Return to Transcripts main page


Tokyo Olympics 2020; Florida COVID-19 Cases Soar; Arizona Flooding; U.N. Warns of Growing Jihadist Threats; Hungary Rallies against Homophobic Law; Borscht Belt Comic Jackie Mason Dies at 93. Aired 2-3a ET

Aired July 25, 2021 - 02:00   ET




MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hello and welcome to our viewers here, in the United States and all around the world. I am Michael Holmes. Appreciate your company.

Coming up here, on CNN NEWSROOM, day two of full competition at the Tokyo games and the U.S. wins its first gold in the pool. One of its best golfers, meanwhile, is out due to COVID.

New cases are trending up in 49 states in the U.S., as vaccinations stall and the Delta variant sends more and more Americans to the hospital.

Plus, dry, hot conditions. It's a tinderbox, out west. More than 80 large fires burning, the biggest of which, now, creating its own weather.


HOLMES: And the competition for Olympic medals in full swing at the Summer Games in Tokyo. China and Japan have, now, won three gold medals each. The U.S., with the most medals, overall, seven, including one gold.

On Saturday, skateboarding and surfing made their Olympic debuts. Beside the pressure of playing, athletes, also, having to battle a humid-heat wave. And COVID, of course, remains a serious concern. At least 137 cases, now, linked to the games.

Top American golfer, Bryson DeChambeau, won't be competing after he tested positive just before he was due to leave for Tokyo.

Now a top draw this Sunday, is Japanese tennis star, Naomi Osaka, who lit the Olympic cauldron, of course. She will be playing her first Olympic singles match, after bowing out of the French Open, earlier this year.

Now Patrick Snell of CNN "WORLD SPORT" is standing by with me, with the latest on the competition. But let's begin with Blake Essig, who is in Tokyo for us. And, Blake, COVID is, still, very much a focus of these games. But

some people's attention are turning to the weather.

BLAKE ESSIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. You know, Michael, look. The legacy of these Olympic Games will no doubt be defined by the global- health crisis. But before COVID-19 turned the world on its head, it was the weather that was supposed to have been dominating headlines around these Olympic Games.

And while cases in Tokyo are surging and Olympic-related cases continue to climb, it's the weather that could continue to cause problems, here, for organizers. A tropical storm is approaching Japan and could make landfall hitting the Tokyo region on Tuesday.

Japan's meteorological agency says the storm is unlikely to strengthen into a typhoon but could, still, bring heavy rain, strong winds and high waves as a result. Rowing events have been cancelled, on Tuesday and pushed back to Wednesday or Thursday.

Now while the surfers have avoided the tropical storm, at least for now, other athletes have high temperatures to contend with. As a threat of heat stroke remains a big problem here and will remain a constant problem throughout these games. Temperatures are now in the 30s and will likely get much warmer in the coming weeks.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Japan's summer is abnormal. There is humidity and the heat is ridiculous. There are many issues to be considered when holding the games, such as the pandemic. But frankly speaking, even without the virus, I don't think this weather is suitable for the Olympics.


ESSIG: And according to Japan's public broadcaster, NHK, more than 50,000 people are hospitalized and hundreds die, each year, in Japan, as a result of the heat. And so far, just in the past few days, I have, personally, seen several people on the side of the road being treated by medical personnel for heat stroke.

Now it is worth pointing out that when the Olympic Games were last held in Tokyo, Michael, back in 1964, they were actually pushed back several months to avoid the high temperatures.

HOLMES: Yes, yes, big problem. And the big city magnifies the heat as well. Blake, good to see you. Thanks for that. Blake Essig there.



HOLMES: Now to another reminder of the challenges facing Olympic organizers, as they navigate the games during the pandemic. During an off-camera interview, an International Olympic Committee spokesman told Reuters that masks on the Olympic podium are not just nice to have, they are a must have.

Mark Adams, apparently, made the remarks after swimmers were seen removing their masks on the medal podium a short time ago. The Tokyo 2020 playbook says masks should be worn, at all times, except when eating, drinking, training, competing or sleeping.


HOLMES: Now COVID-19 cases rising sharply in the United States, up nearly 60 percent, from last week. And the dangerous-Delta variant driving the surge is, as we know, targeting the unvaccinated. Just three states account for 40 percent of all-new cases, Missouri, Texas and Florida.

Florida, alone, accounting for one in five new infections, nationally with a stunning, 73,000 reported in just the last week. Governor Ron DeSantis has refused to put stricter-COVID protocols or precautions in place. So the numbers in Florida are likely to keep going up.


HOLMES: And for those who think the worst of the pandemic might be behind us, got an alarming visual that might change your mind.


HOLMES (voice-over): Have a look at Louisiana's spike in new cases, rising to levels not seen since the winter surge. The state now has the highest rate of new infections per capita.

And hospitalizations there?

Well, they've quadrupled in the last three weeks. Making matters worse, Louisiana is among the least-vaccinated states in the U.S. Probably, no coincidence then. CNN's Suzanne Malveaux reports.



SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN U.S. CORRESPONDENT: It is a dire situation in the state of Louisiana as it leads in the number of new-COVID cases per capita. More than any, other state in the country, at this time.

There are pop-up vaccination sites trying to address this crisis situation. But if you just take a look at the numbers, alone, 208 percent increase in number of COVID cases over the last couple of weeks; 80 percent -- more than 80 percent -- coming from the Delta variant; 40 percent of those in Louisiana residents receiving one -- at least one out of two doses of the vaccine.

That is much too low, according to the governor, who says that Louisiana has a long way to go. Despite the fact that there are some- 1,400 vaccination sites, throughout the state, where folks can get it for free, there is, still, a sense of urgency here.

Take a look at these numbers. It is extreme here. Of those people who are testing positive for COVID, 92 percent, not fully vaccinated; of those hospitalized, 90 percent, not fully vaccinated; of those who have recently died, 91 percent, not fully vaccinated.

Healthcare professionals, who are monitoring and who are running this vaccination site as well as the global outreach, say that these are the main factors. These are the things to be concerned about, what is driving this, now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you look at vaccine and the barriers to vaccination, there are four, major factors that impact that. And the way that I categorize them is, number one, is the issue of mistrust. The second one is misinformation. The third is complacency. And that alludes to that fact. And the fourth is convenience.

MALVEAUX: Health officials are using a program called Faces in Spaces. That is going to where people are to reach them and try to convince them to get vaccinated, whether it's at a crawfish boil or a fish fry or the Laundromat or here, at the mall, to stress the sense of urgency in getting that vaccination -- Suzanne Malveaux, CNN, Jefferson Parish, Louisiana.


HOLMES: And globally, major cities, around the world, are seeing protests over COVID restrictions.


HOLMES (voice-over): That was the scene in Paris on Saturday. Some protests turning into violent clashes with police. Across France, tens of thousands of people rallied. They are rejecting mandatory vaccinations for health care workers and a proposed extension of the country's health pass system. France isn't alone.



HOLMES (voice-over): There, you can see Greek police using tear gas, water cannon and stun grenades in Athens on Saturday. This is amid reports that people were using petrol bombs as well. The protesters want the government to back off requiring vaccines for health care workers.



HOLMES (voice-over): And then, in Australia, protesters marching in Sydney, fed up over a month-long lockdown that could get even longer. Officials are warning they may extend the restrictions past next Friday's deadline.


HOLMES: And those are not the only places that COVID fallout is creating backlash.


HOLMES (voice-over): Demonstrations erupting across Brazil on Saturday, with protesters demanding the impeachment of president Jair Bolsonaro over reports of corruption and his handling of the pandemic.

Mr. Bolsonaro being investigated in the senate over corruption allegations, tied to the purchase of an Indian coronavirus vaccine. More than 500,000 people have died from COVID there and many in Brazil have had enough.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): It is very important that all those who feel offended or oppressed by this government come to the streets because we need to fight for the return of democracy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Already, half a million people dead in Brazil. This has to stop. Out, genocide.


HOLMES: This is the second month that protesters have taken to the streets to vent their anger against the Brazilian leader. And Brazil is certainly a hot spot in the global resurgence of the coronavirus.

But worldwide, there is an alarming surge in cases. As you can see there on the graphic, experts blaming it on the spread of the Delta variant.


HOLMES: But vaccine hesitancy, in places like the U.S., as well as a vaccine shortage in other places, like Latin America and Africa, are enabling the spike among the unvaccinated.


HOLMES: Let's get more perspective now on the growing threat the Delta variant is posing, especially among the unvaccinated, I am joined by epidemiologist and CNN medical analyst, Dr. Larry Brilliant.

Good to see you, Doctor. Let's start with these international reactions. A lot of anger from the Left and the Right about -- the French president, for example, his move to, essentially, make life very difficult in terms of access and movement for anyone not vaccinated.

Italy very similar.

Good idea or an infringement on freedoms?

DR. LARRY BRILLIANT, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Michael, thank you for inviting me back. What a poignant and difficult moment, isn't it? I worry that we will be seeing superspreader events. I am afraid that we are closer to the beginning of this pandemic than the end. And, on top of that, somehow, this little virus has managed to anger people on the Left and the Right.

It is almost inconceivable. The idea of having these vaccine certificates or immune passports, it is one of the ways in which we can reward people for being vaccinated, by giving them access to other parts of the world. I wish we would do more of it. I personally would like to see vaccine mandates.

And I am afraid that we will soon have to reinstall vaccine mask mandates. That is only going to cause more trouble, you know that. We can feel it coming.

HOLMES: Yes, you're right. In the U.S., even with the Delta surge, there is this fact that -- this statistic blows my mind -- 99.7 percent of deaths, 95 percent of hospitalizations are among the unvaccination.

If that is not a message to get vaccinated, I don't know what is. Yet, half the country hasn't done it.

How do you view the landscape in those terms?

BRILLIANT: Let's put a number on it. It's about 125 million Americans who have not been vaccinated. And 4 states accounting for about 60 percent of all the cases and the deaths.

They're all the states that you would expect, Florida, Texas, Missouri, those are the states that have the most number of unvaccinated and they have the mandates that make it illegal for counties to do vaccine mandates or even encourage people to wear masks in a very strong way.

I think they are not paying attention, Michael. This variant, this Delta variant, it creates 1,000 times more viral particles in the nose than anything previously that we've seen. The incubation period is half the time.

It means it spreads faster than almost any disease you and I have seen in our lifetime. It spreads faster and is more infectious than smallpox, maybe twice as infectious as smallpox.

HOLMES: When you put it like that, I also wanted to ask you, Europe's problem similar to that of the United States in some ways. Vaccination levels at or under 60 percent or so. Less than that in the U.S.

It is worrying but not as worrying as entire regions, like Africa, which are more like 2 percent vaccinated. The surges in southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia.

How urgent is the need to get more vaccines to underserved regions?

It is in everyone's interest and yet we have seen thousands of unused vaccines thrown out in the U.S. BRILLIANT: And the U.S., Canada and the U.K. have ordered 3 times the

amount of vaccine that we could conceivably use if we vaccinated everybody twice. I think it's time to get real. I think that the major economic powers need to start figuring out how to export vaccine manufacturing factories, just as we did with smallpox and polio.

I think we need to have multicenter production of vaccines. We have 100 countries right now with less than 1 percent of the population vaccinated. They can't depend on the U.S.; they can't depend on our manufacturers, as good as this magical vaccine has been, they are not getting it.

We need to be able to move factories and move manufacturing all over the world. If we don't do that, then our countries will be importers of all the new variants because, Michael, Delta is not the last letter in the Greek alphabet.

HOLMES: Yes, exactly. A chilling warning there. The more it spreads, the more likely variants will emerge.


HOLMES: Dr. Larry Brilliant, as always, appreciate your expertise. Thank you.

BRILLIANT: Thank you for having me.


HOLMES: Coming up here, on the program, dozens of wildfires, raging in the western U.S. and one in Oregon even spawning tornadoes. We'll have that coming up.

And also, the moment two people are pulled to safety, after raging floodwaters engulfed their vehicle. That's also in the western U.S. We'll be right back.





HOLMES (voice-over): What you are seeing there is a time lapse of a wildfire in northern California. Watch as it overtakes and completely wipes out this ridge. This is in the Plumas National Forest. It only took six minutes.


HOLMES: At least eight large fires are burning in California right now and dozens more are tearing through the western U.S. In Oregon, the Bootleg Fire has destroyed more than 400,000 acres, so massive, that it is creating its own weather, including a tornado last weekend, according to meteorologists.

Now a different sort of weather extreme is playing out in Arizona, where monsoon-level rains are causing flash floods. The conditions leading to a dramatic rescue near Phoenix.


HOLMES: Have a look.


HOLMES (voice-over): Video from the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office shows two people -- you see it there -- being rescued by helicopter, after rising floodwaters swallowed their food delivery truck.


HOLMES: Meanwhile, at least 136 people have died in western India after heavy-monsoon rains triggered flooding and landslides. Some of the heaviest July rain in the region in decades, some areas, seeing more than half a meter of rain, in just-24 hours.

Rescue crews, racing to find survivors but the heavy rains have hampered those efforts, as well. CNN's Vedika Sud joins us from New Delhi.

Bring us up to date on the search and recovery efforts.

VEDIKA SUD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Michael, they are still going on and will continue for a couple days. There's been incessant rain in some of the districts on the western coast of India in Maharashtra.

Now about 200 kilometers away from India's financial capital, Mumbai, is a village where there was a landslide, where over 40 people have died. There are a lot of people, still, trapped there, along with four other places in the state.

And the coastal areas where landslides have taken place, you have the army, the air force, the Indian Navy and the national-disaster response force personnel on the ground. They are trying to pull out survivors as well as bodies. It's quite a grim situation in these areas.

Also, along with that, is the challenge of COVID-19, Michael, because, remember, Maharashtra still tops the list when it comes to India's 36 territories and states as far as COVID numbers.

And so, it's been really difficult and the worry is that, in the coming days, this toll could go up. Climate change experts have also said that this could be because of the kind of work and construction going on in the western coast -- Michael.

HOLMES: All right. Appreciate the update, Vedika Sud in New Delhi. Thanks.

Now strong winds and heavy rains are lashing eastern China, as typhoon In-Fa closes in. Shanghai and surrounding areas cancelled flights and shuttered businesses ahead of the storm. It is one of two major storms churning away in the western Pacific. The other, a tropical storm, is expected to hammer central Japan, in the coming days.


HOLMES: Now Taliban gains may be driving a new wave of Afghans to flee their country. Coming up, a retired U.S. general explains why the better-equipped Afghan military is still losing to the militants. We'll be right back.





HOLMES: And welcome back to our viewers here, in the United States and all around the world. Thanks for your company. I'm Michael Holmes. You are watching CNN NEWSROOM.

The United Nations is warning of increased threats from groups linked to ISIS and Al Qaeda. It released a report detailing ramped-up jihadist activity. It says North Africa is a particular-growth area, as is an old, familiar location, Afghanistan.

And as Nic Robertson reports, easing of COVID lockdowns might be an opportunity for jihadists to strike, again.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR (voice-over): COVID-19 travel and other restrictions have kept international Islamist-terror threats at bay. A new U.N. report reveals. But it hasn't killed their threat.

EDMUND FITTON-BROWN, U.N. MONITORING TEAM COORDINATOR: One of the things that we highlight in the report that's just come out is the possibility that the relaxation of lockdowns might mean that some preplanned attacks can, then, take place.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): The report 20 years after Al-Qaeda's horrific 9/11 attacks reveals a world of growing jihadist threats and waning efforts to counter them.

From Somalia in East Africa where U.S. forces backing the government left this year, Al-Qaeda affiliate al-Shabaab is spreading its brand of violence south into Kenya. Other Al-Qaeda affiliates making gains through the Sahel Region of Africa too.

Meanwhile, in Central and West Africa ISIS is strengthening, crossing borders from Mali into Burkina Faso, Cote d'lvoire, Niger, Senegal and from Nigeria into Cameroon. In Nigeria the death of an Al-Qaeda affiliated leader as ISIS affiliated fighters surrounded him likely makes the ISIS affiliate the biggest outside of Syria.


FITTON-BROWN: Part of their vision of these regional structures is that these will enable them to increase in interoperability of their global network and ultimately to mount a more effective threat in particularly in the West.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Another risk gaining momentum. The birthplace of the 9/11 attacks, Afghanistan.

Although it is too soon for the report to conclude the impact of the Taliban's recent gains and the U.S. drawdown, one member state estimates ISIS who claimed a rocket attack narrowly missing Afghan leaders attending prayers in the capital Tuesday to have 500 to 1,500 fighters and be focusing on the capital, Kabul.

And Al Qaeda, who U.S. forces chased from the country after 9/11, now have a presence in at least 15 of the country's 34 provinces are fighting alongside the Taliban and appear to be counting on a military victory.

FITTON-BROWN: That gives them time in which to stabilize to continue to use Afghanistan as a platform and then in the longer term to review whether it's possible to use it as a platform also for international attacks.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Twenty years on from the 9/11 attacks Al Qaeda's then number two now is Chief Ayman al-Zawahiri is thought to be unwell. His expected replacement, Saif al-Adl is in Iran, likely assessing if Afghanistan is safe for his return -- Nic Robertson, CNN, London.


HOLMES: And Afghan officials are hoping a curfew in dozens of provinces will halt or at least slow down the Taliban. The restrictions ban people from leaving their homes, from 10:00 at night, until 4:00 in the morning. But it's unclear, if it can actually be enforced or what effect it would have.

As U.S. and NATO forces withdraw, the government appears to be losing its grip on control outside of major population centers.


HOLMES (voice-over): Now this animation shows rapid-Taliban gains over the last few months. It's striking to see. It comes from The Long War Journal, a group that tracks territorial control in Afghanistan. CNN can't independently confirm it.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HOLMES: Now as the Taliban do gain ground, more Afghans are fleeing their country. Since earlier-this month, Turkey says it has detained more than 1,400 mostly Afghan migrants near the border with Iran.


HOLMES: Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling is a CNN military analyst and former Army commanding general for Europe and the 7th Army and he joins me, now, from Florida. Spent a lot of time in Iraq, as well.

I wanted to get your -- your assessment of the result, so far, of the U.S. pullout. What it's meant for the Taliban who, you know, clearly, want to be running the country, again.

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Michael, I think we've seen, over the last several months -- probably more than that, the last year or so -- that the Taliban has been increasingly making inroads in most of the provinces throughout Afghanistan.

That's dangerous because they have been chipping away, like any good insurgency does, at areas which are easily brought over to their support. They have used intimidation. They have used the kinds of things that the Taliban have always used, killing of security forces, threatening of families, pushing women's rights off the table.

And what we're seeing is they are, truly, expanding their capabilities, in the rural areas. And I think the cities are, soon, going to be at risk.

HOLMES: Yes. Yes. It seems to be a matter of time. When -- when you talk about the Taliban and their tactics. I mean, tell me about this.

I mean, with the Doha talks, why, on Earth, would the Taliban be trusted when they say they are going to be about inclusion, they're not going to carry out revenge?

And yet, we see more and more evidence. People being slaughtered. The targeting of those who work for both the central government and the U.S. What the Taliban says and what its fighters and commanders do are vastly different things.

HERTLING: Yes. I think anyone that's been to Afghanistan, as I have, or who has served there or who knows the Taliban's history, it doesn't take much to understand. They refer to themselves as the Islamic emirate of Afghanistan. It is a deal by the Islamic organization which means they believe in the extreme version of sharia law.

They harken back to the 14th century, believe in the harsh interpretation of genocide, denial of food, arbitrary extrajudicial punishment. The list goes on and on. So why the United States would be having sessions with them in Doha, over the last few years during the Trump administration, is beyond me.


HERTLING: But our government did just that. They placed them on equal footing and also, without the government of Afghanistan having representatives in the room. You know, to sign a peace treaty with this organization is just -- it's mind boggling and gobsmacking.

HOLMES: Yes, and just naive, beyond belief. I want to ask you this, too, because I know you have been following this as have I. When it comes to evacuation of those who worked for the U.S., there have been pleas for months and months and months for that to happen.

Even now, it hasn't effectively started. And the administration is now telling these workers, get yourself to Kabul, at a time when, as we have been discussing, the Taliban controls so much of the country. And these people can't get to Kabul. Many have already been killed.

Why do you think this wasn't better organized, started earlier when evacuation would have been easier?

HERTLING: I can't explain it, Michael, only to say that I think this was something that requires a long-term plan. You know, we talk about Afghanistan but the same thing is happening to Iraqi refugees and immigrants.

So these are individuals and, literally, thousands of them. The State Department, initially, said they would pull 2,500 out. Then, it raised it to 3,500. That's a drop in the bucket for the number of people that worked for the United States government.

HOLMES: Absolutely, 100 percent. And you are right to mention the Iraqis, too, who are still waiting. Real quick, we have only got a minute left, Mark. On the battlefield, the special-forces units trained by the west are doing what they can.

But isn't it the case that Afghanistan's regular security forces just aren't up to it, they can't secure what the Special Forces might gain, you know and they're less inclined or motivated to fight.

HERTLING: Yes, Chairman Milley and Secretary Austin addressed this, the other day. And they made a very interesting point.

They said that the U.S. and NATO have trained over 300,000 for the Afghan security forces. And intelligence estimates say there is only about 75,000 Taliban with additional Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

So it would seem that this fight would be in the favor of the Afghan security forces. But there is an old-military formula, Michael. And that's, power equals resources times will, with a factor of leadership involved.

The Afghan security forces have the resources, right now. They have the numbers and the equipment. Unfortunately, the Taliban have the will. And they have better leadership than some of the Afghan security forces, other than what you say, the special operators that are doing a very good job.

And unfortunately, I think, we're going to see some really difficult fighting, in the next several months.

HOLMES: Yes. Agreed. Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, always a pleasure. Great analysis.

HERTLING: Thank you, Mike.


HOLMES: Well, Venezuela's president says he is ready to enter talks with the country's opposition. Nicolas Maduro said Saturday that everything has been prepared to open negotiations with the opposition leader, Juan Guaido, in early August.

And these talks could include participation from other nations, such as Norway and the U.S. In an interview with Venezuela's state-run television, Mr. Maduro says his government has, already, discussed a complex agenda with opposition groups. CNN has reached out to the team for comment. No response, yet.

Now there is pushback on the streets of Hungary against a new law that has been blasted as homophobic.


HOLMES (voice-over): Coming up, a clear message from a pride march in Budapest.






HOLMES: Some 30,000 people joined a pride march in Budapest on Saturday, a pushback against a new law in Hungary that's been widely slammed as homophobic. It prohibits any discussion of LGBTQ issues in schools and even bans gay and trans characters and certain others from appearing on television for much of the day.

But prime minister Viktor Orban says the law is about letting parents decide how their kids should be educated. But opponents say, not true. They say the law is part of a standard political playbook by Mr. Orban. But as Melissa Bell reports, they believe that, this time, he might be getting more than he bargained for.


MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The gay pride here in Budapest wasn't just the usual celebration this year but also a protest and for the LGBT community a show of force. The organizers say that tens of thousands turned out, despite an atmosphere, that they say, has become increasingly oppressive. Now legislation that paused that came into effect earlier this month,

it is the culmination of what has been a month long, several month long, campaign of demonization essentially, of the LGBT community.

So a lot of people coming out to try and show their support. So far, Viktor Orban, in power now for 11 years, has used what has been a fairly successful playbook of targeting minorities in order to galvanize his base. We see it with migrants, we've seen it with the homeless, we've seen it with transgender people.

This time, the question is really, if he isn't trying to take on minorities, they are simply not small enough to not possibly cancel next year's elections. What they are hoping for is a real show of support to say Hungarian society is not in favor of this referendum he has announced.

It is behind what Brussels has said it's now doing, which is taking on Viktor Orban over this very controversial legislation. In a meeting with a bunch of people these last few, days families, corporates who say that, this time, they're really standing up against the government and against Viktor Orban's populist streak, in order to make themselves heard.

The next big test will be the referendum, that we expect to be held before the end of the year -- Melissa Bell, CNN, Budapest.


HOLMES: NASA is digging for answers on the Red Planet. The Mars rover will, soon, collect rock samples to see if life ever existed on Mars. What scientists are, already, finding out, when we come back.





HOLMES: Jackie Mason, a star of the old Borscht Belt resorts in New York state, has died at age 93. Mason was once an amateur boxer and became a rabbi. But as a standup comedian, he hit the big-time. His rapid-fire schtick was decidedly Jewish and riddled with Yiddish references.

He was a TV variety show regular but had a one-man show on Broadway and later voiced a character on "The Simpsons" sitcom. A friend said Mason died at a hospital in New York on Saturday, with friends and family at his bedside.

NASA's Mars rover has begun its search for signs of ancient life. It's about to dig up its first-ever samples of Martian rock. Scientists back on Earth hope it will give them important clues to the Red Planet's secrets.


HOLMES (voice-over): NASA's rover on Mars is set to begin one of its top missions to search for signs of ancient life. After settling in and testing its gear for nearly seven months, Perseverance will reach out with its robotic arm and pick up some promising rocks.

It will begin extracting the samples. Those will help scientists determine if there was once life on the Red Planet.

Like any tourist, Perseverance has been busy taking photos. The crater was created by a meteor impact. The rover has been sending those photos back to NASA headquarters, where scientists have been studying them. According to NASA, the crater contains clay. It's led to the assumption this was once a lake.


KEN FARLEY, NASA PERSEVERANCE MARS ROVER PROJECT SCIENTIST: It was a lake and a lake about 40 kilometers across. So we're not looking for things that would have been growing in the sea. The other important aspect of this is that we are looking very, very far back in the history of the solar system.

And what that means is life would not have had much of a chance to advance very far. And that's why we always say we're looking for evidence of potential microbial life.

HOLMES (voice-over): The robotic arm will dig out samples and store them in cubes and analyze them.

JENNIFER TROSPER, NASA PERSEVERANCE MARS ROVER PROJECT MANAGER: The front of the rover then has another sample handling arm, which manages those tubes and the samples inside of them to do imaging and measure the volume. And then we'll seal those and store those for planned future return to Earth.

HOLMES: Although it's still unclear if Perseverance will be back, its possible its collection of rock samples could be back on Earth in a decade.


HOLMES: For the first time, astronomers have detected a ring around the planet outside of our solar system. What is more, it seems to be able to coalesce into new moons.

The exoplanet is orbiting a star nearly 400 million light years away. It is a gas giant, similar to Jupiter. But its ring is around 500 times larger than the rings of Saturn. And that is equivalent to the distance between Earth and the sun.

You can take a closer look and see a moon starting to form, as it pulls more and more matter from the gigantic ring.

Thanks for your company, spending part of your day with me. I'm Michael Holmes. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram @HolmesCNN. My colleague, Alison Kosik, will have more CNN NEWSROOM in just a moment.