News roundup for Fri, Apr 23, 2021

The US Post Office has a formerly covert “situational awareness” program whereby they trawl social media posts and amass open-source intelligence data about planned protests. The information is shared with US intelligence agencies. Although it’s reasonable for the Post Office to want to keep employees safe and away from actively dangerous areas of civil unrest, it’s bizarre that the Post Office spends resources doing this data work and shares it with intelligence agencies—you’d think US intelligence agencies would be doing this work and sharing it with the Post Office…

In positive news—The world has a malaria vaccine!

A nuclear facility in Israel almost got hit by a wayward missile from Syria (purportedly). Here’s how it has been described as going down: Israel had been striking targets in Syria. An anti-aircraft surface-to-air missile was launched in Syria but went off target and almost hit the plant in Dimona. Israel then targeted the system that launched the missile back in Syria. It’s interesting how easily one (purported) mistake could cause SERIOUS trouble.

A few Chevrons in Las Vegas ran out of gas. An unanticipated increase in demand is blamed. Another bizarre shortage is causing rental car rates to skyrocket. Rental agencies had to sell off their fleets during the lockdowns. Now there aren’t enough cars in the fleet for travelers to use. These problems are something to keep in mind as travel increases with vaccination rates—companies need time to switch gears.

Russia says it’s going to pull troops back from the Ukraine border. I say we keep eyes on the region and particularly on all the hardware that just shifted positions:

A moderate Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) is headed our way on the 25th that might cause auroras over Northern states. Another, larger CME hit Southeast Asia this morning and caused some short-wave radio blackouts.

The world has over 145.3 million COVID cases.  The world has gained over 5.7 million cases in a week. There have been nearly 3.1 million deaths in total. The US has nearly 32.7 million cases. Over 584,000 Americans have died. There have been 863 deaths in the last 24 hours in the US. The US gained over 64,000 new cases in the last day. India is leading the globe in daily deaths, with over 2,200 in the last day. Brazil also had over 2,000 deaths in the last day. India gained an unbelievable 330,000 cases in the last day.

Australia and New Zealand have opened travel between the two countries. I am happy for both countries and all those families and friends who can travel to see each other again, but I’m also interested to see what happens with case rise in this context.

New Delhi is in lockdown as cases absolutely explode in India. Complacency in the face of scant initial spread is now feeding a new, deadly epicenter. India will need help in its vaccine effort, and the US could have (and should–but hasn’t) sent surplus or unused vaccine stock to ease the burden. Morgues and crematoriums are said to be overrun, and hospitals are without oxygen.

Covaxin, a whole, inactivated virion vaccine made in India, looks promising. Final analysis will come in June.

Researchers at Texas A&M have discovered yet another variant, this time one that might evade antibodies. It was found in the saliva of a student. It’s not yet known how widespread or concerning this variant is.

The US-Canada border is still closed, and will remain closed for another month or so:

The USDA is extending free lunches in schools through the ‘21-’22 school year:

Genomics reveals why the Brazilian variant is so concerning: it evades some immune response to previous infection, and it’s also much more contagious.

Vaccination rates are stalling in the US:

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