Biden Looks to Tout Economic Success After State of the Union Address 

about 2 months ago

U.S. President Joe Biden followed up his State of the Union address with a trip Wednesday to the Midwestern state of Wisconsin to herald what he sees as the country’s economic advance on his watch. Opposition Republicans, meanwhile, were calling for an end to what they call runaway government spending that Biden has sanctioned during his two years in the White House.    The president visited a training center for the Laborers’ International Union of North America in the village of DeForest to discuss manufacturing jobs. Wisconsin is a perennial political battleground in presidential elections and almost certainly will again be a focal point in 2024, both for Biden as he nears a formal reelection bid in the coming months and his eventual Republican opponent, whether it is former President Donald Trump or someone else. Under Biden, the U.S., with the world’s biggest economy, has added hundreds of thousands of new jobs every month as it recovers from the worst effects of the coronavirus pandemic that started in 2020. The country’s 3.4% unemployment rate is the lowest in 53 years. But Republicans and Democrats alike say the country’s consumer price inflation rate, while easing in recent months, is still too high at an annualized 6.5% in December.  Debt limit   Additionally, congressional Republicans and Biden are sparring over increasing the government’s $31.4 trillion debt limit, the amount it can borrow to pay its financial obligations. Republicans want sharp — but to date, unspecified — cuts in government spending in exchange for increasing the debt limit by June.    That’s when the government is expected to run out of enough money in tax revenues to pay all its bills. Biden wants an unconditional debt limit increase but is willing to separately discuss future government spending.     Biden and new House Speaker Kevin McCarthy have started talking about how to increase the debt ceiling but appear far from reaching an agreement in what are likely to be protracted discussions.   After his Wisconsin visit, Biden was to head Thursday to another political battleground, the Southern state of Florida, where Trump lives during the winter months. In Tampa, Biden will accuse Republican lawmakers of wanting to shrink pension and health care benefits for older Americans, a potent issue in Florida where millions of retirees have settled. Biden struck an optimistic, determined tone Tuesday in his second State of the Union address, lauding his legislative and policy achievements, reiterating his stances on contesting China and supporting Ukraine, and proclaiming that “though bruised, our democracy remains unbowed and unbroken.” “Because the soul of this nation is strong, because the backbone of this nation is strong, because the people of this nation are strong, the state of the union is strong,” Biden said. “I’m not new to this place. I stand here tonight — and I’ve served as long as about any one of you have ever served — I have never been more optimistic about the future of America," he said. "We just have to remember who we are. We are the United States of America, and there is nothing, nothing beyond our capacity if we do it together.” Benefits of spending In the speech, he sought to explain how hundreds of billions of dollars in spending for infrastructure, climate change controls and computer chip manufacturing that he supported in the last two years will benefit Americans in the coming years. A handful of Republican lawmakers heckled Biden during the speech, with Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia calling him a “liar” when he suggested that at least some Republicans wanted to curtail funding for the pension and health care insurance plans for older Americans. Biden seemed to enjoy the moment, and he prodded the hundreds of lawmakers in the House of Representatives chamber to stand in a show of support for not trimming funding for the Social Security and Medicare programs. McCarthy tweeted after the speech: “Republicans offer a vision for a future built on freedom, not fearmongering.” His deputy, House Majority Leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana, said on Twitter that Biden was “living in an alternate universe. Families can’t afford gas or food — and they feel unsafe in their communities.”

Astronomers Astonished by Ring Around Frigid Distant World Quaoar

about 2 months ago

The small distant world called Quaoar, named after a god of creation in Native American mythology, is producing some surprises for astronomers as it orbits beyond Pluto in the frigid outer reaches of our solar system. Researchers said Wednesday they have detected a ring encircling Quaoar akin to the one around the planet Saturn. But the one around Quaoar defies the current understanding of where such rings can form - located much further away from it than current scientific understanding would allow. The distance of the ring from Quaoar places it in a location where scientists believe particles should readily come together around a celestial body to form a moon rather than remain as separate components in a disk of ring material. "This is the discovery of a ring located in a place that should not be possible," said astronomer Bruno Morgado of the Valongo Observatory and the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, lead author of the study published in the journal Nature. Discovered in 2002, Quaoar is currently defined as a minor planet and is proposed as a dwarf planet, though it has not yet been formally given that status by the International Astronomical Union, the scientific body that determines such things. Its diameter of about 1,110 kilometers is about a third that of Earth's moon and half that of the dwarf planet Pluto. It has a small moon called Weywot, Quaoar's son in mythology, with a diameter of 170 kilometers, orbiting beyond the ring.   Inhabiting a distant region called the Kuiper belt populated by various icy bodies, Quaoar orbits about 43 times further than Earth's distance to the sun. In comparison, Neptune, the outermost planet, orbits about 30 times further than Earth's distance from the sun, and Pluto about 39 times further. Quaoar's ring was spotted using the European Space Agency's orbiting Cheops telescope, whose primary purpose is to study planets beyond our solar system, as well as ground-based telescopes. The ring, a clumpy disk made of ice-covered particles, is located about 4,100 kilometers away from Quaoar's center, with a diameter of about 8,200 kilometers. "Ring systems may be due to debris from the same formation process that originated the central body or may be due to material resulting after a collision with another body and captured by the central body. We do not have hints at the moment on how the Quaoar ring formed," said astronomer and study co-author Isabella Pagano, director of Italian research institute INAF's Astrophysical Observatory of Catania. Unlike any other known ring around a celestial body, Quaoar's is located outside what is called the Roche limit. That refers to the distance from any celestial body possessing an appreciable gravitational field within which an approaching object would be pulled apart. Material in orbit outside the Roche limit would be expected to assemble into a moon. Saturn has the largest ring system in our solar system. The other large gas planets - Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune - all have rings, though less impressive, as do the non-planetary bodies Chariklo and Haumea. All reside inside the Roche limit. But how can Quaoar flout this rule? "We considered some possible explanations: a ring made of debris, resulting from a putative disruptive impact into a Quaoar moon, would survive for a very short time - but the probability to observe that is extremely low," Pagano said. "Another possibility is that theories for the aggregation of icy particles need to be revised, and particles might not always aggregate into larger bodies as quickly as one might expect."

Pakistan, IMF Still in Tough Negotiations on Financial Aid

about 2 months ago

Pakistani officials and a visiting International Monetary Fund delegation are holding tough negotiations this week in search of a deal by Thursday on loans to bail out the financially strapped country and avoid a default. Analysts say the financial crisis, coupled with political instability and a mounting terrorist threat, are creating the sort of conditions that have repeatedly led in the past to military takeovers. The IMF delegation has been in Islamabad since January 31 but still is unable to agree with Pakistani officials on how much money the country needs to avoid defaulting on external payment obligations, the Reuters news agency reported Monday.  Pakistan has only $3.5 billion in reserves but owes more than $9 billion in principal and interest payments in the next few months. Inflation has exceeded 25% in recent months and the country’s currency has plummeted to a historic low in value. Pakistan’s staggering $14.5 billion debt in the energy sector is another contentious issue in the talks with the IMF. “Pakistan is on the brink of economic collapse,” said John Ciorciari, professor of research and policy engagement at the University of Michigan. “If the crisis continues, the government may soon face considerable added unrest and exacerbate domestic social conflict. This could destabilize the government in a country where the military often has come out of the barracks to assert rule,” Ciorciari told VOA. Miftah Ismail, a former Pakistan finance minister, has suggested that a combination of countries and institutions could step in to keep Pakistan solvent. “If Pakistan is able to get IMF tranches in, and some loans from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank … and some deposits from Saudi Arabia and UAE [United Arab Emirates] and perhaps some money from China as well, then I think we should be able to at least avert the default,” he said at a Brookings Institution event last week. In 2019, Pakistan and the IMF agreed to a $6 billion bailout but differences over monetary policy have held up the release of more than $1 billion. Meanwhile donors and lenders have demanded structural reforms before giving more funds to Pakistan.  “Pakistan's traditional partners are conditioning their assistance on the revival of the IMF program and implementation of reforms, including the expansion of tax collection,” said Arif Rafiq, an independent analyst.  Hammered first by the COVID-19 pandemic, followed by inflation and then, in 2022, by devastating floods, the world’s only nuclear-armed majority-Muslim country has been facing the kind of serious economic, political and security challenges that culminated in military coups throughout its 76-year history. Relentless political turmoil and security threats from the Pakistani Taliban and the Islamic State group have compounded the dire economic situation. At least 100 people were killed and dozens were wounded on January 30 when a suicide attacker detonated explosives inside a mosque in Peshawar.  Other experts say the Pakistani military has traditionally intervened when it believed the country’s grand strategic interests were threatened, leaving economic and political issues for civilian leaders to handle.  “The military has little interest in assuming responsibility for the economic and political current crises facing Pakistan,” Marvin Weinbaum, director of Afghanistan and Pakistan studies at The Middle East Institute, wrote to VOA in emailed responses.  Pakistani army generals understand, said Weinbaum, that if they resort to a coup, “Pakistan may be sanctioned by much of the international community, further adding to the country’s difficulties.” But, he said, if the economy breaks down or the political disorder worsens, the military will intervene as it has in the past. Behind the scenes  The current coalition government is particularly accused of promoting dynastic politics rather than bringing in experts to fix the crumbling economy and implement critical reforms. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif is a brother of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto’s parents served as prime minister and president. His mother, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, was assassinated in December 2007. His father is former Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari. While Pakistani civilian leaders and politicians are blamed for rampant corruption and incompetence, the army has maintained its image of strength and discipline. “Despite some reputational loss in recent years, the military remains the country’s most respected institution,” said Weinbaum, adding that the military displayed its organizational cohesiveness through recent senior level appointments.   Even while it does not run the country directly, the army is understood to be Pakistan’s most powerful institution.  “Since 2008, the military has been content to run things behind the scenes and that is continuing through the country’s current set of crises,” Madiha Afzal, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, told VOA.  To stay clear of public criticism, the military has set strict boundaries for the Pakistani media, while it has been accused of targeting journalists and censorship. Since 2021, criticism of the military has been considered a crime. “The army is usually described as the kingmaker behind Pakistani democracy’s trappings,” the free press advocate organization Reporters without Borders said in a report in July. 

Azeri Journalists Protest Over Media Registry

about 2 months ago

Independent journalists in Azerbaijan are protesting a media law that they say obstructs their ability to work and gives the government too much control over the media. Journalists involved in the "We Don't Want Sanctioned Media" campaign have called for a repeal of the law that President Ilham Aliyev enacted in 2022, saying it goes against the constitution.  The biggest complaint is over the creation of a registry for journalists and news outlets that provides a press card and access to government briefings and officials.  To be eligible, journalists must have at least three years' experience and a work contract — a provision that critics say blocks freelance reporters from applying. News outlets must also agree to produce a minimum number of stories each day.  Lawmakers have said the law is to help improve relations between media and state, and noted that they discussed the bill with journalists when it was being drafted. But last month the Media Development Agency said it will take action against media agencies and journalists who fail to register but still work. Journalists say the registry contravenes rights and is obstructing their ability to report. "The requirement of the law on compulsory registration is against Article 51 of the Constitution of Azerbaijan, as well as the European Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms," Khalid Agaliyev, a lawyer, told VOA. Independent journalist Aynur Elgunash said the law is preventing media from acting in their role of state watchdog. "According to the information we have, even accredited journalists are no longer allowed to enter the parliament, because their names are not in the registry. The same will happen in the courts," she told VOA. Independent media are "deprived of these opportunities," Elgunash said, adding that journalists could be blocked from protests, street polls and interviews with government agencies. Elgunash believes the registration component gives the government too much control. "If the registry interferes with creativity, demands 20 news [stories] per day, and dictates the topic of the materials, it means that the media is completely under the control of the state. It turns out that the state strengthens not only public but also legal control over you. This is a tragedy for the media," Elgunash said. VOA emailed the Media Development Agency late Wednesday for comment but as of publication had not received a response. Shamshad Aga, editor of — a news website covering democracy, corruption and human rights — also believes that the state interferes with journalists' work. "Unfortunately, in our country, they see the media as a mouthpiece of the government, a propaganda tool. The executive body controls the media, and in a country like this there is no transparency, no pluralism, no justice, and no democracy," he told VOA. The implementation of this law, which applies to media outlets in the country as well as those who broadcast or publish to an Azerbaijani audience, may lead to some media being completely shut down, he said. "We demand transparency in our country, we are fighting for freedom of expression in our country, we are fighting for freedom of speech and press. We will not accept this and we think that it is necessary to protest," he added. Aga, a Baku-based journalist, said the law affects a wider group than just journalists. "This is not a problem of media representatives only. It is a problem affecting the whole society, and the whole society should protest it," he said. A six-month registration period for media is due to end in March. In a statement, Ahmad Ismayilov, executive director of the Media Development Agency, said that after that period, the authorities "will start legal action" against those operating without being registered. "The court will decide whether they can continue their work," he said. So far 160 news outlets and 180 journalists were added to the registry, Ismayilov said. This article originated in VOA's Azeri Service. 

Community gardens boost well-being and biodiversity

by Esther Robards-Forbes - UT Austin, about 2 months ago

Community gardens and urban farms are good for biodiversity and ecosystems. They also benefit the well-being of people that work in them.

150 minutes of brisk walking a week reduces liver fat

by Zachary Sweger-Penn State, about 2 months ago

Briskly walking for 150 minutes a week can significantly reduce liver fat in people with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

American IS Emir Convicted on All Counts

about 2 months ago

A naturalized U.S. citizen who became so enamored with Islamic State that he abandoned his wife and child to join the terror group in Syria, eventually rising to the rank of emir, faces life behind bars after being convicted of all charges against him. The U.S. Justice Department announced Wednesday that a jury has found the now 46-year-old Ruslan Maratovich Asainov guilty on five counts, including conspiracy to provide material support, receiving and providing training, obstruction of justice and support to a terror group that led to the death of one or more persons. Asainov “was so committed to the terrorist organization’s evil cause that he abandoned his young family here in Brooklyn, New York, to make an extraordinary journey to the battlefield in Syria,” U.S. Attorney Breon Peace said in a statement. “Even after being captured [Asainov] still pledged his allegiance to ISIS’ murderous path,” Peace added. “There is no place in a civilized world for the defendant’s bloody campaign of death and destruction.” Asainov was captured by U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces following the fall of Baghuz, the Islamic State’s last shred of territory in Syria, in March 2019. He was extradited to the U.S. in July 2019 and was immediately charged with providing support to the terror group. Training camps According to court documents, Asainov, a naturalized citizen who came to the U.S. from Kazakhstan, traveled to Syria in late 2013, where he began fighting with IS as a sniper. Eventually, he became one of the terror group's emirs, responsible for establishing training camps for IS recruits and for teaching them how to use weapons. He also began communicating with a confidential informant for the FBI, asking for money while periodically sending the informant photos of himself and other IS fighters in combat gear. "We [IS] are the worst terrorist organization in the world that has ever existed," he wrote in one communication, adding he wished to die on the battlefield. In other messages, officials say Asainov talked about fighting in places like Kobani, Deir el-Zour and Tabka.   In addition to the messages, U.S. officials said some of the evidence against Asainov was based on interviews with "at least one other individual who provided material support and resources to ISIS during part of the same time period as the defendant." More American IS Since 2016, the U.S. has repatriated at least 39 citizens from Syria and Iraq, including 15 adults and 24 children. Of the adults, at least 11 have been charged with crimes. U.S. officials told VOA that some of the adults were not charged because they were minors when they were brought by their families to join IS. Notable convictions include those of 37-year-old Samantha El-Hassani, who was sentenced to more than six years in prison after she took her children to Syria to join IS. Her four children, who also came back with her from Syria, were placed in the custody of officials with the U.S. state of Indiana. Omer Kuzu pleaded guilty to providing material support to IS in September 2022. And in June 2017, the U.S. brought back Mohamad Jamal Khweis of Alexandria, Virginia. Khweis was later found guilty of providing material support to IS. IS Foreign Fighters Despite ongoing efforts to repatriate IS foreign fighters and their families, U.S. officials estimate that the U.S.-backed SDF still holds about 2,000 foreign fighters in make-shift prisons across northeastern Syria, along with another 8,000 Iraqi and Syrian IS fighters. Both numbers have remained essentially unchanged since October 2019. A report released Tuesday by the Defense Department Inspector General raised concerns about the state of the prisons in Syria, noting, “many detention facilities were not built to hold detainees and their long-term viability is poor." U.S. counterterrorism officials estimate that, in total, more than 45,000 foreign fighters flocked to Syria and Iraq following the start of the Syrian civil war, including 8,000 from Western countries.

Injured Black children are over-reported as abuse victims

by Erin Digitale-Stanford, about 2 months ago

Over-reporting of Black children and under-reporting of white children as suspected abuse victims suggests systemic bias.

February 8, 2023

about 2 months ago

A look at the best news photos from around the world.  

Biden calls for assault weapon ban – but does focus on military-style guns and mass shootings undermine his message?

about 2 months ago

Twitter Down in Turkey as Quake Response Criticism Mounts

about 2 months ago

Twitter became inaccessible on major Turkish mobile providers on Wednesday as online criticism mounted of the government's response to this week's deadly earthquake. AFP reporters were unable to access the social media network in Turkey. It was still accessible using VPN services that disguise a user's location. The social media monitor said Twitter was being restricted "on multiple internet providers in Turkey". "Turkey has an extensive history of social media restrictions during national emergencies and safety incidents," the monitor added. Turkish police have detained more than a dozen people since Monday's earthquake over social media posts that criticized how President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government has been dealing with the disaster. Monday's 7.8-magnitude tremor and its aftershocks killed at least 11,200 people in southeastern Turkey and parts of Syria. Turkish social media have been filled with posts by people complaining about a lack of search and rescue efforts in their provinces. The Twitter outage came as Erdogan toured two of the hardest-hit Turkish provinces. Turkish officials released no immediate statements about the service disruption. But they had issued repeated warnings about spreading misinformation in advance of a crucial May 14 election in which Erdogan will try to extend his two-decade rule.

Limited Aid Reaching Earthquake Victims in Syria

about 2 months ago

The recent rescue of two children from the rubble of collapsed buildings in Idlib and Aleppo in northwest Syria is a rare bit of good news in an area devastated by the massive earthquake that struck southern Turkey and its northern neighbor Monday. While a huge humanitarian operation is slowly gathering steam in Turkey, similar efforts in Syria are barely able to get off the ground. Logistical problems brought on by more than 12 years of crisis and conflict, the crippling impact of unilateral sanctions, and the reluctance to support the government of President Bashar al-Assad, who is widely reviled as a war criminal, are some of the limiting factors.  Jens Laerke, a spokesman for the Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHA, warns that political tensions between Turkey and its northern neighbor could compound the difficulties for aid workers to adequately respond to the crisis in Syria.  "It is imperative that everybody sees this as a humanitarian crisis because that is what it is," he said. "Please do not politicize any of this. Let us get the aid out to the people who so desperately need it."  Laerke noted the earthquake temporarily has stopped the cross-border aid operation from Turkey to Syria, preventing essential relief from getting through. That operation has been overseen by the United Nations since 2014. It has been a lifeline for some 4 million people in Syria's rebel-held northern territory, because aid convoys from government-controlled areas do not cross the conflict line. An estimated 23 million people reportedly are affected by the 7.8 magnitude earthquake, the most powerful to hit the region in almost 100 years. While the latest reports put the number of people killed at more than 11,000, the World Health Organization says it expects the death toll to rise to about 20,000.  Children are most at risk, according to James Elder, UNICEF spokesman. "When we hear the official numbers, UNICEF fears that the earthquake that hit southeast Turkey and northern Syria may have killed thousands of children."  "They went to bed as normal, they were woken by the screams of their neighbors, by broken glass, and by the terrifying sound of crumbling concrete," he said. Before the earthquake struck, Elder said children in the region already were in an emergency and in need of humanitarian support. "Many, many children in that part of the world in northwest Syria are facing a cholera outbreak, a brutal winter, and a vicious conflict. This earthquake, of course, is simply unimaginable hell for them." UNICEF is using its limited funds and supplies to provide safe drinking water and sanitation services, to identify unaccompanied children, and to provide as much education and psychological help as possible, Elder emphasized. Turkey is home to more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees, nearly half of whom are living next to residents in the 10 provinces most affected by the earthquake, the UNHCR said. It is providing tents, mattresses and whatever else the government requests to both Turkish nationals and refugees. Syria's 12-year-long civil conflict has displaced more than 6.8 million people inside the country. More than 4 million in northwest Syria need humanitarian assistance, the majority of whom are women and children. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has relevant core relief supplies in stock and "has already started distributing desperately needed relief items such as blankets, mattresses, plastic sheeting, thermal blankets, and tents," said Matthew Saltmarsh, a UNHCR spokesman. He noted that some of the areas that were struck by the earthquake are in remote and hard to reach areas, "and the severe winter storms hitting the region are adding to challenges to the efforts to reach those impacted." The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is supporting the Syrian Red Crescent, which is playing a pivotal role in search and rescue operations in northwest Syria and in providing life-saving support and emergency medical care to those affected by the disaster. The federation has just launched an appeal for more than $200 million to respond to the deadly earthquake in Turkey and Syria, and other aid agencies are expected to follow suit. The U.N. Syria Commission, which has been investigating alleged violations of international human rights law in Syria since March 2011, is calling for a comprehensive cease-fire to enable humanitarian workers and rescuers to reach those in need without fear of attacks. "Many Syrians are now without shelter among collapsed buildings, in the rain and the snow, amid freezing temperatures with untold numbers trapped beneath the rubble," said Paulo Pinheiro, chair of the commission. 

Twitter's new data fees leave scientists scrambling for funding – or cutting research

about 2 months ago

UN Refugee Commissioner Wants Better Ethiopia Funding

about 2 months ago

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi has appealed for more international aid to help Ethiopia's war-displaced, saying only half of their required funding was met last year. While visiting Ethiopia this week, the high commissioner said that addressing the needs of Ukrainian people affected by Russia's invasion must not mean the needs of the rest of the world are neglected. "Last year, UNCHR's program in Ethiopia were only half funded," Grandi said. "This is not acceptable and I hope that this year after the peace agreement, that there will be more attention and more support given to our programs." During his first visit to Ethiopia since the November peace deal was reached between Ethiopian federal forces and the Tigray People's Liberation Front, the high commissioner visited Mekelle, the capital of Tigray region, where he met with people displaced by the two-year war. "I want to make a strong appeal here, where there is an opening created by the peace process, it is absolutely important that all necessary resources are mobilized to sustain the peace agreement," he said. The high commissioner also visited the new refugee site in Alemwach in the Amhara Region, which shelters 22,000 Eritreans. "I think there's quite a lot of work that we need to do on that particular site to make living conditions better. We had quite a good discussion with the representative of the refugees. We also have to recognize that Eritreans have gone through a very troubled time," Grandi said. Prior to the start of the war in Ethiopia, about 20,000 Eritrean refugees were sheltered in camps in Tigray. Both camps were destroyed when they came under attack during the war. The high commissioner also raised the importance of supporting the U.N.'s work in Ethiopia in recognition of the country hosting the third largest number of refugees in the world, with 880,000 people. A majority of those refugees are South Sudanese, followed by Somalis and Eritreans.  

Racial resentment overlaps with anti-abortion views

by Matt Shipman-NC State, about 2 months ago

Scoring highly on racial resentment is strongly associated with believing that abortion should be illegal, research finds.

These women are creating climate solutions

by Noelani Kirschner, about 2 months ago

These four women are helping to conserve the environment and find climate crisis solutions in their communities around the world.

Research: Deepfake 'News Anchors' in Pro-China Footage

about 2 months ago

The "news broadcasters" appear stunningly real, but they are AI-generated deepfakes in first-of-their-kind propaganda videos that a research report published Tuesday attributed to Chinese state-aligned actors. The fake anchors — for a fictitious news outlet called Wolf News — were created by artificial intelligence software and appeared in footage on social media that seemed to promote the interests of the Chinese Communist Party, U.S.-based research firm Graphika said in its report.  "This is the first time we've seen a state-aligned operation use AI-generated video footage of a fictitious person to create deceptive political content," Jack Stubbs, vice president of intelligence at Graphika, told AFP. In one video analyzed by Graphika, a fictitious male anchor who calls himself Alex critiques U.S. inaction over gun violence plaguing the country. In the second, a female anchor stresses the importance of "great power cooperation" between China and the United States. Advancements in AI have stoked global alarm over the technology's potential for disinformation and misuse, with deepfake images created out of thin air and people shown mouthing things they never said. Last year, Facebook owner Meta said it took down a deepfake video of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urging citizens to lay down their weapons and surrender to Russia. There was no immediate comment from China on Graphika's report, which comes just weeks after Beijing adopted expansive rules to regulate deepfakes. China enforced new rules last month that will require businesses offering deepfake services to obtain the real identities of their users. They also require deepfake content to be appropriately tagged to avoid "any confusion." The Chinese government has warned that deepfakes present a "danger to national security and social stability." Graphika's report said the two Wolf News anchors were almost certainly created using technology provided by the London-based AI startup Synthesia. The website of Synthesia, which did not immediately respond to AFP's request for comment, advertises software for creating deepfake avatars "based on video footage of real actors." Graphika said it discovered the deepfakes on platforms including Twitter, Facebook and YouTube while tracking pro-China disinformation operations known as "spamouflage." "Spamouflage is a pro-Chinese influence operation that predominantly amplifies low-quality political spam videos," said Stubbs. "Despite using some sophisticated technology, these latest videos are much the same. This shows the limitations of using deepfakes in influence operations—they are just one tool in an increasingly advanced toolbox."

Beijing Pushes Back After Biden Frames Relations as 'Competition'

about 2 months ago

China says it was “smeared” in U.S. President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address, in which he called for bipartisan unity to push back against Beijing. Days after a Chinese surveillance balloon drifted across American airspace, Biden said he remains open to working with Beijing, "where it can advance American interests and benefit the world."  "But make no mistake about it," he said. "As we made clear last week, if China threatens our sovereignty, we will act to protect our country, and we did." The president also promoted his administration's policies that are increasing trade restrictions on some high-tech equipment, saying those policies are aimed at ensuring advanced technologies "are not used against us." “Let’s be clear: winning the competition with China should unite all of us. We face serious challenges across the world,” Biden added. In Beijing early Wednesday, Mao Ning, a spokeswoman with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said during a regular briefing that Beijing does not shy away from competition. “However, we are opposed to defining the entire China-U.S. relations by competition. It is beneath a responsible country to use competition as a pretext to smear other countries and restrain their legitimate right to development, even at the expense of global industrial and supply chains,” she said. Mao's remarks followed a protest from a senior Chinese diplomat to senior U.S. officials over the shooting down of the surveillance balloon off the coast of South Carolina. The Chinese Embassy in the United States said its chargé d'affaires, Xu Xueyuan, lodged “stern representations” Tuesday with senior State Department and White House National Security Council officials on what Beijing said was the “U.S.’s attack on a Chinese unmanned civilian airship by force.” At the Capitol, U.S. lawmakers are expected to be briefed on the balloon later this week, while House Republican leaders are pushing a bipartisan measure to denounce the operation of the spy balloon by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA.) “China has decided to try to impose its will on the world and move us in a direction that takes us away from the rules-based international system that the United States and so many other nations are trying to impose,” said Democratic Congressman Adam Smith during a Tuesday hearing.     “Under President Xi [Jinping], the Chinese Communist Party has nearly tripled its defense spending in the last decade alone,” said Republican Congressman Mike Rogers, who chairs House Armed Services Committee. “The [Chinese Communist Party] is not building these new and advanced military capabilities for self-defense. In recent years, the CCP has used its military to push out its borders to threaten our allies in the region and to gain footholds on new continents.” Rogers warned the Chinese military has more Intercontinental ballistic missile launchers than the United States.      “The danger of the Chinese Communist Party is preoccupying Congress,” said Rebeccah Heinrichs, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Hudson Institute.  “A rival nation’s spy balloon just audaciously violated our sovereignty. Downplaying the scope of the threat in the State of the Union address does not make the problem less acute or more manageable.” Other analysts said the Chinese military is shaping perceptions within the Chinese Communist Party. “PLA's operations definitely affect China's foreign affairs and global perception of China,” said Drew Thompson, a former Pentagon official and now a senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. Meanwhile, as an effort to ensure open lines of communication between the two militaries, the U.S. government is working on a sanction exemption for Li Shangfu, who is widely seen as China’s next minister of national defense when the current minister, Wei Fenghe, retires later this year.   The United States sanctioned Li when he headed the Equipment Development Department of the Chinese military in 2018, due to Chinese purchases of advanced Russian fighters and missile systems. The United States has already communicated to the Chinese military the exemption plan, according to former CIA top China analyst Dennis Wilder, now a professor at Georgetown University, citing conversations with U.S. officials. “We are entering a tense period and it will take depth diplomacy on both sides to make sure that things do not spiral downward,” Wilder told VOA. The U.S. Department of State has yet to respond to VOA’s request for comment. Last Saturday, the PRC declined a U.S. request for a secure call between their defense chiefs after the U.S. shot down the Chinese balloon. The U.S. Department of Defense said deconfliction talks are critical in a tense moment and the U.S. commitment to open lines of communication will continue.  

The US and the Philippines' military agreement sends a warning to China – 4 key things to know

about 2 months ago

Bias trainings for police don't change behavior

by Gerry Everding-WUSTL, about 2 months ago

"Our findings suggest that diversity training as it is currently practiced is unlikely to change police behavior."

Nursing home night staff had lower COVID vax rates

by Corrie Pikul-Brown, about 2 months ago

Nursing home staff who worked the night shift had lower rates of COVID-19 testing and vaccination than day-shift staff, researchers report.

Poland Condemns 'Unfair' Jailing of Polish-Belarusian Journalist

about 2 months ago

Poland on Wednesday condemned as unfair the eight-year jail sentence handed to a Polish-Belarusian journalist who had reported critically on the Belarusian regime. "An inhumane verdict of the Belarusian regime. It is yet another act of persecuting Polish people in Belarus," Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said in a tweet. Andrzej Poczobut, 49 was sentenced in the western city of Grodno, on the Polish border, where he was based. He was found guilty of taking part in "actions harming national security" and "inciting hatred." "We will do everything to help the Polish journalist," Morawiecki added. "We condemn the unfair verdict delivered by a court of an authoritarian country," a Polish foreign ministry spokesman tweeted, adding Poland will continue to "stand behind" Poczobut. Poczobut is a correspondent for Poland's top daily Gazeta Wyborcza and an active member of Belarus's Polish diaspora. "A bandit ruling in Belarus sentenced my friend Andrzej Poczobut for eight years in prison. He wants to destroy all free people, but he will never break Andrzej," Gazeta Wybrocza deputy editor-in-chief Roman Imielski said.

Investigators End MH17 Downing Probe Despite 'Indications' Putin Was Involved

about 2 months ago

International prosecutors said on Wednesday they had found "strong indications" that Russian President Vladimir Putin approved the use in Ukraine of a Russian missile system that shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17) over eastern Ukraine in 2014. However, they said evidence of Putin's and other Russian officials' involvement was not concrete enough to lead to a criminal conviction, and that they would end their probe without further prosecutions. Russia has denied any involvement with the downing of the civilian airliner, which killed 298 passengers and crew. "The investigation has now reached its limit," prosecutor Digna van Boetzelaer told a news conference in The Hague. "The findings are insufficient for the prosecution of new suspects." In November, a Dutch court convicted two former Russian intelligence agents and a Ukrainian separatist leader of murder for helping arrange the Russian BUK missile system that was used to shoot the plane down. The three men, who were tried in absentia, remain at large. At the time the plane was shot down, Ukrainian forces were fighting Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine's Donetsk province. While Russia had annexed Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014, it denied military involvement in fighting in Donetsk at that time. But as part of the conviction of the three men in November, the Dutch court ruled that Russia had in fact had "overall control" of separatist forces in Donetsk starting from May 2014. Prosecutors said on Wednesday they could not identify the specific soldiers responsible for firing the missile system that downed the plane, which came from Russia's 53rd brigade in Kursk. They cited a 2014 phone intercept between Russian officials as evidence that Putin's approval had been necessary before a request for equipment made by the separatists could be granted. In addition, they played a 2017 conversation between Putin himself and the Russian-appointed chief administrator of Ukraine's Luhansk province in which they discussed the military situation and a prisoner exchange. Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022 in what it terms a "special military operation" and in September said it had annexed Donetsk and three other Ukrainian provinces. Piet Ploeg, who heads a foundation representing victims, said he was disappointed that the investigation had ended, but was glad prosecutors had laid out their evidence for Putin's involvement. "We can't do a lot with it, Putin can't be prosecuted, he said. "We wanted to know who was ultimately responsible and that's clear." Ploeg’s brother, his brother’s wife, and his nephew died on MH17.  

Memphis Officer Took, Shared Photos of Bloodied Tyre Nichols

about 2 months ago

Documents released Tuesday provided a scathing account of what authorities called the "blatantly unprofessional" conduct of five officers involved in the fatal police beating of Tyre Nichols during a traffic stop last month — including new revelations about how one officer took and shared pictures of the bloodied victim. The officer, Demetrius Haley, stood over Nichols as he lay propped against a police car and took photographs, which Haley sent to other officers and a female acquaintance, according to documents released by the Tennessee Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission. "Your on-duty conduct was unjustly, blatantly unprofessional and unbecoming for a sworn public servant," the Memphis Police Department wrote in requesting that Haley and the other officers be decertified. Haley's lawyer declined to comment, and lawyers for the other four officers either declined to comment or did not respond to requests from The Associated Press. The five officers — Haley, Desmond Mills Jr., Tadarrius Bean, Justin Smith and Emmitt Martin III — have all been fired and charged with second-degree murder. The new documents offer the most detailed account to date of each officer's actions. Another officer has also been fired and a seventh has been relieved of duty in connection with the latest police killing to prompt angry nationwide protests and an intense public conversation about how police officers treat Black residents. As many as 13 Memphis officers could end up being disciplined, officials said Tuesday. The newly released documents are part of a request by the Memphis Police Department that the five officers who have been charged with murder be decertified and prohibited from working in law enforcement again. Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn "CJ" Davis signed each of the five requests to decertify the officers. Haley, who was driving an unmarked car and wore a black sweatshirt hoodie over his head, forced Nichols from his car using loud profanity, then sprayed him directly in the eyes with a chemical irritant spray, according to the statement. "You never told the driver the purpose of the vehicle stop or that he was under arrest," it states. Haley did not have his body camera on when he stopped Nichols but was on a phone call with someone who overheard the encounter. Nichols ran from the officers but was apprehended again a few blocks away. At that point, Haley kicked him in the torso as three other officers were handcuffing him. Other officers kicked Nichols in the face, punched him or struck him with a baton. According to footage captured on a utility pole camera, one of the officers appears to quickly take a photo of Nichols on his phone as flashlights are shined on him. "You and other officers were captured on body worn camera making multiple unprofessional comments, laughing, bragging about your involvement," the decertification charges against Mills said. They added, "You admitted you did not provide immediate medical aid and walked away and decontaminated yourself from chemical irritant spray," and further accused Mills of later failing to give Nichols' mother an accurate account of what happened. Martin claimed Nichols tried to snatch the officer's gun from his holster after another officer forced him out of the vehicle, with Martin helping by grabbing Nichols' wrist. However, video evidence doesn't corroborate the gun-grab claim, the documents said. Audio from a body camera did not capture Nichols using profanity or making violent threats — instead, he appeared calm and polite in his comments to the officers. Martin, meanwhile, cussed at Nichols and threatened to knock him out as he commanded Nichols to put his arm behind his back. Martin also failed to disclose in a required form that he punched Nichols in the face and kicked him multiple times, and instead added in his later statement to investigators that he gave "body blows," the documents said. Video showed Martin kicking Nichols repeatedly and punching him in the face five times while two officers held Nichols' arms. Police deemed Martin's oral and written statements deceitful, the charges said. A hearing officer wrote of Justin Smith: "You admitted you struck an unarmed and non-violent subject with a closed fist two to three times in the face because you and your partner were unable to handcuff him. ... You sprayed the subject with your chemical irritant spray and also held the individual's arm while other officers kicked, punched and pepper sprayed him several times." In a letter from Smith included in his file, he defends his conduct, stating that Nichols was "violent and would not comply." Bean was accused of holding Nichols by one arm while another officer pepper sprayed and beat him with a baton. It also notes that his indifference to Nichols' distress in the aftermath was reported by a civilian who took video of the incident. Nichols died three days after the beating. His family attended the State of the Union address Tuesday as guests of first lady Jill Biden.

Potential pain remedy gets inspo from chickens

by Nina Bai-Stanford, about 2 months ago

Researchers have discovered a possible new way to treat pain without the use of opioids. Their inspiration? Chickens.

Millions of Americans are problem gamblers – so why do so few people ever seek treatment?

about 2 months ago

How Black communities cope with trauma triggered by police brutality

about 2 months ago

What the First Amendment really says – 4 basic principles of free speech in the US

about 2 months ago

Cells routinely self-cannibalize to take out their trash, aiding in survival and disease prevention

about 2 months ago

Here's what to do when you encounter people with 'dark personality traits' at work

about 2 months ago

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