After almost a week of dredging, drigging and tugging — and with some help from the moon — salvage teams yesterday freed the giant container ship that had been stuck in the Suez Canal, one of the world’s most important shipping lanes.
As a result, traffic has resumed for the hundreds of ships waiting on both ends of the canal. And while estimates have varied wildly, the delay is also expensive. “The disruption has caused the canal authorities in Egypt losses of $95 million in revenue,” The Times’s Peter Goodman told me.
And even though the ship is free, the disruption isn’t over.
“It’s not just like flipping a switch,” Vivian Yee, the Times’s Cairo bureau chief, told me. Now that the ship is out of the way, the backlog will take at least a few days, maybe even weeks, to resolve.
High winds from a sandstorm caused the ship, the Ever Given, to turn sideways in the canal and get stuck, its operators said. But shipping experts have suggested that while the wind probably had a role in the crisis, human error might have, too.
few extra inches of tidal flow and gave workers the boost they needed to set the ship free.
Not a normal ship
It’s rare that a maritime disruption makes international news. But this was not your average mishap. For one, the Suez Canal isn’t like other waterways. “It is a vital channel linking the factories of Asia to the affluent customers of Europe, as well as a major conduit for oil,” Peter writes.
And the Ever Given is one of the world’s biggest container ships. “From a distance, it’s hard to comprehend how big it is,” Vivian told us. “From land, all the containers on top look like Legos — and then you realize each one of those Legos is 20 or 40 feet long.”
a backlog of goods sitting in factories, waiting to be put in boxes, Vivian says.
It took 10 years of hard labor — during which tens of thousands of Egyptian workers died — to build the canal in the 19th century.
For more: This is how giant container ships are built.
THE LATEST NEWS
The prosecution argued that Chauvin acted with excessive force, and played a video that showed him kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes. “You can believe your eyes that it’s homicide,” a prosecutor told the jury.
The defense argued that Floyd’s death was caused by underlying medical conditions and a drug overdose, and urged jurors to consider evidence beyond the video.
This two-minute video shows key moments from the first day of the trial.
Other Big Stories
After the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, does the U.S. need a domestic terrorism law?
Yes: Making domestic terrorism a federal crime would help law enforcement punish violent extremists, says Elizabeth Neumann, a former Trump administration official. It would also deter future violence, Mary McCord and Jason Blazakis write in Lawfare.
No: “The problem is not lack of laws. It is a lack of will” to pursue extremists using existing law, the A.C.L.U.’s Hina Shamsi argues. And some progressives fear that the government could exploit the law to limit Americans’ rights or target minority communities, Vox’s Nicole Narea explains.
Makeover: The beauty industry has entered a phase of total pop-culture domination. Celebrities, social media stars and lifestyle influencers are changing the way the sell works.
Lives Lived: A fierce advocate for New York’s disabled, Edith Prentiss fought to make the city she loved more navigable for everyone. She died at 69.
suffered more during the pandemic than most other U.S. restaurants.
Their business began declining sooner — in January of last year, when news broke that a new virus was circulating in Wuhan, China. The restaurants have also had to cope with a rise in anti-Asian racism — “vandalized, robbed, attacked online in racist Yelp reviews,” as The Washington Post reported. Xi’an Famous Foods in New York began closing early after two employees were punched in the face while commuting to and from work.
Grace Young, a decorated author of cookbooks, is worried that traditional Chinatowns, like New York’s and San Francisco’s, will never recover from the pandemic, and she has spent months trying to call attention to the problem. “When you step into those restaurants, you are stepping back in time, and it’s a privilege,” Young said on a recent episode of “The Splendid Table,” a food podcast.
For anyone who wants to help Chinese restaurants, Francis Lam, the host of “The Splendid Table,” offered a suggestion: “If you can, order yourself some Chinese takeout. Get extra. Leftovers are your friend.” In The Times, Bonnie Tsui has more tips for supporting restaurants. — David Leonhardt
PLAY, WATCH, EAT
What to Cook
creamy asparagus pasta to the next level.
What to Watch
See a short opera film starring the drag queen Sasha Velour, a “RuPaul’s Drag Race” winner and lip-syncing legend.
Meanwhile, on TikTok
Young artists are bypassing art schools and student loans, quitting their day jobs and pursuing careers as full-time artists on TikTok. But what happens when viewership plummets and copycats arrive?
WASHINGTON — Senior Democrats on Monday proposed a tax increase that could partly finance President Biden’s plans to pour trillions of dollars into infrastructure and other new government programs, as party leaders weighed an aggressive strategy to force his spending proposals through Congress over unified Republican opposition.
The moves were the start of a complex effort by Mr. Biden’s allies on Capitol Hill to pave the way for another huge tranche of federal spending after the $1.9 trillion stimulus package that was enacted this month. The president is set to announce this week the details of his budget, including his much-anticipated infrastructure plan.
He is scheduled to travel to Pittsburgh on Wednesday to describe the first half of a “Build Back Better” proposal that aides say will include a total of $3 trillion in new spending and up to an additional $1 trillion in tax credits and other incentives.
Yet with Republicans showing early opposition to such a large plan and some Democrats resisting key details, the proposals will be more difficult to enact than the pandemic aid package, which Democrats muscled through the House and Senate on party-line votes.
afford to lose only eight votes, Representative Tom Suozzi, Democrat of New York, warned that he would not support the president’s plan unless it eliminated a rule that prevents taxpayers from deducting more than $10,000 in local and state taxes from their federal income taxes. He is one of a handful of House Democrats who are calling on the president to repeal the provision.
And in the Senate, where most major legislation requires 60 votes to advance, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, was exploring an unusual maneuver that could allow Democrats to once again use reconciliation — the fast-track budget process they used for the stimulus plan — to steer his spending plans through Congress in the next few months even if Republicans are unanimously opposed.
While an aide to Mr. Schumer said a final decision had not been made to pursue such a strategy, the prospect, discussed on the condition of anonymity, underscored the lengths to which Democrats were willing to go to push through Mr. Biden’s agenda.
The president’s initiatives will feature money for traditional infrastructure projects like rebuilding roads, bridges and water systems; spending to advance a transition to a lower-carbon energy system, like electric vehicle charging stations and the construction of energy-efficient buildings; investments in emerging industries like advanced batteries; education efforts like free community college and universal prekindergarten; and measures to help women work and earn more, like increased support for child care.
The proposals are expected to be partly offset by a wide range of tax increases on corporations and high earners.
would have temporarily removed the cap, but it stalled in the Senate and attempts to include it in pandemic relief legislation were unsuccessful.
“It has to be elevated as part of the conversation,” Mr. Suozzi said. “There’s a lot of different talk about going big and going bold and making significant changes to the tax code. I want to make SALT part of the conversation.”
Frequently Asked Questions About the New Stimulus Package
The stimulus payments would be $1,400 for most recipients. Those who are eligible would also receive an identical payment for each of their children. To qualify for the full $1,400, a single person would need an adjusted gross income of $75,000 or below. For heads of household, adjusted gross income would need to be $112,500 or below, and for married couples filing jointly that number would need to be $150,000 or below. To be eligible for a payment, a person must have a Social Security number. Read more.
Buying insurance through the government program known as COBRA would temporarily become a lot cheaper. COBRA, for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, generally lets someone who loses a job buy coverage via the former employer. But it’s expensive: Under normal circumstances, a person may have to pay at least 102 percent of the cost of the premium. Under the relief bill, the government would pay the entire COBRA premium from April 1 through Sept. 30. A person who qualified for new, employer-based health insurance someplace else before Sept. 30 would lose eligibility for the no-cost coverage. And someone who left a job voluntarily would not be eligible, either. Read more
This credit, which helps working families offset the cost of care for children under 13 and other dependents, would be significantly expanded for a single year. More people would be eligible, and many recipients would get a bigger break. The bill would also make the credit fully refundable, which means you could collect the money as a refund even if your tax bill was zero. “That will be helpful to people at the lower end” of the income scale, said Mark Luscombe, principal federal tax analyst at Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting. Read more.
There would be a big one for people who already have debt. You wouldn’t have to pay income taxes on forgiven debt if you qualify for loan forgiveness or cancellation — for example, if you’ve been in an income-driven repayment plan for the requisite number of years, if your school defrauded you or if Congress or the president wipes away $10,000 of debt for large numbers of people. This would be the case for debt forgiven between Jan. 1, 2021, and the end of 2025. Read more.
The bill would provide billions of dollars in rental and utility assistance to people who are struggling and in danger of being evicted from their homes. About $27 billion would go toward emergency rental assistance. The vast majority of it would replenish the so-called Coronavirus Relief Fund, created by the CARES Act and distributed through state, local and tribal governments, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. That’s on top of the $25 billion in assistance provided by the relief package passed in December. To receive financial assistance — which could be used for rent, utilities and other housing expenses — households would have to meet several conditions. Household income could not exceed 80 percent of the area median income, at least one household member must be at risk of homelessness or housing instability, and individuals would have to qualify for unemployment benefits or have experienced financial hardship (directly or indirectly) because of the pandemic. Assistance could be provided for up to 18 months, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Lower-income families that have been unemployed for three months or more would be given priority for assistance. Read more.
He is among the Democrats who have requested a meeting with Mr. Biden to discuss repealing the cap, according to a letter obtained by The New York Times.
“No SALT, no dice,” declared another Democrat, Representative Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey.
“There’s plenty of ways, in my opinion, to raise revenue and reinstate SALT,” he said in an interview, adding that he wanted to see the full details of the proposal.
budget blueprint that was approved last month to include the infrastructure plan, which would enable them to undertake a second reconciliation process before the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30 and pass it with a simple majority.
Elizabeth MacDonough, the parliamentarian, will have to issue guidance on whether doing so is permissible under Senate rules.
If Democrats succeed, they could potentially use the reconciliation maneuver at least two more times this calendar year to push through more of Mr. Biden’s agenda.
As Black Lives Matter protesters filled the streets last summer, many of the country’s largest corporations expressed solidarity and pledged support for racial justice. But now, with lawmakers around the country advancing restrictive voting rights bills that would have a disproportionate impact on Black voters, corporate America has gone quiet.
Last week, as Georgia Republicans rushed to pass a sweeping law restricting voter access, Atlanta’s biggest corporations, including Delta, Coca-Cola and Home Depot, declined to weigh in, offering only broad support for voting rights. The muted response — coming from companies that last year promised to support social justice — infuriated activists, who are now calling for boycotts.
“We are all frustrated with these companies that claim that they are standing with the Black community around racial justice and racial equality,” said LaTosha Brown, a co-founder of Black Voters Matter. “This shows that they lack a real commitment to racial equity. They are complicit in their silence.”
On Thursday, hours after the Georgia voting restrictions were signed into law, Ms. Brown joined protesters at the Atlanta airport calling for a boycott of Delta, Georgia’s largest employer. In front of the Delta terminal, they lobbied for employees to pressure their employer and urged the airline’s chief executive, Ed Bastian, to use his clout to sway the debate.
said the company would “invest our resources to advance social justice causes” and “use the voices of our brands to weigh in on important social conversations.”
But last week, rather than take a position on the then-pending legislation, Coca-Cola said it was aligned with local chambers of commerce, which were diplomatically calling on legislators to maximize voter participation while avoiding any pointed criticisms.
said. “Now, when they try to pass this racist legislation, we can’t get him to say anything. And our position is, if you can’t stand with us now, you don’t need our money, you don’t need our support.”
Senator Raphael Warnock of Georgia, a Black pastor who was elected in January, called out companies for their muted responses in an interview with CNN on Sunday.
“I’ve seen these corporations falling over themselves every year around the time of the King holiday, celebrating Dr. King,” Senator Warnock said. “The way to celebrate Dr. King is to stand up for what he represented: voting rights.”
Corporate America’s guarded approach to the partisan issue of voting rights stands in stark contrast to its engagement with other social and political issues in recent years. When legislatures advanced “bathroom bills” that would have discriminated against people who are transgender, many big companies threatened to pull out of states like Indiana, Georgia and Texas.
And over the past four years, many big companies spoke out against President Donald J. Trump on issues including climate change, immigration and white supremacy.
“It’s not as though corporations are unwilling to speak powerfully about social justice issues,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, the president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc. “It seems to me perfectly legitimate for Black voters in Georgia to expect them to speak just as powerfully and directly about what is an unwarranted attack on the ability of Black voters to participate in the political process.”
on Twitter. Criticizing an early version of the Georgia bill, it added: “Georgia H.B. 531 would limit trustworthy, safe & equal access to voting by restricting early voting & eliminating provisional ballots. That’s why Salesforce opposes H.B. 531 as it stands.”
Patagonia, which has worked to increase voter participation, condemned the new bills and called on other companies to get more involved.
“Our democracy is under attack by a new wave of Jim Crow bills that seek to restrict the right to vote,” Ryan Gellert, the chief executive of Patagonia, said in a statement. “It is urgent that businesses across the country take a stand — and use their brands as a force for good in support of our democracy.”
Those were the exceptions. For the most part, big companies declined to comment on the Georgia legislation as it came together. Even chief executives who have made names for themselves by championing diversity chose not to get involved. Tim Ryan, the senior partner at PwC and a founder of CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion, declined to comment for this article.
“The voice of individual leaders is oddly muted,” said Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a professor at the Yale School of Management who regularly gathers chief executives to talk about controversial issues. “For the most part, they are not yet taking the same courageous stands they have taken on election ballot counting and the election results this fall, let alone on immigration, gun safety and the infamous bathroom bills.”
After four years of responding to the often extreme policies of the Trump administration, many companies are seeking to stay out of political fights.
And the voting bills are being driven by mainstream Republican lawmakers, rather than lesser-known right-wing figures. Companies that take a stand might have a harder time currying favor with those lawmakers on other issues down the line.
“This is not the fringe members trying to push bathroom bills,” said Lauren Groh-Wargo, the chief executive of Fair Fight, a voter-rights group founded by Stacey Abrams. “This is a priority for the party at the national level. For companies to speak out and work against these bills is very different.”
Ms. Ifill of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund said there was another factor at play as well: race. “Why is it that corporations that could speak so powerfully and unequivocally in opposition to discrimination against the L.G.B.T.Q. community and immigrants are not speaking as clearly about the disenfranchisement of Black people?” she said. “It’s the same thing. This is a race issue.”
Companies have effectively squashed bills at the state level before. In 2016, when lawmakers were advancing the bathroom bills, major corporations said they would move jobs out of states that adopted such measures. Responding to one such bill in Georgia in 2016, the Walt Disney Company said, “We will plan to take our business elsewhere should any legislation allowing discriminatory practices be signed into state law.”
The tactic was effective. Many of those bills were tabled as lawmakers responded to the threats of lost business.
This time around, however, the entertainment industry has taken a more guarded approach.
When asked for comment, Disney, Netflix, NBCUniversal, Sony Pictures Entertainment and ViacomCBS either said they had no public comment or did not respond to queries. The Motion Picture Association, Hollywood’s lobbying organization, declined to comment, as did Amazon Studios, which six months ago released “All In: The Fight for Democracy,” a documentary about efforts by Ms. Abrams and other activists to tear down voting barriers in Georgia and elsewhere.
The fight in Georgia is likely a preview of things to come. Lawmakers in dozens of states have proposed similar voting bills, and activists are planning to ramp up the pressure on corporate America as the battle over voting rights goes national.
Companies, meanwhile, are trying to maintain a delicate balancing act. Though the Georgia law passed Thursday was less stringent than initially proposed, it introduced more rigid voter identification requirements for absentee balloting, limited drop boxes and expanded the state legislature’s power over elections.
After its passage, Delta and Coca-Cola appeared to take some credit for helping soften the bill’s restrictions. Delta said it had “engaged extensively with state elected officials” in recent weeks and that “the legislation signed this week improved considerably during the legislative process.”
Coca-Cola issued a similar statement, saying it had “sought improvements” to the law and that it would “continue to identify opportunities for engagement and strive for improvements aimed at promoting and protecting the right to vote in our home state and elsewhere.”
Those words were cold comfort to activists who had worked against the efforts to curb voter rights.
“They have made soft statements rather than stepping out,” Ms. Groh-Wargo of Fair Fight said. “It’s ridiculous.”
Brooks Barnes and Nicole Craine contributed reporting.
When the Swedish fast-fashion giant H&M said in September that it was ending its relationship with a Chinese supplier accused of using forced labor, a few Chinese social media accounts dedicated to the textile industry took note. But by and large, the moment passed without fanfare.
Half a year later, Beijing’s online outrage machine sprang into action. This time, its wrath was unsparing.
The Communist Party’s youth wing denounced H&M on social media and posted an archival photo of slaves on a Mississippi cotton plantation. Official news outlets piled on with their own indignant memes and hashtags. Patriotic web users carried the message across far and varied corners of the Chinese internet.
Within hours, a tsunami of nationalist fury was crashing down upon H&M, Nike, Uniqlo and other international clothing brands, becoming the latest eruption over China’s policies in its western region of Xinjiang, a major cotton producer.
sanctions imposed on Chinese officials last week by the United States, the European Union, Britain and Canada in connection to Xinjiang. China has placed hundreds of thousands of the region’s Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in indoctrination camps and used harsh methods to push them into jobs with factories and other employers.
“The hate-fest part is not sophisticated; it’s the same logic they’ve followed going back decades,” said Xiao Qiang, a research scientist at the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley, and the founder of China Digital Times, a website that tracks Chinese internet controls. But “their ability to control it is getting better,” he said.
“They know how to light up those ultra-pro-government, nationalist users,” Mr. Xiao continued. “They’re getting very good at it. They know exactly what to do.”
rejected the notion that Beijing had led the boycott campaign against H&M and the other brands.
“These foreign companies refuse to use Xinjiang cotton purely on the basis of lies,” Mr. Zhao said at a news briefing. “Of course this will trigger the Chinese people’s dislike and anger. Does the government even need to incite and guide this?”
After the Communist Youth League ignited the outrage on Wednesday, other government-backed groups and state news outlets fanned the flames.
They posted memes proposing new meanings behind the letters H and M: mian hua (cotton), huang miu (ridiculous), mo hei (smears). The official Xinhua news agency posted an illustration depicting the Better Cotton Initiative, a group that had expressed concerns about forced labor in Xinjiang, as a blindfolded puppet controlled by two hands that were patterned like an American flag.
The buzz quickly drew notice at Beijing’s highest levels. On Thursday, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman held up a photo of slaves in American cotton fields during a news briefing.
shared a clip showing a worker removing an H&M sign from a mall. A user in Beijing who posts about television stars highlighted entertainers who had ended their contracts with Adidas and other targeted brands.
“Today’s China is not one that just anyone can bully!” he wrote to his nearly seven million followers. “We do not ask for trouble, but we are not afraid of trouble either.”
A fashion influencer named Wei Ya held a live video event on Friday hawking products made with Xinjiang cotton. In her Weibo post announcing the event, she made sure to tag the Communist Youth League.
By Monday, news sites were circulating a rap video that combined the cotton issue with some popular recent lines of attack on Western powers: “How can a country where 500,000 have died of Covid-19 claim the high ground?”
One Weibo user posted a lushly animated video that he said he had worked through the night to make. It shows white-hooded men pointing guns at Black cotton pickers and ends with a lynching.
“These are your foolish acts; we would never,” a caption reads.
Less than two hours after the user shared the video, it was reposted by Global Times, a party-controlled newspaper known for its nationalist tone.
Many web users who speak up during such campaigns are motivated by genuine patriotism, even if China’s government does pay some people to post party-line comments. Others, such as the traffic-hungry blog accounts derided in China as “marketing accounts,” are probably more pragmatic. They just want the clicks.
tests conducted by China Digital Times, internet platforms have been diligently controlling search results and comments related to Xinjiang and H&M since last week.
An article in Global Times urged readers to “resolutely criticize those like H&M that make deliberate provocations, but at the same time, stay rational and beware of pretend patriots joining the crowd to stir up hatred.”
The Communist Youth League has been at the forefront of optimizing party messages for viral engagement. Its influence is growing as more voices in society look for ways to show loyalty to Beijing, said Fang Kecheng, an assistant professor in the School of Journalism and Communications at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
apologized for the “bad impact” her post had made.
“Don’t just support Xinjiang cotton, support Xinjiang people too!” another Weibo user wrote. “Support Xinjiang people walking the streets and not having their phone and ID checked.”
The post later vanished. Its author declined to comment, citing concerns for his safety. Weibo did not respond to a request for comment.
STEEPLE CLAYDON, England — A chorus of bird song gives way to the roar of a chain saw and then the creaking and splintering of timber. A 50-foot tree sways, wobbles and finally crashes to the ground, while protesters shout and jeer.
The construction of the British government’s largest public works project — a high-speed rail line known as HS2 — has long been promoted as helping to save the environment. But it is under growing challenge from those who accuse it of doing the exact opposite.
They have waged a mostly fruitless fight against the project, a grand scheme to cut air and road travel by connecting the north of England to the more prosperous south with trains traveling at up to 225 miles per hour.
Now, with the pandemic prompting a surge in working from home and a slump in train travel, the opponents believe the argument is finally tilting their way, eroding the already shaky rationale for an effort that could cost more than $140 billion.
thought to have cost the project around £50 million already. Activists caught the authorities by surprise when they occupied tunnels dug near Euston Station in London, where the line starts and where Larch Maxey, a veteran of such protests, spent three weeks underground despite suffering from claustrophobia.
“I was living in an incredibly confined space, but it got better in the second and third weeks and it became an empowering experience,” he said in an interview. He described the project as “a 20th century scheme foisted on the 21st century,” adding, “The business model for HS2 was always shaky — it was based around the expected growth of business travel — and that has disappeared.”
At a protest camp at Jones Hill Wood, about 25 miles from Steeple Claydon, activists have built tree houses and other shelters on a landscape that inspired the writer Roald Dahl, and where tree felling was scheduled last year.
They say they have worked hard to monitor wildlife, including the location of badger dens and bat colonies, to hold officials to their promises to protect some species. But construction work is going on behind a green metal fence erected by security guards who take video footage on their phones of anyone who approaches.
Sitting around a campfire, Ross Monaghan, an activist who has spent a year here, much of it sleeping in a treehouse 80 feet above the ground, said it was “a victory that Jones Hill Wood is still standing, but we haven’t won that battle yet.”
To prevent more felling, he said, “people are going to have to step forward, put their bodies on the line, put their freedom on the line, and I think you will see that happen.”
Life can change in an instant, as I experienced when I first laid my eyes on a tall and bizarrely striking bird known as the greater adjutant.
It was India in 2018, in the northeastern state of Assam. I’d ended up there partly because of absurd circumstances, which involved being filmed for a reality television pilot while navigating a motorized rickshaw through the Himalayas. After traversing some of the highest and most dangerous roads in the world, including the Tanglang La mountain pass, I ventured off to see a traditional selection of endangered animals: Asian elephants, greater one-horned rhinos, western hoolock gibbons.
While en route to Guwahati, Assam’s capital, I saw a 5-foot-tall bird towering near the roadside. I was so taken by its appearance that I asked the driver to pull over so I could have a better look. It had piercing blue eyes, an elongated electric-yellow neck, a wobbly, inflatable neck pouch, long legs that moved with a stiff military gait, and spindly black hairs atop its (mostly bald) prehistoric-looking head. Little did I know that this outlandish animal — also endangered, though not famously so — would change the course of my professional life.
ecologically important water storage basin threatened by pollution and encroachment.
cattle egrets, were the spectacular greater adjutants, who were circling and stiffly marching alongside the other foragers.
rare and endangered scavengers.
taxonomic bias, since humans generally favor attractive mammals with forward-facing eyes. “The more people who see hargilas as a bad omen, disease-carrier and pest,” Dr. Barman told me, “the more I am obsessed.”
towel-like textile — with transfixing speed and expertise.
Carla Rhodes is a wildlife conservation photographer who lives in the Catskills. You can follow her work on Instagram.
SEATTLE — By the end of Monday, thousands of yellow envelopes mailed to a squat brick building in Birmingham, Ala., will hold the fate of one of the most closely watched union elections in recent history, one that could alter the shape of the labor movement and one of America’s largest employers.
The envelopes contain the ballots of workers at an Amazon warehouse near Birmingham. Almost 6,000 workers at the building, one of Amazon’s largest, are eligible to decide whether they form the first union at an Amazon operation in the United States, after years of fierce resistance by the company.
The organizers have made the case in a monthslong campaign that Amazon’s intense monitoring of workers infringes on their dignity, and that its pay is not commensurate with the constant pressure workers feel to produce. The union estimates that roughly 85 percent of the work force at the warehouse is Black and has linked the organizing to the struggle for racial justice.
Amazon has countered that its $15 minimum wage is twice the state minimum, and that it offers health insurance and other benefits that can be hard to find in low-wage jobs.
stopped construction on an office tower when Seattle wanted to tax the company, and backed out of plans to build a second headquarters in New York City after facing progressive opposition.
But the company has committed more than $360 million in leases and equipment for the Bessemer warehouse, and shutting down the vote of a large Black work force could publicly backfire, said Marc Wulfraat, a logistics consultant who closely tracks the company.
Regardless of the outcome, Mr. Wulfraat said that the election is a sign Amazon has work to do. “For most companies that end up with labor organizing in some capacity,” he said, “it didn’t come about because they were doing a fantastic job managing people.”
If the union loses, Amazon will lose at least one customer: Michael Render, the rapper who goes by Killer Mike. Appearing alongside Mr. Sanders on Friday, he said, “If that vote does not go through, if these conditions do not improve, I won’t be ordering from Amazon again.”
Sonam Vashi contributed reporting from Bessemer, Ala.
Good morning and happy Passover. Here’s what you need to know in business and tech news for the week ahead. — Charlotte Cowles
What’s Up? (March 21-27)
Suez Canal Crunch
A giant container ship that ran aground and blocked the Suez Canal in Egypt has created an international boat traffic jam. More than 100 vessels carrying oil and goods destined for ports around the world are now stuck midroute, adding more stress to supply chains already overburdened by the pandemic. Workers digging the stuck ship out of the sludge warned that it may not be movable until next week. The canal provides the most direct shipping passage between Europe and Asia; without it, ships have to circumnavigate Africa, adding significant time, costs and danger to their voyage.
Big Tech’s Testimony
Lawmakers grilled the leaders of Facebook, Google and Twitter for five hours on Thursday about the connection between misinformation spread on their platforms and the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol. When asked directly, Twitter’s chief executive, Jack Dorsey, admitted publicly for the first time that his product had played a role in the uprising. (More characteristically, both Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Sundar Pichai of Google dodged the question.) The executives were also asked about how their companies enable racism and helped to spread falsehoods around Covid-19 vaccines. The hearing concluded with more calls to regulate the tech industry, but it remains to be seen what Congress will actually do.
feeling the chill of Chinese wallets snapping shut. The Chinese government is pushing consumers to boycott those companies after they pledged to stop using cotton produced in the region of Xinjiang, where the Chinese authorities are imprisoning ethnic minorities in detention camps. (The United States and several of its allies also imposed a new round of sanctions on Chinese officials earlier this month, citing human rights abuses that the Chinese government has continued to deny.) It’s unclear whether Beijing’s calls for a boycott will make a serious dent. Previous state-sponsored campaigns against brands like Apple and Starbucks haven’t had much success in deterring Chinese consumers from buying what they want.
What’s Next? (March 28-April 3)
New York lawmakers reached a deal to legalize recreational marijuana for adults 21 and over, opening the state to a potential $4.2 billion industry that could create tens of thousands of jobs and become one of the largest markets in the country. The law may be approved as soon as this week, although the first legal sales are probably more than a year away. Once up and running, marijuana commerce is expected to generate millions of dollars in tax revenue for the strapped state. Lawmakers have promised to reinvest a major chunk of that money in minority communities that have been disproportionately punished by drug policing in the past.
The Union Vote
Workers at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., will conclude a weekslong vote on Monday on whether to form a union. Notorious for its union-busting tactics (some of which are under legal scrutiny), Amazon has encouraged its workers to vote “no.” It also denied claims of harsh working conditions and lack of coronavirus safety protocols, and pointed out that its starting wage of $15 an hour is significantly higher than what workers could find elsewhere. If the union is approved, it would be a first for Amazon workers in the United States and could embolden labor movements across the country.
President Biden has outlined his next big plan for boosting the economy: a giant infrastructure package. The details are still in flux as administration officials shop around the proposal to members of Congress and industry leaders. But the broad strokes remain consistent with Mr. Biden’s campaign promises to make the economy more equitable, address climate change and bolster America’s manufacturing and technology industries in an escalating competition with China. Who will pay for the plan’s estimated $3 trillion costs? The administration has suggested that it may be financed in part through tax increases on corporations and the rich.
introducing Zoom-free Fridays. Meanwhile, many businesses are offering free or discounted products — including doughnuts, yogurt and beer — to people who can demonstrate that they’ve gotten Covid vaccines. And Elon Musk, the chief executive of Tesla, is in trouble with the National Labor Relations Board, which upheld a ruling that he broke the law by firing a worker involved in union organizing and threatening others if they followed suit.
LONDON — The courthouse should have already been closed for the day.
At a hearing that began at 5 p.m. on March 1, lawyers for Greensill Capital desperately argued before a judge in Sydney, Australia, that the firm’s insurers should be ordered to extend policies set to expire at midnight. Greensill Capital needed the insurance to back $4.6 billion it was owed by businesses around the world, and without it 50,000 jobs would be in jeopardy, they said.
The judge said no; the company had waited too long to bring the matter to court. A week later, Greensill Capital — valued at $3.5 billion less than two years ago — filed for bankruptcy in London. An international firm with 16 offices around the world, from Singapore to London to Bogotá, was insolvent.
Greensill’s dazzlingly fast failure is one of the most spectacular collapses of a global finance firm in over a decade. It has entangled SoftBank and Credit Suisse and threatens the business empire of the British steel tycoon, Sanjeev Gupta, who employs 35,000 workers throughout the world. Greensill’s problems extend to the United States, where the governor of West Virginia and his coal mining company have sued Greensill Capital for “a continuous and profitable fraud” over $850 million in loans.
At the center of it is Lex Greensill, an Australian farmer-turned-banker, who in 2011 founded his company in London as a solution to a problem: Companies want to wait as long as possible before paying for their supplies, while the companies making the supplies need their cash as soon as possible.
The Australian newspaper that he did the same for President Barack Obama in the United States.
Eventually, Mr. Cameron would become an adviser to Greensill. Julie Bishop, Australia’s former foreign minister, also joined the company as an adviser.
Greensill Capital’s defining year was 2019, when SoftBank’s Vision Fund, the $100 billion investment vehicle built to make huge bets on disruptive technology companies, invested $1.5 billion. On the day the first of two SoftBank investments was announced, Mr. Greensill told Bloomberg TV that his company would have “multiple opportunities” to work with SoftBank and the other companies in their portfolio.
Mr. Greensill had become a billionaire.
Carillion in 2018 and the Spanish renewable energy company Abengoa, which filed for insolvency in February. Abengoa, an early customer of Greensill, narrowly escaped bankruptcy in 2015 when its huge debt load — billions of euros — was revealed.
Regulators, auditors and ratings agencies have grown concerned about the lack of transparency that can make company balance sheets look stronger than they are. In June, the Securities and Exchange Commission asked Coca-Cola to provide more details about whether it was using supply chain finance after noticing an increase in its account payables of $1.1 billion.
After pleas from accounting companies, the rules might be tightened in the United States. In October, the U.S. Financial Accounting Standards Board said it would start developing stronger disclosure requirements, though two months later, an international accounting board decided not to do the same.
For Greensill Capital, signs of trouble began appearing in 2018, the year before SoftBank made its big investments.
GAM, the Swiss asset manager, rocked the London financial community when it suspended one of its top fund managers, Tim Haywood. He later lost his job for “gross misconduct,” Bloomberg reported, after an internal investigation raised questions about investments he made in companies tied to Mr. Gupta, who was fast-becoming a steel and metals tycoon. The middleman in the deals, Bloomberg said, was Mr. Greensill.
The next year, Mr. Greensill’s debt funds were attracting unusual interest from SoftBank. Even as the Vision Fund was investing in Greensill, a different arm of SoftBank poured hundreds of millions into the Credit Suisse funds, according to people with knowledge of the transactions. That arrangement put SoftBank in a complex position: One division was Greensill’s largest shareholder and another was a lender to Greensill, via the Credit Suisse funds.
BaFin said it had uncovered evidence that assets linked to Mr. Gupta listed on the bank’s balance sheet did not exist.
insolvency proceedings for Greensill Bank.
an 18 million euro state-backed loan in December from Greensill Bank. But two days later, the bank abruptly pulled back the funds, said Jean-Philippe Juin, a member of the Confédération Générale du Travail labor union representing the factory, where 600 people work.
While GFG said it had “strong cash flows” across the group, the workers at the Poitou plant were warned last week that there might not be enough money to pay their salaries for March, Mr. Juin said.
“Mr. Gupta presented himself to us as a savior, with hopeful words and many promises,” Mr. Juin said. “In the end, he turned out to be an empty shell.”
Michael J. de la Merced, Stanley Reed, Matthew Goldstein and Raphael Minder contributed reporting.
METOVNICA, Serbia — The well in the retired couple’s yard, their only source of clean water, began to dry up two years ago. Last year, dead fish started washing up on the banks of the river that runs by their home in a bucolic village in southeastern Serbia.
But most disturbing of all for Verica Zivkovic and her husband, Miroslav, are the ever-widening cracks in the walls of the house they built after moving to the countryside more than a decade ago to raise goats.
“We came here for the peace and quiet,” said Ms. Zivkovic, 62, but that all changed when a Chinese company arrived.
In 2018, the company, the Zijin Mining Group, took control of a money-losing copper smelter in the nearby city of Bor and began blasting away in the nearby hills in search of copper and gold.
pro-democracy group Freedom House downgraded Serbia in 2019 from “free” to “partly free,” citing a tightening grip on politics, civil liberties and the media.
In January, 26 members of the European Parliament demanded a review of the “growing impact of China’s economic footprint in Serbia,” including “reckless projects with potentially devastating multiple impacts on the wider environment as well as surrounding population.”
The roots of Serbia’s tilt toward China date to 1999, during the Kosovo war, when U.S. warplanes mistakenly bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, killing three Chinese journalists. On that site now stands a huge Chinese cultural center. A marble memorial stone outside bears inscriptions in Serbian and Chinese hail China’s “martyrs.”
But memories of shared suffering at American hands have faded in places like Bor, site of the Chinese-owned smelter.
Pollution from the Bor plant skyrocketed to many times the legally permitted level in 2019 and 2020, setting off a series of street protests and prompting Zijin Mining’s general manager in Serbia to tell his managers last October that he was “very dissatisfied” with the “frightening” level of pollution, according to leaked minutes of the meeting.
He blamed the bad publicity, which he said had damaged “the government of the People’s Republic of China,” on “people who are in favor of the West and receive support” who “have stood in opposition to our work.”
Bor’s mayor, Aleksandar Milikic, a Vucic loyalist, initially dismissed the protests as the work of political agitators.
But, apparently worried about losing votes, he announced last year that he would file a court case against Zijin for negligence. It is not clear whether he actually did so. The mayor declined to be interviewed. Zijin Mining did not respond to requests for comment.
Milenko Jovanovic, an air pollution expert, said he was fired in November from Serbia’s Environmental Protection Agency after raising concerns about dangerously high levels of sulfur dioxide and arsenic in the air around Bor.
The government, he said, rejected anything that might upset China and its investors. “It lets them do whatever they want to do,” he said.
A court in Belgrade ruled this month that Mr. Jovanovic had been unfairly dismissed and ordered that he be given his job back.
Activists concede that air pollution levels in Bor have fallen since protests, but say that the main danger has now shifted to towns and villages to the south, where hundreds of Chinese workers brought in by Zijin are developing one of the world’s biggest unexploited copper deposits, and digging for gold.
The earth around the new mine trembles from blasting work and the heavy trucks, driven by Chinese workers, that rumble along roads adorned with China’s red national flag. Rivers and streams are discolored by effluent.
The government has added to public anger by issuing expropriation orders so that Zijin can build access roads and expand its mine. Dragan Viacic, a farmer, said he had received a letter from Serbia’s finance ministry informing him that he must sell 13 acres of his land at a fraction of the market price.
“They said this was necessary in the public interest but in reality this is just the interest of the Chinese,” he said.
In Metovnica, a village near the mine, Mr. Zivkovic and his wife used to have 25 goats but, with no clean water on hand after their well dried up, they now keep just one.
“Why don’t we have any water anymore? Why are there no fish in the river?” The answer, he said, is Zijin Mining Group.
Pointing to fissures radiating across the wall of his house that appeared last year after Chinese miners started using explosives, Mr. Zivkovic said: “It was a tiny crack at first but then it spread.”
Confident that it has the support of Mr. Vucic and his officials, the mining company and other Chinese ventures in Serbia have mostly ignored complaints and shrouded their operations in secrecy.
Sasa Stankovic, an environmental activist and elected member of the Bor regional council, said he had tried unsuccessfully to contact Zijin to discuss pollution levels. The copper smelter in Bor, he said, had been hazardous to health for decades, but the dangers jumped sharply after Zijin arrived and ramped up production.
Bor now accounts for a stunning 80 percent of Serbian exports to China, repeating a pattern widely seen in Africa of Chinese firms extracting natural resources for shipment back to China.
At Slatina, a village down the road, Miodrag Zivkovic, a local farmer stood on a rickety bridge over the Bor River, its waters thick with sludge and garbage, and said: “We didn’t go to the Chinese mine but the mine came to us.”
All the same, he said, given the few jobs available in the region, his son would still like to get work at the smelter, which pays relatively well. “Everyone here needs a salary and is ready to risk everything,” he lamented.
Cao Li contributed reporting from Hong Kong and Monika Pronczuk from Brussels.