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Climate Change, Wildfires, Life on Venus: Your Monday Evening Briefing

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Good evening. Here’s the latest.

To the global scientific community, the ash-filled skies are the tragic, but predictable, result of accelerating climate change. Federal government scientists predicted two years ago that greenhouse gas emissions could triple the frequency of severe fires across the Western states.

2. New signs of life — on Venus.

There was awe, excitement and plenty of wry jokes about heading there after scientists asserted today that something now alive is the only explanation for the existence of a chemical, phosphine, detected high in the planet’s toxic atmosphere. The discovery needs to be confirmed by additional telescope observations and future space missions.

In the meantime, a question: Did humanity overlook a planet that may have once been more Earthlike than any other in our solar system?


3. A top government health official made outlandish and false claims about government scientists and left-wing hit squads.

Michael Caputo, 58, the assistant secretary of public affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services, delivered his broadside in a video on his Facebook page, saying that he was under siege by the news media.

“I don’t like being alone in Washington,” Mr. Caputo said, describing “shadows on the ceiling in my apartment, there alone, shadows are so long.” He said his mental health had “definitely failed.” Above, Mr. Caputo at a Republican campaign event in Staten Island in May.

Mr. Caputo accused career government scientists of “sedition” in their handling of the coronavirus pandemic, and said left-wing hit squads were preparing for armed insurrection after the presidential election. He also said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was harboring a “resistance unit” determined to undermine President Trump.

4. Yes, another hurricane.

Forecasters expect Sally to make landfall on Tuesday, barraging a stretch of the Gulf Coast from west of New Orleans to Alabama with a potentially lethal storm surge, powerful winds and the threat of flash flooding.

In New Orleans and beyond, residents are loading up sandbags and stocking up on supplies, heeding warnings from officials. “We need people to take this storm very seriously,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said. Our map shows its expected path. Above, businesses bracing for the storm in the French Quarter in New Orleans.

Only last month, Hurricane Laura grew into one of the most powerful storms Louisiana had confronted, striking as a Category 4.


He reiterated that the companies have until Sept. 20 to reach an agreement that satisfies the administration’s concerns that TikTok, a popular social media app, poses a national security threat.

ByteDance has fought to keep control over its wildly popular platform for dancing teens and young influencers. One big reason: The days of fast internet fortunes and meteoric digital growth in its home market may be coming to an end.


6. Is the mail getting slower? We’re tracking it.

In July and August, when a public outcry arose over late mail, data shows there was indeed slower delivery from the U.S. Postal Service.

It was in July that postal workers were ordered to change the longstanding practice of holding trucks at sorting facilities until all of that morning’s mail was on board. Many experts pointed to that change as having an almost immediate effect on the timeliness of mail delivery.

Since then, on-time delivery has slightly improved. But for first-class mail — like letters and postcards — the system has remained slower.

We’re tracking about 54,000 pieces of mail a day from four cities around the country, and we’ll have updates in coming weeks.


7. Disney’s “Mulan” fizzled in China.

Aiming for a hit in the world’s No. 2 movie market, the filmmakers had hired a team of consultants and historians, cut a kiss scene after a test audience objected and shot scenery across China.

But the remake ended up being mocked in the country for historical inaccuracies and stereotyping.

“The movie is a waste of Mulan’s innocent name; it really is heartbreaking,” said Qiu Tian, 30, a Beijing university teacher who saw the movie.


8. Mexico’s presidential plane is not just a plane.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico campaigned in part on a promise to sell the $130 million Boeing Dreamliner — complete with king size bed, above, and treadmill — that he said was a symbol of the lavish lifestyles of previous leaders.

But his attempts to sell, raffle or otherwise divest the government of the plane failed. Another raffle is set for Tuesday — but this time the plane’s only involvement is to decorate the tickets, of which the government itself bought nearly $24 million worth.

“The plane is a symbol that he’s not willing to let go,” said Ana Paula Ordorica, a Mexican newspaper columnist and television host. “The two rallying cries of this president are the fight against corruption, and austerity, and the plane allows him to address both.”


9. Pearls are now a boy’s best friend.

In the early 16th century, long strands of the luminous orbs adorned the Indian emperor Babur and his male descendants.

10. And finally, what football is without fans.

The emptiness of the Superdome for Sunday’s matchup between the New Orleans Saints and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, above, lent an eeriness to football’s return without one of its most loyal congregations.

The air horns of the assistant coaches were unnecessarily loud. The national anthem was piped in. The scoreboard competitions and dog-fetching exhibitions were absent.

The game could have been anywhere, our columnist writes. Tonight, the Pittsburgh Steelers visit the New York Giants, and the Tennessee Titans face the Denver Broncos in similarly empty stadiums.

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