Your Thursday Evening Briefing – The New York Times

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Good evening. Here’s the latest at the end of Thursday.
1.President Vladimir Putin of Russia warned President Joe Biden that new sanctions over Ukraine would result in a “complete rupture” between the superpowers, a Russian official said.
In a 50-minute phone call that both sides described as businesslike, Biden tried to reassure Putin that the U.S. had no intention of placing offensive weapons in Ukraine. American officials said it ended without clarity about Putin’s intentions related to the 100,000 or so troops he has massed on the Ukraine border.
The U.S. believes that Putin has to decide whether he will invade in the next month, when the ground is frozen enough to roll heavy military equipment into Ukraine. A round of diplomatic talks is scheduled for Jan. 10.
2. The F.D.A. plans to allow Pfizer boosters for 12- to 15-year-olds.
Regulators also plan to shorten the period between the second Pfizer dose and the booster, according to people familiar with the deliberations. A booster is also expected to be authorized for children 5 to 11 with immune deficiencies.
The C.D.C. released two studies about vaccinating children. One found that, out of hundreds of pediatric cases last summer, nearly all who became seriously ill had not been fully vaccinated. The other reinforced the safety of the Pfizer vaccine among children 5 to 11.
South Africa said its Omicron wave had passed with few added deaths. Israel approved a fourth vaccine dose for people with compromised immune systems.
The U.S. is averaging more than 300,000 new cases a day for the first time. But hospitalizations are growing at a much slower rate. Here’s what to know for the holiday weekend. Experts are debating whether daily case counts remain useful, given the use of at-home testing.
3. A pharmaceutical company was found guilty in a landmark opioid trial.
Teva Pharmaceuticals USA Inc. and some of its subsidiary companies were found liable for contributing to a public nuisance by inundating New York with pills that killed thousands of people. New York State was also determined to be partly responsible.
The trial, which began in June, was the first of its kind to target the entire opioid supply chain: drug manufacturers, distributors and pharmacy chains.
But a string of settlements left only a few defendants at trial: Teva, a manufacturer of opioids; a handful of its associated companies; and Anda, a distributor that is a subsidiary of Teva.
4. A new ban on surprise medical bills starts next week.
For years, Americans with medical emergencies could receive a nasty surprise: a bill from a doctor they did not choose and who did not accept their insurance. A law that goes into effect Saturday will make many such bills illegal.
Under the law, if you are having a medical emergency and go to an urgent care center or emergency room, you can’t be charged more than the cost sharing you are accustomed to for in-network services, eliminating the risk that an out-of-network provider will send an extra bill.
5. The Los Angeles police officer who shot 14-year-old Valentina Orellana-Peralta was identified.
William Dorsey Jones Jr. moved to Los Angeles to make a career in the entertainment industry. When that didn’t pan out, he became a police officer — and loved it. The Black officer spoke openly about racism and ran a nonprofit that mentored at-risk youth.
Now he is under scrutiny for a fatal shooting. He raced past his fellow officers, even as one yelled at him to slow down, through the aisles of a clothing store in North Hollywood. When he found the suspect in a violent assault, Jones fired several bullets — including one that killed Valentina, who was in a changing room.
Separately, The Times investigated a Pennsylvania state trooper who is still on the job after shooting and killing three people over nearly 15 years; he is now on desk duty after a fourth fatal shooting.
6. Can a tiny territory in the South Pacific power Tesla’s ambitions?
New Caledonia may hold up to a quarter of the world’s nickel reserves, and the industry makes it one of the world’s largest carbon emitters per capita.
But it is also well positioned to supply green nickel. As a French territory, New Caledonia is bound by European environmental and labor standards. Its government is led by a coalition that includes Indigenous Kanaks and is eager to protect local rights.
To compete against low-cost rivals, New Caledonia is now positioning itself as a supplier of top-grade nickel for rechargeable batteries. In October, Tesla agreed to buy one-third of the nickel produced by its largest mine over the next five years.
7. Tech’s biggest companies are joining game makers and start-ups across the metaverse.
After 15 years of riding a boom in mobile computing — a long time for the industry to wait for a new tech trend to come along — Meta, Apple, Microsoft and Google are each trying to put a lucrative stake in a virtual world.
But experts say perfecting this technology could take a decade or more. Meta’s headsets are cumbersome and sometimes make people sick. Lighter alternatives lack computing power. And the mainstream appeal of virtual reality is still an open question.
They’ll have to solve an old tech problem there, too: harassment, assaults, bullying and hate speech already run rampant in virtual reality games.
8. The rapper Eminem opened a restaurant in Detroit. We checked it out.
Mom’s Spaghetti is named for the famed first verse of “Lose Yourself,” a single written for the movie “8 Mile.” Spaghetti is not typically a takeout food — noodles take a while to cook — but the pasta is made a day ahead and reheated in woks.
The restaurant’s operator says the method blesses the spaghetti with a delectable down-home texture, and the result is, well, downright motherly.
Also in food, we have The Times’s most-read food stories of 2021, and some chicken soup for the weary soul this New Year.
9. Is there such a thing as a women’s film or women’s filmmaking? With “The Lost Daughter,” Maggie Gyllenhaal says the answer is yes.
The actress has long pushed boundaries, but writing and directing “The Lost Daughter,” an adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s novel of the same title, may be her riskiest role yet.
“When I am let loose, given a little bit of money and space to tell the story I want to tell, it’s about motherhood,” she said in an interview.
Gyllenhaal’s debut as a director is “a sophisticated, elusively plotted psychological thriller,” our critic writes.
10. And finally, torching the old year to toast the new one.
Many families in Colombia, Ecuador and other parts of Latin America construct an “año viejo”: a human-size doll styled with old clothes that is burned on New Year’s Eve to symbolically cast off the old year and bring in the new one.
The tradition comes from Ecuador, where Indigenous populations burned effigies of feudal leaders at celebrations of the solstice. Political leaders remain regular subjects of the años viejos, but Steve Harvey, the television host, had a surge in popularity after he wrongly crowned Miss Colombia the winner of the 2015 Miss Universe pageant.
Have a cathartic evening.
Yeong-Ung Yang compiled photos for this briefing.
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