First Thing: US House votes to hold Trump ex-aide Meadows in contempt | US news

Good morning.

The House of Representatives has voted to recommend criminal contempt charges against Mark Meadows, the former chief of staff to Donald Trump, a week after he ended his cooperation with the panel investigating the Capitol insurrection.

The approval marks the first time the House has voted to hold a former member in contempt since the 1830s, according to the chamber’s records.

It is the latest show of force by the 6 January panel, which is leaving no angle unexplored as it investigates the worst attack on the Capitol in more than 200 years. Lawmakers are determined to reassert the congressional authority that Trump eroded while in office.

“History will be written about these times, about the work this committee has undertaken,” said Bennie Thompson, the committee’s chair.

US passes 800,000 Covid deaths – highest in the world

Congressional Moment Of Silence Held For 800,000 American Lives Lost To COVID-19WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 14: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) participate in a moment of silence for the 800,000 American lives lost to COVID-19 on December 14, 2021 in Washington, DC. Cases in the United States continue to rise amidst the holiday season and the Omicron variant. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
Lawmakers including Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer gather for a moment of silence. Photograph: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The US death toll from Covid-19 has passed 800,000, a once-unimaginable figure seen as doubly tragic given that more than 200,000 of those lives were lost after vaccines became available last spring.

The figure represents the highest reported toll of any country in the world, and is likely to be even higher.

The US accounts for approximately 4% of the world’s population but about 15% of the 5.3 million known deaths from coronavirus since the outbreak began in China two years ago.

The grim milestone comes as the world braces for rise in cases of the new Omicron variant, with the World Health Organization warning it was spreading at an unprecedented rate.

  • The deadly milestone comes as cases and hospitalisations are on the rise again in the US, driven by the highly contagious Delta variant, with the new variant Omicron posing a fresh threat.

  • About 200 million Americans are vaccinated, or just over 60% of the population. That is well short of what scientists say is needed to keep the virus in check.

AmazonSmile donated more than $40,000 to anti-vaccine groups in 2020

FILE - People hold signs as several hundred anti-mandate demonstrators rally outside the Capitol during a special legislative session considering bills targeting COVID-19 vaccine mandates, Nov. 16, 2021, in Tallahassee, Fla. The vaccines’ first year has been rocky with the disappointment of breakthrough infections, the political strife over mandates and, now, worries about whether the mutant omicron will evade the vaccine’s protection. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell, File)
Millions of Americans remain unvaccinated in the face of another Covid-19 wave. Photograph: Rebecca Blackwell/AP

Amazon’s charitable programme is paying tens of thousands of dollars to anti-vaccine groups in a move experts say is “shocking” as millions of Americans remain unvaccinated in the face of another Covid wave.

AmazonSmile reportedly donated more than $40,000 to leading sources of vaccine misinformation in 2020, according to separate analyses by Popular Information and the Washington Post.

“That’s really shocking,” said Peter Hotez, dean for the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. “That’s incredible that Amazon is supporting those groups.”

  • What is AmazonSmile? It’s the charity programme of the e-commerce giant which donates 0.5% from purchases to designated nonprofits. Last year, Amazon donated more than $60m through the initiative.

  • What has Amazon said? Amazon did not respond to a Guardian request for comment, but a spokesperson told the Washington Post it would continue to fund groups that oppose vaccination.

  • Meanwhile, Amazon’s plastic packaging waste soared by almost a third, to 270,000 tonnes, during the pandemic last year, according to a report.

In other news …

Kentucky candle factory search and rescue operations underwayMAYFIELD, KENTUCKY - DECEMBER 13: An aerial view of debris and structural damage is seen at the Mayfield Consumer Products candle factory as search and rescue operations underway after tornadoes hit Mayfield, Kentucky on December 13, 2021. (Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
The remains of the Mayfield Consumer Products candle factory. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
  • Workers at a Kentucky candle factory have said they pleaded with managers to be allowed to leave as a deadly tornado barrelled towards them last weekend – but say they were told they would be fired if they left their posts. Seventy-four people died in Kentucky, including eight at the candle factory.

  • The most powerful storm yet this season is pummelling California, dumping several feet of snow on the Sierra Nevada mountaintops. The deluge was a welcome relief from dry conditions, but wreaked havoc on roads, caused power outages, and raised the threats of mudslides in areas scarred by wildfires.

  • Firefighters have rescued 350 people who were trapped on the roof of a shopping centre and office complex at the World Trade Centre in Hong Kong after a fire broke out in one of the city’s busiest shopping districts. Eight people were taken to hospital after a blaze reportedly started in an electrical switch room.

  • A Nasa spacecraft has officially “touched” the sun, plunging through the unexplored solar atmosphere known as the corona. Scientists announced the news yesterday during a meeting of the American Geophysical Union.

  • A judge said the secret 2008 settlement between Virginia Giuffre and Jeffrey Epstein should be made public this month barring an objection by Epstein’s estate. A lawyer for Britain’s Prince Andrew has argued that the deal also shields the prince from a separate claim brought against the prince by Giuffre this year.

Don’t miss this: the court artist who drew Ghislaine Maxwell drawing her back

Ghislaine Maxwell turns to sketch court sketch artist Jane Rosenberg during her trial
Ghislaine Maxwell turns to sketch court sketch artist Jane Rosenberg during her trial. Photograph: Jane Rosenberg/Reuters

Pastel drawings don’t typically go viral on the internet. But this month, thousands of Twitter users were mesmerized by a courtroom artist’s sketch of Ghislaine Maxwell – the alleged sex-trafficking accomplice of Jeffrey Epstein – staring at the artist and sketching back. “I thought this was funny at first but it’s starting to haunt me,” one person tweeted. Jane Rosenberg, the professional courtroom artist who has been sketching Maxwell, tells the Guardian about her strange and fascinating job.

Climate check: People of color breathe more of six common types of air pollution, US study finds

Industrial Air PollutionToned monchrome image with billowing smoke coming from two chimneys. Please note that limited film grain has been added during image processing.
Racial disparities exceed differences in income and persist in every state in spite of overall improvements in air quality. Photograph: georgeclerk/Getty Images

How much air pollution are you exposed to in your daily life? The answer may depend on the color of your skin, says a study. The study published in Environmental Health Perspectives found that, no matter which of the main types of air pollutants you look at, people of color are breathing more of it. And while great progress has been made in reducing deadly pollutants in the air in the US over recent decades, the racial disparities have persisted.

Last Thing: Magnus Carlsen may opt against world chess defence due to lack of motivation

FIDE World Chess Championshipepa09634569 Defending champion Magnus Carlsen of Norway reacts during a press conference after winning the FIDE World Chess Championship against Ian Nepomniachtchi of Russia at the EXPO 2020 Dubai in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, 10 December 2021. EPA/YOSHUA ARIAS
Magnus Carlsen is already the highest ranked chess player in history. Photograph: Yoshua Arias/EPA

Magnus Carlsen says he is ready to shock the chess world by giving up his world championship title – because defending it no longer motivates him. The five-time world champion retained the title in emphatic style in Dubai last week, crushing his Russian challenger Ian Nepomniachtchi 7½-3½, but now says he has other priorities. “It’s been clear to me for most of the year that this world championship should be the last,” he said. “It doesn’t mean as much any more as it once did.”

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