Delays, More Masks and Mandatory Shots: Virus Surge Disrupts Office-Return Plans

He did not respond, but days later Apple posted an internal video in which company executives doubled down on bringing workers back to the office. In the video, Dr. Sumbul Desai, who helps run Apple’s digital health division, encouraged workers to get vaccinated but stopped short of saying they would be required to, according to a transcript viewed by The Times.

The video didn’t sit well with some employees.

“OK, you want me to put my life on the line to come back to the office, which will also decrease my productivity, and you’re not giving me any logic on why I actually need to do that?” said Ashley Gjovik, a senior engineering program manager.

When the company delayed its return-to-office date on Monday, a group of employees drafted a new letter, proposing a one-year pilot program in which people could work from home full time if they chose to. The letter said an informal survey of more than 1,000 Apple employees found that roughly two-thirds would question their future at the company if they were required to return to the office.

In Los Angeles, Endeavor, the parent company of the William Morris Endeavor talent agency, reopened its Beverly Hills headquarters this month. But it decided to shut down again last week when the county reimposed its indoor mask mandate in the face of surging case counts. An Endeavor spokesman said the company had decided that enforcement would be too difficult and would hinder group meetings.

The employment website Indeed had been targeting Sept. 7 as the date when it would start bringing workers back on a hybrid basis. Now it has begun to reconsider those plans, the company’s senior vice president of human resources, Paul Wolfe, said, “because of the Delta variant.”

Some companies said the recent spike in cases had not yet affected their return-to-office planning. Facebook still intends to reopen at 50 percent capacity by early September. IBM plans to open its U.S. offices in early September, with fully vaccinated employees free to go without a mask, and Royal Dutch Shell, the gas company, has been gradually lifting restrictions in its Houston offices, prompting more of its workers to return.

Hewlett Packard Enterprise began allowing employees to return to its offices Monday, bolstered by a survey of its California employees that found 94 percent were fully vaccinated.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

How Long Should It Take to Give Away Millions?

Ms. Madoff and others pushing for change see a growing gap between reputation-burnishing promises of money and distributions to people who need it. The Giving Pledge, which was started by Bill Gates, Melinda French Gates and their friend and collaborator Warren E. Buffett, gave billionaires a space where they could announce their intention to give away half their fortunes or more, often to great acclaim. But it provides no mechanism to monitor or ensure the giving actually happens.

Earlier this year, the Chronicle of Philanthropy ranked Jeffrey P. Bezos, the founder of Amazon, as the top philanthropist of 2020 because he committed $10 billion to his Bezos Earth Fund to fight climate change. But he had handed out less than one-tenth of that, $791 million, to working nonprofits like the Environmental Defense Fund and Natural Resources Defense Council.

Charitable giving has remained relatively steady for decades, clocking in at roughly 2 percent of disposable income per year, give or take a few tenths of a percent. In 1991, the year that Fidelity began to offer donor-advised funds, just 5 percent of giving went to foundations and DAFs. By 2019, the most recent year available, that figure had risen to 28 percent.

It was January 2020 when that small group gathered at the offices of the nonprofit consulting firm the Bridgespan Group in Manhattan for a wonky brainstorming session about the state of philanthropy. The group included foundation leaders, former congressional staff members, former senior Internal Revenue Service officials and a key constituency in any effort to change how billionaires give away their money: billionaires.

One of the organizers was John D. Arnold. Once a trader at Enron, the Houston energy company that infamously collapsed in 2001, Mr. Arnold later ran his own hedge fund, which made him one of the youngest billionaires in the United States.

Ms. Madoff, another leader of the initiative, has written a book, “Immortality and the Law,” about the growing legal power of dead people in America and has applied her knowledge of estate taxes and inheritance law to the rising field of philanthropy.

The group focused on the fact that most of the laws governing philanthropy were half a century old, dating back to 1969.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

John Cena Apologizes to China for Calling Taiwan a Country

John Cena, the professional wrestler and a star of “F9,” the latest installment in the “Fast and Furious” franchise, apologized to fans in China on Tuesday after he referred to Taiwan as a country while giving a promotional interview.

Joining a long list of celebrities and companies that have profusely apologized after taking an errant step through China’s political minefields, Mr. Cena posted a video apology in Mandarin on Weibo, a Chinese social network.

Beijing considers Taiwan, a self-ruled democratic island, to be a breakaway province and claims it as part of China. Referring to it as a country is often an offensive assertion in China, where matters of sovereignty and territory are passionate issues driven by a strong sense of nationalism.

Mr. Cena apologized for a statement he made in an interview with the Taiwanese broadcaster TVBS. In it, he told the reporter in Mandarin, “Taiwan is the first country that can watch” the film.

Xinjiang, pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong or the status of Taiwan and Tibet.

a fierce backlash when Daryl Morey, then the general manager of the Houston Rockets, tweeted in support of the Hong Kong protests in 2019. (LeBron James, one of basketball’s biggest stars, offered a China-friendly response, saying Mr. Morey “wasn’t educated on the situation at hand” by supporting the protesters.)

Movie studios often preemptively ensure their content won’t run afoul of Chinese censors, a practice once mocked by “South Park.”

But quite often, the political problems arise in cases where a company appeared to have no idea it was accidentally crossing a line.

That list would include Gap, which in 2018 created a T-shirt that omitted Taiwan, parts of Tibet and islands in the South China Sea from a map of China on the shirt’s design. The luxury brands Versace, Givenchy and Coach said in 2019 they all made mistakes when they produced T-shirts that identified Hong Kong and Macau as countries.

“Versace reiterates that we love China deeply, and resolutely respect China’s territory and national sovereignty,” the company said in a statement at the time.

China ordered 36 airlines to remove references to Taiwan, Macau and Hong Kong as separate countries on their websites in 2018, a step the Trump administration dismissed as “Orwellian nonsense.”

That year, Marriott clarified on its Weibo account that it “will absolutely not support any separatist organization that will undermine China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity” after a customer survey listed the territories as separate countries.

Mercedes-Benz Instagram account quoted the Dalai Lama, whom many in China view as a dangerous separatist advocating Tibetan independence.

The release of “F9” was delayed for a year during the coronavirus pandemic. It drew an estimated $162 million in tickets in eight international markets, including China and South Korea, over the weekend. As the newest film in a hugely successful series, “F9” is seen by Hollywood as the kind of blockbuster needed to draw people back to theaters.

Amy Chang Chien contributed reporting from Taipei, and Claire Fu from Beijing.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

The Caribbean Conundrum: United by Tourists, Divided by Covid

Then, in March, Aruba teamed up with JetBlue, which offers about 40 weekly flights from the United States to the island, to debut CommonPass, the world’s first digital vaccine passport. Those with the digital pass may take a virtually supervised at-home PCR test within three days of departure, upload results and cut through immigration lines. United’s Aruba flights from Newark and Houston also use the pass, with plans for additional routes in the near future.

“We wanted to create a way to make it easier on travelers and more efficient for our air travel partners,” said Shensly Tromp, director of development and technology at Aruba Airport Authority N.V., “without compromising the safeguards we have in place around health and safety.”

Vaccination information will be added to CommonPass as early as June.

Before the pandemic, almost three-quarters of the island’s gross domestic product and nearly 85 percent of jobs had been rooted in tourism, according to W.T.T.C. analysis. Now, with tourism up 53 percent from February to March, Dangui Oduber, the minister of tourism, public health and sport, noted a “continual uptick” since Aruba’s dual CommonPass and vaccine rollouts.

Aruba too is a world leader in vaccinations. As of mid-May, almost 57,500 Arubans were at least partially inoculated, with the island optimistically reaching herd immunity this summer, Mr. Oduber said.

Vaccines

Even when Americans were shut out of most of the world, the borders to the U.S. Virgin Islands never closed. Lured there with slogans like “Reconnect with Paradise” and the chance for anyone to get vaccinated, even before many could get a shot back home, visitors have recently crowded the American territory’s beaches and restaurants.

Hotel occupancy rates in the U.S.V.I. are almost triple that of the region and seven times that of the Bahamas, according to recent analysis by STR, a global hospitality data and analytics company.

Visitors are required to get tested but not to quarantine. With tourists swarming, the U.S.V.I. prioritized hospitality workers early in its vaccine rollout. So, in February Sandy Colasacco, a nurse practitioner who runs the Island Health and Wellness Center, a nonprofit clinic serving many of St. John’s uninsured population, reached out to most restaurants and hotels there to schedule appointments.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

Texas Governor Will Prohibit Local Mask Mandates

Most government entities in Texas will soon be prohibited from requiring people to wear masks, Gov. Greg Abbott announced on Tuesday, days after federal health officials announced new guidance that encourages people who have been completely vaccinated to forego masks in most situations.

The executive order Mr. Abbott announced on Tuesday would prevent counties, cities, public health authorities and local government officials from requiring people to wear masks beginning on Friday. Violators could be fined $1,000.

Hospitals owned or operated by the government, state-supported living centers and jails and other criminal justice facilities are exempt from the order. Schools can continue their current mask policies until June 4, the end of the school year in some Texas districts, after which they will not be allowed to compel anyone to wear a mask. The C.D.C. also recommended that masks remain universally in use in K-12 schools until the end of the current school year.

Only a third of Texans are fully vaccinated, below the U.S. average of 37 percent, according to a New York Times database. No Covid-19 vaccines have been authorized yet for children under 12.

rescinded a statewide mask mandate and capacity restrictions on March 10, the new recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were less of a shock than they were in other states, where officials and business leaders scrambled to figure out how to safely accommodate residents and customers. Many states, and chains like Target, CVS and Best Buy, have since relaxed their mask mandates for vaccinated people.

Mr. Abbott’s mask rollback in March invigorated some individuals and business owners and alarmed others. But some local leaders chose to initially keep mask requirements in place, including the mayors of Texas’s biggest cities — Houston, Austin, San Antonio and Dallas — all of which are in counties won by President Biden.

Mayor Sylvester Turner of Houston, a Democrat, called the governor’s new order “a clear overreach,” and added, “His power is not absolute.”

Going forward, Mr. Turner said in a statement, “If you are a city employee or entering a city facility and you have not been fully vaccinated, you should wear your mask. We are not mandating it, but I strongly encourage everyone to get vaccinated to protect yourself, your family and your co-workers.”

Mayor Steve Adler of Austin and Travis County Judge Andy Brown, both Democrats, said in a statement that in the coming days, “we will be speaking with parts of our community most impacted by the governor’s order, including schools and nursing homes. Our community’s safety will continue to be our highest priority.”

New York Times database.

“Texans, not government, should decide their best health practices, which is why masks will not be mandated by public school districts or government entities,” Mr. Abbott said in a statement announcing the order. “We can continue to mitigate Covid-19 while defending Texans’ liberty to choose whether or not they mask up.”

View Source

Colonial Pipeline: A Vital Artery for Fuel

HOUSTON — The operator of a vital fuel pipeline stretching from Texas to New Jersey, shut down for days after a ransomware attack, said Monday that it hoped to restore most operations by the end of the week.

Federal investigators said the attackers aimed at poorly protected corporate data rather than directly taking control of the pipeline, which carries nearly one-half of the motor and aviation fuels consumed in the Northeast and much of the South.

The operator, Colonial Pipeline, stopped shipments apparently as a precaution to prevent the hackers from doing anything further, like turning off or damaging the system itself in the event they had stolen highly sensitive information from corporate computers.

Colonial said it was reviving service of segments of the pipeline “in a stepwise fashion” in consultation with the Energy Department. It said the goal of its plan was “substantially restoring operational service by the end of the week.” The company cautioned, however, that “this situation remains fluid and continues to evolve.”

Federal Bureau of Investigation said was carried out by an organized crime group called DarkSide, has highlighted the vulnerability of the American energy system.

Part of that vulnerability reflects Texas’ increased role in meeting domestic demand for oil and gas over the last decade and a half, leading the Northeast to rely on an aging pipeline system to bring in fuel rather than refining imported fuel locally.

Since the pipeline shutdown, there have been no long lines at gasoline stations, and because many traders expected the interruption to be brief, the market reaction was muted. Nationwide, the price of regular gasoline climbed by only half a cent to $2.97 on Monday from Sunday, even though the company could not set a timetable for restarting the pipeline. New York State prices remained stable at $3 a gallon, according to the AAA motor club.

“Potentially it will be inconvenient,” said Ed Hirs, an energy economist at the University of Houston. “But it’s not a big deal because there is storage in the Northeast and all the big oil and gas companies can redirect seaborne cargoes of refined product when it is required.”

The Colonial Pipeline is based in Alpharetta, Ga., and is one of the largest in the United States. It can carry roughly three million gallons of fuel a day over 5,500 miles from Houston to New York. It serves most of the Southern states, and branches from the Atlantic Coast to Tennessee.

Some of the biggest oil companies, including Phillips Petroleum, Sinclair Pipeline and Continental Oil, joined to begin construction of the pipeline in 1961. It was a time of rapid growth in highway driving and long-distance air travel. Today Colonial Pipeline, which is private, is owned by Royal Dutch Shell, Koch Industries and several foreign and domestic investment firms.

It is particularly vital to the functioning of many Eastern U.S. airports, which typically hold inventories sufficient for only three to five days of operations.

There are many reasons, including regulatory restrictions on pipeline construction that go back nearly a century. There are also restrictions on the use of foreign vessels to move products between American ports, as well as on road transport of fuels.

But the main reason comes closer to home. Over the last two decades, at least six refineries have gone out of business in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia, reducing the amount of the crude oil processed into fuels in the region by more than half, from 1,549,000 to 715,000 barrels weekly.

“Those refineries just couldn’t make money,” said Tom Kloza, global head of energy analysis at Oil Price Information Service.

The reason for their decline is the “energy independence” that has been a White House goal since the Nixon administration. As shale exploration and production boomed beginning around 2005, refineries on the Gulf Coast had easy access to natural gas and oil produced in Texas.

That gave them an enormous competitive advantage over the East Coast refineries that imported oil from the Northeast or by rail from North Dakota once the shale boom there took off. As the local refineries shut their doors, the Colonial Pipeline became increasingly important as a conduit from Texas and Louisiana refineries.

The Midwest has its own pipelines from the Gulf Coast, but while the East Coast closed refineries, the Midwest has opened a few new plants and expanded others to process Canadian oil, much from the Alberta oil sands, over the last 20 years. California and the Pacific Northwest have sufficient refineries to process crude produced in California and Alaska, as well as South America.

Not very. The Northeast supply system is flexible and resilient.

Many hurricanes have damaged pipelines and refineries on the Gulf Coast in the past, and the East Coast was able to manage. The federal government stores millions of gallons of crude oil and refined products for emergencies. Refineries can import oil from Europe, Canada and South America, although trans-Atlantic cargo can take as much as two weeks to arrive.

When Hurricane Harvey hit Texas in 2017, damaging refineries, Colonial Pipeline shipments to the Northeast were suspended for nearly two weeks. Gasoline prices at New York Harbor quickly climbed more than 25 percent, and the added costs were passed on to motorists. Prices took over a month to return to previous levels.

The hacking of a major pipeline, while not a major problem for motorists, is a sign of the times. Criminal groups and even nations can threaten power lines, personal information and even banks.

The group responsible for the pipeline attack, DarkSide, typically locks up its victims’ data using encryption, and threatens to release the data unless a ransom is paid. Colonial Pipeline has not said whether it has paid or intends to pay a ransom.

“The unfortunate truth is that infrastructure today is so vulnerable that just about anyone who wants to get in can get in,” said Dan Schiappa, chief product officer of Sophos, a British security software and hardware company. “Infrastructure is an easy — and lucrative — target for attackers.”

View Source

Cyberattack Forces a Shutdown of a Top U.S. Pipeline

A cyberattack forced the shutdown of one of the largest pipelines in the United States, in what appeared to be a significant attempt to disrupt vulnerable energy infrastructure. The pipeline carries refined gasoline and jet fuel up the East Coast from Texas to New York.

The operator of the system, Colonial Pipeline, said in a statement late Friday that it had shut down its 5,500 miles of pipeline, which it says carries 45 percent of the East Coast’s fuel supplies, in an effort to contain the breach on its computer networks. Earlier Friday, there were disruptions along the pipeline, but it was unclear whether that was a direct result of the attack, or the company’s moves to proactively halt it.

Colonial Pipeline has not indicated whether its systems were hit by ransomware, in which hackers hold a victim’s data hostage until it pays a ransom, or whether it was another form of cyberattack. But the shutdown of such a vital pipeline, one that has been serving the East Coast since the early 1960s, highlights the huge vulnerability of aging infrastructure that has been connected, directly or indirectly, to the internet.

In coming weeks the administration is expected to issue a broad-ranging executive order to bolster security of federal and private systems, after two major attacks from Russia and China in recent months caught American intelligence agencies and companies by surprise.

the SolarWinds intrusion by Russia’s main intelligence service, and another against some types of Microsoft-designed systems that has been attributed to Chinese hackers — underscored the vulnerability of the networks on which the government and corporations rely.

announced sanctions against Russia last month for SolarWinds, and is expected to issue an executive order in the coming days that would take steps to secure critical infrastructure, including requiring enhanced security for vendors providing services to the federal government.

The United States has long warned that Russia has implanted malicious code in the electric utility networks, and the United States responded several years ago by putting similar code into the Russian grid.

But actual attacks on energy systems are rare. About a decade ago, Iran was blamed for an attack on the computer systems of Saudi Aramco, one of the world’s largest oil producers, which destroyed 30,000 computers. That attack, which appeared to be in response to the American-Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear centrifuges, did not affect operations.

Another attack on a Saudi petrochemical plant in 2017 nearly set off a major industrial disaster. But it was shut down quickly, and investigators later attributed it to Russian hackers. This year, someone briefly took control of a water treatment plant in a small Florida city, in what appeared to be an effort to poison the supply, but the attempt was quickly halted.

Clifford Krauss and Nicole Perlroth contributed reporting.

View Source