When Krasnik and other towns adopted “free of L.G.B.T.” resolutions in early 2019, few people paid attention to what was widely seen as a political stunt by a governing party that delights in offending its foes’ “political correctness.”

But that changed early last year when Bartosz Staszewski, an L.G.B.T. activist from Warsaw began visiting towns that had vowed to banish “L.G.B.T. ideology.” Mr. Staszewski, a documentary filmmaker, took with him an official-looking yellow sign on which was written in four languages: “L.G.B.T.-FREE ZONE.” He put the fake sign next to each town’s real sign, taking photographs that he posted on social media.

The action, which he called “performance art,” provoked outrage across Europe as it put a spotlight on what Mr. Staszewski described in an interview in Warsaw as a push by conservatives to “turn basic human rights into an ideology.”

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has accused Mr. Staszewski of generating a fake scandal over “no-go zones” that don’t exist. Several towns, supported by a right-wing outfit partly funded by the government, have filed defamation suits against the activist over his representation of bans on “ideology” as barring L.G.B.T. people.

But even those who support the measures often seem confused about what it is that they want excluded.

Asked on television whether the region surrounding Krasnik would become Poland’s first L.G.B.T.-free zone, Elzbieta Kruk, a prominent Law and Justice politician, said, “I think Poland is going to be the first area free of L.G.B.T.” She later reversed herself and said the target was “L.G.B.T. ideology.”

For Mr. Wilk, Krasnik’s mayor, the semantic squabbling is a sign that it is time to drop attempts to make the town “free” of anyone or anything.

But Mr. Albiniak, the initiator of the resolution, vowed to resist what he denounced as blackmail by foreigners threatening to withhold funds.

“If I vote to repeal,” he said, “I vote against myself.”

Anatol Magdziarz contributed reporting.

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Saudi Aramco Sells Oil Pipeline Stake for $12.4 Billion

BJ’s Wholesale Club, died unexpectedly on Thursday of “presumed natural causes,” according to a statement released Friday by the company. He was 49.

“We are shocked and profoundly saddened by the passing of Lee Delaney,” said Christopher J. Baldwin, the company’s executive chairman, said in a statement. “Lee was a brilliant and humble leader who cared deeply for his colleagues, his family and his community.”

Mr. Delaney joined BJ’s in 2016 as executive vice president and chief growth officer. He was promoted to president in 2019 and became chief executive last year. Before joining BJ’s, he was a partner in the Boston office of Bain & Company from 1996 to 2016. Mr. Delaney earned a master’s in business administration from Carnegie Mellon University, and attended the University of Massachusetts, where he pursued a double major in computer science and mathematics.

Mr. Delaney led the company through the unexpected changes in consumer demand spurred by the pandemic, with many customers stockpiling wholesale goods as they hunkered down at home. “2020 was a remarkable, transformative and challenging year that structurally changed our business for the better,” Mr. Delaney said in the company’s last quarterly earnings report.

The BJ’s board appointed Bob Eddy, the chief administrative and financial officer, to serve as the company’s interim chief executive. Mr. Eddy joined the company in 2007 and became the chief financial officer in 2011, adding the job of chief administrative officer in 2018.

“Bob partnered closely with Lee and has played an integral role in transforming and growing BJ’s Wholesale Club,” Mr. Baldwin said. He said that the company would announce decisions about its permanent executive leadership in a “reasonably short timeframe.”

BJ’s, based in Westborough, Mass., operates 221 clubs and 151 BJ’s Gas locations in 17 states.

Revolut’s office in London in 2018. The banking start-up is offering its workers the opportunity to work abroad for up to two months a year.
Credit…Tom Jamieson for The New York Times

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.

After its initial public offering imploded, WeWork went public through a SPAC deal.
Credit…Kate Munsch/Reuters

After weeks of wading into the debate over how to regulate SPACS, the popular blank-check deals that provide companies a back door to public markets, the Securities and Exchange Commission is sending its first shot across the bow.

John Coates, the acting director of the corporate finance division at the S.E.C., issued a lengthy statement on Thursday about how securities laws apply to blank-check firms, the DealBook newsletter reports.

“With the unprecedented surge has come unprecedented scrutiny,” Mr. Coates wrote of the recent boom in blank-check deals.

In particular, he is interested in a crucial (and controversial) difference between SPACs and traditional initial public offerings: blank-check firms are allowed to publish often-rosy financial forecasts when merging with an acquisition target, while companies going public in an I.P.O. are not. Regulators consider such forecasts too risky for firms as yet untested by the public markets.

Investors raise money for SPACs via an I.P.O. of a shell company, and those funds are used within two years to merge with an unspecified company, which then also becomes a publicly traded company. Because the deal is technically a merger, it’s given the same “safe harbor” legal protections for its financial forecasts as a typical M.& A. deal. And that’s why there are flying-taxi companies with little revenue going public via a SPAC while promising billions in sales far in the future.

The S.E.C. thinks allowing financial forecasts for these deals might be a problem. They can be “untested, speculative, misleading or even fraudulent,” Mr. Coates wrote. And he concludes his statement by suggesting a major rethink of how the “full panoply” of securities laws applies to SPACs, which could upend the blank-check business model.

If the S.E.C. does not treat SPAC deals as the I.P.Os they effectively are, he writes, “potentially problematic forward-looking information may be disseminated without appropriate safeguards.”

The letter serves as a warning, but perhaps not much else — yet. Unless the S.E.C. issues new rules (as it did for penny stocks) or Congress passes legislation, SPAC projections will continue. But this strongly worded statement could moderate or even mute them.

“The S.E.C. has now put them on notice,” Lynn Turner, a former chief accountant of the agency, said.


Amazon Warehouse Unionization Votes

Either side needed 1,521 votes to win.

A total of 505 ballots were challenged; 76 were void.·Source: National Labor Relations Board

Amazon beat back the unionization drive at its warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., the counting of ballots in the closely watched effort showed on Friday.

A total of 738 workers voted “Yes” to unionize and 1,798 voted “No.” There were 76 ballots marked as void and 505 votes were challenged, according to the National Labor Relations Board. The union leading the drive to organize, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, said most of the challenges were from Amazon.

About 50 percent of the 5,805 eligible voters at the warehouse cast ballots in the election. Either side needed to receive more than 50 percent of all cast ballots to prevail.

The ballots were 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.

Sophia June and Miles McKinley contributed to this report.

A screenshot of a “vax cards” page on Facebook. 

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.

An empty conference room in New York, which is among the cities with the lowest rate of workers returning to offices.
Credit…George Etheredge for The New York Times

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.

President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris during a White House appearance on Thursday.
Credit…Amr Alfiky/The New York Times

President Biden proposed a vast expansion of federal spending on Friday, calling for a 16 percent increase in domestic programs as he tries to harness the government’s power to reverse what officials called a decade of underinvestment in the nation’s most pressing issues.

The proposed $1.52 trillion in spending on discretionary programs would significantly bolster education, health research and fighting climate change. It comes on top of Mr. Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package and a separate plan to spend $2.3 trillion on the nation’s infrastructure.

Mr. Biden’s first spending request to Congress showcases his belief that expanding, not shrinking, the federal government is crucial to economic growth and prosperity. It would direct billions of dollars toward reducing inequities in housing and education, as well as making sure every government agency puts climate change at the front of its agenda.

It does not include tax proposals, economic projections or so-called mandatory programs like Social Security, which will all be included in a formal budget request the White House will release this spring.

Among its major new spending initiatives, the plan would dedicate an additional $20 billion to help schools that serve low-income children and provide more money to students who have experienced racial or economic barriers to higher education. It would create a multi-billion-dollar program for researching diseases like cancer and add $14 billion to fight and adapt to the damages of climate change.

It would also seek to lift the economies of Central American countries, where rampant poverty, corruption and devastating hurricanes have fueled migration toward the southwestern border and a variety of initiatives to address homelessness and housing affordability, including on tribal lands. And it asks for an increase of about 2 percent in spending on national defense.

The request represents a sharp break with the policies of President Donald J. Trump, whose budget proposals prioritized military spending and border security, while seeking to cut funding in areas like environmental protection.

All told, the proposal calls for a $118 billion increase in discretionary spending in the 2022 fiscal year, when compared with the base spending allocations this year. It seeks to capitalize on the expiration of a decade of caps on spending growth, which lawmakers agreed to in 2010 but frequently breached in subsequent years.

Administration officials would not specify on Friday whether that increase would result in higher federal deficits in their coming budget proposal, but promised its full budget would “address the overlapping challenges we face in a fiscally and economically responsible way.”

As part of that effort, the request seeks $1 billion in new funding for the Internal Revenue Service to enforce tax laws, including “increased oversight of high-income and corporate tax returns.” That is clearly aimed at raising tax receipts by cracking down on tax avoidance by companies and the wealthy.

Officials said the proposals did not reflect the spending called for in Mr. Biden’s infrastructure plan, which he introduced last week, or for a second plan he has yet to roll out, which will focus on what officials call “human infrastructure” like education and child care.

Congress, which is responsible for approving government spending, is under no requirement to adhere to White House requests. In recent years, lawmakers rejected many of the Trump administration’s efforts to gut domestic programs.

But Mr. Biden’s plan, while incomplete as a budget, could provide a blueprint for Democrats who narrowly control the House and Senate and are anxious to reassert their spending priorities after four years of a Republican White House.

  • Stocks on Wall Street climbed further into record territory on Friday: The S&P 500 index rose 0.8 percent, bringing its gain for the week to 2.7 percent.

  • Shares of Amazon rose 2.2 percent after the company prevailed against a unionization drive at a warehouse in Alabama.

  • The relatively steady gains in the stock market have sent the VIX index, a measure of volatility, to its lowest level since February 2020. The index was below 17 points on Friday. In mid-March, as the pandemic shut down parts of the global economy, the VIX had spiked above 80.

  • The yield on 10-year Treasury notes jumped 4 basis points, or 0.04 percentage point, to 1.66 percent. The yield on 10-year government bonds rose across Europe, too.

  • On Thursday, Federal Reserve chair, Jerome Powell, reiterated his intention to keep supporting the economic recovery 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.

  • European stock indexes were mixed on Friday, though the Stoxx Europe 600 notched its sixth straight week of gains. The DAX index in Germany rose 0.2 percent after data showed an unexpected drop in industrial production. The FTSE 100 in London fell 0.4 percent.

  • Oil prices fell slightly with futures of West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. crude benchmark, 0.4 percent lower to $59.38 a barrel.

  • Just months after returning to the skies, Boeing’s troubled 737 Max jet is facing another setback. Boeing said Friday that it had notified 16 airlines and other customers of a potential electrical problem with the Max and recommended that they temporarily stop flying some planes. The company refused to say how many planes were affected, but four U.S. airlines said they would stop using nearly 70 Max jets. Boeing would not say how long the planes would be sidelined. The statement comes just months after companies resumed flying the jet, which had been grounded for nearly two years because of a pair of accidents that killed nearly 350 people.

Part of Saudi Aramco’s giant Ras Tanura oil terminal. The company said it would raise $12.4 billion from selling a minority stake in its oil pipeline business.
Credit…Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters

Saudi Aramco, the national oil company of Saudi Arabia, has reached a deal to raise $12.4 billion from the sale of a 49 percent stake in a pipeline-rights company.

The money will come from a consortium led by EIG Global Energy Partners, a Washington-based investor in pipelines and other energy infrastructure.

Under the arrangement announced on Friday, the investor group will buy 49 percent of a new company called Aramco Oil Pipelines, which will have the rights to 25 years of payments from Aramco for transporting oil through Saudi Arabia’s pipeline networks.

Aramco is under pressure from its main owner, the Saudi government, to generate cash to finance state operations as well as investments like new cities to diversify the economy away from oil.

The company has pledged to pay $75 billion in annual dividends, nearly all to the government, as well as other taxes.

Last year, the dividends came to well in excess of the company’s net income of $49 billion. Recently, Aramco was tapped by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s main policymaker, to lead a new domestic investment drive to build up the Saudi economy.

The pipeline sale “reinforces Aramco’s role as a catalyst for attracting significant foreign investment into the Kingdom,” Aramco said in a statement.

From Saudi Arabia’s perspective, the deal has the virtue of raising money up front without giving up control. Aramco will own a 51 percent majority share in the pipeline company and “retain full ownership and operational control” of the pipes the company said.

Aramco said Saudi Arabia would retain control over how much oil the company produces.

Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich neighbor, has struck similar oil and gas deals with outside investors.

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‘You Can’t Trust Anyone’: Russia’s Hidden Covid Toll Is an Open Secret

SAMARA, Russia — She burst into the hospital morgue and the bodies were everywhere, about a dozen of them in black bags on stretchers. She headed straight for the autopsy room, pleading with the guard in a black jacket: “Can I speak to the doctor who opened up my father?”

Olga Kagarlitskaya’s father had been hospitalized weeks earlier in a coronavirus ward. Now he was gone, cause of death: “viral pneumonia, unspecified.” Ms. Kagarlitskaya, recording the scene on her smartphone, wanted to know the truth. But the guard, hands in pockets, sent her away.

There were thousands of similar cases across Russia last year, the government’s own statistics show. At least 300,000 more people died last year during the coronavirus pandemic than were reported in Russia’s most widely cited official statistics.

Russian scientists had developed a Covid vaccine widely seen as one of the best in the world — but the Kremlin has put a greater emphasis on using the Sputnik V shot to score geopolitical points rather than on immunizing its own population.

Perhaps the starkest sign, though, of the state’s priorities is its minimization of the coronavirus death toll — a move that, many critics say, kept much of the public in the dark about the disease’s dangers and about the importance of getting a vaccine.

to the World Health Organization — is far lower, when adjusted for the population, than that of United States and most of Western Europe.

However, a far different story is told by the official statistics agency Rosstat, which tallies deaths from all causes. Russia saw a jump of 360,000 deaths above normal from last April through December, according to a Times analysis of historical data. Rosstat figures for January and February of this year show that the number is now well above 400,000.

In the United States, with more than twice the population of Russia, such “excess deaths” since the start of the pandemic have numbered about 574,000. By that measure, which many demographers see as the most accurate way to assess the virus’s overall toll, the pandemic killed about one in every 400 people in Russia, compared with one in every 600 in the United States.

another poll found that 60 percent of Russians said they were not planning to get Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine, and that most believed the coronavirus to be a biological weapon.

In the Samara region, Inna Pogozheva’s mother, an obstetrician-gynecologist, died in November after being hospitalized with a Covid-19 referral based on a CT scan. The undertakers, clad in rubber boots and hazmat suits, carried her mother from the morgue into their hearse in a sealed coffin, then doused each other in disinfectant.

But there was no word about Covid-19 on the death certificate.

Ms. Pogozheva said she did not know what to believe about the pandemic — including whether, as the widely circulating and false conspiracy theories go, the Gates Foundation might be behind it. But one thing was certain, she said: She will not get vaccinated, even after seeing Covid’s devastation up close. After all, if she cannot trust her mother’s state-issued death certificate, why should she trust the Russian government about the safety of the vaccine?

“Who the heck knows what they mixed in there?” Ms. Pogozheva said. “You can’t trust anyone, especially when it comes to this situation.”

Ms. Pogozheva is appealing to have her mother’s cause of death reinvestigated. The next of kin of a medical worker shown to have died from Covid-19 caught on the job are entitled to a special payout from the state. Ms. Kagarlitskaya, whose father was a paramedic, succeeded in having his cause of death changed to Covid-19 after her outrage went viral on Instagram and Samara’s governor personally intervened.

For all the death, there has been minimal opposition in Russia — even among Mr. Putin’s critics — to the government’s decision to keep businesses open last winter and fall. Some liken it to a Russian stoicism, or fatalism, or the lack of an alternative to keeping the economy running given minimal aid from the state.

Mr. Raksha, the demographer, noted that the elevated mortality that accompanied the chaos and poverty of the 1990s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, was deadlier than the overall toll of the pandemic.

“This nation has seen so many traumas,” Mr. Raksha said. “A people that has been through so much develops a very different relationship to death.”

In the Samara region, according to the excess death statistics, the pandemic took the life of as many as one in every 250 people. Viktor Dolonko, the editor of a culture newspaper in the city of Samara, says that about 50 people he knew — many of them part of the region’s thriving arts scene — lost their lives during the pandemic. But he does not believe that Samara should have closed its theaters — currently, they are allowed to be filled to 50 percent of capacity — in order to slow the spread of the disease.

The deaths during the pandemic have been tragic, he said, but he believes they have mostly occurred in people who were of a very advanced age or had other health problems, and were not all related to the virus. Mr. Dolonko, 62, says he wears a mask in crowded places and frequently washes his hands — and regularly goes to gallery openings and shows.

“You can choose between continuing to live your life, carefully, or to wall yourself up and stop living,” Mr. Dolonko said. “Unlike you” — Westerners — “Russians know what it means to live in extreme conditions.”

At a Samara church service on a recent Sunday, the Rev. Sergiy Rybakov preached, “Let us love one another,” and the congregants hugged and kissed. One 59-year-old woman, leaving the service, explained why she did not fear catching the virus there: “I trust God.”

A website tracking coronavirus deaths in the Orthodox Church lists seven members of the clergy in the Samara region; Father Sergiy knew several of them well. He said he figured Russia had lifted its coronavirus restrictions because there was no end in sight to the pandemic. He quoted Dostoyevsky: “Man grows used to everything, the scoundrel!”

“We are growing used to living in a pandemic,” Father Sergiy said. “We are growing used to the deaths.”

Allison McCann and Oleg Matsnev contributed research.

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Boeing Tells Airlines to Stop Flying Some 737 Max Planes

Just months after returning to the skies, Boeing’s troubled 737 Max jet is facing another setback.

Boeing said Friday that it had notified 16 airlines and other customers of a potential electrical problem with the Max and recommended that they temporarily stop flying some planes. The company refused to say how many planes were affected, but four U.S. airlines said they would stop using nearly 70 Max jets. Boeing would not say how long the planes would be sidelined.

Airlines and Boeing have tried hard in the last several months to convince passengers that the Max is safe. This latest problem is sure to spur further doubt among some travelers about the plane.

“It’s a Max, so everybody is interested and that makes perfect sense, but this is the aviation maintenance system working the way that it should,” said John Cox, a former airline pilot and crash investigator and chief executive of Safety Operating Systems, an aviation consulting firm.

Boeing said the affected airlines should verify that a component of the electrical power system on certain Max planes was sufficiently fastened. Airlines had resumed flying the jet after it was grounded for nearly two years because of a pair of accidents that killed nearly 350 people.

have complained of careless practices there in the past, including debris left dangerously close to electrical wiring of the 787 Dreamliner, a large plane used on long flights.

The families of those killed in the crashes have been critical of both Boeing and the F.A.A., saying neither has done enough to root out the problems that caused the crashes.

“Boeing proclaims to be a changed company, but it’s clear their culture is built around cutting corners and putting profits over safety,” Yalena Lopez-Lewis, whose husband, Antoine, died in the crash in Ethiopia, said in a statement on Friday. “Since the deaths of 346 people, their sole focus has not been safety but to perform the bare minimum for regulators to allow it back in the air. This grounding illustrates that the Max is still unsafe to fly.”

After working to fix the Max and restore its credibility with airlines and regulators for much of the past two years, Boeing has been on an upswing in recent weeks. United said it was speeding up deliveries of the Max and expanding its order to 180 planes in the coming years. Europe and the United States agreed to temporarily suspend tariffs in a long-running dispute over Boeing and its rival Airbus. And February was the first month in more than a year in which Boeing reported net positive commercial airplane sales.

The company’s stock is up about 17 percent for the year.

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Amazon Union Votes Continue to Be Tallied: Live Updates

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.

Revolut’s office in London in 2018. The banking start-up is offering its workers the opportunity to work abroad for up to two months a year.
Credit…Tom Jamieson for The New York Times

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.

A screenshot of a “vax cards” page on Facebook. 

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.

An empty conference room in New York, which is among the cities with the lowest rate of workers returning to offices.
Credit…George Etheredge for The New York Times

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.

A closed restaurant and pastry store in Tucson, Ariz. The Fed chair, Jerome Powell, said the economic recovery from the pandemic has been “uneven and incomplete.”
Credit…Rebecca Noble for The New York Times

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Company Will Offer Refunds to Buyers of ‘Satan Shoes’ to Settle Lawsuit by Nike

A Brooklyn company that was sued by Nike over the unauthorized sale of Satan Shoes — an aftermarket sneaker that contains a drop of blood and was promoted by the rapper Lil Nas X — agreed on Thursday to accept returns of the footwear as part of a settlement.

The company, MSCHF, will offer refunds to people who want to return the sneakers under the terms of the settlement, according to Nike, which said in a statement that the purpose of the “voluntary recall” was to remove the shoes from circulation.

The settlement came a week after a U.S. District Court judge in Brooklyn granted Nike a temporary restraining order against MSCHF (pronounced mischief) after it sued the company last month.

A total of 666 pairs of the Satan Shoes were produced by MSCHF, which incorporated drops of its employees’ blood and ink into an air bubble in the Nike Air Max 97 sneakers. Each pair cost $1,018. They sold out in less than a minute last month.

“Luke 10:18” — a reference to the biblical passage that says, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” — is printed on them.

A previous line of unauthorized Nike sneakers that MSCHF sold, which was named the Jesus Shoe and contained holy water, can also be returned for a refund, Nike said.

“In both cases, MSCHF altered these shoes without Nike’s authorization,” Nike said in a statement on Thursday. “Nike had nothing to do with the Satan Shoes or the Jesus Shoes.”

A lawyer for MSCHF did not dispute that the company had agreed to the voluntary buyback, but said on Thursday that he could not disclose the terms of the settlement.

music video for his song “Montero (Call Me by Your Name),” in which he gyrates on Satan’s lap.

In the song, Lil Nas X, who was born Montero Lamar Hill, “cheerfully rejoices in lust as a gay man,” wrote Jon Pareles, the chief music critic for The New York Times.

Lil Nas X came out in 2019. The song’s title is an apparent reference to “Call Me by Your Name,” a novel about a clandestine summer romance between two men that was adapted into a film.

Mr. Bernstein said all but one pair of the Satan Shoes had been shipped to buyers before the temporary restraining order had been issued on April 1.

He described the sneakers, which are individually numbered, as works of art that represent the ideals of equality and inclusion. Mr. Bernstein said MSCHF had looked forward to arguing that its activities were covered under the First Amendment right of artistic expression.

“However, having already achieved its artistic purpose, MSCHF recognized that settlement was the best way to allow it to put this lawsuit behind it so that it could dedicate its time to new artistic and expressive projects,” he said.

Nike said it would not be responsible for any issues with sneakers that people decide to keep.

“Purchasers who choose not to return their shoes and later encounter a product issue, defect, or health concern should contact MSCHF, not Nike,” the company said.

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Revolut Will Allow Employees to Work Abroad for 2 Months a Year

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 spokeswoman 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.

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.

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Outcry in Pakistan After Imran Khan Links Rape to How Women Dress

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — An outcry has erupted in Pakistan after Prime Minister Imran Khan blamed a rise in rape cases on how women dressed, remarks that activists denounced as perpetuating a culture of victim blaming.

Mr. Khan made the comments on a live television show earlier this week when he was asked what the government was doing to curb an increase in sexual violence against women and children. Mr. Khan acknowledged the seriousness of the problem and pointed to the country’s strict laws against rape.

But, he said, women had to do their part.

“What is the concept of purdah?” he said, using a term that refers to the practice of seclusion, veiling or concealing dress for women in some South Asian communities. “It is to stop temptation. Not every man has willpower. If you keep on increasing vulgarity, it will have consequences.”

The uproar was swift.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, an independent group, demanded Mr. Khan apologize for his remarks, which it called “unacceptable behavior on the part of a public leader.”

chemical castration.

There are few reliable statistics on rape in Pakistan, but rights activists say it is a severely underreported crime, in part because victims are often treated as criminals or blamed for the assaults. Thousands of protesters took to the streets last year after a top police official in the eastern city of Lahore said that a woman who was raped on a deserted highway was partly to blame for the attack.

not how women dress!” she wrote in one post. In another, she said that she hoped that Mr. Khan had been misquoted because the man she knew had different opinions.

entered politics, and has been accused of being overly sympathetic to the Taliban in recent years.

To women’s rights activists, Mr. Khan’s comments this week were only the latest example of the challenge they face in finding support for their causes in the deeply conservative society. Organizers of women’s rights marches on International Women’s Day last month have said they have been accused of “vulgarity” for seeking equal rights.

“It’s already tremendously challenging for women of all ages in public spaces in Pakistan, whether on the streets or at work or in the digital space, even in their own homes,” said Ms. Sukhera, the author in Lahore. “Regressive preaching prevents women from reclaiming what’s rightfully theirs, and must be addressed.”

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State Jobless Claims Climb, Showing Continued Stress on Labor Market: Live Updates

filed first-time claims for state jobless benefits last week, an increase of 18,000, the Labor Department said. It was the second consecutive weekly increase after new claims hit a pandemic low.

At the same time, 152,000 new claims were filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federal program covering freelancers, part-timers and others who do not routinely qualify for state benefits. That was a decline of 85,000.

Neither figure is seasonally adjusted.

Claims rose above one million early in the year but have come down since then, helped by the spread of vaccinations, the easing of restrictions on businesses in many states and the arrival of stimulus funds.

Most individuals received payments of $1,400 in recent weeks as part of the Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion relief package, and the funds should bolster consumer spending in the coming months.

On Friday, the government reported that employers added 916,000 jobs in March, twice February’s gain and the most since August. The unemployment rate dipped to 6 percent, the lowest since the pandemic began, with nearly 350,000 people rejoining the labor force.

Still, there is plenty of ground to make up.

Even after March’s job gains, the economy is 8.4 million jobs short of where it was in February 2020. Entire sectors, like travel and leisure, as well as restaurants and bars, are only beginning to recover from the millions of job losses that followed the pandemic’s arrival.

The ballots in the union drive at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., are expected to be counted by hand starting either Thursday afternoon or Friday morning.
Credit…Charity Rachelle for The New York Times

The union seeking to represent workers at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama said late Wednesday that there were 3,215 ballots cast — or about 55 percent of the roughly 5,800 workers who were eligible to vote.

The ballots are expected to be counted by hand starting either Thursday afternoon or Friday morning in the National Labor Relations Board’s office in Birmingham, according to the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union. Hundreds of ballots are being contested, mostly by Amazon, the union said.

The vote counting will be shown on a videoconference call to a small number of outsiders, including journalists, in addition to representatives from the union and the company.

Union elections are typically held in person, but the labor board determined that the election should be conducted by mail to minimize risks during the pandemic. The ballots were sent to workers in early February and were due at the agency before March 30. Since then, Amazon and the union have had a chance to challenge whether particular worker were eligible to vote.

When the public counting is done, the agency will announce the formal results if the margin of victory for one side is greater than the number of contested ballots.

If the margin is narrower, then it could take two to three weeks for the N.L.R.B. to hold a hearing to sort through the contested ballots and take evidence from both sides on whether they should be counted.

The Baoshan Second Reservoir. Not a single typhoon made landfall during last year’s rainy season.
Credit…An Rong Xu for The New York Times

Officials are calling Taiwan’s drought its worst in more than half a century. And it is exposing the enormous challenges involved in hosting the island’s semiconductor industry, which is an increasingly indispensable node in the global supply chains for smartphones, cars and other keystones of modern life.

Chip makers use lots of water to clean their factories and wafers, the thin slices of silicon that make up the basis of the chips, Raymond Zhong and Amy Chang Chien report for The New York Times. In 2019, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company’s facilities in Hsinchu consumed 63,000 tons of water a day, according to the company, or more than 10 percent of the supply from two local reservoirs.

In recent months, the government has:

But the most sweeping measure has been the halt on irrigation, which affects 183,000 acres of farmland, around a fifth of Taiwan’s irrigated land.

The Taiwanese public appears to have decided that rice farming is less important, both for the island and the world, than semiconductors. The government is subsidizing growers for the lost income. But Chuang Cheng-deng, 55, worries that the thwarted harvest will drive customers to seek out other suppliers, which could mean years of depressed earnings.

The Ikea store in Franconville, France, where employees were monitored, documents showed.
Credit…Elliott Verdier for The New York Times

Prosecutors are accusing the French arm of Ikea, the Swedish home furnishings giant, and some of its former executives of engineering a “system of espionage” from 2009 to 2012, in a criminal trial that has riveted public attention in France.

The alleged snooping was used to investigate employees and union organizers, check up on workers on medical leave and size up customers seeking refunds for botched orders, Liz Alderman reports for The New York Times. A former military operative was hired to execute some of the more clandestine operations.

In all, 15 people are charged. A verdict from a panel of judges is scheduled for June 15.

The case stoked outrage in 2012 after the emails were leaked to the French news media, and Ikea promptly fired several executives in its French unit, including its chief executive. There is no evidence that similar surveillance happened in any of the other 52 countries where the global retailer hones a fresh-faced image of stylish thriftiness served with Swedish meatballs.

Victims’ lawyers described a methodic operation that ran along two tracks: one involving background and criminal checks of job candidates and employees without their knowledge, and another targeting union leaders and members.

Ikea’s lawyer, Emmanuel Daoud, denied that systemwide surveillance had been carried out at Ikea’s stores in France. He argued that any privacy violations had been the work of a single person, Jean-François Paris, the French unit’s head of risk management.

Emails and receipts showed that Mr. Paris handed much of the legwork to Jean-Pierre Fourès, who surveilled hundreds of job applicants, gleaning information from social media and other sources to speed vetting and hiring. He also did background checks on unsuspecting customers who tangled with Ikea over big refunds. He insisted that he had never broken the law in gathering background material.

The surveillance encompassed career workers. In one case, Mr. Fourès was hired to investigate whether Ikea France’s deputy director of communications and merchandising, who was on a yearlong sick leave recovering from hepatitis C, had faked the severity of her illness when managers learned she had traveled to Morocco.

A Carnival cruise ship docked last year in Long Beach, Calif. The cruise line has threatened to move its ships outside of U.S. ports.
Credit…Lucy Nicholson/Reuters
A “help wanted” sign at a Home Depot in Mount Prospect, Ill. Confidence about hiring in the U.S. economy is growing.
Credit…Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

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After Pandemic, Shrinking Need for Office Space Could Crush Landlords

Roughly 17.3 percent of all office space in Manhattan is available for lease, the highest proportion in at least three decades. Asking rents on the island have dropped to just over $74 a square foot, from nearly $82 at the beginning of 2020, according to a recent report by the real estate services company Newmark. Elsewhere, asking rents have largely stayed flat from a year ago, including in Boston and Houston, but have climbed slightly in Chicago.

The Japanese clothing brand Uniqlo, whose United States headquarters are in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood, recently relocated to another office building nearby, an open layout with tables designed for its work force of 130 people who will come into the office only a few days a week. Many of its office workers will keep working remotely after the pandemic, while some employees, like those in the marketing department, will hold meetings occasionally in SoHo.

“As a leader, it has been challenging because meeting people face-to-face is so important,” said Daisuke Tsukagoshi, the chief executive of Uniqlo USA. “However, since we are a Japanese company with global reach, the need for remote collaboration among many centers has always been part of our culture.”

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, even as the wider stock market and some companies in other industries like airlines and hotels that were hit hard by the pandemic have hit new 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.

Fitch Ratings estimated that office landlords’ profits would fall 15 percent if companies allowed workers to be at home just one and a half days a week on average. Three days at home could slash income by 30 percent.

Senior executives at property companies claim not to be worried. They argue that working from home will quickly fade once most of the country is vaccinated. Their reasons to think this? They say many corporate executives have told them that it is hard to effectively get workers to collaborate or train young professionals when they are not together.

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