke’s family.

“This falls under the freedom of expression in our free democratic state,” the defendant said. He added that he would post the same thing again.

The judge disagreed. At the end of the two-hour hearing, she said he had effectively condoned Mr. Lübcke’s murder. He was ordered to pay a fine of €2,400.

Paula Haase contributed reporting from Kassel, Germany.

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As Moscow Begins Troop Call-Up, Some Men Flee the Country

Credit…Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

ISTANBUL — In just over 12 hours after he heard that Russian civilians could be pressed into military service in Ukraine, the young tour guide bought a plane ticket, changed money, bought a laptop, wrapped up his business, kissed his crying mother goodbye and boarded a plane to leave his country, with no idea when he would return.

Thursday morning, he walked into the cavernous arrival hall of the Istanbul International Airport carrying only a backpack and the address of a friend who had promised to put him up while he figured out what to do with his life.

“I was sitting and thinking about what I could die for, and I didn’t see any reason to die for the country,” said the tour guide, 23, who, like others interviewed for this article, declined to give his name for fear of reprisals.

Since President Vladimir V. Putin’s announcement on Wednesday of a new troop call-up, waves of Russian men who had previously thought they were safe from being forced to the front lines have realized they could not count on staying out of their country’s invasion of Ukraine.

Some have left the country in a rush, paying rising prices to catch flights to countries such as Armenia, Georgia, Montenegro and Turkey that allow them to enter without visas.

Aleksandr, a 37-year-old executive manager from Moscow, didn’t finish listening to Mr. Putin’s announcement on Wednesday. Instead, he started packing. Minutes later, he left his apartment and drove to the airport, looking for available tickets en route.

There were already none available for his preferred destinations, such as Istanbul, so he opted for Namangan, Uzbekistan, a city he had never heard of. He spent the afternoon at the airport near Moscow, hoping to get through passport control as soon as possible, fearing the border could close for reservists at any point.

“I realized that the stakes just were very high,” Aleksandr said in a phone interview from Namangan. “I was already ready for everything, that they would just turn me away at the border.” The plane, he said, was full of people like him — “stooped young men with laptops.” His neighboring passenger had never heard of Namangan before either.

Back in Moscow, Aleksandr’s wife was in shock. Suddenly, she was left alone with their three children. “I am horrified; my hopes that things might remain more or less OK have collapsed today,” she said.

Some of the Russian men arrived in Istanbul with huge roller bags, stuffed with clothing and other personal belongings they hoped would make it easier to set up a new life elsewhere. Others had left in a rush with small bags containing a few changes of clothes.

Many said they would not return home while the threat of conscription looms. But the suddenness of their departure meant that few have definite plans for what they would do next.

The tour guide, who is a reservist, said he had already arranged a temporary place to stay in Istanbul and that he hoped to improve his English and possibly work as a tour guide in Turkey.

A merchant mariner who gave his name only as Dmitriy, 26, said he would wait in Turkey until he found a new ship to work on. As soon as he had heard the news, “I decided that I needed to leave now,” he said.

Over the last 24 hours, his friends had been messaging and calling each other to explore their options and consulting Telegram channels where people share information about the conditions at Russian airports and border crossings. As airline tickets sold out, some Russian men were looking into driving to Georgia and Finland, according to numerous chats on Telegram.

The mariner said that most of his friends had stayed in Russia after the invasion of Ukraine, feeling that the war would not affect them much. But now, most of them were rushing to get out.

“Lots of people want to leave Russia now because they don’t want to fight for the opinion of one person,” he said, dismissing the invasion as a personal project of Mr. Putin.

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Ukraine’s Donbas, Where Putin Sowed the Seeds of War

CHASIV YAR, Ukraine — On a clear spring morning eight years ago, Oleksandr Khainus stepped outside his house to go to work at the town factory when he spotted new graffiti scrawled across his fence. “Glory to Russia,” vandals had written in angry black spray paint. “Putin,” another message said.

Mr. Khainus was perplexed. It was true that Chasiv Yar, the Rust Belt-like town where he has spent his entire life in a region called the Donbas, had long contained many conflicting opinions on its identity. Geographically, the Donbas was part of Ukraine, no question, but it was so close to Russia and so tied to it historically that many maintained that their true home really lay eastward.

“It was the type of stuff you’d argue about over the dinner table,” he said. “But nothing that anyone would get violent over.”

protests exploded. Armed separatists seized chunks of the Donbas right under the authorities’ noses. Two so-called People’s Republics were declared. Russian troops stormed in.

the most far-reaching war in generations. It was the Donbas that became Mr. Putin’s pretext for a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. And now it is heating up again.

masterful offensive in the Kharkiv region, in Ukraine’s northeast, where town after town fell without a shot. Now they are heading south. Columns of dark green military trucks and American-made rocket launchers are thundering down the long, straight highways into the Donbas. But they will have a much harder fight on their hands.

Wagner Group and close air cover because of the proximity to the Russian border. They can also rely on separatist fighters and a well-financed network of citizen-spies who relay secret information to the invaders, often with devastating consequences.

Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine’s pro-Russia president, out of office. Mr. Yanukovych came from a Donbas steel town. In one stroke, Russia lost its ally and the Donbas elite its godfather. That is when the trouble started.

People flooded into the Donbas streets waving Russian flags. At first, said Alisa Sopova, a journalist for a Donbas newspaper at the time, “We were sure they were fake people brought in from Russia to pose for Russian TV.”

to speak so much Russian. A critical aspect of Ukrainian independence was reviving the Ukrainian language, marginalized during Soviet times. But those arguments were typically confined to social media posts or intellectual debates, until this moment.

“I’d go into the supermarket to buy some meat, and the shopkeeper tells me, ‘If you don’t speak Ukrainian, I’m not going to sell you any meat,’” Mr. Tsyhankov said. “I’ve been speaking Russian my whole life. How do you think that made me feel?”

done something similar in 2008 in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, two regions of Georgia, and before that the Russians had meddled in Moldova, backing the breakaway Transnistria region. The tools were generally the same: bankrolling pro-Russia political parties; deploying intelligence agents to foment protests; sowing disinformation through Russian TV.

Mr. Putin’s strategy was to turn strategic slices of the former Soviet Union into separatist hotbeds to hobble young nations like Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, all struggling to break free from Moscow and move closer to Europe.

Under the Kremlin’s wing, Donbas’s separatists killed Ukrainian officials, took territory and declared the breakaway Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic. When Ukrainian forces rolled in to quell the rebellion, some residents saw them as occupiers. They spoke a different language, hailed from a different region, embraced a different culture — or so went the pro-Russia narrative. In some villages, babushkas lay down in the roads blocking Ukrainian tanks, officers said, and in one, an especially cunning babushka kept stealing the soldiers’ helmets.

“It was frustrating,” said Anatolii Mohyla, a Ukrainian military commander. “We’d come to liberate them and they’d give us the finger.”

Mr. Putin dispatched thousands of Russian troops to support the separatists, later saying he had been “forced to protect” the Russian-speaking population. Towns like Chasiv Yar were occupied by separatist fighters, then liberated by Ukrainian troops a few months later. By 2015, the heavy fighting had died down. But it was not like Mr. Putin forgot about the Donbas.

He upped the ante in 2021, saying, “Kyiv simply does not need the Donbas.” And on Feb. 21 of this year, three days before he invaded Ukraine, Mr. Putin accused the Ukrainian government of perpetrating a “genocide.” He justified the most cataclysmic war in decades by citing the very tensions he himself stoked.

In early April, the agricultural land around Chasiv Yar began to thaw. Mr. Khainus, the pro-Ukraine farmer, drove out to check a sunflower field. A Ukrainian military vehicle raced up. A soldier leaned out the window and fired an assault rifle, the bullets skipping up in the dirt. Mr. Khainus slammed on the brakes.

A Ukrainian commander he recognized, a man whom Mr. Khainus said he had complained about before, jumped out. The commander greeted him with a punch to the head, Mr. Khainus said, and then smashed him in the face with a rifle butt.

He does not remember much after that. He shared photographs of himself lying in a hospital bed with two black eyes. Military and law enforcement officials declined to comment.

Mr. Khainus remains a supporter of the military, saying, “One stupid person doesn’t represent the army.”

But, he added wryly: “It’s one thing to be a patriot in Kyiv. It’s another to be a patriot in the Donbas.”

At 9 p.m. on July 9, four cruise missiles slammed into a dormitory at the old ceramic plant. The buildings crumbled as if they were made out of sand. Viacheslav Boitsov, an emergency services official, said there were “no military facilities nearby.”

But according to Mr. Mohyla and Oleksandr Nevydomskyi, another Ukrainian military officer, Ukrainian soldiers were staying in that building. The night before, they said, a mysterious man was seen standing outside flashing light signals, most likely pinpointing the position.

The military calls such spies “correctors,” and they relay navigational information to the Russians to make missile and artillery strikes more precise. Ukrainian officials have arrested more than 20 and say correctors are often paid several hundred dollars after a target is hit. The strike in Chasiv Yar was one of the deadliest: 48 killed, including 18 soldiers, the officers said.

“For sure there are Russian agents in this town,” Mr. Mohyla said. “There might even be spies in our unit.”

Few in Chasiv Yar are confident that the town will stay in government hands.

Mr. Khainus said the Russians were steadily moving closer to his sunflower fields. About a week ago, a friend’s house was shelled. A day later, in an online messaging channel, separatist supporters said Mr. Khainus should be next, calling him a “hero” — adding an epithet.

Is he scared?

“Why should I be?” he said. “They’re nobodies.”

Mr. Tsyhankov, the retired dump truck driver nostalgic for the Soviet times, seemed pained by all of the bloodshed but did not blame the Russians or the separatists. “They’re doing the right thing,” he said. “They’re fighting for the Russian language and their territory.”

As he said goodbye, insisting that his guests take with them a jug of his homemade apple juice and some fresh green grapes, he shook his head at the enormity of it. “Why can’t we be friends with you guys, the Americans?” he asked. “Politics are keeping all of us hostage.”

Every night, the horizon in Chasiv Yar lights up with explosions. Ukrainian soldiers operate here almost as if they are on enemy territory, hiving themselves off from the public, watching their backs, traveling by night in long convoys of cars with the lights blacked out, the drivers wearing night vision goggles. According to separatist messaging channels, the Wagner mercenaries have reached the outskirts of Bakhmut, a major Donbas town. As for Soledar, it is now off limits to journalists, but volunteers there trying to rescue civilians say it is as deadly as ever.

People here used to describe the Donbas in simple terms like “beautiful,” “honest,” “unbreakable” and “free.”

Now it is destroyed, depopulated, sad and empty.

“It’s like the Rust Belt,” Ms. Sopova said. “It’s not needed anymore. All that industry is obsolete.”

Countless communities have risen in the Donbas. Many are now falling. Ms. Sopova glimpses a perhaps not so faraway future where the Donbas goes back to what it once was: a wild field.

Oleksandra Mykolyshyn contributed reporting.

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Putin Alludes to China’s ‘Concerns’ Over Ukraine War

Credit…Pool photo by Alexandr Demyanchuk/Sputnik

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia said on Thursday that Moscow understood that China had “questions and concerns” about the war in Ukraine — a notable, if cryptic, admission from Mr. Putin that Beijing may not fully approve of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

He made the remark as he met with Xi Jinping, China’s top leader, in Uzbekistan. China has staked out a neutral position on the invasion publicly, even as it has echoed the Kremlin’s rhetoric about Russia’s being treated unfairly by the West and as China’s propaganda apparatus has parroted Russian disinformation about Western bioweapons.

The summit, meant to signal the strength of the relationship between the two authoritarian leaders at a time of increasing animosity with the West and challenges to their agendas, is particularly important to Mr. Putin, who has become more isolated by the United States and its allies over his invasion of Ukraine. Russia has also faced a spate of recent losses on the battlefield.

“We highly appreciate the balanced position of our Chinese friends in connection with the Ukrainian crisis,” Mr. Putin said in televised remarks at the start of the meeting. “We understand your questions and concerns in this regard. During today’s meeting, of course, we will explain in detail our position on this issue, although we have spoken about this before.”

After the meeting, China released a statement saying that “China is ready to work with Russia in extending strong support to each other on issues concerning their respective core interests.” It said that “in the face of changes in the world, times, and history, China is willing to work with Russia to demonstrate the responsibility of a major country, play a leading role, and inject stability into a turbulent world.”

The transcript did not have any comment from Mr. Xi regarding Ukraine or the threat posed by NATO. Mr. Putin, by contrast, railed against the “unipolar,” American-led world order that he sees Beijing and Moscow aligned against.

“We jointly stand for the formation of a just, democratic and multipolar world order based on international law and the central role of the U.N., and not on some rules that someone has come up with and is trying to impose on others, without even explaining what it’s about,” Mr. Putin told Mr. Xi. “In general, I must say that the attempts to create a unipolar world have recently acquired an absolutely ugly shape and are absolutely unacceptable for the vast majority of states on the planet.”

One of the core principles of Chinese foreign policy, repeated again in official statements from Mr. Xi’s meetings this week with Central Asian heads of state, is that countries should not intervene in others’ internal affairs and should respect one another’s borders.

Mr. Xi, who is under pressure as China’s zero-Covid policy hurts the economy, needs to project power in the weeks before a meeting of the country’s Communist Party leadership.

The two held talks on the sidelines of a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a multilateral, security-focused organization that includes China, Russia, India, Pakistan and four Central Asian nations.

Chinese support is important to Russia. China bought record levels of Russian oil in May, June and July. But Beijing has been careful to avoid violating sanctions on Russia that could lead to it being punished as well.

Mr. Putin and Mr. Xi last met in February, before the start of the Winter Olympics in Beijing. In a 5,300-word statement, they declared a friendship with “no limits” and criticized the influence of the United States in their regions.

For Mr. Xi, the meeting is also a chance to resume his role as a global statesman.

As he tries to build up a regional power base, Mr. Xi went to Kazakhstan on Wednesday for a brief stop at the start of his trip before heading to Uzbekistan in the evening. Mr. Xi used a 2013 trip to the country to announce a vast international investment and development program that became known as the Belt and Road Initiative.

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How Do Japanese Show They Care? By Sending a Telegram.

TOKYO — When he got married this summer, Hiroshi Kanno, who works at a security services firm in Tokyo, wanted to make a big statement that would impress his future in-laws.

So he asked for his company’s president to send a congratulatory telegram.

It arrived during the wedding party and was read aloud. “It really pumped up the atmosphere,” Mr. Kanno, 33, said. “I felt like a celebrity,” added his wife, Asuka, a 31-year-old office administrator. They posted photos of that message and another wedding telegram on Twitter, along with the his-and-her Hello Kitty dolls that were delivered with the notes.

The telegram, a form of communication associated more with the Roaring ’20s than the 2020s, has kept a foothold in Japan, where millions of the messages still crisscross the nation every year, carrying articulations of celebration, mourning and thanks.

ended its service in 2006. India, one of the last major national holdouts, shut down its state-run service in 2013 after 162 years.

The telegram services that remain have changed greatly since Samuel Morse’s invention of the telegraph put the Pony Express out of business.

Today, messages are mostly composed online and transmitted digitally before being printed out and hand delivered. In Japan, senders can choose from among a variety of fonts and elegant card stocks and select an accompanying gift from catalogs full of luxury goods and branded items — Disney and Hello Kitty are popular. Flowers or stuffed animals are common choices for weddings, incense sticks for funerals.

Payment schemes have also evolved: Instead of being charged by the character, as in the old days, customers are billed at a fixed rate for a fixed number of characters, and pay extra if they go over.

The telegram’s essence, however, has remained: a concise message printed on a small card and (relatively) swiftly delivered.

The telegram’s transformation into a vessel of etiquette was a decades-long process. Telegram use peaked in Japan in 1963, when the medium — then considered the gold standard for urgent communication — was used to send around 95 million messages, according to a government report assessing the recent state of the industry.

By the 1990s, telegram traffic had nearly halved. At the same time, the messages’ content had undergone an unexpected evolution: Nearly all of them conveyed congratulations or condolences.

In 2020, the most recent year for which data is available, more than four million telegrams were delivered in Japan. That makes it the third largest market for the medium behind Russia and Italy, according to statistics provided by International Telegram, a private firm that provides telegram services worldwide. (In the United States, fewer than a million telegrams are sent annually, the company said.)

The bulk of telegrams in Japan are sent by Nippon Telegraph and Telephone, known as NTT. The company, which started life as a state-owned entity, was given an effective monopoly on the telegram business when it was privatized in 1985. In exchange, the company had to guarantee that it would provide the service indefinitely.

Under NTT’s monopoly, the industry stagnated, and the company’s profits from it eventually vanished. But as government overhauls opened the business to competition in the past two decades, a number of small companies sprang up, introducing innovations like online ordering that have helped the industry survive.

For these firms, telegrams remain a moneymaking niche business.

Keisuke Yamamoto, the president of Roys International, started his company 15 years ago. At the time, he was working in licensing and had noticed a growing demand for telegrams that featured popular brands and characters like Peter Rabbit and Paddington Bear.

At the time, the market was 45 billion yen, he said, or about $325 million in today’s money, and he realized that “snagging even just 1 percent of that would make a successful business.”

He set out to differentiate his company, he said, by pairing the messages with gifts that would appeal to a younger generation. “It worked,” he said. “NTT has stolen our ideas over the years.”

The pandemic has hurt telegram traffic as people have avoided large events like weddings and funerals, but customers have become more likely to send telegrams with expensive presents, said Toshihiko Fujisaki, who heads the corporate planning department at Sagawa Humony, a company that offers telegram services.

The company has tried to bring young people onboard, giving university students the opportunity to experience ordering a telegram. It is also working on a smartphone app.

“Young people don’t know telegrams. They’re used to smartphones,” Mr. Fujisaki said. But compared with getting an email or a text message, “there’s a lot more emotion when you get a telegram.”

For those unfamiliar with the protocol, telegram companies offer online primers on sending messages for a variety of occasions. For weddings, guests should avoid using punctuation, because it could signify bringing something to an end. Senders are also advised to notify the recipient in advance to avoid any potentially unpleasant surprises.

Even as the broader market for telegrams has shrunk, they have remained popular among corporate clients and politicians, who see them as important tools for keeping up relationships.

Politicians send them not just to constituents but to each other, said Mr. Matsuda, the political consultant.

“They send them to each other when they can’t participate in a fund-raising event or when their colleagues get appointed to an important post,” he said.

Mr. Yamaguchi’s scandal, however, may have cooled that enthusiasm. During a recent talk show appearance, Toshinao Sasaki, a freelance journalist and political commentator, said the Unification Church controversy could finally end politicians’ love affair with the telegram.

“Times have changed,” he said, adding, “I think it’s the beginning of the end.”

For Asuka and Hiroshi Kanno, though, the telegram remains something to cherish. They proudly display their wedding telegrams in their living room, and Ms. Kanno said she planned to send one when her own future child gets married.

Still, the couple would never think to send a telegram under other circumstances, she said. When it comes to events like birthdays, “I’d probably go digital.”

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Mother of two, widower aged 77 among those killed in Canada’s stabbing spree

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JAMES SMITH CREE NATION, Saskatchewan, Sept 5 (Reuters) – A mother of two, a 77-year-old widower and a first responder were the initial victims identified in a stabbing spree in Canada that killed 10 people and wounded at least 18 others.

Canadian police said on Monday they found one of the suspects in the mass stabbing spree dead while the other suspect, his brother, remained at large. read more

Police are still trying to determine a motive for Sunday’s attacks, mostly in a sparsely populated indigenous community, that shocked a country where mass violence is rare.

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The incidents took place in the James Smith Cree Nation and village of Weldon in the province of Saskatchewan, police said. (Graphic: https://tmsnrt.rs/3TIFx2F)

Reuters Graphics Reuters Graphics

Hours before the stabbings, Lana Head, a mother of two daughters, posted on Facebook that she had “so many good memories to cherish.”

Head’s friends and family were shocked by her death and paid tributes on social media. “Not the way I wanted her to leave this world,” said Melodie Whitecap, Head’s childhood friend who had planned to visit her before the stabbing.

Head’s former partner also spoke to local media and implied the stabbings might have been related to drugs and alcohol.

“It’s sick how jail time, drugs and alcohol can destroy many lives,” Michael Brett Burns, Head’s former partner, told the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network. A statement by indigenous leaders also indicated the attacks might have been drug related.

Ivor Burns and Darryl Burns from the James Smith Cree Nation told Reuters their sister, Gloria, was among the dead. They blamed drugs and alcohol as well.

“We have 10 people dead, including my sister. She was butchered … with her friend and a 14-year-old boy, all three of them,” Ivor Burns said in an interview.

However police told a press conference on Monday that the youngest victim was born in 1999.

Gloria was a first responder, who went to a crisis call, and died after being caught up in the violence, Darryl Burns said.

Police had not identified a motive but noted “it appears that some of the victims may have been targeted, and some may be random.”

An online fundraiser was launched to pay funeral, rehabilitation and counseling expenses for victims and their families.

Residents in the village of Weldon in Saskatchewan identified one of the victims in the community as Wes Petterson, a 77-year-old widower.

“He was just a lovely man,” said Doreen Lees, 89, of Weldon.

James Smith Cree Nation is an indigenous community with a population of about 3,400 people largely engaged in farming, hunting and fishing. Weldon is a village of some 200 people.

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Reporting by David Stobbe in James Smith Cree Nation, Kanishka Singh in Washington; additional reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg Manitoba; Editing by Matthew Lewis, Richard Chang and Lisa Shumaker

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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OPEC+ to weigh rollover or small cut at Monday meeting, sources say

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The logo of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is pictured at its headquarters in Vienna, Austria, August 21, 2015. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader

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  • Supply will be cut by 0.1 mln bpd from Oct
  • Iran nuclear deal could boost oil supply
  • Russia’s gas supplies to Europe cut further
  • Brent crude falls to $96 from $120 in June

LONDON, Sept 5 (Reuters) – OPEC and its allies led by Russia on Monday agreed a small oil production cut to bolster prices that have slid on fears of an economic slowdown.

The oil producers will cut output by 100,000 barrels per day (bpd), amounting to only 0.1% of global demand, for October. They also agreed that OPEC’s leader Saudi Arabia could call an extraordinary meeting anytime if volatility persists. read more

The decision essentially maintains the status quo as OPEC has been observing wild fluctuations in oil prices.

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“OPEC+ is wary of protracted price volatility generated by weak macro sentiment, thin liquidity and renewed China lockdowns, as well as uncertainty over a potential U.S.–Iran deal and efforts to create a Russian oil price cap,” said Matthew Holland at Energy Aspects.

Top OPEC producer Saudi Arabia last month flagged the possibility of output cuts to address what it sees as exaggerated oil price movements. read more

Benchmark Brent crude oil has dropped to about $95 a barrel from $120 in June on fears of an economic slowdown and recession in the West.

Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak said on Monday the OPEC+ oil output cut was merely a reflection of expectations of a weaker global economic growth.

Oil prices have been also dragged down by a potential supply boost from Iranian crude returning to the market if Tehran is able to revive its 2015 nuclear deal with global powers.

“The political angle, it seems, is a Saudi message to the U.S. about the revival of the Iranian nuclear agreement … It is hard to interpret the decision as anything but price supportive,” said Tamas Varga of oil broker PVM.

Iran is expected to add 1 million bpd to supply, or 1% of global demand, if sanctions are eased, though the prospects for a nuclear deal looked less clear on Friday. read more

The White House said on Monday U.S. President Joe Biden was committed to take all steps necessary to shore up energy supplies and lower prices.

“The cut suggests that there is a desire to defend oil prices to stay above the level of $90 per barrel,” said Giovanni Staunovo at UBS.

Raad AlKadiri at Eurasia Group said: “It is a signal of intent … The decision to cut reinforces that ‘do not take us for granted’ message without doing anything drastic.”

Signals from the physical market, however, suggest supply remains tight and many OPEC states are producing below targets while fresh Western sanctions are threatening Russian exports.

Russia has said it will stop supplying oil to countries that support the idea of capping the price of Russian energy supplies over its military conflict in Ukraine.

Russia’s gas deliveries in Europe, meanwhile, have been cut further, which is likely to spark more price spikes. read more

“An output cut won’t make them any friends at a time when the world is facing a cost-of-living crisis,” said Oanda analyst Craig Erlam.

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Additional reporting by Rowena Edwards and Olesya Astakhova
Writing by Dmitry Zhdannikov
Editing by David Goodman and David Evans

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A Who’s Who of Silicon Valley Lawyers Up for the Musk-Twitter Trial

Jack Dorsey, a founder of Twitter, got a subpoena. So did Marc Andreessen, a prominent venture capitalist. Larry Ellison, Oracle’s chairman, and the investors David Sacks and Joe Lonsdale received them, too.

They were all summoned to share what they know about the rancorous, knock-down, drag-out tech spectacle of the year: the fight between Twitter and Elon Musk, the world’s richest man.

Mr. Musk enthusiastically agreed to buy Twitter in April for $44 billion, but has since tried to back out of the blockbuster deal, leading to lawsuits and recriminations. Both sides are set for a showdown in Delaware Chancery Court in October over whether Mr. Musk needs to stick with the acquisition. The torrent of legal demands in the case has forced a who’s who of Silicon Valley to now lawyer up, creating a heyday for top-tier law firms.

unsolicited bid worth more than $40 billion for the social network, saying he wanted to make Twitter a private company and allow people to speak more freely on the service.

Of the two sides, Twitter has so far been more aggressive in the discovery process for the case. The company has issued more than 84 subpoenas to uncover discussions that might prove that Mr. Musk soured on the acquisition because the economic downturn decreased his personal wealth. (Mr. Musk’s net worth still stands at $259 billion, according to Bloomberg.)

Twitter has sent subpoenas to Mr. Musk’s friends and associates, such as the former SpaceX board member Antonio Gracias and the entertainment executive Kristina Salen, to get insight into their group chats. The company has also summoned investors like Mr. Andreessen and Mr. Ellison, who agreed to pony up money so Mr. Musk could do the deal.

Mr. Musk himself has agreed to sift through every text he sent or received between Jan. 1 and July 8 for messages relevant to Twitter. His side’s subpoena total stands at more than 36 — including one to Mr. Dorsey — as Mr. Musk tries to show that Twitter lied about the number of inauthentic accounts on its platform, which he has cited as a reason to pull out of the deal.

Mr. Musk has demanded voluminous data from Twitter, including correspondence among its board members and years of account information. Last Thursday, the court granted Mr. Musk a limited set of 9,000 accounts that Twitter audited to determine how many bots were on the platform during a particular quarter. He has also subpoenaed the company’s bankers, Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan.

But Mr. Musk has also shown his unhappiness over Twitter’s attempts to obtain his group chats. This month, his lawyers tried limiting the company’s inquiries, saying they did not plan to turn over messages from “friends and acquaintances with whom Mr. Musk may have had passing exchanges regarding Twitter.”

tweeted.

Mr. Sacks, another friend of Mr. Musk’s who worked with him at PayPal, responded to a subpoena from Twitter with a tweet that included an image of a Mad magazine cover featuring a giant middle finger.

In a court filing on Friday, Mr. Sacks’s lawyers, who filed a motion to quash the subpoenas, said he had produced 90 documents for Twitter so far. They accused the company of “harassing” Mr. Sacks and creating “significant” legal bills for him by subpoenaing him in California and Delaware.

A lawyer for Mr. Sacks did not respond to a request for comment.

Kathaleen McCormick, the judge overseeing the case, has largely waved off Mr. Musk’s objections about the subpoenas to his friends. Mr. Musk’s conduct in discovery “has been suboptimal,” and his requests for years of data were “absurdly broad” she wrote in rulings last week.

“Defendants cannot refuse to respond to a discovery request because they have unilaterally deemed the request irrelevant,” Ms. McCormick wrote. “Even assuming that Musk has many friends and family members, Defendants’ breadth, burden, and proportionality arguments ring hollow.”

Ed Zimmerman, a lawyer who represents start-ups and venture capitalists, said it wasn’t surprising that Silicon Valley techies appeared unwilling to be drawn into the case. The venture industry has long operated with little regulatory oversight. Investors have only begrudgingly become more accustomed to legal processes as their industry has fallen under more scrutiny, he said.

“Venture for so long has been very accustomed to being an outsider thing,” he said. “We didn’t have to focus on following all the rules, and there wasn’t that much litigation.”

For law firms, Mr. Musk’s battle with Twitter has become a bonanza — especially financially.

“I’m sure they’re all hiring fancy high-end law firms,” Mr. Melkonian said. “Those guys are going to charge thousands of dollars per hour for preparation.”

That’s if you can find a lawyer at all. Between Mr. Musk and Twitter, they have sewn up a passel of top law firms.

Twitter has hired five law firms with expertise in corporate disputes and Delaware law: Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz; Potter Anderson & Corroon; Ballard Spahr; Kobre & Kim; and Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati. Mr. Musk has retained a team of four firms: Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom; Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan; Chipman Brown Cicero & Cole; and Sheppard Mullin.

Other leading tech law firms — including Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Perkins Coie, Baker McKenzie, and Fenwick & West — declined to comment, citing conflicts in the case.

Lawyers sitting on the sidelines probably feel left out, Mr. Zimmerman said. “If I were a trial lawyer in San Francisco, with a specialty of dealing with venture funds and the growth companies they invest in, there ought to be that FOMO,” he said, referring to the shorthand for the “fear of missing out.”

For those who have been tapped, the next several months are likely to be chaotic.

“For people who do this work, this is what we live for,” said Karen Dunn, a litigator for tech companies who has represented Apple and Uber, and who is not involved in the Twitter case. “It moves incredibly fast, it is all consuming.”

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