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2 EMS workers accused of stealing USPS collection box while on duty in Bloomfield Hills

18 July 2024 at 19:39

Two former STAR EMS workers are facing federal charges for allegedly stealing a USPS collection box from outside an office building in Bloomfield Hills while on duty.

A criminal complaint filed July 16 in U.S. District Court – Eastern District of Michigan alleges Ryan Baugh and Jacob Sandrock took the box from where it was bolted onto concrete at 2550 Telegraph Rd. on April 29; the Bloomfield Hills postmaster reported it missing the next day.

Baugh and Sandrock are charged with theft of government property — punishable by up to 10 years in prison — and obstruction of mail, which carries a penalty of up to six months in jail. Fines can also be imposed.

As stated in the complaint, a postal technician received a call on May 2 from someone later identified as Baugh who asked if he could keep the postal box that he found by the dumpster, and that he wanted it for “personal use/decorative purposes.” The technician told him no. That same day, a STAR EMS manager called the technician, stating that Baugh told him he was given permission to keep the box.

According to the complaint, video from the STAR EMS ambulance’s camera shows Sandrock and Baugh using a stretcher to load the postal box into the vehicle. As further alleged in the complaint, Baugh can be heard telling Sandrock that they’d have to dispose of the collection box if they got an emergency call.

When they interviewed Sandrock, postal inspectors allege he said taking the box was “f***ing stupid” and that he had thought it was trash because it had been near a dumpster. He further said Baugh told him he had gotten the OK from the post office to take it and that it could perhaps be used as a drop box for medical reports, the complaint states.

ambulance
STAR EMS management said the incident doesn’t represent its eimployees, and the two would’ve been fired if they hadn’t quit. (File photo by Peg McNichol/MediaNews Group)

Baugh allegedly told postal inspectors he hadn’t seen the postal box until the day they took it and thought it was “out of commission” because it was near a dumpster. He also said it was his idea to take it, not Sandrock’s, the complaint further states.

The Bloomfield Post Office stated that the collection box has always been there, but the dumpster was new, according to the complaint. The box is valued at $1,800.

Baugh and Sandrock are scheduled for a preliminary examination in federal court on Aug. 8.

A member of STAR EMS management who asked not to be named told The Oakland Press that Baugh, a paramedic, and Sandrock, an EMT, “voluntarily separated” from the company after the incident. The manager said that had they not quit they would have been terminated as the company “does not take (such incidents) lightly.” He further stated that the incident is “definitely not representative” of STAR EMS employees and that management could never have predicted it “in a million years.”

Baugh and Sandrock are now employed with another EMS company, he added.

 

 

U.S. Postal Service mailbox file photo Peg McNichol/

VP Harris hits campaign trail while President Biden self-isolates with COVID-19

18 July 2024 at 19:33

President Joe Biden was experiencing mild symptoms after being diagnosed with COVID-19 while on the campaign trail in Las Vegas, according to his physician, Dr. Kevin O'Connor. By Thursday, the president was still self-isolating after returning to his home in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, to recover.

On Thursday, Vice President Kamala Harris played a more prominent role on the campaign trail, defending President Biden's record as the presumptive Democratic nominee for president ahead of the DNC on Aug. 19.

RELATED STORY | Fact-checking the shattering teleprompter conspiracy theory at Trump rally shooting

Vice President Harris, speaking to a crowd of supporters in Fayetteville, North Carolina, said the difference between Donald Trump and President Biden is "night and day." The vice president defended President Biden's record on the economy and jobs saying with every decision he makes he thinks about "the working class."

Harris claimed that over 1,000 factories closed while Donald Trump was in office.

Multiple times, the vice president brought up the conservative plan titled "Project 2025," implying that former President Trump and others in his campaign are attempting to publicly distance themselves from it politically ahead of the November election.

‘Twisters’ review: Sequel delivers big thrills and nice character moments

18 July 2024 at 19:29

“Twisters” director Lee Isaac Chung made headlines recently in defending the decision to keep the topic of climate change out of the sequel to the 1996 natural disaster-fueled blockbuster “Twister.”

“I just wanted to make sure that with the movie, we don’t ever feel like (it) is putting forward any message,” he said in an interview with CNN. “I just don’t feel like films are meant to be message-oriented.”

At first, this feels like a missed opportunity — and, arguably, cowardice on the part of Chung and the production — given climate change’s well-documented link to the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events. (To be fair, though, the link between climate change and tornadoes isn’t so clear.)

However, having seen “Twisters” — which is blowing into theaters this week with incredible force — we like it just the way it is. Chung has made a well-crafted, consistently entertaining sequel that benefits both from stars Daisy Edgar-Jones and Glen Powell and nearly 30 years of impactful special-effects development that help make the original feel, well, nearly three decades old.

Chung rose to prominence as the writer-director of 2020’s acclaimed “Minari,” a semi-autobiographical film. And while he subsequently directed an episode of the “Star Wars” series “The Mandalorian,” he’s never helmed anything with the scale of “Twisters” and action-heavy nature of “Twisters.” Working from a screenplay by Mark L. Smith (“The Revenant”) — with the story credited to “Top Gun: Maverick” director Joseph Kosinski — Chung doesn’t let the occasional silly plot development or the fact the movie has too many characters get in his way. He balances all the hurricane-force thrills the movie requires with myriad satisfying character moments.

Many of those circle around Edgar-Jones’ Kate Carter. We meet her in the movie’s prologue, during which she is getting help with friends — including boyfriend Javi — chasing storms in Oklahoma for a college project. (In one of only a couple of noticeable nods to “Twister,” they are using a version of the “Dorothy” machine featured heavily in that movie.)

They are out to collapse — or, as they like to say, “tame” a tornado. However, let’s just say they meet a cyclone that gets the best of them.

Five years later, Kate, having given up chasing, is working as a storm tracker for the United States Weather in New York City when Javi shows up out of the blue. Now working for a private company using a portable version of a weather-tracking radar system he used in the military since their time together, he says he needs to spend one week in Oklahoma to help him test the tech in what’s expected to be a once-in-a-generation tornadoes-filled event.

“You have a gift,” he says. “I can’t do this without you.”

In Oklahoma, she meets his crew of uniformed “Ph.Ds,” including right-hand company man (future Superman David Corenswet), as well as a group of rough-around-the-edges storm chasers from Arkansas — “hillbillies with a YouTube channel,” as someone puts it.

Leading them is cool and cocky “tornado wrangler” Tyler Owens (Powell), who takes an immediate interest in Kate, calling her “city girl.” Initially, she gives him the cold shoulder — and some misleading information regarding where to find their next twister — but, of course, the pair will grow closer as “Twisters” proceeds.

Kate, portrayed by Daisy Edgar-Jones, is unimpressed by cocky storm chaser Tyler, right, even as he's being followed for a story by journalist Ben, portrayed by Harry Hadden-Paton, early on in "Twisters." (Courtesy of Universal Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures and Amblin Entertainment)
Kate, portrayed by Daisy Edgar-Jones, is unimpressed by cocky storm chaser Tyler, right, even as he’s being followed for a story by journalist Ben, portrayed by Harry Hadden-Paton, early on in “Twisters.” (Courtesy of Universal Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures and Amblin Entertainment)

In Kate and Tyler, we have two sides of the same coin, storm trackers who rely on both carefully gathered data and gut instinct. But while she is most interested in giving people more of a warning a tornado may be coming their way, he and his lot concern themselves primarily with shooting fireworks up through a cyclone and, importantly, getting potentially viral footage of it.

Or so she thinks.

Thanks both to Smith’s script and the performances of Edgar-Jones and Powell, Kate and Tyler form an appealing tandem; if not the soul of the story, she’s its conscience, while he provides its requisite bravado and adventurous spirit.

Powell, a fellow “Top Gun: Maverick” alum, continues to display the movie-star charisma he exhibited in last year’s “Anyone But You,” while “Normal People” and “Where the Crawdads Sing” star Edgar-Jones is compelling via subtle acting choices instead of big moments.

Understandably, some may be disappointed “Twisters” doesn’t connect more to the original — “Twister” star Helen Hunt has said a pitch she made in 2020 to helm a sequel was rejected — but this follow-up more than lives up to its predecessor.

Glen Powell's Tyler tries to save pal Lily (Sasha Lane) in a scene from "Twisters." (Courtesy of Universal Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures and Amblin Entertainment)
Tyler (Glen Powell)  tries to save pal Lily (Sasha Lane) in a scene from “Twisters.” (Courtesy of Universal Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures and Amblin Entertainment)

And, OK, so “An Inconvenient Truth” “Twisters” is not. It’s a popcorn movie chock-full of barns being torn apart, cars being hurled through the air and a few innocent people meeting highly inconvenient ends.

And, even with a soundtrack packed with country jams, it really rocks.

‘Twisters’

Where: Theaters.

When: July 19.

Rated: PG-13 for intense action and peril, some language and injury images.

Runtime: 2 hours, 2 minutes.

Stars (of four): 3.5.

 

Glen Powell) and and Daisy Edgar-Jones) star in “Twisters.” (Courtesy of Universal Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures and Amblin Entertainment)

Recipe: Skillet Sausage and Peppers is a perfect weeknight dinner

18 July 2024 at 19:25

The combination of sausage and peppers is a welcome weeknight, one-skillet meal. The dish offers a delicious marriage of lush meaty flavors alongside the peppers’ grassy, sweet edge. Many employ hot Italian sausages, and indeed the spicy heat is inviting. I usually use sweet Italian sausages because children are often at my table. Turkey is frequently my sausage meat of choice.

Leftovers are delicious used as a sandwich filling on sturdy buns, or coarsely chopped and scrambled with eggs. When I have extra mouths to feed, I serve the concoction over cooked smallish pasta such as penne or fusilli, or atop basmati rice or farro. It is also delectable augmented with roasted Baby Dutch Yellow potatoes.

Skillet Sausage and Peppers

Yield: 4 servings

INGREDIENTS

8 Italian sausages, pork or turkey, hot or sweet

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 medium-large sweet onions, thickly sliced

1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, thickly sliced

1 yellow bell pepper, cored, seeded, thickly sliced

1 orange bell pepper, cored, seeded, thickly sliced

6 garlic cloves, crushed and peeled

Kosher salt

1 tablespoon tomato paste

3/4 cup dry white wine

1/2 cup chopped fresh basil

DIRECTIONS

1. Prick sausages all over with a fork. Heat oil in a large, deep skillet on medium-high heat. Brown the sausages all over, turning as needed with tongs; place sausages on plate. Do not clean the skillet. Add onions, peppers, and garlic to the skillet; season lightly with salt. Cover and reduce heat to medium and cook until peppers are wilted, about 8 to 10 minutes.

2. Make a space in the pan and add tomato paste there. Toast the tomato paste in that spot for a minute, then stir it into the vegetables. Stir in white wine and bring to a simmer. Simmer, turning the sausages occasionally, until they are cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes. Increase heat to reduce juices in the pan and glaze the sausages. Stir in basil and serve.

Source: Lidia Bastianich

Award-winning food writer Cathy Thomas has written three cookbooks, including “50 Best Plants on the Planet.” Follow her at @CathyThomas Cooks.com.

Skillet Sausage and Peppers is a quick and easy weeknight dinner. (Photo by Cathy Thomas)

‘We’ve created medical refugees.’ LGBTQ+ health care workers fight for gender-affirming care amid rise in anti-trans laws

18 July 2024 at 18:59

Jireh Deng | Los Angeles Times (TNS)

LOS ANGELES — Nico Olalia had just finished her initial nurse training in the Philippines when she realized her aspirations were growing bigger than her home archipelago.

“There are a lot of trans Filipinos, but they’re always known in the beauty industry, and they’re very seldom found in the professional side,” Olalia said.

So she moved back to the United States, where she was born, for better career prospects. Today, she is a clinical nurse at Cedars-Sinai, one of the largest hospitals in Southern California, where she assists new hires and cares for patients in the neurology division.

Olalia feels like it’s a dream come true; her peers and patients respect her and welcome her contributions. It’s a hope shared by a small but growing number of trans and nonbinary health care workers in the U.S.

Yearly surveys of first-year medical students by the Assn. of American Medical Colleges show that the percentage identifying as transgender and gender nonconforming doubled from 0.7% in 2020 to 1.4% in 2023.

These numbers align with the growing LGBTQ+ population in the United States. Today, younger generations are more likely to identify as LGBTQ+ than generations before. A national survey this year found that 28% of Gen Z respondents identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer.

But that rise in LGBTQ+-identified youths and trans health care workers has coincided with escalating restrictions on gender-affirming care.

Between 2022 and 2023, anti-trans legislation proposed across statehouses tripled, with a majority of the bills proposing restrictions on gender-affirming care. According to the Movement Advancement Project, at least half of the states exclude transgender-related health care for youths from their Medicaid programs, while only 22 explicitly cover it.

“We’ve created medical refugees who have to leave their state to get that care,” said U.S. Assistant Secretary for Health Rachel Levine, the first transgender person confirmed by the Senate to a high government post.

“Transgender medicine can be suicide prevention care. It’s been shown in many studies that it improves the quality of life and can save lives for youth and adults,” said Levine, a pediatrician specializing in adolescent care.

When Levine was doing her medical residency at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City during the 1980s AIDS crisis, she saw friends and co-workers succumb to the epidemic — an experience that rings eerily familiar to the discrimination she sees transgender people facing today, she said.

One study from 2023 showed that 70% of transgender and gender nonconforming patients faced at least one negative interaction with a health care provider, ranging from an “unsolicited harmful opinion about gender identity to physical attacks and abuse.” It was only in 2019 that the World Health Organization removed gender dysphoria from its list of mental health illnesses.

Alex Keuroghlian, a clinical psychologist at Harvard Medical School, directs training programs through the National LGBTQIA+ Health Education Center that educate health care providers across the country on gender-affirming care. They’ve noticed a double standard when it comes to the doubts that people raise against transgender health care.

“Given how well resourced anti-trans political groups are, it can really distort the public discourse and make it harder to advance evidence-based, clinically sound practices,” Keuroghlian said of the rampant misinformation they’ve seen online.

An uptick in the number of transgender-identifying youths seeking gender-affirming care sparked a theory that “social contagion” was influencing teens to experience “rapid-onset gender dysphoria.” Some practitioners oppose this framing, and research published by the American Academy of Pediatrics has disproved it. Both the American Psychiatric Assn. and the American Pediatric Assn. support gender-affirming care for adolescents.

Violet Rin, a transgender woman in Florida, gives herself estrogen injections once a week. (Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
Violet Rin, a transgender woman in Florida, gives herself estrogen injections once a week. (Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

The news on the legal front hasn’t been all bad for trans health care providers; last month, a federal court judge struck down Florida’s law restricting gender-affirming care for minors and adults. However, the practice of categorizing gender in a binary medical system continues.

That’s problematic, said Mauricio Dankers, the intensive care unit director at HCA Florida Aventura Hospital, because the medical erasure of trans people can prevent a proper diagnoses. When doctors have to make split-second decisions in the ICU, he said, failing to recognize a transgender person could prevent them from receiving lifesaving care.

“If I don’t know that a transgender woman may have gone through laryngoplasty to change the tone of her voice, I’m going to go and put the breathing tube [and] I may run into trouble,” Dankers offered as an example. Chest binding used by some transgender people to appear more masculine can also lead to pneumonia if done improperly, he said.

Dankers, a gay immigrant who left Peru for the more tolerant New York City, worries that the politicization of transgender health care will put a target on LGBTQ+ health care providers.

These restrictions “are going to change how the LGBTQ+ trainee thinks about their career,” Dankers said. He said they might think, “I’m not going to a place where they don’t want me by law.”

After Texas banned gender-affirming care for teens, a pediatric endocrinologist closed her practice and moved out of the state because she feared violence from armed protesters. And this year, a Texas man was sentenced to three months in prison for threatening a Boston physician serving transgender patients.

Fear and violence have had a ripple effect even on states that have enshrined transgender health care into law.

Baltimore Safe Haven, a nonprofit that provides transitional housing service focused especially on Black trans women, received an increase of 7,000 calls last year after Gov. Wes Moore signed an executive order protecting gender-affirming medical care in Maryland, according to the Baltimore Sun. Most of the callers lived out of state.

“I can’t even see my own doctor,” said Jules Gill-Peterson, a transgender woman and associate professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore who studies the history of transgender medicine. Anecdotally, she’s heard of doctors’ caseloads tripling with the slew of requests they receive from new transgender patients.

“It’s only going to put greater pressure on [the] system as people migrate from states where it’s illegal to transition medically to states where it’s not,” Gill-Peterson said.

LGBTQ+ health care workers are on the defensive, said Kate Steinle, a queer nurse and chief clinical officer at Folx, a nationwide health care provider that serves transgender and queer patients.

“Our general counsel wakes up in the morning and is looking at every single possible legislation that could affect our care,” Steinle said. Folx lobbies the government to ensure that its patients have access to gender-affirming care, but Steinle said fighting anti-trans legislation can sometimes feel like “a game of whack-a-mole” — as one goes down, another takes its place.

Anti-trans legislation is largely symbolic because most of these bills fail, said D Dangaran, a lawyer and director of gender justice at Rights Behind Bars. According to the Trans Legislation Tracker, of the 617 bills introduced, 44 have passed, 348 failed and the rest are pending.

But the fate of transgender health care could shift dramatically depending on the outcome of the presidential election in November.

“A Trump presidency will signal to the states another possibility to move forward on all fronts with anti-trans legislation,” Dangaran said. Former President Trump has promised to end gender-affirming care for minors if he wins, and Dangaran anticipates that he would sign “executive orders that are antithetical to protecting trans rights.”

Keuroghlian worries that many career government employees in the Department of Health and Human Services could be ousted by political appointees as part of Trump’s ambition to reshape the federal workforce. “There is a lot of important health care and research funded by the federal government,” he said.

All of this could reverse the progress that the Biden administration has done to advance gender-affirming care across the country.

“There hasn’t been any president that has more explicitly supported access to gender-affirming care,” said Elana Redfield, the federal policy director at the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law.

Last week, the Supreme Court agreed to consider the Biden administration’s challenge to Tennessee’s ban on gender-affirming care for teens. The administration argues that the ban violates the 14th amendment’s equal protection clause. A ruling is expected next year that could cement or further erode transgender rights.

Redfield warns that “people who are multiply marginalized are also most affected by these laws,” particularly people of color who live in the Deep South. Beyond the legal restrictions to care, they face problems affording the cost of procedures such as gender-affirming surgery and traveling to where care is available, she said.

Nor can lower-income transgender people afford Folx, a private subscription service that charges $39.99 a month on top of any out-of-pocket costs and co-pays levied by an insurer.

“Trans people have a lot to tell us about just how bad U.S. health care can get,” Gill-Peterson said. “Trans health care is not really that different than the rest of health care.”

Increasing the representation of transgender people in a health care system where “profit is placed over people” won’t solve those fundamental inequities, she said. Even if doctors support their transgender patients, Gill-Peterson said, they are still bound by law to follow state regulations and insurers’ dictates.

On the other hand, studies have linked positive health outcomes in LGBTQ+ patients and patients of color to having a health care provider who shares their background. That’s one reason University of Michigan medical student Gaines Blasdel, a trans man, wants to become a urologist who can provide gender-affirming surgery to transgender patients such as himself.

Blasdel said gender-affirming care can be an abstract social justice issue to his cisgender classmates, but it isn’t to him. “I’ve been embedded [in medicine] and I’m going to be, no matter how hard it is.”

Jona Tanguay, a physician assistant and medical lead in the medical substance use disorder programs at Whitman-Walker Health in Washington, D.C., said it’s important not to discredit the incremental but meaningful progress in the representation and quality of care offered to transgender people.

“Progress isn’t always linear,” they said. Tanguay, who is nonbinary, is also the president of GLMA, formerly known as the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association. They already see the curriculum expanding and the number of out transgender health care providers growing steadily. “Every generation after is going to be more self-aware than they used to be about health disparities.”

Olalia said her story demonstrates that trans people can practice medicine just as well as their cisgender colleagues. Because she’s also enrolled full time in a nursing doctoral program, her days start at 4:30 a.m., when she wakes up to prepare for her 10- to 12-hour shifts. Her efforts at Cedars-Sinai earned her a prestigious $10,000 no-strings-attached grant from the Simms/Mann Institute & Foundation.

“I do hope that I can have more power to inspire transgender women,” Olalia said. “I want those who are walking behind me to … have that opportunity to go beyond what they’re told to do or what society deems them to be.”

©2024 Los Angeles Times. Visit at latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Nico Olalia, a transgender and Filipina nurse at Cedars-Sinai, has made it her life’s mission to help others. (Jireh Deng/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Despite past storms’ lessons, long-term care residents again left powerless

18 July 2024 at 18:56

Sandy West | (TNS) KFF Health News

HOUSTON — As Tina Kitzmiller sat inside her sweltering apartment, windows and doors open in the hope of catching even the slightest breeze, she was frustrated and worried for her dog and her neighbors.

It had been days since Hurricane Beryl blew ashore from the Gulf of Mexico on July 8, causing widespread destruction and knocking out power to more than 2 million people, including the Houston senior independent living facility where Kitzmiller lives. Outdoor temperatures had reached at least 90 degrees most days, and the heat inside the building was stifling.

Kitzmiller moved there not long ago with Kai, her 12-year-old dog, shortly after riding out 90-plus-mph winds from a May derecho under a comforter on the floor of the 33-foot RV she called home. She didn’t need medical care, as a nursing home would offer, and thought she and Kai could be safer at an independent senior facility than in the RV. She assumed her new home would have an emergency power system in place at least equivalent to that of the post offices she’d worked in for 35 years.

“I checked out the food. I checked out the activities,” said Kitzmiller, 61, now retired. “I didn’t know I needed to inquire about a generator.”

Even after multiple incidents of extreme weather — including a 2021 Texas winter storm that caused widespread blackouts and prompted a U.S. Senate investigation — not much has changed for those living in long-term care facilities when natural disasters strike in Texas or elsewhere.

“There has been some movement, but I think it’s been way too slow,” said David Grabowski, a professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School. “We keep getting tested and we keep failing the test. But I do think we are going to have to face this issue.”

A power outage can be difficult for anyone, but older adults are especially vulnerable to temperature extremes, with medications or medical conditions affecting their bodies’ ability to regulate heat and cold. Additionally, some medications need refrigeration while others cannot get too cold.

Federal guidelines require nursing homes to maintain safe indoor temperatures but do not regulate how. For example, facilities face no requirement that generators or other alternative energy sources support heating and air conditioning systems. States are largely responsible for compliance, Grabowski said, and if states are failing in that regard, change doesn’t happen.

Furthermore, while nursing homes face such federal oversight, lower-care-level facilities that provide some medical care — known as assisted living — are regulated at the state level, so the rules for emergency preparedness vary widely.

Some states have toughened those guidelines. Maryland adopted rules for generators in assisted living facilities following Hurricane Isabel, which left more than 1.2 million residents in the state without power in 2003. Florida did so for nursing homes and assisted living facilities in 2018, after Hurricane Irma led to deaths at one facility.

But Texas has not. And no requirements for generators exist in Texas for the roughly 2,000 assisted living facilities or the even less regulated independent living sites, like Kitzmiller’s.

Generally, apartment complexes marketed to senior citizens, known in the industry as independent living facilities, don’t have any special regulations in Texas and many other states.

Nationally, assisted living facilities and independent living facilities have been the fastest-growing sectors in senior living. Residents at such facilities often have medical needs, Grabowski said, but for a variety of reasons have chosen to live in an environment that allows more independence than a nursing home, which would provide medical care. That doesn’t mean the residents in these lower-care-level facilities are any less susceptible to extreme temperatures when the power goes out.

“If you’re overwhelmed by the heat in your apartment, that’s unsafe,” he said.

Republican state Rep. Ed Thompson tried several times since 2020 to pass legislation requiring assisted living facilities in Texas to have backup generators. But the bills failed. He is not seeking reelection this year.

“It’s horrible what the state of Texas is doing,” said Thompson, blaming corporate greed and politicians more interested in stirring up their base and raising their national profile than improving the lives of Texans. “How we treat our elderly says something about us — and they’re not being treated right.”

Nim Kidd, chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management, said at a July 11 press conference that senior facility operators are accountable if they do not keep residents safe. “That location is responsible for the health, safety, and welfare of the patients and residents that are there,” he told reporters. “It is that facility’s responsibility.”

Under Texas law, power restoration is supposed to be prioritized for nursing, assisted living, and hospice facilities.

The resistance to adding oversight or more governmental protections has not surprised Gregory Shelley, a senior manager at the Harris County Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program at UTHealth Houston’s Cizik School of Nursing. He said that while he believes the safety and health of residents are paramount, he recognizes that installing generators is expensive. He also said some people within the industry continue to believe extreme events are rare.

“But all of us in Houston this year already learned that they’re happening more frequently,” Shelley said. “This is already the third time since May that big portions of Houston have been without power for long periods of time.”

After the 2021 blackouts, Texas’ Health and Human Services Commission conducted a voluntary survey that found 47% of the assisted living and 99% of the nursing care facilities that responded reported having generators.

The U.S. Senate investigation following the 2021 Texas storm recommended a national requirement that assisted living facilities have emergency power supplies to both maintain safe temperatures and keep medical equipment running.

2023 annual report from Texas’ long-term care ombudsman, Patty Ducayet, also recommended requiring generators at assisted living centers. The report suggested that all long-term care facilities maintain safe temperatures in a location that can be accessed by every resident. The report recommended requiring assisted living facilities to annually submit emergency response plans to state regulators to be reviewed by state officials. The recommendations have not been adopted.

On July 15 — more than a week after Beryl hit — Kitzmiller said she just wanted the power back on. She praised the staff at her facility but said she worried for residents who were isolated on her building’s second and third floors, which were hotter amid the outage. Some were unable to keep required medicine refrigerated, she said. And without functioning elevators, many couldn’t get to the first floor, where it was cooler.

Mostly, Kitzmiller said, she was frustrated with companies and politicians who hadn’t yet fixed the problem.

“It’s their mothers, their grandmothers, and their family in these homes, these facilities,” she said. “All I can think is ‘Shame on you.’”

___

(KFF Health News is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues and is one of the core operating programs of KFF — the independent source for health policy research, polling and journalism.)

©2024 KFF Health News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Tina Kitzmiller and her dog, Kai, have been without power in a Houston senior independent living facility in the wake of Hurricane Beryl, which knocked out the electricity to more than 2 million people. She moved to the facility after riding out a May derecho in her RV, thinking the facility would be safer. “I didn’t know I needed to inquire about a generator,” she says. (Sandy West for KFF Health News/TNS)

Mortgage rates fall below 7% for first time in months

18 July 2024 at 18:49

Jeff Ostrowski | (TNS) Bankrate.com

Mortgage rates broke below the 7% barrier this week, according to Bankrate’s latest lender survey. It was the first time since February that the average 30-year rate was in the sub-7 range. The reason: optimism that the Federal Reserve might cut rates in the near future.

The 30-year mortgage rate fell to 6.92%. The 15-year rate fell to 6.92% and the 30-year jumbo to 6.92%.

The 30-year fixed mortgages in this week’s survey had an average total of 0.28 discount and origination points. Discount points are a way for you to reduce your mortgage rate, while origination points are fees a lender charges to create, review and process your loan.

Monthly mortgage payment at today’s rates

The national median family income for 2024 is $97,800, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the median price of an existing home sold in May 2024 was $419,300, a record, according to the National Association of Realtors. Based on a 20% down payment and a 6.92% mortgage rate, the monthly payment of $2,214 amounts to 27% of the typical family’s monthly income.

Will mortgage rates go down?

In the simplest sense, the economy drives whether mortgage rates go up or down. Thirty-year mortgage rates tend to fall in recessions — but not always — and today the economy is anything but a downturn. The jobs market has been strong, and inflation, while lower compared to a few months ago, is still above the Federal Reserve’s 2% target.

The Fed is likely to cut rates this year, if only once, and optimism about a rate cut allowed mortgage rates to slip below 7%, says Michael Merritt, senior vice president at BOK Financial, a bank headquartered in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

“They’re not where consumers want them to be or where mortgage companies want them to be, but there is some relief there,” Merritt says.

To be clear, mortgage rates are not set directly by the Fed, but by investor appetite, particularly for 10-year Treasury bonds, the leading indicator for fixed mortgage prices. That can lead to intense rate swings — they soar on news of Fed hikes, then plummet in anticipation of a cut. Given the Fed doesn’t expect to cut rates as much this year as it initially predicted, mortgage rates are likely to dip rather than plunge.

Methodology

The Bankrate.com national survey of large lenders is conducted weekly. To conduct the National Average survey, Bankrate obtains rate information from the 10 largest banks and thrifts in 10 large U.S. markets. In the Bankrate.com national survey, our Market Analysis team gathers rates and/or yields on banking deposits, loans and mortgages. We’ve conducted this survey in the same manner for more than 30 years, and because it’s consistently done the way it is, it gives an accurate national apples-to-apples comparison. Our rates differ from other national surveys, in particular Freddie Mac’s weekly published rates. Each week Freddie Mac surveys lenders on the rates and points based on first-lien prime conventional conforming home purchase mortgages with a loan-to-value of 80%. “Lenders surveyed each week are a mix of lender types — thrifts, credit unions, commercial banks and mortgage lending companies — is roughly proportional to the level of mortgage business that each type commands nationwide,” according to Freddie Mac.

(Visit Bankrate online at bankrate.com.)

©2024 Bankrate.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Mortgage rates broke below the 7 percent barrier this week, according to Bankrate’s latest lender survey. It was the first time since February that the average 30-year rate was in the sub-7 range. (Photovs/Dreamstime/TNS)

Actually, the job market isn’t so bad for Gen Z college grads

18 July 2024 at 18:43

By Anna Helhoski | NerdWallet

Despite the prevalence of TikTok videos and recent articles detailing stories of individual college graduates struggling to find good jobs, the data tells a different story.

After all, the overall labor market is stronger than it’s been in decades. And Zoomers who recently graduated from college are certainly better off, in most respects, than previous generations of new grads.

“If you’re a recent college grad, right now things aren’t booming with opportunities like they were a couple years ago,” says Nick Bunker, economic research director for North America at Indeed Hiring Lab. “But it’s still really a relatively solid labor market. And hopefully, fingers crossed, the market stays strong for a couple years. And that gives you more opportunity to find a job as opposed to hanging your hat for the first six months after you graduate.”

When you compare the labor markets faced by Zoomers with previous generations, recent college grads now are better off than their older counterparts: Zoomer grads are earning much higher salaries today than Gen X did in the mid-1990s. Inflation may eat away at Gen Z’s high wages, but it doesn’t touch the stagflation of the 1970s and 1980s that baby boomer college graduates encountered.

The short recession that Gen Z experienced at the start of the pandemic is certainly no Great Recession, which technically lasted less than two years, but was followed by several years of tepid economic growth. That period stymied recent millennial graduates during crucial early employment years and is likely to negatively impact their lifetime earnings.

“It’s not just the year that you graduate,” says Bunker. “Your first years out probably make the most difference because that’s when you’re getting your foot on the career ladder.”

Gen Z bounced back fast

Despite the fact that the oldest cohort of Zoomers — 2020 grads — entered a job market with the highest unemployment rate in the modern era, that recession lasted just two months. And what followed was one of the strongest economic bounce backs ever.

The nation’s unemployment rate has hovered between 3.4% and 4% since December 2021. The current rate, 4.1%, remains among the lowest in 50 years, which means Zoomer college graduates have strong prospects for getting jobs right out of school and moving up the career ladder.

Bunker says the job market has cooled compared with two years ago. There is far less competition among employers than in 2022, which means fewer opportunities, according to Bunker. But it’s not all that dramatic in the broader context.

“If we wind the clock a little bit more and compare to what we saw pre-pandemic, it’s around those levels,” Bunker says. He adds that when compared with previous cohorts of graduates, job opportunities are roughly in line with those enjoyed by millennials who completed college in the early 2000s.

Gen Z’s unemployment outlier

Even with all of the positive aspects of the current labor market, there’s still a unique trend among recent Gen Z graduates that earlier generations haven’t faced: an unemployment rate that’s higher than overall unemployment.

It’s a particular quirk seen when you parse unemployment data among recent graduates over the past 30 years. The unemployment rate as of March 2024 for recent graduates was 4.7% — a full percentage point higher than the overall unemployment rate at that time, 3.7%.

This is an unusual development. Before 2018, the unemployment rate among recent grads was almost always lower than overall unemployment, due to strong employer demand for highly educated workers.

The reversal is likely because there’s been a surge in demand for non-college-educated service workers since the pandemic.

Underemployment is still high among recent grads

Labor data shows that underemployment — the rate of those with college degrees who are working jobs that don’t require degrees — has always been higher among recent graduates compared with all bachelor’s degree holders.

“They go ahead and get that college degree and then they can’t get on a career track that uses that education,” says Elise Gould, senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a nonpartisan think tank.

It doesn’t help that certain job sectors have become more crowded. Majoring in computer science, for example, doesn’t guarantee a job anymore as tech companies pull back from hiring.

Underemployment among computer science majors is higher than those who study health-related programs, education or engineering, according to a February 2024 report by The Burning Glass Institute, a labor market analytics firm, and Strada Education Foundation. But fewer computer science majors are underemployed when compared with those who study social sciences, psychology, humanities and business management.

As of March 2024, some 40% of recent graduates are working in jobs that don’t require a degree versus 33% of all college graduates, according to data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Salaries for recent grads have spiked

Gen Z college graduates can expect higher-than-ever salaries when they enter the job market: The typical recent college graduate with a four-year degree can anticipate a salary of around $62,609, according to an analysis of employer job postings and third-party data sources by ZipRecruiter, a job posting site. That roughly matches the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s finding of $60,000 as the median annual wage for a recent graduate with a bachelor’s degree.

As the chart below shows, current median salaries are above those held by earlier generations of newly minted graduates when adjusted for inflation.

Even though salaries are at a peak for recent grads, the latest cohort might not be earning what they expect: A survey released by Real Estate Witch, a housing market research and review site, found 2023 graduates expected to make around $85,000 at their first job and the minimum salary they said they would accept is around $73,000. However, Real Estate Witch found that the average starting salary for a recent grad is about $56,000.

“If you’re a young person graduating now, maybe the differential between what you expected and what reality is, is quite large,” says Bunker.

It’s also possible that wage growth for young new hires may have plateaued as the momentum in the overall labor market that was pushing wages higher has now slowed, says Liv Wang, senior data scientist at ADP Research Institute, which measures workforce data. “If we look at ages from 23 to 26 — that includes a lot of recent grads — and the median hourly base pay for them is like $17, and that per-hour has been little changed since June 2022,” says Wang, citing recent ADP data.

Still, as Gould points out, young workers are disproportionately lower-wage workers — even if they have a college degree.

Gen Z grads do face economic and employment uncertainty

Today’s college graduates heading into the workforce aren’t free from economic challenges. They’re dealing with elevated inflation that eats away at their wages. And when you earn less — as most young workers do — higher costs take a bigger bite. In recent years, the cost of housing has skyrocketed, especially for renters, while health insurance and car ownership have both grown more expensive. And, Gould says, like generations before, young workers fresh out of college who have student loan debt will carry an additional burden.

Salaries, overall, may be higher than ever, but it varies based on your degree. And there are still persistent gender and racial inequities to earnings, Gould points out.

But once again, the data shows it is still a pretty good time to be a college graduate and, in general, to have a degree.

It still pays to get a college degree

Those with college degrees remain more likely to be employed than workers in the same age group, ages 22 to 27, according to an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Even an associate degree or professional certificate can give young workers a leg up, as many areas of the country are facing a shortage of middle-skills labor.

In March 2024 the unemployment rate for recent college grads — those ages 22 to 27 — was 4.7% compared with 6.2% for all young workers in the same age group.

Anna Helhoski writes for NerdWallet. Email: anna@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @AnnaHelhoski.

The article Actually, the Job Market Isn’t So Bad for Gen Z College Grads originally appeared on NerdWallet.

A student walks through commencement at the DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium on May 11, 2024 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

Tinder's new AI tool helps users choose pictures that are most likely to get matches

18 July 2024 at 18:37

Tinder is using artificial intelligence to help people have more success on its app.

The dating app has launched a new AI tool that helps users choose the best pictures that are most likely to get matches.

The Photo Selector feature works by scanning a users camera roll.

First, a Tinder user will take a selfie for facial recognition purposes. Then, after photo access is granted, the Photo Selector will curate a selection of optimal images for the user to review. The user then selects which ones they want to use and adds them to their profile.

The new feature comes after a recent survey commissioned by Tinder showed that more than half of respondents said selecting a profile image is difficult, and nearly 70% reported that an AI feature that helps select photos would be helpful.

Were proud to be the first dating app to roll out an AI tool that can make the profile-building experience significantly easier an area we know is one of the hardest parts of dating. As the category leader, we're pushing ourselves to define the industry's best use cases for meaningful consumer AI integrations, said Tinder CEO Faye Iosotaluno, in a press release. As demonstrated by our Photo Selector feature, were developing AI tech to assist you in making decisions, not to make them for you."

Tinder said some of the best photos are well-lit, crisp and clear and showcase ones personality. The dating app said group photos should be kept to a minimum to avoid confusion, and showing a variety of photos from a headshot, to an adventure shot, to doing something you love is the best way to go.

Internal tinder data showed that most single women prefer mens profiles to have at least four images that genuinely reflect their personalities. The data also showed that men who include more than one face photo in their profiles increase their likelihood of matching with women by 71%.

'You owe the people answers': GOP senators berate Secret Service director at RNC

18 July 2024 at 18:30

Things got heated during the third night of the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee when a group of angry GOP senators confronted Secret Service Director Kimberly Cheatle, demanding answers about alleged security flaws leading up to the assassination attempt on former President Donald Trump.

In a video shared on social media by Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn, she and others can be seen shouting at Cheatle about the attack as they followed her through the halls of the RNC.

"This was an assassination attempt! You owe the people answers. You owe President Trump answers! Blackburn shouted.

"Its stonewalling! Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming added.

RELATED STORY | How a young man with no clear motive tried to kill former President Donald Trump

Barrasso told Scripps News that the heated confrontation stemmed from a background briefing senators received from Cheatle earlier in the day, which he said did not address the alleged security failures on the day of the Trump attack. Barrasso described the call as a "reading of talking points, stonewalling, and then cutting off questions after just a few questions."

"She can't run, can't hide, and actually has to sit there and take questions, which she didn't do on the call," he said. "She didn't even take very many questions on the call and let it be seen by the American people."

RELATED STORY | New details emerge about the Trump rally shooter, but still no sign of a motive

Multiple investigations have been launched since the shocking assassination attempt last weekend at a Trump rally in Butler, Pennsylvania. The shooter, identified as 20-year-old Thomas Matthew Crooks, gained access to the rooftop of a building nearly 150 yards from where Trump was speaking and fired multiple rounds toward Trump, injuring the former president and two rally attendees and leaving one man dead.

However, as days have passed with little new information, Cheatle has come under intense scrutiny as many question the security efforts and procedures at the event that would allow such an attack to occur. The House Oversight and Accountability Committee has also subpoenaed Cheatle to compel her to testify before a public hearing.

"The assassination attempt of the former President and current Republican nominee for president represents a total failure of the agencys core mission and demands Congressional oversight," Chairman Rep. James Comer wrote in a letter to Cheatle.

RELATED STORY | Secret Service did not sweep rooftop where Trump shooter was found, source says

A spokesperson for the committee confirmed to Scripps News on Wednesday that Cheatle has agreed to comply with the subpoena and appear for a hearing on July 22.

The Secret Service is working with all involved federal, state and local agencies to understand what happened, how it happened, and how we can prevent an incident like this from ever taking place again, Cheatle said in a statement earlier this week. We understand the importance of the independent review announced by President Biden yesterday and will participate fully. We will also work with the appropriate Congressional committees on any oversight action.

Suspect in Samantha Woll murder trial found not guilty of first-degree murder

18 July 2024 at 18:21

The agonizing month-long trial for the man charged with murdering Detroit synagogue leader Samantha Woll has ended with a partial verdict on Thursday, after jurors failed to reach a consensus in two of the four charges against the defendant.

Michael Jackson-Bolanos, 29, of Detroit, is accused of fatally stabbing Woll inside her Lafayette Park townhouse this past October.

After five days of deliberations, the jury found Jackson-Bolanos not guilty of first-degree murder and guilty of lying to police, but could not come to a unanimous decision over the felony murder and home invasion charges.

The jury remained deadlocked Tuesday, with one juror swapped out due to a pre-scheduled vacation. Wayne County Circuit Judge Margaret Van Houten allowed the jury to take the day off on Wednesday due to another juror’s child care conflict. However, the shakeup was not significant enough to reach a unanimous verdict on all counts.

Woll, 40, served as the president of the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue at the time of her death and was a board member of the Jewish Community Relations Council and the American Jewish Committee in Detroit. Her murder gained national attention largely due to its close proximity to the Oct. 7 Hamas terror attack on Israel over concerns it could have been an act of antisemitism. However, Detroit police were quick to dispel fear of the killing being a hate crime.

But with no eye witnesses or evidence directly tying Jackson-Bolanos to the inside of Woll’s apartment, some doubt remained about his possible motive for committing such a brutal murder when he has no criminal history of assault or violent crime.

For many, those doubts grew considerably as more details about the case emerged throughout trial — including a recanted confession to the murder by Woll’s ex boyfriend, Jeffrey Herbstman, who was the first suspect arrested in the case before being released and ruled out by investigators three days later.

Read more: Testimony in Samantha Woll murder trial reveals ex-boyfriend’s retracted confession

Herbstman testified during trial as a prosecution witness, claiming his manic confession was “the product of an adverse reaction to a medication that causes delusions.”

Though police say Herbstman’s cell phone data placed him in his apartment on the night of Woll’s murder, defense attorney Brian Brown argued he could have left his phone at home, adding that detectives’ failure to fully investigate Herbstman left significant potential for reasonable doubt in the case.

During his closing arguments last week, Assistant Prosecutor Ryan Elsey dismissed Brown’s claims, stating: “There are simply too many coincidences, too many coincidences to suggest that anyone other than the defendant killed her.”

Read more: Prosecutors introduce blood, surveillance evidence in Samantha Woll murder trial

Those coincidences include surveillance video and cell tower data that place Jackson-Bolanos near Woll’s apartment on the night of her murder at 4:20 a.m. — the exact time her ADT security sensor was triggered for the last time. Additionally, the jacket and backpack Jackson-Bolanos was seen wearing on surveillance video that night both tested positive for Woll’s blood, according to police, though the stains were so small they were not visible to the naked eye.

Brown alleges that his client could not have entered Woll’s home at 4:20 a.m., stabbed her eight times and got into a struggle throughout her home, and be a quarter mile away by 4:24 a.m. — when he was captured on surveillance video crossing the Monroe Street bridge over Interstate 375.

Michigan State Police Detective Sgt. Chadwick Bloom testified to conducting three field tests to see how long it would take to traverse the distance between the two points — ranging from 3 minutes and 33 seconds at a brisk walk to 1 minute 10 seconds in a full sprint.

During his testimony in his own defense, Jackson-Bolanos admitted to discovering Woll’s body on the street while he was in the area checking for unlocked vehicles, and suggested the blood found on his sleeve and backpack was a result of him touching her neck to check for a pulse.

Read more: Defendant testifies in Samantha Woll murder trial

However, his testimony contradicted statements he made during his interrogations by police, during which he denied several times checking cars for valuables or encountering Woll’s body.

Woll, who led the Downtown Synagogue since 2022, was a beloved political activist whose loss has been felt well beyond metro Detroit’s Jewish community. Described by long-time friends as “eternally optimistic,” and extremely “vibrant” and “passionate,” she gained a reputation as a community bridge builder between the Jewish and Arab American community in Detroit.

“Sam had an amazing willingness to listen carefully to each and every person with whom she spoke,” Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue Rabbi Ariana Silverman stated at Woll’s funeral. “She certainly had her own convictions, but she would really listen to different ideas and had the remarkable ability to say ‘let me think about it and I will get back to you.’”

The partial verdict could result in an attempt by prosecutors to re-try the case for the two deadlocked felony murder and home invasion charges. The lying to police officers conviction is punishable by up to two years in prison.

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The way to voters’ hearts? It must be memes and TikTok, influencers say

18 July 2024 at 18:18

Jim Saksa | (TNS) CQ-Roll Call

Politics, it is said, is the art and science of persuasion. A politician gathers power by convincing people — but needs to get their attention first. And who better to give advice on that than those pied pipers of the internet: influencers?

That was partly why a crowd of Capitol Hill communicators gathered last Friday to hear from the likes of V Spehar and Maria Comstock, who have millions of followers on TikTok.

The other reason: networking. Hosted by the Democratic Digital Communications Staff Association, it was the group’s first in-person conference since 2019. Sessions at “Digital Day 2024” ranged from a crash course on “mastering short-form video” to tips on how to get the most out of a lawmaker’s franking privileges.

While current or former Hill staffers led most of the panels, the group also invited a few certifiable social media stars to share their secrets, including Comstock, who uses her channel to interview her dad and other self-described retired spies. And the keynote speaker was Spehar, who earned 3.1 million followers by posting short videos recounting the day’s news from underneath a desk (and from a progressive perspective).

Spehar provided a quick 101 lesson on growing an audience that could be summed up by Marshall McLuhan’s old chestnut: “The medium is the message.”

Social media accounts need to be for just one thing, Spehar said, whether that’s selling, informing or influencing. Too often, politicians try to be cool, or worse, do the trite, overly performative bit of an Old doing the TikTok because their Gen Z staffers said so.

On TikTok especially, you want to speak directly to the camera, using short clips of 30-45 seconds, focused on no more than one topic, Spehar said, pointing to the success Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., has had on the app since pivoting to that style after previously posting clips of interviews with traditional media.

In another presentation, Emma Mont, the “public face” of the anonymous collective behind the @OrganizerMemes account, offered pointers on how to go viral, like “the early memer gets the worm,” and “you don’t want to beat people over the head with your message, you want it to dissolve into them slowly.”

The mood was upbeat at the event, which was held a day before the political landscape was upended by the attempted assassination of former President Donald Trump. More than 200 staffers RSVP’d, according to Eric Jones, one of the conference organizers and a communications aide for Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo.

For members of Congress and their typically much younger staffers, bridging generational divides and finding the messaging sweet spot on social media has been an awkward challenge for years.

All the presenters shared the same argument for getting elected officials, even those born before the invention of color TV, on the apps: You’ve got to meet voters where they are.

“A lot of what I am is catching people who didn’t watch the news,” said Spehar, who uses the pronoun they. Repackaging a 1,200-word article into a minute-long video can act like a gateway drug to harder news. “If I can get you interested, you feel included and you feel smart. Then you go to the next level, right?” they said. “And then, soon enough, maybe you subscribe to The Washington Post.”

Spehar said Democrats need reinforcements on social media to counterbalance the waves of disinformation and misinformation on TikTok and YouTube. “There’s a lot of bad actors out there, right? There’s a lot of people who are very good and very comfortable lying and misrepresenting things for clicks or engagement,” they said. “More truth out there, more accountability out there and more actual experts out there — even if they’re in shorter clips — is going to do a lot more to beat all of these long-winded podcast bros who talk about nonsense all the time.”

Some Democrats, like Sen. Christopher S. Murphy of Connecticut, have lamented social media’s apparent impact on real-world socializing, blaming the apps for contributing to an epidemic of loneliness. Social interaction with friends and family is a necessity of life on par with shelter or food, the argument goes, and these parasocial, one-sided online relationships are akin to Doritos — a habit-forming source of empty calories that might satisfy your immediate hunger pangs but will leave you malnourished if you consume too much.

But the presenters Friday saw social media as an inalienable segment in the patchwork of political speech.

“Twitter is real life to some people,” said Mont, encouraging political accounts to interact with users who engage with them in good faith. “People want to feel like they are a part of something. … Give people a sense of community and they will love you for it.”

Many Democrats supported a bipartisan law, signed by President Joe Biden in April, that will force ByteDance, the company that owns TikTok, to either sell the app or shut it down in the U.S., viewing its ties to the Chinese Communist Party as a national security risk.

Spehar used part of their time in front of Hill staffers to advocate against shutting down TikTok. “If you ban this app, it will bum out America in a way that you have never seen, because a lot of people have trauma-bonded to this app through the pandemic,” they said. “They built community when there was none and when they felt like the government abandoned them.”

Even if a Democrat voted for that bill, Mont said, they should still get on TikTok to reach voters, citing a Tufts University poll that found nearly 30 percent of 18- to 21-year-old voters heard about the 2020 elections on TikTok.

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©2024 CQ-Roll Call, Inc., All Rights Reserved. Visit cqrollcall.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

In this photo illustration, a TikTok logo is displayed on an iPhone on Feb. 28, 2023, in London, England. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images/TNS)

Government watchdog proposes crackdown on paycheck advance products

18 July 2024 at 18:15

The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau proposed new rules on Thursday amid a stark rise in the use of paycheck advance products.

According to a report by the CFPB, at least 5% of American workers used a paycheck advance product in 2022. These products essentially provide workers with some of their paychecks days before their actual payday.

The CFPB noted that these plans come with fees and often have high interest rates.

The CFPB's proposal would change how these products are interpreted, requiring them to follow existing laws for payday loans. It would also require companies offering such products to disclose fees upfront.

RELATED STORY | Biden administration's new overtime rules take effect

Government officials say that employer-backed programs are every bit as concerning as those pitched directly to consumers.

Paycheck advance products are often marketed to and designed for employers, rather than employees, said CFPB Director Rohit Chopra. The CFPB's actions will help workers know what they are getting with these products and prevent race-to-the-bottom business practices.

Although plans offered by employers are a concern, officials say programs that are marketed directly to workers also are unsettling.

"There is also a risk that workers may become financially overextended if they simultaneously use multiple earned wage products. Although this is unlikely within the employer-partnered market, it is possible that workers could use multiple direct-to-consumer products or use them in combination with employer-partnered products," the CFPB's report notes.

The CFPB said that use of these sorts of programs doubled between 2021 and 2022.

The agency is currently gathering comments and could issue finalized rules later this year.

Analysis: Watching the language of Trump, Biden

18 July 2024 at 18:08

Jason Dick | (TNS) CQ-Roll Call

MILWAUKEE — In the aftermath of the attempted assassination of former President Donald Trump, the calls for civility and unity have come steadily.

But even assuming there is some pivot toward gentler political rhetoric, Trump deployed inflammatory language more regularly during his White House tenure than has the man he is attempting to defeat in the 2024 election, President Joe Biden.

Tasking two popular large language models (OpenAI Moderation filter, version 1, release 007 and Anthropic’s Claude 3.5 Sonnet) with identifying harmful content in Roll Call Factba.se’s transcripts of Trump’s and Biden’s public events as president resulted in rhetoric from both flagged as being potentially harassing and/or violent.

While AI moderators can sometimes struggle to appreciate context or tone, then-President Trump’s speeches were more than six times more likely to contain statements the models identified as inflammatory. From the starts of their presidencies to day 1,272 of each of their tenures — July 14 in 2020 for Trump and 2024 for Biden — 1 percent of Biden’s events had a flagged remark and 6.9% of Trump’s did. Put another way, that amounts to Trump being flagged every two hours, 9 minutes and 9 seconds of speech. Biden gets a flag every 14 hours, 21 seconds of speech.

Of course, the dynamics of the race changed markedly on Saturday when Trump survived an assassination attempt at a rally in Butler County, Pa. Both men have since made pleas for unity from the public, at the same time they try to make the case that the other is unfit for a second White House term.

On the opening night of the Republican National Convention here, speakers mostly stuck to the program, accusing Biden of making life miserable while avoiding some of the most pointed rhetoric that has become commonplace.

One exception came from Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., who called Biden and his vice president, Kamala Harris, a “clear and present danger.” Johnson later clarified that was an old speech, and the new one just hadn’t been loaded into the teleprompter, a claim that served to validate the GOP’s marching orders to tone things down.

Trump himself told the Washington Examiner on Sunday that he was tempering his speech, but in doing so revealed there is still an edge behind whatever touch-ups might be coming.

“I think it would be very bad if I got up and started going wild about how horrible everybody is, and how corrupt and crooked, even if it’s true,” he said.

Trump gives his keynote speech on Thursday to cap off the convention, an event that will reveal which speech gets loaded into the teleprompter.

For his part, Biden went on prime-time TV in an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt, serving as counter-programmer in chief on day one of the GOP gathering and touching on both his and Trump’s use of language.

Responding to criticism of his saying recently it was time to put Trump in a “bulls-eye,” Biden said he shouldn’t have said that. But he also accurately said Trump’s use of violent language stretched back years, and he accused his rival of having contributed heavily to the coarsening of the current political situation.

Whether either man can dial back some voters’ thirst for conflict is another open question. From the gaveling in of the GOP convention early Monday afternoon to the end of that evening when a bandaged Trump appeared in the arena to wild applause, the delegates here had a singular, consistent chant, echoing Trump’s exhortation Saturday on the stage in Butler right after the shooting: “Fight, fight, fight.”

_____

(Bill Frischling and Ryan Kelly contributed to this piece.)

_____

©2024 CQ-Roll Call, Inc., All Rights Reserved. Visit cqrollcall.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Republican presidential candidate, former U.S. President Donald Trump gestures during the first day of the Republican National Convention at the Fiserv Forum on July 15, 2024, in Milwaukee. Delegates, politicians, and the Republican faithful are in Milwaukee for the annual convention, concluding with former President Donald Trump accepting his party’s presidential nomination. The RNC takes place from July 15-18. (Andrew Harnik/Getty Images/TNS)

Jury delivers partial verdict in murder of Samantha Woll, deadlocked on felony murder

18 July 2024 at 18:08

The jury has delivered a partial verdict Thursday in the murder trial for Michael Jackson-Bolanos, who was accused of killing Detroit synagogue leader Samantha Woll.

The jury was on day five of deliberations. They deadlocked on the felony murder charge, found him not guilty of premeditated murder, they were deadlocked on the home invasion charge and found Jackson-Bolanos guilty of concealing facts to police.

At the end of today's hearing, the judge set a pretrial hearing on the two remaining counts, on July 25th at 12 pm. At this point, prosecutors could decide not to retry the case. However, they have not yet commented following today's developments.

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy issued the following statement after the partial verdict:

First, I want to thank the jury for their time, dedication, and attention to this case. We were hopeful that a decision could reached today, but we will press on for justice for the Wolls and will determine our next course of action at the pre-trial hearing."

VIDEO: Listen to the verdict read in court: Partial verdict reached in trial of Michael Jackson Bolanos

Woll was stabbed to death at her apartment in the Lafayette Park neighborhood of Detroit in the early morning hours of Oct. 21. Initially, police arrested her ex-boyfriend, Jeffrey Herbstam, who took the stand during the trial.

VIDEO: Watch Samantha Woll's ex-boyfriend testify during the trial Samantha Woll's ex-boyfriend testifies at murder trial

On Nov. 7, Herbstman made a frantic 911 call while he was staying in Kalamazoo for work. Body-worn police camera footage showed Herbstman in a panic. He told police he was having a psychotic break after taking medication for depression and marijuana.

In the video, Herbstman can be heard saying he thinks he killed Woll. However, he said he had no recollection of it.

Wayne County Assistant Prosecutor Ryan Elsey prosecuted the case, saying that Jackson-Bolanos was in the neighborhood looking for cars to steal from. The prosecution alleged that Jackson-Bolanos saw Wolls door was open after she returned home from a wedding and robbed her.

Prosecutors alleged that it was during the robbery that Jackson-Bolanos stabbed her eight times, killing her.

During the trial, Jackson-Bolanos took the stand and admitted to being in the neighborhood, but said he discovered Wolls body around 4:20 a.m. and the fled the area when he realized she was dead.

VIDEO: Jackson-Bolanos takes the stand during the trial: Defedant in Samantha Woll murder trial takes the stand

Michael Bullota, a former prosecutor and now a criminal defense attorney, told 7 News Detroit on Wednesday that If the jury cannot come to a conclusion as to any one count then the judge will declare a mistrial on that one count and then it will be up to the prosecutor to decide whether the prosecution wants to retry the case.

With it being a murder case, Bullota said theres no question the prosecution will want to retry the case.

Barbie creates doll for Sue Bird as part of 65th anniversary collection

18 July 2024 at 18:04

UConn legend Sue Bird is still trailblazing for women’s basketball even after retirement, becoming the first WNBA player to have a Barbie doll created in her likeness.

Mattel announced Tuesday that it is producing a Bird Barbie as a part of its 65th anniversary celebration, adding the former Seattle Storm point guard to its Role Model collection that will also feature nine other female athletes. Bird is one of three American athletes to have her Barbie in the collection, joining tennis superstar Venus Williams and Olympic figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi. Barbie previously partnered with the WNBA during its inaugural season in 1998 to produce basketball player dolls, and former UConn star Rebecca Lobo was featured on the box as the face of the campaign.

Hi Barbie 👋

Barbie created the Sue Bird Role Model doll to celebrate Sue’s basketball legacy! pic.twitter.com/g1Pz3CLk8h

— UConn Women’s Basketball (@UConnWBB) July 16, 2024

Bird’s doll is designed with a non-traditional Barbie body known as ‘Made to Move’, which allows the knee and elbow joints to bend for more realistic athletic play. Mattel previously highlighted women’s sports with their 2023 Career of the Year collection that launched last September and included dolls representing a general manager, a referee, a coach and a sports reporter.

As part of the release for Bird’s Barbie, the company is collaborating with Voice In Sport, a digital platform that inspires girls to stay in sports through virtual mentorship programs and educational content. Mattel will also make a donation to Every Kids Sport, a nonprofit that provides grants to make youth sports accessible for low-income families.

“I’m just really excited that we’re going to be able to give back in that way,” Bird told People Magazine. “There’s going to be a tangible effect. The more you live, the more you realize there’s so much talent in the world, but there’s not always enough opportunity in the world. So this is a way where we can change that.”

Bird retired from the WNBA in 2022 after 20 seasons with the Storm as a four-time league champion, a 13-time All-Star and a five-time All-WNBA selection. She also helped lead Team USA to five consecutive Olympic gold medals and was an two-time NCAA champion at UConn from 1998-2002. Bird’s No. 10 jersey was retired by Seattle in 2023.

Sue Bird looks on during the game between the Seattle Storm and the Indiana Fever at Climate Pledge Arena on June 27, 2024 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Fact-checking the shattering teleprompter conspiracy theory at Trump rally shooting

18 July 2024 at 17:53

Just moments after a gunman fired shots at former President Donald Trump at a Pennsylvania rally Saturday, conspiracy theories started swirling, many of them related to how the president ended up with a bloody ear.

Widely shared social media posts showed a doctored photo of a shattered teleprompter in support of a theory that it was flying glass that injured the former president, not a bullet.

But, when playing verified footage of the assassination attempt, Scripps News could clearly see the two teleprompters still intact following the gunfire.

RELATED STORY | How conspiracy theories are fueling a desperation for answers after Trump assassination attempt

Viewing higher-resolution images from different angles shows both teleprompters, neither of which appears to be damaged.

A couple of hours after the shooting, the former president posted a statement on Truth Social stating a bullet pierced the upper part of my right ear.

The Secret Service and FBI have not yet released details about Trump's injury; however, confirmed photos and videos taken the day of the shooting prove the teleprompter theory is false.

And while we wait for more official details, conspiracy theories and misinformation will continue to spread online.

RELATED STORY | New details emerge about the Trump rally shooter, but still no sign of a motive

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