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



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.

Read the full article here


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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