routinely amplifies Russian claims about the war with Ukraine and about secret biological weapons research, as part of its own information battle with the United States that began with the debate over the spread of Covid-19.

China’s heavily censored internet, which aggressively stifles unwelcome political opinions, has also freely circulated conspiracy theories about a possible American role in the spread of monkeypox, as Bloomberg reported.

Russia’s efforts to push the claims about biological weapons come from an old Russia propaganda playbook, adapted to the age of social media.

Researchers at the RAND Corporation called the Russian strategy a “fire hose of falsehood,” inundating the public with huge numbers of claims that are designed to deflect attention and cause confusion and distrust as much as to provide an alternative point of view.

died on Tuesday, that it would hurt newly warming relations with the West.

Russia’s propaganda model today has been adapted to take advantage of “technology and available media in ways that would have been inconceivable during the Cold War,” according to the RAND study.

Despite “a shameless willingness to disseminate partial truths or outright fictions” and a disregard of consistency, the strategy can often be persuasive to some, especially those who have preconceived biases, one of the authors, Christopher Paul, said in an interview.

“There are still people who believe the C.I.A. caused AIDS in Africa, even though that idea has been thoroughly debunked,” Mr. Paul said. “Not many, but some.”

Like many disinformation campaigns, Russia’s accusations on occasion have a passing relationship to facts.

Even before the war in Ukraine, Russia raised alarms about U.S. efforts to establish closer defense and research ties with several of Russia’s neighbors, including other former republics of the Soviet Union.

invoked a special session was in 1997, when Cuba accused the United States of spraying a plume of insects over the country’s crops, causing a devastating infestation.

The proceedings were not public, but several nations later submitted written observations about Cuba’s claims and the United States’ rebuttal. Only North Korea supported Cuba’s claim. Eight countries — Australia, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Japan, the Netherlands and New Zealand — concluded there was no link. China and Vietnam said it was impossible to determine. (Russia submitted no response.)

“There’s a big silent majority that just wants to sit on the fence,” Dr. Lentzos said. “They don’t really want to take a side because it could hurt their interests either way. And so the big question is not ‘Do these guys believe it, or not?’ It’s to what extent are they motivated to act on it and speak out.”

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Cases Of West Nile Virus Rising In Some Parts Of The U.S.

Though the chances of getting infected are low, officials are trying to make the public aware of the virus and how to protect against it.

Cases of the West Nile virus are increasing in some parts of the country.

Officials in Los Angeles County have confirmed the first human cases there, while cases have also popped up in Maryland and Massachusetts.

In Arizona, there were a dozen cases of West Nile before heavy rains this summer. Now the state is reporting twice that, as rains coast-to-coast threaten to make outbreaks worse.

“If we keep experiencing more storms, more water, more accumulation of water and that water remains stagnant for around three to five days, that would be conducive to mosquito breeding, especially as we get warm temperatures,” said Johnny Dilone, Maricopa County Arizona Environmental Services community relations manager.

While the chances of a person actually getting the virus are low, it’s not a chance one should take.

Barbara Puls is still watching her brother-in-law recover from a case last year.

“Their prognosis for walking again is not very good because like his feet have sort of atrophied,” Puls said of her brother-in-law.

Mosquitoes get the virus from feeding on infected birds. Then they pass the virus on to people through bites.

Across the U.S., preventing breeding in part relies on keeping the bugs away, and spraying for them is booming.

Source: newsy.com

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Its Largest Lake Is So Dry, China Digs Deep To Water Crops

By Associated Press
August 23, 2022

High temperatures have sparked wildfires in southwest China, and factories have cut production as hydroelectric plants reduce their output.

With China’s biggest freshwater lake reduced to just 25% of its usual size by a severe drought, work crews are digging trenches to keep water flowing to one of the country’s key rice-growing regions.

The dramatic decline of Poyang Lake in the landlocked southeastern province of Jiangxi had otherwise cut off irrigation channels to nearby farmlands. The crews, using excavators to dig trenches, only work after dark because of the extreme daytime heat, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

A severe heat wave is wreaking havoc across much of southern China. High temperatures have sparked mountain fires that have forced the evacuation of 1,500 people in the southwest, and factories have been ordered to cut production as hydroelectric plants reduce their output amid drought conditions. The extreme heat and drought have wilted crops and shrunk rivers including the giant Yangtze, disrupting cargo traffic.

Fed by China’s major rivers, Poyang Lake averages about 1,400 square miles in high season, but has contracted to just 285 square miles in the recent drought.

As determined by water level, the lake officially entered this year’s dry season Aug. 6, earlier than at any time since records began being taken in 1951. Hydrological surveys before then are incomplete, although it appears the lake may be at or around its lowest level in recent history.

Along with providing water for agriculture and other uses, the lake is a major stopover for migrating birds heading south for the winter.

China is more accustomed to dealing with the opposite problem: seasonal rains that trigger landslides and flooding every summer. Two years ago, villages and fields of rice, cotton, corn and beans around Poyang Lake were inundated after torrential rains.

This year, a wide swath of western and central China has seen days of temperatures exceeding 104 Fahrenheit in heat waves that have started earlier and lasted longer than usual.

The heat is likely connected to human-caused climate change, though scientists have yet to do to the complex calculations and computer simulations to say that for certain.

“The heat is certainly record-breaking, and certainly aggravated by human-caused climate change,” said Maarten van Aalst, director of the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre in the Netherlands. “Drought is always a bit more complex.”

The “truly mind-boggling temperatures roasting China” are connected to a stuck jet stream — the river of air that moves weather systems around the world — said Jennifer Francis, a climate scientist at the Woodwell Climate Research Center in Falmouth, Massachusetts. 

She said an elongated area of relatively high atmospheric pressure parked over western Russia is responsible for both China’s and Europe’s heat waves this year. In China’s case, the high pressure is preventing cool air masses and precipitation from entering the area.

“When hot, dry conditions get stuck, the soil dries out and heats more readily, reinforcing the heat dome overhead even further,” Francis said.

In the hard-hit city of Chongqing, some shopping malls have been told to open only from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. to conserve energy. Residents have been seeking respite in the cool of air raid shelters dating from World War II.

That reflects the situation in Europe and elsewhere in the Northern Hemisphere, with high temperatures taking a toll on public health, food production and the environment.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press. 

Source: newsy.com

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Surging Demand For Bug Spraying Is Hurting Other Animals

Experts are warning about the harm that spraying yards for bugs can bring to the ecosystem.

They are the bane of summertime existence: mosquitoes, eager to bite anytime.

Not only are they an itchy nuisance — they carry diseases.

In 2020, the CDC reported “dramatic” increases in illnesses spread by mosquitoes and other blood feeders. Scientists are finding malaria and dengue emerging in previously unaffected areas.

Climate change has extended the mosquito season in some areas, and that’s factoring into a surging demand for professional yard spraying.

But there’s a potential downside to yard-wide treatments.

According to the journal Biological Conservation, more than 40% of insect species worldwide are threatened with extinction. That includes pollinator bees and butterflies. 

“If you’re using a toxic chemical that’s toxic to certain types of species like insects, you might expect to see some collateral damage,” said John Meeker, an environmental health sciences professor at University of Michigan.

There’s also been a decrease of predators. Three billion North American birds have been lost in recent decades, mostly consisting of insect eaters.

Some companies are offering natural alternatives for mosquito control, like water mixed with essential oils from plants like lemongrass, garlic and peppermint.

“One of our dogs likes to eat wood chips from the landscaping,” said Marty Marino, who is trying natural mosquito repellents. “I haven’t figured out how to stop that yet, but if he’s going to do that and there’s the synthetic insecticide on it, that’s a great concern.” 

Experts say homeowners can also avoid the unwanted effects of chemicals by using simpler solutions, like emptying stagnant water sources and using electric fans to keep the pests away.

Source: newsy.com

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Rain Is Helping Keep McKinney Fire Down, But Hotter Days Ahead Won’t

Rain is helping keep the growth of the McKinney fire down, but hotter, drier days ahead is expected to cause increased activity in the blaze.

In northern California, growing fires have given way to dangerous mudslides, as heavy rains prompt flooding in evacuation zones.

“This area of the fire, the east side, some areas got up to three inches of rain in just over an hour,” said Dennis Burns, a fire behavior analyst.

They’re pouring on some of the fire while crews backed off firefighting.

“We actually had to have some crews shelter in place until they can get out today and assess the roads,” Burns said.

The rains only helped some of the burn area, and forecasters expect temperatures to increase and rainfall to decrease in the days ahead.

“I’ve never seen such a wasteland,” said Bill Simms, who lost his home. “There was no birds. There’s nothing, nothing.” 

He and other residents are now learning of destroyed homes and lost neighbors and friends.

“I didn’t think I’d get emotional,” Simms said. “I don’t get emotional about stuff, but when you hear my next-door neighbors died, Chuck and his wife. They couldn’t get out because they always locked their gate, and he couldn’t get out. Then my other neighbor died, Uncle Johnny, and this is within a half a mile. They both died. That gets a little emotional when you see it going down there, because I care about people.”

The McKinney Fire is one of the largest of 62 large fires burning across 15 states, forcing evacuations across the west. 

“I just try to take it in stride and make the best of it and figure it could be worse,” said Miki Peterson, a Montana evacuee, said.

The Elmo 2 fire in Montana is burning more than 16,000 acres and threatening nearby communities.

The Moose Fire in Idaho is burning 58,000 acres and is just 20% contained. 

Two larger fires in Alaska and New Mexico are almost entirely contained but collectively burned nearly 550,000 acres.

The National Interagency Fire Center reports this fire season has the most active fires to this point in the year of any season in the last decade, and it’s burned more acres to this point than any season since 2015. Scientists say climate change has made the West warmer and drier and expect wildfires to be more frequent and destructive.

“I’m sad,” sad Harlene Schwander, who lost her home in a wildfire. “Everybody says it was just stuff, but it was all I had. I’ve been single for a long time, and I just I’m going to have to cope.”

Source: newsy.com

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Polish Institute Classifies Cats As Alien Invasive Species

By Associated Press

and Newsy Staff
July 30, 2022

The database already had 1,786 other species listed with no objections.

A respected Polish scientific institute has classified domestic cats as an “invasive alien species,” citing the damage they cause to birds and other wildlife.

Some cat lovers have reacted emotionally to this month’s decision and put the key scientist behind it on the defensive.

Wojciech Solarz, a biologist at the state-run Polish Academy of Sciences, wasn’t prepared for the disapproving public response when he entered “Felis catus,” the scientific name for the common house cat, into a national database run by the academy’s Institute of Nature Conservation.

The database already had 1,786 other species listed with no objections, Solarz told The Associated Press on Tuesday. The uproar over invasive alien species No. 1,787, he said, may have resulted from some media reports that created the false impression his institute was calling for feral and other cats to be euthanized.

Solarz described the growing scientific consensus that domestic cats have a harmful impact on biodiversity given the number of birds and mammals they hunt and kill.

The criteria for including the cat among alien invasive species, “are 100% met by the cat,” he said.

In a television segment aired by independent broadcaster TVN, the biologist faced off last week against a veterinarian who challenged Solarz’s conclusion on the dangers cats pose to wildlife.

Dorota Suminska, the author of a book titled “The Happy Cat,” pointed to other causes of shrinking biodiversity, including a polluted environment and urban building facades that can kill birds in flight.

“Ask if man is on the list of non-invasive alien species,” Suminska said, arguing that cats were unfairly assigned too much blame.

Solarz pushed back, arguing that cats kill about 140 million birds in Poland each year.

Earlier this month, the Polish Academy institute published a post on its website citing the “controversy” and seeking to clarify its position. The institute stressed that it was “opposed to any cruelty towards animals.” It also argued that its classification was in line with European Union guidelines.

As far as categorizing cats as “alien,” the institute noted that “Felis catus” was domesticated probably around 10,000 years ago in the cradle of the great civilizations of the ancient Middle East, making the species alien to Europe from a strictly scientific point of view.

The institute also stressed that all it was recommending was for cat owners to limit the time their pets spend outdoors during bird breeding season.

“I have a dog, but I don’t have anything against cats,” Solarz said.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Source: newsy.com

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The Lies Putin Tells to Justify Russia’s War on Ukraine

In the tense weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, Russian officials denied that it planned anything of the sort, denouncing the United States and its NATO allies for stoking panic and anti-Russian hatred. When it did invade, the officials denied it was at war.

Since then, the Kremlin has cycled through a torrent of lies to explain why it had to wage a “special military operation” against a sovereign neighbor. Drug-addled neo-Nazis. Genocide. American biological weapons factories. Birds and reptiles trained to carry pathogens into Russia. Ukrainian forces bombing their own cities, including theaters sheltering children.

Disinformation in wartime is as old as war itself, but today war unfolds in the age of social media and digital diplomacy. That has given Russia — and its allies in China and elsewhere — powerful means to prop up the claim that the invasion is justified, exploiting disinformation to rally its citizens at home and to discredit its enemies abroad. Truth has simply become another front in Russia’s war.

Using a barrage of increasingly outlandish falsehoods, President Vladimir V. Putin has created an alternative reality, one in which Russia is at war not with Ukraine but with a larger, more pernicious enemy in the West. Even since the war began, the lies have gotten more and more bizarre, transforming from claims that “true sovereignty” for Ukraine was possible only under Russia, made before the attacks, to those about migratory birds carrying bioweapons.

reaching audiences that were once harder to reach.

“Previously, if you were sitting in Moscow and you wanted to reach audiences sitting in, say, Idaho, you would have to work really hard doing that,” said Elise Thomas, a researcher in Australia for the Institute of Strategic Dialogue, referring to disinformation campaigns dating to the Soviet Union. “It would take you time to set up the systems, whereas now you can do it with the press of a button.”

The power of Russia’s claim that the invasion is justified comes not from the veracity of any individual falsehood meant to support it but from the broader argument. Individual lies about bioweapons labs or crisis actors are advanced by Russia as swiftly as they are debunked, with little consistency or logic between them. But supporters stubbornly cling to the overarching belief that something is wrong in Ukraine and Russia will fix it. Those connections prove harder to shake, even as new evidence is introduced.

That mythology, and its resilience in the face of fact-checking and criticism, reflects “the ability of autocrats and malign actors to completely brainwash us to the point where we don’t see what’s in front of us,” said Laura Thornton, the director and senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund’s Alliance for Securing Democracy.

The Kremlin’s narratives today feed on pre-existing views of the war’s root causes, which Mr. Putin has nurtured for years — and restated in increasingly strident language last week.

President Volodymyr Zelensky himself, whose video messages to Ukrainians and the world have combined bravery with the stage presence of the television performer he once was.

Russia, though, has more tools and reach, and it has the upper hand with weaponry. The strategy has been to overwhelm the information space, especially at home, which “is really where their focus is,” said Peter Pomerantsev, a scholar at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins University who has written extensively about Russian propaganda.

Russia’s propaganda machine plays into suspicion of the West and NATO, which have been vilified on state television for years, deeply embedding distrust in Russian society. State media has also more recently echoed beliefs advanced by the QAnon movement, which ascribes the world’s problems largely to global elites and sex traffickers.

Those beliefs make people feel “scared and uncertain and alienated,” said Sophia Moskalenko, a social psychologist at Georgia State University. “As a result of manipulating their emotions, they will be more likely to embrace conspiracy theories.”

Mr. Putin’s public remarks, which dominate state media, have become increasingly strident. He has warned that nationalist sentiment in Ukraine is a threat to Russia itself, as is NATO expansion.

swiftly to silence dissenting points of view that could cut through the fog of war and discourage the Russian population.

For now, the campaign appears to have rallied public opinion behind Mr. Putin, according to most surveys in Russia, though not as high as might be expected for a country at war.

“My impression is that many people in Russia are buying the government’s narrative,” said Alexander Gabuev, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center. “They have doctored images on state-controlled media. Private media don’t cover the war, fearing 15 years in prison. Same goes for people on the social media. Russia has lost information warfare globally, but the regime is quite successful at home.”

appeared in the information fortress the Kremlin is building.

A week after the invasion began, when it was already clear the war was going badly for Russian troops, Mr. Putin rushed to enact a law that punishes “fake news” with up to 15 years in prison. Media regulators warned broadcasters not to refer to the war as a war. They also forced off the air two flagships of independent media — Ekho Moskvy, a liberal radio station, and Dozhd, a television station — that gave voice to the Kremlin’s opponents.

Access to Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and most recently Instagram has also been severed inside Russia — all platforms the country’s diplomats have continued to use outside to misinform. Once spread, disinformation can be tenacious, even in places with a free press and open debate, like the United States, where polls suggest that more than 40 percent of the population believes the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald J. Trump.

“Why are people so surprised that this kind of widespread disinformation can be so effective in Russia when it was so effective here?” Ms. Thornton of the German Marshall Fund said.

As the war in Ukraine drags on, however, casualties are mounting, confronting families in Russia with the loss of fathers and sons. That could test how persuasive the Kremlin’s information campaign truly is.

The Soviet Union sought to keep a similar veil of silence around its decade-long quagmire in Afghanistan in the 1980s, but the truth seeped into public consciousness anyway, eroding the foundation of the entire system. Two years after the last troops pulled out in 1989, the Soviet Union itself collapsed.

Claire Fu contributed research.

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