Sacre’ Bleu! Broken Sub Contract Sinks U.S. And French Relations To Historic Low

Going down? That’s what subs do. And because of subs, relations between the U.S. and its oldest ally, France, have plummeted to the depths. France feels betrayed and has recalled its ambassador. Yikes! How did this long-standing alliance get torpedoed?

The story begins back in 2016 as Australia sought to replace its aging Collins-class, diesel-electric subs. Several bidders were in the competition for the contract which France, a major global weapons exporter, ultimately won over Germany and Japan. And this was quite the lucrative contract–90 billion (that’s billion with a “B”) Australian dollars. France’s majority state-owned Naval Group was selected to build twelve conventional diesel-electric subs for Australia, winning what has been dubbed “the contract of the century.”

While all that is interesting, note a conspicuous absence from the story. Uncle Sam is nowhere to be seen. Well, that is until mid-September 2021, some five years after the award of the sub contract to France. On the ides of September, the Australian government formally notified the French government it was cancelling the $90 billion contract. But wait, there’s more! To add insult to injury, in place of the cancelled contract was a new arrangement Australia had entered into with the U.S. and the U.K. to acquire nuclear-powered submarines.

In another blow to France, President Biden revealed last week that the U.S. was entering into a new security alliance with Australia and the U.K. which included the delivery of at least eight nuclear-powered subs to the Australian fleet. The alliance is an attempt to strengthen stability in the Indo-Pacific region where China has been expanding its military might and influence. France, of course, felt left out because it sees itself as a major power in that area because of its overseas territories there, such as French Polynesia, which give it an unrivaled strategic and military foothold compared to other European nations.

What’s a snubbed country country to do? Cancel the party the other countries’ representatives had been invited to, of course. French officials in Washington, D.C. promptly called off a Friday evening gala at their compound to celebrate the 240th anniversary of the Battle of the Capes. As we all clearly recall from U.S. History class (NOTE: sarcasm font in use), this battle was a decisive naval engagement during the American Revolution in which France played a major role.

Still fuming, France fanned the diplomatic crisis flames by recalling its ambassadors from both the U.S. (au revoir, Philippe Etienne!) and from Australia. French President Emanuel Macron ordered the recall so the two ambassadors could return to the home country (Viva la France!) for “consultation.” The withdrawal of the French ambassador from the U.S. marked the first time in the history of U.S./French relations that such a step has been taken.

And, of course, there’s always name-calling to be done when someone’s angry. The French foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, has characterized the actions President Biden has taken in this situation as something Trump would do. Ouch! Likening Biden to Trump? Egad!

So why, five years after entering into a contract with France, did Australia suddenly ditch the French and take up with the Americans and Brits causing all this diplomatic disgruntlement? The contract cancellation will cost Australia $1.7 billion (that’s billion with a “B”), so one would assume that they have a pretty good reason for taking this step.

According to Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, the move was necessitated by the deteriorating strategic environment in the Indo-Pacific region, an area where China’s massive military buildup has increased in pace in recent years. Morrison concluded the capability of the conventional subs France was contracted to deliver would not meet Australia’s strategic needs; nuclear-powered subs were required instead to counter Chinese nuclear-powered vessels. I’m no military expert, but it seems common sense that you fight fire with fire. Morrison stressed he had to make the decision which was in the best interest of his country’s security.

While the French feel betrayed by this contract cancellation, the manner in which Australia went about it has also stirred anger. Apparently Australia was in secret talks for at least 18 months with the U.S. and the U.K. about a such a step. So much for French intelligence. But, in their defense, they were probably monitoring the Chinese, a perceived enemy, rather than their allies. Morrison has brushed off claims of the French being caught off guard by this news. He states he told French President Emanuel Macron in June about “very real issues about whether a conventional submarine capability” would address Australia’s strategic security needs. Just my two cents, but June was three months ago, and secret talks went on for over 18 months. What about the other 15 or so months?

In the meantime, the subs Australia has contracted for this time are not expected to be delivered until 2040. While these subs are being built in Adelaide in cooperation with the U.S. and the U.K., Australia will lease nuclear subs from the U.S. Hopefully, by the time the subs are completed in about 20 years, things will have settled down and the U.S. and France will be on better terms.

Australia’s sub decision has not gone over well with the Chinese either. They are angry Australia has opted to acquire nuclear-powered subs and is ticked off that Australia, the U.S., and the U.K. have formed an “extremely irresponsible” security alliance. No matter what a country decides to do, some other country will be upset about it. Making the Chinese happy is not tops on (or even close to being on) the U.S. to do list, but it is sad long-time ally France got the short end of the stick in the interest of Aussie national security.

As technologically advanced as weapons such as subs are today, they are only needed because of human failings. If we can make the scientific wonder of a nuclear-powered sub, why can’t we figure out how to get along with others? Think of the billions of dollars that could be saved on weapons contracts if nations could simply be civil neighbors. But then, what squabbles would the media have to highlight?

WONDER-ing Woman:

Is breaking a contract ever justified? If so, is national security a valid reason for doing so? Does France have a right to be angry by how its long-time ally the U.S. handled matters? Should the U.S. be taking steps to repair its relationship with France?

No, No, Nipah–Virus Scarier Than Coronavirus Lurking

Think once the coronavirus dies down we’ll be out the woods? If that’s what you believe, think again. A virus scarier than the coronavirus is lurking out there possibly aiming to start the next pandemic. Nipping at the heels of the coronavirus for being a deadly threat is the Nipah virus.

Haven’t heard of the Nipah virus? Well, there’s good reason. Since first being identified in 1999 in Malayasia, all outbreaks have occurred in South or Southeast Asia. But, hey, the coronavirus didn’t start in the U.S. either, and we see how that has affected us.

Nipah is a zoonotic illness transmitted from animals to people. (The “zoo” in “zoonotic” is there for a reason….) The first recognized outbreak in Malaysia occurred among pig farmers. Most of the human infections resulted from direct contact with sick pigs or their contaminated tissue. (There’s yet another reason to lay off the bacon consumption.) The virus was also detected in animals other than pigs in Malaysia; sheep, goats, cats, dogs, and horses also were infected by Nipah.

Blame the bats, fruit bats specifically, for subsequent outbreaks of Nipah in India and Bangladesh. Fruit bats in the family Pteropodidae, commonly known as “flying foxes,” are natural carriers of Nipah. Scientists have determined that the most likely source of infection for those outbreaks was from fruit or fruit products contaminated by these fruit bats. In particular, the bats adore the raw sap of the date palm tree and feast on it. When humans harvested the sap for processing into fruit juice or picked fruit nibbled on by the bats, the consumer of the fruit or fruit product was at risk of contracting Nipah.

Just this month, Nipah has reared its ugly and deadly head again in Asia. The third outbreak of the virus since 2018 in the south Indian state of Kerala, known for its palm-lined beaches on the Arabian Sea, is ongoing. Hmm! Think those palms lining the beaches there are DATE palms? Yup.

On September 5th, a 12 year old boy died from the Nipah virus after experiencing a high fever and swelling of the brain. As a result, the authorities identified all those who had come in contact with the boy and sealed off a TWO MILE radius from his home. Why such a broad sweep of quarantine? Because there is no treatment or vaccine currently available for people or animals. The primary treatment for a Nipah virus patient is merely supportive care.

While the Nipah virus is not related to the coronavirus, the two may have the same originating source. Finger the bats! Bats have been identified as a possible source of the coronavirus in China. An investigation into a 2018 Nipah virus outbreak in Kerala traced infections to dead fruit bats found in a water well. In these case, they would probably rather have had bats in their belfry than in their water supply

Nipah and the coronavirus are unlike in several ways. One difference is that Nipah is not as transmissible and is less contagious than the coronavirus. The current average transmission rate for Nipah is less than one person per infection. As opposed to COVID patients, those with Nipah start spreading the virus only after symptoms set in. Accordingly, quarantine efforts can be more effective in halting the spread of the virus.

Those differences sound good for Nipah, right? But wait, there’s a big and scary downside. While only around 2% of those who contract COVID die, up to 75% of Nipah infections prove fatal. For example, in a 2018 outbreak of Nipah, only 2 of 19 infected people survived. That’s a little over a 10% survival rate. Yikes!

In addition to having a higher mortality rate, Nipah also has a longer incubation period of up to 45 days and the ability to infect a much wider variety of animals. These factors make the virus the source of significant concern for epidemiologists. In fact, the WHO (the World Health Organization and not the rock band) classifies Nipah as a “virus of concern for future epidemics.” The organization has placed Nipah on a priority list of diseases for which research and development is needed. The diseases on this list are those which pose the greatest public risk because of epidemic potential and are identified as in “urgent need” for accelerated R&D.

Of particular concern to health officials is that genetic changes to Nipah are likely. Each time a human is infected with the virus, the virus is in an environment allowing for human adaptation. New strains which appear could more effectively be transmitted person to person resulting in a devastating outbreak. Dr. Stephen Luby, a professor of infectious diseases at Stanford, believes that a mutated strain of Nipa could lead to an outbreak which is “the worst humanity has ever faced.”

Although the virus has, so far, been contained to South Asia, the potential for worldwide transmission exists. A global problem could result due to spread through international trade, foreign travel, and climate change forcing fruit bats to seek new habitats.

What exactly happens to those unfortunate people who are infected by the Nipah virus? A fever and headache develop from three days to two weeks after infection. Thereafter a cough, sore throat, and respiratory issues appear. Finally, swelling begins in brain cells which causes drowsiness, confusion, coma, and often death. While some have survived a Nipa infection, they do not always recover unscathed. Twenty percent of survivors experience persistent neurological symptoms, seizures, and personality changes.

Efforts are underway to develop a Nipah vaccine, but as we have all learned from the current COVID pandemic, vaccine development takes time. Right now such development is a headache for researchers who feel pressured to come up with a lifesaving vaccine and prevent another worldwide virus outbreak. Given the existence of COVID and Nipah, we should all feel thankful if the worst thing we are experiencing at present is a headache. And, until a Nipah vaccine is developed, let’s avoid fruit bats and date palm trees.

WONDER-ing Woman:

Had you ever heard of the Nipah virus? As technologically advanced as society is today, does the appearance of such daunting viruses make you feel humans are not as in control as they might think? Is enough focus and funding being given to R&D efforts regarding deadly diseases?

Tesla Terror–Autopilot Feature Investigated For Smashing Failures

Defensive driving used to be about awareness of what other drivers were doing. With technological “progress,” now those on the road need to be concerned about what other cars are doing. What’s the difference you ask? Well, with Tesla’s Autopilot feature, some of its cars are equipped to drive themselves resulting in collisions with stationary first responder vehicles. As a result, the National Highway Safety and Transportation Administration (NHSTA) has opened an investigation into Tesla’s smashing autopilot failures.

Tesla is an American electric car company based in Palo Alto, California. The company’s name is a tribute to inventor and electrical engineer extraordinaire Nikola Tesla. Even if you aren’t familiar with Tesla, certainly you have heard of the company’s high-profile CEO, Elon Musk. Yes, he’s so high that he’s aiming for the stars, literally with his SpaceX program. Meanwhile, back on the ground, Tesla and Musk have experienced some liftoff failures with its autopilot system for Tesla electric cars.

The company’s autopilot feature enables Tesla vehicles to steer, accelerate, and brake automatically within their lane. Nevertheless, Tesla manuals instruct drivers to put their hands on the steering wheel when the vehicle is in autopilot mode. And all drivers follow their car manual’s instructions to the letter, of course. Yeah, right. When was the last time YOU even opened your car’s driver’s manual? Just as I suspected….

Demonstrative Exhibit A as to why this instruction is given comes to us from a March 2018 crash of a Tesla in the self-driving mode. Did the “driver” have his hands on the wheel? Nope. He had his hands and his eyes on his cell phone playing games while the car was rolling down the road. We don’t know the outcome of the game on his phone, but we do know that this was the last game he ever played; the “driver” was killed in the crash. In another instance, a drunk driver was found in the back seat of his Tesla as it drove him, helpfully trying to assist him in avoiding a DUI.

But human error (stupidity?) cannot be fingered in all the Tesla crashes under investigation. Tesla vehicles operating with this feature are reported to have been in repeated collisions with stationary emergency vehicles such as police cars, ambulances, or other emergency vehicles. These accidents typically occur after dark where “scene control measures” such as road cones, flares, illuminated arrow boards, and first responder vehicle lights are in use. For example, in January 2018, a Tesla in struck a parked firetruck with its lights flashing. Maybe the Teslas are being “blinded by the light.” (Cue Manfred Mann music in the background.)

Don’t blame the poor Teslas. Blame their programmers. According to experts, the likely cause of these crashes is that the autopilot systems are programmed to pretty much ignore stationary objects. Why? If this programming were included, the vehicle could react to all sorts of things on the side of the road such as signs and buildings. Methinks there needs to be some technology tweaking.

Due to the rise in collisions in autopilot situations, NHTSA issued new rules in June requiring companies like Tesla to report all incidents involving such systems. By mid-August, concern had so increased about these collisions, that NHSTA opened an investigation. In particular, its investigation is focused on twelve accidents which have occurred in nine different states.

The twelfth accident actually happened shortly after the investigation began. (Poor timing, if you ask me.) This crash took place on I-4 in Orlando shortly before 5:00 a.m. A car had broken down in a travel lane, and a highway patrol car was stopped behind the disabled vehicle with its lights flashing. The Tesla hit the police cruiser and narrowly missed hitting the trooper who had exited his vehicle to approach and render aid to the stranded motorist. Perhaps the Tesla was rubbernecking and not paying attention leading to the crash.

The NHTSA investigation is focused on Tesla’s Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS) and particularly Tesla Models X, Y, S, and 3. A Model 3 Tesla was the one involved in the late August 2021 Orlando crash. To gather information on the problem, NHTSA sent a detailed 11-page letter to Tesla with numerous questions to be answered. An October 22nd deadline for a response was set. If it is determined that the Tesla autopilot system is unsafe, NHTSA could require the company to recall cars or repair them to correct safety defects. This remediation effort could affect up to 765,00 Teslas built between 2014 and 2021. Who knew there were even that many electric cars out there on the road?

In the meantime, Tesla, in light of its “success” with the autopilot feature, is moving forward to release a new and even more ambitious version of Full Self Driving (FSD) software. Currently that feature is undergoing beta testing, where the near finished product is provided to a target group of users to evaluate performance in real world conditions. Sure, that’s where Tesla needs to work the bugs out–on the road where the rest of us are innocently driving. Sounds like a great plan to me. What could go wrong with that? (See earlier paragraphs regarding crashes with current system…..)

Much is at stake, such as life and limb, when one gets in a car. I am not convinced that any convenience derived from relying on imperfect autopilot technology to drive me from point A to point B is worth putting my life and health on the line. Admittedly, human beings aren’t perfect drivers either and can make mistakes; however, we can at least usually recognize and attempt to avoid stationary first responders. While Tesla goes back to the drawing board to teach its autopilot program about parked emergency vehicles, I’ll keep my hands on the wheel. Won’t you do so as well?

WONDER-ing Woman:

Have you ever driven an electric car? Would you be comfortable in fully relying on an autopilot system to drive you on the highway? At what point should an autopilot feature be deemed safe enough for use on the road?

“It Never Rains In California,” But It Just Did Atop The Greenland Ice Sheet

This week Hurricane Ida dumped inches of rain, in some cases over a foot, along its path. While rain is part and parcel of a hurricane, it is not expected to fall at the summit of an ice sheet where below-freezing temperatures are the norm. Therefore, scientists were astounded when rain fell for several hours on August 14th at the highest elevation of the Greenland Ice Sheet– the first time such precipitation was ever recorded there. Although not as much in quantity as Hurricane Ida produced, the summit rainfall was just as disturbing.

Raindrops fell on scientists heads off and on for thirteen hours some 10,551 feet above the Greenland Ice Sheet mid-month. No one knows exactly how much precipitation came down because there are no rain gauges at the National Science Foundation’s Summit Station. Such a weather event was unprecedented since scientists have been making observations there, so who would think to install a rain gauge?

Although rain has occasionally fallen on the Greenland ice sheet itself, rainfall has never occurred on its summit–until now that is. Guess there’s a first time for everything. With below freezing temperatures, snow is the precipitation scientists anticipate. And temperatures have risen above freezing at the summit only three times previously in the last 32 years.

Timing, as they say, is everything. Scientists are unsettled not only by the rain falling on the summit but by the fact it is falling at this time of the year. Mid to late August marks a change from summer to autumn in the far north. This progression of seasons should result in lower temperatures and snow for precipitation if any is to come down.

This anomalous weather, scientists believe, is the result of global climate change. While the actual rain event did not itself have a huge impact, it illustrates the increasing extent, duration, and intensity of melting on Greenland. You don’t have to hold an advanced science degree to understand global warming means higher temperatures which lead to ice melting, be it ice cubes in your glass or ice sitting on top of the largest island in the world.

And the Greenland Ice Sheet is a gargantuan piece of ice. It covers 660,000 square miles, around 79-81% of the surface of Greenland. Talk about ice, ice baby…Its surface area is almost as big as Alaska and over three times that of France. This ice sheet is the second largest ice body in the world with only the Antarctic Ice Sheet being bigger. From north to south the Greenland Ice Sheet extends 1,800 miles, the equivalent of stretching from Key West to a hundred miles beyond Portland, Maine. The ice is thick as well as long with the average thickness generally over 1.2 miles and around 2 miles at its thickest point. That’s one big ice cube!

With this much ice, what’s the big deal with a little bit of rain? The deal is that ice melts snow. When rain falls on the summit of an ice sheet, generally the water percolates down into the packed snow to colder temperatures where it refreezes and doesn’t drain away. On the other (hopefully mittened) hand, rain falling on the periphery of an ice sheet can generate a significant of melt water that runs off the ice sheet and into the ocean raising sea levels.

When it rained at the Greenland Ice Sheet’s summit some two miles above sea level, the precipitation coincided with a “melt event” where the temperature gets high enough that the thick ice on the ice sheet begins to melt. Northern Greenland has experienced record-setting temperatures this summer. Some areas experienced temperatures more than 18 degrees Celsius warmer than average temperatures. In fact, 2021 even saw the latest date in the year when above-freezing temperatures were recorded at the Summit Station. So, the location is high up and experiencing record high temps.

The August melt event affected 337,000 square miles and followed two major melt events in July. The later July melt event affected 340,000 square miles. Previously, there were melt events in 2019, 2012, and 1995; before those occurrences, no melt events had taken place since the late 1800’s per the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center. (They have a center for everything, don’t they?)

When the ice melts, it has to go somewhere. As an ice sheet melts, global sea levels rise. Rising sea levels are a concern because nearly one-third of the world’s population lives in or near a coastal zone. Everyone likes waterfront property or being near the water, but they may get more than they bargained for if too much ice melts. The Greenland Ice Sheet contains 8% of the Earth’s fresh water. If all that ice sheet’s ice melted, global sea levels would rise 24 feet. That’s over the head of anyone reading this post.

Thankfully, the situation isn’t that dire yet, but it is still concerning. The melt event which occurred at the end of July was of such a scale that the amount of ice which melted on one day of that event alone would cover the entire state of Florida with two inches of water according to the World Meteorological Organization. Woo hoo! All Sunshine State residents could then say they lived on the water; unfortunately, there would be no dry land for sunbathing.

While too much rain, as in the case of Hurricane Ida, is a bad thing, rain where and when none is expected is also a bad thing. The Greenland Ice Sheet may not be located anywhere near us and we may never set foot on it, but what happens to that part of the Earth can and will affect all of the world’s inhabitants. Let’s hope the story of rain falling at the summit of this ice sheet will not fall on deaf ears; instead, let the weather story be a wake up call to what’s happening to the planet we call home.

WONDER-ing Woman:

Are you surprised to learn that rain fell at the summit of a massive ice sheet? What weather events have convinced you or would convince you that global warming is occurring? Have you considered the ramifications of rising sea levels on coastal communities?

Flying The Unfriendly Skies–Number Of Unruly Passengers Sky High

Aerophobia, or the fear of flying, is likely on the rise this summer due to safety concerns. Why is that since no major aviation accidents have recently occurred? Potential passengers are less concerned about a plane they are on crashing than they are about their physical safety being at risk from the actions of fellow passengers. Yes, unruly behavior by airline passengers has reached record highs up in the sky.

Airlines are doing the happy dance with the increased number of travelers filling their plane seats in recent months. But that business boom has been accompanied by rising concerns with more frequent unruly behavior by passengers. Are travelers really acting up that much? In a word, “YES!” In a typical year, the Federal Aviation Administration handles 100 to 150 formal cases of bad behavior by passengers. However, so far in 2021, with several months still to go before year’s end, the agency has received approximately 4,000 reports from the airlines of aggressive passenger behavior. Just a slight increase there….

What’s causing this bad behavior? Have people spent so much time in lockdown and away from social settings that they no longer know how to behave? Those in the aviation industry agree that current passengers are more frazzled than they have been in the past. On top of dealing with travel delays, cancelled flights, lost luggage, etc., travelers are facing these challenges in the context of a pandemic and economic uncertainty. Combined, these factors spell trouble for flight crews.

The consequences of the pandemic are especially difficult for some passengers. A federal mandate requires travelers wear masks in the airport and on the plane. And, given the surge in cases due to the delta variant, that mask requirement was just extended this month until January 18, 2022; it had been set to expire in September. But people: A. don’t like to be told what to do; and B. are uncomfortable wearing masks. To no one’s surprise, then, 71% of the reported incidents of unruly passengers in 2021 concern passengers refusing to comply with the mask mandate.

Results from a recent survey taken of approximately 5,000 flight attendants by the Association of Flight Attendants are disturbing. Eighty-five percent of the flight attendants reported they had dealt with an unruly passenger in 2021. Sixty percent claimed to have dealt with AT LEAST FIVE incidents this year. Of the incidents which occurred, 17% got physical. A particularly egregious case involved a Southwest Airlines flight attendant who was punched in the face by a 28 year old female passenger whom she asked to keep her seatbelt fastened. As a result of the assault, the flight attendant lost two teeth. The media, of course, found that to be a story they could really sink their teeth into and jumped on it.

Hearing about the behavior of some airline passengers would lead you to think that the stories were about kids on a school bus. But, no, these are adults acting badly, to say the least. Reported incidents include situations where they punched other passengers or crew members, threw items at people, and tried to break into the cockpit. On a May 24th flight from New York City bound for Orlando, a passenger threw his luggage at another passenger while lying in the aisle of the plane. Then, he proceeded to grab a flight attendant by her ankles and put his head up her skirt. Needless to say, that behavior did not fly with the captain who made an emergency landing in Richmond so the boisterous passenger could be removed from the plane. I’m betting that wherever the authorities took him in Virginia was not anywhere close to being the happiest place on earth.

A JetBlue flight in mid-May was also diverted for the removal of an unruly passenger. Not only was this individual refusing to wear a mask, but he was threatening another passenger and snorting what appeared to be cocaine. While airline passengers are supposed to be high, that high is being thousands of feet up in the air and not as the result of using illicit drugs while traveling. Clearly, the TSA baggage check wasn’t thorough enough on that passenger.

In a story which has to be labeled “use what you have on hand,” a Frontier Airlines flight crew resorted to restraining a passenger with duct tape while on a flight from Philadelphia to Miami. Why such a drastic measure? Well, after the passenger had groped two flight attendants and punched a third, the crew felt enough was enough. This unruly passenger is now facing three counts of battery.

What’s an airline line to do when faced with this troubling rise in bad behavior? One common sense action was to suspend in-flight alcohol service since a passenger’s being tipsy or intoxicated is just going to add fuel to the fire. American Airlines, for example, will have no such service until January 18, 2022. But resourceful travelers determined to imbibe while flying anyway have been sneaking alcohol onto planes. In a letter to airports in early August, the FAA warned them to monitor the serving of alcohol to passengers in bars and restaurants prior to their flights. Particularly mentioned was the practice of providing “to go cups.”

In addition to suspension of alcohol service, some airlines have revoked frequent flyer benefits belonging to disruptive passengers. While unruly travelers may not be terrorists, they do threaten safety on board, so no-fly lists for them have also been created. Thousands have reportedly been placed on such lists for failing to comply with the mask policy. Just like you can’t have your cake and eat it too, you can’t not wear your mask and fly too.

Those on the front lines of this problem, the flight attendants, have been attending self-defense training to prepare themselves for dealing with bad behavior from passengers. While they know what to do in case of a mechanical emergency, fending off physical assaults from travelers is a different emergency altogether.

The FAA is also addressing these incidents by recommending fines for unruly behavior. It announced on August 19th that over $1 million in fines have been proposed in response to cases this year. The agency’s policy for in-flight disruptions allows for fines as high as $52,500 and up to 20 years in prison. And, thankfully, the maximum fine was recommended for the “bright” passenger who thought it would be a good idea to try to open the cockpit door mid-flight. Unfortunately, the FAA itself cannot bring criminal charges itself against those who act out. Thus, local authorities will have to lend a helping hand to address the wild west situations occurring on board.

Having to fly is stressful enough without being concerned a fellow passenger is going to lose it and cause a scene. Disruptive behavior is irresponsible and often illegal. A word of advice from movie character Austin Powers to future flyers who may not be able to control themselves: “Oh, behave!”

WONDER-ing Woman:

Have you witnessed an incident of unruly behavior on a flight? Would the risk of encountering such behavior deter you from flying? Is restraining a disruptive passenger with duct tape ever justified?

Real Threat Gives Rise To Fake IDs

Sadly, the COVID-19 pandemic is all too true. But plenty of fake news, or at least alleged fake news (depending on whom you believe), is out there. Fake news, however, isn’t the only fake thing out there right now. Fake ID’s are a hot commodity these days. These aren’t the bogus ID’s that underage teens obtain so they can purchase alcohol. Oh, no. These are fake vaccination records which have arisen due to the real pandemic.

Folks of all ages are clamoring for such ID’s. Why would anyone want a counterfeit vaccination card? For the unvaccinated, such a card may be just the ticket to attend a large event such as a music concert, to gain access to a restricted venue such as a gym or restaurant, or to be admitted to a foreign country.

According to reports, at least 675 colleges and universities are requiring their students to show proof of vaccination to be allowed on campus. Are their students complying with this requirement? Well, let’s just say that vaccination cards are being produced, but they may not be real. Faculty and students interviewed by the Associated Press expressed concern about how easy it is to obtain fake cards.

The vaccination cards which some fraudulently seek to produce or to present are pretty low-tech here in the U.S. In December 2020, federal agencies released paper cards to be used as proof of COVID-19 vaccination. These cards are 4″ by 3″ on double-sided cardstock paper bearing the Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”) logo in black and white; no space is provided for a photo of the person vaccinated. Thus, they are fairly easy to replicate.

Lending credence to a literal interpretation of everything being “Made in China,” is the fact that many of the fake vaccine cards originate in China. The AP reported about a Twitter user (who in this case could truly be called a “twit”) posting that his daughter bought two fake ID’s online for $50 to use at college. And where did these cards come from? China, of course. While it is concerning but not surprising that China is doing something illegal, what is surprising is that a parent would publicly post that their child committed a felony.

A felony, you say? Yes, sir. Using a fake vaccination card is a serious mistake with serious consequences. Don’t believe me? OK. Well, go read 18 U.S.C. Section 1017; that’s the provision of the U.S. Code making unauthorized use of the seal of an official government agency a federal CRIME. Conviction of that CRIME carries a possible fine and a maximum of FIVE YEARS IN PRISON. The fake vaccination cards bear the CDC logo, so people using them are clearly breaking the law.

Folks have indeed been arrested for dealing in fake vaccination cards. A California bar owner was busted in May for allegedly selling the bogus cards for $20 each. Guess his special of the day was a shot of whiskey with a fake shot record card. July saw the first federal criminal fraud prosecution involving such cards. A physician in Napa, California was alleged to have sold fake vaccination cards indicating the Moderna vaccine had been received. Guess she had the book learning to know about viruses and vaccinations but no common sense, i.e., don’t commit a crime by selling bogus medical records. Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer on August 15th called for a harder crackdown on these fake cards. So, beware if you inclined to create, buy, or use one.

Using fake vaccination cards will get you in trouble not only in the U.S. but in other countries as well. Two Americans learned this lesson the hard (and expensive) way just this month. While traveling in Canada, these “bright” (sarcasm font in use) individuals presented fake vaccination cards and got arrested for doing so. The result? They were fined $19,720 each. Not sure what they paid for those fake records, but they could’ve saved a whole bunch by simply getting a FREE vaccine and a FREE authentic card before leaving home.

Pandemic-related fraud has been rising in recent months. Requirements for proof of vaccination have created a thriving market for counterfeit cards for the unvaccinated. In March, such concern existed about the trafficking of fake vaccine cards that the FBI issued a joint statement with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services saying basically “Don’t do it!” It, of course, was buying, creating, or selling bogus shot records.

In April a bipartisan group of 47 state attorneys general (the National Association of Attorneys General or NAAG) sent a letter to the CEO’s of Twitter, Shopify, and eBay to take down ads or links to sources selling fake vaccination cards. Hello? These sites have to be told that? You don’t have to have a law degree to conclude that offering fake medical records might be a bad idea generally and a crime specifically. After being nagged about this activity by NAAG, these online sites did cooperate and blacklisted certain words related to counterfeit vaccination cards. Unfortunately, such cards apparently can still be obtained on the messaging app Telegram and on the dark web. (PSA: Do NOT go to these places and attempt to make such a purchase!!!)

Customs agents are becoming busier thanks to the boom in the demand for fake vaccination cards. As of mid-August, they had seized over 121 shipments containing more than 3,000 counterfeit COVID-19 vaccine cards. These shipments were intercepted in Memphis and were bound for different cities in the U.S. Three guesses what the country of origin was for these shipments innocuously marked as being paper products or greeting cards. Ding! Ding! Ding! You’re right. It was China. Ticked off by these goings on, the Memphis Port Director remarked, “If you do not wish to receive a vaccine, that is your decision. But don’t order a counterfeit, waste my officer’s time, break the law and misrepresent yourself.”

Let’s get real. The pandemic is real; bogus vaccination records are not. Sure, it is your call whether or not to be vaccinated. But all decisions have consequences. The reality is that failure to be vaccinated may impede one’s access to events, venues, and foreign destinations. Trying to get around the vaccination requirement by procuring a fake ID is not a smart move. In fact, using such fake ID’s is a federal crime and a pain felt when receiving a quick shot. And that’s not fake news.

WONDER-ing Woman: Were you aware fake vaccination records were in such demand? Is using or producing such a card an offense justifying imprisonment for up to five years? How do you feel about legitimate online sites allowing ads for or links to illegal products? Are you surprised China is the source of the shipments of fake cards seized in Memphis?

Come Sail Away–As Long As You Have A Vaccine Passport

Want to cruise off into the sunset and leave all your cares behind? Sounds like a great idea as long as you didn’t leave a vaccine passport off your packing list and you plan to sail on Norwegian Cruise Lines out of Florida. Well, at this point anyway. The cruise line is battling it out in court with the State of Florida as to whether it can require passengers to present a vaccine passport to come aboard. To document or not to document vaccination. That is the question for a federal court.

The cruise industry’s ability to operate was an early casualty of the pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control has banned most cruises since March 2020. Forget bon voyage; it’s been ban voyage for almost a year and a half. Norwegian Cruise Lines (“NCL”), headquartered in Miami, was eagerly anticipating getting back into operation with a cruise on the Norwegian Gem scheduled to depart Miami on August 15th.

But who wants to launch the Titanic? With the Delta variant surging and rapidly spreading and the State of Florida a virus hotspot, NCL sought to avoid launching a cruise that might become a COVID catastrophe. Accordingly, it aimed for 100% vaccination of all guests and crew. How would that goal be accomplished though? Aha! Passengers would be required to show documented proof of vaccination against COVID-19. No show; no go.

But this plan did not sit well with Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, who has become a national figure for opposing pandemic restrictions. He felt that NCL’s requirement was discriminatory and raised privacy and personal freedom issues. In his view, having to produce a vaccine passport would force passengers to reveal private health information.

A Florida law effective July 1st basically codified an executive order DeSantis issued back in April. Under the new law, a business could be fined $5,000 each time it asked a customer to provide proof that they had been vaccinated. With a capacity of 2,394 passengers, NCL could face a fine of $11,970,000 if it asked each passenger once to produce a vaccine passport. I see a sea of red ink here for the cruise line.

Doing what any reasonable business would do when facing a burdensome legal requirement, the cruise line called its lawyers. And, to no one’s surprise, a lawsuit was filed. Yes, NCL made a federal case out of the situation–literally. A preliminary injunction was sought in federal district court to prevent the State of Florida from enforcing the new law banning businesses from requesting a vaccine passport.

NCL claimed in its court paperwork that a vaccine passport ban would jeopardize public health and unconstitutionally infringe on its rights. In particular, the cruise line claimed that the First Amendment (read “free speech” rights) were violated. The State of Florida replied basically, “Uh, uh.” (Envision vigorous head shaking.)

After a two hour hearing on Friday, Judge Kathleen Williams issued a 59-page ruling on Sunday finding in NCL’s favor. This ruling is intriguing for several reasons. First, the wheels of justice did not grind slowly; they turned at lightning speed, ~48 hours to produce a decision. Second, the ruling was issued on a Sunday. Yes, Lady Justice turned a blind eye to the calendar with an important issue for determination. Third, that’s a lengthy decision to churn out in a two day span. Fourth, the ruling only applies to NCL. Other cruises lines sailing out of Florida will have to fight their own legal battles.

The entry of a preliminary injunction went over like a lead balloon with Gov. DeSantis. He was not just going to roll over. His office issued a statement that an appeal to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals would be forthcoming. In the meantime, passengers holding tickets for the August 15th sailing of the Norwegian Gem are sailing in a sea of uncertainty as to whether they will or will not ultimately have to produce a vaccine passport.

While it is easy to find your swimsuit and shorts to pack for a cruise, where do you locate your vaccine passport? And, by the way, what exactly is a vaccine passport? A vaccine passport is a physical or digital health credential used to confirm an individual has been vaccinated for a contagious disease to allow travel. Such a passport may be used even more broadly to allow the holder of the passport entry to a location such as a crowded concert which demands proof of vaccination. A vaccine passport could be in the form of a written certificate or a smartphone app.

Israel was the first country to issue a modern vaccine passport when it launched the Green Pass back in February. Green Pass holders are allowed access to restricted venues such as restaurants and gyms. As of May 2021, Israel, China, Bahrain, and Japan were the only countries who had issued vaccine passports to those who had been vaccinated for use in international travel and other purposes.

In the United States, New York was the first state to issue a digital vaccine passport. That state utilizes IBM’s Excelsior Pass app which displays a personalize QR code verifying vaccination status. This app was tested at a Nets basketball game and a New York Rangers hockey game in March 2021. The voluntary Excelsior Pass permits attendance at theaters, event venues, large weddings, and arenas. While the app and the pandemic remain, the New York governor is gone.

Is a national vaccine passport on the horizon? Not according to the White House which has emphatically stated it will not support a system requiring Americans to carry credentials.

While the pandemic lingers, the urge to travel grows stronger. People can only stay cooped up for so long. But traveling involves contact with others who may or may not be vaccinated. Since no end is in sight for the pandemic, a workable solution must be found to balance personal freedoms with public health. Sadly, the ultimate resolution is likely to be handed down by a court and not reached by people (vaccinated and unvaccinated) working together to find an acceptable way to move forward.

Just WONDER-ing:

Do you feel comfortable engaging in international travel at this point? Is having to show a vaccine passport an infringement of your personal freedoms and right to privacy? If yes, at what point does the common good justify imposing such a requirement if at all?

Attack of the Killer Drones!–UAV’s Aren’t Just for Fun

Drones are just for hobbyists and kids, right? WRONG! They can be effective and lethal weapons too as demonstrated by an attack on a commercial ship off the coast of Oman on July 30th. So, in addition to being wary of small viruses getting you, better keep your eyes open for small UAV’s as well.

Other than being a flying object, what exactly is a drone? A drone is an unmanned (or womaned for that matter) aerial vehicle (“UAV”) which is piloted by remote control or by an onboard computer. Drones were originally developed during the 20th century for military missions. Someone had the brilliant idea that humans should not be bothered with performing missions that could be characterized by one of three “D’s,”– that is dull, dangerous, or dirty.” Let the machines do that work!

Drones are not simply for use in ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance) for ground troops. Sure they can be outfitted with cameras to see what the enemy is up to. However, they may be designed for precision strike capability and outfitted with dangerous payloads such as explosives, chemicals, or biological hazards. The first military drone, the Predator, targeted Osama Bin Laden. Nevertheless, humans, in the form of Navy SEALS, were the ones to actually take the world’s most wanted man out.

Israel, a country which needs to be prepared for war at any minute, was the first country to manufacture drones. But it was a portable rotary wing attack drone produced in Turkey by STM which made big news in 2020. According to a U.N. Security Council report, an STM Kargu 2 drone loaded with explosives detected and attacked a human target in Libya. So what? Isn’t that what the drone was built to do? Yeah, but the catch was that the drone carried out the attack without command, i.e., on its own initiative. Apparently this is no dumb drone. Scary, yes. Dumb, no.

A drone attack last week resulted in two fatalities. The oil tanker Mercer Street, empty of cargo, was en route from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania to Fujairah, United Arab Emirates. Who would target such a vessel? Well, let’s see. It was a Liberian-flagged and Japanese owned ship managed by the London-based Zodiac Maritime, a part of Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer’s Zodiac Group. Thus, the possibilities are quite broad.

But the most likely suspect is Iran. That country is the principal user of one-way explosive drones, also known as “suicide drones.” These drones are loaded with explosives set to detonate upon impact. And, to put it mildly, Iran as been making a nuisance of itself with its nuclear deal in shreds leading to heightened tensions in the region.

The oil tanker with the bull’s eye on it was a whopping 28,400 registered gross tons, referring to the measurement of the volume of all enclosed spaces on the ship. Thus, the Mercer Street was no small target. But the thing targeting it was small, a “kamikaze drone.” As the vessel proceeded through the northern Indian Ocean off the coast of Oman beyond Omani territorial waters, it attracted small visitors. First, an unsuccessful drone attack occurred; fortunately for the oil tanker, the drone fell in the water causing no harm.

But whoever sent the drone subscribes to the philosophy “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” The second attack was the charm, from the attacker’s perspective that is. A subsequently sent drone hit the vessel blasting a hole through the top of the oil tanker’s bridge where the captain and the crew command the vessel. Two people on board were killed; one was a Romanian crew member and the other was a British national serving as a security guard.

The tanker sent out a mayday call to which the U.S. Navy responded. (Uncle Sam is helpful like that.) The USS Ronald Reagan and the guided missile destroyer USS Mitscher escorted the damaged vessel to a safe port. Meanwhile, no one claimed responsibility for the attack. Israeli officials, however, quickly pointed the finger of blame at Iran. Coincidentally (or likely NOT), three other similar attacks on Israeli-linked ships have occurred since February.

The United States and the U.K. have joined Israel in blaming Iran for the drone attack. On Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken issued a statement indicating the U.S. is “confident” Iran conducted the attack. His statement noted Iran is increasingly utilizing the “lethal capability” of one-way explosive drones in that region. Bolstering this conclusion is the fact pro-Iran forces have used drones to attack U.S. forces in Iraq and that Iran has trafficked drone technology to Hamas, Hezebollah, Iraqi militias, and Yemeni Houthis. Yikes! I think of arms dealing as missiles, assault weapons, and bombs, but drones clearly need to be included in the “arms” category.

Recognizing drones are a real threat, the U.S. military has taken steps to counteract use of such technology. For example, the U.S. Air Force is seeking prototypes for a microwave based anti-drone system. A research lab at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico will be building an advanced version of THOR (Tactical High-Powered Operational Responder) which uses bursts of intense radio waves to instantly disable small unmanned aircraft systems. The program is scheduled to begin this fall with a delivery of the prototype weapon in 2023. (So, hey Iran, hold off on any drone attacks until then!)

Meanwhile, back in the Middle East, ships not only need to watch their backs (isn’t that aft in nautical terms?) but look overhead for threatening drones. In the olden days, ships feared seeing a ship flying a skull and crossbones on the horizon. Today, it is small flying objects with rotary blades which prey on innocent vessels which may be appearing. Yes, lethal things are coming in small packages. Beware the killer drones!

Just WONDER-ing:

Have you ever flown a drone? Were you aware that drones could be used for military and lethal purposes? How can ships protect themselves from such objects?

How Low Can They Go? Extreme Drought Reduces Western Lake Levels To Historic Lows

Finally, a shortage of something we can’t blame on the pandemic. What don’t we have enough of now? WATER. While we may be able to survive, although perhaps not comfortably or healthily, without toilet paper and Lysol wipes, humans simply must have water to live. Extreme drought conditions in the western United States are concerning as they have reduced levels of water bodies to historic lows. What’s going on and how bad is it really?

The fact that a drought is occurring does not in and of itself spell doom. Droughts are recurring climate events in most parts of the world. In fact, droughts are among the earliest documented weather events in human history. For example, the story of Joseph in the Bible is tied to agricultural shortages due to drought. Unfortunately, droughts are becoming more unpredictable and more extreme due to climate change.

Some folks may not be able to spell drought (HINT: Don’t rely on phonetics) much less be able to define it. So what exactly is a drought? A drought occurs when there is a prolonged period of abnormally low precipitation, either rain or snow. Effects of a drought include crop damage, water shortage, diminished water flow, and reduced soil moisture. Whether you look to water for drinking, growing crops, or a recreational venue, a drought spells bad news. (At least “bad news” is easier to spell than “drought.”)

The length of time a drought may last is one of its unpredictable characteristics. First of all, it is hard to tell when a drought commences because its effects don’t appear until after a prolonged period of low precipitation. Once underway, it can last for months or even (GASP!) years.

When asked to identify a devastating weather event, people are likely to say a hurricane or tornado. Nevertheless, according to the National Geographic Society, droughts are the second most costly weather event after hurricanes. A big part of that cost is agricultural losses. Why? Because water is needed to grow crops. While “agricultural losses” may not seem a daunting phrase, read that effect as meaning food production takes a hit. There will be less food to put on the table, and the food that is available will be more expensive.

Over 150 million acres of crops in the western U.S. are touched by at least a moderate drought right now. What specific agricultural losses could result? This year’s spring wheat harvest is 41% below the 2020 level. Producing almost half as much of this grain as the previous year’s output is a steep drop. Add oats to the drought’s hit list as well. According to Bloomberg.com, this year’s U.S. oat crop is expected to be the smallest since 1866. Yes, that’s 1866, over a century and a half ago. Yikes!

OK, but that’s just grain. But wait; there’s more! One hundred percent of the State of California is experiencing drought conditions at the present time. The Golden State produces 1/3 of the country’s vegetables and 2/3 of its fruits and nuts. Without sufficient water for the state’s crops, the entire country will suffer from the greatly reduced bounty from the land.

According to scientists, climate change intensifies drought conditions. What the western U.S. is now undergoing has been referred to as a “megadrought.” This time last year only about 20% of the West was experiencing “severe drought.” That number is up to 80% this year, and the area affected comprises nearly half of the continental United States and affects over 70 million people.

Utah is especially hard hit with more than 99% of that state classified as in extreme to exceptional drought, the two most severe levels on the U.S. Drought Monitor. Utah’s Great Salt Lake, the largest natural natural lake west of the Mississippi River, has seen water levels plummet to a historic low, breaking a record set over 50 years ago in 1963. Even scarier? It’s not even the point of the year when that water body typically hits its lowest levels. Thus, water levels are likely to continue dropping. How low will they go? We probably don’t want to know.

The Great Salt Lake is not the only water body getting slammed by the drought. Water levels at Lake Powell, the second largest reservoir in the country, have also reached a record low. As of Sunday, the lake had fallen to 33% capacity. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said last week it expects the lake’s elevation to drop another two feet by the end of this month. This declining water level threatens the Glen Canyon Dam’s capacity to produce hydropower for a number of states including Arizona, Colorado, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. Uh, oh! Less water, less food, and now less power.

Back in June, the nation’s largest reservoir, Lake Mead which is located near Las Vegas, hit a record-low water level as well. I’m betting that’s not a good omen for Western residents. Both Lake Mead and Lake Powell are fed by the Colorado River and provide a critical supply of drinking water as well as water for irrigation for farms, ranches, and Native American communities. The two reservoirs are part of a river system supplying over 40 million people over seven states and Mexico. The handwriting on the wall is that people are going to have no choice but to institute water conservation measures.

These drought conditions should be a splash of cold water in our faces. We must realize our existence is tied to our environment. We have to recognize that water is a valuable resource and grasp just how dependent we are upon its availability. We need to give some thought to the future, both near and distant, and how we might better utilize and conserve what water is available. Turning a blind eye to droughts won’t solve the problem, and if you think it will, you’re all wet.

Just WONDER-ing:

Do you take the availability of water for drinking and other uses for granted? Did you realize the drought in the West was so severe? Do the current extreme drought conditions affect your thinking about the impact of climate change in any way? If so, how?

A Cigar To Whomever Can Unravel The Mystery Of The Havana Syndrome

Hear the word “Havana,” and you probably think of palm trees, cigars, and rum. But these days the Cuban capital is known for being the first place mysterious attacks on U.S. intelligence officers, diplomats, and government officials were reported. In fact, the result of such attacks bears the city’s name; it’s called the Havana Syndrome. But the Havana Syndrome has spread to other countries around the world causing enough concern for a U.S. Government inquiry to be commenced.

Unlike COVID-19 which strikes any and all people regardless of race, creed, or country of origin, the Havana Syndrome is found in a narrow group. The typical victim is a U.S. citizen who is a government employee. Over 200 Americans have come forward with symptoms of Havana Syndrome. Almost half of these individuals were CIA officers or their relatives; another 60 cases involved Department of Defense officials with an additional 50 being connected to the State Department. This target group seems pretty suspicious to me and to many others as well. And the more you know, the more suspicious it becomes.

The Havana Syndrome is a set of medical issues reported by U.S. embassy staff in Cuba dating back to 2016. Its symptoms include sudden vertigo, nausea, headaches, and head pressure. Those affected experienced an abrupt onset of health problems. The victim hears strange, high-pitched grating noises from a specific direction which continue for anywhere from 20 seconds to 30 minutes. Besides the sound, feelings of pressure or vibration might accompany the debilitating symptoms. These events always happen at home or in a hotel room. So much for staying quarantined at home to avoid health issues.

The physical consequences of such incidents do not end when the strange noises end. Victims have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries. For example, Marc Polymeropoulos, the CIA Deputy Chief of Operations for Europe and Eurasia, suffered a round-the-clock migraine from a brain injury and was forced to retire at age 50.

The vast majority of Havana Syndrome cases reported have occurred overseas. Besides Cuba, such cases have also appeared in China, Russia, and Uzbekistan. Marc Polymeropoulos, for example, suffered an attack leading to symptoms while on a brief visit to Moscow. In 2018, about a dozen staffers were evacuated from the American consulate in Guangzhou, China due to medical incidents. Most recently, a Vienna, Austria cluster of cases affecting around 24 Americans has come to light; this number of cases is second only to those documented in Cuba.

More alarming is the fact such incidents are occurring in or near our nation’s capital. In 2019, a White House official walking her dog in a Virginia suburb was attacked and suffered Havana Syndrome symptoms. Another incident took place in November 2020 on the Ellipse, the lawn adjacent to the south side of the White House; the victim was an official of the National Security Council. Several weeks later, another incident happened near the entrance to the White House. What’s next? The Oval Office?

So these incidents are being described as “attacks.” This word choice indicates the events are not randomly occurring; the victims are being targeted. But by what?

To date the specifics are unclear, but reports indicate the symptoms experienced arise from direct energy attacks. The symptoms are consistent with the effects of directed microwave energy which Russia has studied for a long time. American biologist Allan H. Frey’s work back in 1961-1962 found high-intensity microwave beams can produce a sensation of an odd loud noise and cause brain damage without any head trauma. The plot thickens!

During the Cold War, the U.S. feared Russia was using microwave radiation as a secret weapon that could produce “neural impact.” In fact, in 1976 the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency warned back that microwave research by the Soviets show much promise for disrupting the behavior patterns of military or diplomatic personnel. To my non-scientific mind, this sounds like a plot in a James Bond movie.

But a December 2020 report by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine concluded “directed, pulsed radio frequency energy appears to be the most plausible mechanism in explaining these cases….” According to the scientific experts, a “directed” action indicates the energy was not simply randomly dispersed by something like a cell phone. One possibility is that a satellite dish mounted on a small van could have been used to direct microwave beams at a target through walls and windows from as far away as a couple of miles. So, Mr. CIA Guy can’t simply look out the window and determine the coast is clear from enemy interference or attack.

The top Democrat and the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee have warned that the pattern of these attacks appears to be increasing. So do we know who is behind these attacks in order to stop them? In 2017 President Trump accused Cuba of perpetrating these attacks. Consequently, the U.S. reduced staff at the embassy in Havana to a minimum. However, once the attacks began occurring globally, a new villain was identified. Both the Trump and the Biden administrations see Russia as the actor likely responsible. (Did you get that? Trump and Biden AGREE on an issue.) Makes sense to me. Putin has been known to poison his opponents such as Alexei Navalny, so aiming microwave bursts at U.S. intelligence officers isn’t a big leap.

But since the attacks have hit so close to home (home being Washington, D.C. for our government’s leaders), inquiry into these mysterious attacks is moving forward. The Biden Administration is encouraging U.S. officials to come forward if they are experiencing symptoms so help can be given to them and additional information obtained. Also, a new panel of experts was established in July to look into the matter. Serving on the panel are senior CIA officials, outside scientific and medical experts, and senior officials from the Office of Director of National Intelligence. Here’s hoping that those in intelligence will use theirs to get to the bottom of what and who is causing people to suffer from the Havana Syndrome. It couldn’t hurt to see if James Bond is available for an assist since he’s on hiatus from the movie theaters due to COVID-19.

It’s scary enough to think our enemies might be out to harm us by tangible, visible means such as guns and bombs. But invisible threats are are even scarier. I’d have never thought of microwaves as a dangerous thing. I’ll approach my microwave to pop popcorn way more cautiously now. While I’d love to visit Havana one day, I don’t care to experience the Havana Syndrome in the meantime.

Just WONDER-ing:

What’s your guess as to who is behind these attacks? How concerning to you is it that these attacks are occurring in the United States and near the White House? Does the use of microwaves as a weapon sound like something out of a James Bond movie to you?