2.27.2023

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Good morning. It's Monday, Feb. 27, and we're covering another assessment of the potential origin of the pandemic, a West Coast snowstorm, and more. First time reading? Sign up here.

 

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Need To Know
 

Lab Leak, Revisited

The US Department of Energy concluded the most likely origin of the COVID-19 pandemic was an unintentional lab leak in China, according to sources citing a classified report. The findings reverse a 2021 analysis from the department but were said to have included new intelligence; specific details were not provided. 

 

The report adds to the uncertainty around the pandemic's origins. The recent report was made with "low confidence," but agrees with an earlier FBI report made with "medium confidence." However, four other US government agencies, as well as the National Intelligence Council, concluded the virus probably spilled over from a natural source. An analysis from the CIA remained undecided. An on-the-ground follow-up probe by the World Health Organization was recently blocked by China. 

 

Proponents of a lab leak origin point to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, located where the first major outbreak was observed. Studies have pointed to wet markets as a point of origin, particularly the handling of animals that are known virus reservoirs. 

 

See a review of the first major outbreak here.

 

Blizzard in California

A reported 85,000 customers in the greater Los Angeles area were without power Saturday as a rare winter storm battered the region with rain and snow over multiple days. The system triggered the area's first blizzard warning since 1989. 

 

The storm flooded areas near sea level, with downtown Los Angeles seeing the most single-day rain (2.3 inches) in 20 years. It brought powder to the surrounding foothills, dropping the snowline from around 3,000 feet to 1,000 feet in elevation. Nearby mountain communities were blanketed with multiple feet of snow. Mountain High resort—about 50 miles from downtown Los Angeles, but around 7,000 feet elevation—recorded a whopping 7 feet of snow in total. See photos of the winter weather here.

 

Separately, almost 300,000 customers in Michigan entered a fourth day without power yesterday following a midweek ice storm. 

 

Migrant Shipwreck in Italy

At least 59 migrants drowned Sunday attempting to land on Italy's southeastern Calabrian coast several days after setting out from Izmir, Turkey. Reports suggest the wooden craft was carrying at least 170 migrants from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Iran. Police arrested one survivor believed to be one of the boat's traffickers. See images here.

 

The volume of refugees traveling across the Mediterranean from the Middle East and Africa into Europe have dropped from a 2015 high of 1 million, with last year seeing 189,000 total. However, sea-borne migrations to Italy jumped 50% between 2021 and 2022. Of European countries, Italy receives the bulk of migrants, with roughly 12,000 recorded so far this year out of 17,000 total (see numbers). 

 

In recent months, the Italian government has attempted to stem the flow of refugees by limiting the operations of search-and-rescue ships run by aid groups. Italy regularly calls on the European Union for more assistance in processing refugees. 

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In The Know
 

Sports, Entertainment, & Culture

> "Everything Everywhere All at Once" wins top honor of Best Motion Picture Cast at Screen Actors Guild Awards (More) | ... and takes the top prize at the Producers Guild Awards (More)

> Gordon Pinsent, iconic Canadian actor known for voicing Babar the Elephant, dies at 92 (More) | Walter Mirisch, former Film Academy president, dies at 101 (More)

> The 2023 MLS regular season kicks off; see preview for all 29 teams (More) | Pro boxer Tommy Fury edges YouTube star Jake Paul in split decision in Saudi Arabia (More)

 

Science & Technology

> US health regulators authorize first at-home test kit for influenza A and B, and COVID-19; results detect and differentiate between both viruses (More)

> Genetic analysis of wheat reveals certain gene groups responsible for longer root systems; findings point way to engineering more drought-resistant, higher yield varieties of the staple crop (More)

> Astronomers detect new type of rapidly growing supermassive black hole in the center of a galaxy created just 5% into the age of the current universe; system appears to be creating new stars at 1,000 times the rate of the Milky Way (More)

 

Business & Markets

In partnership with LiquidPiston

> US stock markets close lower Friday (S&P 500 -1.0%, Dow -1.0%, Nasdaq -1.7%); indexes post worst week of 2023 (More)

> Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway sees operating income fall 8% in Q4 over previous year, cash on hand up to $129B (More)

> University of Michigan consumer sentiment index up to 13-month high in February (More)

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Politics & World Affairs

> Leaders from Israel, Palestinian Authority commit to de-escalate tensions Sunday alongside reps from the US, Egypt, and Jordan; highest-level international meeting in decade (More) | Palestinian gunman kills two Israelis in West Bank Sunday; Israelis set multiple buildings, cars on fire in response (More

> Turkey's justice minister announces arrests of over 600 suspects in relation to Feb. 6 earthquake disaster; death toll rises past 50,000 (More) | New Zealand archaeologist and two team members rescued after being kidnapped by armed group in Papua New Guinea (More)

> Republican National Committee to require presidential candidate debate participants to sign a pledge of loyalty to party's eventual nominee; first GOP debate to be held in August in Wisconsin (More) | Norfolk Southern train car derails in Lexington, North Carolina, Saturday; no injuries reported (More

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Etcetera
 

Why marriage is on the decline in the US

 

Ranking the best luxury hotels in the US, Europe, and the Caribbean

 

A century of women's fashion. (via Twitter)

 

Mapping the cost of Starbucks across the world.

 

Pistachio is having a moment

 

Rivalry game ends on a half-court heave. (via YouTube)

 

A chunk of two-century old shipwreck found in New York

 

Twin baby elephants take first bath

 

Clickbait: This state is formalizing its official aroma

 

Historybook: Author John Steinbeck born (1902); Actress Elizabeth Taylor born (1932); Nobel Prize-winning physiologist Ivan Pavlov dies (1936); 22nd Amendment is ratified, limiting US presidents to only being elected to two terms (1951); Mister Rogers dies (2003).

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