January 27, 2022

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First Thing: Fauci cautiously optimistic about Omicron variant severity | US news

Good morning.

Dismissing as “preposterous” a Republican senator’s claim he is “overhyping” Covid-19 as he did HIV and Aids, Dr Anthony Fauci said on Sunday the threat to the US from the Omicron variant remained to be determined – but that signs were encouraging.

“Thus far – though it’s too early to really make any definitive statements about it – it does not look like there’s a great degree of severity to it,” Fauci told CNN’s State of the Union.

“But we have really got to be careful before we make any determinations that [Omicron] is less severe or it really doesn’t cause any severe illness comparable to Delta.”

Fauci’s evident caution stood at odds with the bizarre accusation made by the Wisconsin senator Ron Johnson, who told Fox News this week Fauci had overhyped Aids and created all kinds of fear. He said: “He’s using the exact same playbook for Covid.”

  • What did Fauci say about Johnson? “Overhyping Aids? It’s killed over 750,000 Americans and 36 million people worldwide. How do you overhype Covid? It’s already killed 780,000 Americans and over 5 million people worldwide. So, I don’t have any clue of what he’s talking about.”

  • How bad is the spread of Omicron? The variant has been detected in 15 US states. Fauci was cautiously optimistic current vaccines might work against it.

Republicans confident supreme court will overturn abortion rights

Abortion rights advocates and anti-abortion protesters have been demonstrating in front of the supreme court. Photograph: Andrew Harnik/AP

As the supreme court weighs the future of abortion access in America, Republicans expressed confidence on Sunday that the landmark 1973 Roe v Wade decision would soon be overturned, paving the way for a raft of anti-abortion legislation around the country next year.

On Wednesday, the supreme court heard arguments over a Mississippi law that bans abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

Observers suggested that the conservative supermajority on the court appeared poised to uphold the law and potentially go further by overturning Roe, which protects a woman’s right to choose. A decision is not expected until June next year.

Mississippi’s governor, Tate Reeves, told CNN’s State of the Union he had “some reason for optimism” after this week’s arguments. He also confirmed that if the landmark ruling was overturned entirely, Mississippi would enforce a ban on almost all abortions in the state under a so-called “trigger law”.

  • What do Americans think about overturning Roe v Wade? According to recent polling, seven in 10 are opposed to overturning the landmark ruling while 59% believe abortion should be legal in all or most circumstances.

Trump attacks media and Mark Milley in foul-mouthed Mar-a-Lago speech

Donald Trump during his first post-presidency campaign rally in Wellington, Ohio, on 26 June 2021.
Donald Trump during his first post-presidency campaign rally in Wellington, Ohio, on 26 June 2021. Photograph: Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

In remarks to diners at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida on Saturday night, Donald Trump called the American media “crooked bastards” and Gen Mark Milley, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, a “fucking idiot”.

The meandering, foul-mouthed speech to Turning Point USA, a group for young conservatives, was streamed by Jack Posobiec, a rightwing blogger and provocateur.

The insult to the press recalled barbs while Trump was in power, including calling reporters and editors “fake news” and the “enemy of the people”, attacks many in the media regarded as dangerous, inviting political violence.

“The country is at a very important, dangerous place,” Trump said, amid familiar lies about his defeat in the 2020 election, which he says was the result of electoral fraud.

  • Why did Trumo mention Milley? He insulted Milley as part of a long complaint about Joe Biden’s handling of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. He regularly complains about Milley, particularly over his portrayal in bestselling books as a key figure in efforts to contain Trump at the end of his time in power.

In other news …

Ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi
Ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi Photograph: Christophe Archambault/AFP/Getty Images
  • Aung San Suu Kyi has been sentenced to four years in prison for incitement and breaking Covid restrictions – the first verdict to be handed down to Myanmar’s ousted leader since the junta seized power in February. The 76-year-old has been accused of a series of offences that her lawyer previously described as “absurd”.

  • Tributes have been paid to Bob Dole, the longtime Kansas senator who was the Republican nominee for president in 1996, who has died at the age of 98. Joe Biden called Dole “an American statesman like few in our history, a war hero and among the greatest of the greatest generation”.

  • Chinese weather authorities successfully controlled the weather ahead of a major political celebration earlier this year, according to a Beijing university study. On 1 July, an extensive cloud-seeding operation in the hours prior ensured clear skies and low air pollution for a political celebration.

  • Joe Biden has restored tradition by returning to the Kennedy Center Honors after four years in which the annual gala was snubbed by then president Donald Trump and upended by the coronavirus pandemic. Biden was joined by Jill Biden, Kamala Harris, and Nancy Pelosi, among others.

Stat of the day: only 34% of Americans describe their mental health as ‘excellent

A woman looks at Christmas trees in New York, US
‘Despite vaccinations, we still see that people are not back to pre-pandemic levels of wellbeing.’ Photograph: Xinhua/REX/Shutterstock

A Gallup poll conducted in November found that, like last year, only 34% of Americans describe their mental health as “excellent”. Those are the lowest levels in two decades. Even though many people in the US are vaccinated, the country’s population continues to suffer from anxiety and depression. And now there are fresh worries about the Omicron variant and the impact it could have on public life this winter. If Omicron does lead to another Covid-19 surge, the impact on mental health will be serious.

Don’t miss this: Chris Noth on feuds, family and Mr Big

Chris Noth
Chris Noth: ‘If I can be a small part of what people think of as New York City, that’s a really lovely thing.’ Photograph: Steve Sands/NewYorkNewswire/Bauer-Griffin/REX/Shutterstock

The Sex and the City star is back for the reboot, And Just Like That … Here he talks to Hadley Freeman about bereavement, rebellion, the fun of acting – and the absence of Kim Cattrall. He was actually hesitant about returning himself, he says, because he felt, not unreasonably, that he had taken Big as far as he could. So what convinced him otherwise? “A conversation with [the show’s writer and director] Michael Patrick King. It was a long conversation, it continued through the pandemic and he took in a lot of my ideas and we came up with a way for me to work into it.”

Climate check: why some of your favorite podcasts are filled with oil company ads

ExxonMobil’s ad which emphasizes its work to scale up carbon capture as a climate solution has been called greenwashing.
ExxonMobil’s ad, which emphasizes its work to scale up carbon capture as a climate solution, has been called greenwashing. Photograph: Kathleen Flynn/Reuters

If you’re a regular listener of the New York Times podcast The Daily, you would have heard an ad for ExxonMobil’s carbon capture investments more than once in November. Similar ads have run on NPR podcasts, including Invisibilia and Up First that suggest they are taking aggressive climate action. Climate experts call them greenwashing but why the sudden interest in podcasts? One reason could be explained in the different ways advertising is regulated on newer media compared with the stricter rules around adverts on legacy media such as print and radio.

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Last Thing: mountaineer given jewels he found on French glacier 50 years after plane crash

Mont Blanc mountain and the Glacier de Bionnassay in summer, French Alps, France, EuropeEEY58K Mont Blanc mountain and the Glacier de Bionnassay in summer, French Alps, France, Europe
The precious stones found in a glacier in 2013 were likely to have come from a 1966 plane crash into Mont Blanc. Photograph: incamerastock/Alamy

A treasure trove of emeralds, rubies and sapphires buried for decades on a glacier off France’s Mont Blanc has finally been shared between the climber who discovered them and local authorities, eight years after they were found. The mountaineer stumbled across the precious stones in 2013. They had remained hidden in a metal box that was onboard an Indian plane that crashed in the desolate landscape about 50 years earlier. “The stones have been shared this week” in two equal lots valued at about €150,000 ($169,000) each, Chamonix mayor Eric Fournier said.