Two Super Moons, Blue Moon, Meteor Shower to Grace August Skies

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A dazzling array of celestial events is in store for stargazers in August: two supermoons, a rare blue moon, and a once-in-a-year meteor shower.

Those turning their eyes to the heavens will not have to wait long for the first nighttime showing. On August 1, the full moon will rise in the southeast. 

When Tuesday’s moon is at its fullest, it will also be making its closest pass to Earth in its orbit, known as perigee. This will make the moon appear about 8% larger than a typical full moon and will earn it the label of a “supermoon.” 

In North America, August’s full moon is often called the sturgeon moon because the freshwater fish are typically in high numbers during the month. It is also known as the grain moon, corn moon and harvest moon.

The second full moon of the month will come on the night of August 30. Whenever there is an extra full moon during a month, it is called a blue moon.

The next time there will be two full moons in one month will be in May 2026. 

August’s blue moon will also be a supermoon, providing a rare occurrence of two such moons appearing in the same month. Stargazers will have to wait until 2037 before there are another two supermoons in a single month.

Also gracing the sky in August is the annual Perseid meteor shower. It will reach its peak in the Northern Hemisphere on the nights of August 12-13. Stargazers who have access to a dark sky can expect to see between 50 to 75 meteors in an hour. Viewers do not need a telescope; they can spot the colorful display with the naked eye during a clear night.

This year’s meteor shower will have excellent conditions, with the crescent moon not set to rise until the early morning hours. 

The Perseid meteors come from leftover comet particles and parts of broken asteroids, according to NASA. Every year, Earth passes through the rocky debris, causing the particles to collide with Earth and disintegrate into bright streaks in the sky.

The meteors appear to come from the constellation Perseus, which is how they got their name.

August will also see the return of Saturn and Jupiter to the night sky.  

Saturn will be at what astronomers call “opposition” — when Earth is directly between the planet and the sun — on August 27. On that night, Saturn will rise when the sun sets and will be visible in the sky throughout the night.

Some information in this report came from The Associated Press.


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Biden Goes West to Talk About Administration’s Efforts to Combat Climate Change

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President Joe Biden will travel to Arizona, New Mexico and Utah next week and is expected to talk about his administration’s efforts to combat climate change as the region endures a brutally hot summer with soaring temperatures, the White House said Monday.

Biden is expected to discuss the Inflation Reduction Act, America’s most significant response to climate change, and the push toward more clean energy manufacturing. The act aims to spur clean energy on a scale that will bend the arc of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

July has been the hottest month ever recorded. Biden last week announced new steps to protect workers in extreme heat, including measures to improve weather forecasts and make drinking water more accessible.

Members of Biden’s administration also are fanning out over the next few weeks around the anniversary of the landmark climate change and health care legislation to extol the administration’s successes as the Democratic president seeks reelection in 2024.

Vice President Kamala Harris heads to Wisconsin this week with Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo to talk about broadband infrastructure investments. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack goes to Oregon to highlight wildfire defense grants, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg will go to Illinois and Texas, and Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona heads to Maryland to talk about career and technical education programs.

The Inflation Reduction Act included roughly $375 billion over a decade to combat climate change and capped the cost of a month’s supply of insulin at $35 for older Americans and other Medicare beneficiaries. It also helps an estimated 13 million Americans pay for health care insurance by extending subsidies provided during the coronavirus pandemic.

The measure is paid for by new taxes on large companies and stepped-up IRS enforcement of wealthy individuals and entities, with additional funds going to reduce the federal deficit.

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Brain Fog, Other Long COVID Symptoms Are Focus of New Studies

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The National Institutes of Health is beginning a handful of studies to test possible treatments for long COVID, an anxiously awaited step in U.S. efforts against the mysterious condition that afflicts millions.

Monday’s announcement from the NIH’s $1.15 billion RECOVER project comes amid frustration from patients who’ve struggled for months or even years with sometimes-disabling health problems — with no proven treatments and only a smattering of rigorous studies to test potential ones.

“This is a year or two late and smaller in scope than one would hope but nevertheless it’s a step in the right direction,” said Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly of Washington University in St. Louis, who isn’t involved with NIH’s project but whose own research highlighted long COVID’s toll. Getting answers is critical, he added, because “there’s a lot of people out there exploiting patients’ vulnerability” with unproven therapies.

Scientists don’t yet know what causes long COVID, the catchall term for about 200 widely varying symptoms. Between 10% and 30% of people are estimated to have experienced some form of long COVID after recovering from a coronavirus infection, a risk that has dropped somewhat since early in the pandemic.

“If I get 10 people, I get 10 answers of what long COVID really is,” U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said.

That’s why so far, the RECOVER initiative has tracked 24,000 patients in observational studies to help define the most common and burdensome symptoms –- findings that now are shaping multipronged treatment trials. The first two will look at:

— Whether taking up to 25 days of Pfizer’s antiviral drug Paxlovid could ease long COVID, because of a theory that some live coronavirus, or its remnants, may hide in the body and trigger the disorder. Normally Paxlovid is used when people first get infected and for just five days.

— Treatments for “brain fog” and other cognitive problems. They include Posit Science Corp.’s BrainHQ cognitive training program, another called PASC-Cognitive Recovery by New York City’s Mount Sinai Health System, and a Soterix Medical device that electrically stimulates brain circuits.

Two additional studies will open in the coming months. One will test treatments for sleep problems. The other will target problems with the autonomic nervous system — which controls unconscious functions like breathing and heartbeat — including the disorder called POTS.

A more controversial study of exercise intolerance and fatigue also is planned, with NIH seeking input from some patient groups worried that exercise may do more harm than good for certain long COVID sufferers.

The trials are enrolling 300 to 900 adult participants for now but have the potential to grow. Unlike typical experiments that test one treatment at a time, these more flexible “platform studies” will let NIH add additional potential therapies on a rolling basis.

“We can rapidly pivot,” Dr. Amy Patterson with the NIH explained. A failing treatment can be dropped without ending the entire trial and “if something promising comes on the horizon, we can plug it in.”

Flexibility could be key, according to Dr. Anthony Komaroff, a Harvard researcher who isn’t involved with the NIH program but has long studied a similarly mysterious disorder known as chronic fatigue syndrome or ME/CFS. For example, he said, the Paxlovid study “makes all sorts of sense,” but if a 25-day dose shows only hints of working, researchers could extend the test to a longer course instead of starting from scratch.

Komaroff also said that he understands people’s frustration over the wait for these treatment trials, but believes NIH appropriately waited “until some clues came in about the underlying biology,” adding: “You’ve got to have targets.”

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China Curbs Drone Exports, Citing Ukraine, Concern About Military Use

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China imposed restrictions Monday on exports of long-range civilian drones, citing Russia’s war in Ukraine and concern that drones might be converted to military use. 

Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s government is friendly with Moscow but says it is neutral in the 18-month-old war. It has been stung by reports that both sides might be using Chinese-made drones for reconnaissance and possibly attacks. 

Export controls will take effect Tuesday to prevent use of drones for “non-peaceful purposes,” the Ministry of Commerce said in a statement. It said exports still will be allowed but didn’t say what restrictions it would apply. 

China is a leading developer and exporter of drones. DJI Technology Co., one of the global industry’s top competitors, announced in April 2022 it was pulling out of Russia and Ukraine to prevent its drones from being used in combat. 

“The risk of some high specification and high-performance civilian unmanned aerial vehicles being converted to military use is constantly increasing,” the Ministry of Commerce said. 

Restrictions will apply to drones that can fly beyond the natural sight distance of operators or stay aloft more than 30 minutes, have attachments that can throw objects and weigh more than seven kilograms (15½ pounds), according to the ministry. 

“Since the crisis in Ukraine, some Chinese civilian drone companies have voluntarily suspended their operations in conflict areas,” the Ministry of Commerce said. It accused the United States and Western media of spreading “false information” about Chinese drone exports. 

The government defended its dealings Friday with Russia as “normal economic and trade cooperation” after a U.S. intelligence report said Beijing possibly provided equipment used in Ukraine that might have military applications. 

The report cited Russian customs data that showed Chinese state-owned military contractors supplied drones, navigation equipment, fighter jet parts and other goods. 

The Biden administration has warned Beijing of unspecified consequences if it supports the Kremlin’s war effort. Last week’s report didn’t say whether any of the trade cited might trigger U.S. retaliation. 

Xi and Russian President Vladimir Putin declared before the February 2022 invasion that their governments had a “no-limits” friendship. Beijing has blocked efforts to censure Moscow in the United Nations and has repeated Russian justifications for the attack. 

China has “always opposed the use of civilian drones for military purposes,” the Ministry of Commerce said. “The moderate expansion of drone control by China this time is an important measure to demonstrate the responsibility of a responsible major country.” 

The Ukrainian government appealed to DJI in March 2022 to stop selling drones it said the Russian ministry was using to target missile attacks. DJI rejected claims it leaked data on Ukraine’s military positions to Russia. 

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Smoking Declines as Tobacco Control Measures Kick In

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Smoking rates are falling, and lives are being saved as more countries implement policies and control measures to curb the global tobacco epidemic, according to a World Health Organization report issued Monday that rates country progress in tobacco control. 

New data show that the adoption of the WHO’s package of six tobacco control measures 15 years ago has protected millions of people from the harmful effects of tobacco use.

The measures, which were launched in 2008, call on governments to monitor tobacco use and prevention policies, protect people from tobacco smoke, offer help to quit tobacco use, warn people about the dangers of tobacco, enforce bans on tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship, and to raise taxes on tobacco.

“Without this decline, there would be an estimated 300 million more smokers in the world today,” said Ruediger Krech, WHO director for health promotion.

He said more than 5.6 billion people, that is 71% of the world population, live in countries that have implemented at least one of these lifesaving protective measures. 

“What an achievement,” he said.  “This policy package has literally changed our lives.  It means that families can go out to restaurants without worrying about their children breathing secondhand smoke.

“It means that people that want help to quit smoking can get the support that they need.  More than that,” he said, “it means that we are protected from the many deadly diseases caused by secondhand smoke.”

However, he noted that 2.3 billion people live in the 44 countries that have not implemented any tobacco control measures “leaving them at risk of the health and economic burden of tobacco use.” 

Until recently, only Turkey and Brazil had succeeded in enacting all six of the so-called MPOWER tobacco control measures.  WHO reports Mauritius and the Netherlands now have joined this elite group, becoming the first African country and the first high-income country to achieve this best-practice level.

Kailesh Kumar Singh Jagutpal, Mauritius Minister of Health and Wellness said his country was one of the first signatories of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in 2004.  Since then, he said his government has been continuously implementing the articles contained in the agreement.

He said Mauritius began amending its legislation and tobacco control laws in 2008 to blunt the heavy toll smoking was taking on his country’s aging population.

“The prevalence of cardiovascular diseases, cancers, stroke, diabetes, hypertension is quite high in Mauritius.  We are also experiencing aging of the population…So, these combined effects of an aging population, significant effect of co-morbidity forced the government to take bold action.” 

Jagutpal said his government has been using WHO-recommended measures to discourage smoking to good effect.   These include banning the advertising, promotion, and sponsorship of tobacco products; prohibiting the sale of cigarettes to minors, helping people to quit tobacco use, creating smoke-free places, and raising taxes on cigarettes.

The minister said these measures are working, with surveys showing that smoking has declined from 30% in 1987 to 18.3% in 2021. 

WHO’s report on the global tobacco epidemic focuses on protecting the public from secondhand smoke.  It finds a growing number of countries are passing laws designating smoke-free indoor public places.  

Krech said nearly 40% of countries have achieved this goal.  “Today, 74 countries protect their populations, making up to 25% of the world’s population with comprehensive smoke-free legislation in public indoor areas like health care, education facilities, as well as hospitality venues like restaurants and cafes.”

But he warned the battle against the global tobacco epidemic was far from over.  

“Tobacco use continues to be one of the biggest public health threats with 8.7 million people dying from tobacco related diseases every year, 1.3 million of these deaths are amongst non-smokers that are subjected to secondhand smoke.” 

Krech said tobacco remained the leading cause of preventable death in the world, largely due to relentless marketing campaigns by the tobacco industry.  

He urged governments to “push back against the tobacco and nicotine industries,” who lobby against public health measures by using different ploys “to hook children on to e-cigarettes and vaping to make them nicotine dependent.”

Then, of course, he said “they will switch to cigarettes afterward.”

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Wildlife Lovers Urged to Join UK’s Annual Butterfly Count

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Wildlife enthusiasts across Britain are being encouraged to log sightings of butterflies and some moths, as the world’s largest annual survey of the increasingly endangered pollinating insects returns.

The U.K.-wide “Big Butterfly Count” — which this year runs from July 14 to August 6 — helps conservationists assess the health of the country’s natural environment, amid mounting evidence it is increasingly imperiled. 

Volunteers download a chart helping them to identify different butterfly species and then record their sightings in gardens, parks and elsewhere using a smartphone app and other online tools.

It comes as experts warn the often brightly colored winged insects are in rapid decline in Britain as they fail to cope with unprecedented environmental change. 

“It’s a pretty worrying picture,” Richard Fox, head of science at the Butterfly Conservation charity, which runs the nationwide citizen-led survey, told AFP at Orley Common, a vast park in Devon, southwest England.

“The major causes of the decline are what we humans have done to the landscape in the U.K. over the past 50, 60, 70 years,” he added from the site, which is seeing fewer butterflies despite offering an ideal habitat for them. 

A report published this year that Fox co-authored, based on 23 million items of data, revealed that four in every five U.K. butterfly species have decreased since the 1970s. 

Half of the country’s 58 species are listed as threatened, according to a conservation “red list.” 

‘Citizen scientists’

The UK, one of the world’s most nature-depleted countries, has lost almost half of its biodiversity over recent decades, according to a 2021 U.K. parliament report.

Agriculture, and its use of fertilizers and pesticides, alongside changes to landscapes including the removal of hedge rows to maximize space for growing crops, is partly blamed.

Counting butterflies, which are among the most monitored insects globally, has helped track the grim trend. 

Volunteers have been contributing to the effort since the 1970s, but recording is more popular than ever, in part thanks to evolving technology.

The Big Butterfly Count launched in 2010 and claims to have become the world’s biggest such survey. 

Over 64,000 “citizen scientists” participated last year, submitting 96,257 counts of butterflies and day-flying moths from across Britain.

Butterfly Conservation and the U.K. Centre for Ecology and Hydrology have developed an iRecord Butterflies app to help identify and geo-locate different butterfly species sightings.

It has logged nearly 1 million submissions since launching in 2014.

Butterflies help identify the health of an ecosystem because they react quickly to environmental changes and are seen as an early warning system for other wildlife losses, conservationists note.

“One of the great things about butterflies and of this fantastic data that we have about butterflies is that they act as indicators about all the other groups,” Fox explained. 

“So we know a bit about how our bees are doing, we know a little about how bugs, and beetles, and flies, and wasps, and other important insects are doing.”

‘We’ll starve’

Amy Walkden, Butterfly Conservation’s branch secretary in Devon, is one of many enthusiasts monitoring the insects year-round with the help of her 8-year-old daughter, Robin.

“Having a yearly record of what is around and what is not around I think is really good scientific data to indicate changes such as global warming, habitat destruction,” she said. 

Her daughter Robin appears equally aware of their value.

“If we don’t have any butterflies and all the buzzy things, then the things that eat butterflies won’t have any food,” she noted.

“The food chain is basically what we eat and if there is none of them, we’ll starve and we won’t really be able to survive, will we?”

Fox hopes that the latest annual count will help prompt policy makers to take more action, although he concedes the scale of the task is “enormous.”

The U.K. government has said it wants to reverse biodiversity loss and climate change, partly by planting tens of millions of trees in the next three years.

Fox called the plan “fantastic” but said other areas such as low intensity agri-environment schemes are also needed, “so that the public money paid to farmers will benefit the environment and support biodiversity.”

“There’s a lot more we can do there to make sure that the margins around fields are being managed in a way to turn around the fortunes of our more common and widespread butterflies,” he added.

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Record Heat Shows Plight of Americans Suffering Without Air Conditioning

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As Denver neared triple-digit temperatures, Ben Gallegos sat shirtless on his porch swatting flies off his legs and spritzing himself with a misting fan to try to get through the heat. Gallegos, like many in the nation’s poorest neighborhoods, doesn’t have air conditioning. 

The 68-year-old covers his windows with mattress foam to insulate against the heat and sleeps in the concrete basement. He knows high temperatures can cause heat stroke and death, and his lung condition makes him more susceptible. But the retired brick layer, who survives on about $1,000 a month, says air conditioning is out of reach. 

“Take me about 12 years to save up for something like that,” he said. “If it’s hard to breath, I’ll get down to emergency.” 

As climate change fans hotter and longer heat waves, breaking record temperatures across the U.S. and leaving dozens dead, the poorest Americans suffer the hottest days with the fewest defenses. Air conditioning, once a luxury, is now a matter of survival. 

As Phoenix weathered its 27th consecutive day above 110 degrees (43 Celsius) Wednesday, the nine who died indoors didn’t have functioning air conditioning, or it was turned off. Last year, all 86 heat-related deaths indoors were in uncooled environments. 

“To explain it fairly simply: Heat kills,” said Kristie Ebi, a University of Washington professor who researches heat and health. “Once the heat wave starts, mortality starts in about 24 hours.” 

It’s the poorest and people of color, from Kansas City to Detroit to New York City and beyond, who are far more likely to face grueling heat without air conditioning, according to a Boston University analysis of 115 U.S. metro areas. 

“The temperature differences … between lower-income neighborhoods, neighborhoods of color and their wealthier, whiter counterparts have pretty severe consequences,” said Cate Mingoya-LaFortune of Groundwork USA, an environmental justice organization. “There are these really big consequences like death. … But there’s also ambient misery.” 

Some have window units that can offer respite, but “in the dead of heat, it don’t do nothing,” said Melody Clark, who stopped Friday to get food at a Kansas City, Kansas, nonprofit as temperatures soared to 101. When the central air conditioning at her rental house broke, her landlord installed a window unit. But it doesn’t do much during the day. 

So the 45-year-old wets her hair, cooks outside on a propane grill and keeps the lights off indoors. At night she flips the box unit on, hauling her bed into the room where it’s located to sleep. 

As far as her two teenagers, she said: “They aren’t little bitty. We aren’t dying in the heat. … They don’t complain.” 

While billions in federal funding have been allocated to subsidize utility costs and the installation of cooling systems, experts say they often only support a fraction of the most vulnerable families and some still require prohibitive upfront costs. Installing a centralized heat pump system for heating and cooling can easily reach $25,000. 

President Joe Biden announced steps on Thursday to defend against extreme heat, highlighting the expansion of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which funnels money through states to help poorer households pay utility bills. 

While the program is critical, said Michelle Graff, who studies the subsidy at Cleveland State University, only about 16% of the nation’s eligible population is actually reached. Nearly half of states don’t offer the federal dollars for summer cooling. 

“So people are engaging in coping mechanisms, like they’re turning on their air conditioners later and leaving their homes hotter,” Graff said. 

As temperatures rise, so does the cost of cooling. And temperatures are already hotter in America’s low-income neighborhoods. Researchers at the University of San Diego analyzed 1,056 counties and in over 70%, the poorest areas and those with higher Black, Hispanic and Asian populations were significantly hotter. That’s in part because those neighborhoods lack tree coverage. 

At noon Friday, Katrice Sullivan sat on the porch of her rented house on Detroit’s westside. It was hot and muggy, but even steamier inside the house. Even if she had air conditioning, Sullivan said she’d choose her moments to run it to keep her electricity bill down. 

The 37-year-old factory worker sometimes sits in her car with the air conditioner running. “Some people here spend every dollar for food, so air conditioning is something they can’t afford,” she said. 

In the federal Inflation Reduction Act, billions were set aside for tax credits and rebates to help families install energy-efficient cooling systems, but some of those are yet to be available. Rebates are the kind of state and federal point-of-sale discounts that Amanda Morian has looked into for her 640-square-foot home. 

Morian, who has a 13-week-old baby susceptible to hot weather, is desperate to keep her house in Denver’s Globeville suburb cool. She got estimates from four different companies for installing a cooling system, but every project was between $20,000 and $25,000, she said. Even with subsidies she can’t afford it. 

Instead, she bought thermal curtains, ceiling fans and runs a window unit. At night she tries to do skin-to-skin touch to regulate the baby’s body temperature. 

“All of those are just to take the edge off, its not enough to actually make it cool. It’s enough to keep us from dying,” she said. 

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AM Radio Fights to Keep Its Spot on US Car Dashboards

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There has been a steady decline in the number of AM radio stations in the United States. Over the decades, urban and mainstream broadcasters have moved to the FM band, which has better audio fidelity, although more limited range. Now, there is a new threat to the remaining AM stations. Some automakers want to kick AM off their dashboard radios, deeming it obsolete. VOA’s chief national correspondent, Steve Herman, in the state of Texas, has been tuning in to some traditional rural stations, as well as those broadcasting in languages others than English in the big cities. Camera – Steve Herman and Jonathan Zizzo.

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Mangrove Forest Thrives Around What Was Once Latin America’s Largest Landfill

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It was once Latin America’s largest landfill. Now, a decade after Rio de Janeiro shut it down and redoubled efforts to recover the surrounding expanse of highly polluted swamp, crabs, snails, fish and birds are once again populating the mangrove forest.

“If we didn’t say this used to be a landfill, people would think it’s a farm. The only thing missing is cattle,” jokes Elias Gouveia, an engineer with Comlurb, the city’s garbage collection agency that is shepherding the plantation project. “This is an environmental lesson that we must learn from: Nature is remarkable. If we don’t pollute nature, it heals itself.”

Gouveia, who has worked with Comlurb for 38 years, witnessed the Gramacho landfill recovery project’s timid first steps in the late 1990s.

The former landfill is located right by the 148 square miles (383 square kilometers) Guanabara Bay. Between the landfill’s inauguration in 1968 and 1996, some 80 million tons of garbage were dumped in the area, polluting the bay and surrounding rivers with trash and runoff.

In 1996, the city began implementing measures to limit the levels of pollution in the landfill, starting with treating some of the leachate, the toxic byproduct of mountains of rotting trash. But garbage continued to pile up until 2012, when the city finally shut it down.

“When I got there, the mangrove was almost completely devastated, due to the leachate, which had been released for a long time, and the garbage that arrived from Guanabara Bay,” recalled Mario Moscatelli, a biologist hired by the city in 1997 to assist officials in the ambitious undertaking.

The bay was once home to a thriving artisanal fishing industry and popular palm-lined beaches. But it has since become a dump for waste from shipyards and two commercial ports. At low tide, household trash, including old washing machines and soggy couches, float atop vast islands of accumulated sewage and sediment.

The landfill, where mountains of trash once attracted hundreds of pickers, was gradually covered with clay. Comlurb employees started removing garbage, building a rainwater drainage system, and replanting mangroves, an ecosystem that has proved particularly resilient — and successful — in similar environmental recovery projects.

Mangroves are of particular interest for environmental restoration for their capacity to capture and store large amounts of planet-warming carbon dioxide, Gouveia explained.

Experts say mangroves can bury even more carbon in the sediment than a tropical rainforest, making it a great tool to fight climate change.

To help preserve the rejuvenated mangrove from the trash coming from nearby communities, where residents sometimes throw garbage into the rivers, the city used clay from the swamp to build a network of fences. To this day, Comlurb employees continue to maintain and strengthen the fences, which are regularly damaged by trespassers looking for crabs.

Leachate still leaks from the now-covered landfill, which Comlurb is collecting and treating in one of its wastewater stations.

Comlurb and its private partner, Statled Brasil, have successfully recovered some 60 hectares, an area six times bigger than what they started with in the late 1990s.

“We have turned things around,” Gouveia said. “Before, [the landfill] was polluting the bay and the rivers. Now, it is the bay and the rivers that are polluting us.”

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Climate Change Likely Why Dangerous Fungus Spreading Fast, Scientists Say

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SEATTLE — In 2016, hospitals in New York state identified a rare and dangerous fungal infection never before found in the United States. Research laboratories quickly mobilized to review historical specimens and found the fungus had been present in the country since at least 2013.

In the years since, New York City has emerged as ground zero for Candida auris infections. And until 2021, the state recorded the most confirmed cases in the country year after year, even as the illness has spread to other places, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data analyzed by The Associated Press.

Candida auris is a globally emerging public health threat that can cause severe illness, including bloodstream, wound and respiratory infections. Its mortality rate has been estimated at 30% to 60%, and it’s a particular risk in health care settings for people with serious medical problems.

Last year, the most cases were found in Nevada and California, but the fungus was identified clinically in patients in 29 states. New York state remains a major hot spot.

A prominent theory for the sudden explosion of Candida auris, which was not found in humans anywhere until 2009, is climate change.

Humans and other mammals have warmer body temperatures than most fungal pathogens can tolerate, so they have historically been protected from most infections. However, rising temperatures can allow fungi to develop tolerance to warmer environments, and over time humans may lose resistance. Some researchers think this is what is happening with Candida auris.

When Candida auris was first spreading, said Meghan Marie Lyman, a CDC medical epidemiologist for the mycotic diseases branch, the cases were linked to people who had traveled to the U.S. from other places. Now, most cases are acquired locally — generally spreading among patients in health care settings.

In the U.S., there were 2,377 confirmed clinical cases diagnosed last year — an increase of more than 1,200% since 2017. But Candida auris is becoming a global problem. In Europe, a survey last year found case numbers nearly doubled from 2020 to 2021.

“The number of cases has increased, but also the geographic distribution has increased,” Lyman said. She noted that while screenings and surveillance have improved, the skyrocketing case numbers reflect a true increase.

In March, a CDC press release noted the seriousness of the problem, citing the pathogen’s resistance to traditional antifungal treatments and the alarming rate of its spread. Public health agencies are focused primarily on strategies to urgently mitigate transmission in health care settings.

Dr. Luis Ostrosky, a professor of infectious diseases at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston, thinks Candida auris is “kind of our nightmare scenario.”

“It’s a potentially multidrug resistant pathogen with the ability to spread very efficiently in health care settings,” he said. “We’ve never had a pathogen like this in the fungal infection area.”

Ostrosky has treated about 10 patients with the fungal infection but has consulted on many more. He said he has seen it spread through an entire ICU in two weeks.

The fungus poses a significant threat to human health, researchers say.

Immunocompromised patients in hospitals are most at risk, but so are people in long-term care centers and nursing homes, which generally have less access to diagnostics and infection control experts.

Candida auris is not only challenging to treat, but also difficult to diagnose. It is rare and many clinicians are not aware it exists.

Beyond the increase in cases, popular culture has helped increase awareness of fungal infections. A popular HBO series, The Last of Us, is a drama about the survivors of a fungal outbreak.

“I think the way to think about how global warming is putting selection pressure on microbes is to think about how many more really hot days we are experiencing,” said Arturo Casadevall, a microbiologist, immunologist and professor at Johns Hopkins University. “Each day at (37.7 degrees Celsius) provides a selection event for all microbes affected — and the more days when high temperatures are experienced, the greater probability that some will adapt and survive.” 

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Two Supermoons in August Mean Double the Stargazing Fun

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — The cosmos is offering up a double feature in August: a pair of supermoons culminating in a rare blue moon.

Catch the first show Tuesday evening as the full moon rises in the southeast, appearing slightly brighter and bigger than normal. That’s because it will be closer than usual, just 357,530 kilometers (222,159 miles) away, thus the supermoon label.

The moon will be even closer the night of Aug. 30 — a scant 357,344 kilometers (222,043 miles) distant. Because it’s the second full moon in the same month, it will be what’s called a blue moon.

“Warm summer nights are the ideal time to watch the full moon rise in the eastern sky within minutes of sunset. And it happens twice in August,” said retired NASA astrophysicist Fred Espenak, dubbed Mr. Eclipse for his eclipse-chasing expertise.

The last time two full supermoons graced the sky in the same month was in 2018. It won’t happen again until 2037, according to Italian astronomer Gianluca Masi, founder of the Virtual Telescope Project.

Masi will provide a live webcast of Tuesday evening’s supermoon as it rises over the Coliseum in Rome.

“My plans are to capture the beauty of this … hopefully bringing the emotion of the show to our viewers,” Masi said in an email. “The supermoon offers us a great opportunity to look up and discover the sky.”

This year’s first supermoon was in July. The fourth and last will be in September. The two in August will be closer than either of those.

Provided clear skies, binoculars or backyard telescopes can enhance the experience, Espenak said, revealing such features as lunar maria — the dark plains formed by ancient volcanic lava flows — and rays emanating from lunar craters.

According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, the August full moon is traditionally known as the sturgeon moon. That’s because of the abundance of that fish in the Great Lakes in August  hundreds of years ago.

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In US, Homeless Students’ Education Took Hard Hit During Pandemic

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PHOENIX — By the time Aaliyah Ibarra started second grade, her family had moved five times in four years in search of stable housing. As she was about to start a new school, her mother, Bridget Ibarra, saw how much it was affecting her education.

At 8 years old, her daughter did not know the alphabet.

“She was in second grade and couldn’t tell me any of the letters. I would point them out and she didn’t know,” Bridget Ibarra said. “She would sing the song in order, but as soon as I mixed them up, she had no idea.”

“I just didn’t know what letters were which,” says Aaliyah, now 9. “I know them now.”

The family’s struggles coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic that forced Aaliyah to begin her school experience online. Unfamiliar with a computer, Aaliyah was regularly kicked out of the virtual classroom, her mother said. Teachers complained she was not looking at the screen and took too many breaks.

Zoom school was especially difficult for Aaliyah because she was homeless — and like thousands of students nationally, her school didn’t know.

Homeless students often fell through the cracks during the tumult of the pandemic, when many schools struggled to keep track of families with unstable housing. Not being identified as homeless meant students lost out on eligibility for crucial support such as transportation, free uniforms, laundry services and other help.

Years later, the effects have cascaded. As students nationwide have struggled to make up for missed learning, educators have lost critical time identifying who needs the most help. Schools are offering tutoring and counseling but now have limited time to spend federal pandemic relief money for homeless students, said Barbara Duffield, executive director of SchoolHouse Connection, a national homelessness organization.

“There is urgency because of the losses that have occurred over the pandemic — loss in learning, the gaps in attendance and the health crisis,” she said. Many education leaders, Duffield said, don’t even know about federal money earmarked for homeless students — and the programs expire next year.

The number of children identified as homeless by schools nationwide dropped by 21% from the 2018-19 school year to the 2020-21 school year, according to federal data. But the decrease, representing more than 288,000 students, likely includes many kids whose homelessness was unknown to schools. Federal counts of homeless people living on the street or in shelters also appeared to decrease in 2021 due to pandemic disruptions, but by 2022, those numbers shot up to the highest in a decade.

In Bridget Ibarra’s case, she chose not to tell the school her kids were homeless — and she says teachers, disconnected from students by a screen, never asked. She was worried if officials knew the family was staying in a shelter, and the school was obliged by law to provide transportation, the family would face pressure to enroll in a different school that was closer.

She knew how hard the disruptions were on her kids.

“I know they didn’t enjoy moving as often as we did. They would say things like, ‘We’re moving again? We just moved!'” Ibarra said.

“When I moved, I missed my friends and my teacher,” Aaliyah said.

The stigma and fear associated with homelessness also can lead families not to tell anyone they lack secure housing, Duffield said.

“If we don’t identify children proactively, we can’t ensure that they have everything they need to be successful in school and even go to school,” she said.

Before the pandemic, Ibarra and her two children moved in with her brother in Phoenix because she was having trouble making ends meet. Then her brother died unexpectedly. At the time, Ibarra was pregnant with her third child and couldn’t afford the rent with what she earned working at a fast-food restaurant.

The family spent the next six months at Maggie’s Place, a shelter in North Phoenix that caters to pregnant women. The four of them, including Aaliyah’s infant brother, moved next to Homeward Bound, an apartment-like shelter for families, where they were living when the pandemic hit a few months before Aaliyah started kindergarten.

Aaliyah’s school, David Crockett Elementary, stuck with online learning her entire kindergarten year. Aaliyah and her older brother, joined by several other children, spent most of their school days on computers in a mixed-grade makeshift classroom at the shelter.

“It was like she wasn’t even in school,” Ibarra said. 

While the shelter helped the family meet their basic needs, Ibarra said she asked the school repeatedly for extra academic help for her daughter. She blamed the struggles partly on online learning, but she also felt the school was giving all their attention to Aaliyah’s older brother because he already was designated as a special education student with an individualized education program, or IEP.

The principal, Sean Hannafin, said school officials met frequently with the children’s mom. He said they offered the support they had available, but it was hard to determine online which students had needs that required intervention.

“The best thing we could do was take that data and flag them for when we returned in person, because you need a certain amount of time to observe a child in a classroom,” he said. “The online setting is not the place to observe.”

A federal law aimed at ensuring homeless students have equal access to education provides rights and services to children without a “fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence.”

Many students aren’t identified as homeless when their parents or guardians enroll them. At school, teachers, cafeteria staff, aides or bus drivers often notice other students whose well-being may need looking into. Students may have unwashed clothes, or many late arrivals or absences.

But with children learning online, teachers and staff often didn’t see those things.

Overall, the drop in the student homelessness count began before the pandemic, but it was much steeper in the first full school year after COVID-19 hit. The percentage of enrolled students identified as homeless in the U.S. dropped from 2.7% in 2018-19 to 2.2% in 2020-21.

Over that timeframe, Arizona had one of the biggest drops in the number of students identified as homeless, from about 21,000 to nearly 14,000. But there were signs many families were in distress. KateLynn Dean, who works at Homeward Bound, said the shelter saw huge numbers of families dealing with homelessness for the first time during the pandemic.

Eventually, Bridget Ibarra had to enroll Aaliyah in a different school.

After getting kicked out of low-income housing last year when their property owner sold the building, the family lived with Ibarra’s mother before finding another low-income unit in Chandler, more than 32 kilometers east of Phoenix.

Once the family moved, enrolling in school was far from easy. Aaliyah missed the first three weeks of the school year last fall because of delays obtaining transcripts, and Ibarra insisted she not start the year without a plan to address her delays in reading and writing. Aaliyah spent that time playing and sitting around the house.

“Honestly, Aaliyah said she didn’t care how long, because she didn’t want to go to that school anyway,” her mother said. She said Aaliyah missed her friends and was tired of moving.

At Aaliyah’s new school, Frye Elementary, Principal Alexis Cruz Freeman saw for herself how hard it was to keep in touch with families when children were not in classrooms. Several students disappeared altogether. But she said families have started reengaging with school. The state of Arizona reported more than 22,000 students were identified as homeless in the last school year — twice as many as the year before.

Ibarra said she tried to shield as much discomfort about their living situation from her kids as possible. It worked. Aaliyah doesn’t remember much about the places they’ve stayed except the people that surrounded her family.

Aaliyah has gained ground academically at her new school, Cruz Freeman said. She still has trouble pronouncing and recognizing some words. But by the end of the school year, she was able to read a text and write four sentences based on its meaning. She is also performing at grade level in math.

The principal considers her a success story in part because of her mother’s support.

“She was an advocate for her children, which is all that we can ever ask for,” Cruz Freeman said.

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FBI Warns About China Theft of US AI Technology

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China is pilfering U.S.-developed artificial intelligence (AI) technology to enhance its own aspirations and to conduct foreign influence operations, senior FBI officials said Friday.

The officials said China and other U.S. adversaries are targeting American businesses, universities and government research facilities to get their hands on cutting-edge AI research and products.

“Nation-state adversaries, particularly China, pose a significant threat to American companies and national security by stealing our AI technology and data to advance their own AI programs and enable foreign influence campaigns,” a senior FBI official said during a background briefing call with reporters.

China has a national plan to surpass the U.S. as the world’s top AI power by 2030, but U.S. officials say much of its progress is based on stolen or otherwise acquired U.S. technology.

“What we’re seeing is efforts across multiple vectors, across multiple industries, across multiple avenues to try to solicit and acquire U.S. technology … to be able to re-create and develop and advance their AI programs,” the senior FBI official said.

The briefing was aimed at giving the FBI’s view of the threat landscape, not to react to any recent events, officials said.

FBI Director Christopher Wray sounded the alarm about China’s AI intentions at a cybersecurity summit in Atlanta on Wednesday. He warned that after “years stealing both our innovation and massive troves of data,” the Chinese are well-positioned “to use the fruits of their widespread hacking to power, with AI, even more powerful hacking efforts.”

China has denied the allegations.

The senior FBI official briefing reporters said that while the bureau remains focused on foreign acquisition of U.S. AI technology and talent, it has concern about future threats from foreign adversaries who exploit that technology.

“However, if and when the technology is acquired, their ability to deploy it in an instance such as [the 2024 presidential election] is something that we are concerned about and do closely monitor.”

With the recent surge in AI use, the U.S. government is grappling with its benefits and risks. At a White House summit earlier this month, top AI executives agreed to institute guidelines to ensure the technology is developed safely.

Even as the technology evolves, cybercriminals are actively using AI in a variety of ways, from creating malicious code to crafting convincing phishing emails and carrying out insider trading of securities, officials said.

“The bulk of the caseload that we’re seeing now and the scope of activity has in large part been on criminal actor use and deployment of AI models in furtherance of their traditional criminal schemes,” the senior FBI official said.

The FBI warned that violent extremists and traditional terrorist actors are experimenting with the use of various AI tools to build explosives, he said.

“Some have gone as far as to post information about their engagements with the AI models and the success which they’ve had defeating security measures in most cases or in a number of cases,” he said.

The FBI has observed a wave of fake AI-generated websites with millions of followers that carry malware to trick unsuspecting users, he said. The bureau is investigating the websites.

Wray cited a recent case in which a Dark Net user created malicious code using ChatGPT.

The user “then instructed other cybercriminals on how to use it to re-create malware strains and techniques based on common variants,” Wray said.

“And that’s really just the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “We assess that AI is going to enable threat actors to develop increasingly powerful, sophisticated, customizable and scalable capabilities — and it’s not going to take them long to do it.”

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EU Looks to Ban Harmful Chemicals in Imported Toys

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The EU is looking to prohibit chemicals deemed unsafe for children — especially ones that disrupt growth hormones — in imported toys under new rules proposed Friday by the European Commission.

China is overwhelmingly the biggest manufacturer of toys imported into the European Union, accounting for 83% of the value of toys brought in in 2021, according to the official EU statistics agency Eurostat.

“Enforcement will be stepped up thanks to digital technologies, allowing unsafe toys to be more easily detected, notably at EU borders,” EU internal market commissioner Thierry Breton said.

The commission’s proposed Toy Safety Regulation aims to address loopholes in existing EU legislation dating from 2009 that dictates safety standards in toys sold across the 27-nation bloc.

It also seeks to update the rules to better address online sales.

A commission statement emphasized that toys bought in the EU are “already among the safest ones in the world.”

But it said more needed to be done, given “the high number of unsafe toys that are still sold in the EU, especially online,” and particularly imported ones.

The proposed revision zeroes in on “chemicals that affect the endocrine system, and chemicals affecting the respiratory system or are toxic to a specific organ” in toys.

The endocrine system comprises glands that produce hormones. In children, chemicals that disrupt its normal operation can affect growth, thyroid functions and puberty, and contribute to diabetes or obesity.

To ensure that all toys sold in the European Union are safe, the commission is suggesting a requirement for importers to procure “digital product passports” that would assist in inspecting shipments.

The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) strongly welcomed the commission’s initiative and noted that if it became EU law “it would be the first time ever — worldwide — that both known and suspected hormone-disrupting chemicals are banned from an entire product group.”

It said a consumer group’s test of babies’ teething toys in May found 11 out of 20 toys released such chemicals.

The head of the European Consumer Voice in Standardisation, Stephen Russell, said: “For years, we and BEUC have criticized the all-too-weak provision of toy safety legislation when it comes to chemicals.

“It is very welcome to see the European Commission now proposes to phase out hormone-disrupting chemicals from an entire product group.”

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Prospect of AI Producing News Articles Concerns Digital Experts 

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Google’s work developing an artificial intelligence tool that would produce news articles is concerning some digital experts, who say such devices risk inadvertently spreading propaganda or threatening source safety. 

The New York Times reported last week that Google is testing a new product, known internally by the working title Genesis, that employs artificial intelligence, or AI, to produce news articles.

Genesis can take in information, like details about current events, and create news content, the Times reported. Google already has pitched the product to the Times and other organizations, The Washington Post and News Corp, which owns The Wall Street Journal.

The launch of the generative AI chatbot ChatGPT last fall has sparked debate about how artificial intelligence can and should fit into the world — including in the news industry.

AI tools can help reporters research by quickly analyzing data and extracting it from PDF files in a process known as scraping.  AI can also help journalists’ fact-check sources. 

But the apprehension — including potentially spreading propaganda or ignoring the nuance humans bring to reporting — appears to be weightier. These worries extend beyond Google’s Genesis tool to encapsulate the use of AI in news gathering more broadly.

If AI-produced articles are not carefully checked, they could unwittingly include disinformation or misinformation, according to John Scott-Railton, who researches disinformation at the Citizen Lab in Toronto.  

“It’s sort of a shame that the places that are the most friction-free for AI to scrape and draw from — non-paywalled content — are the places where disinformation and propaganda get targeted,” Scott-Railton told VOA. “Getting people out of the loop does not make spotting disinformation easier.”

Paul M. Barrett, deputy director at New York University’s Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, agrees that artificial intelligence can turbocharge the dissemination of falsehoods. 

“It’s going to be easier to generate myths and disinformation,” he told VOA. “The supply of misleading content is, I think, going to go up.”

In an emailed statement to VOA, a Google spokesperson said, “In partnership with news publishers, especially smaller publishers, we’re in the earliest stages of exploring ideas to potentially provide AI-enabled tools to help their journalists with their work.”

“Our goal is to give journalists the choice of using these emerging technologies in a way that enhances their work and productivity,” the spokesperson said. “Quite simply these tools are not intended to, and cannot, replace the essential role journalists have in reporting, creating and fact-checking their articles.”

The implications for a news outlet’s credibility are another important consideration regarding the use of artificial intelligence.

News outlets are presently struggling with a credibility crisis. Half of Americans believe that national news outlets try to mislead or misinform audiences through their reporting, according to a February report from Gallup and the Knight Foundation.

“I’m puzzled that anyone thinks that the solution to this problem is to introduce a much less credible tool, with a much shakier command of facts, into newsrooms,” said Scott-Railton, who was previously a Google Ideas fellow.

Reports show that AI chatbots regularly produce responses that are entirely wrong or made up. AI researchers refer to this habit as a “hallucination.”

Digital experts are also cautious about what security risks may be posed by using AI tools to produce news articles. Anonymous sources, for instance, might face retaliation if their identities are revealed.

“All users of AI-powered systems need to be very conscious of what information they are providing to the system,” Barrett said.

“The journalist would have to be cautious and wary of disclosing to these AI systems information such as the identity of a confidential source, or, I would say, even information that the journalist wants to make sure doesn’t become public,” he said. 

Scott-Railton said he thinks AI probably has a future in most industries, but it’s important not to rush the process, especially in news. 

“What scares me is that the lessons learned in this case will come at the cost of well-earned reputations, will come at the cost of factual accuracy when it actually counts,” he said.  

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Relentless Heat Wave Hits California

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This week President Joe Biden announced additional measures to protect communities from extreme heat that has hit parts of the United States. In Los Angeles, authorities are coping as best they can and trying some innovative ways to beat the heat. Angelina Bagdasaryan has the story, narrated by Anna Rice. Camera: Vazgen Varzhabetian

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Saguaro Cacti Collapsing in Arizona Extreme Heat, Scientist Says

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Arizona’s saguaro cacti, a symbol of the U.S. West, are leaning, losing arms and in some cases falling over during the state’s record streak of extreme heat, a scientist said on Tuesday.

Summer monsoon rains the cacti rely on have failed to arrive, testing the desert giants’ ability to survive in the wild as well as in cities after temperatures above 43 Celsius degrees (110 Fahrenheit) for 25 days in Phoenix, said Tania Hernandez.

“These plants are adapted to this heat, but at some point the heat needs to cool down and the water needs to come,” said Hernandez, a research scientist at Phoenix’s 140-acre (57-hectare) Desert Botanical Garden, which has over 2/3 of all cactus species, including saguaros which can grow to over 12 meters (40 feet).

Plant physiologists at the Phoenix garden are studying how much heat cacti can take. Until recently many thought the plants were perfectly adapted to high temperatures and drought. Arizona’s heat wave is testing those assumptions.

Cacti need to cool down at night or through rain and mist. If that does not happen they sustain internal damage. Plants now suffering from prolonged, excessive heat may take months or years to die, Hernandez said.

Cacti in Phoenix are being studied as the city is a heat island, mimicking higher temperatures plants in the wild are expected to face with future climate change, Hernandez said.

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Vietnam Orders Social Media Firms to Cut ‘Toxic’ Content Using AI

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HO CHI MINH CITY, VIETNAM – Vietnam’s demand that international social media firms use artificial intelligence to identify and remove “toxic” online content is part of an ever expanding and alarming campaign to pressure overseas platforms to suppress freedom of speech in the country, rights groups, experts and activists say.

Vietnam is a lucrative market for overseas social media platforms. Of the country’s population of nearly 100 million there are 75.6 million Facebook users, according to Singapore-based research firm Data Reportal. And since Vietnamese authorities have rolled out tighter restrictions on online content and ordered social media firms to remove content the government deems anti-state, social media sites have largely complied with government demands to silence online critiques of the government, experts and rights groups told VOA.

“Toxic” is a term used broadly to refer to online content which the state deems to be false, violent, offensive, or anti-state, according to local media reports.

During a mid-year review conference on June 30, Vietnam’s Information Ministry ordered international tech firms to use artificial intelligence to find and remove so-called toxic content automatically, according to a report from state-run broadcaster Vietnam Television. Details have not been revealed on how or when companies must comply with the new order.

Le Quang Tu Do, the head of the Authority of Broadcasting and Electronic Information, had noted during an April 6 news conference that Vietnamese authorities have economic, technical and diplomatic tools to act against international platforms, according to a local media report. According to the report he said the government could cut off social platforms from advertisers, banks, and e-commerce, block domains and servers, and advise the public to cease using platforms with toxic content.

“The point of these measures is for international platforms without offices in Vietnam, like Facebook and YouTube, to abide by the law,” Do said.

Pat de Brun, Amnesty International’s deputy director of Amnesty Tech, told VOA the latest demand is consistent with Vietnam’s yearslong strategy to increase pressure on social media companies. De Brun said it is the government’s broad definition of what is toxic, rather than use of artificial intelligence, that is of most human rights concern because it silences speech that can include criticism of government and policies.

“Vietnamese authorities have used exceptionally broad categories to determine content that they find inappropriate and which they seek to censor. … Very, very often this content is protected speech under international human rights law,” de Brun said. “It’s really alarming to see that these companies have relented in the face of this pressure again and again.”

During the first half of this year, Facebook removed 2,549 posts, YouTube removed 6,101 videos, and TikTok took down 415 links, according to an Information Ministry statement.

Online suppression

Nguyen Khac Giang, a research fellow at Singapore’s ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, told VOA that heightened online censorship has been led by the conservative faction within Vietnam’s Communist Party, which gained power in 2016.

Nguyen Phu Trong was elected as general secretary in 2016, putting a conservative in the top position within the one-party state. Along with Trong, other conservative-minded leaders rose within government the same year, pushing out reformists, Giang said. Efforts to control the online sphere led to 2018’s Law on Cybersecurity, which expands government control of online content and attempts to localize user data in Vietnam. The government also established Force 47 in 2017, a military unit with reportedly 10,000 members assigned to monitor online space.

On July 19, local media reported that the information ministry proposed taking away the internet access of people who commit violations online especially via livestream on social media sites.

Activists often see their posts removed, lose access to their accounts, and the government also arrests Vietnamese bloggers, journalists, and critics living in the country for their online speech. They are often charged under Article 117 of Vietnam’s Criminal Code, which criminalizes “making, storing, distributing or disseminating information, documents and items against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.”

According to The 88 Project, a U.S.-based human rights group, 191 activists are in jail in Vietnam, many of whom have been arrested for online advocacy and charged under Article 117.

“If you look at the way that social media is controlled in Vietnam, it is very starkly contrasted with what happened before 2016,” Giang said. “What we are seeing now is only a signal of what we’ve been seeing for a long time.”

Giang said the government order is a tool to pressure social media companies to use artificial intelligence to limit content, but he warned that online censorship and limits on public discussion could cause political instability by eliminating a channel for public feedback.

“The story here is that they want the social media platforms to take more responsibility for whatever happens on social media in Vietnam,” Giang said. “If they don’t allow people to report on wrongdoings … how can the [government] know about it?”

Vietnamese singer and dissident Do Nguyen Mai Khoi, now living in the United States, has been contacting Facebook since 2018 for activists who have lost accounts or had posts censored, or are the victims of coordinated online attacks by pro-government Facebook users. Although she has received some help from the company in the past, responses to her requests have become more infrequent.

“[Facebook] should use their leverage,” she added. “If Vietnam closed Facebook, everyone would get angry and there’d be a big wave of revolution or protests.”

Representatives of Meta Platforms Inc., Facebook’s parent company, did not respond to VOA requests for comment.

Vietnam is also a top concern in the region for the harsh punishment of online speech, Dhevy Sivaprakasam, Asia Pacific policy counsel at Access Now, a nonprofit defending digital rights, said.

“I think it’s one of the most egregious examples of persecution on the online space,” she said.

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Meat Allergy Caused by Ticks Getting More Common in US, CDC Says

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NEW YORK — More than 100,000 people in the U.S. have become allergic to red meat since 2010 because of a weird syndrome triggered by tick bites, according to a government report released Thursday. But health officials believe many more have the problem and don’t know it.

A second report estimated that as many as 450,000 Americans have developed the allergy. That would make it the 10th most common food allergy in the U.S., said Dr. Scott Commins, a University of North Carolina researcher who co-authored both papers published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Health officials said they are not aware of any confirmed deaths, but people with the allergy have described it as bewildering and terrifying.

“I never connected it with any food because it was hours after eating,” said one patient, Bernadine Heller-Greenman.

The reaction, called alpha-gal syndrome, occurs when an infected person eats beef, pork, venison or other meat from mammals — or ingests milk, gelatin or other mammal products.

It’s not caused by a germ but by a sugar, alpha-gal, that is in meat from mammals — and in tick saliva. When the sugar enters the body through the skin, it triggers an immune response and can lead to a severe allergic reaction.

Scientists had seen reactions in patients taking a cancer drug that was made in mouse cells containing the alpha-gal sugar. But in 2011 researchers first reported that it could spread through tick bites, too.

They tied it to the lone star tick, which despite its Texas-themed name is most common in the eastern and southern U.S. (About 4% of all U.S. cases have been in the eastern end of New York’s Long Island.)

One of the studies released Thursday examined 2017-22 test results from the main U.S. commercial lab looking for alpha-gal antibodies. They noted the number of people testing positive rose from about 13,000 in 2017 to 19,000 in 2022.

Experts say cases may be up for a variety of reasons, including lone star ticks’ expanding range, more people coming into contact with the ticks or more doctors learning about it and ordering tests for it.

But many doctors are not. The second study was a survey last year of 1,500 U.S. primary care doctors and health professionals. The survey found nearly half had never heard of alpha-gal syndrome, and only 5% said they felt very confident they could diagnose it. Researchers used that information to estimate the number of people with the allergy — 450,000.

People with the syndrome can experience symptoms including hives, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, severe stomach pain, difficulty breathing, dizziness and swelling of the lips, throat, tongue or eye lids. Unlike some other food allergies, which occur soon after eating, these reactions hit hours later.

Some patients have only stomach symptoms, and the American Gastroenterological Association says people with unexplained diarrhea, nausea and abdominal pain should be tested for the syndrome.

Doctors counsel people with the allergy to change their diet, carry epinephrine and avoid tick bites.

The allergy can fade away in some people — Commins has seen that happen in about 15% to 20% of his patients. But a key is avoiding being re-bitten.

“The tick bites are central to this. They perpetuate the allergy,” he said.

One of his patients is Heller-Greenman, a 78-year-old New York art historian who spends summers on Martha’s Vineyard. She has grown accustomed to getting bitten by ticks on the island and said she has had Lyme disease four times.

About five years ago, she started experiencing terrible, itchy hives on her back, torso and thighs in the middle of the night. Her doctors concluded it was an allergic reaction but couldn’t pinpoint the trigger.

She was never a big meat eater, but one day in January 2020 she had a hamburger and then a big, fatty steak the following evening. Six hours after dinner, she woke up nauseated, then suffered terrible spells of vomiting, diarrhea and dizziness. She passed out three times.

She was diagnosed with alpha-gal syndrome shortly after that and was told to avoid ticks and to stop eating red meat and dairy products. There have been no allergic reactions since.

“I have one grandchild that watches me like a hawk,” she said, making sure she reads packaged food labels and avoids foods that could trigger a reaction.

“I feel very lucky, really, that this has worked out for me,” she said. “Not all doctors are knowledgeable about this.”

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Successful US AIDS Relief Program Faces Challenge in Congress     

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A 20-year-old, U.S.-funded AIDS relief program that is credited with saving tens of millions of lives around the world may not be reauthorized if conservative and anti-abortion activists are successful in a campaign against it.

The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) was launched in 2003 by then-President George W. Bush, and since then it has channeled more than $110 billion in support for the fight against the AIDS epidemic in more than 50 countries around the world.

It has been particularly successful in Western and sub-Saharan Africa, where it helps provide antiretroviral medication to the more than 25 million people who are living with the disease.

The program received $6.9 billion in fiscal 2023. Through its history, the program has typically been reauthorized for five years at a time, in order to provide some certainty about the flow of relief dollars. It was last authorized in 2018. Advocates of the program are calling for a “clean” reauthorization that does not alter the program or introduce uncertainty about the flow of funds.

However, that reauthorization is now in doubt, as conservative lawmakers and activists have expressed concern that the program works with various organizations around the world that, in addition to combating AIDS, provide reproductive health services, including abortion.

‘Radical’ ideology

In a joint letter to key members of Congress this spring, dozens of anti-abortion groups urged lawmakers to reconsider their support for the program unless new rules are put in place that restrict the way it can spend federal funds.

“The American people do not support using taxpayer dollars to fund abortion at home or abroad,” the groups wrote. “For that reason, there exists long-standing precedent not to fund abortion, directly or indirectly, through U.S. foreign assistance. We are concerned that grants from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) are used by nongovernmental organizations that promote abortions and push a radical gender ideology abroad.”

Failure to reauthorize the program would not necessarily kill it, because Congress could still appropriate money for it each year. But it would chip away at the administrative foundation of PEPFAR, leaving it less able to adapt to changing conditions in countries participating in the program, including changes in local laws that affect the provision of specific kinds of aid, and changes in the prevalence of the virus.

Pressuring lawmakers

Several influential conservative organizations, including the Heritage Foundation, Family Research Council and Susan B. Anthony (SBA) Pro-Life America, have said that they oppose a clean reauthorization of the program. They said they would add any vote that renewed the program without changes to their legislative scorecards.

Those scorecards, which track lawmakers’ adherence to the wishes of conservative activist organizations, are influential because a low score can leave a member of Congress open to a reelection challenge from a more conservative rival.

Autumn Christensen, vice president of public policy for SBA Pro-Life America, said in a statement emailed to VOA that her organization believes the Biden administration has “bowed to the pressures of the international abortion lobby and integrated broader sexual and reproductive services (which includes abortion) into their strategic plans.”

Christensen praised legislation proposed by Representative Mario Diaz-Balart, a Florida Republican, that would reauthorize PEPFAR for a single year and explicitly deny any funding to organizations that “promote or perform” abortions.

Mexico City policy

Those advocating for a clean reauthorization of PEPFAR point out that it is already illegal under U.S. law for foreign aid funds to be spent on the delivery of abortion services.

A 1973 provision of the Foreign Assistance Act, known as the Helms Amendment, reads, “[N]o foreign assistance funds may be used to pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning or to motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions.”

That language has, for generations, blocked direct funding of abortion with U.S. aid. However, it has not blocked U.S. aid programs from providing funds to organizations that provide access to abortions using funds from other sources.

Opponents of a clean PEPFAR reauthorization are demanding that stronger anti-abortion protections, such as the “Mexico City policy,” be incorporated into the program.

First adopted in 1983 by President Ronald Reagan’s administration, the policy bars U.S. aid from being disbursed to any organization that provides access to abortion services, even with non-U.S. money.

Since its original introduction, the Mexico City policy has been rescinded by every Democratic presidential administration upon taking office and has been reinstated by every Republican.

Former President Donald Trump not only reinstated the policy early in his presidency, but he strengthened it. By 2019, it was U.S. policy to refuse to provide funds to groups that even spoke in favor of abortion rights or supported other organizations that did.

President Joe Biden reversed Trump’s reinstatement of the policy when he took office in 2021.

Known impacts

Matthew Kavanagh is the director of the Global Health Policy and Politics Initiative at Georgetown Law School’s O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law. He told VOA that the impact of the Mexico City policy is already well-known to public health researchers.

“PEPFAR is one of the most successful and impactful global health programs in the world’s history,” Kavanagh said. But when the Trump administration reinstated the Mexico City policy, “quite a few organizations actually dropped out from being PEPFAR recipients,” he said.

Kavanagh said that many of the organizations that are most experienced at providing the kind of interventions that made PEPFAR successful are local family planning organizations that offer a range of services and counseling, often including abortion.

“Local family planning organizations were no longer allowed to provide HIV prevention programming and to receive PEPFAR funding, and that was a huge loss for the program,” he said.

He also warned against plans to reauthorize the program for just one year, saying that doing so would create damaging uncertainty for organizations serving desperate people.

“Organizations around the world are depending on this for lifesaving programs,” Kavanagh said. “People are not put on HIV treatment for one year, and then taken off. People are on HIV treatment for their lives, and we need to ensure that these programs don’t have to worry that they’re going to be shut down at the end of the year.” 

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Biden Announces Advanced Cancer Research Initiative

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The Biden administration on Thursday announced the first cancer-focused initiative under its advanced health research agency. The goal is to help surgeons more easily differentiate between healthy tissue and cancerous cells.

The Precision Surgical Interventions program, which is being launched under the administration’s Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, will aim to significantly improve cancer outcomes over the next few decades.

In a Thursday statement announcing the initiative, President Joe Biden called the investment “a major milestone in the fight to end cancer as we know it.” The initiative is part of Biden’s “cancer moonshot” initiative.

The hope is that the investment will help doctors develop tools that will remove all cancerous cells while avoiding healthy nerves and blood vessels.

Biden said he eventually wants the cancer death rate to be cut in half.

“Harnessing the power of innovation is essential to achieving our ambitious goal of turning more cancers from death sentences to treatable diseases and — in time — cutting the cancer death rate in half,” he said.

“As we’ve seen throughout our history, from developing vaccines to sequencing the genome, when the U.S. government invests in innovation, we can achieve breakthroughs that would otherwise be impossible, and save lives on a vast scale. ARPA-H follows in that tradition of bold, urgent innovation,” Biden said, using an acronym for his Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health initiative.

“What’s true is that many cancer treatments still start with surgery,” Arati Prabhakar, the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology, told The Associated Press. “So being really smart and attacking and developing new technology to make that first step better could really revolutionize how we are able to treat cancer for so many Americans.”

Formed in 2022, the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health is modeled after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA. The military-focused agency played a central role in developing GPS and the internet.

The “cancer moonshot,” as well as the ARPA-H more broadly, are part of the Biden administration’s unity agenda, which “aims to bring people from both parties together to get big things done for the American people,” Biden said in the statement.

In September, ARPA-H will host an event in Chicago for interested researchers with the intent of quickly authorizing projects.

Some information in this report came from The Associated Press. 

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Health Threats Surge in Sudan, Regionally, as Conflict Escalates

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The World Health Organization on Thursday warned that health threats are surging as the war in Sudan escalates and millions of people, many sick and wounded, flee for safety within Sudan and across borders to neighboring countries where health services are fragile and hard to reach.

The war, which erupted April 15 between the Sudanese Armed Forces and paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, is not contained within the country but has profound regional implications.

The conflict has displaced an estimated 3.4 million people, including 2.5 million inside Sudan. Nearly 760,000 people have been forced to flee as refugees to six neighboring countries, with many people reportedly arriving in poor health, carrying infectious diseases and other afflictions.

The Federal Ministry of Health reports at least 1,136 people have been killed and more than 12,000 injured since the conflict began. “Of course, this is very underreported of the number of casualties,” said Nima Abid, World Health Organization representative in Sudan.

He said the scale of the health crisis triggered by the conflict in Sudan was enormous, noting that the fragile health system in Sudan was unable to cope with the multiple emergencies that exist as “two-thirds of the hospitals in the affected areas are not functional” and are unable to respond to the huge public health needs.

WHO has verified 51 attacks on health facilities since the conflict began, resulting in 10 deaths and 24 injuries and “cutting off access to urgently needed care.”

Abid said that “all the organizational activities have stalled; vector control activities have stalled. Currently, we have a large measles outbreak with more than 2,000 cases and 30 deaths.

“I mean, even before the war, the vaccination coverage was not high,” added Abid, noting that the Blue Nile and White Nile states were the most heavily affected. “So, now we have outbreaks affecting almost 10 states.”

Abid also said he was concerned that cases of malaria, dengue and rift valley fever will rise during the current rainy season, noting that “all these vector-borne diseases are endemic in Sudan” and control measures have stopped.

“We do have an outbreak of cholera in South Kordofan,” he said, “with more than 300 cases and seven deaths. So, all this will have an impact on the health system and public health in Sudan.”

Neighboring Chad is hosting a quarter million Sudanese refugees, and the U.N. expects an equal number will arrive in the country by the end of the year. “This will significantly increase the health needs and exert huge pressure on the available health facilities,” said Jean-Bosco Ndihokubwayo, WHO representative in Chad.

WHO reports around 2,500 people are arriving in Chad every day, many with serious gunshot wounds, while many others arrive sick with infectious diseases, malaria and cholera.

Ndihokubwayo cited malnutrition as the most serious health problem facing people in refugee camps.

“For the time being, we have more than 4,000 children who are suffering from serious malnutrition. Two hundred and fifty children are being hospitalized, 65 dead … and when this is combined with a disease like measles in children who are poorly nourished, it has huge effects as it does with our other current diseases,” he said.

The World Health Organization reports cases of malaria among children under age 5, as well as suspected cases of yellow fever also have been identified among some 17,000 Sudanese who have sought refuge in the Central African Republic (C.A.R.). It added that a suspected cholera outbreak has been reported among many displaced people in northern Ethiopia.

Magdalene Armah, Incident Manager for the Sudan Crisis, WHO regional office for Africa, said the African region has received 65% of the Sudanese population that has fled the country.

She said it was important to establish cross-border operations to ensure that all vulnerable populations are reached with health care. “We want to increase access to health care services by expanding the set-up of emergency teams that are in the various border regions.

“We want to ensure that vaccination campaigns can happen to mitigate further outbreaks. We want to ensure that disease surveillance goes down to the communities,” she said, adding that it was important that humanitarian agencies had the funding to enable it to carry out these vital health projects.

WHO and its partners are working to deliver emergency assistance and medical supplies to people in Chad, as well as in C.A.R., Egypt, Ethiopia and South Sudan, as swiftly as possible. But WHO says resources are overstretched, so providing aid to those in need is becoming increasingly difficult.

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UN Chief: Planet Is Boiling; Time Running Out to Stop Climate Crisis

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U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Thursday that it is not too late to “stop the worst” of the climate crisis, but only with “dramatic, immediate” action.

“The era of global warming has ended; the era of global boiling has arrived,” Guterres told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York, where the temperature outside was approaching 86 degrees Fahrenheit before 10 a.m. and set to hit 91 degrees Fahrenheit later in the day.

He spoke as the World Meteorological Organization and the European Commission’s Copernicus Climate Change Service released new data confirming July is set to be the hottest month ever recorded.

“According to the data released today, July has already seen the hottest three-week period ever recorded; the three hottest days on record; and the highest-ever ocean temperatures for this time of year,” Guterres said.

The U.N. chief, who has been ringing the alarm bell on the climate crisis since he entered office in January 2017, noted it has been a difficult summer in many parts of the world because of climate-related events, including fires, floods and scorching heat.

“For the entire planet, it is a disaster,” he said. “And for scientists, it is unequivocal – humans are to blame.”

He said the rising temperatures are consistent with all the scientific predictions; the only surprise is how fast it is happening.

He acknowledged progress on renewable energies and positive steps from industrial sectors but warned that none of it is going far or fast enough.

“Accelerating temperatures demand accelerated action,” the U.N. secretary-general said.

Guterres called for ambitious new national emissions reduction targets from G20 countries — as they are responsible for 80% of global greenhouse gas emissions. He urged developed countries to reach net zero emissions as close as possible to the target date of 2040, and emerging economies by 2050.

He also repeated his mantra that there must be a transition away from fossil fuels to renewables.

“And we must reach net zero electricity by 2035 in developed countries and 2040 elsewhere, as we work to bring affordable electricity to everyone on Earth,” the secretary-general noted.

He said countries on the climate “frontlines” — who have contributed the least to the climate crisis — need financial help from developed nations for adaptation and mitigation. Developed countries have committed to contributing $100 billion per year to help developing countries, but they have fallen short. Guterres urged them to honor those commitments.

In September, the U.N. chief will convene a Climate Ambition Summit on the sidelines of the General Assembly high-level week, ahead of November’s two-week long climate review conference — COP28 — in Dubai.

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Ambassador: China Will Respond in Kind to US Chip Export Restrictions 

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If the United States imposes more investment restrictions and export controls on China’s semiconductor industry, Beijing will respond in kind, according to China’s ambassador to the U.S., Xie Feng, whose tough talk analysts see as the latest response from a so-called wolf-warrior diplomat.

Xie likened the U.S. export controls to “restricting their opponents to only wearing old swimsuits in swimming competitions, while they themselves can wear advanced shark swimsuits.”

Xie’s remarks, made at the Aspen Security Forum last week, came as the U.S. finalized its mechanism for vetting possible investments in China’s cutting-edge technology. These include semiconductors, quantum computing and artificial intelligence, all of which have military as well as commercial applications.

The U.S. Department of Commerce is also considering imposing new restrictions on exports of artificial intelligence (AI) chips to China, despite the objections of U.S. chipmakers.

Wen-Chih Chao, of the Institute of Strategic and International Affairs Studies at Taiwan’s National Chung Cheng University, characterized Xie’s remarks as part of China’s “wolf-warrior” diplomacy, as China’s increasingly assertive style of foreign policy has come to be known. 

He said the threatened Chinese countermeasures would depend on whether Beijing just wants to show an “attitude” or has decided to confront Western countries head-on.

He pointed to China’s investigations of some U.S. companies operating in China. He sees these as China retaliating by “expressing an attitude.”

Getting tougher

But as the tit-for-tat moves of the U.S. and China seem to be “escalating,” Chao pointed to China’s retaliation getting tougher.

An example, he said, is the export controls Beijing slapped on exporters of gallium, germanium and other raw minerals used in high-end chip manufacturing. As of August 1, they must apply for permission from the Ministry of Commerce of China and report the details of overseas buyers.

Chao said China might go further by blocking or limiting the supply of batteries for electric vehicles, mechanical components needed for wind-power generation, gases needed for solar panels, and raw materials needed for pharmaceuticals and semiconductor manufacturing.

China wants to show Western countries that they must think twice when imposing sanctions on Chinese semiconductors or companies, he said.

But other analysts said Beijing does not want to escalate its retaliation to the point where further moves by the U.S. and its allies harm China’s economy, which is only slowly recovering from draconian pandemic lockdowns.

No cooperation

Chao also said China could retaliate by refusing to cooperate on efforts to limit climate change, or by saying “no” when asked to use its influence with Pyongyang to lessen tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

“These are the means China can use to retaliate,” Chao said. “I think there are a lot of them. These may be its current bargaining chips, and it will not use them all simultaneously. It will see how the West reacts. It may show its ability to counter the West step by step.”

Cheng Chen, a political science professor at the State University of New York at Albany, said China’s recent announcement about gallium, germanium and other chipmaking metals is a warning of its ability, and willingness, to retaliate against the U.S.

Even if the U.S. invests heavily in reshaping these industrial chains, it will take a long time to assemble the links, she said.

Chen said that if the U.S. further escalates sanctions on China’s high-tech products, China could retaliate in kind — using tariffs for tariffs, sanctions for sanctions, and regulations for regulations.

Most used strategy

Yang Yikui, an assistant researcher at Taiwan National Defense Security Research Institute, said economic coercion is China’s most commonly used retaliatory tactic.

He said China imposed trade sanctions on salmon imported from Norway when the late pro-democracy activist Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010. Beijing tightened restrictions on imports of Philippine bananas, citing quarantine issues, during a 2012 maritime dispute with Manila over a shoal in the South China Sea.

Yang said studies show that since 2018, China’s sanctions have become more diverse and detailed, allowing it to retaliate directly and indirectly. It can also use its economic and trade relations to force companies from other countries to participate.

Yang said that after Lithuania agreed in 2021 to let Taiwan establish a representative office in Vilnius, China downgraded its diplomatic relations from the ambassadorial level to the charge d’affaires and removed the country from its customs system database, making it impossible for Lithuanian goods to pass customs.

Beijing then reduced the credit lines of Lithuanian companies operating in the Chinese market and forced other multinational companies to sanction Lithuania. Companies in Germany, France, Sweden and other countries reportedly had cargos stopped at Chinese ports because they contained products made in Lithuania. 

When Australia investigated the origins of COVID, an upset China imposed tariffs or import bans on Australian beef, wine, cotton, timber, lobster, coal and barley. But Beijing did not sanction Australia’s iron ore, wool and natural gas because sanctions on those products stood to hurt key Chinese sectors. 

Adrianna Zhang contributed to this report.

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Study: Ocean Currents Vital for Distributing Heat Could Collapse by Midcentury 

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A system of ocean currents that transports heat northward across the North Atlantic could collapse by midcentury, according to a new study. Scientists have said that such a collapse could cause catastrophic sea level rise and extreme weather across the globe. 

In recent decades, researchers have both raised and downplayed the specter of Atlantic current collapse. It even prompted a movie that strayed far from the science. Two years ago, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said any such catastrophe was unlikely this century. But the new study published in Nature Communications suggests it might not be as far away and unlikely as mainstream science says. 

The Atlantic meridional overturning circulation is a vital system of ocean currents that circulates water throughout the Atlantic Ocean, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It’s a lengthy process, taking an estimated 1,000 years to complete, but has slowed even more since the mid-1900s. 

A further slowdown or complete halting of the circulation could create more extreme weather in the Northern Hemisphere, sea level rise on the East Coast of the United States and drought for millions in southern Africa, scientists in Germany and the U.S. have said. But the timing is uncertain. 

In the new study, Peter and Susanne Ditlevsen, two researchers from Denmark, analyzed sea surface temperatures in the North Atlantic between 1870 and 2020 as a way of assessing this circulation. They found the system could collapse as soon as 2025 and as late as 2095, given current global greenhouse gas emissions.

“There are large uncertainties in this study, in many prior studies, and in climate impact assessment overall, and scientists sometimes miss important aspects that can lead to both over- and underprediction of impacts,” Julio Friedmann, chief scientist at Carbon Direct, a carbon management company, said in a statement. “Still, the conclusion is obvious: Action must be swift and profound to counter major climate risks.” 

Stefan Rahmstorf, co-author on a 2018 study on the subject, published an extensive analysis of the Ditlevesens’ study on RealClimate, a website that publishes commentary from climate scientists. While he said that a tipping point for the collapse of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation was “highly uncertain,” he also called the IPCC estimate conservative. 

“Increasingly the evidence points to the risk being far greater than 10% during this century,” he wrote, “… rather worrying for the next few decades.” 

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Former Military Officials Testify Before US Congress About Extraterrestrials, Alien Craft

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The U.S. government “absolutely” has recovered extraterrestrial craft, according to a former combat officer who was a member of a Department of Defense task force that investigated unidentified anomalous phenomena, or UAP.

Dave Grusch, in response to a House member’s questions during a congressional hearing Wednesday, said he knows the exact locations of such alien craft and that he had provided this information to the intelligence community’s inspector general.

Grusch, who has become a whistleblower and testified that he has faced retaliation for his revelations, told lawmakers that the U.S. government also possesses evidence of non-human biologics. Grusch did not elaborate, stating he had not seen any alien craft or beings himself, but was basing his testimony on dozens of interviews he had conducted within the U.S. intelligence community.

The Air Force veteran, who also worked for two intelligence agencies, was one of three former military officers who appeared before the House Oversight Committee’s national security subcommittee, which held a 135-minute open televised hearing on unidentified flying objects.

The technology “is beyond anything we have,” said David Fravor, who in 2004 as a U.S. Navy pilot videotaped off the coast of California a physics-defying flight of an object, known as the “Tic-Tac.”

“There’s four sets of human eyeballs [that witnessed the incident], we’re all very credible,” testified Fravor. “It’s not a joke.”

A third witness, Ryan Graves, was an F/A-18 Super Hornet U.S. Navy pilot stationed in Virginia in 2014 when his squadron first began encountering unknown objects. He described what he and his colleagues saw as a “dark gray or a black cube inside of a clear sphere” approximately 1.5 to 4.5 meters in diameter. Such incidents became so frequent, according to Graves, that air crews would discuss potential risks from the objects as a routine part of their pre-flight briefings.

Under questioning by a lawmaker, Graves said he knew the craft could not be of domestic origin because they were able to remain completely stationary in Category 4 hurricane winds and then could accelerate to supersonic speeds.

Graves said there were similar reports by military pilots and others from nearly everywhere in the world the U.S. Navy operates.

The hearing contained other sensational testimony, for which there has been no independent confirmation but is similar to statements the witnesses and others have made in recent years in mainstream media articles, including those published by The New York Times.

A Defense Department entity established to investigate UAP phenomena, the All-Domain Anomaly Resolution Office, is refuting Grusch’s claim that access to some materials for an earlier task force was denied.

“To date, AARO has not discovered any verifiable information to substantiate claims that any programs regarding the possession or reverse-engineering of extraterrestrial materials have existed in the past or exist currently. AARO is committed to following the data and its investigation wherever it leads,” said Sue Gough, a Pentagon spokesperson.

Grusch told the bipartisan group of lawmakers there is more classified information, including about a flying object the size of a football field, he could reveal “in a closed session at the right level.”

Lawmaker Anna Paulina Luna, a Republican from Florida, said the committee was denied access to the Secure Classified Information Facility, or SCIF, within the U.S. Capitol to hear further testimony from the witnesses regarding classified matters.

Several members of the committee pledged to work to make more information about the topic public.

“We’re trying to get to the bottom of it,” lawmaker Tim Burchett, a Tennessee Republican, said in expressing appreciation for the witnesses appearing at a public congressional hearing. “I want to thank everybody. We made history today.”

Lawmaker Robert Garcia, a freshman California Democrat, told the witnesses they “had a lot of courage” and characterized Wednesday’s hearing as the most bipartisan discussion he had experienced during his first seven months in Congress.

“Many Americans are deeply interested in this issue, and it shouldn’t take the potential of nonhuman origin to bring us together,” added lawmaker Jared Moskowitz, a Florida Democrat.

Luna recently accused the U.S. government of stonewalling lawmakers’ efforts for transparency, saying she and other lawmakers were rebuffed by officials when they went to an Air Force base in Florida seeking information on UAP sightings by military pilots.

“They refuse to answer questions posed by whistleblowers, avoiding the concerns of Americans and acknowledging the possible threat of UAPs poses to our national security as well as public safety,” Luna said at a news conference last week. “It is extremely unnecessary and an overclassification.”

During Wednesday’s session, Graves noted there are many more credible witnesses with significant information but who are “hesitant to come forward” because they fear ridicule and retaliation.” He said a centralized method for reporting sightings would circumvent potential retaliation, a system lawmakers expressed interest in creating through bipartisan legislation.

UAP are “a national security issue worth looking at,” according to John Kirby, a former Navy admiral, who is a National Security Council spokesman. He said the matter is taken seriously by President Joe Biden and his administration.

“In some cases, these phenomena have affected military training, have impacted military readiness,” Kirby told White House reporters following the congressional hearing. “The truth is we don’t have hard and fast answers on these things.”

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