—TransCanada has filed an application to construct the Keystone XL pipeline, a 1,200-mile-long oil pipeline that would connect the tar sands of Alberta to oil refineries in Nebraska. More here
—Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto announced on Twitter he’s canceled his visit next week to the U.S. to meet with President Trump over the American leader’s insistence Mexico will pay for a wall the U.S. wants to build on its southern border to keep away illegal immigrants. More here
—We’re tracking the news stories of the day below. All updates are in Eastern Standard Time (GMT -5).
TransCanada Files a New Application to Build the Keystone XL Pipeline
TransCanada has filed an application to construct the Keystone XL pipeline, a 1,200-mile-long oil pipeline that would connect the tar sands of Alberta to oil refineries in Nebraska, according to Reuters. President Trump invited the Canadian energy company to re-submit the pipeline for approval in an executive order on Tuesday. The application now formally sets the Keystone XL pipeline back in motion, bringing the infrastructure project closer to reality. According to the same executive order, the U.S. State Department now has 60 days to approve or reject the company’s application, and it may not prepare a new environmental-impact statement for the pipeline.
The construction of the pipeline would represent a significant hit to former President Obama’s environmental legacy. In November 2015, Obama denied TransCanada’s first application to build the Keystone XL pipeline after it became a rallying symbol of the climate movement. Bill McKibben, a journalist and activist, said that the construction of Keystone XL would be “game over” for the planet, as it would allow the extraction and combustion of the especially dirty oil present in the Tar Sands. As I wrote on Wednesday, many U.S. environmental activists trace the origins of the country’s grassroots climate movement back to the mass protests opposing Keystone XL.
With no Keystone XL pipeline, many oil extractors have resorted to shipping oil across the continent on trucks or trains. On top of this, others have stopped exploring for oil in the tar sands, as crude prices are now too low to justify drilling. On Wednesday, Russ Girling, the CEO of TransCanada, said that he wasn’t sure if shippers would use the pipeline if his company built it. Now we find out.
Chile Battles Its Worst Wildfires in Modern History
This post was updated on January 27 at 5:38 p.m ET.
The death toll has risen to at least 10 Friday in the wildfires that have spread throughout central Chile. Mario Fernandez, Chile’s interior minister, said Thursday the victims include two police officers were found in the Maule River, as well as four firefighters. Though wildfires are not uncommon in Chile, historically high temperatures and a nearly decade-long drought contributed to conditions that sparked blazes the likes of which Chilean President Michelle Bachelet said “we have never seen… never in Chile’s history.” Since Chile declared a state of emergency last week, the country has recorded more than 100 separate fires, which have burned nearly 500,000 acres—an area more than twice the size of New York City. Other countries, including the U.S., Russia, France, Peru, and Mexico, have contributed to the relief effort. As of Friday, Chile’s Conaf forestry service estimates that 72 fires have yet to be controlled.
Mexican President Peña Nieto Cancels Meeting with Trump
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto announced on Twitter he’s canceled his visit next week to the U.S. to meet with President Trump over the American leader’s insistence Mexico will pay for a wall the U.S. wants to build on its southern border to keep away illegal immigrants. Trump on Wednesday issued an executive order affirming his intention to build the wall—in line with a longstanding campaign promise. Mexico has consistently said it will not pay for such a structure.
Esta mañana hemos informado a la Casa Blanca que no asistiré a la reunión de trabajo programada para el próximo martes con el @POTUS.
Last Bodies Recovered From Italian Hotel, Rescuers Say
The remaining bodies of the victims killed in last week’s deadly avalanche have been recovered from the wreckage, Italian authorities said Thursday, bringing the final death toll to 29. You can read more about the avalanche and the recovery process here.
Greece's Supreme Court Rules Against Extraditing Coup-Linked Turkish Soldiers
Greece's Supreme Court has ruled against extraditing to Turkey eight Turkish soldiers linked to last July’s coup attempt against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The countries have had traditionally tense relations, but are both members of NATO and, as such, are allies. Turkey wants the soldiers, who fled to Greece by helicopter, returned so they can stand trial. Erdogan has cracked down on the military, the media, and government, and civil society after the coup attempt. Thousands of people have been arrested and tens of thousands have lost their jobs. The Greek Supreme Court’s decision is final and cannot be appealed.
Justices love to proclaim their impartiality, all evidence to the contrary.
Justice Amy Coney Barrett is offended by those questioning the impartiality of the Supreme Court.
“This Court is not comprised of a bunch of partisan hacks,” she announced at a recent event at the University of Louisville’s McConnell Center, named for Senator Mitch McConnell. “Judicial philosophies are not the same as political parties.”
For Barrett to insist on her nonpartisanship at a center named for the legislator whose procedural hardball was instrumental in securing her seat suggests that, although Barrett’s peers have praised her legal mind, her sense of irony leaves something to be desired. But then, it’s not much more absurd than her colleague Justice Brett Kavanaugh insisting on his impartiality days after vowing revenge against the left while under oath. Similarly, Justice Clarence Thomas recently warned against “destroying our institutions because they don’t give us what we want, when we want it,” complaining that “the media makes it sound as though you are just always going right to your personal preference.” Next month, Thomas will give a keynote address at a symposium celebrating his years on the Court at the right-wing Heritage Foundation, alongside McConnell.
Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser on the future of COVID-19 vaccination and how to prevent the next pandemic
A week after FDA and CDC advisory committees clashed on the nuances of when and whether to recommend COVID-19 booster shots, Anthony Fauci told my colleague Ed Yong that he still believes third doses of the mRNA vaccines are crucial, suggesting once again that they will eventually be part of a standard regimen.
As those committees deliberated, the experts considered qualitative evidence on the shots’ safety and efficacy, but also kept getting stuck on two larger conceptual questions. First: What, exactly, is the point of offering third shots? Skeptics of large-scale boosting argue that the COVID-19 vaccines were designed to prevent severe hospitalization and death, while third shots seem more likely to offer (temporary) protection against infection and mild disease. In their view, boosting wouldn’t offer any meaningful gains. “I reject that,” Fauci, who serves as Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, said at The Atlantic Festival today. “I think we should be preventing people from getting sick from COVID even if they don’t wind up in the hospital.”
This has become a common refrain among the cautious—and it’s wrong.
For many fully vaccinated Americans, the Delta surge spoiled what should’ve been a glorious summer. Those who had cast their masks aside months ago were asked to dust them off. Many are still taking no chances. Some have even returned to all the same precautions they took before getting their shots, including avoiding the company of other fully vaccinated people.
Among this last group, a common refrain I’ve heard to justify their renewed vigilance is that “vaccinated people are just as likely to spread the coronavirus.”
This misunderstanding, born out of confusing statements from public-health authorities and misleading media headlines, is a shame. It is resulting in unnecessary fear among vaccinated people, all the while undermining the public’s understanding of the importance—and effectiveness—of getting vaccinated.
The former president could still win fair and square if Biden lets these five problems spiral.
Are constitutionally committed Americans doing all they can to prevent a pro-Trump plot to pervert the 2024 election?
But along with that question, here’s another: Are constitutionally committed Americans doing all they can to prevent Donald Trump from winning the 2024 election fair and square?
The Biden administration’s numbers are slumping in the fall of 2021, opening the way for Republican gains in 2022 and the return of the twice-impeached ex-president as a presidential nominee. The schemes and machinations of the pro-Trump movement are part of the story. But if we’re heading toward a crisis of the republic, the mistakes and misfortunes of the anti-Trump coalition deserve a mention as well.
A conversation with the former Google CEO Eric Schmidt
For years now, artificial intelligence has been hailed as both a savior and a destroyer. The technology really can make our lives easier, letting us summon our phones with a “Hey, Siri” and (more importantly) assisting doctors on the operating table. But as any science-fiction reader knows, AI is not an unmitigated good: It can be prone to the same racial biases as humans are, and, as is the case with self-driving cars, it can be forced to make murky split-second decisions that determine who lives and who dies. Like it or not, AI is only going to become an even more omnipresent force: We’re in a “watershed moment” for the technology, says Eric Schmidt, the former Google CEO.
Schmidt is a longtime fixture in a tech industry that seems to constantly be in a state of upheaval. He was the first software manager at Sun Microsystems, in the 1980s, and the CEO of the former software giant Novell in the ’90s. He joined Google as CEO in 2001, then was the company’s executive chairman from 2011 until 2017. Since leaving Google, Schmidt has made AI his focus: In 2018, he wrote in The Atlantic about the need to prepare for the AI boom, along with his co-authors Henry Kissinger, the former secretary of state, and the MIT dean Daniel Huttenlocher. The trio have followed up that story with The Age of AI, a book about how AI will transform how we experience the world, coming out in November.
The retired quarterbacks are giving Monday Night Football a glow up. But the league need to do more than that to connect with Gen Z.
Chalk up one more anomaly to These Unprecedented Times: Something genuinely weird is happening on an NFL broadcast. For this season of its marquee Monday Night Football program, ESPN is airing an additional broadcast featuring the brothers and retired Super Bowl–winning quarterbacks Peyton and Eli Manning. The “Manning-cast,” as sports media have affectionately dubbed it, has the hangout feel of a Twitch stream: The Mannings break down the game as talking heads from their couches, frequently digressing at length from the on-the-field action to go deep with some football wonkery or welcome a procession of celebrity guests, including LeBron James and Charles Barkley.
If “Tampa 2” sounds more like a vacation booking than football terminology to you, the program also contains a hefty dose of what can only be described as “antics.” During last night’s broadcast, a snoozer of a game in which the Dallas Cowboys demolished the Philadelphia Eagles, Eli flipped a double bird and danced around in his socks, quoting Shakira, while Peyton sternly argued in real time with a notorious Twitter troll. In the three short weeks the Manning-cast has been on the air (seven more episodes are slotted for the rest of the season), Eli’s home fire alarm has interrupted a broadcast, Peyton has struggled to fit his massive cranium into a football helmet, and the duo have occasionally had to hustle like fast-talking talk-show hosts to get through segments before a commercial break.
One sign EVs are no longer the auto industry’s neglected stepchild? Norway could sell its last gas-powered car as soon as next year.
This is an excerpt from The Atlantic’s climate newsletter, The Weekly Planet. Subscribe today.
One theme of this newsletter is that the world’s physical infrastructure will have to massively change if we want to decarbonize the economy by 2050, which the United Nations has said is necessary to avoid the worst effects of the climate crisis. This won’t be as simple as passing a carbon tax or a clean-electricity mandate: Wires will have to be strung; solar farms will have to be erected; industries will have to be remade. And although that kind of change can be orchestrated only by the government (hence the importance of the infrastructure bills in Congress), consumers and companies will ultimately do most of the work to make it happen.
Facebook is acting like a hostile foreign power; it’s time we treated it that way.
In 1947, Albert Einstein, writing in this magazine, proposed the creation of a single world government to protect humanity from the threat of the atomic bomb. His utopian idea did not take hold, quite obviously, but today, another visionary is building the simulacrum of a cosmocracy.
Mark Zuckerberg, unlike Einstein, did not dream up Facebook out of a sense of moral duty, or a zeal for world peace. This summer, the population of Zuckerberg’s supranational regime reached 2.9 billion monthly active users, more humans than live in the world’s two most populous nations—China and India—combined.
To Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and CEO, they are citizens of Facebookland. Long ago he conspicuously started calling them “people” instead of “users,” but they are still cogs in an immense social matrix, fleshy morsels of data to satisfy the advertisers that poured $54 billion into Facebook in the first half of 2021 alone—a sum that surpasses the gross domestic products of most nations on Earth.
While some Pfizer recipients can now get an extra shot, federal officials are still mum on what’s next for the at-risk individuals who got Moderna or J&J.
For some of us, booster shots have finally arrived. But they’ve charted quite a meandering course to get here. First, last month, President Joe Biden announced that most Americans would be able to nab third doses of mRNA vaccines eight months after their second shots. Then, last week the FDA narrowed the eligible population, before a CDC advisory committee suggested tightening the boundaries even further. Hours after that panel shared its recommendation, the agency’s director, Rochelle Walensky, reversed course and ballooned the guidance back out to more closely align with the FDA’s much broader guidelines—though she stopped short of urging the shots for everyone.
It is all, frankly, a bit confusing. Millions of Americans are now in a sort of immunological limbo, wondering which expert advice to heed, and how soon to reroll up their sleeve, as the guidance coming from up top shifts seemingly by the day. Boosters are, at this point, offering more whiplash than protection. I spoke with Walensky today at The Atlantic Festival to see if we could make sense of some of the current situation—her unconventional move to break from the advisory committee’s guidance, and the tough choices millions of Americans face as they navigate the months ahead.
The stakes were high for a Sopranos prequel. The Many Saints of Newark doesn’t measure up.
Whether you call it a spin-off, a prequel, or a companion film, The Many Saints of Newark is inescapably tied to David Chase’s HBO show, The Sopranos, which is still one of the greatest television series ever made. Who Made Tony Soprano, the movie’s poster blares, with its actual title in a far smaller font underneath. Written by Chase and Lawrence Konner and directed by the Sopranos mainstay Alan Taylor, the film is set decades before the show and mixes a self-contained drama of 1960s Mafia life with backstory targeted at devoted fans of the series. Separately, both elements largely succeed; together, they never quite gel into a cohesive narrative.
Even a simple question about The Many Saints of Newark is damning: Would a non-Sopranos viewer bother watching it? The film is narrated by the TV-showcharacter Christopher Moltisanti (played by Michael Imperioli), who, within minutes, references a crucial plot point about his arc on the series that was revealed in one of the final episodes. Fans will remember the story line; newcomers, I imagine, will be baffled. The Many Saints of Newark is more of a curious side project than a distinct work. That was probably inevitable: The Sopranos is too sprawling for a straightforward prequel treatment, and Chase is too ambitious a writer to follow a known formula. The result is a movie that, ironically, might have functioned better as a TV show.