Blinken Presses Congo Leaders to Slow Oil-and-Gas Push in Rainforests | Big Indy News
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Blinken Presses Congo Leaders to Slow Oil-and-Gas Push in Rainforests



KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of Congo — Pushing for a reconsideration of plans by the Democratic Republic of Congo to auction parts of its vast rainforests and peatlands, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken announced that American and Congolese officials would form a team to examine proposed oil-and-gas extraction in those areas.

The agreement came on Tuesday during Mr. Blinken’s visit to Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo. While there, the secretary of state expressed concern over an effort by the country’s president, Félix Tshisekedi, to auction off vast parcels of land, which are critical to mitigating climate change, to energy companies for exploration. Mr. Blinken’s remarks were the first time the U.S. government has taken a public stand on the issue.

“We had concerns about the announcement of the auction of these oil and gas exploration blocks,” Mr. Blinken said at a news conference on Tuesday. “Some of the blocks infringe on sensitive rainforest and peatland areas, including in the Virunga National Park and Salonga National Park.”

He noted that at the United Nations climate summit in November in Glasgow, governments made a collective pledge of $1.5 billion to support the Congo Basin’s forests. Mr. Tshisekedi signed onto the 10-year plan and was hailed as a leader in climate change mitigation efforts.

His government’s abrupt announcement of the auction in May stunned officials, environmental groups and policymakers worldwide. The auction began on July 28, and the government is taking bids for 27 oil blocks and three gas blocks.

U.S. officials say they are unaware so far of any American companies putting in bids.

Mr. Blinken said he raised the issue separately with Mr. Tshisekedi and Christophe Lutundula, the foreign minister, on Tuesday, and with Jean-Michel Sama Lukonde, the prime minister, on Wednesday. He said Mr. Tshisekedi had promised him that proposed actions would not proceed “in the absence of full environmental impact assessments and studies.”

It is unclear if the American intervention will slow the auction process or its aftermath, or whether it will prompt other nations to try to get involved. But the announcement of the transnational working group was seen as a hopeful sign by some scholars who have studied the threats to the rainforest, especially because Congolese officials had been insisting that the rainforest question is a sovereign matter.

“It is very significant that the environmental impacts of drilling for oil in the rainforest are being discussed at the very highest levels,” said Simon Lewis, a professor of global change science at University College London. “Logically, the D.R.C. government should now officially halt the oil auction until the new D.R.C.-U.S. working group has concluded its discussions and implemented any near-term actions.

“In my view, environmental and social assessments should be completed before any auction, as this is the only way the people of D.R.C. and the world can see if prospecting for oil makes sense,” he added.

American officials said they would need to work out details of the working group with Congo.

Mr. Lutundula said at the news conference with Mr. Blinken that Congo would stick to its promise last year to protect the rainforests, but also stressed that the government needed to find ways to improve the economy of Congo, a nation of 90 million that is one of the world’s poorest. It was exploited for decades as a colony of Belgium before being ruled by dictators.

“The challenge is to find an equilibrium, a balance between the well-being of Congolese people and also the necessity to guarantee a framework, a development framework, an ecological framework,” Mr. Lutundula said.

He also pointed to the history of foreign companies in his country, saying, “We know that there are some countries that have been exploiting D.R.C.’s riches for years now and not respecting at all the biodiversity.”

The rainforest of the Congo Basin stretches for 1,500 miles across central Africa. It acts as a large carbon sink, slowing climate change by removing 1.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere annually, according to Mr. Lewis.

Without solid exploration data, Congolese officials have speculated that up to 16 billion barrels of oil are under the rainforest, and that the country could produce up to one million barrels a day, up from the current number, 25,000.

Energy companies have reaped record profits from oil sales this year as the market price has surged. The United States developed its economy based on fossil fuels, and the American government maintains close ties with some Middle Eastern nations — notably Saudi Arabia — in part because of their capacity for oil production. But environmental advocates say a move by Congo to become a petro-economy is shortsighted, given the widening embrace of renewable energy by many countries, institutions and companies.

Mr. Blinken and Congolese officials also spoke about improving the mining industry, which is rife with corruption and environmentally destructive. He said the United States wanted to work with Congo to ensure that mining companies were not in “a race to the bottom that ends up hurting workers, hurting the environment, fueling armed conflict.”

Mr. Blinken has also urged Congolese officials to ensure that presidential elections next year, in which Mr. Tshisekedi plans to run for office again, are held properly and on time. On Tuesday, police officers arrested Jean-Marc Kabund, a former Tshisekedi ally and now an opposition party leader, on unannounced charges.

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The F.D.A. Now Says It Plainly: Morning-After Pills Are Not Abortion Pills



The F.D.A. said it made the change now because it had completed a review of a 2018 application to alter the label that was submitted by Foundation Consumer Healthcare, a company that in 2017 bought the Plan B brand from Teva Pharmaceutical Industries. Agency officials said the pandemic delayed the review process and that the timing was not motivated by political considerations.

A spokeswoman for the company, Dani Hirsch, said in an interview that for its 2018 application, the company had not conducted any new studies but had submitted “what was already out there.”

In a statement, the company’s marketing director, Tara Evans, said “the misconception that Plan B works by interfering with implantation can present barriers to broader emergency contraception access. The Plan B labeling correction will help protect continued over-the-counter emergency contraception access and reduce confusion about how Plan B works and further clarify that Plan B does not affect implantation.”

Plan B One-Step and its generic versions — including brands like Take Action, My Way and Option 2 — contain levonorgestrel, one of a class of hormones called progestins that are also found at lower doses in birth control pills and intrauterine devices. The pills are most effective in preventing pregnancy if taken within 72 hours of sexual intercourse, although they can sometimes work if taken within five days.

Another type of morning-after pill, marketed as Ella and containing a compound called ulipristal acetate, is only available by prescription and is not affected by the F.D.A.’s label change. There has been less research on this type of pill, but studies suggest that it is highly unlikely to prevent implantation of a fertilized egg. In 2009, after months of scrutiny, Ella was approved for sale in overwhelmingly Catholic Italy, where laws would have barred it if it had been considered to induce abortions.

According to data published in 2021 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly one-quarter of women of reproductive age who have sex with men answered yes to the question: “Have you ever used emergency contraception, also known as ‘Plan B,’ ‘Preven,’ ‘Ella,’ ‘Next Choice,’ or ‘Morning after’ pills?” The agency did not break down the data by the type of pills taken.

As far back as the 1999 approval process, the maker of Plan B — Barr Pharmaceuticals, later acquired by Teva — asked the F.D.A. not to list an implantation effect on the label, The Times reported in 2012.

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Who are Caroline Ellison’s parents? Fraudster’s mom and dad are MIT economists



This apple fell far from the tree.

Caroline Ellison — who pleaded guilty to fraud charges related to her role in the FTX cryptocurrency scandal, which led to the extradition of Sam Bankman-Fried this week — is the daughter of high-profile economists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

According to his curriculum vitae, Ellison’s father, Glenn Ellison, was educated at Harvard, Cambridge and MIT before becoming the Gregory K. Palm (1970) Professor of Economics at the latter. 

In addition to coaching youth softball and his daughters’ middle school math teams, he writes “Hard Math,” a series of textbooks and workbooks about teaching arithmetic to younger students.

Glenn Ellison is also an Elected Fellow of the Society for the Advancement of Economic Theory and American Academy of Arts & Sciences.

Caroline Ellison’s parents, Glenn and Sara Ellison, outside their Newton, Mass., home in early December.
Robert Miller

Ellison’s mother, Sara Ellison, is also an accomplished academic. Armed with an undergraduate degree from Purdue University and a mathematical statistics diploma from Cambridge University, her profile shows she completed a doctorate at MIT in 1993. 

Sara Ellison is currently a senior lecturer in the department alongside her husband.

“We were definitely exposed to a lot of economics [growing up],” Ellison, 28, once told Forbes.

Ellison, 28, plead guilty to fraud this week.
Ellison, 28, pleaded guilty to fraud this week.
Twitter / @AlamedaResearch
Caroline Ellison's sister, Anna, now lives in the West Village.
Caroline Ellison’s sister, Anna, now lives in the West Village.

Glenn and Sara Ellison were photographed by The Post outside their home in Newton, an affluent Boston suburb, earlier this month. Armed with several bags, they told reporters they were too “busy” to comment on the FTX scandal.

The eldest of three sisters — including Anna, 25, who now lives in Manhattan’s West Village — Ellison distinguished herself as a precocious math whiz at a young age. 

When she was just 8 years old, she reportedly presented her father with a paper analyzing stuffed animal prices at Toys ‘R’ Us.

Sam Bankman-Fried leaving Manhattan Federal Court on Thursday.
Sam Bankman-Fried leaving Manhattan federal court on Thursday.
Matthew McDermott
Both Glenn and Sara Ellison are economists at MIT.
Both Glenn and Sara Ellison are economists at MIT.
Robert Miller

She went on to compete in the Math Prize for Girls while at Newton North High School before studying mathematics at Stanford University, where former professor Ruth Stackman described her to Forbes as “bright, focused, [and] very mathy.”

Ellison and Bankman-Fried, 30, crossed paths at the Wall Street trading firm Jane Street. Bankman-Fried’s parents are also both university lecturers, at Stanford in California. They became good friends and she joined Alameda Research, the hedge fund arm of the FTX crypto exchange, in 2018. She then became CEO in 2021. However, the company remained owned 90% by Bankman-Fried and 10% by another member of his circle.

In addition to documenting her supposed foray into polyamory on Tumblr, Ellison once boasted about drug use on social media.

Sara Ellison completed a doctorate at MIT in 1993.
Sara Ellison completed a doctorate at MIT in 1993.
Robert Miller

“Nothing like regular amphetamine use to make you appreciate how dumb a lot of normal, non-medicated human experience is,” she tweeted in 2021.

Ellison reportedly admitted to Alameda employees that FTX had used client funds to bail out the fledgeling hedge fund during a video call in November. She was eventually terminated as CEO by insolvency professional and current FTX CEO John J. Ray III after FTX and Alameda filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

She pleaded guilty to federal fraud charges on Monday, and has subsequently been released on $250,000 bail.

Ellison was spotted getting coffee in New York City on Dec. 4.
Ellison was spotted getting coffee in New York City on Dec. 4.
Twitter / @AutismCapital

Although she could be sent to jail for up to 110 years for her part in the FTX-Alameda scandal — which has been said by federal prosecutors to have lost between $1 billion and $2 billion of customers’ cash — she is thought to have struck a deal with the feds for a much lighter sentence in return for her cooperation.

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Iran condemns Zelensky’s remarks to Congress as ‘baseless.’



Iran has condemned President Volodymyr Zelensky’s remarks to the U.S. Congress, warning the Ukrainian leader against further accusing Tehran of supplying weapons to Russia for use in the war.

Mr. Zelensky told Congress on Wednesday that Iranian-made drones “sent to Russia in hundreds” had been threatening Ukraine’s critical infrastructure, a view shared by American and European officials. In Iran, he said, Russia had found an “ally in its genocidal policy.”

A spokesman for Iran’s foreign ministry, Nasser Kanaani, called Mr. Zelensky’s comments “rude” and “baseless.”

“Mr. Zelensky had better know that Iran’s strategic patience over such unfounded accusations is not endless,” Mr. Kanaani said in a statement on Thursday.

Although Iran has officially denied supplying Russia with the weapons since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, U.S. officials have said that the first shipment was delivered in August.

Mr. Zelensky has said that drones used in Monday’s wave of predawn attacks on Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities were from a batch recently delivered to Russia by Iran. The strikes came after Biden administration officials said that Russia and Iran were strengthening their military ties into a “full-fledged defense partnership.”

The European Union last week condemned Iran’s military partnership with Russia as a gross violation of international law and announced new sanctions against Iranian individuals and entities over their roles in supplying the drones that Moscow has used to attack Ukrainian civilians and infrastructure. That followed a round of sanctions on Iranians over the drone deliveries in October.

Mr. Kanaani “once again emphasizes” that Iran has not supplied military equipment for use in Ukraine, the statement issued on Thursday added, and urged Mr. Zelensky to learn “the fate of some other political leaders” who were happy with U.S. support. It was not clear which other leaders the statement was referring to.

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