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Good morning. The mail has slowed. Another hurricane is threatening the Gulf Coast. And the American West has the world’s most polluted air.
During a short walk in her Los Angeles neighborhood a few days ago, my colleague Jill Cowan could smell and feel the smoke that had entered her throat. In Estacada, Ore., southeast of Portland, Lisa Jones told The Washington Post that breathing the air felt “like sticking yourself in a little room with 12 people all around you, smoking cigarettes.” A friend of hers, Deborah Stratton, added, “It burns your chest.”
The worst effects of the wildfires are the direct ones: the deaths, the loss of homes and the destruction of natural habitat. But the secondary pollution effects — from the smoke that is clogging the air — are not minor.
The world’s most polluted cities are typically in Asia, like Delhi, Beijing, Lahore and Dhaka. Over the last few days, though, Portland, Ore., has had significantly worse air quality than any other city in the world. The air in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle hasn’t been quite so bad, but it has still been worse than in virtually any place outside the U.S.
Long-term exposure to the tiny particles in polluted air increases the risk of asthma, lung disorders, heart attacks and strokes. But even short-term exposure can lead to more respiratory problems, as Yifang Zhu, a professor at the U.C.L.A. Fielding School of Public Health, told my colleague Sanam Yar. And this year’s wildfires — some of which have already been going for about a month — may have weeks to burn. California’s wildfire season still has four months left.
“Two months of this kind of air quality is really going to impact people,” Pawan Gupta, a research scientist at the NASA’s Universities Space Research Association, said.
THREE MORE BIG STORIES
1. A mail slowdown
A Times analysis of more than 28 million pieces of mail found that on-time delivery declined noticeably in July and August after Louis DeJoy, the postmaster general, put cost-cutting measures in place. Delivery has sped up slightly since the summer but remains slower than earlier this year.
The mail has become a key part of the 2020 election, because an unprecedented number of Americans are likely to vote by mail to avoid visiting a polling place during the pandemic.
In other campaign news:
The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that the Green Party’s presidential candidate would not appear on the state’s ballot this year. Democrats had feared that an different ruling delays might have split the progressive vote and helped Trump win the state.
A Trump administration official made a series of false accusations in an interview this weekend, including that career government scientists were engaging in “sedition” and that left-wing hit squads were preparing for armed insurrection after the election.
2. L.A.’s school-testing surge
The Los Angeles school district will test all of its 700,000 students and 75,000 employees for the coronavirus, regardless of symptoms.
Public health experts say expanded testing, with rapid results, is crucial to curbing the spread of the virus — particularly in schools, where teachers and students mingle in close quarters. (For more, subscribe to the Coronavirus Schools Briefing.)
3. Is there life next door to Earth?
Astronomers using powerful telescopes have detected a chemical in the toxic atmosphere of Venus that could be a signal of something living in one of the solar system’s most inhospitable environments.
Some scientists say the news offers reason to launch more probes to the planet. “If this planet is active and is producing phosphine, and there is something that’s making it in the Venus atmosphere, then by God almighty, forget this Mars nonsense,” said Paul Byrne, a planetary scientist at North Carolina State University.
Here’s what else is happening
Hurricane Sally will likely make landfall today or tomorrow, battering a broad stretch of the Gulf Coast with strong winds and possible flash flooding.
A federal appeals court ruled upheld a Trump administration policy that could lead to the deportation of about 400,000 immigrants who originally came to the U.S. in emergency circumstances, like earthquakes or civil wars.
Aleksei Navalny, the Russian opposition leader who is recovering in Berlin after being poisoned, posted a photograph on Tuesday showing him in the hospital, looking gaunt but very much alive.
The hedge-fund billionaire Steve Cohen is again on track to buy the New York Mets baseball team, after a similar deal fell through earlier this year.
The mayor of Rochester, N.Y., abruptly fired the city’s police chief, La’Ron Singletary, two weeks before he was to step down under pressure. In March, Daniel Prude, a Black man, died in Rochester, after officers had handcuffed and restrained him.
South Dakota’s attorney general, Jason Ravnsborg, was driving home alone on Saturday night when his car hit something — possibly a deer, he told the authorities. The next day, a man was found dead near the highway, and Ravnsborg is now under investigation.
Lives Lived: Before James Jackson, most social science research on Black Americans was based on comparisons with white populations. Dr. Jackson, a social psychologist, changed that. His National Survey of Black Americans, completed in 1980, brought new insights into Americans’ health. He died at 76.
IDEA OF THE DAY: Triple the U.S. population
Much of the recent debate over immigration to the United States has been about how to reduce it. Matthew Yglesias, a Vox co-founder, offers a different idea: Increase immigration — by a lot.
His new book, “One Billion Americans,” argues for radically increasing the country’s population through immigration and a higher birthrate. Yglesias points out that even if all of the new Americans lived in the continental U.S., it would still have less than half the population density of Germany. And only if the U.S. vastly increases its population can it hope to keep pace with the growing power of authoritarian China, he argues.
There are plenty of reasons to question how the U.S. might absorb so many new citizens, but Yglesias makes a provocative case for a new kind of American greatness. “Rather than being paralyzed by racial panic, ecopessimism, or paranoia about the loss of parking spaces,” he writes, “America should aspire to be the greatest nation on earth.”
Listen: My colleague Ross Douthat recommends Tyler Cowen’s recent podcast interview with Yglesias. Ross writes: “Trump-era bestseller lists are dominated by ‘exposes’ that tell us the same things, and (esp. under pandemic conditions) better books can’t get oxygen. So if you enjoy an excerpt or interview, buy the book!”
PLAY, WATCH, EAT, SKATE
Make something healthy
Tender baked salmon, roasted potatoes and a swipe of tangy horseradish-tarragon sauce all make for a contemporary spin on an 18th-century recipe. Picky eaters also have some wiggle room with this dish. Don’t like potatoes? Try carrots or other root vegetables. Salmon-averse? Swap it out for cod, halibut or another whitefish.
A new read
“Homeland Elegies” by the playwright Ayad Akhtar, is part memoir, part fiction. The story’s narrator and its author share a name, were raised in Milwaukee by doctor parents born in Pakistan, and have written a Pulitzer Prize-winning play, among other things.
In a review, The Times’s book critic Dwight Garner calls it “a beautiful novel about an American son and his immigrant father that has echoes of ‘The Great Gatsby’ and that circles, with pointed intellect, the possibilities and limitations of American life.”
Trading ice for concrete
What happens when there’s no ice and the rinks are closed? The figure skaters of Ice Theater of New York have found a fun way to practice: Taking to the streets — and parks and playgrounds and basketball courts — with inline skates. “It brings some of the joy of skating out into the sphere of the public,” one skater said. Watch some of their graceful moves on the pavement here.