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Voting Rights, Omicron, André Leon Talley: Your Wednesday Evening Briefing

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Good evening. Here’s the latest at the end of Wednesday.

1. U.S. senators spent the day debating voting rights.

Democratic senators pleaded today for the passage of far-reaching federal voting rights protections, and party leaders announced they would mount a long-shot effort to establish an exception to the filibuster to pass it.

At about 6:30 p.m., the Senate is set to vote to cut off debate. Every senator who caucuses with the Democrats supports it, but a Republican filibuster will block the measure from reaching a final vote. The Democrats’ plan for an exception to the filibuster cannot succeed at this point, given resistance from at least two Democratic senators.

In a lengthy news conference, President Biden said he did not anticipate that Republicans would mount such a “stalwart effort” to block his agenda, but said he was optimistic that he could pass some form of voting rights legislation, as well as “big chunks” of his stalled social-spending bill.

Separately, Biden predicted in the news conference that Russia would invade Ukraine, saying of Vladimir Putin, the Russian president: “My guess is he will move in. He has to do something.”

2. The Omicron variant’s surge is staggered across the U.S., according to experts on the nation’s wastewater.

Since people who contract the coronavirus shed the virus in their stool, the viral levels in local wastewater provide a strong, independent signal of how much is circulating.

A company tracking wastewater in 183 communities across 25 states found that levels have already begun to decline in many big cities but were still rising in smaller communities. While viral loads have plummeted in New York City and the Boston area, the virus may not have yet peaked in parts of Ohio, Utah, Florida and wide swaths of rural Missouri.

Separately, the Biden administration said that it is making 400 million N95 masks available for free at community health centers and retail pharmacies.

A new study suggests that men are slightly more vulnerable to succumbing to the virus than women are. Social factors — like job types, behavioral patterns and underlying health issues — may play a big role.

3. Newly declassified footage provides additional details about a botched U.S. drone strike in Kabul in August.

The disclosure of the videos is the first time any footage from the strike that killed 10 people, including seven children, has been seen publicly. The recordings — about 25 minutes of silent video from two drones — contain murky scenes, but it is clear that the evidence they provided was misinterpreted by those who decided to fire. The risk of error was heightened by striking in a densely populated neighborhood.

The Times obtained the footage through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. The disclosure is a rare step by the U.S. military in the case of an airstrike that killed civilians and is likely to add fuel to a debate about the rules for drone warfare and protections for civilians.

4. Letitia James accused the Trump Organization of repeatedly misrepresenting the value of its assets.

The filing was a response to Donald Trump’s recent effort to block James, the New York attorney general, from questioning him and two of his adult children under oath as part of a civil investigation of his business, the Trump Organization. It outlined what James’s office termed misleading statements about the value of at least six Trump properties, as well as the “Trump brand.”

Among the accusations: Investigators said Trump falsely inflated the size of his Trump Tower penthouse by nearly 20,000 square feet.

5. Tonga faces weeks of digital darkness after a huge eruption on Saturday night severed the island nation’s single undersea internet cable.

A repair ship from Fiji is not expected to reach Tonga until Feb. 1. Workers must retrieve two sections of damaged cable — that is roughly the width of a garden hose — from the ocean floor and splice in replacements, with the threat of further volcanic activity ever-present.

The only word about Tonga’s immediate needs has come through the country’s few satellite phones. The Red Cross said today that drinking water supplies had been severely affected by ash and saltwater, and that two New Zealand Navy vessels were expected to arrive on Friday with large stores of water. Tonga’s main airport remained closed as workers tried to remove ash from a runway.

Here’s a map of the devastation.

6. Old photos are revealing the future of Arctic glaciers.

For a long time, predicting the rate that ice would retreat took guesswork. Now, using more than 5,500 black-and-white photos taken in the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard in the 1930s, scientists are creating digital models of the glaciers to illuminate the ways they have changed.

One of the largest reconstructions points to an unsettling conclusion: Svalbard’s glaciers could thin twice as fast in this century as they did in the last.

In other environmental news, a study on rising temperatures and children found that hotter days were associated with more visits to emergency rooms.

7. André Leon Talley, the larger-than-life fashion editor who rose from the Jim Crow South to the front rows of Paris couture, has died.

A rare Black editor at the top of a field that was notoriously white and notoriously elitist, Talley parlayed his encyclopedic knowledge of fashion history and his quick wit into roles as author, public speaker, television personality and curator.

His many positions over his career included the receptionist at Interview magazine under Andy Warhol, the Paris bureau chief of Women’s Wear Daily and the creative director and editor at large of Vogue. He was, said the actress Whoopi Goldberg, “so many things he was not supposed to be.” He was 73.

8. In Abu Dhabi, a desert becomes a golf oasis.

The HSBC Championship takes place this week at Yas Links Abu Dhabi, a course ranked among the top 50 in the world by Golf Digest. But the land bordering the Persian Gulf is a far cry from Scotland’s foggy moorlands.

Because of limited water resources, the course uses paspalum, a grass that thrives in salty water. It’s also a sticky variety that can grab the ball and pose difficulties for golfers. But the biggest challenge, according to the architect, was dealing with the heat, with summer temperatures regularly hitting more than 100 Fahrenheit — and humidity that can rise as high as 86 percent.

Here’s whom to watch in the tournament.

9. A morning workout affects metabolism very differently than the same workout does later in the day, according to a study with mice.

When the mice jogged at the start of their active time — equivalent to morning for us — they signaled greater reliance on fat for fuel than blood sugar, and the opposite occurred in later workouts. The study’s researchers are working on a comparable experiment involving people; if those patterns hold true, we may be better able to time our workouts to achieve specific health goals.

In other health news, experts told The Times about the upsides of anxiety.

10. And finally, the man who makes clowns cry.

Philippe Gaulier has taught clowns for about half a century. Alumni of his school who have weathered his process — which embraces insults — include Sacha Baron Cohen, Emma Thompson and Kathryn Hunter.

Compared with other clowning teachers, Gaulier, who is French, does not emphasize technique or physical virtuosity. He aims for something more intangible, a sense of play onstage. The most important quality in a clown is keeping things light and present, and, as he says with the utmost respect, stupid.

Finding “your idiot,” as he calls it, is the essence of clowning. “A clown is a special kind of idiot, absolutely different and innocent,” he said. “A marvelous idiot.”

Have a playful night.

Angela Jimenez and Guillermo Hernandez Martinez compiled photos for this briefing.

Your Evening Briefing is posted at 6 p.m. Eastern.

Want to catch up on past briefings? You can browse them here.

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