Countries worldwide hit new records for virus cases, deaths
Ambulances filled with breathless patients lined up in Brazil as nations around the world set new records Thursday for COVID-19 deaths and new coronavirus infections. The disease surged even in some countries that have kept the virus in check.
In the United States, Detroit leaders began making a plan to knock on every door to persuade people to get vaccine shots.
Brazil this week became just the third country, after the U.S. and Peru, to report a 24-hour tally of COVID-19 deaths that exceeded 4,000. India hit a peak of almost 127,000 new cases in 24 hours, and Iran set a new coronavirus infection record for the third straight day, reporting nearly 22,600 new cases.
Interior secretary steps into Utah public lands tug-of-war
Haaland, a member of Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico, met with tribes and elected officials at Bears Ears as she prepares to submit a review with recommendations on whether to reverse President Donald Trump’s decision to downsize that site and Grand Staircase-Escalante, another Utah national monument.
The visit underscores her unique position as the first Native American to lead a department that has broad authority over tribal nations, as well as energy development and other uses for the country’s sprawling federal lands.
“She brings something that no other cabinet secretary has brought, which is that her Indigenous communities are coming with her in that room,” said Char Miller, a professor of environmental analysis at Pomona College.
Northern Ireland leaders seek calm after violence escalates
Authorities in Northern Ireland sought to restore calm Thursday after Protestant and Catholic youths in Belfast hurled bricks, fireworks and gasoline bombs at police and each other. It was the worst mayhem in a week of street violence in the region, where Britain’s exit from the European Union has unsettled an uneasy political balance.
Crowds including children as young as 12 or 13 clashed across a concrete “peace wall” in west Belfast that separates a British loyalist Protestant neighborhood from an Irish nationalist Catholic area. Police fired rubber bullets at the crowd, and nearby a city bus was hijacked and set on fire.
Northern Ireland has seen sporadic outbreaks of street violence since the 1998 Good Friday peace accord ended “the Troubles” — decades of Catholic-Protestant bloodshed over the status of the region in which more than 3,000 people died.
Inside secret Syria talks aimed at freeing American hostages
Last summer, two U.S. officials ventured into hostile territory for a secret high-stakes meeting with American adversaries.
The Syrian government officials they were scheduled to meet in Damascus seemed ready to discuss the fate of U.S. hostages believed held in their country, including Austin Tice, a journalist captured eight years earlier. The release of the Americans would be a boon to President Donald Trump months before the November election. A breakthrough seemed possible.
Yet the trip was ultimately fruitless, with the Syrians raising a series of demands that would have fundamentally reshaped Washington’s policy toward Damascus, including the removal of sanctions, the withdrawal of troops from the country and the restoration of normal diplomatic ties. Equally as problematic for the American negotiators: Syrian officials offered no meaningful information on the fate and whereabouts of Tice and others.
“Success would have been bringing the Americans home and we never got there,” Kash Patel, who attended the meeting as a senior White House aide, said in his first public comments about the effort.
Steep decline in giant sea turtles seen off US West Coast
Scientists were documenting stranded sea turtles on California’s beaches nearly 40 years ago when they noticed that leatherbacks — massive sea turtles that date to the time of the dinosaurs — were among those washing up on shore. It was strange because the nearest known population of the giants was several thousand miles away in the waters of Central and South America.
Their mysterious presence led researchers to a startling discovery. A subset of leatherbacks that hatches on beaches in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands were migrating 7,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean to the cold waters off the U.S. West Coast, where they gorged on jellyfish before swimming back. The epic journey stunned scientists.
“There are birds that go farther, but they fly. There’s a whale shark that might swim a little further, but it doesn’t have to come up for air. This animal is actually pushing water all the way across the Pacific Ocean,” said Scott Benson, an ecologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s fisheries service in Monterey, who has studied the turtles for decades. “It’s just a majestic animal.”
But now, just as scientists are beginning to fully understand the amazing odyssey, the turtles are disappearing — and fast.
Trump-loving Alabama county faces uphill vaccination effort
Tending a thrift store that displays a faded Trump flag in a nearly all-white Alabama county with a long history of going against the grain, Dwight Owensby is among the area’s many skeptics of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Owensby, 77, said he doesn’t often watch TV news or read the local paper, and he doesn’t spend much time talking about the pandemic with others — it’s just not a big topic in this rural, heavily forested part of the state. But he suspects the coronavirus pandemic was planned, as a discredited conspiracy theory holds, and he said there’s no way he’s getting any shot.
“If it’s your time to go, you’re going to go. If it ain’t, it ain’t gonna bother you,” Owensby said.
He isn’t alone in Winston County, which ranks last in terms of people who have been fully vaccinated in a state that has the country’s lowest vaccination rate, according to federal statistics. To many here, the pandemic isn’t much of a concern. Businesses are open and relatively few people wear masks, even though Alabama’s rule requiring them to be worn in public wasn’t scheduled to end until Friday.
US jobless claims up to 744K as virus still forces layoffs
The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits rose last week to 744,000, signaling that many employers are still cutting jobs even as more people are vaccinated against COVID-19, consumers gain confidence and the government distributes aid throughout the economy.
The Labor Department said Thursday that applications increased by 16,000 from 728,000 a week earlier. Jobless claims have declined sharply since the virus slammed into the economy in March of last year. But they remain stubbornly high by historical standards: Before the pandemic erupted, weekly applications typically remained below 220,000 a week.
For the week ending March 27, more than 3.7 million people were receiving traditional state unemployment benefits, the government said. If you include supplemental federal programs that were established last year to help the unemployed endure the health crisis, a total of 18.2 million are receiving some form of jobless aid the week of March 20.
Merkel urges Putin to pull troops back from Ukraine border
German Chancellor Angela Merkel told Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday to pull back a military build-up near the country’s border with Ukraine amid heightened tensions in the conflict-stricken Donbas region.
Ukrainian government troops have battled Russian-backed separatists in the country’s eastern Donetsk and Lugansk regions, which form part of Donbas, since the rebels seized a swath of territory there in April 2014.
Fears of an escalation in hostilities have mounted in recent weeks, with Ukraine raising the alarm about an increase in Russian forces along the countries’ shared border and renewed front-line clashes.
Powell: Economy will not be confident until world is vaccinated
Viruses do not respect borders, and until the world is fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, the global and United States economies will not be able to resume activity with confidence, Jerome Powell, the chairman of the US Federal Reserve, warned on Thursday.
“We got a taste of what faster progress will look like,” Powell said at an International Monetary Fund (IMF) debate on the global economic recovery.
“The recovery, though here, remains uneven and incomplete. The burden is still falling on lower-income workers and the unemployment rate in the bottom quartile is still 20 percent,” he added, referring to unemployment statistics in the US.
US warns China over ‘aggressive’ moves on Philippines, Taiwan
The United States has warned China against what the Philippines and Taiwan see as increasingly aggressive moves, reminding Beijing of Washington’s obligations to its partners, as the two rival powers step up their naval activities in the South China Sea.
“An armed attack against the Philippines’ armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific, including in the South China Sea, will trigger our obligations under the US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters on Wednesday.
“We share the concerns of our Philippine allies regarding the continued reported massing of PRC maritime militia near the Whitsun Reef,” Price said, referring to the People’s Republic of China.
Boeing sues, cancels contracts with Air Force One supplier
Boeing Co said Thursday it had filed a suit against and canceled contracts with a Texas-based supplier for Air Force One, the aircraft that carriers the U.S. president, over delays in completing interior work on the two heavily modified 747-8 planes.
The U.S. planemaker said in a statement it had canceled contracts “with GDC Technics ... due to their insolvency and failure to meet contractual obligations.” GDC Technics did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Boeing said in its suit filed in Texas state court on Wednesday the delays “have resulted in millions of dollars in damages to Boeing and threaten to jeopardize work that is of critical importance to the (U.S. Air Force) and the president of the United States.”
Science Tech Daily
“Death Star” Dueling Quasars Looming in the Sky: Hubble Spots Double Quasars in Merging Galaxies
Inhabitants of our Milky Way galaxy living several billion years from now will have a markedly different-looking sky overhead. Two brilliant objects, each as bright as the full Moon or brighter, will drown out the stars with their radiance. These giant blazing light bulbs are a pair of quasars, brought to life by the collision of our Milky Way with the neighboring Andromeda galaxy.
Quasars are ignited by monster black holes voraciously feeding on infalling matter, unleashing a torrent of radiation. The Milky Way and Andromeda have such black holes at their hearts, which are now sleeping giants. That is, until the big bang-up. The duo will be as deadly then as it is dazzling. Blistering radiation from the quasar pair might sterilize the surfaces of planets, wiping out innumerable extraterrestrial civilizations.
This tale of “death star” dueling quasars looming in the sky might seem like a scene out of a science fiction movie. But the real universe is stranger than fiction. This is actually a story that played out between two pairs of galaxies that existed long ago and far away. The four galaxies, each containing a central, bright quasar, are in the process of merging. As the two galaxies in each quasar pair move closer together, so do their quasars. Hubble caught the action, photographing two quasar pairs that existed 10 billion years ago, during the peak epoch of galaxy close encounters. The discovery offers a unique way to probe collisions among galaxies in the early universe that might otherwise have gone undetected. Ancient quasars are scattered all across the heavens, so finding these dynamic duos is fortuitous. Astronomers estimate only one in a thousand quasars are really double quasars.
The youngest billionaire in the world right now is a teenager in Germany
Lehmann, 18, is worth $3.3 billion after inheriting stakes in German drugstore chain dm-drogerie markt from his father, Guenther Lehmann. That's according to Forbes' 35th annual billionaires list, which was released on April 6.
Dm-drogerie markt, the source of Lehmann's wealth, is the leading drugstore chain in Germany. It was founded in 1974. According to the company website, it employs over 41,000 people across more than 2,000 stores throughout Germany.
According for Forbes, neither Lehmann nor his father is actively involved in the company, and little is known about them. Insider has reached out to Dm-drogerie markt for comment. Lehmann could not immediately be reached for comment for this story.
Virginia just legalized marijuana
Virginia lawmakers on Wednesday enacted a marijuana legalization law, making the state the first in the South to legalize cannabis.
Under the law, adults 21 and older will be able to use and grow marijuana, starting in July. The state will also launch a legal, regulated market, with an expected launch in 2024. And it lets people with past marijuana convictions request lower penalties or for their records to be sealed.
Revenue from a new excise tax on marijuana will go toward education programs, equity initiatives, addiction treatment, and public health services.
The legislation came after a contentious, but relatively quick, legislative process. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) publicly backed marijuana legalization in November. After some back-and-forth, the Virginia House and Senate passed bills legalizing pot in February. Northam responded approvingly, but with amendments to the legislation. The legislature then approved the amendments, allowing the legislation to take effect with no further action from Northam.
More Plants At GM Go Dark As Chip Shortage Continues To Bite
General Motors will temporarily shut down two more plants as automakers continue to struggle with major supply chain disruptions, particularly in computer chips.
The company will idle its plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee, for one week and Lansing Delta Township, Michigan, for two weeks. They're the lastest in the long list of North American auto plants going dark because of the ongoing chip shortage, causing temporary layoffs for workers and cutting into the supply of new vehicles.
Stellantis (formerly known as Fiat Chrysler) currently has four plants shut down for several weeks, while Ford has three plants down, with another working at partial capacity. GM has more than half a dozen plants on pause.
President Biden has called for a review of essential supply chains to try to address the vulnerabilities that led to this headache for the auto industry. The White House says it will be meeting with companies next week to "get some private sector input" on how to address the issue.
We're entombing the Earth in an impenetrable shell of dead satellites
Sputnik’s successful launch in 1957 marked a milestone in human history as the first time a man-made object had ever orbited the Earth. But little we understood of the space-based SNAFU we were courting with the advent of satellite technology. In the 64 years since, our planet’s night skies have become increasingly congested. Today more than 3,000 satellites circle the Earth and they are joined by millions of pieces of space debris — such as bits of broken satellite, discarded rocket parts and flecks of spacecraft paint. NASA estimates that there’s around 6,000 tonnes of debris in Low Earth Orbit alone.
This orbital refuse doesn’t just create navigation hazards for astronauts, it also reflects sunlight down to the surface, interfering with ground-based telescope observations. A study recently accepted by Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society: Letters suggests that there is now nowhere on Earth free from the light pollution produced by overhead debris and satellites. Even more concerning, researchers expect the amount of debris in orbit to increase by an order of magnitude over the next decade as mega-constellations of internet-beaming mini-satellites, like SpaceX’s Starlink program, take off.