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Xi, Putin Hold Summit In Uzbekistan As Ukraine War Dominates

Thu, 09/15/2022 - 12:20

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Chinese President Xi Jinping, Russia's Vladimir Putin and leaders from India and Central Asia gathered Thursday in Uzbekistan for a summit of a security group formed by Beijing and Moscow as a counterweight to U.S. influence.

The meeting Friday of the eight-nation Shanghai Cooperation Organization is overshadowed by Putin's attack on Ukraine and strains in China's relations with Washington, Europe, Japan and India due to disputes over technology, security and territory.

The event in the ancient sultanate of Samarkand is part of Xi's first foreign trip since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic 2 1/2 years ago, underscoring Beijing's desire to assert itself as a regional power.

Putin and Xi were due to meet one-on-one and discuss Ukraine, according to the Russian president's foreign affairs adviser, Yuri Ushakov.

SEE MORE: Russia To Hold Sweeping Joint War Games With China, Others

Xi's government, which said it had a “no limits” friendship with Moscow before the invasion, has refused to criticize the attack. Beijing and India are buying more Russian oil and gas, which helps Moscow offset the impact of Western sanctions.

China “states explicitly that it understands the reasons that forced Russia to launch a special military operation,” Ushakov said Thursday, according to the Russian news agency ITAR-Tass.

Putin planned to meet Friday with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, ITAR-Tass said, citing Ushakov.

There was no indication whether Modi might meet Xi. Chinese-Indian relations are strained due to clashes between soldiers from the two sides in a dispute over a border in a remote area of the Himalayas.

Other SCO governments include Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan and Tajikistan.

The meeting planned to consider an application by Iran, an observer of the group, to become a full member, according to ITAR-Tass.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, which has the status of “dialogue partner,” was also in attendance.

Putin and Erdogan planned on Friday to “evaluate the effectiveness” of a deal under which wheat exports from Ukraine via the Black Sea resumed, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said, according to ITAR-Tass.

The Chinese leader is promoting a “Global Security Initiative” announced in April following the formation of the Quad by Washington, Japan, Australia and India in response to Beijing’s more assertive foreign policy. Xi has given few details, but U.S. officials complain it echoes Russian arguments in support of Moscow’s attack on Ukraine.

The region is part of China’s multibillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative to expand trade by building ports, railways and other infrastructure across an arc of dozens of countries from the South Pacific through Asia to the Middle East, Europe and Africa.

On Thursday, Xi met with President Sadyr Zhaparov of Kyrgyzstan and said Beijing supports the “early operation” of a planned railway linking China, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, the Chinese foreign ministry said.

China’s economic inroads into Central Asia have fueled unease in Russia, which sees the region as its sphere of influence.

Xi made a one-day visit Wednesday to Kazakhstan en route to Uzbekistan. Pope Francis was in Kazakhstan, but they didn't meet.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Mourners Line Up For Miles To Pay Respects To Queen Elizabeth II

Thu, 09/15/2022 - 11:23

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Thousands of mourners lined up through the night to file past the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II in Parliament's Westminster Hall on Thursday, as King Charles III spent a day in private to reflect on his first week on the throne.

The queue to see the queen lying in state grew through the day to stretch for 4.4 miles, past Tower Bridge. The line snaked along the south bank of the River Thames and then over a bridge to Parliament. Thousands in the line didn't mind the hours of waiting.

"I'm glad there was a queue because that gave us time to see what was ahead of us, prepared us and absorbed the whole atmosphere," said health care professional Nimisha Maroo. "I wouldn't have liked it if I'd had to just rush through."

Buckingham Palace released details of the queen's funeral on Monday, the first state funeral to be held in Britain since the death of Winston Churchill in 1965. Royalty and heads of state from around the world will be among 2,000 people attending the Westminster Abbey service, which will be followed later in the day by a smaller committal service at Windsor Castle.

At the end of the day, the queen will be buried in a private family service at Windsor alongside her late husband, Prince Philip, who died last year.

After a day of high ceremony and high emotion on Wednesday as the queen was borne in somber procession from Buckingham Palace, the king was spending the day working and in "private reflection" at his Highgrove residence in western England. Charles has had calls with U.S. President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron and is speaking to a host of world leaders — many of whom will come to London on Monday for the queen's funeral.

SEE MORE: People From All Over The World Are Waiting In A Queue To See The Queen

Heir to the throne Prince William and his wife Catherine, Princess of Wales, will visit the royal family's Sandringham estate in eastern England to see some of the tributes left by well-wishers.

On Wednesday the queen left Buckingham Palace for the last time, borne on a horse-drawn carriage and saluted by cannons and the tolling of Big Ben, in a solemn procession through the flag-draped, crowd-lined streets of London to Westminster Hall.

Charles, his siblings and sons marched behind the coffin, which was topped by a wreath of white roses and her crown resting on a purple velvet pillow.

The military procession underscored Elizabeth's seven decades as head of state as the national mourning process shifted to the grand boulevards and historic landmarks of the U.K. capital.

The 900-year-old Westminster Hall is now the focus of events, as the queen lies in state until Monday.

The display of mass mourning is an enormous logistical operation, with a designated 10-mile route lined with first aid points and more than 500 portable toilets. There are 1,000 stewards and marshals working at any given time, and 30 religious leaders from a range of faiths to stop and talk to those in line.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, the spiritual leader of the Church of England, wore a high-visibility vest emblazoned with the words "Faith Team" as he spoke to mourners.

Welby, who led a service for the royal family when Elizabeth's coffin reached Westminster Hall, paid tribute to the queen as "someone you could trust totally, completely and absolutely, whose wisdom was remarkable."

SEE MORE: How Hollywood Captured The Life, Legacy Of Queen Elizabeth II

Thousands have already paid their respects, filing past the casket draped with the royal standard and topped with a diamond-encrusted crown.

People old and young, dressed in dark suits or jeans and sneakers, walked in a steady stream through the historic hall, where Guy Fawkes and Charles I were tried, where kings and queens hosted magnificent medieval banquets, and where previous monarchs have lain in state.

After passing the coffin, most mourners paused to look back before going out through the hall's great oak doors. Some wiped away tears; others bowed their heads or curtsied. One sank onto a knee and blew a farewell kiss.

Keith Smart, an engineer and British Army veteran, wiped away tears as he left the hall. He had waited more than 10 hours for the chance to say his goodbye.

"Everybody in the crowd was impeccably behaved. There was no malice, everybody was friends. It was fantastic," he said. "And then, to come into that room and see that, I just broke down inside. I didn't bow — I knelt to the floor, on my knees, bowed my head to the queen."

The late-night silence was broken when one of the guards standing vigil around the coffin collapsed and fell forward off a raised platform. The man, his chest adorned with medals, could be seen on livestreams of the queen's coffin lying in state swaying on his feet before pitching forward onto the floor. Two police officers rushed to his assistance.

Crowds have lined the route of the queen's coffin whenever it has been moved in its long journey from Scotland — where the monarch died Sept. 8 at age 96 — to London.

On Tuesday night, thousands braved a typical London drizzle as the hearse, with interior lights illuminating the casket, drove slowly from an air base to Buckingham Palace.

Earlier, in Edinburgh, about 33,000 people filed silently past her coffin in 24 hours at St. Giles' Cathedral.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

D23 Expo 2022: Disney Shares Its Future By Looking Back At Its Past

Thu, 09/15/2022 - 01:15

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For being almost a century old, Mickey Mouse looks pretty good. 

The world's best-known mouse and tens of thousands of his biggest fans came to celebrate what made him famous: The Walt Disney Company. 

Fans from all 50 states and 43 countries, according to Disney, gathered at the D23 Expo fan convention, filled with heroes and villains to celebrate all things Disney.

"It's a place for Disney fans, Star Wars fans, Marvel fans," said Kiara Ortiz, Disney fan. "There's a little bit of everything for everyone. It's just a fun experience."

At D23 Expo, the company was already looking ahead to 2023 and its 100th anniversary.

In the last century, Disney has grown into a global, cultural and business behemoth with movies, streaming, broadcasting, theme parks, resorts and even cruise ships.

But it hasn't all been smooth sailing. Earlier this year, Disney condemned a Florida law that critics called the "Don't Say Gay" bill. That decision angered Gov. Ron Desantis and lawmakers, who voted to revoke a special district status that Disney uses to operate like its own small government. Exactly how it will affect Disney and Florida taxpayers is still unclear.

SEE MORE: Disney Releases Trailer For New 'The Little Mermaid' Movie

Disney is looking to the past for some of its future, revealing at the D23 Expo the latest live-action movies that will reimagine classic animated films, like "The Little Mermaid," starring Halle Bailey.

In a remake of the 1940 original, Tom Hanks plays a live Gepetto in a "Pinocchio" movie now running on Disney+.

It's that nostalgia that fans, and especially collectors, can't get enough of. Rare finds can bring in a lot of cash.

Anja Buehring is a big fan of the puppet who became a real boy. At an expo booth full of vintage Disney, she saw one thing she couldn't resist.  

"I bought a trash can, a Pinocchio trash can," Buehring said. "It's too cute to trash it up."

The company is also honoring its past by rescuing Walt Disney's mothballed Grumman plane from the punishing Florida climate and restoring it to its former polish. It was the plane Walt Disney used to fly cross country to the 1964 World's Fair, scouting locations for Walt Disney World. It even shows up in a couple of Disney movies.

"It was his pride and joy," said Becky Cline, of the Walt Disney Company Archives. "He loved this plane. He had a special seat with his special instrument panel and his phone to the pilot and everything. He just loved this."

SEE MORE: How Disney Got Its International Clout

These days, Disney has a hand in so many properties it's hard to be a fan of just one.

The costume Emily Billones built is a mash up of two Disney characters: Moana and Boba Fett.

"I am Moana and Boba Fett combined," Billones said. "We call ourselves Disney Fetts, so I go by Moana Fett. The helmet took me probably on and off, maybe a couple weeks."

For Billones and countless fans like her around the world, Disney is a state of mind, as it's about to start its second century.

"I feel like it's a place where people can come together," Billones said. "I feel like it's very diversified, so I feel like there's a princess for everybody, so to speak. And, it's just fun. There's really no growing up. You just live your life, enjoy life to the fullest. That's really what life's all about."

Ukraine's Horse Rescuer: 'This Is My Front Line'

Thu, 09/15/2022 - 01:02

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After months in the middle of a Ukrainian battlefield, several horses crossed to safety Wednesday near the front line in Kharkiv. 

They will join other survivors of war in a safe haven in Western Ukraine. 

Through more than six months of chaos, Ukraine’s horse owners faced gut-wrenching decisions. Many had no choice but to abandon their animals and hope they’d be rescued. 

Taisia Stadnichenko is the head of operations at the Ukrainian Equestrian Federation.  

"I know drivers. I know who needs help. I know how much help we can deliver," said Stadnichenko.  

That help is still being organized, on a near-daily basis, by Taya Stadnichenko. She's the self-appointed equestrian 911 operator. 

"I just get a message. If we send car to Russian area to take the horses, our car will not get out. Never," she said. 

This cry for help is coming from a horse owner in Russian-occupied Kherson, caught in the crossfire. There’s no way for her to help them. 

But even before this week, before Ukraine’s lighting liberation of the Kharkiv region — she managed to lead daring rescues to get some horses from Russian occupied areas out of harm's way. 

TAISIA STADNICHENKO: People were walking with the two horses the whole night and part of the day. And our trailer was hidden into the forest and it was bombing people. Just five kilometers from the front line. And we took those horses.

Trapped in battle-scarred Kharkiv, 17 thoroughbreds were unreachable until now. They needed medical care, food, shelter. But Russia heavily mined the area. 

NEWSY'S JASON BELLINI: Are there horses that are suffering, that are dying right now?   

STADNICHENKO: Yes, of course. We have many cases when it's too late. When people are just waiting, waiting and waiting. And then after it's too late, they ask us for help. It’s not like a cat or a dog you just put in the car and take with yourself. 

In the Kyiv suburb of Irpin, seized by Russia on the first day of the war, Taya introduces us to Evhen Ramazanov.  

He owns stables and the equestrian training ground. 

He showed Newsy videos he took on Feb. 24. That day his land became the front line of a war zone. He housed, at the time, 90 horses. Twelve days later, he realized he and his family needed to flee the property, leaving behind the horses. 

"It was like the apocalypse in a movie,” he says. "Fifteen horses were killed. Some from explosions with shrapnel, some from a direct hit and some from dehydration, because there was no water."

SEE MORE: Ukraine's Youngest Parliament Member Fights in The Trenches

He says the ones that survived miraculously managed to jump over a fence and lead themselves to water.  

Ramazanov wanted to introduce us to Rodeo, the old horse he considers a hero.  

The horses couldn’t stay in the field near the water. Shells were falling all around them. 

"It was a miracle. This Rodeo gathered the entire herd and brought them home, he says. "The horse understood that it was too dangerous to stay there."

BELLINI: What did you see when you came back? 

EVHEN RAMAZANOV: I don’t know if I can talk about that. But one of the survivors just gave birth. She stayed here all her pregnancy under such horrendous conditions, under the bombing. 

Russian troops commandeered the stables of other horse owners. 

Oliiynichenko Oleksandra said the Russians stole everything in her barn and 13 of the horses she boarded there died.  

"I’ve been here since I was 13 years old. Now I’m 27 years old. I’ve lost everything," said Oleksandra. 

What she hasn’t lost is her love of horses. She leads many of the rescue operations. 

The biggest challenge ahead is winter, and feeding and housing 5,000 rescued horses, which costs around $200 per month, per horse. That money that comes from donations. 

STADNICHENKO: They are donating from $5 to $500 to $700.  

BELLINI: From around the world?  

STADNICHENKO: From all around the world, from United States, Japan and from everywhere. U.S. equestrian sent veterinary supply donation for about $100,000. It will help about 5000 horses for a few months.   

Before the war, Stadnichenko published photo books of horses. Ironically and no longer, Russia was her primary market. Now her life is devoted to saving the animals she has loved since she was a child.  

STADNICHENKO: Everybody has their own front line. There are people that are caring about people and caring about children. But I care about horses, so I'm focused at them. This is my front line. 

Call Center Technology Could Remove Accents From Customer Service

Thu, 09/15/2022 - 01:00

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When calling customer service and actually reaching a real human, it's likely people end up speaking to someone outside of the U.S. about a domestic issue.

It's no secret many companies outsource their customer service to call centers around the globe. Sometimes, it's the representative's accent that lets the customer know they aren't stateside.

But one startup has plans to hide foreign accent completely.

It's a controversial idea, creating a new debate around accents: On the one hand, this could help protect workers from discrimination. On the other hand, skeptics argue it could actually exacerbate existing problems with discrimination.

Accent training for call centers is already standard procedure. Workers are usually trained in a number of different English-speaking accents. The BBC reported on one company that trained workers both in their speaking accents and in understanding accents, like New Yorker, Jamaican and even Medieval English accents.

One of the apparent benefits of using tech that neutralizes accents means it could save companies from a rigorous training process. The other major goal is protecting workers from discrimination. 

One of the founders of Sanas, who is a former call center worker, told the Guardian, "I built this technology for the agents, because I don't want him or her to go through what I went through."

SEE MORE: Indigenous Languages Aren't Dead: How Music Is Upholding Them

Unsurprisingly, call centers are magnets for all kinds of accent discrimination from callers. Accents are a huge factor in how we perceive identity and form prejudices. They can be associated with cultural background, nationality or even class and education.

Some research has shown accents can play an even more important role in how humans judge based on looks and how humans respond to non-native accents differently: In one study, native English speakers rated recordings of different accents saying statements like "Ants don't sleep," but the results showed the English speakers rated the statements said with the heaviest accents as the least true. In other words, they trusted them less.

It might be easy to point to studies like this as evidence that accent bias is just unavoidable, but experts say it seems more like the other way around: Stereotypes are what shape how we respond to certain accents in the first place.

Some studies show that native U.S. English speakers trust British accents more than Indian accents, regardless of how strong it is, or that Mexican and Greek accents were seen as "less intelligent or professional" than people using standard U.S. English. 

This isn't just the U.S. Many countries in Europe, like Sweden or Denmark, have dialects referred to as "street language" or "street dialects." But these are often used by immigrant communities and are seen as "less refined."

Some language experts suggest exposure to more accents can actually help combat harmful stereotypes, which circles back to why some critics have raised eyebrows at the call center technology.

It can seem like erasing accents and identity might be a step backwards to some, but not for others like call center workers, who might find some relief in technology like this.

Former Senior CIA Officers Describe Their Mental Health Struggles

Thu, 09/15/2022 - 00:52

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Imagine you're a Black intelligence officer in a foreign country, tasked with recruiting a person who's profiting from slave labor; or spending your nights at the office, watching drone footage of explosions after your mother dies of cancer. 

Janaki Kates, a former senior intelligence officer at the CIA, and other former senior intelligence officers spoke with Newsy for this story. They have never shared their mental health challenges with a news organization.  

NEWSY'S SASHA INGBER: Do you think that people on the outside understand what intelligence officers go through?  

JANAKI KATES: No, I don't. I don't believe that people on the outside can fully comprehend what intelligence officers go through. I was one of the few minority females, and female leaders at the agency. I, because of the stigma around mental health, really felt like I didn't want to admit that I needed help. 

Kates had worked in a war zone, but says another battle began after her second son was born. 

KATES: Suddenly I woke up after his first birthday and realized, why do I still cry every day coming into work? And why do I still have these thoughts of like, he's going to get really sick, or something really terrible is going to happen? 

She was later diagnosed with anxiety and delayed postpartum depression.  

For Douglas Wise, also a former senior intelligence officer for the CIA, the particular problem was alcohol. 

DOUGLAS WISE: They could smell it on me when I came to work in the morning. So the first time I knew was when, literally, it was an intervention by my colleagues and by my supervisor and literally called me into the office and said, 'you have a serious problem and you need to do something about it.'" 

INGBER: Are there a lot of intelligence officers who seek out your advice and want to learn about your experience? 

WISE: I would say I probably get a call about every month, every other month.  

SEE MORE: Where Do Front Line Workers Go For Help With Mental Health Challenges?

Intelligence officers aren't allowed to share classified information with a therapist outside of their agencies, and some worry that speaking candidly with a therapist on the inside may hurt their careers. 

"In a place to keep secrets, there are no secrets when it comes to your personnel file," said Brian Scott, another former senior intelligence officer for the CIA.  

Scott calls it a "hallway file."

"If a manager needs to understand what kind of a person he or she is getting in their field office,  or if a promotion board wants to make sure before they elevate someone to a senior rank,  issues that should be handled with confidentiality and only between that officer and his or her mental health support system will be made available to those assignment and/or promotion boards," said Scott. "And once one person knows, it's not a secret anymore."

We sat down with the CIA's director of medical services, who asked that Newsy conceal her appearance and just use her first name, Victoria.  

VICTORIA: We are not immune to life. Life happens to our folks just like everybody else. And so we do see anxiety and depression in our workforce. We also see marital issues and family problems and family stressors. And again, sometimes this is related to what we're asking our officers to do, to move around, to serve in different parts of the world, to be away from their families for long periods of time.

INGBER: Some intelligence officers say that they fear seeking any kind of mental health support because they're scared that it's going to jeopardize their career. Is there any truth to that?  

VICTORIA: We definitely heard that. And we very much are trying to address it. I would say what's most likely to jeopardize someone's career is if they have an issue and they don't seek out support and it gets worse and worse and worse and then starts to impact their reliability, their judgment and their stability. 

She says the stigma around mental health issues has been slowly lifting. 

VICTORIA: Senior leaders share their own experiences, both with mental health struggles and with seeking help from our employee assistance program or other resources. And that is really setting the culture and setting the tone that, yes, you can have a problem, address the problem, and still very much succeed in your career.

Kates first saw an agency therapist, then got a recommendation for a professional outside.  

INGBER: And what kind of help worked for you?  

KATES: I had been trained for so long to keep this facade of "nothing is wrong." My therapist was able to help me latch onto my logical brain and think through, 'why am I feeling this? Where is this coming from?'"   

Wise says he went through a 30-day treatment program, followed by two years of counseling and another year of monitoring. He says what really helped him was never feeling judged. 

"They're not judgmental," said Wise. "They're not assessing whether you're a good person or a bad person. You are just a person with the disease of alcoholism. The combination of the agency's rehabilitative program and the loving support of my wife, you know, allows me to do this interview today. You'd be talking to me, you know, in front of a gravestone in Arlington is what you'd be doing."

Eventually, he was able to return to every part of his job. 

"I ended up as the number two in a national intelligence agency of the most powerful nation in the history of the human race. That says a lot about the intelligence community. And yes, it says a little bit about me, too," said Wise.  

Newsy’s mental health initiative "America’s Breakdown: Confronting Our Mental Health Crisis" brings you deeply personal and thoughtfully told stories on the state of mental health care in the U.S. Click here to learn more.

People From All Over The World Are Waiting In A Queue To See The Queen

Thu, 09/15/2022 - 00:49

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In a moment of symbolic unity, Prince William and Prince Harry walked side by side behind the Queen's coffin as it left Buckingham Palace. 

Along with King Charles and other members of the Royal Family, they walked through the streets of London to Westminster Hall where the Queen is lying in state. 

The sight of the brothers together, walking behind the coffin, evoked poignant memories of their mother Diana's funeral almost exactly 25 years ago. 

Thousands turned out to pay their respects.

Some traveled from far away just to catch a glimpse of the coffin. 

SEE MORE: Crowds Flock To London To See Queen's Coffin Procession

“I’ve come here today to represent the family, because the queen to me has been a constant in my life, I won’t say how old I am — five generations and she means so much to me and my family," said Debbie Bowland, who was in the lying-in-state queue.  

“I’m here to be part of what is a moment of great magnitude. We’re seeing history in the making. The queen was a phenomenal person," said Travis Sterling, who was waiting in the queue to see the queen's coffin.  

"You feel the atmosphere, it’s the people, it’s the fact that everyone has come together for this month with Big Ben chiming just knowing she’s going past, just to be here is special," said Allison Wilkins, waiting in the queue.   

"I feel a deep sadness. When I forget for a few minutes, when I remember it floods over me again," said Barbara Townsend, waiting in the queue.  

The queen’s body will lie in state for the next four days. 

It's an opportunity for millions to say farewell to Britain’s longest-serving monarch. The route of the queue is expected to reach up to 10 miles long. Wristbands are denoting their position in line and some have prepared to wait overnight. 

Others, like Joanne Herman, arrived at 4 o'clock this morning. 

"I’m queuing here with my husband today because she meant a lot to everybody, it’s just really sad. I think it’s actually hit so many people in ways, myself included, in ways they couldn't even imagine," said Herman.  

People from all over the nation and across the globe are waiting to say goodbye.  

TikTok, Other Social Companies Address Data Privacy Before Congress

Thu, 09/15/2022 - 00:31

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Executives from TwitterMetaTikTok and YouTube met with Congress on Wednesday to address concerns that content on their platforms could be harmful to homeland security. Specifically, senators wanted to know what the companies are doing to mitigate extremism and foreign influence campaigns. Much of the conversation landed on TikTok.

Democratic Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan asked why it took so long for these platforms to take QAnon seriously. The movement spread widely with the help of social media. He noted that it took these companies years to ban QAnon content and referenced a Public Religion Research Institute report that found 16% of the American population think the conspiracy is real.

"We're fundamentally an advertising platform," said Neal Mohan, YouTube chief product officer. "I have firsthand experience myself over the years when they feel that sort of content is on our platform, that they walk away. And so we have not just a moral imperative — that's my top priority, living up to our responsibility — but it aligns with our business goals."

SEE MORE: Why Is TikTok Under Scrutiny Again?

A large chunk of the conversation was focused on whether a direct relationship exists between TikTok's parent company, based out of China, and the Chinese government. There are concerns that the government may ask the company to turn over data on U.S. users. Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio repeatedly pressed TikTok's chief operating officer on whether the company would cut off data access to the country and Chinese TikTok employees.

"What I can commit to is that our final agreement with the U.S. government will satisfy all national security concerns," said Vanessa Pappas, TikTok Chief Operating Officer. "We are working with the U.S. government on a resolve through the CFIUS process in which we will continue to minimize that data."

Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley also inquired about the relationship between TikTok and the Chinese government.

"Would it surprise you to learn that Forbes magazine recently reported that at least 300 current TikTok or ByteDance employees were members of Chinese state media and affiliated with the Chinese communist party?" Sen. Hawley asked.

"We don't look at the political affiliations or can't speak to individuals, but what I can tell you is we're protecting the data in the United States," Pappas said.

Asthma Cases Are Getting More Severe In The U.S.

Thu, 09/15/2022 - 00:22

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A record number of asthma sufferers are dying. 

"It's the highest increase in the death rate from asthma in 20 years," said Kenneth Mendez, president and CEO of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. "It grew to over 4,100 people, and it's hovered around 3,600 in prior times."

A new report from the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America ranked cities by asthma prevalence, ER visits and asthma-related deaths. It found 19 of the top 20 worst cities for asthma are in the eastern half of the U.S., or the Midwest. Detroit, Michigan ranked at the top.

Dr. Kathleen Dass treats patients there.  

"Asthma is incredibly common actually," Dr. Dass said. "It's every other patient I'm seeing right now."

The major drivers are air quality, poverty and climate change.  

"It's gotten a lot worse, and that's because of climate change and increased allergy seasons, greater pollution, more carbon dioxide — those are all irritants," Mendez said.

Experts tell Newsy asthma patients are breathing in more air pollution and carbon dioxide. Heat waves, wildfires, extreme thunderstorms and hurricanes are also making asthma patients sicker.  

More flooding is causing more indoor mold, and warmer temperatures are triggering attacks more frequently. They're also causing higher pollen counts and a longer ragweed season.

SEE MORE: Wildfires Worse For COVID-19, Asthma and Allergies

Plus, more wildfires and their smoke means more tiny air particles will reach the lungs and enter the bloodstream. Wildfire smoke is much more toxic to children’s lungs than air pollution from other sources. One cumulative study found increases in ER visits were 10 times higher for air pollution from wildfire smoke than from other air pollution sources.

Pediatrician Dr. Naomi Bardach cares for patients in San Francisco, California.

 "[What] I'm most concerned about all of the effects of climate change is actually we know it's going to impact our children's health now, and it will in the future," said Dr. Naomi Bardach, a pediatrician in California.

CDC data shows asthma is the most common pediatric disease. It accounts for half a million ER visits each year.

This third week of September is "Astha Peak Week," which is when asthma episodes, attacks and hospitalizations for both children and adults tend to spike, just as kids return to school with the beginning of fall.

Dr. Bardach says the standard treatment is inhaled steroid medication, and says that patients should follow up after an ER visit to help manage asthma, if they have access.  

"There's other things people can do at home to try and control their asthma, but it's generally not going to be as effective as making sure that you have access to medications," Dr. Bardach said. "The easiest way to get that is through a primary care doctor, but I know there's a lot of barriers to being able to do that. It's also on insurance companies and hospitals and public health systems to try and help improve that care."

Why Is The U.S. West Experiencing A Megadrought?

Wed, 09/14/2022 - 20:44

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The Colorado River is vanishing before our eyes.  

The nation's two largest reservoirs are at dangerously low levels.  

This was one of them, Lake Mead, In 2001 and then in 2015. In just fourteen years, the lake dropped 143 feet and fires are devastating forests and homes from Oregon to Arizona.

2022 has been a year of drought, but officials say the west has actually been in a megadrought since the year 2000.

Why is it so dry out west? Should we blame climate change? And most importantly for the 79 million Americans that live in the U.S. West: Is this the new normal?  

Scientists have answered these questions by studying the silent witnesses to climate's annual fluctuations in trees.  

Fat rings usually mean wet years, thin rings mean dry years. 

Ancient trees have revealed that the West has suffered periods of drought for centuries, long before giant dams or human-caused climate change.

But in February scientists wrote a paper in the journal Nature Climate Change putting the ongoing megadrought in historical perspective. 

SEE MORE: Weather Helping, But Threat From Western Fires Persists

They found drought conditions in the west haven't been this severe in at least 1200 years.  

One driver of this megadrought is high temperatures. The blue line indicates the average temperature since 1895. 

Meanwhile, since 2000, the west has had mostly low precipitation. Notably, there's a shortage of snow. Snowpack is more valuable than rain, say scientists, since it moistens soils for months into the summer as it steadily melts.

Robert Davies is an associate professor at Utah State University. 

"The snowpack is definitely declining over the last 40 years, particularly in the lower and mid elevations," said Davies.  

There's another factor, what scientists call vapor pressure deficit, or more simply, dry air.  Over the last 22 years, the dry air has grown thirstier and thirstier, sucking moisture right out of the ground.  

As the drought has worsened, municipalities have desperately tapped their wells for water, but that's putting the system at severe risk. For example, in California's Central Valley, government data shows that groundwater is getting deeper and deeper to access. 

So how much of the blame can we pin on climate change? For the Nature paper, the scientists did two experiments using 29 climate models. In one they measured how a warming planet had exacerbated the megadrought. On the other, they simulated what soil moisture would be like if climate change had never happened. The warming planet, they found, made the drought worse by 19%. 

A few years of better snow and rain could break the western megadrought, the report says. But its authors expect the U.S. west's climate to become more and more arid. 

In the report it says the "increasingly dry baseline state" makes "future megadroughts increasingly likely" which will change the west for generations to come. 

MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell Says FBI Agents Seized His Cellphone

Wed, 09/14/2022 - 20:18

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MyPillow chief executive Mike Lindell said Tuesday that federal agents seized his cellphone and questioned him about a Colorado clerk who has been charged in what prosecutors say was a "deceptive scheme" to breach voting system technology used across the country.

Lindell was approached in the drive-thru of a Hardee's fast-food restaurant in Mankato, Minnesota, by several FBI agents, he said on his podcast, "The Lindell Report." The agents questioned him about Dominion Voting Systems, Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters and his connection to Doug Frank, an Ohio educator who claims voting machines have been manipulated, he said.

The agents then told Lindell they had a warrant to seize his cellphone and ordered him to turn it over, he said. On a video version of his podcast, Lindell displayed a letter signed by an assistant U.S. attorney in Colorado that said prosecutors were conducting an "official criminal investigation of a suspected felony" and noted the use of a federal grand jury.

SEE MORE: MyPillow CEO 'Begging to Be Sued' Says Voting Company

The circumstances of the investigation were unclear. The Justice Department did not immediately respond Tuesday night to a request for comment about the seizure or investigation.

"Without commenting on this specific matter, I can confirm that the FBI was at that location executing a search warrant authorized by a federal judge," FBI spokeswoman Vikki Migoya said in an email.

Federal prosecutors have been conducting a parallel investigation alongside local prosecutors in Colorado who have charged Peters with several offenses, including attempting to influence a public servant, criminal impersonation and official misconduct. The Republican was elected in 2018 to oversee elections in Colorado's Mesa County. A deputy clerk, Belinda Knisley, was also charged in the case, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years of probation.

For more than a year, Peters has appeared onstage with supporters of former President Donald Trump who made false claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. The charges against Peters and Knisley allege the two were involved in a "deceptive scheme which was designed to influence public servants, breach security protocols, exceed permissible access to voting equipment, and set in motion the eventual distribution of confidential information to unauthorized people."

State election officials first became aware of a security breach in Mesa County in 2021 when a photo and video of confidential voting system passwords were posted on social media and a conservative website. Because each Colorado county has unique passwords maintained by the state, officials identified them as belonging to Mesa County, a largely rural area on the border with Utah.

Peters appeared onstage in August 2021 at a "cybersymposium" hosted by Lindell, who has sought to prove that voting machines have been manipulated and promised to reveal proof of that during the event.

While no evidence was provided, a copy of Mesa County's voting system hard drive was distributed and posted online, according to attendees and state officials.

The copy included proprietary software developed by Dominion Voting Systems that is used by election offices around the country. Experts have described the unauthorized release as serious, saying it provided a potential "practice environment" that would allow anyone to probe for vulnerabilities that could be exploited during a future election.

SEE MORE: MyPillow Guy Wants Trump To Endorse His Bid For Minnesota Governor

Nearly two years after the 2020 election, no evidence has emerged to suggest widespread fraud or manipulation, while reviews in state after state have upheld the results showing President Joe Biden won.

The Mesa County breach is just one of several around the country that have concerned election security experts. Authorities are investigating whether unauthorized people were allowed to access voting systems in Georgia and Michigan.

Lindell said the federal agents had also questioned him about when he first met Frank, an Ohio math and science educator, who is among a group of people who have been traveling across the U.S. meeting with community groups claiming to have evidence that voting machines were rigged in the 2020 election.

In court records, prosecutors say Frank met with Peters and members of her staff in April 2021 in her office. During the meeting, Frank told Peters that the county's election management system was vulnerable to outside interference and the group discussed concerns the state was going to "wipe" the machines, according to the court records.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press. 

Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee Narrowly Wins Democratic Primary

Wed, 09/14/2022 - 19:28

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Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee eked out a victory in his Democratic primary on Tuesday, beating back strong challenges from a pair of opponents as he seeks his first full term in office.

McKee, the former lieutenant governor who became the state's chief executive a year and a half ago when two-term Gov. Gina Raimondo was tapped as U.S. commerce secretary, will be the heavy favorite in the liberal state in November against Republican Ashley Kalus, a business owner and political novice.

McKee edged out former CVS executive Helena Foulkes, who saw a late surge in the polls and won a last-minute endorsement from The Boston Globe's editorial board. Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, who was seeking to become the first Latina governor in New England, finished a close third.

"I'm proud to be here," the 71-year-old governor said in his victory speech. "Because Rhode Island is positioned in a way where we've never had this momentum before and we're going to take full advantage of it."

In an awkward moment, a phone was handed toward McKee during the speech. When he was told it was Foulkes, McKee said, "No, that's not going to happen." As the crowd chanted "four more years," McKee said, "Hang up on them, hang up on them."

Foulkes told her supporters she was unhappy McKee wouldn't answer her call.

SEE MORE: Election '22: America At A Crossroad

In the last primaries before the November general election, voters in Rhode Island were choosing nominees for statewide offices, U.S. House, the state Legislature and local positions. New Hampshire and Delaware also held primaries on Tuesday.

With his victory, McKee avoided becoming the first governor to lose his primary since 2018, when Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer narrowly lost the Republican nomination to Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who went on to lose the general election to Democrat Laura Kelly. Like McKee, Colyer took over when the sitting governor resigned for another job.

In his campaign, McKee touted his leadership in navigating the state's economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic after he was sworn in as governor in March 2021. Foulkes said she would work to find new ways for companies to invest in Rhode Island and help existing companies find new markets. Gorbea argued the state needed better leadership on issues like housing, education and climate change.

Besides McKee, Foulkes and Gorbea, two other Democrats were also seeking the nomination: former Secretary of State Matt Brown, a progressive; and community activist Dr. Luis Daniel Muñoz.

Kalus easily defeated her lone Republican rival, Jonathan Riccitelli, whom the Globe reported had been arrested dozens of times since 2000 under a different name, on charges ranging from obstructing police officers to assault, according to court records.

Kalus, who owns a COVID-19 testing company that's in a dispute with the state over a canceled contract, moved to Rhode Island last year from Illinois and previously worked for former Illinois Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner. She said Rhode Island needs a fighter like her, now more than ever, because every day gets harder for working families.

SEE MORE: Don Bolduc Declares Victory In GOP New Hampshire Senate Primary

In another top race on Tuesday, voters were choosing nominees in the 2nd Congressional District for the seat being vacated by Democratic Rep. Jim Langevin, who is retiring after more than 20 years representing the district. Langevin was the first quadriplegic to serve in Congress.

State Treasurer Seth Magaziner, who was endorsed by Langevin, won the crowded Democratic primary. Republican Allan Fung, the former mayor of Cranston, was unopposed in his bid for the Republican nomination. National Republican leaders think this is their best chance to flip the seat in more than three decades. House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy visited Rhode Island in August to raise money for Fung.

Magaziner had been running for governor but switched races after Langevin's announcement to try to keep the seat in Democratic control. Magaziner told supporters Tuesday night that the election is about values and preserving democracy for the next generation.

In the 1st Congressional District, Democratic U.S. Rep. David Cicilline will face Republican Allen Waters in November. Both were unopposed Tuesday. Cicilline is seeking his seventh term.

SEE MORE: Voter Priorities Heading Into Midterm Elections

But the top race in Rhode Island on Tuesday was the Democratic gubernatorial primary. Both McKee and Gorbea benefited from the base of support and name recognition they have gotten since both were elected to statewide office in 2014. Foulkes proved to be an adept fundraiser and spent heavily on the race in her first bid for public office.

Late in the primary, Gorbea's campaign aired an attack ad to criticize McKee over the awarding of a controversial state contract that the FBI is now investigating. It had to pull the ad because of errors in it, including featuring an article by a conservative commentator who was criticizing McKee on another issue. McKee's campaign said the governor would continue to rise above dirty politics and false attacks, and show "leadership when it matters most."

McKee was endorsed by a host of large unions, including those representing teachers, firefighters, building trades and auto workers. He highlighted his efforts to help the state's economy recover from COVID-19, the gun control bills he signed into law and his efforts to protect access to abortion care.

He had a memorable ad of his own, called "motha," featuring his 94-year-old mother. As he plays cards with her, he discusses the state's economic recovery from COVID-19, eliminating the state's car tax, creating affordable housing and passing gun safety laws to keep families safe.

"Not bad for a year and a half," the governor says.

His mother, Willa, replies, "Not bad for a governor that lives with his motha."

During his victory speech, McKee ticked off his accomplishments and asked the crowd, "Are you ready?" He said, "Not bad for 18 months." Laughing, some of his supporters said Willa's line, "Not bad for a governor that lives with his mother."

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

West Virginia Legislature Passes Abortion Ban With Few Exceptions

Wed, 09/14/2022 - 19:20

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West Virginia’s Legislature passed a sweeping abortion ban with few exceptions Tuesday, approving a bill that several members of the Republican supermajority said they hope will make it impossible for the state’s only abortion clinic to continue to offer the procedure.

“It is going to shut down that abortion clinic, of that I feel certain,” Republican Sen. Robert Karnes said on the Senate floor, amid shouts from protesters standing outside the chamber doors. “I believe it’s going to save a lot of babies.”

Under the legislation, rape and incest victims would be able to obtain abortions at up to eight weeks of pregnancy, but only if they report to law enforcement first. Such victims who are minors would have until 14 weeks to terminate a pregnancy and must report to either law enforcement or a physician.

Rape and incest victims would have to report the assault within 48 hours of getting an abortion, and a patient must present a copy of a police report or notarized letter to a physician before the procedure can be performed.

Abortions also would be allowed in cases of medical emergencies.

SEE MORE: GOP's Graham Unveils Nationwide Abortion Ban After 15 Weeks

West Virginia joins the ranks of states moving to ban abortion in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision earlier this year to end the constitutional right to privacy that protected abortion rights nationwide. That left it to states to decide whether abortion should remain legal, which in turn has ignited intense state-level debates, especially in states controlled by Republicans, about when to impose the ban, whether to carve out exceptions in cases involving rape, incest or the health of the woman giving birth, and how those exceptions should be implemented.

The West Virginia bill now heads to the desk of Republican Gov. Jim Justice, who has signed several anti-abortion bills into law since taking office in 2017. Lawmakers resumed debate on the bill Tuesday after failing to come to an agreement in late July, giving up the chance for the state to become the first to approve new legislation restricting access to abortions since the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in June removing its protected status as a constitutional right.

Both the Senate and the House of Delegates speedily approved the bill, after several hours of debate. Dozens of protesters wearing pink shirts reading “bans off our bodies” and holding signs reading “abortion is healthcare" staged a rally in the Capitol rotunda while lawmakers were in session.

SEE MORE: Abortion Driving More Women To Vote In Midterm Elections

Some of the group sat in the gallery as legislators discussed the bills, with some shouting down to legislators in frustration as they spoke in support of the bill. Legislative leadership asked that the onlookers remain silent as lawmakers conducted business. At one point, at least one protester was escorted out of the building by police. 

Lawmakers inserted several provisions they said were specifically targeted at the Women’s Health Center of West Virginia, which was the state’s first abortion clinic when it opened in 1976 following the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade case. It has existed as the state’s sole abortion clinic for years, making it the ever-increasing target of anti-abortion lawmakers and protesters.

The bill states that surgical abortions can only be performed at a state-licensed hospital by a physician with hospital privileges. Anybody else who performs an abortion, including nurse practitioners and other medical professionals, could face three to 10 years in prison. A physician who performs an illegal abortion could lose their medical license.

Pregnant people who obtain illegal abortions will not face any form of prosecution under the bill, however.

Kaylen Barker, spokesperson for the Women's Health Center of West Virginia, said the clinic will not be shutting down, even if the staff is no longer able to provide abortions. Like many clinics that perform abortions, the facility did not offer the procedure daily.

Most days are dedicated to services like gender-affirming hormone therapy, HIV prevention and treatment and routine gynecological care — cervical exams, cancer screenings — mostly for low-income patients on Medicaid with nowhere else to go.

Democratic Sen. Owens Brown, West Virginia’s only Black senator, spoke against the bill before it passed the Senate. He said when he looks around at his fellow lawmakers, he sees a body that is overwhelmingly comprised of white, middle-aged to elderly men who are middle-class or above.

Brown compared groups of men passing legislation that overwhelmingly impacts women to laws that were passed by white lawmakers when slavery was legal in the U.S. He said “all laws are not good laws made by men.”

“That’s somewhat irrational in many ways to be able to apply a law that will never apply to you,” he said to his fellow lawmakers. "It’s easy for you to sit there and do that because you will never have to face the consequences of your actions.”

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

President Biden Touts Electric Vehicles At Detroit Auto Show

Wed, 09/14/2022 - 19:05

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President Joe Biden, a gearhead with his own vintage Corvette, showcased his administration's efforts to promote electric vehicles during a visit Wednesday to the Detroit auto show.

President Biden traveled to the massive North American International Auto Show to plug the huge new climate, tax and health care law that offers tax incentives for buying electric vehicles. He toured a mix of American-manufactured hybrid, electric and combustion vehicles from Chevrolet, General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis on a closed-off convention center floor, and greeted union workers, CEOs, and local leaders.

The Democratic president, who recently took a spin in his pine-green 1967 Stingray with Jay Leno for a segment on CNBC's "Jay Leno's Garage," hopped into the driver seat of a bright orange Chevrolet Corvette Z06 — not an EV —and fired up its engine, alongside GM CEO Mary Barra.

"He says he's driving home," she joked.

President Biden then toured the new electric Ford Mustang Mach-E, marveling with Ford executive chairman Bill Ford at the model's performance. "It's amazing the speed," President Biden said, adding, "Does it have a launch button?" He also explored less-flashy vehicles, like Ford's all-electric E-Transit van and F-150 truck.

SEE MORE: New Gas-Powered Cars Will Be A Thing Of The Past By 2035 In California

President Biden finally got behind the wheel of a Cadillac Lyriq all electric SUV, briefly driving it down an aisle in the blue-carpeted hall. It marked a rare occasion to drive — albeit at little more than a walking pace — for the president, who typically is transported in armored U.S. Secret Service vehicles when out in public.

"Jump in, I'll give you a ride to Washington," he joked to reporters. "It's a beautiful car," he added, "But I love the Corvette."

While President Biden has been taking credit for the recent boom in electric vehicle battery and assembly plant announcements, most were in the works long before the Inflation Reduction Act was signed into law on Aug. 16. President Biden's 2021 infrastructure legislation could have something to do with it — it provides $5 billion over five years to help states create a network of EV charging stations.

In Detroit, President Biden was to announce approval of the first $900 million in infrastructure money to build EV chargers across 53,000 miles of the national highway system in 35 states.

SEE MORE: Electric Vehicle Charging Stations Boom Nationwide

Under the law, electric vehicles must be built in North America to be eligible for a new federal tax credit of up to $7,500. Batteries for qualifying vehicles also must be made in North America, and there are requirements for battery minerals to be produced or recycled on the continent. The credits are aimed at creating a U.S. electric vehicle supply chain and ending dependence on other countries, mainly China.

Passage of the measure set off a scramble by automakers to speed up efforts to find North American-made batteries and battery minerals from the U.S., Canada or Mexico to make sure EVs are eligible for the credit.

In April, Ford started building electric pickup trucks at a new Michigan factory. General Motors has revamped an older factory in Detroit to make electric Hummers and pickups.

Long before legislators reached a compromise on the legislation, each company announced three EV battery factories, all joint ventures with battery makers. A GM battery plant in Warren, Ohio, has already started manufacturing. A government loan announced in July will help GM build its battery factories.

Ford said last September it would build the next generation of electric pickups at a plant in Tennessee, and GM has announced EV assembly plants in Lansing, Michigan; Spring Hill, Tennessee; and Orion Township, Michigan. In May, Stellantis, formerly Fiat Chrysler, said it would build another joint venture battery factory in Indiana, and it has announced a battery plant in Canada.

Hyundai announced battery and assembly plants in May to be built in Georgia, and Vietnamese automaker VinFast announced factories in North Carolina in July. Honda and Toyota both announced U.S. battery plants after the act was passed, but they had been planned for months.

President Biden has been talking for a long time about the importance of building a domestic EV supply chain, and that may have prodded some of the companies to locate factories in the U.S. But it's also advantageous to build batteries near where EVs will be assembled because the batteries are heavy and costly to ship from overseas.

And auto companies are rolling out more affordable electric options despite battery costs. The latest came last week from General Motors, a Chevrolet Equinox small SUV. It has a starting price around $30,000 and a range-per-charge of 250 miles, or 400 kilometers. Buyers can get a range of 300 miles, or 500 kilometers, if they pay more.

The Equinox checks the North American assembly box. It will be made in Mexico. The company won't say where the battery will be made but it is working on meeting the other criteria for getting the tax credit.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Report: TikTok Search Results Riddled With Misinformation

Wed, 09/14/2022 - 17:20

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TikTok may be the platform of choice for catchy videos, but anyone using it to learn about COVID-19, climate change or Russia's invasion of Ukraine is likely to encounter misleading information, according to a research report published Wednesday.

Researchers at NewsGuard searched for content about prominent news topics on TikTok and say they found that nearly 1 in 5 of the videos automatically suggested by the platform contained misinformation.

Searches for information about "mRNA vaccine," for instance, yielded five videos (out of the first 10) that contained misinformation, including baseless claims that the COVID-19 vaccine causes "permanent damage in children's critical organs."

Researchers looking for information about abortion, the 2020 election, the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, climate change or Russia's invasion of Ukraine on TikTok found similarly misleading videos scattered among more accurate clips.

SEE MORE: Why Is TikTok Under Scrutiny Again?

The amount of misinformation — and the ease with which it can be found — is especially troubling given TikTok's popularity with young people, according to Steven Brill, founder of NewsGuard, a firm that monitors misinformation.

TikTok is the second most popular domain in the world, according to online performance and security company Cloudflare, exceeded only by Google.

Brill questioned whether ByteDance, the Chinese company that owns TikTok, is doing enough to stop misinformation or whether it deliberately allows misinformation to proliferate as a way to sow confusion in the U.S. and other Western democracies.

"It's either incompetence or it's something worse," Brill told The Associated Press.

TikTok released a statement in response to NewsGuard's report noting that its community guidelines prohibit harmful misinformation and that it works to promote authoritative content about important topics like COVID-19.

"We do not allow harmful misinformation, including medical misinformation, and we will remove it from the platform," the company said.

TikTok has taken other steps that it says are intended to direct users to trustworthy sources. This year, for example, the company created an election center to help U.S. voters find voting places or information about candidates.

The platform removed more than 102 million videos that violated its rules in the first quarter of 2022. Yet only a tiny percentage of those ran afoul of TikTok's rules against misinformation.

SEE MORE: Meta Quieter On Election Misinformation As Midterms Loom

Researchers found that TikTok's own search tool seems designed to steer users to false claims in some cases. When researchers typed the words "COVID vaccine" into the search tool, for instance, the tool suggested searches on key words including "COVID vaccine exposed" and "COVID vaccine injury."

When the same search was run on Google, however, that search engine suggested searches relating to more accurate information about vaccine clinics, the different types of vaccines and booster shots.

TikTok's rise in popularity has caught the attention of state officials and federal lawmakers, some of whom have expressed concerns about its data privacy and security.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a hearing Wednesday on social media's impact on the nation's security. TikTok's chief operating officer, Vanessa Pappas, is set to testify alongside representatives from YouTube, Twitter and Meta, which owns Instagram and Facebook.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Sandy Hook Witnesses Testify About Alex Jones' Hoax Claims

Wed, 09/14/2022 - 17:02

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A sister of a teacher killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre and an FBI agent who responded to the school shooting became overwhelmed with emotion Tuesday as they described what it has been like to be accused of being crisis actors by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and others.

Carlee Soto Parisi and FBI agent William Aldenberg were the first witnesses to testify as a Connecticut jury began hearing evidence in a trial to decide how much money Jones owes for spreading the lie that the 2012 mass shooting in Newtown that killed 20 first graders and six educators didn’t happen.

SEE MORE: Alex Jones Concedes Sandy Hook Attack Was '100% Real'

Soto Parisi said she has been hounded, both in Connecticut and after she moved to North Carolina, by those who believe she was acting. Some of the hoax believers went online and posted photos of grieving women, including an Associated Press photo of a distraught Soto Parisi outside Sandy Hook Elementary School after the shooting, saying they were the same actor.

“I frequently got threatening emails and messages on all social media," she testified, crying at times. "And it got to a point where they would use the gun emoji. And I spoke with cops in Connecticut and my husband ended up having to speak with cops in North Carolina, because we were scared for our lives.”

Aldenberg also broke down as he described being among the first law enforcement officers to enter the two classrooms where 20 children died. He described watching as the phone next to Vicki Soto's body lit up with messages from those trying to reach her.

“Was what you saw in that school fake?” asked attorney Christopher Mattei, a lawyer for the plaintiffs.

“No,” Aldenberg said. “It’s awful. It’s awful.”

He also testified about how he and others in the community and law enforcement were targeted with threats and conspiracy theories, including one that claimed he was an actor who also pretended to be the father of a victim.

“It’s one of the worst things that ever happened, if not the worst thing that ever happened here, what happened to them,” Aldenberg said. “And people want to say this didn’t happen? And then they want to get rich off of it? That's the worst part.”

SEE MORE: Sandy Hook Parents: Alex Jones Claims Created 'Living Hell'

The trial in Waterbury, less than 20 miles from Newtown, was attended by more than a dozen family members of victims, including David Wheeler, the father who conspiracy theorists had claimed was the same person as Aldenberg. Wheeler nodded his head as Aldenberg apologized for what Wheeler had to endure because of their resemblance.

Jones did not attend the trial on Tuesday. He is expected in court next week. Jones and his Infowars brand are based in Austin, Texas.

The Sandy Hook families and Aldenberg say they have been confronted and harassed for years by people who believed Jones’ false claim that the shooting was staged by crisis actors as part of a plot to take away people’s guns.

Some say strangers have videotaped them and their surviving children. They’ve also endured death threats and been subjected to abusive comments on social media. And some families have moved out of Newtown to avoid harassment. They accuse Jones of causing them emotional and psychological harm.

“You know, you can say whatever you want about me, I don’t care,” Aldenberg said. “Just say what you want. I’m a frigging big boy. I can take it. But then they want to make profits, they want to make millions and millions of dollars. They want to destroy people’s lives. Their children got slaughtered. I saw it myself, and now they have to sit here and listen to me say this.”

It’s the second such trial for Jones, who was ordered by a Texas jury last month to pay nearly $50 million to the parents of one of the slain children. Jones was not at the trial Tuesday and is expected to attend next week.

A jury of three men and three women along with several alternates will decide how much Jones should pay relatives of eight victims and Aldenberg. Judge Barbara Bellis found Jones liable for damages without a trial last year after he failed to turn over documents to the families’ lawyers.

The judge also sanctioned Jones on Tuesday for failing to turn over analytic data related to his website and the popularity of his show. She told his lawyers that because of that failure, they will not be allowed to argue he didn’t profit from his Sandy Hook remarks.

In opening statements, Jones was described by Mattei as a bully and by his own attorney as a crank in a town square who should be ignored.

Mattei showed jurors data indicating how Jones' audience increased as he spread lies about the shooting. He also showed them photos and videos of things Jones had said, and told the panel they already had the tools from their own life experiences to decide what to do in this case.

Jones' attorney, Norm Pattis, argued that his client has espoused a number of conspiracy theories over the years, something he has a Constitutional right to do.

Pattis told the jury that although Jones is liable for damages, any award should be minimal and alleged the families were overstating the harm they say Jones caused them.

On his Infowars web show on Tuesday, Jones portrayed himself as the victim of unfair show trials.

“How am I handling it? We’re at war. This is total tyranny,” he said. “I’ll tell you this, we can appeal this for years. We can beat this.”

The trial is expected to last about a month and feature testimony from more victims' relatives. Jones also will be testifying, Pattis said.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Nonprofit Trains Black Barbers To Be Mental Health Advocates

Wed, 09/14/2022 - 16:10

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People say getting their hair cut is like therapy. But in this Philadelphia barbershop, it's not a joke. 

"Looking at your hair, you're looking in the mirror, you just feeling good," said Andre Scott, owner of Clean Is Mandatory. 

NEWSY'S BIANCA FACCHINEI: What is it about barbershops that make them an easy place to open up? 

ANDRE SCOTT: They see you week in, week out for years and you build a relationship.

Scott has been a barber for over three decades. In that time, he's done much more than cut hair.  

"'I'm just done. I'm ready to give up.' When you hear that quitting, that anger ... Those are some key words you need to jump on real fast," Scott said. 

He has always has a good relationship with clients. But it was The Confess Project — a nonprofit that trains barbers to be mental health advocates — that helped him take it a step further.

SEE MORE: Black Men Reflect On The Need For Good Physical And Mental Health

"The more barbers we train, the more people we can get into counseling, get into a support group, or find other resources that we've been able to help people with — from housing, food and hunger and all the other things that come around mental and well-being challenges," The Confess Project Founder Lorenzo Lewis said. 

Lewis was inspired to make a difference after his own journey with depression and anxiety. He says he knew right off the bat that barbershops were the right place to start.  

SEE MORE: Local Barber Gives Back To Community In Need During Holidays

"I knew very well what it felt like to be in beauty shops and barbershops, and knowing that my first barber was my mentor, it played a huge, huge role in my childhood," Lewis continued. 

It's a theory backed by research.  

A study from Harvard says, "Barbers can engage communities at their grassroots levels and provide an important piece to a puzzle that in some cases can mean the difference between life and death."

Scott says he couldn't agree more. 

"I had a client come in my chair and ask for a haircut, a good haircut. So, he described to me the best haircut, and I said, 'I got you. I'll give you a good haircut any time.' He said, 'No, this is my last haircut.' I figured he was moving or going to jail. I didn't know what was going on. He enlightened me that he was going to take his own life," Scott said. "I literally took off that day at work and was with him all day. All praises to God, he actually didn't take his life. ... That was definitely life-or-death because out of all the people in his life, he decided to open up to me."

SEE MORE: New Mental Health Hotline 988 Launches July 16

That's one of many examples Scott gave to demonstrate the impact he's had on his clients. But he acknowledges it's a two-way street. 

"It's not always the barber helping the client," Scott said. "Sometimes it's the client helping the barber."

Newsy’s mental health initiative “America’s Breakdown: Confronting Our Mental Health Crisis” brings you deeply personal and thoughtfully told stories on the state of mental health care in the U.S. Click here to learn more.

Stocks Edge Higher On Wall Street After Painful Sell-Off

Wed, 09/14/2022 - 15:52

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Stocks edged higher in morning trading on Wall Street Wednesday following the market's worst day in two years on fears about higher interest rates and the recession they could create.

The S&P 500 rose 0.4% as of 10:13 a.m. Eastern. The benchmark index is coming off its biggest drop since June 2020, which ended a four-day winning streak.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 68 points, or 0.2%, to 31,169 and the Nasdaq rose 0.5%.

Energy stocks had some of the biggest gains as U.S. crude oil prices rose 2.2%. ExxonMobil rose 2.6%.

Bond yields remained relatively stable after leaping on Tuesday. The yield on the two-year Treasury rose to 3.79% from 3.75% late Tuesday, when it soared on expectations for more aggressive interest rate hikes by the Federal Reserve.

SEE MORE: Why Are We Scared Of A Recession?

The yield on the 10-year Treasury, which helps dictate where mortgages and rates for other loans are heading, rose to 3.43% from 3.41%.

A report on inflation at the wholesale level showed prices are still rising rapidly, with pressures building underneath the surface, even if overall inflation slowed. It echoed a report on inflation at the consumer level Tuesday, which raised expectations for interest-rate hikes and triggered a rout for markets.

Traders now see a 1-in-3 chance the Fed may hike its benchmark rate by a full percentage point next week, quadruple the usual move. The central bank has already raised its benchmark interest rate four times this year, with the last two increases by three-quarters of a percentage point.

The Fed is taking the aggressive action on interest rates to try to cool the hottest inflation in four decades. Tuesday's report on high prices jolted the market with signs that inflation is entering a more stubborn phase that could require an already resolute Fed to become more aggressive.

Wall Street is especially worried that the rate hikes could go too far in slowing the economy and send it into a recession. The Fed is trying to avoid that outcome, but the latest inflation reports reveal that is becoming a more difficult task.

SEE MORE: U.S. Inflation Falls For 2nd Straight Month But Remains High At 8.3%

The broader U.S. economy has been slowing, but consumers have remained resilient and the job market remains strong. Wall Street will get another update on inflation's latest impact on spending when the government releases its retail sales report for August on Thursday.

The market is also monitoring U.S.-China tensions and war in Ukraine, while business and government officials are bracing for the possibility of a nationwide rail strike at the end of this week that could paralyze an already discombobulated supply chain.

The railroads have already started to curtail shipments of hazardous materials and have announced plans to stop hauling refrigerated products ahead of Friday's strike deadline. Businesses that rely on Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific, BNSF, CSX, Kansas City Southern and other railroads to deliver their raw materials and finished products are planning for the worst.

Biden administration officials are scrambling to develop a plan to keep goods moving if the railroads shut down. The White House is also pressuring the two sides to settle their differences, and a growing number of business groups are lobbying Congress to be prepared to intervene and block a strike if they can't reach an agreement.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Package Explodes On Boston Campus; 1 Injured, FBI Involved

Wed, 09/14/2022 - 15:21

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A package exploded on the campus of Northeastern University in Boston late Tuesday, and the college said a staff member suffered minor injuries.

Authorities said another suspicious package was found near a prominent art museum and the FBI was assisting with the investigation.

The parcel that blew up was one of two that were reported to police early in the evening. Boston's bomb squad neutralized a second package near the city's Museum of Fine Arts, which is on the outskirts of the Northeastern campus.

NBC Boston reported that the package that exploded went off as it was being opened near the university's Holmes Hall, which is home to the university's creative writing program and its women's, gender and sexuality studies program. It said the FBI was assisting the investigation.

Authorities declined to elaborate, but Northeastern spokesperson Shannon Nargi said in a statement that an unidentified university staff member suffered minor injuries to his hand in the explosion. Felipe Colon, a Boston police superintendent, later described the victim as a 45-year-old man.

SEE MORE: The Almost-Mass Shooter: Man Reflects On Stepping Away From The Edge

Police converged on the campus shortly before 7:30 p.m., and the university asked students who had gathered for an evening journalism class at the hall to evacuate the building.

Northeastern is a private university in downtown Boston with about 16,000 undergraduate students. WCVB-TV said one of its reporters, Mike Beaudet, was teaching a class there at the time. Beaudet told the station his class was moved outside but that neither he nor his students heard an explosion.

Michael Davis, chief of Northeastern's police force, told reporters the campus was secure. Boston police didn't say whether any other suspicious packages were found.

"We're monitoring the situation at Northeastern and we're ready to work with the university and our law enforcement partners on any prosecutions that may develop," Suffolk County District Attorney Kevin Hayden said, promising "a comprehensive investigation to determine exactly what occurred here."

Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, both on the other side of the Charles River separating Boston from Cambridge, said they were increasing patrols on their campuses as a precaution and urging students and faculty to report anything suspicious.

Tuesday's explosion marked one of the first big scares in Boston since 2013, when two bombs planted near the finish line of the Boston Marathon killed three spectators and wounded more than 260 others.

Additional reporting by the Associated Press.

Iowa Teen Sentenced, Ordered To Pay $150K For Killing Accused Rapist

Wed, 09/14/2022 - 15:04

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A teenage human trafficking victim who was initially charged with first-degree murder after she stabbed her accused rapist to death was sentenced Tuesday in an Iowa court to five years of closely supervised probation and ordered to pay $150,000 restitution to the man’s family.

Pieper Lewis, 17, was sentenced Tuesday after she pleaded guilty last year to involuntary manslaughter and willful injury in the June 2020 killing of 37-year-old Zachary Brooks of Des Moines. Both charges were punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Polk County District judge David M. Porter on Tuesday deferred those prison sentences, meaning that if Lewis violates any portion of her probation, she could be sent to prison to serve that 20-year term.

As for being required to pay the estate of her rapist, “this court is presented with no other option,” Porter said, noting the restitution is mandatory under Iowa law that has been upheld by the Iowa Supreme Court.

Lewis was 15 years old when she stabbed Brooks more than 30 times in a Des Moines apartment. Officials have said Lewis was a runaway who was seeking to escape an abusive life with her adopted mother and was sleeping in the hallways of a Des Moines apartment building when a 28-year-old man took her in before forcibly trafficking her to other men for sex.

Lewis said one of those men was Brooks and that he had raped her multiple times in the weeks before his death. She recounted being forced at knifepoint by the 28-year-old man to go with Brooks to his apartment for sex. She told officials that after Brooks had raped her yet again, she grabbed a knife from a bedside table and stabbed Brooks in a fit of rage.

Police and prosecutors have not disputed that Lewis was sexually assaulted and trafficked. But prosecutors have argued that Brooks was asleep at the time he was stabbed and not an immediate danger to Lewis.

Iowa is not among the dozens of states that have a so-called safe harbor law that gives trafficking victims at least some level of criminal immunity.

Lewis, who earned her GED while being held in juvenile detention, acknowledged in a statement prior to her sentencing that she struggled with the structure of her detention, including “why I was treated like fragile glass” or wasn't allowed to communicate with her friends or family.

“My spirit has been burned, but still glows through the flames,” she read from a statement she had prepared. “Hear me roar, see me glow, and watch me grow.”

“I am a survivor," she added.

The Associated Press does not typically name victims of sexual assault, but Lewis agreed to have her name used previously in stories about her case.

Prosecutors took issue with Lewis calling herself a victim in the case and said she failed to take responsibility for stabbing Brooks and “leaving his kids without a father.”

The judge peppered Lewis with repeated requests to explain what poor choices she made that led up to Brooks' stabbing and expressed concern that she sometimes did not want to follow rules set for her in juvenile lockup.

“The next five years of your life will be full of rules you disagree with, I'm sure of it," Porter said. He later added, “This is the second chance that you've asked for. You don't get a third."

Iowa does have an affirmative defense law that gives some leeway to victims of crime if the victim committed the violation "under compulsion by another’s threat of serious injury, provided that the defendant reasonably believed that such injury was imminent."

Prosecutors argued Tuesday that Lewis waived that affirmative defense when she pleaded guilty to manslaughter and willful injury.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.