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Omicron, Trump, Spider-Man: Your Monday Evening Briefing

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

1. The Omicron variant is driving a surge in the Northeast.

In New York, reports of new coronavirus cases shot up more than 80 percent over two weeks. Rhode Island, which has one of the highest vaccination rates in the country, is also now the U.S. state with the most cases per capita in recent days.

Many hospitals have reached capacity, and governors in several states have mobilized the National Guard to help with hospital staffing shortages.

2. Chuck Schumer vowed to press ahead on Build Back Better.

The Senate majority leader’s announcement on the social and environmental spending package came a day after Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a crucial swing vote, told Fox News that he would not support the plan. Behind Manchin’s opposition is a long history of opposing climate measures.

Votes on the plan are likely to come in early 2022, Schumer pointedly noted in a letter to his colleagues, “so that every member of this body has the opportunity to make their position known on the Senate floor, not just on television.”

Manchin criticized the White House staff for its handling of negotiations, saying officials had pushed him to his “wit’s end.” Markets sank after the setback to the bill.

Separately, Schumer said that he would try to force a fundamental change in Senate rules and potentially alter the filibuster rule to pass voting rights legislation.

3. Chinese officials tap private businesses to manipulate Facebook and Twitter.

Documents reviewed by The Times reveal in stark detail how Beijing generates content on demand, draws followers and tracks critics — part of a global campaign to burnish its image and undercut accusations of human rights abuses.

The documents were part of a request for bids by the Shanghai police to create hundreds of fake accounts on major social media platforms. The accounts were taken offline after The Times contacted the Chinese government about them.

Separately, Peng Shuai, the Chinese tennis star who accused a former Communist Party leader of sexual coercion, told a Singaporean newspaper that she had been misunderstood. But the minutes-long interview with Peng, which took place at a skiing competition in Shanghai, left many key questions unasked, and her purported denial drew skepticism from human rights advocates.

4. Donald Trump sued the New York State attorney general.

The former president is seeking to halt a long-running civil inquiry by Letitia James into his business practices, and to bar her office from participating in a separate criminal investigation.

The lawsuit says that James’s involvement in both inquiries was politically motivated, a tactic that Trump has deployed in the past when faced with scrutiny by law enforcement and others. Legal experts say the lawsuit faces a high bar.

5. The Environmental Protection Agency announced tighter auto pollution rules.

Under the plan, new vehicles would be required to average 55 miles per gallon starting in 2026, from just under 38 miles per gallon today. That would prevent the release of 3.1 billion tons of carbon dioxide through 2050, according to the agency. And motorists would save about $1,080 in fuel costs over the lifetime of more efficient vehicles.

The Biden administration is expected to lean heavily on executive action and regulations after the centerpiece of the president’s climate agenda was scuttled on Sunday by Senator Joe Manchin.

Following decades of underinvestment, the $1-trillion infrastructure bill that President Biden signed last month is poised to deliver much-needed improvements to train travel along the northeast corridor.

6. “Q” has been quiet. QAnon hasn’t.

“Q,” the anonymous online account that set off the conspiracy movement QAnon, hasn’t posted in more than a year. But QAnon is now woven even more deeply into the U.S.’s political and social fabric.

In the absence of a leader, the movement has transformed into more of a “choose your own adventure” conspiracy theory. Over 40 candidates who have publicly stated some support of QAnon are running for national office in 2022, and the falsehoods embraced by its supporters are likely to influence the midterm elections.

7. As Europe returns artifacts, Britain is silent on the Parthenon Marbles.

The sculptures — often called the Elgin Marbles after the aristocrat who brought them to London from Athens in the 1800s — are probably the world’s most famous disputed museum items.

Last week, the sculptures returned to public view after a prolonged closure of the British Museum’s Greek galleries. They reappeared as other European governments have returned similar historical items. The British government says the sculptures’ fate isn’t its concern.

The chair of the museum’s board of trustees said in an opinion essay this month that it was open to lending the marbles to other countries. But the Greek government is holding out for their permanent return.

8. Get me (moving) pictures of Spider-Man!

“Spider-Man: No Way Home” collected an estimated $253 million at theaters in the United States and Canada during its weekend debut. It’s the highest opening-weekend result in the 19-year history of the eight-film, live-action Spider-Man franchise and the third-highest in Hollywood history.

No movie has managed more than $90 million in domestic opening-weekend sales since “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” in 2019. Despite the emergence of the Omicron variant, more than 20 million people saw the blockbuster.

If you are sticking to the small screen, here are the Times critics’ picks for the best TV episodes of 2021.

9. One of Italy’s best pastries comes from prison.

Panettone is Italy’s national Christmas cake, and the version from Pasticceria Giotto — located at Due Palazzi prison on the outskirts of Padua — was named one of the country’s 10 best.

Baking them is a meticulous process that takes over 72 hours of multiple kneadings and leavenings. To become bakers, prisoners must work with a psychiatrist, then do an internship. As employees, they begin at 650 euros (around $735) a month, then graduate to €800, then finally, €1,000.

As part of The Times’s holiday cooking coverage, we visited with long-haul truckers to see how they’re doing holiday feasts on the road during a particularly busy year.

10. And finally, goodbye LeBron James and hello Mario.

Even before the pandemic, kids were drifting away from team sports: In 2018, only 38 percent of children ages 6 to 12 played on a regular basis, down from 45 percent in 2008. The coronavirus pandemic has only accelerated the trend toward youth e-sports.

Gaming was “a lifeline” during the pandemic, one parent, whose children participate in a YMCA e-sports program, told The Times. It has allowed kids to connect and has given parents a break from the expensive youth sport industrial complex. And it’s given them some quiet time — unless they’re taking their turn with the controllers.

Have an entertaining evening.

Angela Jimenez compiled photos for this briefing.

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

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