US Seizes Illegal E-Cigarettes, as Thousands of New Ones Are Launching

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WASHINGTON — Federal officials are seizing more shipments of unauthorized electronic cigarettes at U.S. ports, but thousands of new flavored products continue pouring into the country from China, according to government and industry data reviewed by The Associated Press. The figures underscore the chaotic state of the nation's $7 billion vaping market and raise questions about how the U.S. government can stop the flow of fruit-flavored disposable e-cigarettes used by 1 in 10 American teens and adolescents.  More than 11,500 unique vaping products are being sold in U.S. stores, up 27% from 9,000 products in June, according to tightly held industry data from analytics firm Circana. "FDA whacks one product and then the manufacturers get around it and the kids get around it," said Bonnie Halpern-Felsher, a Stanford University psychologist who…
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‘Extinction Rebellion’ Climate Activists Block Part of Amsterdam Highway

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AMSTERDAM — Climate activists blocked part of the main highway around Amsterdam near the former headquarters of ING bank Saturday to protest its financing of fossil fuels. Amsterdam Municipality said in a message on X, formerly Twitter, that traffic authorities closed part of the road and diverted traffic “to prevent a life-threatening situation." Hundreds of activists walked onto the road in the latest road blockade organized by the Dutch branch of Extinction Rebellion. Earlier this year, the activist organization repeatedly blocked a highway leading into The Hague. Some of Saturday's protesters walked along the closed A10 highway carrying a banner emblazoned with the words “Change or die” as two police vans drove slowly behind them. Another person carried a handwritten banner that said: “ING get out of oil and gas now!”…
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Most US Endangered Species Money Goes to Handful of Species

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BILLINGS, Mont. — Since passage of the Endangered Species Act 50 years ago, more than 1,700 plants, mammals, fish, insects and other species in the U.S. have been listed as threatened or endangered with extinction. Yet federal government data reveals striking disparities in how much money is allocated to save various biological kingdoms. Of the roughly $1.2 billion a year spent on endangered and threatened species, about half goes toward recovery of just two types of fish: salmon and steelhead trout along the West Coast. Tens of millions of dollars go to other widely known animals including manatees, right whales, grizzly bears and spotted owls. But the large sums directed toward a handful of species means others have gone neglected, in some cases for decades, as they teeter on potential extinction.…
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California Expanding Health Care for Low-Income Immigrants in 2024

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. — More than 700,000 immigrants living illegally in California will gain access to free health care starting Monday under one of the state's most ambitious coverage expansions in a decade. It's an effort that will eventually cost the state about $3.1 billion per year and inches California closer to Democrats' goal of providing universal health care to its roughly 39 million residents. Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom and lawmakers agreed in 2022 to provide health care access to all low-income adults regardless of their immigration status through the state's Medicaid program, known as Medi-Cal. California is the most populous state to guarantee such coverage, though Oregon began doing so in July. Newsom called the expansion "a transformative step towards strengthening the health care system for all Californians" when he proposed…
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Google Agrees to Settle Lawsuit Over ‘Incognito’ Mode

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san francisco, california — Google has agreed to settle a consumer privacy lawsuit seeking at least $5 billion in damages over allegations it tracked the data of users who thought they were browsing the internet privately.  The object of the lawsuit was the "incognito mode" on Google's Chrome browser that the plaintiffs said gave users a false sense that what they were surfing online was not being tracked by the Silicon Valley tech firm.  But internal Google emails brought forward in the lawsuit demonstrated that users using incognito mode were being followed by the search and advertising behemoth for measuring web traffic and selling ads.  In a court filing, the judge confirmed that lawyers for Google reached a preliminary agreement to settle the class action lawsuit, originally filed in 2020, which…
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Mexican President Says ‘Super Pharmacy’ to Supply Medicines to All

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MEXICO CITY — Mexico's president inaugurated a huge "super pharmacy" Friday in a bid to help patients throughout the country who are told they need a specific medicine, but their hospital doesn't have it. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's solution was to outfit a big warehouse on the outskirts of Mexico City to centralize a supply and send it to hospitals throughout the country. "The pharmacy is going to be big, big, big, and it is going to have all the medications that are used in the health system," López Obrador said Friday. The pharmacy is intended to complement local health facilities. If a patient can't get needed medications at a local hospital, the patient, the patient's doctor or the pharmacist would be able to have it delivered from the 40,000-square-meter…
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Chile Granny Finds Solace, Celebrity in Online Gaming

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Llay-Llay, Chile — Few players of the online video game Free Fire would know that one of their most ferocious opponents -- a lithe, gun-wielding warrior in a short kimono and fang mask -- is in reality an 81-year-old grandmother from rural Chile. From her professional gaming chair at home in a small village, the soft-spoken Maria Elena Arevalo becomes a merciless hunter, mowing down rivals in a game in which tens of millions of players shoot it out to survive on an imaginary remote island. Wearing an apron over a frilly skirt, Arevalo bears little resemblance to her online alter-ego "Mami Nena" -- the nickname she got from her only grandson, Hector Carrasco, 20. It was Carrasco who introduced Arevalo to the digital world of gaming that has given her…
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US Military’s Secretive Spaceplane Launched on Possible Higher-Orbit Mission

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida — The U.S. military's secretive X-37B robot spaceplane blasted off from Florida on Thursday night on its seventh mission, the first launched atop a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket capable of delivering it to a higher orbit than previous missions. The Falcon Heavy, composed of three rocket cores strapped together, roared off its launch pad from NASA's Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral in a spectacular nighttime liftoff carried live on a SpaceX webcast. The launch followed more than two weeks of false starts and delays. Three earlier countdowns were aborted due to poor weather and unspecified technical issues, leading ground crews to roll the spacecraft back to its hangar before proceeding with Thursday's fight. It came two weeks after China launched its own robot spaceplane, known as the…
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As Tree Species Face Decline, ‘Assisted Migration’ Gains Popularity in Pacific Northwest

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portland, oregon — As native trees in the Pacific Northwest die off due to climate change, the U.S. Forest Service, the city of Portland, Oregon, and citizen groups around Puget Sound are turning to a deceptively simple climate adaptation strategy called "assisted migration." As the world's climate warms, tree growing ranges in the Northern Hemisphere are predicted to move farther north and higher in elevation. Trees, of course, can't get up and walk to their new climatic homes. This is where assisted migration is supposed to lend a hand. The idea is that humans can help trees keep up with climate change by moving them to more favorable ecosystems faster than the trees could migrate on their own. Yet not everyone agrees on what type of assisted migration the region needs…
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Stigma Against Gay Men Could Worsen Congo’s Biggest Mpox Outbreak, Scientists Warn

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Kinshasa, Congo — As Congo copes with its biggest outbreak of mpox, scientists warn discrimination against gay and bisexual men on the continent could make it worse. In November, the World Health Organization reported that mpox, also known as monkeypox, was being spread via sex in Congo for the first time. That is a significant departure from previous flare-ups, where the virus mainly sickened people in contact with diseased animals. Mpox has been in parts of central and west Africa for decades, but it was not until 2022 that it was documented to spread via sex; most of the 91,00 people infected in approximately 100 countries that year were gay or bisexual men. In Africa, unwillingness to report symptoms could drive the outbreak underground, said Dimie Ogoina, an infectious diseases specialist…
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China OKs 105 Online Games Days After Hitting Industry with Draft Rules

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TAIPEI, TAIWAN — Chinese authorities approved 105 new online games this week, bolstering support for the industry just days after proposing regulatory restrictions that sent stocks tumbling. The National Press and Publication Administration (NPPA) announced approval of the 105 games Monday via WeChat, describing the move as a show of support for "the prosperity and healthy development of the online game industry. "It was only Friday that those same regulators announced a wide range of proposed guidelines to ban online game companies from offering incentives for daily logins or purchases. Other proposed rules include limiting how much users can recharge and issuing warnings for "irrational consumption behavior." The draft rules, which were published as part of efforts to seek public comment on the proposals, caused an immediate, massive blow to the…
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In Colombia, Illegally Felled Timber Repurposed to Help Bees

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Socorro, Colombia — In northeast Colombia, police guard warehouses stacked high with confiscated timber with a noble new destiny: transformation into homes for bees beleaguered by pesticides and climate change. The illegally harvested wood is used in the Santander department's "Timber Returns Home" initiative, building hives since 2021 to house the little pollinators so critical to human survival. So far, the project has seen about 200 cubic meters of wood transformed into 1,000 beehives, with another 10,000 planned for the next phase, according to the Santander environmental authority. Previously, confiscated timber was turned into sawdust, donated to municipalities for projects ... and sometimes just left to rot. Now it is being repurposed to help address the "extremely serious problem" of possible bee extinction, said biologist German Perilla, director of the Honey…
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Entrepreneur Recycles Metal and Other Parts of Old Solar Panels

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Yuma, Arizona — As the world pivots from planet-warming fossil fuels to renewable energy, a new pollution problem is rearing its head: What to do with old or worn-out solar panels?  Thousands of photovoltaic slabs are being installed across the United States every day, particularly in the sunny west and south of the country, as states like California race to toward greener energy production.  But with an expected lifespan of around 30 years, the first wave of solar installations is now coming to the end of its usefulness, sparking a rush to recycle things that might otherwise end up in the landfill.  "What is about to happen is a tsunami of solar panels coming back into the supply chain," said Adam Saghei, chief executive of Arizona-based We Recycle Solar.  "One of…
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NY Times Sues OpenAI, Microsoft for Allegedly Infringing Copyrighted Work

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NEW YORK — The New York Times sued OpenAI and Microsoft on Wednesday, accusing them of using millions of the newspaper's articles without permission to help train artificial intelligence technologies.  The Times said it is the first major U.S. media organization to sue OpenAI and Microsoft, which created ChatGPT and other AI platforms, over copyright issues.  "Defendants seek to free-ride on The Times’s massive investment in its journalism by using it to build substitutive products without permission or payment," according to the complaint filed in Manhattan federal court.  The Times is not seeking a specific amount of damages but said it believes OpenAI and Microsoft have caused "billions of dollars" in damages for illegally copying and using its works.  OpenAI and Microsoft did not immediately respond to requests for comment. ...
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COVID-19 Effects Linger Among International Students in US

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The COVID-19 pandemic affected students around the world, disrupting their studies and weakening their social skills. But the pandemic did generate some positive outcomes, say college counselors and international students who are back to in-person learning in the United States. VOA’s Laurel Bowman explores. Camera: Adam Greenbaum and Saqib Ul Islam. ...
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Israel Grants Intel $3.2B for New $25B Chip Plant, Biggest Company Investment in Country

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Jerusalem — Israel's government agreed to give Intel a $3.2 billion grant for a new $25 billion chip plant it plans to build in southern Israel, both sides said on Tuesday, in what is the largest investment ever by a company in Israel.  The news comes as Israel remains locked in a war with Palestinian militant group Hamas in the wake of the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel. It also is a big show of support by a major U.S. company and a substantial offer by Israel's government at a time when Washington has increased pressure on Israel to take further steps to minimize civilian harm in Gaza.  Shares of Intel, which has a bit less than 10% of its global workforce in Israel, opened up 2.73% at $49.28 on…
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High Rice Prices Worldwide Likely to Continue Into 2024

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WASHINGTON — Arnong Mungoei has farmed rice in Thailand’s Khon Kaen province for half a century.   Working land some 500 kilometers northeast of Bangkok never made her rich, but it provided a dependable livelihood.   But since February 2022 when Russia invaded Ukraine, global geopolitical tensions and weather conditions elsewhere have upended the rice markets and by 2023, worldwide rice prices had exploded.   Yet Arnong said she made less than she has in years.  “The mills [that buy rice] don’t increase the price. What can I do? I bring rice there to sell. Whatever they offer us, we have to sell it. We won’t take the rice back because we had to pay for the truck,” said Arnong, 68. In 2023, the prices of wheat and grains such as oats and corn declined 20% to 30% as…
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Apple Watch Import Ban Goes Into Effect in US Patent Clash

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Washington — A U.S. import ban on certain Apple smartwatch models came into effect Tuesday, after the Biden administration opted not to veto a ruling on patent infringements. The United States International Trade Commission (ITC) decided in October to ban Apple Watch models over a patented technology for detecting blood-oxygen levels. Apple contends that the ITC finding was in error and should be reversed, but last week paused its US sales of Apple Watch Series 9 and Apple Watch Ultra 2. The order stemmed from a complaint made to the commission in mid-2021 accusing Apple of infringing on medical device maker company Masimo Corp's "light-based oximetry functionality." "After careful consultations, Ambassador (Katherine) Tai decided not to reverse the... determination and the ITC's decision became final on December 26, 2023," the president's…
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Japan Moon Lander Enters Lunar Orbit

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Tokyo, Japan — Japan's SLIM space probe entered the moon's orbit Monday in a major step toward the country's first successful lunar landing, expected next month. The Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) is nicknamed the "Moon Sniper" because it is designed to land within 100 meters (328 feet) of a specific target on the lunar surface. If successful, the touchdown would make Japan only the fifth country to have successfully landed a probe on the moon, after the United States, Russia, China and India.   On Monday, SLIM "successfully entered the moon's orbit at 04:51 p.m. Japan time" (0751 GMT), the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said in a statement released Monday evening.   "Its’ trajectory shift was achieved as originally planned, and there is nothing out of the ordinary…
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Insect Compasses, Fire-Fighting Vines: 2023’s Nature-Inspired Tech

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Paris — Even as human-caused climate change threatens the environment, nature continues to inspire our technological advancement. "The solutions that are provided by nature have evolved for billions of years and tested repeatedly every day since the beginning of time," said Evripidis Gkanias, a University of Edinburgh researcher.  Gkanias has a special interest in how nature can educate artificial intelligence. "Human creativity might be fascinating, but it cannot reach nature's robustness — and engineers know that," he told AFP. From compasses mimicking insect eyes to forest fire-fighting robots that behave like vines, here's a selection of this year's nature-based technology. Insect compass Some insects — such as ants and bees — navigate visually based on the intensity and polarisation of sunlight, thus using the sun's position as a reference point.  Researchers replicated their eye…
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US Investors See Value in Israeli Tech Firms Despite War

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HERZLIYA, Israel — Nearly 7,000 miles away in Portland, Oregon, venture capitalist George Djuric said he was compelled to visit Israel during the country's war with Palestinian militant group Hamas and to pledge support for the high-tech sector. Djuric, chief technology officer at yVentures who arrived in the United States as a 3-year-old refugee from Bosnia during the Bosnian war in the mid-1990s, this week joined some 70 other U.S. tech executives and investors on a trip to Israel. "Coming here is a chance to stand in solidarity with Israel and also support the tech ecosystem, which is the world's second largest after Silicon Valley," he said. "As a technology fund, it makes sense for us to be here." Although not Jewish, Djuric said he was drawn to Israel by the…
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Artists Use Tech Weapons Against AI Copycats

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NEW YORK — Artists under siege by artificial intelligence that studies their work and then replicates their styles, have teamed with university researchers to stymie such copycat activity. U.S. illustrator Paloma McClain went into defense mode after learning that several AI models had been trained using her art, with no credit or compensation sent her way. "It bothered me," McClain told AFP. "I believe truly meaningful technological advancement is done ethically and elevates all people instead of functioning at the expense of others," she said. The artist turned to free software called Glaze created by researchers at the University of Chicago. Glaze essentially outthinks AI models when it comes to how they train, tweaking pixels in ways that are indiscernible to human viewers but which make a digitized piece of art…
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Charity: For Many Older People Christmas is ‘Hardest Day’

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Christmas for many is a time of family togetherness and good cheer, but for older adults, it can too often be one of the year’s loneliest days. Age UK, a charity group that deals with ageism and the problems of this demographic, says people can take simple steps to help. Umberto Aguiar has more from London in this report narrated by Elizabeth Cherneff. ...
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