The transactions that created Chemours and reinvented DuPont laid the groundwork for a blame-shifting exercise that has made it difficult for regulators and others to hold anyone accountable for decades of contamination in North Carolina and elsewhere.
State attorneys general in Ohio, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York each sued the companies for having released toxic chemicals into the air, water and soil and for concocting a spinoff to shield DuPont from responsibility. Dutch prosecutors began criminally investigating Chemours for the use of PFOA at a factory in Dordrecht from 2008 to 2012, before Chemours was created.
Yet in courts, in the media and in public settings, DuPont and Chemours have used the spinoff to distance themselves from the problems.
In a court filing in Ohio, where the state has sued over pollution from the Washington Works factory on the West Virginia border, Chemours claimed that the contamination happened before “Chemours even came into existence.” In a securities filing this summer, Chemours stated that it “does not, and has never, used” PFOA. Yet Chemours continues to manufacture other versions of PFAS, including GenX.
DuPont adopted a similar stance. Because Chemours was independent and had assumed responsibility for Washington Works, DuPont claimed it had nothing to do with the pollution. In fact, DuPont insisted, because it was technically a new company, it had never even made the toxic substances in question.
In 2019, Chemours, deep in debt, sued DuPont. Chemours contended that the spinoff was conceived to get DuPont off the hook for its decades of pollution. According to the complaint, DuPont executives decided against a $60 million project that would have stopped Fayetteville Works from discharging chemicals into the Cape Fear River. Instead, DuPont executives made a $2 million change, which they abandoned shortly before they announced the Chemours spinoff.
The lawsuit asked, “Why bother spending money to fix the problem, DuPont apparently reasoned, when it could be conveniently passed on to Chemours?”
John Tye, the founder of Whistleblower Aid, a legal nonprofit that represents people seeking to expose potential lawbreaking, was contacted this spring through a mutual connection by a woman who claimed to have worked at Facebook.
The woman told Mr. Tye and his team something intriguing: She had access to tens of thousands of pages of internal documents from the world’s largest social network. In a series of calls, she asked for legal protection and a path to releasing the confidential information. Mr. Tye, who said he understood the gravity of what the woman brought “within a few minutes,” agreed to represent her and call her by the alias “Sean.”
She “is a very courageous person and is taking a personal risk to hold a trillion-dollar company accountable,” he said.
On Sunday, Frances Haugen revealed herself to be “Sean,” the whistle-blower against Facebook. A product manager who worked for nearly two years on the civic misinformation team at the social network before leaving in May, Ms. Haugen has used the documents she amassed to expose how much Facebook knew about the harms that it was causing and provided the evidence to lawmakers, regulators and the news media.
knew Instagram was worsening body image issues among teenagers and that it had a two-tier justice system — have spurred criticism from lawmakers, regulators and the public.
Ms. Haugen has also filed a whistle-blower complaint with the Securities and Exchange Commission, accusing Facebook of misleading investors with public statements that did not match its internal actions. And she has talked with lawmakers such as Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat of Connecticut, and Senator Marsha Blackburn, a Republican of Tennessee, and shared subsets of the documents with them.
The spotlight on Ms. Haugen is set to grow brighter. On Tuesday, she is scheduled to testify in Congress about Facebook’s impact on young users.
misinformation and hate speech.
In 2018, Christopher Wylie, a disgruntled former employee of the consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, set the stage for those leaks. Mr. Wylie spoke with The New York Times, The Observer of London and The Guardian to reveal that Cambridge Analytica had improperly harvested Facebook data to build voter profiles without users’ consent.
In the aftermath, more of Facebook’s own employees started speaking up. Later that same year, Facebook workers provided executive memos and planning documents to news outlets including The Times and BuzzFeed News. In mid-2020, employees who disagreed with Facebook’s decision to leave up a controversial post from President Donald J. Trump staged a virtual walkout and sent more internal information to news outlets.
“I think over the last year, there’ve been more leaks than I think all of us would have wanted,” Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, said in a meeting with employees in June 2020.
Facebook tried to preemptively push back against Ms. Haugen. On Friday, Nick Clegg, Facebook’s vice president for policy and global affairs, sent employees a 1,500-word memo laying out what the whistle-blower was likely to say on “60 Minutes” and calling the accusations “misleading.” On Sunday, Mr. Clegg appeared on CNN to defend the company, saying the platform reflected “the good, the bad and ugly of humanity” and that it was trying to “mitigate the bad, reduce it and amplify the good.”
personal website. On the website, Ms. Haugen was described as “an advocate for public oversight of social media.”
A native of Iowa City, Iowa, Ms. Haugen studied electrical and computer engineering at Olin College and got an M.B.A. from Harvard, the website said. She then worked on algorithms at Google, Pinterest and Yelp. In June 2019, she joined Facebook. There, she handled democracy and misinformation issues, as well as working on counterespionage, according to the website.
filed an antitrust suit against Facebook. In a video posted by Whistleblower Aid on Sunday, Ms. Haugen said she did not believe breaking up Facebook would solve the problems inherent at the company.
“The path forward is about transparency and governance,” she said in the video. “It’s not about breaking up Facebook.”
Ms. Haugen has also spoken to lawmakers in France and Britain, as well as a member of European Parliament. This month, she is scheduled to appear before a British parliamentary committee. That will be followed by stops at Web Summit, a technology conference in Lisbon, and in Brussels to meet with European policymakers in November, Mr. Tye said.
On Sunday, a GoFundMe page that Whistleblower Aid created for Ms. Haugen also went live. Noting that Facebook had “limitless resources and an army of lawyers,” the group set a goal of raising $10,000. Within 30 minutes, 18 donors had given $1,195. Shortly afterward, the fund-raising goal was increased to $50,000.
WASHINGTON — When the nation’s antitrust laws were created more than a century ago, they were aimed at taking on industries such as Big Oil.
But technology giants like Amazon, Facebook, Google and Apple, which dominate e-commerce, social networks, online advertising and search, have risen in ways unforeseen by the laws. In recent decades, the courts have also interpreted the rules more narrowly.
On Monday, a pair of rulings dismissing federal and state antitrust lawsuits against Facebook renewed questions about whether the laws were suited to taking on tech power. A federal judge threw out the federal suit because, he said, the Federal Trade Commission had not supported its claims that Facebook holds a dominant market share, and he said the states had waited too long to make their case.
The decisions underlined how cautious and conservative courts could slow an increasingly aggressive push by lawmakers, regulators and the White House to restrain the tech companies, fueling calls for Congress to revamp the rules and provide regulators with more legal tools to take on the tech firms.
David Cicilline, a Democrat of Rhode Island, said the country needed a “massive overhaul of our antitrust laws and significant updates to our competition system” to police the biggest technology companies.
Moments later, Representative Ken Buck, a Colorado Republican, agreed. He called for lawmakers to adapt antitrust laws to fit the business models of Silicon Valley companies.
This week’s rulings have now put the pressure on lawmakers to push through a recently proposed package of legislation that would rewrite key aspects of monopoly laws to make some of the tech giants’ business practices illegal.
“This is going to strengthen the case for legislation,” said Herbert Hovenkamp, an antitrust expert at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. “It seems to be proof that the antitrust laws are not up to the challenge.”
introduced this month and passed the House Judiciary Committee last week. The bills would make it harder for the major tech companies to buy nascent competitors and to give preference to their own services on their platforms, and ban them from using their dominance in one business to gain the upper hand in another.
including Lina Khan, a scholar whom President Biden named this month to run the F.T.C. — have argued that a broader definition of consumer welfare, beyond prices, should be applied. Consumer harm, they have said, can also be evident in reduced product quality, like Facebook users suffering a loss of privacy when their personal data is harvested and used for targeted ads.
In one of his rulings on Monday, Judge James E. Boasberg of U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia said Facebook’s business model had made it especially difficult for the government to meet the standard for going forward with the case.
The government, Judge Boasberg said, had not presented enough evidence that Facebook held monopoly power. Among the difficulties he highlighted was that Facebook did not charge its users for access to its site, meaning its market share could not be assessed through revenue. The government had not found a good alternative measure to make its case, he said.
He also ruled against another part of the F.T.C.’s lawsuit, concerning how Facebook polices the use of data generated by its product, while citing the kind of conservative antitrust doctrine that critics say is out of step with the technology industry’s business practices.
The F.T.C., which brought the federal antitrust suit against Facebook in December, can file a new complaint that addresses the judge’s concerns within 30 days. State attorneys general can appeal Judge Boasberg’s second ruling dismissing a similar case.
fined Facebook $5 billion in 2019 for privacy violations, there were few significant changes to how the company’s products operate. And Facebook continues to grow: More than 3.45 billion people use one or more of its apps — including WhatsApp, Instagram or Messenger — every month.
The decisions were particularly deflating after actions to rein in tech power in Washington had gathered steam. Ms. Khan’s appointment to the F.T.C. this month followed that of Tim Wu, another lawyer who has been critical of the industry, to the National Economic Council. Bruce Reed, the president’s deputy chief of staff, has called for new privacy regulation.
Mr. Biden has yet to name anyone to permanently lead the Justice Department’s antitrust division, which last year filed a lawsuit arguing Google had illegally protected its monopoly over online search.
The White House is also expected to issue an executive order this week targeting corporate consolidation in tech and other areas of the economy. A spokesman for the White House did not respond to requests for comment about the executive order or Judge Boasberg’s rulings.
Activists and lawmakers said this week that Congress should not wait to give regulators more tools, money and legal red lines to use against the tech giants. Mr. Cicilline, along with Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said in a statement that the judge’s decisions on Facebook show “the dire need to modernize our antitrust laws to address anticompetitive mergers and abusive conduct in the digital economy.”
Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat of Minnesota who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on antitrust, echoed their call.
“After decades of binding Supreme Court decisions that have weakened our antitrust policies, we cannot rely on our courts to keep our markets competitive, open and fair,” she said in a statement. “We urgently need to rejuvenate our antitrust laws to meet the challenges of the modern digital economy.”
But the six bills to update monopoly laws have a long way to go. They still need to pass the full House, where they will likely face criticism from moderate Democrats and libertarian Republicans. In the Senate, Republican support is necessary for them to overcome the legislative filibuster.
The bills may also not go as far in altering antitrust laws as some hope. The House Judiciary Committee amended one last week to reinforce the standard around consumer welfare.
Even so, Monday’s rulings have given the proposals a boost. Bill Baer, who led the Justice Department antitrust division during the Obama administration, said it “gives tremendous impetus to those in Congress who believe that the courts are too conservative in addressing monopoly power.”
Facebook and the tech platforms might like the judge’s decisions, he said, “but they might not like what happens in the Congress.”
Exclusive: L Brands will spin off Victoria’s Secret
L Brands has decided to spin off Victoria’s Secret rather than sell it, DealBook is first to report. The company said last year it was considering separating Victoria’s Secret from the rest of its business, and we previously reported that it was testing private equity’s interest. Ultimately, sources say, L Brands has decided to split itself into two independent, publicly listed companies: Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works. The deal is expected to close in August.
Bids didn’t match what Victoria’s Secret expects to get in a spinoff. DealBook hears that L Brands received several bids north of $3 billion. It turned them down, because it expects to be valued somewhere between $5 billion and $7 billion in a spinoff to L Brands shareholders. Analysts at Citi and JPMorgan recently valued Victoria’s Secret as a stand-alone company at $5 billion.
The pandemic torpedoed a sale last year for much less. That agreement, announced in February 2020 with the investment firm Sycamore Partners, valued Victoria’s Secret at $1.1 billion. Apart from a pandemic that was about to upend the retail industry, Victoria’s Secret was dealing with a series of challenges: a brand that had fallen out of touch, accusations of misogyny and sexual harassment in the workplace and revelations about the ties between Les Wexner, the company’s founder and former chairman, and Jeffrey Epstein. (Wexner stepped down as C.E.O. last year and said in March that he and his wife are not running for re-election on the company’s board.)
As the pandemic shuttered stores and battered sales, Sycamore sued L Brands to get out of the deal, and L Brands countersued to enforce it, heralding a spate of similar battles between buyers and sellers. Eventually, in May 2020, the sides agreed to call off the deal.
Dick’s Sporting Goods, Michaels and others were able to accelerate digital transformations that may have otherwise taken years. Direct sales at Victoria’s Secret in North America rose to 44 percent of the total last year, from 25 percent the year before. It’s unclear whether pandemic shopping trends will stick, and “it would be reasonable to expect some reversion,” Stuart Burgdoerfer, the L Brands C.F.O., said at a March event. “But I also think that people have very much enjoyed some of the benefits that were forced on us or triggered through the pandemic.”
bump in inflation and that factory-gate prices in China rose more than expected last month. April’s Consumer Price Index data is set to be released today, and is expected to show a sharp rise from a pandemic-depressed level last year.
China’s birthrate slows again. The country’s population is growing at its slowest pace in decades, posing grave social and economic risks to the world’s second-largest economy. While the U.S. also reported a drastic slowdown in population expansion, China “is growing old without first having grown rich,” The Times’s Sui-Lee Wee writes.
President Biden defends federal unemployment benefits. He rejected claims that $300-a-week supplemental payments are deterring unemployed Americans from seeking work, but he ordered the Labor Department to help reinstate work search requirements. Separately, Chipotle said it was raising wages, to an average of $15 an hour, to attract workers.
The Colonial Pipeline is expected to “substantially” reopen within days. The pipeline, which supplies nearly half of the East Coast’s fuel, is expected to restore most services by the weekend after a ransomware attack. U.S. authorities formally blamed a hacker group and pledged to “disrupt and prosecute” the perpetrators.
12- to 15-year-olds in the U.S., potentially helping reopen schools and other parts of the economy more quickly. But while cases are declining worldwide, they are surging in countries that lack vaccines. And the W.H.O. labeled a virus variant spreading fast in India as “of concern.”
Does Amazon need more money?
Amazon sold $18.5 billion worth of bonds yesterday, joining other corporate giants taking advantage of ultralow interest rates to raise money because … well, why not? The e-commerce titan sold some of its debt at a record-low interest rate for a corporate issuer — barely above what the U.S. government pays.
About $1 billion worth of two-year bonds has a yield just 0.1 percentage points above the equivalent in Treasuries. That’s a huge vote of confidence in Amazon, which has emerged as a winner during the pandemic. The company also set a record for yields on a 20-year bond, besting Alphabet. Over all, investors placed $50 billion worth of orders, underscoring enthusiasm for debt that yields next to nothing.
Today in Business
It raised another $1 billion in the form of a sustainability bond, which is meant to finance investments in environmentally minded projects like zero-carbon infrastructure and cleaner transportation. Amazon is the latest company to sell bonds aimed at E.S.G. investors, a market that reached $270 billion last year and could double this year.
To be sure, the bulk of the offering will finance typical corporate maneuvers like share buybacks, acquisitions and capital expenditures, according to the bond prospectus. It will add to the nearly $34 billion in cash that Amazon had on hand at the end of March — as will profits that are growing at extraordinary rates for a company of its size.
a bold bet by the beleaguered retailer that shoppers and workers will flood back there after the pandemic.
offshore tax evasion. “The tax gap is a massive problem, especially the part driven by ultrarich individuals and corporations stashing income overseas,” Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, the subcommittee chair, told DealBook. That gap “could be as much as a trillion dollars,” he said. “That’s trillion with a ‘T.’” This money would help fund President Biden’s spending plans, which also run into the trillions.
It’s difficult to quantify just how much money goes uncollected each year, officials say. Corporate tax collections in the U.S. are “at historic lows and well below what other countries collect,” according to a recent Treasury report. U.S. multinational companies can be taxed at a 50 percent discount compared with their domestic peers, an incentive to shift profits abroad. “Bermuda, a country of merely 64,000 people, shows 10 percent of all reported U.S. multinational foreign profit,” the report explained.
“The Biden administration is serious about stopping tax cheats and so are we,” Whitehouse said. The hearing, which features I.R.S. and Treasury officials, will discuss legislation to end corporate tax breaks that incentivize profit shifting, a proposed $80 billion investment in I.R.S. enforcement, a new approach to international tax diplomacy and proposed changes to the tax code.
THE SPEED READ
The investment firm TPG named Jon Winkelried as its sole C.E.O.; Jim Coulter, who previously shared the role, will become executive chairman and lead the firm’s E.S.G.-focused funds. (Bloomberg)
Vice Media is closing in on a deal to merge with a SPAC at a $3 billion valuation, which would leave existing investors in control. (WSJ)
Elliott Management has reportedly taken a stake in Duke Energy and plans to push for a change in strategy, after the utility rejected a takeover bid by NextEra Energy. (WSJ)
Politics and policy
In Wall-Streeters-seeking-political-office news: Glenn Youngkin, the former Carlyle Group co-C.E.O., won the Republican nomination for Virginia governor; and Alex Lasry, the son of the hedge fund mogul Marc Lasry, is running for the U.S. Senate in Wisconsin as a Democrat. (NYT, WaPo)
Big semiconductor makers and their customers have formed a new group to push for billions in federal funding to promote chip manufacturing in the U.S. (NYT)
Forty-four state attorneys general warned Facebook against plans to introduce a version of Instagram for children. (NYT)
The Pentagon reportedly may scrap its JEDI cloud-computing program, the subject of a lawsuit by Amazon and criticism from lawmakers. (WSJ)
Veteran traders are bringing old Wall Street tricks to crypto market-making. (Bloomberg)
Best of the rest
NBC said it won’t air next year’s Golden Globes ceremony, the biggest blow yet to the awards show as its organizers face criticism over a lack of diversity. (NYT)
An American court rejected an Australian company’s bid to scrap Ugg as a U.S. trademark. In Australia, it’s a catchall term for sheepskin boots with fleece linings. (NYT)
“How the Zoom era has ruined conversation” (WaPo)
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HONG KONG — The U.S. Embassy in Beijing had good news to share: Student visa applications for Chinese nationals were resuming after a yearlong hiatus.
“Spring has come and the flowers are in bloom,” the embassy wrote in a Chinese-language social media post on Wednesday that included a video of a dog trying to jump over a fence. “Are you like this doggy who can’t wait to go out and play?”
It backfired, big time.
The post on Weibo, a Twitter-like platform in China, could be read as a ham-handed attempt to be cute. But at a moment of heightened nationalism on the Chinese internet, it set off criticism — and accusations of racism — that were amplified by the ruling Communist Party’s formidable propaganda machine.
The embassy quickly removed the post and apologized, but the damage was done. The spat is the latest thorn in a diplomatic relationship that is prickly at the best of times and has lately been at its most delicate point in decades.
aggregating criticism of the post and criticizing former President Donald J. Trump’s visa policies.
Fang Kecheng, a professor of journalism and communication at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said the response was a typical example of how nationalistic news outlets and social media users in China wage “public opinion warfare.”
“They pay close attention to what the U.S. government and media say, and amplify any inappropriate expressions to discredit them,” he said.
Professor Fang said that such campaigns sometimes drew attention to statements that he said deserved to be criticized, such as Mr. Trump’s use of the term “China virus” to describe the coronavirus. That phrase has been widely criticized in the United States and beyond as racist and anti-Chinese.
“In this case, it’s amplifying a misstep,” he added, referring to the embassy’s social media post.
Early last year, Mr. Trump imposed restrictions on travelers from China, including students, prompting criticism from Beijing. The Weibo post on Wednesday by the U.S. Embassy’s consular section announced that student applications had resumed under President Biden’s administration.
technology Cold War, among other issues. Travel between the two counties has largely been frozen by strict visa controls, a result of both Covid-19 protocols and souring relations. Even attempts to restore diplomatic normalcy have been fraught.
There are potential financial implications for the U.S. education sector, too.
About a million international students enroll in American universities every year. More than a third were from China in the 2019-2020 academic year, according to data compiled by the Institute of International Education.
But experts say that universities in the United States and other English-speaking countries could lose billions of dollars in the coming years because of travel restrictions and anger among Chinese students and parents about what they see as a permissive attitude toward public health during the pandemic.
abandoned a plan to strip international college students of their visas if they did not attend at least some classes in person. Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and attorneys general of 20 states had sued over the proposed policy, saying it was reckless, cruel and senseless.
Paul Mozur contributed reporting and Lin Qiqing contributed research.
Richard Cordray, a close ally of Senator Elizabeth Warren who served as the first director of the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau during the Obama years, has been selected as the new head of federal student aid in the Biden administration, a post that will put him at the center of the swirling debate over forgiving student debt.
The issue is a tricky one for President Biden. Though he has endorsed canceling up to $10,000 per borrower through legislation, Mr. Biden has been pressured by some Democrats to forgive much more, and to sign an executive order making it happen if Congress fails to act.
But with his new position within the federal Education Department, the primary lender for higher education, Mr. Cordray might be able to relieve the president of that burden by canceling student debt administratively. Democratic leaders are pushing for up to $50,000 in debt relief.
Mr. Cordray is a former Ohio attorney general who worked alongside Ms. Warren on financial issues before her election to the Senate. He headed the consumer protection bureau from 2012 to 2017, leaving in the first year of the Trump administration to make a failed bid for governor of Ohio.
a five-time “Jeopardy!” champion, has also been a vocal critic of for-profit colleges. “I hate how these hollowed-out businesses and subpar colleges are cheating consumers, employees and whole communities,” he wrote in a guest essay in The Plain Dealer, Ohio’s largest newspaper.
the agency sued Navient, one of the Education Department’s largest student loan servicers, for errors and omissions that Mr. Cordray said improperly added billions of dollars to borrowers’ tabs.
The lawsuit is ongoing, and six state attorneys general have filed similar cases. The lawsuits describe routine mistakes and lapses in oversight that over time added up to systematic failures, eerily similar to the mortgage servicing industry’s bungling of borrower accounts and property foreclosures during the 2008 recession.
extensive errors and obstacles in the department’s Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which is intended to forgive the debts of teachers, military members, nonprofit workers and others in public-service careers.
The agency is also grappling with claims from hundreds of thousands of borrowers seeking relief through a program intended to eliminate the debts of people who were defrauded by schools that broke consumer protection laws.
The assault of a 13-year-old girl in Venezuela and the arrest of her mother and a teacher who helped her end the pregnancy have forced a national debate about legalizing abortion.
MÉRIDA, Venezuela — She wore a ponytail and a red T-shirt, the words “Glitter Girl” sketched across the front.
Gripping her mother’s hand, she spoke softly, describing how she had been forced out of school by Venezuela’s economic crisis, and then was raped at least six times by a neighborhood predator who threatened to harm her family if she spoke out. At just 13, she became pregnant.
With her mother, she sought out a doctor, who told her the pregnancy endangered her life, and then a former teacher, who provided pills that induced an abortion.
But ending a pregnancy is illegal in almost all circumstances in Venezuela. And now the girl was speaking up, she said, because her teacher, Vannesa Rosales, was in jail, facing more than a decade in prison for helping her end a pregnancy — while the accused rapist remained free.
local and international press earlier this year, has become a point of outrage for women’s rights activists, who say it demonstrates the way the country’s economic and humanitarian crisis has stripped away protections for young women and girls. (The Times is not identifying the girl because she is a minor.)
The country’s decline, presided over by President Nicolás Maduro and exacerbated by U.S. sanctions, has crippled schools, shuttered community programs, sent millions of parents abroad and eviscerated the justice system, leaving many vulnerable to violent actors who flourish amid impunity.
But the girl’s assault, and Ms. Rosales’s arrest, has also become a rallying cry for activists who say it is time for Venezuela to have a serious discussion about further legalizing abortion, an issue, they argue, that is now more important than ever.
at least open to a discussion on the issue.
The country’s penal code, which dates back to the 1800s, criminalizes abortion in nearly all cases, with punishments for pregnant women lasting six months to two years and one to nearly three years for abortion providers.
An exception allows doctors to perform abortions “to save the life” of a pregnant woman.
But to obtain a legal abortion, a girl or woman must first find a doctor who will diagnose her with a specific life-threatening condition, said Dr. Jairo Fuenmayor, president of the country’s gynecologic society, and then have her case reviewed before a hospital ethics board.
The process is “cumbersome,” he said, and there are “very few” women who go through it.
The 13-year-old girl may have been eligible for a rare legal abortion, but the process is so infrequently publicized, and there so few doctors who will grant one, that neither she nor her mother knew they could seek one out.
Some women believe that simply raising the issue with a doctor will land them in the hands of the police.
legalize abortion, elevating a discussion about the issue in a region that has long had some of the strictest abortion laws in the world.
“We can ride the wave of the triumph in Argentina,” said Gioconda Espina, a longtime Venezuelan women’s rights activist.
Legalization, however, is far from imminent.
Venezuela is a deeply Catholic country, and many on both sides of the political aisle reject the idea of ending a pregnancy, even amid a crisis.
“Abortion is something that people naturally or instinctively reject,” said Christine de Vollmer, a Venezuelan activist who opposes the procedure. Venezuela may be “chaotic,” she said, but, “I don’t think the idea will catch.”
Hugo Chávez, who began the country’s socialist-inspired revolution in 1999, never took a strong position on abortion, but often asked feminist activists — many of whom supported abortion rights and his cause — to put his larger political movement ahead of their own demands.
sometimes disappeared for months or years in the Venezuelan justice system, and she worried that her partner was about to do the same.
Ms. Rosales’s lawyer, Venus Faddoul, exited the courthouse. No hearing today, she said. And it would probably be weeks before a judge took up the case.
Ms. Escobar collapsed, consumed by anger and anxiety. Soon, she was shaking violently and struggling to breathe.
“We are powerless,” she cried.
internet outrage that Venezuela’s attorney general, Tarek Saab, took to Twitter to clarify that he had issued an arrest warrant for the accused rapist.
The authorities in Mérida soon released Ms. Rosales to await trial under house arrest.
Abortion rights activists last month met for hours with Mr. Rodríguez, the National Assembly president, where they proposed a change to the penal code, among other ideas.
The country’s influential association of Catholic bishops responded with a letter imploring the country to stick with the status quo.
Powerful international organizations, the association said, were trying to legalize abortion “by appealing to fake concepts of modernity, inventing ‘new human rights,’ and justifying policies that go against God’s designs.”
Ms. Rosales remains in legal limbo. Six months after her arrest, she has yet to have her first day in court. The accused person is still free.
“This goes beyond being a negligent state,” she said. “This is a state that is actively working against women.”
Unofficial Tally of Amazon Warehouse Unionization Votes 1,608 yes votes are needed for the union to win today. The New York Times·As of 7:19 p.m. Hundreds of ballots have been contested, which could delay either side from reaching the threshold. One ballot was marked as void. The ballots were being counted in random order in the National Labor Relations Board’s office in Birmingham, Ala., and the process was broadcast via Zoom to more than 200 journalists, lawyers and other observers.The voting was conducted by mail from early February until the end of last month. A handful of workers from the labor board called out the results of each vote “Yes” for a union or “No” for nearly four hours on Thursday.Amazon and the union had spent more than a week in closed sessions, reviewing the eligibility of each ballot cast with the labor board, the federal agency that conducts union elections. The union said several hundred ballots had been contested, largely by Amazon, and those ballots were set aside to be adjudicated and counted only if they were vital to determining an outcome. If Amazon’s large margin holds steady throughout the count, the contested ballots are likely to be moot.The incomplete tally put Amazon on the cusp of defeating the most serious organized-labor threat in the company’s history. Running a prominent campaign since the fall, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union aimed to establish the first union at an Amazon warehouse in the United States. The result will have major implications not only for Amazon but also for organized labor and its allies.
Labor organizers have tapped into dissatisfaction with working conditions in the warehouse, saying Amazon’s pursuit of efficiency and profits makes the conditions harsh for workers. The company counters that its starting wage of $15 an hour exceeds what other employers in the area pay, and it has urged workers to vote against unionizing.
Amazon has always fought against unionizing by its workers. But the vote in Alabama comes at a perilous moment for the company. Lawmakers and regulators — not competitors — are some of its greatest threats, and it has spent significant time and money trying to keep the government away from its business.
The union drive has had the retailer doing a political balancing act: staying on the good side of Washington’s Democratic leaders while squashing an organizing effort that President Biden has signaled he supported.
Labor leaders and liberal Democrats have seized on the union drive, saying it shows how Amazon is not as friendly to workers as the company says it is. Some of the company’s critics are also using its resistance to the union push to argue that Amazon should not be trusted on other issues, like climate change and the federal minimum wage.
Sophia June contributed to this report.
Before the pandemic, companies used to lure top talent with lavish perks like subsidized massages, Pilates classes and free gourmet meals. Now, the hottest enticement is permission to work not just from home, but from anywhere — even, say, from the French Alps or a Caribbean island.
Revolut, a banking start-up based in London, said Thursday that it would allow its more than 2,000 employees to work abroad for up to two months a year in response to requests to visit overseas family for longer periods.
“Our employees asked for flexibility, and that’s what we’re giving them as part of our ongoing focus on employee experience and choice,” said Jim MacDougall, Revolut’s vice president of human resources.
Georgia Pacquette-Bramble, a communications manager for Revolut, said she was planning to trade the winter in London for Spain or somewhere in the Caribbean. Other colleagues have talked about spending time with family abroad.
Revolut has been valued at $5.5 billion, making it one of Europe’s most valuable financial technology firms. It joins a number of companies that will allow more flexible working arrangements to continue after the pandemic ends. JPMorgan Chase, Salesforce, Ford Motor and Target have said they are giving up office space as they expect workers to spend less time in the office, and Spotify has told employees they can work from anywhere.
Not all companies, however, are shifting away from the office. Tech companies, including Amazon, Facebook, Google and Apple, have added office space in New York over the last year. Amazon told employees it would “return to an office-centric culture as our baseline.”
Dr. Dan Wang, an associate professor at Columbia Business School, said he did not expect office-centric companies to lose top talent to companies that allow flexible working, in part because many employees prefer to work from the office.
Furthermore, when employees are not in the same space, there are fewer spontaneous interactions, and spontaneity is critical for developing ideas and collaborating, Dr. Wang said.
“There is a cost,” he said. “Yes, we can interact via email, via Slack, via Zoom — we’ve all gotten used to that. But part of it is that we’ve lowered our expectations for what social interaction actually entails.”
Revolut said it studied tax laws and regulations before introducing its policy, and that each request to work from abroad was subject to an internal review and approval process. But for some companies looking to put a similar policy in place, a hefty tax bill, or at least a complicated tax return, could be a drawback.
Online stores offering counterfeit or stolen vaccine cards have mushroomed in recent weeks, according to Saoud Khalifah, the founder of FakeSpot, which offers tools to detect fake listings and reviews online.
The efforts are far from hidden, with Facebook pages named “vax-cards” and eBay listings with “blank vaccine cards” openly hawking the items, Sheera Frenkel reports for The New York Times.
Last week, 45 state attorneys general banded together to call on Twitter, Shopify and eBay to stop the sale of false and stolen vaccine cards.
Facebook, Twitter, eBay, Shopify and Etsy said that the sale of fake vaccine cards violated their rules and that they were removing posts that advertised the items.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention introduced the vaccination cards in December, describing them as the “simplest” way to keep track of Covid-19 shots. By January, sales of false vaccine cards started picking up, Mr. Khalifah said. Many people found the cards were easy to forge from samples available online. Authentic cards were also stolen by pharmacists from their workplaces and put up for sale, he said.
Many people who bought the cards were opposed to the Covid-19 vaccines, Mr. Khalifah said. In some anti-vaccine groups on Facebook, people have publicly boasted about getting the cards.
Other buyers want to use the cards to trick pharmacists into giving them a vaccine, Mr. Khalifah said. Because some of the vaccines are two-shot regimens, people can enter a false date for a first inoculation on the card, which makes it appear as if they need a second dose soon. Some pharmacies and state vaccination sites have prioritized people due for their second shots.
In only a year, the market value of office towers in Manhattan has plummeted 25 percent, according to city projections released on Wednesday.
Across the country, the vacancy rate for office buildings in city centers has steadily climbed over the past year to reach 16.4 percent, according to Cushman & Wakefield, the highest in about a decade. That number could climb further if companies keep giving up office space because of hybrid or fully remote work, Peter Eavis and Matthew Haag report for The New York Times.
So far, landlords like Boston Properties and SL Green have not suffered huge financial losses, having survived the past year by collecting rent from tenants locked into long leases — the average contract for office space runs about seven years.
But as leases come up for renewal, property owners could be left with scores of empty floors. At the same time, many new office buildings are under construction — 124 million square feet nationwide, or enough for roughly 700,000 workers. Those changes could drive down rents, which were touching new highs before the pandemic. And rents help determine assessments that are the basis for property tax bills.
Many big employers have already given notice to the owners of some prestigious buildings that they are leaving when their leases end. JPMorgan Chase, Ford Motor, Salesforce, Target and more are giving up expensive office space and others are considering doing so.
The stock prices of the big landlords, which are often structured as real estate investment trusts that pass almost all of their profit to investors, trade well below their previous highs. Shares of Boston Properties, one of the largest office landlords, are down 29 percent from the prepandemic high. SL Green, a major New York landlord, is 26 percent lower.
U.S. stock futures rose on Friday along with government bond yields after the Federal Reserve chair, Jerome Powell, reiterated his intention to keep supporting the economic recovery until it is complete.
The rollout of vaccinations meant the United States economy could probably reopen soon, but the recovery was still “uneven and incomplete,” Mr. Powell said at the International Monetary Fund annual conference on Thursday.
He pointed out that the economic burden of the pandemic was falling most heavily on low-income service workers who were least able to bear it. “I really want to finish the job and get back to a great economy,” Mr. Powell said.
The yield on 10-year Treasury notes jumped 5 basis points, or 0.05 percentage point, to 1.67 percent. The yield on 10-year government bonds rose across Europe, too.
Stocks, low volatility and oil prices
The S&P 500 index was set to open 0.1 percent higher and has risen 0.4 percent so far this week.
The relatively quiet week in the stock market has sent the VIX index, a measure of volatility, to its lowest level since February 2020. The index was at 17 points on Friday. In mid-March, as the pandemic shut down huge parts of the global economy, it spiked above 80.
European stock indexes were mixed on Friday, though the Stoxx Europe 600 was heading for its sixth straight week of gains. The DAX index in Germany rose 0.1 percent after data showed an unexpected drop in industrial production.
Oil prices rose slightly with futures of West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. crude benchmark, 0.2 percent higher to $59.70 a barrel.
WASHINGTON — Twenty-one Republican attorneys general pressed the Biden administration on Tuesday to clarify a provision in the $1.9 trillion economic aid package that the president signed into law last week, warning that its restrictions on state efforts to cut taxes could be “the greatest attempted invasion of state sovereignty by Congress in the history of our Republic.”
The seven-page letter was signed by a host of Republican officials, including the attorneys general of Texas, Arizona, Georgia and Utah. They take issue with a restriction that lawmakers included in a $350 billion relief effort for state, local and tribal governments that prevents them from using the federal funds “to either directly or indirectly offset a reduction in the net tax revenue” as a result of tax cuts. These governments have suffered revenue hits and laid off more than a million public employees during the coronavirus pandemic.
The law requires repayment to the federal government of any money that violates those conditions.
In their letter, the Republican officials asked Janet L. Yellen, the Treasury secretary, to clarify how expansively her department would interpret that portion of the law. Does it simply prohibit states from using the federal dollars to offset new tax cuts, or instead prohibit them from cutting taxes for any reason, even if those cuts were in the works before the law passed? The officials said the broader restriction would be damaging and most likely unconstitutional.
“This language could be read to deny states the ability to cut taxes in any manner whatsoever — even if they would have provided such tax relief with or without the prospect of Covid-19 relief funds,” the attorneys general wrote. “Absent a more sensible interpretation from your department, this provision would amount to an unprecedented and unconstitutional intrusion on the separate sovereignty of the states through federal usurpation of essentially one half of the state’s fiscal ledgers” — their ability to collect revenues.
Oklahoma, for example, has already passed an income-tax cut through its House of Representatives, including an expansion of the state’s earned-income tax credit that is meant to help low-income workers, Mike Hunter, the state’s attorney general, said in a statement on Tuesday. “But,” he warned, “the federal stimulus bill might prohibit Oklahoma from providing this economic relief without losing its share of federal funding.”
A White House spokesman declined on Tuesday evening to comment on the letter. A Treasury Department spokesman did not immediately return a request for comment.
Republican lawmakers in Washington and around the country previously raised concerns over the provision.
“We were planning on giving — reducing the sales tax on used cars, that is low-income and middle-income,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas said on the CBS program “Face the Nation” on Sunday. “And now we’re worried about whether that’s going to be prohibited under this bill. The language seems to indicate it is.”