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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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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How a Spreader of Voter Fraud Conspiracy Theories Became a Star

In 2011, Catherine Engelbrecht appeared at a Tea Party Patriots convention in Phoenix to deliver a dire warning.

While volunteering at her local polls in the Houston area two years earlier, she claimed, she witnessed voter fraud so rampant that it made her heart stop. People cast ballots without proof of registration or eligibility, she said. Corrupt election judges marked votes for their preferred candidates on the ballots of unwitting citizens, she added.

Local authorities found no evidence of the election tampering she described, but Ms. Engelbrecht was undeterred. “Once you see something like that, you can’t forget it,” the suburban Texas mom turned election-fraud warrior told the audience of 2,000. “You certainly can’t abide by it.”

planting seeds of doubt over the electoral process, becoming one of the earliest and most enthusiastic spreaders of ballot conspiracy theories.

fueled by Mr. Trump, has seized the moment. She has become a sought-after speaker at Republican organizations, regularly appears on right-wing media and was the star of the recent film “2,000 Mules,” which claimed mass voter fraud in the 2020 election and has been debunked.

She has also been active in the far-right’s battle for November’s midterm elections, rallying election officials, law enforcement and lawmakers to tighten voter restrictions and investigate the 2020 results.

said in an interview last month with a conservative show, GraceTimeTV, which was posted on the video-sharing site Rumble. “There have been no substantive improvements to change anything that happened in 2020 to prevent it from happening in 2022.”

set up stakeouts to prevent illegal stuffing of ballot boxes. Officials overseeing elections are ramping up security at polling places.

Voting rights groups said they were increasingly concerned by Ms. Engelbrecht.

She has “taken the power of rhetoric to a new place,” said Sean Morales-Doyle, the acting director of voting rights at the Brennan Center, a nonpartisan think tank. “It’s having a real impact on the way lawmakers and states are governing elections and on the concerns we have on what may happen in the upcoming elections.”

Some of Ms. Engelbrecht’s former allies have cut ties with her. Rick Wilson, a Republican operative and Trump critic, ran public relations for Ms. Engelbrecht in 2014 but quit after a few months. He said she had declined to turn over data to back her voting fraud claims.

“She never had the juice in terms of evidence,” Mr. Wilson said. “But now that doesn’t matter. She’s having her uplift moment.”

a video of the donor meeting obtained by The New York Times. They did not elaborate on why.

announce a partnership to scrutinize voting during the midterms.

“The most important right the American people have is to choose our own public officials,” said Mr. Mack, a former sheriff of Graham County, Ariz. “Anybody trying to steal that right needs to be prosecuted and arrested.”

Steve Bannon, then chief executive of the right-wing media outlet Breitbart News, and Andrew Breitbart, the publication’s founder, spoke at her conferences.

True the Vote’s volunteers scrutinized registration rolls, watched polling stations and wrote highly speculative reports. In 2010, a volunteer in San Diego reported seeing a bus offloading people at a polling station “who did not appear to be from this country.”

Civil rights groups described the activities as voter suppression. In 2010, Ms. Engelbrecht told supporters that Houston Votes, a nonprofit that registered voters in diverse communities of Harris County, Texas, was connected to the “New Black Panthers.” She showed a video of an unrelated New Black Panther member in Philadelphia who called for the extermination of white people. Houston Votes was subsequently investigated by state officials, and law enforcement raided its office.

“It was a lie and racist to the core,” said Fred Lewis, head of Houston Votes, who sued True the Vote for defamation. He said he had dropped the suit after reaching “an understanding” that True the Vote would stop making accusations. Ms. Engelbrecht said she didn’t recall such an agreement.

in April 2021, did not respond to requests for comment. Ms. Engelbrecht has denied his claims.

In mid-2021, “2,000 Mules” was hatched after Ms. Engelbrecht and Mr. Phillips met with Dinesh D’Souza, the conservative provocateur and filmmaker. They told him that they could detect cases of ballot box stuffing based on two terabytes of cellphone geolocation data that they had bought and matched with video surveillance footage of ballot drop boxes.

Salem Media Group, the conservative media conglomerate, and Mr. D’Souza agreed to create and fund a film. The “2,000 Mules” title was meant to evoke the image of cartels that pay people to carry illegal drugs into the United States.

said after seeing the film that it raised “significant questions” about the 2020 election results; 17 state legislators in Michigan also called for an investigation into election results there based on the film’s accusations.

In Arizona, the attorney general’s office asked True the Vote between April and June for data about some of the claims in “2,000 Mules.” The contentions related to Maricopa and Yuma Counties, where Ms. Engelbrecht said people had illegally submitted ballots and had used “stash houses” to store fraudulent ballots.

According to emails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, a True the Vote official said Mr. Phillips had turned over a hard drive with the data. The attorney general’s office said early this month that it hadn’t received it.

Last month, Ms. Engelbrecht and Mr. Phillips hosted an invitation-only gathering of about 150 supporters in Queen Creek, Ariz., which was streamed online. For weeks beforehand, they promised to reveal the addresses of ballot “stash houses” and footage of voter fraud.

Ms. Engelbrecht did not divulge the data at the event. Instead, she implored the audience to look to the midterm elections, which she warned were the next great threat to voter integrity.

“The past is prologue,” she said.

Alexandra Berzon contributed reporting.

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Russia’s Unfounded Claims of Secret U.S. Bioweapons Linger On and On

The United States secretly manufactured biological weapons in Ukraine. It trained birds to carry pathogens into Russia. It created Covid-19. It operated laboratories in Nigeria that engineered this year’s outbreak of monkeypox.

Of the many falsehoods that the Kremlin has spread since the war in Ukraine began more than six months ago, some of the most outlandish and yet enduring have been those accusing the United States of operating clandestine biological research programs to wreak havoc around the globe.

The United States and others have dismissed the accusations as preposterous, and Russia has offered no proof. Yet the claims continue to circulate. Backed at times by China’s diplomats and state media, they have ebbed and flowed in international news reports, fueling conspiracy theories that linger online.

international treaty that since 1975 has barred the development and use of weapons made of biological toxins or pathogens, gives member nations the authority to request a formal hearing of violations, and Russia has invoked the first one in a quarter-century.

the origins of Covid-19 has.

“The message is constantly about these labs, and that will erode confidence in that infrastructure and the work that’s being performed,” said Filippa Lentzos, an expert on biological threats and security at King’s College London. “And it will significantly undermine global biosafety and biosecurity efforts, so it does have consequences.”

Russia added the outbreak of monkeypox to its list of American transgressions in April. Gen. Igor A. Kirillov, the head of the Russian Army’s radiological, chemical and biological defense force, insinuated that the United States had started the latest outbreak because it supported four research laboratories in Nigeria where the epidemic began to spread.

In the months after the general’s comments, there were nearly 4,000 articles in Russian media, many of them shared on Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms, according to research conducted by Zignal Labs for The New York Times.

For evidence of a conspiracy, some of the Russian reports pointed to a simulation in 2021 at the Munich Security Conference, an annual gathering of defense officials and experts from around the world. The simulation, intended to test how well countries would contain a new pandemic, posited a hypothetical monkeypox outbreak that began in a fictional country called Brinia and caused 270 million deaths.

a statement in May trying to tamp down any misconception.

routinely amplifies Russian claims about the war with Ukraine and about secret biological weapons research, as part of its own information battle with the United States that began with the debate over the spread of Covid-19.

China’s heavily censored internet, which aggressively stifles unwelcome political opinions, has also freely circulated conspiracy theories about a possible American role in the spread of monkeypox, as Bloomberg reported.

Russia’s efforts to push the claims about biological weapons come from an old Russia propaganda playbook, adapted to the age of social media.

Researchers at the RAND Corporation called the Russian strategy a “fire hose of falsehood,” inundating the public with huge numbers of claims that are designed to deflect attention and cause confusion and distrust as much as to provide an alternative point of view.

died on Tuesday, that it would hurt newly warming relations with the West.

Russia’s propaganda model today has been adapted to take advantage of “technology and available media in ways that would have been inconceivable during the Cold War,” according to the RAND study.

Despite “a shameless willingness to disseminate partial truths or outright fictions” and a disregard of consistency, the strategy can often be persuasive to some, especially those who have preconceived biases, one of the authors, Christopher Paul, said in an interview.

“There are still people who believe the C.I.A. caused AIDS in Africa, even though that idea has been thoroughly debunked,” Mr. Paul said. “Not many, but some.”

Like many disinformation campaigns, Russia’s accusations on occasion have a passing relationship to facts.

Even before the war in Ukraine, Russia raised alarms about U.S. efforts to establish closer defense and research ties with several of Russia’s neighbors, including other former republics of the Soviet Union.

invoked a special session was in 1997, when Cuba accused the United States of spraying a plume of insects over the country’s crops, causing a devastating infestation.

The proceedings were not public, but several nations later submitted written observations about Cuba’s claims and the United States’ rebuttal. Only North Korea supported Cuba’s claim. Eight countries — Australia, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Japan, the Netherlands and New Zealand — concluded there was no link. China and Vietnam said it was impossible to determine. (Russia submitted no response.)

“There’s a big silent majority that just wants to sit on the fence,” Dr. Lentzos said. “They don’t really want to take a side because it could hurt their interests either way. And so the big question is not ‘Do these guys believe it, or not?’ It’s to what extent are they motivated to act on it and speak out.”

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High Seas Deception: How Shady Ships Use GPS to Evade International Law

The scrappy oil tanker waited to load fuel at a dilapidated jetty projecting from a giant Venezuelan refinery on a December morning. A string of abandoned ships listed in the surrounding turquoise Caribbean waters, a testament to the country’s decay after years of economic hardships and U.S. sanctions.

Yet, on computer screens, the ship — called Reliable — appeared nearly 300 nautical miles away, drifting innocuously off the coast of St. Lucia in the Caribbean. According to Reliable’s satellite location transmissions, the ship had not been to Venezuela in at least a decade.

Shipping data researchers have identified hundreds of cases like Reliable, where a ship has transmitted fake location coordinates in order to carry out murky and even illegal business operations and circumvent international laws and sanctions.

maritime resolution signed by nearly 200 nations in 2015, all large ships must carry and operate satellite transponders, known as automatic identification systems, or AIS, which transmit a ship’s identification and navigational positional data. The resolution’s signatories, which include practically all seafaring nations, are obligated under the U.N. rules to enforce these guidelines within their jurisdictions.

sophisticated examples of AIS manipulation, officials said, and the country goes to great lengths to conceal the illegal activities of its large fishing industry.

Windward is one of the main companies that provide shipping industry data to international organizations, governments and financial institutions — including the United Nations, U.S. government agencies and banks like HSBC, Société Générale and Danske Bank. At least one client, the U.N. Security Council body that monitors North Korea’s sanctions compliance, has used Windward’s data to identify ships that breach international laws.

reported an increase in cases of AIS manipulation and jamming in the Black Sea, coinciding with U.S. and Ukrainian claims that Russia was trying to hide its oil exports and smuggle stolen Ukrainian grain.

many of the same ships have recently started trading Venezuelan oil that is under U.S. sanctions.

The spread of AIS manipulation by E.U.-registered vessels shows how advances in technology allow some shipowners to earn windfall profits from commodities under sanction while benefiting from European financial services and legal safeguards.

Cyprus’s deputy shipping minister, Vassilios Demetriades, said illegal manipulation of on-ship equipment is punishable by fines or criminal penalties under the island’s laws. But he has downplayed the problem, saying AIS’s “value and trustworthiness as a location device is rather limited.”

According to Cyprus’s corporate documents, Reliable belongs to a company owned by Christos Georgantzoglou, 81, a Greek businessman. The ship crossed the Atlantic for the first time shortly after Mr. Georgantzoglou’s company bought it last year, and has transmitted locations around eastern Caribbean Islands since, according to Windward’s analysis.

But Venezuela’s state oil company records reviewed by The New York Times show that Reliable was working for the Venezuelan government in the country during that time.

Mr. Georgantzoglou and his company did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Their Venezuelan dealings appear to contradict a promise made by Greece’s powerful shipowners association in 2020 to stop transporting the country’s oil. The association did not respond to requests for comment.

Meanwhile, Reliable is still moving fuel around Venezuelan ports or loading crude onto Asia-bound ships in open waters to hide its origin, according to two Venezuelan oil businessmen, who asked not to be named for security reasons. It still broadcasts coordinates of a ship adrift in the Caribbean Sea.

Adriana Loureiro Fernandez and Eric Schmitt contributed reporting.

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U.N. Inspectors Arrive at Embattled Nuclear Plant

Credit…Eleonore Dermy/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

He wrote a book describing a Russian military so ill-prepared when it invaded Ukraine that he didn’t know his unit had entered the country until he awoke to the sound of artillery fire.

Now 34-year-old Pavel Filatiev, who says he was a paratrooper in Russia’s military, is seeking political asylum in France after arriving there last weekend. He has been greeted as a hero by some in the West, his book embraced by Kremlin opponents as proof of what he has called a “terrible war.”

But Mr. Filatiev remains a scourge and a traitor in his native Russia, at least among proponents of the war who know of his existence, as opponents of the invasion are aggressively censored. Some critics also say his book ignores the strong support for President Vladimir V. Putin and the war among many Russians and Russian soldiers.

Mr. Filatiev’s account of his time in Ukraine could not be independently verified by The New York Times. Kamalia Mehtiyeva, his lawyer, said he was awaiting a decision in the coming days on whether he could remain in France as a refugee. “He fears persecution from the Russian Federation,” she said by phone from Paris.

According to his book, Mr. Filatiev spent about two months as a paratrooper stationed in the southern Ukrainian cities of Kherson and Mykolaiv, and contracted an eye infection in a trench. He then tried to leave the army after being sent to a military hospital in Sevastopol, citing health reasons. But he writes that he was threatened with prosecution unless he returned.

He fled Russia in August after publishing his book “ZOV,” which refers to the symbols painted on Russian military vehicles, and escaping to France via Tunisia.

“We had no moral right to attack another country, especially the people closest to us,” he writes in the book, which he self-published on VKontakte, a Russian social media network, in August. “We started a terrible war,” he writes, “a war in which cities are destroyed and which leads to the deaths of children, women and the elderly.”

“ZOV” describes a chaotic Russian army in which demoralized recruits were equipped with rusty guns and ill-fitting uniforms. On Feb. 24, the day the invasion began, Mr. Filatiev writes that he and other soldiers were shocked to learn they were invading Ukraine.

“I woke up at around 2 a.m.,” he writes. “The column was lined up somewhere in the wilderness, and everyone had turned off their engines and headlights,” he continues. “I couldn’t understand: Are we firing at advancing Ukrainians? Or maybe at NATO? Or are we attacking? Who is this hellish shelling aimed at?”

Later, he characterizes the Russian Army as lacking basic supplies. During a military operation in occupied Kherson in March, he writes, desperate Russian soldiers raided buildings looking for food, water, showers, and a place to sleep, and looted everything they could find of value, including computers and clothing.

Mr. Filatiev’s account was widely reported by independent Russian media outlets, most of them based outside the country. But state-run outlets have conspicuously ignored him. And even some Ukrainians on social media have lashed out against attempts to glorify or praise him, given that he fought in Ukraine.

Ivan Zhdanov, a Russian opposition activist and ally of the jailed dissident Aleksei A. Navalny, said that Mr. Filatiev had blood on his hands.

“Honestly, I am skeptical about his decision because he went there and fought there,” he said on his show on YouTube.

In an interview with the Agence France-Presse news agency, Mr. Filatiev said he believed he had a moral imperative to say what was happening in Ukraine.

“I want people in Russia and in the world to know how this war came about,” he told the news agency.

Constant Méheut contributed reporting from Paris.

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What Will Happen to Black Workers’ Gains if There’s a Recession?

Black Americans have been hired much more rapidly in the wake of the pandemic shutdowns than after previous recessions. But as the Federal Reserve tries to soften the labor market in a bid to tame inflation, economists worry that Black workers will bear the brunt of a slowdown — and that without federal aid to cushion the blow, the impact could be severe.

Some 3.5 million Black workers lost or left their jobs in March and April 2020. In weeks, the unemployment rate for Black workers soared to 16.8 percent, the same as the peak after the 2008 financial crisis, while the rate for white workers topped out at 14.1 percent.

Since then, the U.S. economy has experienced one of its fastest rebounds ever, one that has extended to workers of all races. The Black unemployment rate was 6 percent last month, just above the record low of late 2019. And in government data collected since the 1990s, wages for Black workers are rising at their fastest pace ever.

first laid off during a downturn and the last hired during a recovery.

William Darity Jr., a Duke University professor who has studied racial gaps in employment, says the problem is that the only reliable tool the Fed uses to fight inflation — increasing interest rates — works in part by causing unemployment. Higher borrowing costs make consumers less likely to spend and employers less likely to invest, reducing pressure on prices. But that also reduces demand for workers, pushing joblessness up and wages down.

“I don’t know that there’s any existing policy option that’s plausible that would not result in hurting some significant portion of the population,” Mr. Darity said. “Whether it’s inflation or it’s rising unemployment, there’s a disproportionate impact on Black workers.”

In a paper published last month, Lawrence H. Summers, a former Treasury secretary and top economic adviser to Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, asserted with his co-authors that the Fed would need to allow the overall unemployment rate to rise to 5 percent or above — it is now 3.5 percent — to bring inflation under control. Since Black unemployment is typically about double that of white workers, that suggests that the rate for Black workers would approach or reach double digits.

The Washington Post and an accompanying research paper, Jared Bernstein — now a top economic adviser to President Biden — laid out the increasingly popular argument that in light of this, the Fed “should consider targeting not the overall unemployment rate, but the Black rate.”

Fed policy, he added, implicitly treats 4 percent unemployment as a long-term goal, but “because Black unemployment is two times the overall rate, targeting 4 percent for the overall economy means targeting 8 percent for blacks.”

news conference last month. “That’s not going to happen without restoring price stability.”

Some voices in finance are calling for smaller and fewer rate increases, worried that the Fed is underestimating the ultimate impact of its actions to date. David Kelly, the chief global strategist for J.P. Morgan Asset Management, believes that inflation is set to fall considerably anyway — and that the central bank should exhibit greater patience, as remnants of pandemic government stimulus begin to vanish and household savings further dwindle.

“The economy is basically treading water right now,” Mr. Kelly said, adding that officials “don’t need to put us into a recession just to show how tough they are on inflation.”

Michelle Holder, a labor economist at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, similarly warned against the “statistical fatalism” that halting labor gains is the only way forward. Still, she said, she’s fully aware that under current policy, trade-offs between inflation and job creation are likely to endure, disproportionately hurting Black workers. Interest rate increases, she said, are the Fed’s primary tool — its hammer — and “a hammer sees everything as a nail.”

having the federal government guarantee a job to anyone who wants one. Some economists support less ambitious policies, such as expanded benefits to help people who lose jobs in a recession. But there is little prospect that Congress would adopt either approach, or come to the rescue again with large relief checks — especially given criticism from many Republicans, and some high-profile Democrats, that excessive aid in the pandemic contributed to inflation today.

“The tragedy will be that our administration won’t be able to help the families or individuals that need it if another recession happens,” Ms. Holder said.

Morgani Brown, 24, lives and works in Charlotte, N.C., and has experienced the modest yet meaningful improvements in job quality that many Black workers have since the initial pandemic recession. She left an aircraft cleaning job with Jetstream Ground Services at Charlotte Douglas International Airport last year because the $10-an-hour pay was underwhelming. But six months ago, the work had become more attractive.

has recently cut back its work force. (An Amazon official noted on a recent earnings call that the company had “quickly transitioned from being understaffed to being overstaffed.”)

Ms. Brown said she and her roommates hoped that their jobs could weather any downturn. But she has begun hearing more rumblings about people she knows being fired or laid off.

“I’m not sure exactly why,” she said.

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Prosecutors Struggle to Catch Up to a Tidal Wave of Pandemic Fraud

In the midst of the pandemic, the government gave unemployment benefits to the incarcerated, the imaginary and the dead. It sent money to “farms” that turned out to be front yards. It paid people who were on the government’s “Do Not Pay List.” It gave loans to 342 people who said their name was “N/A.”

As the coronavirus shuttered businesses and forced people out of work, the federal government sent a flood of relief money into programs aimed at helping the newly unemployed and bolstering the economy. That included $3.1 trillion that former President Donald J. Trump approved in 2020, followed by a $1.9 trillion package signed into law in 2021 by President Biden.

But those dollars came with few strings and minimal oversight. The result: one of the largest frauds in American history, with billions of dollars stolen by thousands of people, including at least one amateur who boasted of his criminal activity on YouTube.

39,000 investigations going. About 50 agents in a Small Business Administration office are sorting through two million potentially fraudulent loan applications.

Officials already concede that the sheer number of cases means that some small-dollar thefts may never be prosecuted. This month, Mr. Biden signed bills extending the statute of limitations for some pandemic-related fraud to 10 years from five, a move aimed at giving the government more time to pursue cases. “My message to those cheats out there is this: You can’t hide. We’re going to find you,” Mr. Biden said during the signing at the White House.

$5 trillion in relief money in three separate legislative packages — an enormous sum that is credited with reducing poverty and saving the country from a prolonged, painful recession.

But investigators say that Congress, in its haste to get money out the door, devised all three packages with the same flaw: relying on the honor system.

For example, an expanded unemployment benefit gave workers an extra $600 per week in federal jobless funds on top of what they received from their state. The program was funded by the federal government but administered by states, which often had loose rules around qualifying. Applicants did not need to provide proof they had lost income because of Covid-19; they simply had to swear it was true.

A similar we’ll-take-your-word-for-it approach was used in two loan programs run by the Small Business Administration.

Paycheck Protection Program, in which the government guaranteed loans made by private lenders, and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, in which the government itself gave out loans and smaller advance grants that did not have to be repaid. In both, the government trusted businesses to self-certify that they met key requirements.

using the email address of a burrito shop.

In the Paycheck Protection Program, private banks were supposed to help with the screening, since in theory they were dealing with customers they already knew. But that left out many small businesses, and the government allowed online lenders to enter the program. This year, University of Texas researchers found that some of those “fintech” lenders appeared less diligent about catching fraud.

turning fraud into a franchise — helping other people cook up fake businesses in order to get loans from the Economic Injury Disaster program.

Andrea Ayers advised one client to tell the government she ran a baking business from home, although she was not a baker, prosecutors said.

YouTube videos, where scammers offered to help for a cut of the proceeds. Some used the money on necessities, like mortgage bills or car payments. But many seemed to act out of opportunism and greed, splurging on a yacht, a mansion, a $38,000 Rolex or a $57,000 Pokémon trading card.

responsible for selling the card.

music video on YouTube, bragging in detail about how he had gotten rich by submitting false unemployment claims. His song was called “EDD,” after California’s Employment Development Department, which paid the benefits.

first reported by The Washington Post. In the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, a watchdog found that $58 billion had been paid to companies that shared the same addresses, phone numbers, bank accounts or other data as other applicants — a sign of potential fraud.

“It’s clear there’s tens of billions in fraud,” said Michael Horowitz, the chairman of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, which includes 21 agency inspectors general working on fraud cases. “Would it surprise me if it exceeded $100 billion? No.”

The effort to catch fraudsters began as soon as the money started flowing, and the first person was charged with benefit fraud in May 2020. But investigators were quickly deluged with tips at a scale they had never dealt with before. The Small Business Administration’s fraud hotline — which had previously received 800 calls a year — got 148,000 in the first year of the pandemic. The Small Business Administration sent its inspector general two million loan applications to check for potential identity theft. At the Labor Department, the inspector general’s office has 39,000 cases of suspected unemployment fraud, a 1,000 percent increase from prepandemic levels.

But prosecutors face a key disadvantage: While fraud takes minutes, investigations take months and prosecutions take even longer.

pleaded guilty to mail fraud last month. His lawyers declined to comment.

first weeks of the pandemic, when the government gave out 5.8 million advance grants worth $19.7 billion in just over 100 days. In that program, fraud was easy to pull off, according to a government watchdog, which cited numerous loans given to businesses that were ineligible for funding.

Mr. Ware said he recently limited his agents to working 10 cases at a time, telling them: “You’re killing yourself. I have to protect you from you.”

told The New York Times in November.

“It’s a honey trap,” he added. “Richard Ayvazyan fell into that trap.” Mr. Ayvazyan was sentenced to 17 years in prison for participating in a ring that sought $20 million in fraudulent loans.

In the case of Mr. Oudomsine, the Pokémon card buyer, his lawyers argued in March that a judge should be lenient in deciding his sentence because the fraud had taken hardly any time at all.

“It is an event without significant planning, of limited duration,” said Brian Jarrard, who was Mr. Oudomsine’s lawyer at the time.

That did not work.

Judge Dudley H. Bowen Jr. of U.S. District Court sentenced Mr. Oudomsine to three years in prison, more than prosecutors had asked for, to “demonstrate to the world that this is the consequence” of fraud, according to a transcript of the sentencing.

Now, Mr. Oudomsine is appealing, with a new lawyer and a new argument. Deterrence, the new lawyer argues, is moot here because the pandemic-relief programs are over.

“There’s no way to deter someone from doing it, when there’s no way they can do it any longer,” said the lawyer, Devin Rafus.

Biden administration officials say they are trying to prepare for the next disaster, seeking to build a system that would quickly check applications for signs of identity theft.

“Criminal syndicates are going to look for weak links at moments of crisis to attack us,” said Gene Sperling, the White House coordinator for pandemic aid. He said the White House now aims to build a continuing system that would detect identity theft quickly in applications for aid: “The right time to start building a stronger system to prevent identity theft is now, not in the middle of the next serious crisis.”

In the meantime, the arrests go on.

Last week, prosecutors charged a correctional officer at a federal prison in Atlanta with defrauding the Paycheck Protection Program, saying she had received two loans totaling $38,200 in 2020 and 2021. The officer, Harrescia Hopkins, has pleaded not guilty. Her lawyer did not respond to a request for comment.

“You can’t have a system where crime pays,” said Mr. Horowitz, of the federal Pandemic Response Accountability Committee. “It undercuts the entire system of justice. It undercuts people’s faith in these programs, in their government. You can’t have that.”

Seamus Hughes contributed reporting.

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A Cyberattack Illuminates the Shaky State of Student Privacy

The software that many school districts use to track students’ progress can record extremely confidential information on children: “Intellectual disability.” “Emotional Disturbance.” “Homeless.” “Disruptive.” “Defiance.” “Perpetrator.” “Excessive Talking.” “Should attend tutoring.”

Now these systems are coming under heightened scrutiny after a recent cyberattack on Illuminate Education, a leading provider of student-tracking software, which affected the personal information of more than a million current and former students across dozens of districts — including in New York City and Los Angeles, the nation’s largest public school systems.

Officials said in some districts the data included the names, dates of birth, races or ethnicities and test scores of students. At least one district said the data included more intimate information like student tardiness rates, migrant status, behavior incidents and descriptions of disabilities.

Chicago Public Schools, the nation’s third-largest district.

Now some cybersecurity and privacy experts say that the cyberattack on Illuminate Education amounts to a warning for industry and government regulators. Although it was not the largest hack on an ed tech company, these experts say they are troubled by the nature and scope of the data breach — which, in some cases, involved delicate personal details about students or student data dating back more than a decade. At a moment when some education technology companies have amassed sensitive information on millions of school children, they say, safeguards for student data seem wholly inadequate.

“There has really been an epic failure,” said Hector Balderas, the attorney general of New Mexico, whose office has sued tech companies for violating the privacy of children and students.

In a recent interview, Mr. Balderas said that Congress had failed to enact modern, meaningful data protections for students while regulators had failed to hold ed tech firms accountable for flouting student data privacy and security.

outpacing protections for students’ personal information. Lawmakers rushed to respond.

Since 2014, California, Colorado and dozens of other states have passed student data privacy and security laws. In 2014, dozens of K-12 ed tech providers signed on to a national Student Privacy Pledge, promising to maintain a “comprehensive security program.”

Supporters of the pledge said the Federal Trade Commission, which polices deceptive privacy practices, would be able to hold companies to their commitments. President Obama endorsed the pledge, praising participating companies in a major privacy speech at the F.T.C. in 2015.

The F.T.C. has a long history of fining companies for violating children’s privacy on consumer services like YouTube and TikTok. Despite numerous reports of ed tech companies with problematic privacy and security practices, however, the agency has yet to enforce the industry’s student privacy pledge.

In May, the F.T.C. announced that regulators intended to crack down on ed tech companies that violate a federal law — the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act — which requires online services aimed at children under 13 to safeguard their personal data. The agency is pursuing a number of nonpublic investigations into ed tech companies, said Juliana Gruenwald Henderson, an F.T.C. spokeswoman.

company’s site says its services reach more than 17 million students in 5,200 school districts. Popular products include an attendance-taking system and an online grade book as well as a school platform, called eduCLIMBER, that enables educators to record students’ “social-emotional behavior” and color-code children as green (“on track”) or red (“not on track”).

Illuminate has promoted its cybersecurity. In 2016, the company announced that it had signed on to the industry pledge to show its “support for safeguarding” student data.

Concerns about a cyberattack emerged in January after some teachers in New York City schools discovered that their online attendance and grade book systems had stopped working. Illuminate said it temporarily took those systems offline after it became aware of “suspicious activity” on part of its network.

On March 25, Illuminate notified the district that certain company databases had been subject to unauthorized access, said Nathaniel Styer, the press secretary for New York City Public Schools. The incident, he said, affected about 800,000 current and former students across roughly 700 local schools.

For the affected New York City students, data included first and last names, school name and student ID number as well as at least two of the following: birth date, gender, race or ethnicity, home language and class information like teacher name. In some cases, students’ disability status — that is, whether or not they received special education services — was also affected.

said they were outraged. In 2020, Illuminate signed a strict data agreement with the district requiring the company to safeguard student data and promptly notify district officials in the event of a data breach.

kept student data on the Amazon Web Services online storage system. Cybersecurity experts said many companies had inadvertently made their A.W.S. storage buckets easy for hackers to find — by naming databases after company platforms or products.

a spate of cyberattacks on both ed tech companies and public schools, education officials said it was time for Washington to intervene to protect students.

“Changes at the federal level are overdue and could have an immediate and nationwide impact,” said Mr. Styer, the New York City schools spokesman. Congress, for instance, could amend federal education privacy rules to impose data security requirements on school vendors, he said. That would enable federal agencies to levy fines on companies that failed to comply.

One agency has already cracked down — but not on behalf of students.

Last year, the Securities and Exchange Commission charged Pearson, a major provider of assessment software for schools, with misleading investors about a cyberattack in which the birth dates and email addresses of millions of students were stolen. Pearson agreed to pay $1 million to settle the charges.

Mr. Balderas, the attorney general, said he was infuriated that financial regulators had acted to protect investors in the Pearson case — even as privacy regulators failed to step up for schoolchildren who were victims of cybercrime.

“My concern is there will be bad actors who will exploit a public school setting, especially when they think that the technology protocols are not very robust,” Mr. Balderas said. “And I don’t know why Congress isn’t terrified yet.”

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Looming Question for Putin Opponents: Can You Change Russia From Jail?

Shortly after Russia shocked the world by attacking Ukraine on Feb. 24, Ilya V. Yashin, a local Moscow councilman and prominent opposition figure, decided it was time to see a dentist.

The Kremlin was in the process of criminalizing criticism of the war, and Mr. Yashin, a very vocal critic, had decided to stay in his home country and continue to oppose President Vladimir V. Putin. Eventually, he reasoned, jail time was highly likely.

“I’m honestly terrified of dentists,” Mr. Yashin said in a recent interview on YouTube, “but I got ahold of myself and did it because I realized that if I ended up in prison, there wouldn’t be any dentists there.”

decided to stay, took the opposite view, saying it was impossible to engage in politics seriously from abroad.

“You cannot be a Russian politician in New York, in Manhattan,” Ms. Albats said in a phone interview from Moscow. “You cannot call yourself a Russian politician and be in London.” Still, she conceded, “The risks are very high and they are getting higher.”

Mr. Yashin acknowledged as much in the YouTube interview posted shortly before his arrest, with the Russian journalist Yuri Dud. “I understand that each day could be my last one as a free man,” he said.

He later wrote on social media that he believed it was his clear refusal to leave, expressed in that interview, that resulted in his arrest.

photograph of women protesting the Vietnam War in 1969, saying that the hypocrisy behind the rationale for the war, expressed in the slogan “bombing for peace,” remained present today.

He was also fined in May for citing a condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan by Andrei Sakharov, the first Russian to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and the well-known words of a Soviet bard who raised alarm about the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.

After the invasion began in February, he continued to call out Mr. Putin’s government, holding regular livestreams on his YouTube channel criticizing the power of the security services in Russia. He also documented a visit to the penal colony holding the most prominent Russian opposition figure, Aleksei A. Navalny, and made reference to a BBC report about Russian atrocities in Bucha, the basis of his charge for distributing false information.

survived an attempted poisoning, returned to Russia and was immediately arrested It was on Mr. Navalny’s advice that Mr. Yashin went to the dentist.

linked to Ramzan Kadyrov, the strongman who has led the Russian region of Chechnya since 2007. Around the time of his murder, Mr. Nemtsov was compiling a report on the involvement of Russian soldiers in the war that had begun in eastern Ukraine in 2014. Mr. Yashin finished and released the report, and became one of the few politicians willing to openly criticize the Chechen leader.

In 2017, Mr. Yashin and fellow opposition candidates won seven out of 10 seats on the local council in the Krasnoselsky district of Moscow.

seven years in a penal colony.

Ms. Kotenochkina said the case against her and Mr. Gorinov had been a “hint” to Mr. Yashin that he should leave the country or face prison.

government label tantamount to enemy of the state.

“Now people see: We are not running anywhere, we stand our ground and share the fate of our country,” he wrote.

“This makes our words worth more and our arguments stronger. But most importantly, it leaves us a chance to regain our homeland. After all, the winner is not the one who is stronger right now, but the one who is ready to go to the end.”

Alina Lobzina contributed reporting.

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