A Novel Way to Finance School May Penalize Students from HBCU’s, Study Finds

The typical student who borrows to attend college leaves with more than $30,000 in debt. Many struggle to keep up with their payments, and America’s ballooning tab for student loans — now $1.7 trillion, more than any other type of household debt except for mortgages — has become a political flash point.

So a financing approach known as an income-share agreement, which promises to eliminate unaffordable student debt by tying repayment to income, has obvious appeal. But a new study has found that income share agreements can also mask race-based inequalities.

The analysis, released on Thursday by the Student Borrower Protection Center, an advocacy group, found that borrowers at schools that focus on minority students can end up paying more than their peers at largely white campuses.

Income-share agreements are offered mainly by schools, although some private financiers have started marketing them directly to students. The selling point of such agreements is that, unlike loans, they don’t accumulate interest, and they come with both a predetermined repayment period and a cap on the total amount that the lender can seek as repayment. To students leery of accumulating educational debt that can snowball and stick around for decades, income-share agreements can offer a more flexible alternative.

Silicon Valley investors who are funding start-ups, as well as some policymakers. A growing number of colleges and vocational training programs are letting students finance some or all of their studies with such contracts. Purdue University was the first to offer them widely, starting in 2016. Private schools including Lackawanna College and Clarkson University have followed suit. Vemo Education, a venture that manages I.S.A. programs, said it has worked with 70 schools and training courses.

But the market is opaque and lightly regulated, making it challenging for borrowers to find the kind of consumer-protection disclosures that typically accompany financial products. Financiers are generally not required to reveal any information on how much money they have lent and how those deals have worked out for borrowers.

Student Borrower Protection Center researchers obtained data from the website of one private financier, Stride Funding in Dallas, and studied its agreements to illustrate how they can contain buried inequities. (Other companies that market the agreements directly to students include Align, Defynance and Lumni.)

Like most lenders in this market, Stride varies its repayment terms depending on the borrower’s earning potential. An English major typically will need to fork over a higher percentage of salary than an engineering student. (Stride caps its maximum repayment amount at two times the amount that was borrowed. Its contracts typically require recipients to make payments for five to seven years.)

repay 5.65 percent of their income for five years, according to a payment calculator on Stride’s website. But the same calculator showed that an economics student at Morehouse, an historically Black school in Atlanta, would be asked to repay 6.15 percent of their income.

asked the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau last year to investigate several lenders that they said might be discriminating against women and minority borrowers by charging them higher rates, based on their lending algorithms.

“The risk of discrimination arises because the lender is not evaluating the applicant based on their own characteristics, but instead based on the characteristics of other students at their school or who were in the same major or program,” the lawmakers wrote.

Officials at the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund got an early look at the Student Borrower Protection Center’s report and found it disturbing. Stride’s lending might run afoul of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, they said in a letter sent to the company on Thursday morning.

“Particularly given how the economic fallout of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has disproportionately hurt Black Americans, the need for equitable access to consumer financial products and services is more important than ever,” the fund said in the letter, which was also signed by Mr. Frotman’s group.

Ms. Michaels said Stride “shares the goals” of the two groups and “is excited to have the chance to work with them on our shared mission of providing access to financial products to those who have long been left out of traditional credit marketplaces.”

told Forbes that her company anticipated making loans to 1,800 students this year.

Government regulators have been keeping a cautious eye on the emerging market. Rohit Chopra, President Biden’s nominee to run the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — which is often the federal enforcer of fair-lending laws — has spoken frequently about the risk of bias in algorithmic lending decisions. (Mr. Chopra, a commissioner on the Federal Trade Commission, is awaiting a Senate vote on his nomination.)

“Our student debt market is definitely broken, and it needs a massive overhaul,” Mr. Chopra said at a conference last year. “I’m not sure that new products like income share agreements will be an antidote, especially if they worsen disparities.”

Ashok Chandran, a lawyer at the NAACP fund, said he hoped state and federal watchdogs would pay close attention to the novel lending products. “This market operates in such a regulatory dark space,” he said. “We’re pretty troubled by the report, and in particular by how stark the disparities are.”

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Amazon Walks a Political Tightrope in Its Union Fight

WASHINGTON — Amazon is aligned with the Biden administration on several fronts.

It backs a $15-an-hour federal minimum wage. It has pledged to meet all the goals of the Paris climate agreement on reducing emissions. It has met with the administration to discuss how to help with the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines.

But a union drive at one of its warehouses in Alabama has 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 his support for.

Amazon workers in Bessemer, Ala., have been voting for weeks on whether to form a union. The voting ends Monday. Approval would be a first for Amazon workers in the United States and could energize the labor movement across the country.

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.

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.

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.

Amazon’s business practices are the subject of antitrust investigations at the Federal Trade Commission and in multiple state attorney general offices. Mr. Biden on Monday nominated Lina Khan, a legal scholar who came to prominence with her critique of the company, for a seat on the F.T.C.

“I think everyone is seeing through the P.R. at this point and focusing on both their economic and political power,” Sarah Miller, a critic of Amazon, said about the company. Ms. Miller, who runs the American Economic Liberties Project, an antitrust think tank, added, “I think the narrative is cooked now on their status as a monopoly, their status as an abusive employer and their status as one of the biggest spenders on lobbying in Washington, D.C.”

Drew Herdener, Amazon’s vice president for worldwide communications, said in a statement that the company shared common ground with the Biden administration on climate change, immigration reform, the minimum wage and pandemic policy, and was “seeing really positive collaboration on those fronts” with the White House.

a national survey by The Verge, a technology news site, found that 91 percent had a favorable view of the retail giant. When professors at Georgetown and New York Universities asked Americans in 2018 which institutions they had the most confidence in, only the military ranked higher than Amazon.

Still, when Jeff Bezos, the chief executive, testified before Congress last year, he faced accusations that the company squeezes the small businesses that use its online marketplace. A liberal philanthropic organization funded a network of activists to press Amazon on privacy, competition and labor issues. They have also attacked Mr. Bezos, the richest person in the world by some measures, for his personal wealth.

Amazon has made efforts to reach out to the new administration. Dave Clark, who runs the company’s consumer business, sent a letter to the White House in January offering to help with the distribution of the coronavirus vaccine and met virtually with Jeff Zients, the White House’s coronavirus coordinator, to discuss the vaccine rollout.

appeared in a video that didn’t mention Amazon explicitly but was seen as a clear sign of support to the union. In the video, he said there “should be no intimidation, no coercion, no threats” from employers in coming union elections, including in Alabama.

said on Twitter.

It recalled the message Amazon had waiting for a delegation of progressive lawmakers who met with union representatives in Alabama this month.

At the warehouse, workers held up a large banner with text in bold letters: “CONGRESS: PLEASE MATCH AMAZON’S $15/HOUR MINIMUM WAGE!”

Karen Weise contributed reporting.

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Miami’s Mayor Wants to Make His City a Crypto Hub

Mayor Francis Suarez of Miami is selling his city as the world’s cryptocurrency capital. “We want to be on the next wave of innovation,” he told DealBook. To make that happen, Mr. Suarez said he was “refashioning” the city’s “fun in the sun” image. Thanks in part to the mayor’s marketing efforts, tech and finance titans have flocked to Miami during the pandemic.

Visions of Bitcoin City. Last month, the Republican mayor suggested Miami pay municipal workers and accept tax payments in Bitcoin, as well as invest city funds in the cryptocurrency. Local officials have agreed to study the proposals. The notion made him popular in the crypto community, advancing his rebranding campaign. His efforts have also won him campaign donations from tech investors, attracted money to cultivate Miami’s burgeoning tech sector and may soon pay a big county bill.

The cryptocurrency exchange FTX is seeking naming rights for the city’s N.B.A. arena, currently known as AmericanAirlines Arena. Miami-Dade County took over branding deals in 2018 and is supposed to pay the team $2 million per year, sponsor or no (American’s contract ended in 2019). The FTX agreement is nearly final, pending a Friday vote by county commissioners. “It’s awesome that we’ve attracted a huge cryptocurrency exchange,” Mr. Suarez said, noting that FTX’s bid “complements the brand” that Miami is establishing.

  • It would be the N.B.A.’s first crypto sponsorship of an arena, The Miami Herald notes, but it would also tie a county revenue stream to a relatively young exchange and C.E.O. FTX was founded in 2019 and is run by Samuel Bankman-Fried, a 28-year-old billionaire who was one of the biggest donors to President Biden’s campaign.

The tech center exodus and crypto boom converge in Miami. The pandemic prompted people to relocate to Florida from Silicon Valley and New York as Bitcoin gained legitimacy and value. The mayor sees the trends as interrelated, and he is seizing the moment. “People come here and start realizing that there’s way more tech talent than they thought,” he said.

  • All that’s missing is a regulatory scheme, Mr. Suarez said: Lawmakers are modeling Florida’s approach on Wyoming’s crypto policies. Ultimately, the success of the mayor’s effort won’t be apparent until it’s clear that people are making their moves permanent and maintaining their enthusiasm for crypto if — or when? — there is another market downturn.

Not so fast, AstraZeneca. American officials said early today that the company may have included “outdated information” from a U.S. clinical trial of its Covid-19 vaccine, providing “an incomplete view” of data that could cast doubt on promising news.

a huge infrastructure proposal. It will go beyond roads and bridges to also address climate change and racial and gender equity.

Microsoft will ease workers back to the office starting next week. The 57,000 employees who left the tech giant’s Redmond, Wash., headquarters because of the pandemic can choose to work from the office, home or both.

BlackRock investigates allegations of employee misconduct. The money-management giant hired a law firm after employees said that they had faced harassment and discrimination over their sex, race and religion. A senior executive, Mark Wiedman, apologized for making inappropriate comments at work events.

Goldman Sachs’s C.E.O. promises to ease the burden on junior bankers. David Solomon told employees that the firm would better enforce a ban on working Saturdays and hire more analysts, after a presentation by first-year bankers that described 100-hour work weeks drew media attention.

Though she lost the Democratic presidential primary, Senator Elizabeth Warren is exerting considerable sway over President Biden’s financial policies, judging by the number of people from her orbit who have been picked to join the administration. But her influence is increasingly being tested, The Times’s Alan Rappeport writes.

on Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.


manufacturers of batteries for electric vehicles. The International Trade Commission recently ruled in favor of LG Chem in a trade secrets case against SK Innovation, issuing a default judgment based on a problematic absence of documentation. SK says its partially built factory in Georgia is threatened by the decision.

ban on imports of a Botox competitor.) But a federal court could order SK to submit to monitoring and impose damages, if warranted, “without killing jobs and setting back the Georgia economy,” Ms. Yates said.

Automakers will need lots of batteries for electrical vehicles, and the decision could make American manufacturers less competitive, said Carol Browne, the former Obama administration “climate czar.” President Biden signed an executive order last month aimed at strengthening the domestic supply chain, including for EV batteries, and “one way to guarantee that is domestic production,” Ms. Browne said.

“The Georgia plant will not sit idle,” countered LG’s lawyer, David Callahan of Latham & Watkins. LG’s attorneys say SK exaggerates the order’s impact on American manufacturing and minimizes its I.P. violations. SK can “redesign” or settle, they suggested, but in any case “the demand for these batteries ensures that another manufacturer will step in” if it abandons the plant. (The Botox dispute was ultimately settled.)

The Biden administration can veto the I.T.C. by early April. Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia has urged the president to do so, citing a 2013 reversal of a ruling in a dispute between Apple and Samsung. (The administration did not respond to a request for comment). Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio — where LG is constructing a battery plant with General Motors — has asked the president to uphold the ruling, saying that “stolen intellectual property” shouldn’t be used to compete with his state’s workers. Mr. Biden is visiting Ohio today.

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Biden nominates Lina Khan, a vocal critic of Big Tech, to the F.T.C.

President Biden on Monday nominated Lina Khan to the Federal Trade Commission, installing a vocal critic of Big Tech into a key oversight role of the industry.

If her nomination is approved by the Senate, Ms. Khan, 32, would fill one of two empty seats earmarked for Democrats at the F.T.C.

Ms. Khan became recognized for her ideas on antitrust with a Yale Law Journal paper in 2017 called “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox” that accused Amazon of abusing its monopoly power and put a critical focus on decades-old legal theories that relied heavily on price increases as the underlying measure of antitrust violations.

She served as a senior adviser to Rohit Chopra when he was F.T.C. commissioner. Most recently, she was a leading counsel member to a 16-month-long investigation of online platforms and competition by the House antitrust subcommittee. As a result, Democratic leaders on the subcommittee called for the breakup of Big Tech and legislation to strengthen enforcement of competition violations across the economy.

said in an interview with The New York Times in 2018. “But as citizens, as workers, and as entrepreneurs, we recognize that their power is troubling. We need a new framework, a new vocabulary for how to assess and address their dominance.”

Ms. Khan is the second prominent advocate of breaking up the large tech companies placed by the Biden administration in top antitrust roles. Also this month, Mr. Biden picked Tim Wu, a prominent critic of Google, Facebook and Amazon, as special assistant to the president on competition policy.

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Facebook asks court to dismiss U.S. government, states antitrust cases

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Facebook asked a federal court on Wednesday to dismiss major antitrust cases filed by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and nearly every U.S. state, saying they failed to show the company had a monopoly or harmed consumers.

FILE PHOTO: A 3D-printed Facebook logo is seen placed on a keyboard in this illustration taken March 25, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

“By a one-vote margin, in the fraught environment of relentless criticism of Facebook for matters entirely unrelated to antitrust concerns, the agency decided to bring a case against Facebook,” Facebook said in its response to the FTC complaint.

“None of the harms typically alleged in antitrust actions is alleged here,” it said.

In lawsuits filed in December, the FTC and states asked the court to force the social media giant to sell two prized assets, its messaging app WhatsApp and photo-sharing app Instagram. U.S. District Judge James Boasberg in the District of Columbia will hear the cases.

The FTC and states accused Facebook of breaking antitrust law to keep smaller competitors at bay and snapping up social media rivals, like Instagram for $1 billion in 2012 and WhatsApp in 2014 for $19 billion.

All told, the federal government and states filed five lawsuits against Facebook and Alphabet’s Google last year following bipartisan outrage over use and misuse of social media clout both in the economy and in the political sphere.

In its response to the FTC lawsuit, Facebook argued that the government failed to show that Facebook had a monopoly in a clearly defined market or that it had hurt consumers.

The company also dismisses emails cited in the FTC lawsuit written by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other executives expressing worry about the competitive threat posed by Instagram and WhatsApp.

“Lacking facts to establish either unlawful conduct or harm to consumers, the FTC attempts to bolster its claims with a grab-bag of selectively quoted internal emails and messages from Facebook executives, which are offered to show that Facebook was concerned about competitive threats from Instagram and WhatsApp – but also many, many other firms,” Facebook said in its response.

Separately, in the lawsuit brought by dozens of states and territories, Facebook argued that the state case should be dismissed because the states failed to show that they were harmed by Facebook and because they waited more than four years.

The states and FTC have until April 7 to respond.

Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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Despite Investors’ Worries, Inflation Remains Subdued: Live Updates

the index rose by 0.1 percent, the Labor Department reported Wednesday morning. With the prospect of faster economic growth on the horizon, investors and market watchers have been paying close attention to the threat of heightened inflation, although it has yet to materialize for the most part.

The imminent passage of the Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package has intensified those worries, with some concerned that the money will pour fuel on an economy that is already poised to heat up as businesses reopen this spring and the pandemic recedes in the face of widespread vaccinations.

Gasoline prices alone were up 6.4 percent in February. But over all, the data matched expectations, suggesting inflation remains under control, despite a recent rise in prices for commodities like oil and copper.

“Outside of another buoyant advance in energy prices in February, consumer price inflation remains very tame,” said Kathy Bostjancic, chief U.S. financial economist at Oxford Economics.

Over the long term, inflation is a concern because it erodes the value of assets, especially stocks and bonds. An uptick in bond yields in recent weeks, which correlate with inflation fears, helped prompt a sell-off on Wall Street, particularly among high-flying tech stocks.

What’s more, once inflation becomes entrenched it can be hard to subdue, reawakening memories of the 1970s, when rampant inflation haunted the American economy.

But conditions are far different than they were back then, and most mainstream economists doubt a sustained bout of inflation is on its way. The Federal Reserve, which is committed to preserving price stability, has signaled that it intends to maintain its support for the economy and not tighten monetary policy anytime soon.

“The inflation narrative has switched to concerns about rising prices,” said Rubeela Farooqi, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics. “For the Fed, price response to the economy reopening is seen as transitory and is unlikely to cause too much angst, given inflation pressures are not expected to be sustained.”

Stocks on Wall Street rose on Wednesday after a monthly reading of inflation in the United States came in within economists expectations and bond yields stabilized.

Investors and policymakers have been closely watching inflation and expectations about where it will go next. After years of very low inflation, some economists and investors argue that too much fiscal stimulus during the recovery from the pandemic could cause the economy to overheat and send prices surging. But many central bankers say there are long-term disinflationary forces and an increase in inflation is likely to be temporary.

Inflation rose modestly last month, nudged by an increase in gasoline prices that lifted the overall Consumer Price Index by 0.4 percent. Excluding the volatile food and energy categories, the C.P.I. rose by 0.1 percent, the Labor Department reported Wednesday morning.

Economists surveyed by Bloomberg had forecast an increase of 0.4 percent for overall C.P.I., and 0.2 percent for the “core” measure, which had excludes food and energy costs.

U.S. stocks, especially shares of tech companies, have been rattled by higher bond yields for various reasons, including the fact that higher interest rates increase borrowing costs and eat into the value of a company’s future earnings.

The S&P 500 index rose about 0.5 percent on Wednesday, adding to a gain of 1.4 percent on Tuesday. The Nasdaq composite climbed more than 1 percent, adding to a sharp rebound on Tuesday. The yield on 10-Year U.S. Treasury notes was unchanged at 1.54 percent.

The American Rescue Plan, which was passed by the Senate over the weekend and is now back before the House of Representatives, would put pump $1.9 trillion into the economy.

The New York Times’s personal finance experts, Ron Lieber and Tara Siegel Bernard, combed through the bill to explain what it means in real terms to real people. Here are some of the questions they answer:

A jet engine at GE’s aviation engine overhaul facility in Petropolis, Rio de Janeiro, in 2016.
Credit…Yasuyoshi Chiba/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

General Electric said on Wednesday that it would sell its airplane leasing unit to a rival, AerCap, in a deal that would reshape an aviation industry already transformed by the coronavirus pandemic.

The deal, valued at $30 billion, would combine the world’s two largest aircraft leasing companies, creating a behemoth that owns or manages about one out of every six leased planes globally, according to Cirium, an aviation data firm. If the sale is approved, the combined company will have about 300 customers globally and more than 2,000 aircraft in its portfolio, AerCap said in a statement.

The sale of the unit, GE Capital Aviation Services, could give the new business even more negotiating power over aircraft manufacturers Boeing and Airbus as well as the airlines to which AerCap and G.E. lease planes. It would also advance G.E.’s yearslong effort to simplify its business and reduce debt.

For years, G.E. has been focusing on its core industrial businesses and moving away from the financing activities of its G.E. Capital unit, which included the plane leasing arm. From the end of 2018 to the end of 2020, the value of G.E. Capital’s assets shrank from $86 billion to $68 billion. If the sale to AerCap goes through, the finance arm would go down to $21 billion.

“I hope what you see here this morning is a truly tremendous catalyst in the journey that we’re on to transform G.E.,” the company’s chairman and chief executive, H. Lawrence Culp Jr., said in a conference call with investors and analysts.

If the sale is approved, G.E. will also have reduced its debt by more than $70 billion since the end of 2018, G.E.’s chief financial officer, Carolina Dybeck Happe, said on the call.

Under the terms of the deal, which has been approved by the boards of both companies, G.E. will receive more than 111 million AerCap shares, $24 billion in cash and $1 billion of AerCap notes or cash. The transaction is expected to close in nine to 12 months, pending shareholder and regulatory approval.

G.E. is expected to own about 46 percent of the combined company and will be entitled to nominate two directors to the board of AerCap, which is based in Dublin.

Marathon Petroleum plans to sell its Speedway convenience store business to the owner of 7-Eleven.
Credit…Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Months into a contract dispute with Marathon Petroleum, the Teamsters union is objecting to the company’s $21 billion deal to sell its Speedway convenience store business to the owner of 7-Eleven, DealBook reported exclusively. Its effort is in part a bet that the Biden administration will be tougher on antitrust and more favorable toward unions — and pits the union against Elliott Management, the huge hedge fund that helped make the proposed sale possible.

The Teamsters asked the Federal Trade Commission to pause its review of the deal. In a letter sent on Wednesday to the agency’s acting chairwoman, Rebecca Slaughter, the union requested that the F.T.C. wait for one of two things:

There are other issues at play. Marathon has locked out 200 union workers at a refinery in Minnesota. And unions have had an often tense relationship with activist hedge funds like Elliott, which they have accused of calling for layoffs that affect union members. (In its letter to the F.T.C., the Teamsters union criticized what it called “Elliott’s singular desire to liquidate Marathon’s assets to fund enormous share buybacks and special dividends.”)

But the agency is already far along in its review. Marathon executives, who hope to close the deal by the end of the first quarter, confirmed on a call with analysts last month that they had responded to a second request for information from the F.T.C. and were working on solutions. (The proposed buyer of Speedway, Seven and I Holdings, is reportedly looking to sell up to 300 gas stations to ease the agency’s concerns.)

The F.T.C. must follow statutory timelines for reviewing deals, which means the agency can delay its examination only for so long, even if it wanted to. And it’s not clear whether Ms. Klobuchar’s bill will pass, or in what form.

The election of Bob Sternfels as the global managing partner of McKinsey comes weeks after the firm’s partners effectively voted out Kevin Sneader from the firm’s top role.
Credit…Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters

Partners of McKinsey & Company chose Bob Sternfels as their new global managing partner, the consulting giant said on Wednesday, as it seeks to recover from a series of scandals that damaged its reputation in recent years.

The election of Mr. Sternfels, 51, comes weeks after McKinsey partners effectively voted out Kevin Sneader from the firm’s top role. The ousting of Mr. Sneader, who did not make the final ballot of the election, was the first time a McKinsey leader had been denied re-election in decades.

When Mr. Sneader took the top role in 2018, he was confronted with controversy over the firm’s role advising a South African state-owned power company, and later criticism over its work for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and over conflicts of interest in its bankruptcy practice.

Now Mr. Sternfels will inherit blowback from the consultancy’s agreement to pay nearly $600 million to settle an investigation into its role in the opioid crisis. The settlement with 49 states and the District of Columbia centered on McKinsey’s work advising drug makers on how to “turbocharge” opioid sales.

Other recent controversies include the firm’s work advising the French government on its coronavirus vaccine rollout, which has been derided for being too slow.

Among the most pressing internal priorities facing Mr. Sternfels is how to tighten oversight of a 650-member partnership that has traditionally operated with significant autonomy — and sometimes resisted efforts to impose more centralized authority.

A 26-year McKinsey veteran based in San Francisco, Mr. Sternfels leads the firm’s client capabilities operations. He beat out Sven Smit, a partner based in Amsterdam who is co-chairman of the McKinsey Global Institute, its research division.

Mr. Sternfels said in a statement that he was “committed to build on the important changes that Kevin helped launch and our partnership embraced — and on the good work our firm does with our clients and in society.”

Buffalo Bayou Park in Houston last week. Some experts have raised concerns about intensifying the spread of the virus while the vaccination process is underway.
Credit…Mark Felix for The New York Times

HOUSTON — Orders requiring masks and limiting the occupancy of restaurants and other businesses were lifted across Texas on Wednesday, a move that federal health officials and medical experts said was premature while the state was still in the throes of the coronavirus pandemic.

Businesses are still allowed to require employees and customers to cover their faces and limit the number of people they allow inside. Cities can choose to keep limits in place in municipal facilities, and masks remain required on federal property.

When Gov. Greg Abbott announced the changes last week, he argued that he was pushing back against the economic devastation wrought by months of limitations on movement and commerce. In a news conference at a restaurant in Lubbock, Mr. Abbott, a Republican, noted the hindrances for workers and small businesses.

“This must end,” he said. “It is now time to open Texas 100 percent.”

Hours before restrictions were lifted across the state, City officials in Austin announced they planned to defy the governor’s new orders and would continue to impose a citywide mask mandate.

The open defiance puts Austin, the state capitol and Democrat-led city, on yet another likely collision course with the Republican-led state Legislature following years of clashes on a range of issues, from homeless regulations to police funding.

A city council member Greg Casar, who co-sponsored an ordinance last year that authorized the city’s health director to establish Covid-19 public health mandates, said in a telephone interview Tuesday night that city officials believe their stance is “legal and it’s right.”

“If the state chooses to sue us, then it’s basically them going out of their way to undermine the health of Texas,” said Mr. Casar. “My hope is that they focus on vaccine distribution rather than messing with Austin and putting more lives at risk.”

It was not immediately clear whether the city can legally enforce its mask mandate, which calls for a fine up to $2,000 if violated. Mr. Abbott, in his decree last week, said no jurisdiction in the state can impose fees or jail time if residents choose to not wear a mask.

But in San Antonio, moments after Mr. Abbott’s announcement, patrons at Barflys removed the plexiglass dividers separating themselves from the bartenders.

At Barflys on Tuesday, an hour before the mask mandate was to expire, Amber Jowers, 32, was the bartender on duty. She welcomed the policy change. From now on, she will no longer wear a mask at work, she said.

“And we’re taking the sign down at midnight,” she added. “We have to get back to normal now.”

Barflys is a softly lit pub with a pool table, dartboard, and a slot machine. Metallica, Salt-N-Pepa, and the Texas Tornados play from the sound system.

On the smokey back patio, Sophie Bojorquez, 47, sat at a table with friends. She is a vaccinated nurse and a self-proclaimed anti-masker.

“I’m happy about the governor’s decision. The masks impeded the herd immunity we need. Now they want to vax so fast,” she said, shaking her head.

The patio bartender, Britt Harasmisz, 24, said that most of her customers didn’t wear a mask even before the mandate ended. And though her employer decided that Barflys would no longer require face covers, she said that she would continue to wear one while working.

“A lot of people have been vaccinated, Governor Abbott was vaccinated, but a lot of us on the front lines have not,” she said. “I’m going to wear a mask everywhere I go.”

The move to open Texas has faced intense resistance. The governor’s medical advisers have said that they were not involved in the decision. And federal health officials and some experts have raised concerns that the moves, especially repealing the mask mandate, could intensify the spread of the virus while the vaccination process is underway. Texas, which is averaging about 5,500 new cases a day, has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country.

Lina Hidalgo, the county judge in Harris County, which includes Houston, has argued that lifting the mask mandate means workers must be the ones to enforce rules in retail establishments and restaurants.

“We know better than to let our guard down simply because a level of government selected an arbitrary date to issue an all-clear,” Ms. Hidalgo, a Democrat and a persistent critic of Mr. Abbott, said in an op-ed column published this week by Time magazine. “I am working to clearly explain to the residents of my county that we will spare ourselves unnecessary death and suffering if we just stick with it for a little bit longer.”

Bert Rossel, 39, stopped in for a drink at Barflys on Tuesday evening. He said he had known the pub’s owner for many years and worked for him at one time. Mr. Rossel is in the insurance business nowadays. He said he believed that the pandemic had been hyped on social media as another distraction, or as he calls it, “the latest hot topic.”

“It’s survival of the fittest,” Mr. Rossel said. “My B.M.I. is higher than normal. Obese people are more susceptible to corona, but it’s been over a year. I would have gotten it already.”

As the evening advanced, the patrons at Barflys drank beer and downed shots, smoked and gossiped, enjoying each other’s company. No one paid attention when, at midnight, Ms. Jowers pulled the sign from the front door that read, “MASKS REQUIRED UPON ENTRY.”

Rick Rojas, James Dobbins and

Joe Donlon interviews President Donald J. Trump in September on “NewsNation.” The show has since grown into a network.

The highest ranking editor at NewsNation, a newcomer to cable news that markets itself as delivering “straight-ahead, unbiased news reporting,” has resigned. She is the third top editor to quit in recent months as some staff have complained of a rightward shift at the network.

Jennifer Lyons, NewsNation’s vice president of news, had decided to depart the channel, effective immediately, the company’s staff were told at a meeting on Tuesday.

Sandy Pudar, the news director, left on Feb. 2, and Richard Maginn, the managing editor, resigned on March 1.

Ms. Lyons did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesman for the Texas-based Nexstar Media, which owns NewsNation, said in a statement that it was Ms. Lyons’s decision to leave and that the search for her replacement was underway.

At Tuesday’s staff meeting in Chicago, Perry A. Sook, the chief executive of Nexstar, sought to reassure staff of his commitment to NewsNation after several employees raised concerns about its editorial direction and the involvement of Bill Shine, a former Fox News co-president who was hired to lead communications for the Trump White House. The concerns among employees were detailed in a New York Times article earlier this week.

“Despite reports to the contrary that you may read, we’re committed to the vision of unbiased reporting,” he said during the meeting, according to a recording of the comments obtained by The New York Times. “But obviously along the way there will be growing pains. In order for us to establish our product and to grow our viewership we’re going to have to try new things to gain some traction.”

Mr. Sook, asked by a staff member about Mr. Shine, said he had not been in the NewsNation building and did not dictate content.

“This guy was in the room where it happened 25 years ago and helped to build the channel to where it is,” Mr. Sook said of Mr. Shine’s experience at Fox News. “Why would we not avail ourselves of his expertise?”

“NewsNation” launched on Sept. 1 as a prime-time national newscast on the cable channel WGN America. It promised an antidote to the more partisan programming of CNN, Fox News and MSNBC. On March 1, WGN America was rebranded as NewsNation and more news shows were introduced.

Lina Khan, an associate professor at Columbia Law School, wrote an influential 2016 paper accusing Amazon of abusing its power.
Credit…Lexey Swall for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — President Biden is expected to name Lina Khan, a law professor and leading critic of the tech industry’s power, to a seat on the Federal Trade Commission, a person with knowledge of the decision said on Tuesday.

An appointment of Ms. Khan, the author of a breakthrough Yale Law Journal paper in 2016 that accused Amazon of abusing its monopoly power, would be the latest sign that the Biden administration planned to take an aggressive posture toward tech giants like Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. Last week, the administration said Tim Wu, another top critic of the industry, would join the National Economic Council as a special assistant to the president for technology and competition policy.

Ms. Khan recently served as legal counsel for the House Judiciary’s antitrust subcommittee and was among aides who conducted a 19-month investigation into the tech giants’ monopoly power. The committee produced a report advocating major changes to antitrust laws. Before that, she served as an aide to a member of the Federal Trade Commission, Rohit Chopra, a champion of her ideas on antitrust policy.

Ms. Khan, an associate professor at Columbia Law School, would fill one of three Democratic seats on the five-member F.T.C. In December, the commission sued Facebook, accusing it of antitrust violations, and called for breaking up the company. The agency is also investing Amazon for antitrust violations.

Rumors of Ms. Khan’s appointment, which were reported earlier by Politico, immediately sparked strong reactions on Tuesday. Public Citizen, a left-leaning nonprofit public advocacy group, cheered the possibility. The organization and many progressive groups have denounced the F.T.C.’s history — particularly during the Obama administration — for lax enforcement of technology companies. They argue that the federal government’s permissive attitude toward mergers by the tech giants, including Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram in 2012 and WhatsApp in 2014, helped the Silicon Valley companies grow quickly and dominate their rivals.

“The F.T.C. has failed to take on corporate abuses of power including rampant antitrust violations, privacy intrusions, data security breaches and mergers, and Khan’s appointment as a commissioner at the agency hopefully will herald a new day,” Public Citizen said in a statement.

Senator Mike Lee of Utah, the ranking Republican on the Senate antitrust subcommittee, said Ms. Khan would be a bad fit for the job, however.

“Her views on antitrust enforcement are also wildly out of step with a prudent approach to the law,” Mr. Lee said in a statement. “Nominating Ms. Khan would signal that President Biden intends to put ideology and politics ahead of competent antitrust enforcement, which would be gravely disappointing at a time when it is absolutely critical that we have strong and effective leadership at the enforcement agencies.”

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Lina Khan Would Bring a Tough Antitrust Voice

The Teamsters asked the F.T.C. to pause review of the deal. In a letter sent today to the agency’s acting chairwoman, Rebecca Slaughter, the union requested that the agency wait for one of two things:

There are other issues at play. Marathon has locked out 200 union workers at a refinery in Minnesota. And unions have had an often tense relationship with activist hedge funds like Elliott, whom they have accused of calling for layoffs that affect union members. (In its letter to the F.T.C., the Teamsters union criticized what it called “Elliott’s singular desire to liquidate Marathon’s assets to fund enormous share buybacks and special dividends.”)

But the agency is already far along in its review. Marathon executives, who hope to close the deal by the end of the first quarter, confirmed on a call with analysts last month that they had responded to a second request for information from the F.T.C. and were working on solutions. (The proposed buyer of Speedway, Seven and I, is reportedly looking to sell up to 300 gas stations to ease the agency’s concerns.)


David Nussbaum, the investment banker who co-created the SPAC in 1993, on how his financial innovation has become a hot trend on Wall Street


Companies are increasingly under public pressure to be more open, with political spending getting particular attention since the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol. Proponents of greater transparency say that demand is growing: “The disclosure train will be leaving the station,” Bruce Freed, the president of the nonprofit Center for Political Accountability, told DealBook.

The SEC is all about E.S.G. Transparency around political giving is considered a governance issue. Last week, the Securities and Exchange Commission said it would form a task force focused on issues around climate and environmental, social and governance concerns, making both priorities for its examinations division. And corporate disclosures — particularly around political spending — were a recurring theme in the testimony of Gary Gensler, President Biden’s pick to lead the S.E.C., in his Senate confirmation hearing.

This year “is going to be really transformative,” said Josh Levin, the C.E.O. of the investment platform OpenInvest, which lets financial advisers adjust client portfolios based on companies’ openness on political spending. The platform uses an annual ranking of S&P 500 companies based on their politics and lobbying disclosure policies.

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Lina Khan, a Big Tech critic, is expected to be nominated to the Federal Trade Commission.

WASHINGTON — President Biden is expected to name Lina Khan, a law professor and leading critic of the tech industry’s power, to a seat on the Federal Trade Commission, a person with knowledge of the decision said on Tuesday.

An appointment of Ms. Khan, the author of a breakthrough Yale Law Journal paper in 2016 that accused Amazon of abusing its monopoly power, would be the latest sign that the Biden administration planned to take an aggressive posture toward tech giants like Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. Last week, the administration said Tim Wu, another top critic of the industry, would join the National Economic Council as a special assistant to the president for technology and competition policy.

Ms. Khan recently served as legal counsel for the House Judiciary’s antitrust subcommittee and was among aides who conducted a 19-month investigation into the tech giants’ monopoly power. The committee produced a report advocating major changes to antitrust laws. Before that, she served as an aide to a member of the Federal Trade Commission, Rohit Chopra, a champion of her ideas on antitrust policy.

Ms. Khan, an associate professor at Columbia Law School, would fill one of three Democratic seats on the five-member F.T.C. In December, the commission sued Facebook, accusing it of antitrust violations, and called for breaking up the company. The agency is also investing Amazon for antitrust violations.

Rumors of Ms. Khan’s appointment, which were reported earlier by Politico, immediately sparked strong reactions on Tuesday. Public Citizen, a left-leaning nonprofit public advocacy group, cheered the possibility. The organization and many progressive groups have denounced the F.T.C.’s history — particularly during the Obama administration — for lax enforcement of technology companies. They argue that the federal government’s permissive attitude toward mergers by the tech giants, including Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram in 2012 and WhatsApp in 2014, helped the Silicon Valley companies grow quickly and dominate their rivals.

“The F.T.C. has failed to take on corporate abuses of power including rampant antitrust violations, privacy intrusions, data security breaches and mergers, and Khan’s appointment as a commissioner at the agency hopefully will herald a new day,” Public Citizen said in a statement.

Senator Mike Lee of Utah, the ranking Republican on the Senate antitrust subcommittee, said Ms. Khan would be a bad fit for the job, however.

“Her views on antitrust enforcement are also wildly out of step with a prudent approach to the law,” Mr. Lee said in a statement. “Nominating Ms. Khan would signal that President Biden intends to put ideology and politics ahead of competent antitrust enforcement, which would be gravely disappointing at a time when it is absolutely critical that we have strong and effective leadership at the enforcement agencies.”

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