BBC 2024-02-24 04:31:44

Trump calls on Alabama to protect IVF treatment after court ruling

Donald Trump has said he supports the availability of IVF treatment, joining a growing number of Republicans who are seeking to distance themselves from an Alabama court ruling on the issue.

The state’s top court ruled last week that frozen embryos have the same rights as children and people can be held liable for destroying them.

At least three clinics paused IVF treatment in the wake of the ruling.

On Friday, Mr Trump called on Alabama to find “an immediate solution”.

“We want to make it easier for mothers and fathers to have babies, not harder! That includes supporting the availability of fertility treatments like IVF in every State in America,” the former president wrote on his Truth Social platform.

“[Like] the VAST MAJORITY of Republicans, Conservatives, Christians, and Pro-Life Americans, I strongly support the availability of IVF for couples who are trying to have a precious baby,” he added.

Earlier on Friday, in an apparent effort to ease concerns in the state, Alabama’s Republican Attorney General Steve Marshall said he did not intend to prosecute IVF providers or their families.

Mr Trump’s comments were his first on the issue, and signalled his opposition to a ruling which some Republicans fear could harm them electorally by hindering plans to win back suburban women as well as swing voters.

  • What does Alabama ruling mean for fertility patients?
  • IVF row an election-year political bombshell

Mr Trump is the front-runner to win the Republican nomination for November’s election and arguably the leading voice in the party.

In a further sign of the party’s efforts to distance itself from the Alabama ruling, the National Republican Senate Committee, which helps members get elected to Congress, sent out a memo to candidates on Friday which directed them to express support for IVF and “campaign on increasing access” to the treatment.

“There are zero Republican Senate candidates who support efforts to restrict access to fertility treatments,” the committee’s executive director, Jason Thielman, wrote in the memo which was obtained by the BBC’s US partner, CBS.

The memo also cited internal polling conducted by Kellyanne Conway, a one-time White House adviser to Mr Trump, to show access to IVF is overwhelmingly popular.

A number of Senate candidates, including Kari Lake in Arizona, came out to publicly support access to the treatment after the memo was circulated.

Mr Trump’s only challenger for the Republican nomination, Nikki Haley, initially appeared to back the ruling after she said she considers frozen embryos to be babies. She later denied that she supported the court’s decision.

While the Alabama ruling does not ban or restrict IVF, several medical providers in the state cited fears of legal repercussions as they paused fertility services in recent days.

It was made by the state’s Supreme Court and all of its justices are Republican.

Democrats are already incorporating the Alabama case into campaigning, portraying it as a warning that their rivals will seek to chip away at women’s rights if they win in the November election.

Mr Biden said in a post on X, formerly Twitter, that the Alabama decision was only possible because of the 2022 ruling by the US Supreme Court – which has three Trump appointees – to nullify abortion rights.

While many conservatives celebrated the end of Roe v Wade, it proved a potent get-out-the-vote motivator for Democrats and a messaging nightmare for Republicans.

Ukraine says it has downed second Russian A-50 spy plane in weeks

Ukraine says it has downed a Russian A-50 military spy plane – the second such claim in just over a month.

The plane was hit between the Russian cities of Rostov-on-Don and Krasnodar, Ukrainian military sources said, over 200km (124 miles) from the front line.

Emergency services reportedly found plane fragments in Kanevskoy district and put out a raging fire.

Russia has not commented on the claim. Saturday marks two years since Russia launched a full-scale invasion.

The head of Ukraine’s Air Force Mykola Oleshchuk thanked his service and military intelligence for helping to bring down the plane – a long-range radar detection aircraft – on Friday and noted the incident coincided with a key Russian military holiday.

“Congratulations to the occupiers on the Defender of the Fatherland Day,” he said on Telegram.

Video shared online shows the moment the plane appears to be shot down in the air, as well as huge flames and thick, dark smoke seemingly rising after the crash.

Krasnodar’s emergency authorities later said an aircraft had crashed near the Trudovaya Armenia village, Kanevskoy district, and a fire was later extinguished. It provided no further details.

Meanwhile, at least one Russian military-aligned Telegram channel suggested the plane may have come down as a result of friendly fire. Fighterbomber wrote: “At the moment it is unknown who shot it down.”

Ukraine last claimed to have shot down an A-50 on 14 January.

A previous briefing from the UK’s ministry of defence said that Russia probably had six operational A-50s in service.

The plane, which detects air defences and co-ordinates targets for Russian jets, can cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build.

Ukraine has struggled to make significant advances against Russian forces in the south-east recently.

In last month’s incident, Ukrainian army officials said an Il-22 control centre plane was destroyed as well as the A-50.

In other developments:

  • One person was killed and another three injured in a Russian drone attack on Ukraine’s southern port of Odesa on Friday evening, local officials said
  • Ukraine’s top security official warned that Russian President Vladimir Putin would try to settle the Ukraine issue before November’s US presidential election, by seizing more territory and destabilising the country
  • UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said his country was prepared to do “whatever it takes” to help Ukraine prevail
  • French President Emmanuel Macron said “Ukraine is fighting for itself, for its ideals, for our Europe. Our commitment at its side will not waver”
  • Blasts and a fire were reported in the early hours of Saturday at a metallurgical plant in Lipetsk, western Russia, with the local governor suggesting it was caused by an “aircraft crash”

Intuitive Machines: Odysseus Moon lander ‘tipped over on touchdown’

The Odysseus Moon lander is likely lying on its side with its head resting against a rock.

The US spacecraft, which made history on Thursday by becoming the first ever privately built and operated robot to complete a soft lunar touchdown, is otherwise in good condition.

Its owner, Texan firm Intuitive Machines, says Odysseus has plenty of power and is communicating with Earth.

Controllers are trying to retrieve pictures from the robot.

Steve Altemus, the CEO and co-founder of IM, said it wasn’t totally clear what had happened but the data suggested the robot caught a foot on the surface and then fell because it still had some lateral motion at the moment of landing.

Another possibility is that Odysseus broke a leg as it came down. Certainly, inertial measurement sensors indicate the body of the vehicle to be in a horizontal pose.

  • American company makes historic Moon landing
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Whatever the reason for the unexpected landed configuration, radio antennas are still pointing at Earth and solar cells continue to collect energy to charge the battery system.

Fortuitously, all the scientific instruments that planned to take observations on the Moon are on the side of Odysseus facing up, which should allow them to do some work. The only payload on the “wrong side” of the lander, pointing down at the lunar surface, is a static art project.

“We’re hopeful to get pictures and really do an assessment of the structure and assessment of all the external equipment,” Mr Altemus told reporters.

“So far, we have quite a bit of operational capability even though we’re tipped over. And so that’s really exciting for us, and we are continuing the surface operations mission as a result of it.”

The robot had been directed to a cratered terrain near the Moon’s south pole, and the IM team believes it got very close to the targeted site, perhaps within 2km or 3km.

A US space agency satellite called the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will search for Odysseus this weekend to confirm its whereabouts.

The IM mission is part of Nasa’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) programme, in which the agency is paying various private American companies for cargo services to the Moon – in the case of Odysseus with a fee of $118M (£93m).

All the companies are responsible for the financing, build, launch and operation of their spacecraft – and for finding commercial payloads to supplement Nasa’s.

Six CLPS missions were planned for this year. The first, by Pittsburgh-based firm Astrobotic, ended in failure. Its Peregrine lander developed technical problems en route to the Moon and gave up the opportunity of a touchdown. The robot was brought back to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere.

  • Why so many nations are aiming for lunar landings
  • The mission to prevent ‘spaceship sandblasting’

Intuitive Machines has two further missions in prospect for 2024. The next will see a robot drill into the surface. Another Texan company, Firefly Aerospace, should also shoot for the Moon at some point in the coming months.

Nasa regards the CLPS approach as a more economical way of getting its science done, while at the same time seeding what it hopes will become a thriving lunar economy.

Joel Kearns, from the agency’s science mission directorate, described the Odysseus landing as a “gigantic accomplishment”, and an affirmation of the CLPS policy.

Irrespective of its current functionality, Odysseus is unlikely to work much beyond the beginning of March when darkness will fall on the landing site.

“Once the Sun sets on ‘Oddie’, the batteries will attempt to keep the vehicle warm and alive but eventually it’ll fall into a deep cold and then the electronics that we produce just won’t survive the deep cold of lunar night. And so, best case scenario, we’re looking at another nine to 10 days (of operations),” said Tim Crain, IM’s CTO and co-founder.

India v England: Robinson’s 50 boosts tourists

Men’s International Test Match Series – Day 2 of 5

Yet to bat


First innings 336 for 7 wickets97.0 overs

England are 336 for 7

Piers Morgan and Oprah Winfrey ‘deepfaked’ for US influencer’s ads

Celebrities including Piers Morgan, Nigella Lawson and Oprah Winfrey have criticised the use of AI deepfake online adverts that gave the false impression they had endorsed a US influencer’s controversial self-help course.

The adverts promoted the so-called “Genie Script”, the centrepiece of a “manifestation” course sold for $37 (£29) a time by Wesley “Billion Dollar” Virgin.

He describes himself as a motivational coach who has 1.1 million followers on Instagram and claims to be worth $40m.

The videos, used to lure buyers to purchase the product, claim the Genie Script is a “missing” Hebrew Bible scripture of just 20 words that could – supposedly – change your life.

Its promotion blends pseudo-science, conspiracy theories and the manipulation of celebrity likenesses – all to draw in customers desperate for the chance to take control of their fate.

One advert used footage of Nigella Lawson chatting about her recipes and work as a TV chef.

“I went on vacation and met this man at a very exclusive party. His name was Wesley and he handed me this hidden Bible page that was locked away in somebody’s room,” the voice said.

But it was not that of Lawson, it was the barely indistinguishable mimicry of an AI voice generator.

Real footage is overlaid with a deepfake impersonation of the food writer’s voice, making it sound like she was attributing her success directly to Wesley Virgin’s guidance.

The AI voice suggested that the script revealed by Virgin unlocked the secret to manifestation, a practice which involves thinking about or writing down your aspirations to turn them into reality.

“He said: ‘Repeat this mantra every single day of your life… Since that moment I’ve become a multimillionaire all on my own.”

A spokesperson for Lawson branded the advertisement “fraudulent” and “of great concern”.

Another advert showed what looked like an excerpt from the Piers Morgan Uncensored TV show and employed similar techniques.

The voice described “a lost old scripture that has been used by kings to attract vast riches, miraculous healing and unparalleled love”, and it looked like the mouth had been manipulated to fit the speech.

The real Piers Morgan told the BBC the advert was “another example of a very worrying trend of public figures being misused by deepfake AI manipulators for financial gain”.

“The real victims will be members of the public who unwittingly buy these products believing the celebrity endorsements are genuine,” he said.

“Reviews” of the script appear online, where users praise Virgin and say they hope the script will help them with escaping poverty or spending more time with their children or grandchildren.

Both adverts, which appeared on YouTube, have now been taken down.

A spokesperson for YouTube said it had “long prohibited the use of manipulated media, including deepfakes and other forms of doctored content to deceive or mislead users”.

Having reviewed these videos, Prof Hany Farid, a digital forensics expert at the University of Berkeley, said they were “clearly deepfakes”.

“Of course, as the technology to create these fake audio and video improves, it will become increasingly difficult to detect these fakes. And the technology is improving at a stunning rate,” he added.

Another advert, this time featuring Oprah Winfrey, was discovered in the Ad Library for the Meta platforms Facebook and Instagram. Genuine footage had been overlaid, again with AI providing fake dialogue sounding like the US chat show queen.

“I want to give you a 20-word script… think of it like installing a new operating system into your mind that’s programmed to make you rich,” the AI Oprah says.

A spokesperson for the real Oprah told the BBC she did not have anything to do with Virgin’s product.

“We seek to protect consumers from the false association of Ms Winfrey and the misuse of AI to create such false advertising,” they said.

Meta said it took action on the adverts it found to be in violation of its policies.

When the BBC contacted Wesley Virgin he said the adverts were “the work of affiliates”, people who can earn money by helping him make sales, and that he was “in the process of banning them all”.

But videos still prominent on the 44-year-old’s YouTube channel demonstrate the huge effort he has put into mentoring an online team of volunteers hoping to share in his fortunes, therefore boosting his own bank account.

With titles such as “Make $800+ A DAY Online For FREE Copy & Pasting Links!”, Virgin urges viewers to spread the word about his products, such as the Genie Script, across social media.

Promising rapid returns and a high commission rate, he encourages potential recruits to paste a web link to the sales platform Digistore24 into multiple meditation groups, along with messages promising a “free meditation” to those who click on it.

But the link would take users to an online check-out for Virgin’s manifestation courses – after they had watched a sales pitch video with outlandish claims and an inaccurate account of theological history.

The narrative of this video centred on a supposed “missing” page from the Bible that carries a powerful prayer script. The rich and famous knew the secret script, the narration claimed, and warned that “they’re willing to put a bullet into anyone’s head who exposes them”.

Alongside the assertions was the seemingly antisemitic claim that Jewish people were disproportionately wealthy because they “use manifestation secrets” taken from an ancient 1,100-year-old “uncensored” Hebrew Bible that included the page that was “missing” from regular Bibles.

Prof Nathan McDonald, a theology academic at the University of Cambridge, said the video referred to the Codex Sassoon, a very early Hebrew Bible which recently generated attention when it was sold at auction for $38m.

“It does not have an additional page with a ’20-word script’,” he said. “Instead, alas… it has been damaged and is lacking a few pages.”

He added that the Genie Script’s promotional videos seemed to draw on “New Thought” religious belief, which has its roots in late 19th Century America and has influenced some parts of Christianity through the so-called prosperity gospel. It suggests that healing and prosperity are available to Christian believers if they have enough faith.

YouTube users who clicked on the faked Piers Morgan and Nigella Lawson adverts were directed to a similar video but this version was embellished with what appeared to be more celebrity endorsements.

Another celebrity featured without permission was the Canadian TV star and businessman, Kevin O’Leary. His spokesman said the clip of the entrepreneur had been purchased via a website that sells personalised messages from celebrities, and misused.

“Kevin will be taking the appropriate action to have it removed immediately. Kevin does not know Wesley and has no affiliation with him or any of his businesses,” he said.

The Oprah advert directed to another similar video, and then a shop for the product.

The sales platform Digistore24 also distanced itself from Virgin. It said his use of affiliate web links had violated its terms and guidelines and it would end its business relationship with him.

Wesley Virgin has not responded to further requests from the BBC to explain his business practices.

Despite being criticised by celebrities, he is far from disheartened. Recent social media posts suggest he is still actively selling the “dream”, claiming he can teach people how to become millionaires.