First Thing: Pelosi pledges solidarity with Taiwan amid alarm over China’s reaction

Show caption Nancy Pelosi begins controversial visit to Taiwan amid tensions with China. Photograph: Taiwan Presidential Office/AFP/Getty Images First Thing First Thing: Pelosi pledges solidarity with Taiwan amid alarm over China’s reaction Beijing reacts to House speaker’s visit with outrage as Chinese military begin drills close to Taiwan. Plus, Batgirl gets cancelled Nicola Slawson Wed 3 Aug 2022 11.49 BST Share on Facebook

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Good morning.

The US House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, has pledged America’s “crucial” solidarity with Taiwan, in a historic meeting with Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, who vowed not to back down in the face of military threats from China.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Pelosi questioned the motivations of Chinese president, Xi Jinping, when asked about his strong response to her visit. China has vowed “consequences” and has said it will begin live fire drills close to Taiwan on Thursday.

“Its really important for the message to be clear … [the US] is committed to the security of Taiwan … but it’s about our shared values of democracy and freedom and how Taiwan has been an example to the world … Whether there are insecurities of the president of China relating to his own political situation I don’t know.”

Pelosi is in Taiwan for a controversial visit that has prompted a furious reaction from China, including planned missile tests and military “operations” around the island, which Taiwan has said breach international law.

Why did she decide to visit? “Our delegation came to Taiwan to make unequivocally clear we will not abandon Taiwan, and we are proud of our enduring friendship,” Pelosi said.

What do Taiwanese Americans think of the media covering of her visit? To Taiwanese Americans, the hyperbolic tenor of the debate over Pelosi’s visit is indicative of how little most Americans know or care about the people of Taiwan, with one calling it “hoopla and yellow journalism”.

What is the Order of Propitious Clouds? Pelosi was given Taiwan’s highest civilian order during her visit to Taiwan, a “symbol of America’s strong and enduring friendship”.

Biden due to sign second executive order to protect abortion access

Joe Biden. Photograph: Evan Vucci/AP

Joe Biden is expected to sign a second executive order on Wednesday that aims to protect access to reproductive healthcare after the US supreme court struck down the constitutional right to abortion.

Most significantly, the order directs the Health and Human Services (HHS) agency to consider ways to expand coverage for patients traveling out of state for reproductive healthcare. Biden’s order does not detail how this could be achieved; currently, government-subsidized Medicaid health insurance plans cover medically necessary abortions in only 16 states and do not reimburse patients who leave their state to seek an abortion.

A senior administration official told the Guardian that HHS would soon have more details on provisions to help women served by Medicaid health coverage cover certain costs of traveling for reproductive care.

Kansans secured a huge win for abortion rights in the US last night when they voted to continue to protect abortion in the state constitution, while the Biden administration’s Department of Justice is suing Idaho over the state’s near-total abortion ban, due to take effect on 25 August.

Will the abortion access issue affect the midterm elections? Possibly. The resounding win in Kansas came as a surprise in the deeply conservative state. The vote is viewed as a litmus test for the future of abortion access across the US.

How Ayman al-Zawahiri’s ‘pattern of life’ allowed the US to kill al-Qaida leader

Smoke rises from a house after a US drone strike in the Sherpur area of Kabul, on Sunday. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

In the end it was one of the oldest mistakes in the fugitive’s handbook that apparently did for Ayman al-Zawahiri, the top al-Qaida leader killed, according to US intelligence, by a drone strike on Sunday morning: he developed a habit, writes Ed Pilkington.

The co-planner of the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington in 2001 had acquired a taste for sitting out on the balcony of his safe house in Sherpur, a well-to-do diplomatic enclave of Kabul. He grew especially fond of stepping out on to the balcony after morning prayers, so that he could watch the sun rise over the Afghan capital.

According to a US official who briefed reporters on Monday, it was such regular behavior that allowed intelligence agents, presumably CIA, to piece together what they called “a pattern of life” of the target. That in turn allowed them to launch what the White House called a “tailored airstrike” involving two Hellfire missiles fired from a Reaper drone that are claimed to have struck the balcony, with Zawahiri on it, at 6.18am on Sunday.

How have the families of 9/11 victims reacted? They have celebrated Sunday’s killing but they continued demanding accountability for the Saudi Arabian government’s alleged role. The organization wrote that they have repeatedly requested meetings with the president about punishing the Saudi Arabia government for September 11, but Biden has refused to meet.

In other news …

A woman stands in a crater caused by missile strikes which struck the yard of a school in a residential area of Kharkiv in June. Photograph: Sergey Bobok/AFP/Getty Images

Russia has accused the White House of supplying target ed information used by Kyiv to conduct long-range missile strikes. The country’s defence ministry claimed Washington was “directly involved” in the war, and had passed on intelligence that had led to the “mass deaths of civilians”.

Last year Cyber Ninjas, the firm overseeing the so-called audit into the 2020 election in Arizona, said it believed nearly 300 dead people may have voted. It turned out not to be true. After investigating the allegations thoroughly, analysts found just one person who was actually dead at the time of the election.

Tree enthusiasts who make the trek to the “world’s tallest tree”, deep in a northern California forest, will face a fine and possible jail time after park officials declared the remote area off-limits because of damage done by trampling visitors to the tree and surrounding forest, a park official said.

In emotional testimonyon Tuesday, the father of a six-year-old victim of the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting said the rightwing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones made his life a “living hell” by claiming the murders were a hoax involving actors and aimed at strengthening gun control.

Stat of the day: ‘Irredeemable’ Batgirl movie among the most expensive cancelled cinematic projects ever

A member of the public passes a sign in Glasgow, near where parts of the Batgirl movie were filmed in January. Photograph: Andrew Milligan/PA

The previously announced Batgirl film starring Leslie Grace, Michael Keaton and Brendan Fraser will not be released at all, Warner Bros Discovery has unexpectedly announced, despite the film being in post-production. The New York Post, which broke the story on Tuesday, cited an unnamed source who said the budget had exceeded $100m and performed so poorly during early test screenings that Warner Bros decided to cut its losses. The decision means the film ranks among the most expensive cancelled cinematic projects ever.

Don’t miss this: Why do men’s paintings cost 10 times more than women’s?

Beaten by Jeff Koons … Jenny Saville’s Propped was auctioned for $12.5m. Photograph: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Sotheby’s

Are men 10 times better at painting than women? The market seems to think so. Helen Gorrill, the author of Women Can’t Paint, has studied the prices of 5,000 paintings sold all over the world and found that for every £1 a male artist makes for his work, a woman makes a mere 10p. “It’s the most shocking gender value gap that I’ve come across in any industry at all,” she said. This is despite the fact that women have made up 70% of students in art college, selected on merit, and that the art world prides itself on its liberal, progressive values.

Climate check: satellite images reveal shrinkage of Utah’s Great Salt Lake

An aerial view shows that the shoreline has receded in the drought at Great Salt Lake outside Salt Lake City, Utah. Photograph: Brian Snyder/Reuters

New satellite images from the European Space Agency have illustrated the extent of dwindling water levels in the Great Salt Lake in Utah, a month after it reached its lowest water level ever recorded. Highlighting falling water levels and the decreasing size of the lake, the report compares satellite images from 1985 and 2022. At its peak in the 1980s, it covered about 8,550 sq km (3,300 sq miles); in recent measurements, it has lost nearly half of its surface area from the historical average.

Last Thing: Bone Appétit – Jarlsberg cheese may help stave off osteoporosis

A selection of cheeses arranged on a cheese board. Photograph: nicolamargaret/Getty Images

Eating Jarlsberg cheese may help to prevent bone thinning and stave off osteoporosis, research suggests. Jarlsberg is a mild cheese made from cow’s milk, with regular holes that mean it is classified as a Swiss-type cheese, although it originated in Norway. It is rich in vitamin K2, which has previously been found to improve bone health. The results of a study published in the journal BMJ Nutrition Prevention & Health suggest a daily portion could be beneficial to bone growth and regeneration.

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