Evening Briefing

Your Wednesday Evening Briefing

Here’s what you need to know at the end of the day.

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Good evening. Here’s the latest at the end of Wednesday.

ImageThe U.S. “will continue to fly and to operate wherever international law allows,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said.
Credit...Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters

1. The U.S. defense secretary called his Russian counterpart to clear the air after the downing of an American drone.

Lloyd Austin, the Pentagon chief, spoke today with the Russian defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, in an effort to prevent the collision between a Russian fighter jet and the U.S. surveillance aircraft from leading to an escalation in tensions. The unusual call highlighted how the incident had brought the two superpowers closer to direct conflict.

Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he also planned to speak with his Russian counterpart. U.S. officials emphasized that the military would continue to conduct surveillance flights in the region, despite yesterday’s clash. The Black Sea, where the drone was downed, has long been an important theater of competition between Russia and the West.

In other news from the war, a hacking group with ties to the Kremlin appears to be preparing new cyberattacks on Ukraine’s infrastructure and government offices, according to a new report. Russia could ramp up action in cyberspace during its anticipated spring offensive.


2. Markets shuddered as bank fears went global.

Markets were upended today as investors’ fears over the health of the banking industry resurfaced and spread around the world, reversing some of the rally yesterday when the panic appeared to pause. European markets fell roughly 3 percent, and the S&P 500 dropped 0.7 percent.

The catalyst for the day’s turmoil appeared to be Credit Suisse, where shares dropped 24 percent, hitting a record low. In response, Switzerland’s central bank said that it would step in and provide support to Credit Suisse “if necessary.”

The Swiss bank’s troubles are largely separate from the past week’s turmoil over the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank. However, the instability at Credit Suisse, which is considered an important global financial institution, added to concerns about the banking sector and the risks lurking in the financial system.

In related news, Silicon Valley Bank is likely to pay Goldman Sachs more than $100 million for a bond deal that failed to prevent its collapse.

For more: Here’s how officials in Washington ultimately decided to rescue SVB’s customers.

Credit...Jeff Pachoud/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

3. Garbage piles up in Paris as French workers await a vote on pension reform.

For more than a week, many of the city’s garbage workers have been on strike, protesting President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to raise the retirement age to 64 from 62. The mounds of garbage are a smelly, visceral symbol of popular outrage at the government’s plan.

The battle will come to a head tomorrow when both houses of Parliament hold a decisive vote on the pension bill. If the change is adopted, it is likely to redefine Macron’s second term in office, if not his entire political career.

In other international news, the Israeli security forces said they had killed a man who was accused of having planted a bomb in northern Israel and who had probably entered the country from southern Lebanon.

Credit...Patrick Edell

4. In a matter of months, ChatGPT made a larger tech leap than Siri or Alexa had in the last decade.

Virtual assistants like Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant have had years to become indispensable, but the technology has largely remained stagnant. Now, with the release of A.I.-powered bots such as ChatGPT and GPT-4, the tech world is gushing over a different kind of virtual assistant.

Despite more than a decade’s head start, the biggest tech giants appear to have lost the A.I. race (for now). Engineers said the virtual assistants were hampered by clunky designs and management miscalculations, leaving room for chatbots to rise.

For more: My colleague Kevin Roose tested out GPT-4. He found it exciting and impressive, but worried that the worst risks of the technology are the ones we cannot anticipate.

Gov. Ron DeSantis broke from the hawkish Republican position.Credit...Scott McIntyre for The New York Times

5. Republican hawks condemned Gov. Ron DeSantis for calling the war in Ukraine a “territorial dispute.”

The Florida governor declared this week that defending Ukraine against Russia’s invasion was not a vital interest of the U.S., distancing himself from the established Republican position and aligning with Donald Trump. Senator Lindsey Graham, a fellow Republican, said he “could not disagree more.”

In other politics news, a $19 million luxury yacht sale brokered by Representative George Santos has caught the attention of the authorities investigating him.

Also, the Senate confirmed Eric Garcetti, the former mayor of Los Angeles, as the U.S. ambassador to India, after a two-year fight.

Credit...Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press

6. Bird flu spreads easily among seals, a new study found.

Last summer, the highly contagious strain of avian influenza that had been spreading through North American birds made its way into marine mammals, causing a spike in seal strandings and deaths along the coast of Maine. The study found that, in several seals, the virus had mutations that are associated with adaptation to mammals and that it had most likely spread easily from seal to seal.

While the risk to humans remains low, the report comes amid growing concerns that the virus could adapt to spread more efficiently among mammals, potentially setting off a new pandemic.

Credit...Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

7. In the age of climate change, seaweed is suddenly a hot global commodity.

Long treasured in Asian kitchens, and neglected almost everywhere else, the marine plant is beginning to boom as a greener alternative to a range of materials. In London, a start-up is making a plastic substitute out of the plant. In Australia and Hawaii, farmers are growing seaweed that, when fed to livestock, can cut methane from cow burps.

But while some see it as a miracle crop, others worry that farming the ocean could replicate some of the same damage of farming on land. Seaweed itself is also feeling the impact of climate change, particularly in Asia.

In other climate news, the Biden administration told 23 states in the West and the Midwest to sharply cut pollution from smokestacks that fouls the air in the East.

Driving distance has been steadily increasing over the last several decades.Credit...Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images

8. Golf’s top regulators said players are hitting the ball way too far.

The U.S. Golf Association and the R&A, which together write golf’s rule book, said that elite golfers — helped by technological advancements and a growing focus on physical fitness — are now hitting the ball significantly farther than in the past. (An increasing number of tee shots are ending up so close to the hole that courses have been redesigned.)

To counteract the trend, the officials said that professionals should be barred from using the most high-tech balls, which fly much farther than standard balls when struck at the same speed.

In other sports news, several of this year’s top N.B.A. prospects decided to skip college.

Credit...Chris Simpson for The New York Times

9. What to do tonight:

Cook: These cabbage rolls with walnuts and sour cream make the vegetable the star.

Watch: A new season of “Ted Lasso” was released today. One of its stars is ready for what’s next.

Read: A Miami-based writer recommends books that help reveal the city’s character.

Wager: See if you can guess better than other readers how the N.C.A.A. college basketball tournament will unfold.

Grow: “No dig” gardening is not just possible — it’s easier.

Exercise: This high-intensity interval workout is one of the most efficient ways to get fit.

Play: Today’s Spelling Bee, Wordle and Mini Crossword. For more, find all our games here.

Credit...David J. Phillip/Associated Press

10. And finally, a new moon suit.

NASA unveiled a newly designed spacesuit made specifically for the first manned trip to the moon in more than 50 years — scheduled for 2025. The black suit, with orange and blue highlights, features a large clear bubble around the head, a mount for a high-definition camera and a backpack-like life support system.

However, the outfits worn by the actual astronauts will look different from the new prototype in one key way: They will be mainly white in order to reflect heat from sunlight. It can get exceptionally hot in space.

“Astronauts are getting hip,” our fashion critic wrote.

Have an out-of-this-world night.

Brent Lewis compiled photos for this briefing.

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