in Tiananmen Square, on the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party, when he reiterated China’s claim to Taiwan, a self-ruled island democracy. President Biden has mentioned four times that the United States is prepared to help Taiwan resist aggression. Each time his aides have walked back his comments somewhat, however, emphasizing that the United States retains a policy of “strategic ambiguity” regarding its support for the island.

Even a vague mention by Mr. Xi at the party congress of a timeline for trying to bring Taiwan under the mainland’s political control could damage financial confidence in both Taiwan and the mainland.

The most important task of the ruling elite at the congress is to confirm the party’s leadership.

Particularly important to business is who in the lineup will become the new premier. The premier leads the cabinet but not the military, which is directly under Mr. Xi. The position oversees the finance ministry, commerce ministry and other government agencies that make many crucial decisions affecting banks, insurers and other businesses. Whoever is chosen will not be announced until a separate session of the National People’s Congress next March, but the day after the congress formally ends, members of the new Politburo Standing Committee — the highest body of political power in China — will walk on a stage in order of rank. The order in which the new leadership team walks may make clear who will become premier next year.

a leading hub of entrepreneurship and foreign investment in China. Neither has given many clues about their economic thinking since taking posts in Beijing. Mr. Wang had more of a reputation for pursuing free-market policies while in Guangdong.

Mr. Hu is seen as having a stronger political base than Mr. Wang because he is still young enough, 59, to be a potential successor to Mr. Xi. That political strength could give him the clout to push back a little against Mr. Xi’s recent tendency to lean in favor of greater government and Communist Party control of the private sector.

Precisely because Mr. Hu is young enough to be a possible successor, however, many businesspeople and experts think Mr. Xi is more likely to choose Mr. Wang or a dark horse candidate who poses no potential political threat to him.

In any case, the power of the premier has diminished as Mr. Xi has created a series of Communist Party commissions to draft policies for ministries, including a commission that dictates many financial policies.

What do you think? Let us know: dealbook@nytimes.com.

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Investors fly blind as key Bank of Canada inflation gauge misfires

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OTTAWA, Oct 4 (Reuters) – Canadian economists are scrambling for a reliable measure to track underlying inflation as large and frequent revisions have dented the credibility of a key Bank of Canada yardstick, even as the central bank said it was sticking with its core measures.

Canada’s central bank has three preferred measures of core inflation – CPI-common, CPI-median and CPI-trim. CPI-common, once touted as the best gauge of the economy’s performance, has been subject to repeated revisions since the start of this year.

Those same revisions show that price moves originally identified as transitory turned out not to be transitory at all, highlighting the measure’s ineffectiveness when prices rise rapidly and calling into question its value, said analysts.

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“I believe the steep upward revisions to common have rendered it useless as a policy guide,” said Doug Porter, chief economist at BMO Capital Markets. “It missed the inflation boat at the start of the year and sent an entirely misleading signal to policymakers.”

Reuters Graphics

To estimate core inflation, CPI-common measures all the components of the consumer price index that are moving together and separates out those that appear to be fluctuating due to sector-specific events. By contrast, both CPI-trim and CPI-median operate by filtering out extreme price movements.

CPI-common was almost never revised when inflation was close to the Bank of Canada’s 2% target. But with prices rising faster than they have in decades, it is now being revised and revised again each month.

These revisions are happening because the statistical model is picking up more co-movement in price, so the entire series has to be re-calculated each month, said Statistics Canada.

“Essentially, this means that more CPI goods and services are moving in common, or that inflation is more broad-based now than it has been in the past,” the agency said in a statement.

‘LEAST VOLATILE’

Despite the revisions, the Bank of Canada will “continue to look at all of our core inflation measures” as it works to get inflation back to target, said spokesman Alex Paterson.

“One reason why the Bank uses three different core measures is to make sure we’re considering different price perspectives when judging the underlying trend of inflationary pressure,” he said in an email.

Governor Tiff Macklem is due to give a speech on the current economic situation on Thursday, with a news conference to follow.

The three core measures were introduced in 2017 to replace CPIX, which is the headline inflation figure excluding eight of the most volatile components in a basket of commonly used items.

A 2019 report by Bank of Canada analysts, which evaluated the performance of seven core measures from 1992 to 2018, noted CPI-common was the “least volatile” and seemed “less prone to revisions and sector-specific shocks.”

But it was developed at a time when inflation rarely drifted out of the Bank of Canada’s 1%-3% control range. Inflation has now been above 3% for 17 months and was at 7.0% in August. read more

With CPI-common’s usefulness now in question, and the odds of a recession rising, the central bank should be taking a hard look at how it tracks core inflation, said analysts.

“The Bank’s challenge is walking the extremely fine line between tightening enough to get inflation back to target while not tightening so much that it causes a major recession,” said Stephen Brown, senior Canada economist at Capital Economics.

Some analysts say the Bank of Canada should return to CPIX or simply track how many index components are rising more quickly than the 2% target.

Others say the best gauge is inflation excluding energy and food, because it is easy to explain and is similar to how the United States measures underlying price pressures.

“The BoC needs to address how it has over-complicated core inflation and what measures it follows,” Derek Holt, head of capital markets economics at Scotiabank, said in a note.

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Reporting by Julie Gordon in Ottawa and Fergal Smith in Toronto
Editing by Deepa Babington

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Americans Face Tough Decisions As Food Prices Continue To Soar

The price of bread and milk is up about 16% and 17% respectively, while eggs cost nearly 40% more than they did last year.

The prices of food at the grocery store have skyrocketed in recent months and some consumers say the high prices have led them to make tough decisions.

Consumers are spending much more than they used to and Oliva Yocum says she’s started stockpiling food because of it.

“I’ve actually started pickling and cannning stuff because I think it’s going to get a lot worse,” she said.

Not only are people spending more, but the higher price tags are also making it harder for people to eat healthier.

Nashville resident Vidal Garrett says it’s sometimes cheaper to pick up fast food.

“I can go get a cheeseburger and fries at McDonalds and spend about five or six bucks,” he said. “I come in here [grocery store] and try to get a grilled chicken salad, but buying the chicken alone is going to cost me ten to 12 bucks.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, home food prices were up 13.5% in August compared to a year earlier.

The price of bread and milk is up about 16% and 17% respectively. Eggs, on the other hand, cost nearly 40% more than last year.

Colorado farmer Eric Hanagan says the increasing cost of fertilizer — which hit a record high this year and at one point more than doubled in price — is one of the many reasons driving prices up.

“Our revenues are way, way down,” Hanagan said. “We’re running 50% of our sales because farmers are affected by the drought, fertilizer and fuel prices.”

Those price increases trickle down to the consumer and the USDA expects grocery store food prices to increase by up to 11% this year — with meat being the primary driver.

“It’s kind of sad that you’re better off financially buying greasy hamburger meat and fries rather than buying the salad and fruit for your kids,” Garrett said.

Source: newsy.com

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Three Icons In Women’s Sports Are Saying Goodbye

Serena Williams, Sue Bird and Allyson Felix are retiring from their respective sports and moving on to other ventures.

It’s the end of an era for women’s sports, as three icons retire from their respective games.

“Something that you can’t ignore is all the high-profile women and female athletes that are some of the greatest in the world who are all retiring at the same time,” said Melanie Anzidei, a reporter with NorthJersey.com. 

Tennis star Serena Williams, basketball legend Sue Bird, and the most-decorated American track and field athlete in Olympic history Alysson Felix are leaving behind incredible legacies that extend well beyond their sport.

“Women, people of color are always put down because of the way they look or some people’s ideas think they can’t do as much, so putting Serena as a role model and all she’s done is really good,” said Isalia Lebron, a 13-year-old tennis player.

Williams, a 23-time Grand Slam champion, spent the last 27 years dominating the world of tennis, inspiring women everywhere in the process.

“My granddaughter sees Serena, she’s like, ‘Nana I can do that because Serena did it. If Serena said you could do it, anybody can do it,'” said Tiffany Martinez, a fan from Columbus, Ohio. “So, we’re here. After 33 years of being a waitress and never, ever having a weekend off, I took a whole weekend off this week just to come see her because she’s done that much for me.”

Williams, who won the Australian Open in 2017 while two months pregnant, says she is “ready for what’s next,” turning her attention now to having another child and expanding her business interests. This includes her investment firm, Serena Ventures, which aims to support women and minority-owned businesses.

“She’s kinda just an iconic athlete that kind of transcends sport in a very big way,” Anzidei said. 

Meanwhile, the WNBA is saying goodbye to arguably the most accomplished player in the game, Sue Bird. She helped lead the University of Connecticut to two NCAA titles and played on five gold medal-winning Olympic teams for the U.S.

As a pro, she helped lead the Seattle Storm to four WNBA championships over 19 seasons in the league. Off the court, she has emerged as a powerful advocate for LGBTQ rights and the Black Lives Matter movement. 

“Not only is she one of the greatest in the WNBA, she’s also unique because she is stepping outside of just basketball,” Anzidei said. “She’s choosing to invest in a team. In Gotham FC, she’s choosing to become a minority investor in the club, which is interesting because she announced that while she was still active in the WNBA.”

Then, with 11 Olympic medals, track superstar Allyson Felix is hanging up her spikes. Over the course of her career, Felix pushed the limits of her sport while breaking down barriers for women off the track.

“I had kind of heard the statistics of Black women being more at risk for complications, but being a professional athlete, it just…. I never imagined myself in this situation,” Felix said. “At 32 weeks, I was diagnosed with severe preeclampsia.”

She has advocated relentlessly for women’s issues like job and pay protections for athletes who become mothers, and for maternal health care. 

“I really want women just to be aware, to know if they are at risk, to have a plan in place and not be intimidated in doctor’s offices,” Felix said. “I know how important it is. I know how scared I was. I know how I didn’t feel prepared or educated, and I don’t want anyone else to feel that way.”

“What’s very unique about her is that for her, parenthood is probably the signature of one of the biggest footnotes of her entire athletic career,” Anzidei said. “It has been that something that she’s made a priority, and that’s going to change sport in tremendous ways for athletes.”

While the three athletes have crossed the finish line in their respective sports, they’re not done winning yet outside the game.

Source: newsy.com

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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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Putin Says He Will Meet With Xi and Insists Russia ‘Has Not Lost Anything’

Since fighting broke out in Ukraine nearly seven months ago, Russia and Europe have been waging an economic war over energy, one that could have dire consequences for millions of households and businesses across the continent.

Last year, nearly 40 percent of the natural gas used to heat homes and power businesses throughout the European Union came from Russia, one of the continent’s largest and most important trading partners for energy.

Now barely half that amount enters Europe, government statistics show, stoking fears of shortages this winter.

As part of a wide-ranging effort to cripple Russia’s economy, which is largely propelled by the sale of fossil fuels, the European Union has imposed huge sanctions and has vowed to eventually stop buying Russian gas.

But with Europe still dependent on Russia in the meantime, Russia has retaliated by severely restricting the flow of energy to Europe, forcing governments to try to find alternatives.

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia “is using energy as a weapon by cutting supply and manipulating our energy markets,” Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, wrote on Twitter.

This battle has proved costly for both sides.

Alternative buyers of Russia’s oil and gas, including China and India, are taking advantage of the situation and pushing for steep discounts. That is limiting the revenue that Moscow needs to power its economy, as well as to build pipelines and ports to supply energy to Asia more regularly.

European governments are paying high prices to stock up on the fuel, asking citizens and companies to save energy and unveiling sweeping emergency packages to cap energy bills and bail out struggling businesses.

Even countries that don’t import Russian gas are suffering, because electricity prices are closely linked to gas. The benchmark wholesale price of natural gas in Europe, which has been incredibly volatile since the war in Ukraine began, is roughly four times what it was a year ago.

The average European household is facing a monthly energy bill of 500 euros ($494) next year, triple the amount in 2021, according to estimates by analysts at Goldman Sachs. Applied to all energy users, that implies a €2 trillion increase in spending on heat and electricity.

The squeeze is particularly acute in Germany, Europe’s largest economy, which relies on Russia as its biggest supplier of gas. The bulk of it flows through Nord Stream 1, a 760-mile passageway that connects the two countries via the Baltic Sea.

Since the war, the Russian-controlled operator of the pipeline, Gazprom, has twice reduced the amount of gas it sends to Germany and twice shut the pipeline down for maintenance. After the most recent shutdown last week, Gazprom postponed a planned restart, citing faulty equipment, and provided no timeline for reopening, with officials in the Kremlin blaming sanctions for delaying repairs.

Critics suggested that last week’s move was a cynical response by Russia after finance ministers for the Group of 7 countries said they had agreed to impose a price cap mechanism on Russian oil in a bid to choke off some of the revenue Moscow still generates from Europe.

The indefinite shutdown nonetheless raised fears that it could become permanent. A complete cutoff from Russian gas would push Europeans’ energy bills even higher and hit the region’s economy even harder, with experts projecting a potentially deep recession in the most exposed countries. A shutdown would subtract nearly 3 percent from Germany’s economy next year, economists at the International Monetary Fund have estimated.

“In our view, the market continues to underestimate the depth, the breadth and the structural repercussions of the crisis,” the Goldman Sachs analysts wrote. “We believe these will be even deeper than the 1970s oil crisis.”

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Data Shows Reading, Math Scores Fell Sharply During Pandemic

By Associated Press
September 1, 2022

The declines hit all regions of the country and affected students of most races. But students of color saw some of the steepest decreases.

Math and reading scores for America’s 9-year-olds fell dramatically during the first two years of the pandemic, according to a new federal study — offering an early glimpse of the sheer magnitude of the learning setbacks dealt to the nation’s children.

Reading scores saw their largest decrease in 30 years, while math scores had their first decrease in the history of the testing regimen behind the study, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, a branch of the U.S. Education Department.

The declines hit all regions of the country and affected students of most races. But students of color saw some of the steepest decreases, widening the racial achievement gap.

Much of the nation’s standardized testing didn’t happen during the early days of the pandemic, so the findings released Thursday gave an early look at the impact of pandemic learning disruptions. Broader data is expected to be released later this year as part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the Nation’s Report Card.

“These are some of the largest declines we have observed in a single assessment cycle in 50 years of the NAEP program,” said Daniel McGrath, the acting associate commissioner of NCES. “Students in 2022 are performing at a level last seen two decades ago.”

The study reflects two years of upheaval in American education as schools shut down for months at a time amid COVID-19 outbreaks. Many students spent a year or more learning from home, and virus outbreaks among staff and students continued the disruption even after kids returned to the classroom.

In math, the average score for 9-year-old students fell 7 percentage points between 2020 and 2022, according to the study. The average reading score fell 5 points.

The pandemic’s upheaval especially hurt students of color. Math scores dropped by 5 percentage points for white students, compared with 13 points for Black students and 8 points for Hispanic students. The divide between Black and white students widened by 8 percentage points during the pandemic.

Decreases were more uniform in reading: Scores dropped 6 points for white, Black and Hispanic students.

For Asian American students, Native American students and students of two or more races, there was little change in reading or math between 2020 and 2022, the study found.

Geographically, all regions saw decreases in math, but declines were slightly worse in the Northeast and Midwest compared with the West and South. Outcomes were similar for reading, except that the West had no measurable difference compared with 2020.

Although it marks a sharp drop since 2020, the average reading score was 7 points higher than it was in 1971, and the average math score was 15 points higher than in 1978, the study found.

Overall, the results paint a “sobering picture” of schooling during the pandemic, said Peggy Carr, commissioner of the NCES.

Federal officials say this is the first nationally representative study to compare student achievement before the pandemic and in 2022, when most students had returned to in-person learning. Testing was completed in early 2020, soon before the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, and in early 2022.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Source: newsy.com

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Inflation Hits Record 9.1% In Countries Using The Euro

By Associated Press
August 31, 2022

In the 19 countries using the euro currency, inflation rose 0.2% from a record high 8.9% in July, according to the EU statistics agency Eurostat.

Inflation in the European countries using the euro currency hit another record in August, fueled by soaring energy prices mainly driven by Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Annual inflation in the eurozone’s 19 countries rose to 9.1%, up from 8.9% in July, according to the latest figures released Wednesday by the European Union statistics agency Eurostat.

Inflation is at the highest levels since record-keeping for the euro began in 1997. The latest figures add pressure on European Central Bank officials to continue raising interest rates, which can tame inflation, but also stifle economic growth.

Prices are rising in many other countries as Russia’s war in Ukraine grinds on, triggering unprecedented increases for energy and food that are squeezing household finances. Disruptions to global manufacturing supply chains caused by the coronavirus pandemic have also played a role in pushing up prices. This summer has seen a wave of protests and strikes around the world by workers pushing for higher wages and people fed up with the high cost of living.

Inflation in Britain, Denmark and Norway, which have their own currencies, is also surging, according to official data released earlier this month. U.K. residents face an 80% jump in annual household energy bills, regulators warned last week.

Inflation is also high in the U.S., adding urgency for the Fed to keep raising interest rates. Prices were up 8.5% in July compared with a year earlier, thought that was lower than 9.1% in June.

In the eurozone, energy prices surged 38.3%, though the rate was slightly lower than the previous month, while food prices rose at a faster pace of 10.6%, according to Eurostat’s preliminary estimate. The agency’s final report, released about two weeks later, is usually unchanged.

Russia, a major energy producer, has been reducing the flow of gas to European countries that have sided with Ukraine in the war, a move that’s wreaked havoc with prices.

At the same time, nearly half of Europe has been afflicted by an unprecedented drought that’s hurting farm economies, crimping production of staple crops like corn, and driving up food prices.

Price rises for manufactured goods like clothing, appliances, cars, computers and books accelerated to 5%, and the cost of services rose 3.8%. The euro’s weakness is another factor keeping prices high. 

The currency has slipped below parity with the dollar, which can make imported goods more costly, particularly oil, which is priced in dollars.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Source: newsy.com

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Biden Defends FBI, Pushes Assault-Style Weapons Ban

The speech Tuesday continued President Joe Biden’s aggressive rhetoric against the GOP ahead of the midterms in November.

President Joe Biden on Tuesday railed against the “MAGA Republicans in Congress” who have refused to condemn the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol and now are targeting the FBI as he tried to portray Democrats as the true pro-law enforcement party ahead of the November midterms.

In remarks initially billed as a crime-prevention speech, President Biden seized on comments from allies of former President Donald Trump who have called for stripping funding from the FBI since it executed a search warrant at Trump’s Florida residence. President Biden’s remarks were the first substantive defense he has made of the FBI since the Aug. 8 search at Mar-a-Lago, which triggered not just withering criticism of the agency but threats of violence against its employees.

“It’s sickening to see the new attacks on the FBI, threatening the life of law enforcement and their families, for simply carrying out the law and doing their job,” President Biden said before a crowd of more than 500 at Wilkes University in Pennsylvania. “I’m opposed to defunding the police; I’m also opposed to defunding the FBI.”

It was a notably different tack for President Biden, who has steered clear of extensively commenting on any element of the Justice Department’s investigation since federal agents conducted the search at Trump’s estate. President Biden also appeared to call out — without naming him — recent comments from Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who warned of “riots in the streets” should Trump ultimately face prosecution.

“The idea you turn on a television and see senior senators and congressmen saying, ‘If such and such happens there’ll be blood on the street’?” President Biden said. “Where the hell are we?”

The speech Tuesday continued President Biden’s aggressive rhetoric against the GOP ahead of the midterms, as Democrats enjoy a slightly brighter political environment buoyed by significant legislative accomplishments and a presidential approval rating that has trended slightly upward. During a political rally in the Washington suburbs last week, President Biden likened Republican ideology to “semi-fascism.” He is set to deliver a democracy-focused speech on Thursday in Philadelphia that the White House has said “will make clear” who is fighting for democratic values.

As he has done before, President Biden on Tuesday criticized GOP officials who have refused to denounce the pro-Trump rioters who breached the U.S. Capitol nearly 20 months ago. Referencing Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan, President Biden said, “Let me say this to my MAGA Republican friends in Congress: Don’t tell me you support the law enforcement if you won’t condemn what happened on the 6th.”

The campaign-style speech near President Biden’s birthplace was the first of three visits by the president in less than a week to the state that is home to a competitive governor’s race and a U.S. Senate contest that could help determine whether Democrats will keep their majority in the chamber. Trump is hosting his own rally in Pennsylvania on Saturday.

Democrats believe Pennsylvania is their strongest opportunity to flip a Senate seat currently held by Republicans. Meanwhile, the open race for governor will give the winner power over how 2024’s presidential election is run in a battleground state that is still buffeted by Trump’s baseless claims that Democrats fraudulently stole the 2020 election from him.

President Biden’s comments on the FBI come as his son Hunter faces a federal investigation for tax evasion. He has not faced any charges, and he’s previously denied wrongdoing.

The president also used his remarks Tuesday to promote his administration’s crime-prevention efforts and to continue to pressure Congress to revive a long-expired federal ban on assault-style weapons. Democrats and Republicans worked together in a rare effort to pass gun safety legislation earlier this year after massacres in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas. They were the first significant firearm restrictions approved by Congress in nearly three decades, but President Biden has repeatedly said more needs to be done.

“We beat the NRA. We took them on and beat the NRA straight up. You have no idea how intimidating they are to elected officials,” an animated President Biden said. “We’re not stopping here. I’m determined to ban assault weapons in this country! Determined. I did it once before. And I’ll do it again.”

As a U.S. senator, President Biden played a leading role in temporarily banning assault-style weapons, including firearms similar to the AR-15 that have exploded in popularity in recent years, and he wants to put the law back into place. President Biden argued that there was no rationale for such weapons “outside of a war zone” and noted that parents of the young victims at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde had to supply DNA because the weapon used in the massacre rendered the bodies unidentifiable.

“DNA, to say that’s my baby!” President Biden said. “What the hell is the matter with us?”

Democrats are trying to blunt Republican efforts to use concern about crime to their advantage in the midterms. It’s a particularly fraught issue in Pennsylvania, a key swing state.

The Republican candidate for governor, Doug Mastriano, accuses Democrat Josh Shapiro of being soft on crime as the state’s twice-elected attorney general, saying Shapiro “stands aside” as homicides rise across Pennsylvania.

Homicides have been increasing in Pennsylvania, but overall crime seems to have fallen over the last year, according to state statistics.

“The real heroes here are the people who put on the uniform every single day,” said Shapiro, who spoke shortly before President Biden’s remarks at Wilkes University. “We know that policing is a noble profession, and we know that we need to stand with law enforcement.”

In the U.S. Senate race, heart surgeon turned television celebrity Dr. Mehmet Oz, the Republican nominee, has tried to portray the Democratic candidate, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, as extreme and reckless on crime policy.

Fetterman has endorsed recommendations that more geriatric and rehabilitated prisoners can be released from state prisons without harming public safety. Oz and Republicans have distorted that into the claim that Fetterman wants to release “dangerous criminals” from prisons or that he’s in favor of “emptying prisons.”

Fetterman’s campaign on Tuesday released a new 30-second ad emphasizing that Fetterman — as mayor of the tiny, impoverished western Pennsylvania steel town of Braddock from 2006 through 2018 — has dealt with street-level crime, and Oz hasn’t. In the ad, Fetterman said he ran for mayor “to stop the violence” after two of his students in an after-school program were murdered and “I worked side by side with police.”

Fetterman was not in Wilkes-Barre with President Biden on Tuesday, but he’s expected to march in Pittsburgh’s Labor Day parade when the president visits Sept. 5. President Biden also will be in Pennsylvania on Thursday for a prime-time speech that the White House said will address “the continued battle for the soul of the nation” and defending democracy.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Source: newsy.com

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How Texas Quashed Sex-Ed Lessons On Consent

A Newsy investigation reveals a push by organized groups to stop schools from teaching what advocates say is critical to preventing sexual assault.

Millions of students returning to public schools across Texas are encountering fallout from a battle over the state’s first major update to sex education and health standards in more than two decades. 

A Newsy investigation reveals how an advocacy group helped convince the Texas State Board of Education to strike lessons about consent from the state’s planned health education standards for the 2022-2023 school year. The board’s decision went against the advice of medical experts and organizations promoting teen sexual health, which say comprehensive sex education helps reduce rape and unwanted pregnancies. 

“It’s not an open communication — to talk about sex,” says 17-year-old Kennia Gonzales, a senior at Brownsville Early College High School in Texas. Gonzales says her high school does not teach any form of sex education beyond abstinence. “Teachers aren’t supposed to talk about it with students,” she says. 

In fact, Texas high schools are not required to offer students sex education, and if they do, parents must opt in for their children to receive it. State regulations now require those schools that choose to teach the topic to emphasize “the centrality of abstinence education in any human sexuality curriculum.” 

The state of Texas’ high hopes for convincing teens to say no to sex do not appear to be having the intended impact. A 2019 CDC survey of Texas youths showed that nearly two-thirds of high school seniors report having had sex. Texas has the ninth-highest teen birth rate in the U.S., and the state tops the nation in repeat teen births. 

Gonzales says with no sex education being taught by her school, some of her classmates are left with dangerous gaps in their understanding of healthy sex and relationships. 

“Men are taught to get what they want without the teaching of consent,” she says. “So, they’re just like, ‘She will say yes because I’m a macho man.’ And that’s how rape happens.” 

A spokesperson for the Brownsville Independent School District did not respond to multiple requests for comments about their curriculum. 

According to the 2019 CDC Youth Risk Behavior Survey, nearly 1 in 7 high school senior girls say they have been physically forced to have sexual intercourse. In Texas, that number is closer to 1 in 5, according to the state version of the same survey.

THE BATTLE OVER CONSENT IN TEXAS 

Records from the State Board of Education in Texas, reviewed by Newsy, tell the story of a nonprofit group named the Medical Institute for Sexual Health that played an influential role in convincing the state board to keep consent out of Texas requirements — against the advice of health experts and organizations pushing to prevent sexual violence. 

Recommendations to the state board for new standards for the 2022-2023 school year in Texas did include lessons on teaching students about consent at the seventh- and eighth-grade levels. In Texas, only middle schoolers are required to receive sex education. Educators, parents and other advocacy groups expressed to state officials their support for teaching consent. 

The Texas Medical Association and Texas Pediatric Society jointly wrote to the State Board of Education “on behalf of more than 53,000 physicians in Texas” to say they “strongly support adding new standards on boundaries and consent for physical intimacy where none previously existed.” The groups added that students should “understand affirmative consent is required in all physically intimate encounters.” 

The Texas chapter of the National Association of Social Workers also wrote to the board: “Consent is an extremely important part of any conversation regarding healthy relationships. We believe that it is the SBOE’s duty to include clear, informative, and meaningful definitions of consent, including examples of how a student might share their consent within relationships of any kind.” 

But according to state records, the Medical Institute for Sexual Health and more than 1,000 community members “expressed opposition to any efforts to add language discussing consent” to the state’s minimum health standards. The group also told the State Board of Education it supported “the omission of differentiated instruction on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) issues” for this school year.  

The Medical Institute for Sexual Health, a Dallas-based nonprofit founded in 1992, is an abstinence-promoting organization active in multiple states. The group distributes guidelines for sex education that, despite the group’s name, have been criticized by some in the medical community. Researchers from Columbia University, Johns Hopkins, Case Western and others wrote in the Journal of Adolescent Health in 2021 that the group’s standards were “seriously flawed from both scientific and human rights’ perspectives.” 

State records show the Medical Institute played a larger role in shaping the new standards in Texas, beyond simply filing comments. The organization’s director of science at the time is listed as serving on two of the Texas Education Agency’s working groups that drafted proposals for the new health standards. The organization’s president at the time, Lori Kuykendall, says she served on multiple working groups that worked “to craft the language” for the proposed sexual health standards. After an early draft of the middle school standards still included consent, Kuykendall spoke at a State Board of Education meeting to say that there was a “slip of consent in grade seven and eight” that remained in proposed standards. She asked the board to “not include consent.”

One of the Medical Institute’s board members, Dr. Jack Lesch, was tapped by the State Board of Education to serve as one of just six content advisers who took recommendations that came out of the working groups and drafted them into one new proposal for minimum standards for the state board to consider. He recommended the board strike teaching consent from various parts of the new standards, stating: “There are extensive references to refusal skills, safe and personal boundaries, setting limits in the SE’s. Therefore, recommend DELETE consent from the topic of decision-making.” 

Lesch also wrote to the state board to say that introducing consent is “unnecessary” and “also encourages moving toward sexual behavior that is better to delay (avoid).” State records show that some content advisers disagreed with Lesch. 

The state board ultimately said it agreed with the Medical Institute’s position on omitting LGBTQ instruction from the minimum standards for this school year. As to the Medical Institute’s request to steer clear from “any” instruction on consent, the records further note, “The SBOE agrees and has determined that sexual consent was not appropriate” in the Texas standards. The board then “took action to eliminate” a reference to consent. 

State Board of Education Chair Keven Ellis did not respond to an emailed request for comment. A spokesperson for the Texas Education Agency confirmed basic facts about the state’s standards but did not respond to requests for comment about the state board’s decision-making on the issue of consent.  

Attempts to reach Lesch, the Medical Institute’s board member, by telephone, text message and email were unsuccessful. The Medical Institute’s then-president, Lori Kuykendall, responded in writing to emailed questions. 

“Children under the age of 17 cannot legally give consent to sexual activity and should not be instructed how to,” she wrote. “If the goal is to empower children to know when they are being violated and what to do to resist, avoid, or run away from the perpetrator (and ultimately report), then it is logical they would be taught refusal or resistance skills.” 

Instead of consent, the state board adopted standards that mirrored the Medical Institute’s guidance to instruct schools to teach refusal skills and personal boundaries, and state records show they decided to teach even those only “at some grade levels.” 

“As far as I’m concerned, [consent] is one of the most important things you can be teaching,” says Shael Norris, executive director of SafeBAE, a national advocacy group working to prevent sexual violence among middle- and high-school students.   

Norris was critical of the state’s ultimate choice to teach refusal skills without also teaching consent.  

“Instead of putting the blame where it belongs on the perpetrator, the victim takes on that responsibility, and that makes them that much more vulnerable to suicide — if they are victimized and they feel responsible for it,” she says. 

There is not much academic research yet into the impact that lessons on consent would have on reducing sexual assaults, but studies show that people who have been sexually assaulted are at nearly three times greater risk of suicidal ideation or suicide attempts.  

Norris says advocates like her agree that consent lessons can be taught in an age-appropriate, nonsexual manner to children as young as in kindergarten. An example she cites is teaching a young child it is OK for them to say yes or no to hugs, high-fives or other forms of nonsexual touch. This can form a building block to teach other kinds of consent for older teenagers.  

The current leaders at the Medical Institute for Sexual Health did not respond to multiple requests for an interview, but the group’s founder and CEO, Dr. Joe McIlhaney, did answer questions in writing through a public relations firm.  

In response to questions asking if the Medical Institute would support any lessons on consent for high schoolers, or “nonsexual” consent lessons for students of any age, McIlhaney said his organization “believes that school-age children understand the meaning of ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ We believe that they should refuse sexual advances, and not wonder whether they could or should give consent at such a young age. The answer should be ‘no.'” 

The American Academy of Pediatrics, representing 67,000 pediatricians, says programs promoting abstinence have “conclusively” been shown not to work but that most comprehensive sexuality education programs studied have been shown to delay the age of intercourse and to promote “protective behaviors” like condom use. And a 2016 UN study of 48 countries found that comprehensive sexuality education leads to “the reduction of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), HIV, and unintended pregnancy.” 

The AAP and a host of other medical and educational authorities, such as the American Medical Association and the National Education Association, endorse teaching consent.

Crime statistics from the Texas Department of Public Safety’s 2020 report reveal the two age groups with the highest number of reported sexual assault victims in the state were 15- to 19-year-olds and 10- to 14-year-olds. Altogether, a Newsy analysis found that children and teenagers 19 and younger made up more than two-thirds of sexual assault victims in Texas. 

Melanie Ramirez, the director of prevention programs at the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault, a nonprofit associated with 70 rape crisis centers across Texas — and one of the groups that tried to get consent added to the new state standards — says teaching only refusal and boundary skills is outdated and harmful. 

“It’s reiterating an old notion that if you experience sexual violence, it’s somehow now your fault,” she says.  

“We’re not trying to teach, ‘Don’t get raped.’ We’re trying to teach, ‘Don’t rape.'”

A NATIONAL DEBATE 

Nationwide, 29 states require that students receive sex education, and 13 require they learn about consent, according to the Sexual Information and Education Council of the United States, or SIECUS. But the battle to change that is hitting state legislatures and local school boards across the country. Alison Macklin, a policy and advocacy director for SIECUS, says in more than 60 years her organization has never seen as many bills proposed to restrict sex education as what happened in the 2022 state legislative sessions.  

“This is the busiest we have been in tracking these types of bills,” Macklin says.   

Lessons about gender identity and consent have also inspired passionate parents and organized groups on both sides of the debate to storm into normally tranquil school board meetings. Some are calling to restrict or do away with sex education in schools altogether. 

A Miami-Dade school board meeting made national headlines in July when police were called to remove parents who disrupted the debate on whether to adopt a pair of sex-education textbooks that had references to topics like pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. The high school textbook said consent “occurs when someone clearly says yes” in “words, not just body language.” The board initially voted to take the books out of the curriculum for this school year, leaving students with no sex-education curriculum, until a new round of upset parents later convinced the board to reinstate the books.  

At the Nebraska State Board of Education meeting last August, one individual upset over the proposed standards in that state appeared to threaten a Jan. 6  style insurrection, while others compared the board to Nazis because of the proposed curriculum, which included the teaching of consent. 

In Oregon, a nonprofit group called Parents’ Rights in Education, or PRIE, recently hosted its second annual summit to train parents from around the nation on how to become more politically active where they live, while trying to vote out school board members who don’t agree to keep consent and comprehensive sex education out of school curriculum. The group says on its website it was established in 2011. The group’s executive director, Suzanne Gallagher, is the former head of the Oregon Republican Party. 

“This is political,” Gallagher says. “People like to deny that. They want to think, ‘Oh, it’s just a school.’ It has everything to do with politics. We’re flipping school boards.” 

PRIE’s website says comprehensive sexual education should not be taught in schools because “teaching consent undermines any semblance of an abstinence message.” 

Her podcast website refers to literature that claims teachers who provide sex education are implementing a “Molester’s Manifesto,” while also claiming in a bullet point “1 in 10 children will experience school employee sexual misconduct.”  

Newsy traced Gallagher’s statistic to a study published by the U.S. Department of Education in 2004. The review included data from an earlier study that found that 1 in 10 students had experienced sexual harassment from educators — which included things like name-calling, spreading rumors, and inappropriate jokes. Though the author of the 2004 review recharacterized this as “sexual misconduct,” the Department of Education added a preface cautioning that misconduct and abuse were not one and the same.  

Newsy made Gallagher aware of the department’s concerns and noted her own podcast website used “misconduct” statistics to support claims about child molestation in schools. Gallagher stood by her website and, at the time of publication, it was left unchanged. 

Gallagher says she still believes students are more vulnerable to sexual abuse by teachers if they are taught it is ever OK to consent to a sexual encounter. 

“They’re going to be thinking, ‘Oh, yeah, you know, Mr. Smith, who is just a stud, he said I could,” explains Gallagher. “It’s setting students up to be accepting of sexual advances from anyone, thinking that it’s OK, it’s all right, it’s perfectly normal, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it and I have a right to it. That goes against the values of many families.”  

Gallagher says her message is cutting through at the ballot box and has, along with the work of other parents’ rights groups, helped force a changeover in school board members in Newberg, Oregon. She also points to Texas as a state where Parents’ Rights In Education is active. 

“We have a couple groups in Texas. They’re on fire there,” she says.  

Efforts to get sex education out of public schools worry Dr. M. Brett Cooper, a pediatrician who practices in Dallas and is trained specifically in adolescent health, with a master’s in education. He spoke publicly to the Texas State Board of Education on the importance of teaching consent while representing the Texas Medical Association and Texas Pediatric Society.   

Cooper says he sees firsthand as a practicing physician how common it is for parents to shy away from teaching their own children about sex.   

“Parents often come to me when they find out that their child has had sex. I ask them if they’ve talked to their child about these things before. The answer is usually no.” 

A Harvard Graduate School of Education survey of 18- to 25-year-olds found that most respondents “had never spoken with their parents about things like ‘being sure your partner wants to have sex and is comfortable doing so before having sex.'” 

Kennia Gonzales, who says she is the daughter of a teen mother, says that if schools don’t teach kids comprehensive sex education, they’re going to get it from less reputable sources, like the internet.  

“They’re going to explore, and not giving them that education isn’t going to stop them,” she says. “I want the teen pregnancy and [sexual assault] percentages to go down. I just want to see a change.” 

Zach Cusson and Meghan Sullivan contributed reporting for this story.  

Source: newsy.com

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