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Your Tuesday Briefing: China’s New Military Drills Near Taiwan

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Just a day after ending its largest-ever military exercises near Taiwan, China announced new operations in the area.

It’s a sign that Beijing will keep up its military pressure on Taiwan, and could be normalizing its presence around the island before gradually cutting off access to its airspace and waters.

Taiwan’s defense ministry said it had detected multiple Chinese war ships involved in nearly 40 sorties near the island, including 21 that crossed the informal median line in the Taiwan Strait between the island and the mainland.

Background: Beijing cast the military exercises as punishment for last week’s visit from U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. But they also offered a warning to allied countries like Japan, and served as practice for a possible attack.

Context: Xi Jinping, China’s most powerful leader in generations, has made it clear that he sees uniting Taiwan and China as a key goal. He is also keen to project an image of strength before a Communist Party congress scheduled in the fall, when he is expected to be confirmed to a third term.

Related: When a Taiwanese democracy activist was jailed in China, his wife drew international attention to his plight.


“There was a mass grave that held 300 people, and I was standing at its edge,” writes Natalia Yermak, a Ukrainian reporter and translator for The Times. “The chalky body bags were piled up in the pit, exposed. One moment before, I was a different person, someone who never knew how wind smelled after it passed over the dead on a pleasant summer afternoon.”

Yermak was reporting from Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, near the front lines of the war with Russia, where deaths are an “inescapable reality that feels like the very air in your lungs.”

She thought that such tragedies would not follow her west — but once Yermak returned to Kyiv, she learned that her best friend’s cousin had been killed fighting in the east, and that she would soon have to stand over another grave.

“It was an experience familiar to many Ukrainians,” Yermak wrote. “Five months after the full-scale Russian invasion began, the wars’ front lines mean little. Missile strikes and the news of death and casualties have blackened nearly every part of the country like poison.”

Other war news:


A year after the U.S. military departed Afghanistan, the country finds itself in a position of dire need.

The scale of suffering there today is difficult to fathom. Despite more than $100 billion in development spending by the West, Afghanistan has remained one of the poorest and most aid-dependent states in the world. Actions by the country’s fundamentalist Taliban government, like largely denying education to young women and decreeing that women must wear burqas, could undermine global good will and deplete the country’s work force — especially in critical fields like medicine.

Even members of the government have expressed frustration with the culture war encouraged by the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, particularly those responsible for reviving a failing state.

“Why are we making problems for ourselves with these announcements? Just do your work,” one Taliban bureaucrat, a former military commander, told The Times Magazine. “People are just hearing these announcements about clothes — they aren’t seeing any actual work.”

When President Biden announced last week that a U.S. drone strike in Kabul killed Ayman al-Zawahri, the leader of Al Qaeda, he appeared to exaggerate al-Zawahri’s role in major attacks.

Current artificial intelligence technology is not actually sentient, and can’t create robots who can emote, converse or jam on lead vocals like a human. But it can mislead people, writes my colleague Cade Metz.

Olivia Newton-John sang pop hits in the 1970s and ’80s and starred in “Grease,” one of the most popular musical films of its era. She died on Monday at 73.

Scientists say that there is only one option when you see a spotted lanternfly in the U.S.: Kill it on sight.

For years, American officials have urged people to squash the attractive but destructive insects, which scientists believe arrived in the country in 2011 in a shipment of stones. But the invasive bugs, native to parts of Asia, are proliferating in New York City and elsewhere.

Freelance bug-squishers cannot turn back the lanternfly tide by themselves. But lanternflies, one urban ecologist told The Times, “invite a lot of participation.” She hopes that citizen exterminators will engage their representatives on the pest, and turn their attention to other invasive species as well.

Invasive pests are tenacious. Rabbits in Australia became an ecological and economic scourge after they were introduced in the 19th century. Scientists killed hundreds of millions of them by introducing the myxoma virus — the deadliest vertebrate virus — but as Carl Zimmer wrote in June, the rabbits adapted and kicked off an evolutionary arms race.

But if New Yorkers can’t check the lanternfly, there’s a silver lining: they feed on the tree of heaven, a tough, stinky invader with which city-dwellers have a love-hate relationship.

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Trump’s Far-right Embrace

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Donald Trump claimed he did not know who Nick Fuentes was before sitting down to dinner with him and other guests at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate last week. But Fuentes is certainly well known to the groups that track racist and antisemitic trends in American society.

While the Justice Department has described Fuentes in court papers as a white supremacist, that barely begins to fully capture the range of inflammatory views he has expressed denigrating Black people, Jews, women, L.G.B.T.Q. Americans, Muslims and immigrants.

At age 24, Fuentes has become a star on the far right for a font of extremist statements that would have disqualified him from meeting with any other modern president. He has used a racist slur for Black people; called homosexuality “disgusting”; asserted that the Republican Party was “run by Jews, atheists and homosexuals”; said it would be better if women could not vote; compared himself to Hitler and hoped for “a total Aryan victory”; declared that “the First Amendment was not written for Muslims”; and maintained that Jim Crow segregation “was better for them, it’s better for us, it’s better in general.”

Fuentes first came to prominence in 2017 when he attended the ultraright rally in Charlottesville, Va., after which Trump asserted that there were “very fine people on both sides” even as he denounced neo-Nazis. Fuentes dropped out of Boston University after saying he had received threats stemming from his attendance at the rally and began hosting a livestream show, “America First,” that same year, generating an audience of followers called Groypers, named for a cartoon frog.

He founded the America First Political Action Conference in 2020 and hosted far-right Republicans in the House including Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Paul Gosar of Arizona. Fuentes rejects the term white supremacist because it is an “anti-white slur,” but embraces the language of white racism and antisemitism and calls himself a “reactionary” and a “misogynist.”

Trump often claims not to know much about extremists whose support he accepts, as he did with the former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, the Proud Boys and followers of QAnon. But even if it were true in this case, Fuentes was brought to the dinner by Kanye West, the rapper now known as Ye, who was invited by Trump at the very moment West was under fire for antisemitic comments of his own. And even afterward, Trump did not condemn Fuentes, leaving white nationalists to view the dinner as validation.

While news organizations are naturally reluctant to amplify hateful statements, it is important to understand just what we’re talking about when we discuss someone welcomed to the table of a former president seeking to return to the White House. So here is a summary compiled with the help of my colleague Ian Prasad Philbrick from research by the Anti-Defamation League, the Southern Poverty Law Center and other organizations and news outlets. Fuentes did not respond to requests for an interview passed along through a lawyer.

Fuentes regularly invokes fears of a “white genocide” and echoes replacement theory, which holds that elites seek to “replace” white Americans with immigrants and other people of color. The theory has inspired a number of mass shootings in recent years, including at a Pittsburgh synagogue, a Walmart in El Paso and a Buffalo supermarket.

“Our civilization is being dismantled, our people are being genocided, and conservatives can’t think past what will play well with liberal media in the next election,” Fuentes once tweeted. He has also said, “The Founders never intended for America to be a refugee camp for nonwhite people.” And on Alex Jones’s Infowars last year, he said, “I don’t see Jews as Europeans and I don’t see them as part of Western civilization, particularly because they are not Christians.”

Fuentes has advanced Holocaust denial, or what he calls Holocaust “revision,” most memorably in a video riff in which he compared Nazi death camps to Cookie Monster baking cookies, suggesting it was not possible to have killed six million Jews during World War II. He later said the video was only a “lampoon,” while saying he does acknowledge the Holocaust, and he has said he uses “irony” to discuss taboo subjects.

While again saying he was only kidding, Fuentes appeared to endorse violence against women, telling one listener on his livestream who asked how to punish a wife “for getting out of line” that he should hit her.

“Why don’t you take your hand and give her a vicious slap right across her face, right across her ignorant face?” he said. “Why don’t you give her a vicious and forceful backhanded slap with your knuckles right across her face, disrespectfully, and make it hurt?” He then disavowed violence and claimed he was joking, saying he would never strike a woman “unless she deserved it.”

Fuentes has praised the fall of the American-backed government in Afghanistan because the Taliban “is a conservative, religious force” while “the U.S. is godless and liberal,” and cheered on President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, saying, “Can we give a round of applause for Russia?” He has said that the crusades and the inquisitions were “pretty good stuff” and that he wanted the “people that run CNN to be arrested and deported or hanged.”

As for the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, when he and other Trump supporters rallied outside the building, Fuentes has called it “awesome” and “lighthearted mischief.” On the anniversary of the riot, he revered it as “part of our new heritage,” adding that it should be a holiday. “This is a historic moment for us,” he said. “We should celebrate that it happened, absolutely.”

Related: Some Jewish Republicans who were among Trump’s staunchest supporters are backing away over concerns he is legitimizing antisemitism.

Protests in China

  • The world’s largest active volcano, Mauna Loa in Hawaii, erupted for the first time in decades. It posed no immediate risk to local communities.

  • Representative A. Donald McEachin, a Virginia Democrat who was overwhelmingly re-elected this month, died at 61 after fighting colorectal cancer.

  • Five Connecticut officers were charged with misdemeanors after a Black man was paralyzed while they transported him in a police van.

  • Green Sprouts recalled thousands of bottles and cups for toddlers over a possible risk of lead poisoning.

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Unconditional love defines parenthood. The tawdry machinations of day-to-day parenting are another matter, Ruth Whippman writes.

Steelers avoid meltdown: Pittsburgh survived the loss of running back Najee Harris in a 24-17 win last night in Indianapolis.

Auburn hire: Hugh Freeze is an S.E.C. head football coach again after his messy departure from Ole Miss in 2017.

Top teams advance: Portugal and Brazil each won their second matches, joining France in the Round of 16. (Experts broke down Brazil’s chances if an injury to their star, Neymar, persists.)

Censor: China’s match broadcasts are limiting close-up shots of the crowds of maskless fans, the type of gatherings that conflict with its own strict Covid rules.

America’s big moment: The U.S. faces Iran at 2 p.m. Eastern today, a showdown between teams representing geopolitical foes. The math is simple: If the Americans win, they advance.

“Play with no fear”: The former U.S. star Clint Dempsey offered advice to the young players on the verge of history.

How do you clean a colossal, more than 500-year-old statue? Very carefully. Six times a year, Eleonora Pucci, the in-house restorer of the Galleria dell’Accademia, takes on the daunting task of tidying Michelangelo’s David.

It begins with a photographic close-up to track how the statue is faring, and to verify how much dust and microscopic debris has accumulated. Then, standing atop scaffolding, Pucci dusts the statue with a synthetic brush and sucks up any particles with a specially designed vacuum strapped to her back.

“To be able to contribute, even in a small way, to the conservation of David’s beauty,” Pucci said, makes hers “the best job in the world.”

What to Cook

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Non-binary Biden nuclear official charged with stealing woman’s $2.3K luggage at airport

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A Biden administration employee – and one of the federal government’s first gender non-binary officials – has been accused of stealing a travelor’s luggage from the Minneapolis airport in September.

Sam Brinton, the deputy assistant secretary for spent fuel and waste disposition at the DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy, was charged with felony theft after allegedly snatching a Vera Bradley suitcase reportedly worth $2,325 from baggage claim at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport on Sept. 16, according to court documents.

Brinton, who uses they/them pronouns, was captured on surveillance video grabbing the luggage and removing its ID tag identifying the owner, the filings state.

They were later seen using the Vera Bradley suitcase on at least two occasions, while traveling to Washington, DC on Sept. 18 and Oct. 9, investigators said.

Brinton initially denied stealing the suitcase to police officers, but later claimed they took it by mistake and still had it in their possession.

The incident occurred at Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport.
AFP via Getty Images
Sam Brinton
Sam Brinton, a senior Energy Department official, was charged with stealing a traveler’s luggage.
Department of Energy

“If I had taken the wrong bag, I am happy to return it, but I don’t have any clothes for another individual,” Brinton first told the officer. “That was my clothes when I opened the bag.”

However, Brinton called the officer back two hours after their first conversation and confessed to not being “completely honest.”

They said they accidentally grabbed the wrong bag at the luggage carousel due to exhaustion.

According to the court filings, Brinton said when they opened the bag at their hotel, they realized it wasn’t theirs, but got nervous someone would think they stole it and didn’t know what to do. They said they emptied the luggage and left the person’s clothes inside the drawers of a dresser in the hotel room.

The official was charged with felony theft of a moveable property without consent, as first reported by the local Minnesota outlet, Alpha News.

Brinton — who became one of the government’s first non-binary officials when taking the job — was placed on leave about a month ago following the accusations. 

Brinton -- who became one of the government’s first non-binary officials when taking the job -- was placed on leave about a month ago following the accusations. 
Brinton — who became one of the government’s first non-binary officials when taking the job — was placed on leave about a month ago following the accusations. 
Getty Images for The Trevor Proj

Another official was named as their interim replacement earlier this month, according to the Exchange Monitor which tracks government officials’ moves.

A spokesperson for the DOE confirmed Brinton’s leave to Fox News Digital.

If convicted, Brinton could face up to five years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine.

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China Regroups to Snuff Out a Wave of Protests

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After China experienced its boldest and most widespread protests in decades, defying Xi Jinping, a Communist Party leader who prizes his reputation for ironclad authority, his security apparatus is scrambling to reassert control.

Public security personnel and vehicles have blanketed potential protest sites. Police officers are searching some residents’ phones for prohibited apps. Officials are going to the homes of would-be protesters to warn them against illegal activities and are taking some away for questioning. Censors are scrubbing protest symbols and slogans from social media.

The campaign to quash the protests on multiple fronts draws on the party’s decades-old toolkit of repression and surveillance, which Mr. Xi has upgraded in pursuit of unshakable dominance. He has expanded the police forces, promoted loyal security leaders into key positions and declared that “political security” — for him and for the party — must be the bedrock of national security.

Yet even as Mr. Xi rolls out the police, he is projecting an unruffled appearance of business as usual.

He has stayed silent about the rare open challenge to his rule that erupted in the protests, including calls for him to step down. He appears to be wagering that by outwardly ignoring the demonstrations, he can sap their momentum while the security services move in and the party’s army of online loyalists try to discredit protesters as tools of American-led subversion.

“They’re saying as little as possible for as long as possible,” said William Hurst, a professor at the University of Cambridge who studies politics and protest in China. “If they speak, it could inflame the situation, so it’s better to sit back and pretend nothing is happening.”

On Tuesday, the People’s Daily, the party’s main newspaper, featured Mr. Xi’s talks with the visiting Mongolian president and a front-page celebration of Mr. Xi’s decade in power, but not a word about the protests, China’s most widespread since the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement of 1989.

Still, there seems no doubt that inside the guarded seclusion of the party’s Zhongnanhai leadership compound in Beijing, Mr. Xi and his advisers have been monitoring the unrest and plotting a response. Since the protests of 1989, Chinese leaders have fixated on the dangers of anti-government social movements, determined to nip them in the bud and avoid the trauma of another bloody crackdown.

Even so, the protests that broke out in parts of Shanghai, Beijing and other Chinese cities over the weekend appeared to catch leaders off guard.

The collective public anger first welled up in Urumqi, a city in western China where at least 10 people died in an apartment fire last week. Many people have said, despite official denials, that the deaths were caused by pandemic restrictions that prevented residents from leaving their apartment block. Protests over the tragedy escalated into wider denunciations of China’s pandemic policies, as well as calls from some for democracy, a free press and other ideals anathema to the country’s authoritarian rulers.

This week, China’s security forces have regrouped, making new demonstrations much more difficult and risky.

“I am pretty sure that the security apparatus will get this under control fairly quickly,” said H. Christoph Steinhardt, a scholar at the University of Vienna who studies patterns of protest in China. “I guess they will begin with identifying ringleaders and then leaning on them, combined with preventive policing in public areas.”

In Hangzhou, a prosperous city about 100 miles southwest of Shanghai, the police broke up an attempted demonstration on Monday night, shouting at passers-by and dragging away one woman who was screaming. Dozens of people also confronted officers who had detained someone, chanting “release them.”

In the southern city of Guangzhou, a hundred or so police officers wearing helmets and white protective clothing to possibly ward off Covid banged their clubs on their riot shields as they strode through a street, warning people not to hang around.

Officers across China have been visiting protesters’ homes or stopping possible ones on the street. They check their phones for apps banned in China, delete pictures of demonstrations and warn people not to take to the streets again.

“When the police came to my door, I had to delete my text records,” said a Beijing resident who joined a protest vigil near the Liangma River on Sunday night. She asked that only her surname, Chen, be used, citing fear of police reprisals.

Ms. Chen said she was motivated by grief and frustration with the stringent “zero Covid” policies that have been enforced for nearly three years, including citywide lockdowns and constant Covid tests.

“I really didn’t have any specific slogans and demands,” she said. “It was more about the pent-up pain of so many years.”

Officials appear to be trying to quietly address the most common of grievances about China’s Covid restrictions, which have disrupted life, schooling and business.

Many residents have complained about a 20-point set of rules issued by the government on Nov. 11, which at first seemed to promise an easing in pandemic restrictions. However, it has made little effect on the ground, where local officials are under enormous pressure to stifle Covid outbreaks.

Since the protests over the weekend, local governments across China have said that they will stop residents from being locked in their homes any longer than necessary to prevent expanding outbreaks. On Tuesday, an article from Xinhua, the main state news agency, urged officials to show compassion to frustrated residents.

“All areas and departments must be more patient in relieving the anxieties of the public,” the article said. “The fight against the pandemic is complex, arduous and repetitive, and we must listen to the sincere voice of the public.”

Avoiding any direct mention of the protests by Chinese leaders or in state media is likely a deliberate strategy to try to downplay their significance. In 1989, the students who occupied Tiananmen Square galvanized in fury after an editorial in the People’s Daily, the party’s mouthpiece, condemned them as being infiltrated by agents of turmoil. The unrest this time has not reached that scale, and officials appear to have learned their lesson.

“The moment that the central leadership takes an official line, they are dignifying the protests with an official response and admitting that they must be reckoned with, which gives them a status that they would rather deny them,” Prof. Hurst of Cambridge University said.

In Shanghai, Beijing and other cities, the police have bundled away some protesters. Some have been released after a couple of days in detention. Particular attention has been paid to university students. At Tsinghua University, a prestigious school in Beijing, shouts rang out from a crowd of hundreds of students for “democracy and rule of law” and “freedom of expression” in what was likely the boldest campus protest.

Tsinghua’s administrators said Sunday that students could leave early for their winter break and offered free train or air travel, a step that may have been intended to defuse fresh protests.

In China, such a response is considered restrained. But that may not last, and it does not mean that the Communist Party authorities will treat all protesters with leniency. Instead of speaking out directly, the party has allowed loyalists on social media to depict the protesters as pawns, witting or unwitting, of Western efforts to destabilize China and discredit its “zero Covid” policies.

Since Monday, a growing chorus of these online commentators have tied the protests to “color revolution,” a term borrowed from Russia to describe purported Western-backed plots to sow insurrection in rival states. Some have claimed the protesters are acolytes of those who shook Hong Kong in 2019, prompting Mr. Xi to impose a national security law there and a sweeping crackdown on anti-government activists.

“Their style in stirring up trouble is the typical color revolution way,” said one commentary about the weekend protests that spread on unofficial Chinese websites and social media. Protest leaders, it said, “were using their worst malice to agitate members of the public who don’t understand their true nature — especially university students and intellectuals whose heads are stuffed with Western ideas — to join in.”

In previous years, the authorities’ intimidation and the heavy police presence would likely have been enough to douse any incipient protest movement. This time, some protesters are vowing to keep pressing the Chinese government. On social media groups operating beyond China’s censorship firewall, they have swapped ideas for moving around in smaller clusters, using multiple phones, and figuring out how to track and share information about the movements of police.

But Mr. Xi’s security options are far from exhausted. China has about 2 million regular police officers — by some measures, relatively few for its 1.4 billion people — but also a million or more People’s Armed Police troops trained in suppressing unrest, as well as legions of security guards and auxiliary police officers. Ultimately, there is also the Chinese military. And as in the crackdown in Hong Kong, the Chinese authorities may make more arrests after the tumult subsides.

Edward Luo, a 23-year old who watched the protest in Shanghai on Sunday, said he was a student in Hong Kong during the 2019 protests and was worried that the young demonstrators in Shanghai did not grasp the risks they faced.

“I think that some people were unafraid, and there were some students who maybe don’t understand how much pressure this state can pile on them,” he said. “Like a newborn calf that isn’t afraid of a tiger.”

Joy Dong, Olivia Wang and Amy Chang Chien contributed reporting.



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