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For Retail Workers, Omicron’s Impact Isn’t Just About Health

Long checkout lines. Closed fitting rooms. Empty shelves. Shortened store hours.

Plus the dread of contracting the coronavirus and yet another season of skirmishes with customers who refuse to wear masks.

A weary retail work force is experiencing the fallout from the latest wave of the pandemic, with a rapidly spreading variant cutting into staffing.

While data shows that people infected with the Omicron variant are far less likely to be hospitalized than those with the Delta variant, especially if they are vaccinated, many store workers are dealing with a new jump in illness and exposures, grappling with shifting guidelines around isolation and juggling child care. At the same time, retailers are generally not extending hazard pay as they did earlier in the pandemic and have been loath to adopt vaccine or testing mandates.

“We had gotten to a point here where we were comfortable, it wasn’t too bad, and then all of a sudden this new variant came and everybody got sick,” said Artavia Milliam, who works at H&M in Hudson Yards in Manhattan, which is popular with tourists. “It’s been overwhelming, just having to deal with not having enough staff and then twice as many people in the store.”

said last week that it would shorten store hours nationally on Mondays through Thursdays for the rest of the month. At least 20 Apple Stores have had to close in recent weeks because so many employees had contracted Covid-19 or been exposed to someone who had, and others have curtailed hours or limited in-store access.

At a Macy’s in Lynnwood, Wash., Liisa Luick, a longtime sales associate in the men’s department, said, “Every day, we have call-outs, and we have a lot of them.” She said the store had already reduced staff to cut costs in 2020. Now, she is often unable to take breaks and has fielded complaints from customers about a lack of sales help and unstaffed registers.

“Morale could not be lower,” said Ms. Luick, who is a steward for the local unit of the United Food and Commercial Workers union. Even though Washington has a mask mandate for indoor public spaces, “we get a lot of pushback, so morale is even lower because there’s so many people who, there’s no easy way to say this, just don’t believe in masking,” she added.

Store workers are navigating the changing nature of the virus and trying their best to gauge new risks. Many say that with vaccinations and boosters, they are less fearful for their lives than they were in 2020 — the United Food and Commercial Workers union has tracked more than 200 retail worker deaths since the start of the pandemic — but they remain nervous about catching and spreading the virus.

local legislation.

More broadly, the staffing shortages have put a new spotlight on a potential vaccine-or-testing mandate from the Biden administration, which major retailers have been resisting. The fear of losing workers appears to be looming large, especially now.

While the retail industry initially cited the holiday season rush for its resistance to such rules, it has more recently pointed to the burden of testing unvaccinated workers. After oral arguments in the case on Friday, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority expressed skepticism about whether the Biden administration had legal authority to mandate that large employers require workers to be vaccinated.

The National Retail Federation, a major industry lobbying group, said in a statement last week that it “continues to believe that OSHA exceeded its authority in promulgating its vaccine mandate.” The group estimated that the order would require 20 million tests a week nationally, based on external data on unvaccinated workers, and that “such testing capacity currently does not exist.”

When the top managers at Mr. Waugh’s Stop & Shop store began asking employees whether they were vaccinated in preparation for the federal vaccine mandates that could soon take effect, he said, a large number expressed concern to him about being asked to disclose that information.

“It was concerning to see that so many people were distressed,” he said, though all of the employees complied.

Ms. Luick of Macy’s near Seattle said that she worked with several vocal opponents of the Covid-19 vaccines and that she anticipated that at least some of her colleagues would resign if they were asked to provide vaccination status or proof of negative tests.

Still, Macy’s was among major employers that started asking employees for their vaccination status last week ahead of the Supreme Court hearing on Friday and said it might require proof of negative tests beginning on Feb. 16.

“Our primary focus at this stage is preparing our members for an eventual mandate to ensure they have the information and tools they need to manage their work force and meet the needs of their customers,” said Brian Dodge, president of the Retail Industry Leaders Association, which includes companies like Macy’s, Target, Home Depot, Gap and Walmart.

As seasonal Covid-19 surges become the norm, unions and companies are looking for consistent policies. Jim Araby, director of strategic campaigns for the food and commercial workers union in Northern California, said the retail industry needed to put in place more sustainable supports for workers who got ill.

For example, he said, a trust fund jointly administered by the union and several employers could no longer offer Covid-related sick days for union members.

“We have to start treating this as endemic,” Mr. Araby said. “And figuring out what are the structural issues we have to put forward to deal with this.”

Kellen Browning contributed reporting.

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Fed’s Moves in 2022 Could End the Stock Market’s Pandemic Run

For two years, the stock market has been largely able to ignore the lived reality of Americans during the pandemic — the mounting coronavirus cases, the loss of lives and livelihoods, the lockdowns — because of underlying policies that kept it buoyant.

Investors can now say goodbye to all that.

Come 2022, the Federal Reserve is expected to raise interest rates to fight inflation, and government programs meant to stimulate the economy during the pandemic will have ended. Those policy changes will cause investors, businesses and consumers to behave differently, and their actions will eventually take some air out of the stock market, according to analysts.

“It’s going to be the first time in almost two years that the Fed’s incremental decisions might force investors or consumers to become a little more wary,” said David Schawel, the chief investment officer at Family Management Corporation, a wealth management firm in New York.

At year’s end, the overarching view on Wall Street is that 2022 will be a bumpier ride, if not quite a roller coaster. In a recent note, analysts at J.P. Morgan said that they expected inflation — currently at 6.8 percent — to “normalize” in coming months, and that the surge of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus was unlikely to lower economic growth.

16 percent gain during the first year of the pandemic. The index hit 70 new closing highs in 2021, second only to 1995, when there were 77, said Howard Silverblatt, an analyst at S&P Dow Jones Indices. Shares on Friday fell slightly.

The market continued to rise through political, social and economic tensions: On Jan. 7, the day after a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol, the S&P set another record. Millions of amateur investors, stuck at home during the pandemic, piled into the stock market, too, buying up shares of all kinds of companies — even those that no one expects will earn money, like the video game retailer GameStop.

Wall Street also remained bullish on business prospects in China despite Beijing’s growing tension with the United States and tightening grip on Chinese companies. Waves of coronavirus variants, from Delta to Omicron, and a global death toll that crossed five million did not deter the stock market’s rise; its recovery after each bout of panic was faster than the previous one.

“2021 was a terrific year for the equity markets,” said Anu Gaggar, the global investment strategist for Commonwealth Financial Network, in an emailed note. “Between federal stimulus keeping the economy going, easy monetary policy from the Fed keeping markets liquid and interest rates low, and the ongoing medical improvement leading to surprising growth, markets have been in the best of all possible worlds.”

400 private companies raised $142.5 billion in 2021. But investors had sold off many of the newly listed stocks on the New York Stock Exchange or Nasdaq by the end of the year. The Renaissance IPO exchange-traded fund, which tracks initial public offerings, is down about 9 percent for the year.

Shares of Oatly, which makes an oat-based alternative to dairy milk, soared 30 percent when the company went public in May but are now trading 60 percent lower than their opening-day closing price. The stock-trading start-up Robinhood and the dating app Bumble, two other big public debuts, were down about 50 percent for 2021.

supply chain disruptions stemming from the pandemic. Prices for used cars skyrocketed amid a global computer chip shortage. As Covid-19 vaccination rates improved, businesses trying to reopen had to raise wages to attract and retain employees. Consumer prices climbed 5.7 percent in November from a year earlier — the fastest pace since 1982.

But even when “inflation” had become a buzzword worthy of a headline in The Onion, the stock market appeared slow to react to price increases.

“The market is on the side that inflation is transitory,” said Harry Mamaysky, a professor at Columbia Business School. “If it’s not and the Fed needs to go in and raise interest rates to tame inflation, then things could get a lot worse in terms of markets and economic growth.”

And that is what the Fed has signaled it will do in 2022.

When interest rates go up, borrowing becomes more expensive for both consumers and companies. That can hurt profit margins for companies and make stocks less attractive to investors, while sapping consumer demand because people have less money to spend if their mortgage and other loan payments go up. Over time, that tends to deflate the stock market and reduce demand, which brings inflation back under control.

loss of purchasing power over time, meaning your dollar will not go as far tomorrow as it did today. It is typically expressed as the annual change in prices for everyday goods and services such as food, furniture, apparel, transportation costs and toys.

Mr. McBride said the values of many stocks were being supported by extremely low yields on Treasury bonds, especially the 10-year yield, which has held to about 1.5 percent.

“If that yield moves up, investors are going to re-evaluate how much they’re willing to pay for per dollar of earnings for stocks,” he said. Even if corporate profits — which were strong in 2021 — continue to grow in 2022, he added, they are unlikely to expand “at a pace that continues to justify the current price of stocks.”

quicken the pace of pulling back on that aid, set to finish in March.

“The nightmare scenario is: The Fed tightens and it doesn’t help,” said Aaron Brown, a former risk manager of AQR Capital Management who now manages his own money and teaches math at New York University’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences. Mr. Brown said that if the Fed could not orchestrate a “soft landing” for the economy, things could start to get ugly — fast.

And then, he said, the Fed may have to take “very aggressive action like a rate hike to 15 percent, or wage and price controls, like we tried in the ’70s.”

By an equal measure, the Fed’s moves, even if they are moderate, could also cause a sell-off in stocks, corporate bonds and other riskier assets, if investors panic when they realize that the free money that drove their risk-taking to ever greater extremes over the past several years is definitely going away.

Sal Arnuk, a partner and co-founder of Themis Trading, said he expected 2022 to begin with something like “a hiccup.”

“China and Taiwan, Russia and Ukraine — if something happens there or if the Fed surprises everyone with the speed of the taper, there’s going to be some selling,” Mr. Arnuk said. “It could even start in Bitcoin, but then people are going to start selling their Apple, their Google.”

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Are Apple AirTags Being Used to Track People and Steal Cars?

On a Sunday night in September, Ashley Estrada was at a friend’s home in Los Angeles when she received a strange notification on her iPhone: “AirTag Detected Near You.”

An AirTag is a 1.26-inch disc with location-tracking capabilities that Apple started selling earlier this year as a way “to keep track of your stuff.” Ms. Estrada, 24, didn’t own one, nor did the friends she was with. The notification on her phone said the AirTag had first been spotted with her four hours earlier. A map of the AirTag’s history showed the zigzag path Ms. Estrada had driven across the city while running errands.

“I felt so violated,” she said. “I just felt like, who’s tracking me? What was their intent with me? It was scary.”

posted on TikTok, Reddit and Twitter about finding AirTags on their cars and in their belongings. There is growing concern that the devices may be abetting a new form of stalking, which privacy groups predicted could happen when Apple introduced the devices in April.

warned its community of the tracking potential of the devices after an AirTag was found on a car bumper. Apple complied with a subpoena for information about the AirTag in the case, which may lead to charges, West Seneca police said.

And in Canada, a local police department said that it had investigated five incidents of thieves placing AirTags on “high-end vehicles so they can later locate and steal them.”

Researchers now believe AirTags, which are equipped with Bluetooth technology, could be revealing a more widespread problem of tech-enabled tracking. They emit a digital signal that can be detected by devices running Apple’s mobile operating system. Those devices then report where an AirTag has last been seen. Unlike similar tracking products from competitors such as Tile, Apple added features to prevent abuse, including notifications like the one Ms. Estrada received and automatic beeping. (Tile plans to release a feature to prevent the tracking of people next year, a spokeswoman for that company said.)

stalkerware.

“Apple automatically turned every iOS device into part of the network that AirTags use to report the location of an AirTag,” Ms. Galperin said. “The network that Apple has access to is larger and more powerful than that used by the other trackers. It’s more powerful for tracking and more dangerous for stalking.”

Apple does not disclose sales figures, but the tiny $29 AirTags have proved popular, selling out consistently since their unveiling.

An Apple spokesman, Alex Kirschner, said in a statement that the company takes customer safety “very seriously” and is “committed to AirTag’s privacy and security.” He said the small devices have features that inform users if an unknown AirTag might be with them and that deter bad actors from using an AirTag for nefarious purposes.

“If users ever feel their safety is at risk, they are encouraged to contact local law enforcement who can work with Apple to provide any available information about the unknown AirTag,” Mr. Kirschner said.

Police could ask Apple to provide information about the owner of the AirTag, potentially identifying the culprit. But some of the people who spoke with The Times were unable to find the associated AirTags they were notified of and said the police do not always take reports of the notifications on their phones seriously.

After a Friday night out with her boyfriend this month, Erika Torres, a graduate music student in New Orleans, was notified by her iPhone that an “unknown accessory” had been detected near her over a two-hour period, moving with her from a bar to her home.

other devices could set off the alert, including AirPods. When Ms. Torres posted a video about her experience to YouTube, a dozen people commented about it happening to them. “The number of reports makes me think there must be some sort of glitch that is causing all these people to experience this,” Ms. Torres said. “I hope they’re not all being stalked.”

posted a video of her ordeal on TikTok, which went viral.

“Apple probably released this product with the intent to do good, but this shows that the technology can be used for good and bad purposes,” Ms. Estrada said.

Ms. Estrada said she was told by a Los Angeles police dispatcher that her situation was a nonemergency and that if she wanted to file a report she’d have to bring the device with her to the station in the morning. She didn’t want to wait and disposed of it after taking several photos.

A spokesperson for the Los Angeles police told The Times that the department had not heard of cases in which an AirTag had been used to track a person or a vehicle. But Ms. Estrada said that after she posted her TikTok video, an Apple employee, acting on their own, contacted her. The employee was able to connect the AirTag to a woman whose address was in Central Los Angeles.

Another woman was notified by her iPhone that she was being tracked by an “unknown accessory” after leaving her gym in November. When she got home, she called the police.

pushed an update to AirTags to cause them to start beeping within a day of being away from their linked devices, down from three days. Still, “they don’t beep very loudly,” Ms. Galperin said.

A person who doesn’t own an iPhone might have a harder time detecting an unwanted AirTag. AirTags aren’t compatible with Android smartphones. Earlier this month, Apple released an Android app that can scan for AirTags — but you have to be vigilant enough to download it and proactively use it.

Apple declined to say if it was working with Google on technology that would allow Android phones to automatically detect its trackers.

People who said they have been tracked have called Apple’s safeguards insufficient. Ms. Estrada said she was notified four hours after her phone first noticed the rogue gadget. Others said it took days before they were made aware of an unknown AirTag. According to Apple, the timing of the alerts can vary depending on the iPhone’s operating system and location settings.

The devices’ inconsistencies have caused confusion for people who weren’t necessarily being tracked nefariously. Mary Ford, a 17-year-old high school student from Cary, N.C., received a notification in late October that she was being tracked by an unknown AirTag after driving to an appointment. She panicked as she searched her car.

Ms. Ford only realized it wasn’t a threat when her mother revealed she had put the tracker in the vehicle about two weeks earlier to follow her daughter’s whereabouts.

“I was nervous about Mary being out and not being able to find her,” said her mother, Wendy Ford. She said she hadn’t intended to keep the knowledge of the AirTag from her daughter, “but if I knew she would have been notified, I probably would have told her.”

Jahna Maramba rented a vehicle from the car-sharing service Turo last month in Los Angeles, then received a notification about an unknown AirTag near her on a Saturday night with her girlfriends.

She took the vehicle to her friend’s parking garage where she searched the outside of the car for an hour before its owner notified her that he had placed the device inside the vehicle. Ms. Maramba had been driving the car for two days.

A spokesperson for Turo said in a statement that the company has no control over the technology car owners use on the vehicles they rent out.

“Imagine finding out via a notification that you’re being tracked,” Ms. Maramba said. “And you can’t do anything about it.”

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Cyber Monday Nest Thermostat Deals (2021): Smart Learning Thermostat Deals Highlighted by Deal Stripe

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The floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) is seen after the close of trading in New York, U.S., March 18, 2020. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

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NEW YORK, Nov 26 (Reuters) – COVID-19 has resurfaced as a worry for investors and a potential driver of big market moves after a new variant triggered alarm, long after the threat had receded in Wall Street’s eyes.

Worries about a new strain of the virus, named Omicron and classified by the World Health Organization as a variant of concern, slammed markets worldwide and dealt the S&P 500 index its biggest one-day percentage loss in nine months. The moves came a day after the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday when thin volume likely exacerbated the moves.

With little known about the new variant, longer term implications for U.S. assets were unclear. At least, investors said signs that the new strain is spreading and questions over its resistance to vaccines could weigh on the so-called reopening trade that has lifted markets at various times this year.

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The new strain may also complicate the outlook for how aggressively the Federal Reserve normalizes monetary policy to fight inflation.

“Markets were celebrating the end of the pandemic. Slam. It isn’t over,” said David Kotok, chairman and chief investment officer at Cumberland Advisors. “All policy issues, meaning monetary policy, business trajectories, GDP growth estimates, leisure and hospitality recovery, the list goes on, are on hold.”

The S&P 500 fell by a third as pandemic fears mushroomed in early 2020, but has more than doubled in value since then, though the pandemic’s ebb and flow has driven sometimes-violent rotations in the types of stocks investors favor. The index is up more than 22% this year.

Before Friday, broader vaccine availability and advances in treatments made markets potentially less sensitive to COVID-19. The virus had dropped to a distant fifth in a list of so-called “tail risks” to the market in a recent survey of fund managers by BofA Global Research, with inflation and central bank hikes taking the top spots.

On Friday, however, technology and growth stocks that had prospered during last year’s so-called stay-at-home trade soared, including Zoom Communications (ZM.O), Netflix Inc (NFLX.O) and Peloton (PTON.O).

At the same time, stocks that had rallied this year on bets of economic reopening may suffer if virus fears grow. Energy, financials and other economically sensitive stocks tumbled on Friday, as did those of many travel-related companies such as airlines and hotels.

The new Omicron coronavirus variant spread further around the world on Sunday, with 13 cases found in the Netherlands and two each in Denmark and Australia, even as more countries tried to seal themselves off by imposing travel restrictions.

First discovered in South Africa, the new variant has now also been detected in Britain, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium, Botswana, Israel, Australia and Hong Kong. read more

Friday’s swings also sent the Cboe Volatility Index (.VIX), known as Wall Street’s fear gauge, soaring and options investors scrambling to hedge their portfolios against further market swings. read more

Reuters Graphics

Andrew Thrasher, portfolio manager for The Financial Enhancement Group, had been concerned that recent gains in a handful of technology stocks with large weightings in the S&P 500, including Apple Inc (AAPL.O), Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O), Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O), were masking weakness in the broader market.

“This set the kindling for sellers to push markets lower and the latest COVID news appears to have stoked that bearish flame,” he said.

Some investors said the latest COVID-19 related weakness could be a chance to buy stocks at comparatively lower levels, expecting the market to continue rapidly recovering from dips, a pattern that has marked its march to record highs this year.

“We’ve had numerous days when economic optimism collapses. Each of these optimism collapses were a good buying opportunity,” wrote Bill Smead, founder of Smead Capital Management, in a note to investors. Among the stocks he recommended were Occidental Petroleum (OXY.N) and Macerich Co (MAC.N), down 7.2% and 5.2% respectively on Friday.

One of several wild cards is whether virus-driven economic uncertainty will slow the Federal Reserve’s plans to normalize monetary policy, just as it has started unwinding its $120 billion a month bond buying program.

Futures on the U.S. federal funds rate, which track short-term interest rate expectations, on Friday showed investors rolling back their view of a sooner-than-expected rate increase.

Investors will be watching Fed Chair Jerome Powell and U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen’s appearance before Congress to discuss the government’s COVID response on Nov. 30 as well as U.S. employment numbers, due out next Friday.

Investors held out hope that markets could stabilize. Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at Cresset Capital Management, said moves may have been exaggerated by lack of liquidity on Friday, with many participants out for the Thanksgiving holiday.

“My first reaction is anything we are going to see today is overdone,” Ablin said.

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Reporting by Saqib Iqbal Ahmed; Additional reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak, Megan Davies and Lewis Krauskopf; Writing by Ira Iosebashvili; Editing by Megan Davies, Richard Chang and Alexander Smith

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Apple Sues Israeli Spyware Maker NSO Group

The Israeli government, which approves any sale of NSO’s software to foreign governments and considers the software a critical foreign policy tool, is lobbying the United States to remove the ban on NSO’s behalf. NSO has said it would fight the ban, but the executive set to take over NSO Group quit after the business was blacklisted, the company said.

One week after the federal ban, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit rejected NSO’s motion to dismiss Facebook’s lawsuit. The Israeli firm had argued that it “could claim foreign sovereign immunity.” A 3-to-0 decision by the court rejected NSO’s argument and allowed Facebook’s lawsuit to proceed.

Those developments helped pave the way for Apple’s lawsuit against NSO on Tuesday. Apple first found itself in NSO’s cross hairs in 2016, when researchers at Citizen Lab, a research institute of the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto, and Lookout, the San Francisco mobile security company now owned by BlackBerry, discovered that NSO’s Pegasus spyware was taking advantage of three security vulnerabilities in Apple products to spy on dissidents, activists and journalists.

And the company is at risk of default, Moody’s, the ratings agency, warned. Moody’s downgraded NSO by two levels, eight levels below investment grade, citing its $500 million of debt and severe cash flow problems.

NSO’s spyware gave its government clients access to the full contents of a target’s phone, allowing agents to read a target’s text messages and emails, record phone calls, capture sounds and footage off their cameras, and trace the person’s whereabouts.

Internal NSO documents, leaked to The New York Times in 2016, showed that the company charged government agencies $650,000 to spy on 10 iPhone users — along with a half-million-dollar setup fee. Government agencies in the United Arab Emirates and Mexico were among NSO’s early customers, the documents showed.

Those revelations led to the discovery of NSO’s spyware on the phones of human rights activists in the Emirates and journalists, activists and human rights lawyers in Mexico — even their teenage children living in the United States.

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Covid-19 Misinformation Goes Unchecked on Radio and Podcasts

On a recent episode of his podcast, Rick Wiles, a pastor and self-described “citizen reporter,” endorsed a conspiracy theory: that Covid-19 vaccines were the product of a “global coup d’état by the most evil cabal of people in the history of mankind.”

“It’s an egg that hatches into a synthetic parasite and grows inside your body,” Mr. Wiles said on his Oct. 13 episode. “This is like a sci-fi nightmare, and it’s happening in front of us.”

Mr. Wiles belongs to a group of hosts who have made false or misleading statements about Covid-19 and effective treatments for it. Like many of them, he has access to much of his listening audience because his show appears on a platform provided by a large media corporation.

Mr. Wiles’s podcast is available through iHeart Media, an audio company based in San Antonio that says it reaches nine out of 10 Americans each month. Spotify and Apple are other major companies that provide significant audio platforms for hosts who have shared similar views with their listeners about Covid-19 and vaccination efforts, or have had guests on their shows who promoted such notions.

protect people against the coronavirus for long periods and have significantly reduced the spread of Covid-19. As the global death toll related to Covid-19 exceeds five million — and at a time when more than 40 percent of Americans are not fully vaccinated — iHeart, Spotify, Apple and many smaller audio companies have done little to rein in what radio hosts and podcasters say about the virus and vaccination efforts.

“There’s really no curb on it,” said Jason Loviglio, an associate professor of media and communication studies at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. “There’s no real mechanism to push back, other than advertisers boycotting and corporate executives saying we need a culture change.”

Audio industry executives appear less likely than their counterparts in social media to try to check dangerous speech. TruNews, a conservative Christian media outlet founded by Mr. Wiles, who used the phrase “Jew coup” to describe efforts to impeach former President Donald J. Trump, has been banned by YouTube. His podcast remains available on iHeart.

Asked about his false statements concerning Covid-19 vaccines, Mr. Wiles described pandemic mitigation efforts as “global communism.” “If the Needle Nazis win, freedom is over for generations, maybe forever,” he said in an email.

The reach of radio shows and podcasts is great, especially among young people: A recent survey from the National Research Group, a consulting firm, found that 60 percent of listeners under 40 get their news primarily through audio, a type of media they say they trust more than print or video.

unfounded claim that “45,000 people have died from taking the vaccine.” In his final Twitter post, on July 30, Mr. Bernier accused the government of “acting like Nazis” for encouraging Covid-19 vaccines.

Jimmy DeYoung Sr., whose program was available on iHeart, Apple and Spotify, died of Covid-19 complications after making his show a venue for false or misleading statements about vaccines. One of his frequent guests was Sam Rohrer, a former Pennsylvania state representative who likened the promotion of Covid-19 vaccines to Nazi tactics and made a sweeping false statement. “This is not a vaccine, by definition,” Mr. Rohrer said on an April episode. “It is a permanent altering of my immune system, which God created to handle the kinds of things that are coming that way.” Mr. DeYoung thanked his guest for his “insight.” Mr. DeYoung died four months later.

has said his research has been “misinterpreted” by anti-vaccine activists. He added that Covid-19 vaccines have been found to reduce transmissions substantially, whereas chickens inoculated with the Marek’s disease vaccine were still able to transmit the disease. Mr. Sexton did not reply to a request for comment.

more than 600 podcasts and operates a vast online archive of audio programs — has rules for the podcasters on its platform prohibiting them from making statements that incite hate, promote Nazi propaganda or are defamatory. It would not say whether it has a policy concerning false statements on Covid-19 or vaccination efforts.

Apple’s content guidelines for podcasts prohibit “content that may lead to harmful or dangerous outcomes, or content that is obscene or gratuitous.” Apple did not reply to requests for comment for this article.

Spotify, which says its podcast platform has 299 million monthly listeners, prohibits hate speech in its guidelines. In a response to inquiries, the company said in a written statement that it also prohibits content “that promotes dangerous false or dangerous deceptive content about Covid-19, which may cause offline harm and/or pose a direct threat to public health.” The company added that it had removed content that violated its policies. But the episode with Mr. DeYoung’s conversation with Mr. Rohrer was still available via Spotify.

Dawn Ostroff, Spotify’s content and advertising business officer, said at a conference last month that the company was making “very aggressive moves” to invest more in content moderation. “There’s a difference between the content that we make and the content that we license and the content that’s on the platform,” she said, “but our policies are the same no matter what type of content is on our platform. We will not allow any content that infringes or that in any way is inaccurate.”

The audio industry has not drawn the same scrutiny as large social media companies, whose executives have been questioned in congressional hearings about the platforms’ role in spreading false or misleading information.

The social media giants have made efforts over the last year to stop the flow of false reports related to the pandemic. In September, YouTube said it was banning the accounts of several prominent anti-vaccine activists. It also removes or de-emphasizes content it deems to be misinformation or close to it. Late last year, Twitter announced that it would remove posts and ads with false claims about coronavirus vaccines. Facebook followed suit in February, saying it would remove false claims about vaccines generally.

now there’s podcasting.”

The Federal Communications Commission, which grants licenses to companies using the public airwaves, has oversight over radio operators, but not podcasts or online audio, which do not make use of the public airwaves.

The F.C.C. is barred from violating American citizens’ right to free speech. When it takes action against a media company over programming, it is typically in response to complaints about content considered obscene or indecent, as when it fined a Virginia television station in 2015 for a newscast that included a segment on a pornographic film star.

In a statement, an F.C.C. spokesman said the agency “reviews all complaints and determines what is actionable under the Constitution and the law.” It added that the main responsibility for what goes on the air lies with radio station owners, saying that “broadcast licensees have a duty to act in the public interest.”

The world of talk radio and podcasting is huge, and anti-vaccine sentiment is a small part of it. iHeart offers an educational podcast series about Covid-19 vaccines, and Spotify created a hub for podcasts about Covid-19 from news outlets including ABC and Bloomberg.

on the air this year, describing his decision to get vaccinated and encouraging his listeners to do the same.

Recently, he expressed his eagerness to get a booster shot and mentioned that he had picked up a new nickname: “The Vaxxinator.”

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These U.S. Veterans Won’t Rest Until They’ve Kept a Promise to Afghans

An informal network that includes former government and military officials is working around the clock to fulfill a pledge to save Afghans who put their lives on the line for America.


FREDERICKSBURG, Va. — Rex Sappenfield does not sleep well. A former Marine who served in Afghanistan, he is tormented by the fate of his interpreter, an Afghan with a wife and three young children to whom Mr. Sappenfield made a battlefield promise: We will never abandon you.

Now a high school English teacher who tries to instill a sense of rectitude in his students, Mr. Sappenfield has thought about his pledge every day since the United States pulled out of Afghanistan on Aug. 30.

“We broke a promise, and I just feel terrible,” Mr. Sappenfield, 53, said. “I said it to the faces of our Afghan brothers: ‘Hey guys, you can count on us, you will get to come to the United States if you wish.’”

But if America has withdrawn from Afghanistan, Mr. Sappenfield and many other veterans have not. He is part of an informal network — including the retired general who once commanded his unit, retired diplomats and intelligence officers and a former math teacher in rural Virginia — still working to fulfill a promise and save the Afghan colleagues who risked their lives for America’s long fight in Afghanistan.

the American evacuation.

“I tell my students in 11th grade that they are the only ones who can betray their integrity,” Mr. Sappenfield said. “It’s theirs to give away if they choose to lie or cheat. But in this case, someone else broke my word for me. It just irritates the heck out of me.”

Did our service matter?

The question gnawed at Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson as he drafted a letter in August to the men and women with the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade who fought alongside him in Afghanistan. “Nothing,” he wrote, “can diminish your selfless service to our nation.”

Nothing — not the Taliban’s sweeping takeover after two decades of war, not the desperate Afghans falling from planes, not disbelief that Afghanistan had fallen overnight to the same enemy that the Americans had vanquished 20 years ago.

“I felt I had to say to the guys, ‘Hey, get your heads up,’” said General Nicholson, who retired as a three-star in 2018. Recalling the 92 Marines who died under his command in Helmand Province, the 2,461 American service members overall who died in Afghanistan and the untold treasure lost, he wrote to his fellow Marines:

“You raised your hand and said, ‘IF NOT ME, THEN WHO?’”

the fall of Kabul on Aug. 15, the network worked with soldiers and intelligence officers on the ground in Afghanistan. She showed The Times a list of Afghan names, including large families, a few marked in purple with the words “GOT OUT!!!”

their origin story and their record as rulers.

“Among Americans there is no shared scar tissue from the wars,” said J. Kael Weston, a retired foreign service officer who served in Iraq and Afghanistan alongside General Nicholson and has been part of the network. “A culture gap opened up.”

In rural Virginia, Ms. Hemp and others are still working to save more Afghans. She has three young grandchildren and doesn’t have to do this, given that many Americans have already forgotten Afghanistan, or scarcely paid attention to it before.

“I was raised with the Golden Rule, an honor code,” she said. “You do not lie to people. You honor your promises.”

She looked out at her crab apple tree and the rolling green fields. “People today don’t want to take responsibility for their actions. ‘Choices have consequences’ is now ‘choices have consequences for everyone but me.’ People are just so angry.”

On many days, Mr. Sappenfield speaks on Zoom with P, the interpreter. They exchange videos of their children but more often they talk about fear and frustration. The fear is about the Taliban. The frustration is with the State Department, which has been slow walking his visa application for many years.

“They are not taking any action,” P said in a Zoom call. “I feel hopeless. I feel I will be killed in front of my kids.”

For more than a decade, P has been caught in the Catch-22 labyrinth of the State Department’s Special Immigrant Visa, or SIV, application process. He has already had two visa interviews — on March 3, 2020, and April 6 of this year — at the now closed U.S. Embassy in Kabul.

Yet in a Sept. 21 email to Ms. Hemp, a foreign service officer wrote that P still needed another interview. “Obviously,” the officer added, “that will not be happening in Kabul.”

He concluded, “Sorry this is so murky and chaotic.”

Ms. Hemp responded bluntly. “In this day and age of online meetings, zoom conference calls, FaceTime calls, Messenger video chat, why can’t they do an online interview?” she wrote.

The foreign service officer checked with a colleague in Washington, who confirmed that, given the closure of the embassy in Kabul, there was no way for P to get another interview unless he managed to leave Afghanistan.

“Then the SIV case can be transferred to that country,” the officer wrote. “So, it seems to be a Catch-22 situation.”

Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the homeland security secretary, said on Capitol Hill last month that only about 3 percent of the Afghans evacuated to the United States during the American withdrawal actually have special immigrant visas.

P’s application was first submitted in April 2010, when Mr. Sappenfield’s unit was rotating out of Helmand. Had the process not been so labyrinthine, P would have gotten out of Afghanistan before it fell to the Taliban. Now he is trapped.

In an email, a State Department spokeswoman said the effort to help people like P was “of utmost importance” but acknowledged that “it is currently extremely difficult for Afghans to obtain a visa to a third country” in order to have a visa interview.

P has not given up. Every day there is a different word on flights. So far, none have had a spot for him.

Ms. Hemp, Mr. Sappenfield, Mr. Britton and General Nicholson haven’t given up, either.

“Since the weather is changing, people are asking me to find blankets and warm clothes for their families in Afghanistan,” Ms. Hemp wrote recently. “Of course, they continue to ask when their loved ones will be evacuated. No clue, probably never, but I don’t dare tell them that.”

Mr. Sappenfield, a religious man, also recently wrote: “Haunted by the promises I made but my government wouldn’t allow me to keep, I ponder my own Judgment Day.

“Irreverently, perhaps, I am hoping for a front row seat when that day of reckoning comes for those responsible for these crimes against humanity.”

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Tesla to Move Headquarters to Texas from California

Tesla will move its headquarters from California to Austin, Texas, where it is building a new factory, its chief executive, Elon Musk, said at the company’s annual shareholder meeting on Thursday.

The move makes good on a threat that Mr. Musk issued more than a year ago when he was frustrated by local coronavirus lockdown orders that forced Tesla to pause production at its factory in Fremont, Calif. Mr. Musk on Thursday said the company would keep that factory and expand production there.

“There’s a limit to how big you can scale in the Bay Area,” he said, adding that high housing prices there translate to long commutes for some employees. The Texas factory, which is near Austin and will manufacture Tesla’s Cybertruck, is minutes from downtown and from an airport, he said.

Mr. Musk was an outspoken early critic of pandemic restrictions, calling them “fascist” and predicting in March 2020 that there would be almost no new cases of virus infections by the end of April. In December, he said he had moved himself to Texas to be near the new factory. His other company, SpaceX, launches rockets from the state.

Hewlett Packard Enterprise said in December that it was moving to the Houston area, and Charles Schwab has moved to a suburb of Dallas and Fort Worth.

Mr. Musk’s decision will surely add fuel to a ceaseless debate between officials and executives in Texas and California about which state is a better place to do business. Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, and his predecessors, have courted California companies to move to the state, arguing that it has lower taxes and lower housing and other costs. California has long played up the technological prowess of Silicon Valley and its universities as the reason many entrepreneurs start and build their companies there, a list that includes Tesla, Facebook, Google and Apple.

Texas has become more attractive to workers in recent years, too, with a generally lower cost of living. Austin, a thriving liberal city that is home to the University of Texas, in particular has boomed. Many technology companies, some based in California, have built huge campuses there. As a result, though, housing costs and traffic have increased significantly, leaving the city with the kinds of problems local governments in California have been dealing with for years.

Mr. Musk’s announcement is likely to take on political overtones, too.

Last month, Mr. Abbott invoked Mr. Musk in explaining why a new Texas law that greatly restricts abortion would not hurt the state economically. “Elon consistently tells me that he likes the social policies in the state of Texas,” the governor told CNBC.

he said on Twitter. “That said, I would prefer to stay out of politics.”

On Thursday evening, a Twitter post by Governor Abbott welcomed the news, saying “the Lone Star State is the land of opportunity and innovation.”

A spokeswoman for Gov. Gavin Newsom of California, Erin Mellon, did not directly comment on Tesla’s move but said in a statement that the state was “home to the biggest ideas and companies on the planet” and that California would “stand up for workers, public health and a woman’s right to choose.”

Mr. Musk revealed the company’s move after shareholders voted on a series of proposals aimed at improving Tesla’s corporate governance. According to preliminary results, investors sided with Tesla on all but two measures that it opposed: one that would force its board members to run for re-election annually, down from every three years, and another that would require the company to publish more detail about efforts to diversify its work force.

In a report last year, Tesla revealed that its U.S. leadership was 59 percent white and 83 percent male. The company’s overall U.S. work force is 79 percent male and 34 percent white.

The vote comes days after a federal jury ordered Tesla to pay $137 million to Owen Diaz, a former contractor who said he faced repeated racist harassment while working at the Fremont factory, in 2015 and 2016. Tesla faces similar accusations from dozens of others in a class-action lawsuit.

The diversity report proposal, from Calvert Research and Management, a firm that focuses on responsible investment and is owned by Morgan Stanley, requires Tesla to publish annual reports about its diversity and inclusion efforts, something many other large companies already do.

Investors also re-elected to the board Kimbal Musk, Mr. Musk’s brother, and James Murdoch, the former 21st Century Fox executive, despite a recommendation to vote against them by ISS, a firm that advises investors on shareholder votes and corporate governance.

Proposals calling for additional reporting both on Tesla’s practice of using mandatory arbitration to resolve employee disputes and on the human rights impact of how it sources materials failed, according to early results. A final tally will be announced in the coming days, the company said.

Ivan Penn contributed reporting.

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