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Saudi Aramco Sells Oil Pipeline Stake for $12.4 Billion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Before the pandemic, companies used to lure top talent with lavish perks like subsidized massages, Pilates classes and free gourmet meals. Now, the hottest enticement is permission to work not just from home, but from anywhere — even, say, from the French Alps or a Caribbean island.

Revolut, a banking start-up based in London, said Thursday that it would allow its more than 2,000 employees to work abroad for up to two months a year in response to requests to visit overseas family for longer periods.

“Our employees asked for flexibility, and that’s what we’re giving them as part of our ongoing focus on employee experience and choice,” said Jim MacDougall, Revolut’s vice president of human resources.

Georgia Pacquette-Bramble, a communications manager for Revolut, said she was planning to trade the winter in London for Spain or somewhere in the Caribbean. Other colleagues have talked about spending time with family abroad.

Revolut has been valued at $5.5 billion, making it one of Europe’s most valuable financial technology firms. It joins a number of companies that will allow more flexible working arrangements to continue after the pandemic ends. JPMorgan Chase, Salesforce, Ford Motor and Target have said they are giving up office space as they expect workers to spend less time in the office, and Spotify has told employees they can work from anywhere.

Not all companies, however, are shifting away from the office. Tech companies, including Amazon, Facebook, Google and Apple, have added office space in New York over the last year. Amazon told employees it would “return to an office-centric culture as our baseline.”

Dr. Dan Wang, an associate professor at Columbia Business School, said he did not expect office-centric companies to lose top talent to companies that allow flexible working, in part because many employees prefer to work from the office.

Furthermore, when employees are not in the same space, there are fewer spontaneous interactions, and spontaneity is critical for developing ideas and collaborating, Dr. Wang said.

“There is a cost,” he said. “Yes, we can interact via email, via Slack, via Zoom — we’ve all gotten used to that. But part of it is that we’ve lowered our expectations for what social interaction actually entails.”

Revolut said it studied tax laws and regulations before introducing its policy, and that each request to work from abroad was subject to an internal review and approval process. But for some companies looking to put a similar policy in place, a hefty tax bill, or at least a complicated tax return, could be a drawback.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Amazon Warehouse Unionization Votes

Either side needed 1,521 votes to win.

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

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

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

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

The ballots were counted in random order in the National Labor Relations Board’s office in Birmingham, Ala., and the process was broadcast via Zoom to more than 200 journalists, lawyers and other observers.

The voting was conducted by mail from early February until the end of last month. A handful of workers from the labor board called out the results of each vote — “Yes” for a union or “No” — for nearly four hours on Thursday.

Sophia June and Miles McKinley contributed to this report.

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

Online stores offering counterfeit or stolen vaccine cards have mushroomed in recent weeks, according to Saoud Khalifah, the founder of FakeSpot, which offers tools to detect fake listings and reviews online.

The efforts are far from hidden, with Facebook pages named “vax-cards” and eBay listings with “blank vaccine cards” openly hawking the items, Sheera Frenkel reports for The New York Times.

Last week, 45 state attorneys general banded together to call on Twitter, Shopify and eBay to stop the sale of false and stolen vaccine cards.

Facebook, Twitter, eBay, Shopify and Etsy said that the sale of fake vaccine cards violated their rules and that they were removing posts that advertised the items.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention introduced the vaccination cards in December, describing them as the “simplest” way to keep track of Covid-19 shots. By January, sales of false vaccine cards started picking up, Mr. Khalifah said. Many people found the cards were easy to forge from samples available online. Authentic cards were also stolen by pharmacists from their workplaces and put up for sale, he said.

Many people who bought the cards were opposed to the Covid-19 vaccines, Mr. Khalifah said. In some anti-vaccine groups on Facebook, people have publicly boasted about getting the cards.

Other buyers want to use the cards to trick pharmacists into giving them a vaccine, Mr. Khalifah said. Because some of the vaccines are two-shot regimens, people can enter a false date for a first inoculation on the card, which makes it appear as if they need a second dose soon. Some pharmacies and state vaccination sites have prioritized people due for their second shots.

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

In only a year, the market value of office towers in Manhattan has plummeted 25 percent, according to city projections released on Wednesday.

Across the country, the vacancy rate for office buildings in city centers has steadily climbed over the past year to reach 16.4 percent, according to Cushman & Wakefield, the highest in about a decade. That number could climb further if companies keep giving up office space because of hybrid or fully remote work, Peter Eavis and Matthew Haag report for The New York Times.

So far, landlords like Boston Properties and SL Green have not suffered huge financial losses, having survived the past year by collecting rent from tenants locked into long leases — the average contract for office space runs about seven years.

But as leases come up for renewal, property owners could be left with scores of empty floors. At the same time, many new office buildings are under construction — 124 million square feet nationwide, or enough for roughly 700,000 workers. Those changes could drive down rents, which were touching new highs before the pandemic. And rents help determine assessments that are the basis for property tax bills.

Many big employers have already given notice to the owners of some prestigious buildings that they are leaving when their leases end. JPMorgan Chase, Ford Motor, Salesforce, Target and more are giving up expensive office space and others are considering doing so.

The stock prices of the big landlords, which are often structured as real estate investment trusts that pass almost all of their profit to investors, trade well below their previous highs. Shares of Boston Properties, one of the largest office landlords, are down 29 percent from the prepandemic high. SL Green, a major New York landlord, is 26 percent lower.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • On Thursday, Federal Reserve chair, Jerome Powell, reiterated his intention to keep supporting the economic recovery The rollout of vaccinations meant the United States economy could probably reopen soon, but the recovery was still “uneven and incomplete,” Mr. Powell said at the International Monetary Fund annual conference.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Millions of white evangelicals do not intend to get vaccinated.

Across white evangelical America, reasons not to get vaccinated have spread quickly.

The deeply held spiritual convictions or counterfactual arguments may vary, but the opposition is rooted in a mix of religious faith and a longstanding wariness of mainstream science, and it is fueled by broader cultural distrust of institutions and gravitation to online conspiracy theories.

The sheer size of the community poses a major problem for the country’s ability to recover from a pandemic that has resulted in the deaths of half a million Americans.

There are about 41 million white evangelical adults in the United States. About 45 percent said in late February that they would not get vaccinated against Covid-19, making them among the least likely demographic groups to do so, according to the Pew Research Center.

As vaccines become more widely available, and as more contagious virus variants develop, the problem takes on new urgency. Significant numbers of Americans generally are resistant to getting vaccinated, but white evangelicals present unique challenges because of their complex web of moral, medical and political objections. The challenge is further complicated by longstanding distrust between evangelicals and the scientific community.

No clear data is available about vaccine hesitancy among evangelicals of other racial groups. But religious reasoning often spreads beyond white churches.

Many high-profile conservative pastors and institutional leaders have endorsed the vaccines. Franklin Graham told his 9.6 million Facebook followers that Jesus would advocate vaccination.

Pastor Robert Jeffress commended it from an anti-abortion perspective on Fox News. (“We talk about life inside the womb being a gift from God. Well, life outside the womb is a gift from God, too.”)

But other influential voices in the sprawling, trans-denominational movement, especially those who have gained their stature through media fame, have sown fears. Gene Bailey, the host of a prophecy-focused talk show on the Victory Channel, warned his audience in March that the government and “globalist entities” would “use bayonets and prisons to force a needle into your arm.”

Dr. Simone Gold, a prominent Covid-19 skeptic who was charged with violent entry and disorderly conduct in the Jan. 6 Capitol siege, told an evangelical congregation in Florida that they were in danger of being “coerced into taking an experimental biological agent.”

One widespread concern among evangelicals is the vaccines’ ties to abortion. In reality, the connection is remote: Some of the vaccines were developed and tested using cells derived from the fetal tissue of elective abortions that took place decades ago.

The vaccines do not include fetal tissue, and no additional abortions are required to manufacture them. Still, the kernel of a connection has metastasized online into false rumors about human remains or fetal DNA being an ingredient in the vaccines.

Some evangelicals see the vaccine as a redemptive outcome for the original aborted fetus.

Dr. Julie Morita, the executive vice president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and a former Chicago public health commissioner, said the method to reach white evangelicals is similar to building vaccine confidence in other groups: Listen to their concerns and questions, and then provide information that they can understand from people they trust.

But a public education campaign alone may not be enough.

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Amazon Illegally Fired Activist Workers, Labor Board Finds

SEATTLE — Amazon illegally retaliated against two of its most prominent internal critics when it fired them last year, the National Labor Relations Board has determined.

The employees, Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa, had publicly pushed the company to reduce its impact on climate change and address concerns about its warehouse workers.

The agency told Ms. Cunningham and Ms. Costa that it would accuse Amazon of unfair labor practices if the company did not settle the case, according to correspondence that Ms. Cunningham shared with The New York Times.

“It’s a moral victory and really shows that we are on the right side of history and the right side of the law,” Ms. Cunningham said.

the agency told NBC News. The agency typically handles investigations in its regional offices.

While Amazon’s starting wage of $15 an hour is twice the federal minimum, its labor practices face heightened scrutiny in Washington and elsewhere. The focus has escalated in the past year, as online orders surged during the pandemic and Amazon expanded its U.S. work force to almost one million people. Amazon’s warehouse employees are deemed essential workers and could not work from home.

This week, the national labor board is counting thousands of ballots that will determine whether almost 6,000 workers will form a union at an Amazon warehouse outside Birmingham, Ala., in the largest and most viable labor threat in the company’s history. The union has said the workers face excessive pressure to produce and are intensely monitored by the company to make sure quotas are met.

wanted the company to do more to address its climate impact. The group, Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, got more than 8,700 colleagues to support its efforts.

Over time, Ms. Cunningham and Ms. Costa broadened their protests. After Amazon told them that they had violated its external communications policy by speaking publicly about the business, their group organized 400 employees to also speak out, purposely violating the policy to make a point.

They also began raising concerns about safety in Amazon’s warehouses at the start of the pandemic. Amazon fired Ms. Costa and Ms. Cunningham last April, not long after their group had announced an internal event for warehouse workers to speak to tech employees about their workplace conditions.

After the women were fired, several Democratic senators, including Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kamala Harris of California, wrote Amazon expressing their concerns over potential retaliation. And Tim Bray, an internet pioneer and a former vice president at Amazon’s cloud computing group, resigned in protest.

Mr. Bray said he was pleased to hear of the labor board’s findings and hoped Amazon settled the case. “The policy up to now has been ‘admit nothing, concede nothing,’” he said. “This is their chance to rethink that a little bit.”

Ms. Cunningham said that, despite the company’s denial, she believed that she and Ms. Costa were prime targets for Amazon because they were the most visible members of Amazon Employees for Climate Justice.

The labor board also upheld a complaint involving Jonathan Bailey, a co-founder of Amazonians United, a labor advocacy group. The agency filed a complaint against Amazon based on Mr. Bailey’s accusation that the company broke the law when it interrogated him after a walkout last year at the Queens warehouse where he works.

“They recognized that Amazon violated our rights,” Mr. Bailey said. “I think the message that it communicates that workers should hear and understand is, yes, we’re all experiencing it. But also a lot of us are fighting.”

Amazon settled Mr. Bailey’s case, without admitting wrongdoing, and agreed to post notices informing employees of their rights in the break room. Ms. Anderson, the Amazon spokeswoman, said the company disagreed with allegations made in Mr. Bailey’s case. “We are proud to provide inclusive environments, where employees can excel without fear of retaliation, intimidation or harassment,” she said.

Kate Conger contributed reporting.

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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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Kamala Harris to Head Effort to Stanch Migrant Surge

President Biden has asked Vice President Kamala Harris to lead the administration’s diplomatic efforts with Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to stem the surge of migrants at the southern border.

“I can think of nobody who is better qualified,” Mr. Biden said Wednesday, citing Ms. Harris’s experience as California’s attorney general.

Ms. Harris, who didn’t yet have a formal policy portfolio, will be taking on a role similar to the one Mr. Biden played when he was vice president and led the Obama administration’s diplomatic efforts as it faced an increase in migrants and unaccompanied minors at the border.

“There’s no question that this is a challenging situation,” Ms. Harris said Wednesday.

“I look forward to engaging in diplomacy with government, with [the] private sector, with civil society and the leaders of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to strengthen democracy and the rule of law and ensure shared prosperity in the region,” she said.

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Biden charges Harris with stemming migrant numbers at US-Mexico border

Joe Biden announced on Wednesday that he is charging Kamala Harris with diplomatic efforts to stem migration at the US-Mexico border, amid a deepening humanitarian challenge there.

The vice-president will collaborate with officials from Mexico and Central America, according to Reuters, taking on similar responsibilities to Biden’s when he responded to an influx of children and families as vice-president under the Obama administration.

“Needless to say, the work will not be easy,” Harris said. “But it is important work.”

Both Biden and Harris were meeting with department heads and immigration advisers, after alarming images circulated earlier this week showing packed border holding cells, where young migrants rested on side-by-side floor mats and turned to mylar blankets for warmth.

US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) encountered nearly 9,500 children who came to the country unaccompanied by a parent or guardian at the south-western border last month, and more than 15,000 are currently in federal custody – nearly doubling the previous record, according to the Washington Post.

The arrival of so many vulnerable people, coinciding with the coronavirus pandemic, has sent administrators scrambling for more space to safely accommodate those children, many of whom are stranded in inhospitable CBP facilities long after the legal time limit of 72 hours.

As Biden shared Harris’s new assignment, White House officials and lawmakers were touring a controversial shelter in Carrizo Springs, Texas, under the purview of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the federal arm that cares for unaccompanied children until they can be released to parents or sponsors.

Following widespread criticism of the administration’s lack of transparency surrounding its border operations, HHS was allowing one network camera to join and document the tour, even as officials announced they were opening a second Carrizo Springs facility to hold an additional 500 migrant kids.

A Pentagon spokesperson said on Tuesday that it had also received a request from HHS to use an empty dormitory at joint base San Antonio and land at Fort Bliss – both in Texas – to host unaccompanied children, CNN reported.

As the urgent situation captures national attention, more politicians are expected to descend on the border later this week. The Democratic representative Joaquin Castro tweeted Monday that he would lead a delegation to Carrizo Springs on Friday, a move he called “oversight to ensure humane treatment and orderly process to unite kids with families”.

Texas’s two Republican senators, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, have also announced a visit to the state’s Rio Grande Valley on Friday.

Cornyn, an outspoken critic of the White House’s immigration policy, is currently under fire for seemingly lamenting that unlike former presidents, Biden “has instead emphasized the humane treatment of immigrants, regardless of their legal status”.

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Kamala Harris calls for Congress to act on gun control: ‘Slaughters have to stop’

Decrying two mass shootings in the United States in less than a week, Kamala Harris said on Wednesday that “these slaughters have to stop” but deflected a question about whether Joe Biden was prepared to take executive action to restrict access to guns, calling instead for action by Congress.

“We should first expect the US Congress to act,” the US vice-president said on the CBS This Morning program. “I’m not willing to give up on what we must do to appeal to the hearts and minds and the reason of the members of the US Senate.”

Two gun safety bills have been passed by the Democratic-controlled House, but under current rules unless Republicans in the Senate budge from their opposition to any such legislation – which they have shown no sign of doing – the bills cannot advance.

In a wide-ranging interview on CBS, Harris lamented a shooting on Monday evening in a Colorado grocery store in which 10 were killed, and a series of shootings at three massage parlors in the Atlanta area a week earlier that left eight dead including six women of Asian descent.

“We are seeing tragedy after tragedy after tragedy,” Harris said.

But challenged on what action the Biden administration would take to confront the mass shooting epidemic, Harris indicated that no unilateral executive action was immediately on the table.

“I don’t think the president is excluding that,” Harris said, “but I want to be clear that if we really want something that is lasting, we need to pass legislation.”

She called on voters and activists to keep the pressure up on Congress to impose universal background checks for gun purchases, a broadly popular proposal.

“Let’s say that we’re going to hold our elected people accountable if they’re not gonna be with us on what we need in terms of reasonable gun safety laws,” Harris said.

As the first female vice-president and the first vice-president of Asian descent, Harris said the Atlanta-area shootings underscored “the seriousness of AAPI hate crime, especially over the course of the last year”, using an acronym for Asian American and Pacific Islanders.

But Harris stopped short of saying that shootings should be prosecuted as a hate crime, which activists have called for but which local prosecutors so far have resisted.

“I’m not prosecuting that case, so I’m not gonna tell” prosecutors how to do so, Harris said.

After two months in office, Harris has a robust profile in the Biden administration, traveling with the president to Atlanta last week to meet with officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and to meet with leaders of the local AAPI community.

Harris told CBS that she and Biden would “absolutely” visit the US-Mexico border in person to survey overcrowding in detention centers for minors and others seeking asylum.

The Clinton Foundation also announced this week that Harris was to appear with former president Bill Clinton on Friday at a Clinton Global Initiative event to discuss the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on women.

Clinton and Harris would discuss “empowering women and girls in the US and around the world”, a press release said. Clinton was also to appear in conversation with the voting rights champion Stacey Abrams to discuss expanding participation in democracy.

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‘Our silence is complicity’: Biden and Harris condemn anti-Asian violence during Atlanta visit

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have condemned a “heinous act of violence” during a trip to Atlanta, hoping to console a city and Asian American communities rocked by the attack this week that left eight people dead and one injured.

Delivering remarks on Friday evening at Emory University after a day spent meeting with Asian American community leaders and politicians, the president and vice-president spoke out forcefully against the shooting, in which six of the victims were women of Asian descent, as well as the rise in anti-Asian violence.

“Hate can have no safe harbor in America,” Biden said, calling on Americans to stand up to bigotry when they see it. “Our silence is complicity. We cannot be complicit.”

Biden said “it was heart wrenching to listen to” Asian American state legislators and other community leaders discuss living in fear.

“Racism is real in America. And it has always been. Xenophobia is real in America, and always has been. Sexism, too,” said Harris, calling the shootings a “heinous act of violence”.

“The president and I will not be silent. We will not stand by. We will always speak out against violence, hate crimes and discrimination, wherever and whenever it occurs.

“Whatever the killer’s motive, these facts are clear,” Harris added: six of the eight people killed were of Asian descent, seven were women, and “the shootings took place in businesses owned by Asian Americans”.

The visit comes amid a nationwide surge in verbal and physical attacks against Asian Americans. Biden on Friday expressed support for the Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act, a bill that would strengthen the government’s reporting and response to hate crimes and provide resources to such communities.

Both Biden and Harris spoke to the rise in anti-Asian violence over the past year, with Biden alluding to the Donald Trump and other Republicans who have repeatedly demonized China for the coronavirus.

“Words have consequences,” Biden said. “Whatever the motivation [for the shootings] we know this: too many Asian Americans have been walking up and down the streets and worrying. Waking up each morning the past year feeling their safety and the safety of their loved ones are stake. They’ve been attacked, blamed, scapegoated and harassed.”

“It’s been a year of living in fear for their lives just to walk down their street. Grandparents afraid to leave their homes. Small businesses attacked.”

“Asian Americans have been attacked and scapegoated” throughout the pandemic, Harris said. “We’ve had people in positions of incredible power scapegoating Asian Americans. People with the biggest pulpits spreading this kind of hate.”

The gunman targeted two massage parlors in Atlanta and another on the outskirts of the city. Robert Aaron Long, 21, has been charged with the murder of eight people and the assault of another.

The ethnicity of the victims has prompted a discussion about race and the treatment of Asian Americans, particularly women, in America. The Cherokee county sheriff’s office was heavily criticized after claiming the shootings appeared unrelated to race, and for stating that Long related that he was “having a bad day” when he opened fire at the three spas.

Flowers and signs at the growing memorial at the scene of two of the massage parlor shootings in Atlanta, Georgia. Photograph: Erik S Lesser/EPA

Four more victims were named on Friday. Soon Chung Park, 74; Hyun Jung Grant, 51; Suncha Kim, 69; and Yong Yue, 63, were shot and killed at two neighboring massage parlors in north-east Atlanta.

Delaina Yaun, 33; Paul Andre Michels, 54; Xiaojie Tan, 49; and Daoyou Feng, 44, were killed at a parlor north-west of the city. Elcias Hernandez-Ortiz was also shot, but survived.

The day after the shootings the Cherokee county sheriff, Frank Reynolds, was the focus of scorn after he said Long “gave no indicators” that his crimes were racially motivated. “We asked him that specifically and the answer was no,” Reynolds said. The seeming acceptance of Long’s statement prompted widespread backlash, with Asian American leaders pointing to the rise in hate crimes against Asians and the stigmatization of Asian women.

“It looked like a hate crime to me,” Keisha Lance Bottoms, Atlanta’s mayor, told CNN on Thursday night. “This was targeted at Asian spas. Six of the women who were killed were Asian so it’s difficult to see it as anything but that.”

Bottoms said: “There are many areas of hate that are covered within the definition of a hate crime.”

In Atlanta, Asian Americans are still trying to come to terms with the shootings. Woojin Kang, a young man of Korean descent, stood on the sidewalk in front of Gold Spa on Thursday evening, the site of one of the shootings, holding a neon yellow sign that read “Asian women’s bodies have been slayed” above the hashtag “#StopAsianHate”.

“The biggest thing I’m encouraging in my community is to lament. That means to viciously cry out in any way that may manifest. But we need to cry out. We can’t be silent any more,” Kang said.

“People say Asians are the submissive ones, we’ll be quiet. No. We need to cry out, whatever that looks like. For me, that looked like coming out today with signs, standing on the street.”

Biden and Harris had already been scheduled to visit Atlanta, as part of a tour designed to laud the recently passed $1.9tn Covid-19 relief bill, but the focus of the visit was changed in the wake of the shootings.

The shootings came just days after Biden had warned of the rise in violence against Americans of Asian descent. In a speech on 11 March – his first primetime address as president – Biden condemned anti-Asian racism and hate crimes.

“At this very moment, so many of them, our fellow Americans, they’re on the frontlines of this pandemic trying to save lives, and still, still they’re forced to live in fear for their lives just walking down streets in America,” Biden said during that address. “It’s wrong. It’s un-American. And it must stop.”

Nearly 3,800 incidents have been reported to Stop AAPI Hate, a reporting center for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and its partner advocacy groups since March 2020.

Agencies contributed reporting

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‘Our community is bleeding’: Asian American lawmakers say violence has reached ‘crisis point’

Asian American lawmakers and leaders warned that violence and discrimination targeting their community have reached a “crisis point” following the shootings in Atlanta this week that killed eight people, including six women of Asian descent.

The hearing, the first to examine anti-Asian discrimination in more than three decades, had been scheduled weeks ago amid a surge in violence against the Asian community since the pandemic began. But it took on heightened urgency after the mass shooting that left Asian Americans in Atlanta and across the country shaken and afraid.

“What we know is that this day was coming,” Judy Chu, chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, told a subcommittee of the House judiciary committee on Thursday. “The Asian American community has reached a crisis point that cannot be ignored.”

Judy Chu, chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. Photograph: AP

Grace Meng, a Democrat of New York, said: “Our community is bleeding. We are in pain. And for the last year, we’ve been screaming out for help.”

Meanwhile police in Atlanta revealed new details about the investigation. At a press conference, Charles Hampton, deputy chief of the Atlanta police, said “nothing was off the table”, including whether the killings were motivated, at least in part, by race or gender.

“We are looking at everything to make sure that we discover and determine what the motive of our homicides were,” he said, adding that they were still determining whether the murders constituted a hate crime.

The suspect, Robert Aaron Long, 21, has been charged with eight counts of murder. Long, who is white, told police that he had a sex addiction and targeted the spas to eliminate “temptation”, denying any racist motivations.

Hampton said on Thursday that Long had “frequented” two of the spas where four women of Asian descent were killed. Four more people were killed at Youngs Asian Massage Parlor, on the outskirts of the city.

The Cherokee county sheriff’s department announced on Thursday that Capt Jay Baker had been replaced as the spokesman on the investigation.

Frank Reynolds, the sheriff, expressed regret amid widespread outrage over comments Baker had made a day earlier. Baker drew criticism for saying Long had had “a really bad day” and “this is what he did”. Reynolds released a statement on Thursday acknowledging that some of Baker’s comments stirred “much debate and anger” and said the agency regretted any “heartache” caused by his words.

“Inasmuch as his words were taken or construed as insensitive or inappropriate, they were not intended to disrespect any of the victims, the gravity of this tragedy or express empathy or sympathy for the suspect,” Reynolds said in a statement, adding that Baker “had a difficult task before him, and this was one of the hardest in his 28 years in law enforcement”.

In response to the shootings, the White House announced that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were canceling a political event in Atlanta on Friday as part of their Help is Here tour to promote the administration’s $1.9tn coronavirus relief package. Instead, they will spend their visit meeting with local leaders and elected officials from the city’s Asian American and Pacific Islander community.

Biden on Thursday ordered flags at the White House and all federal buildings to be flown at half-staff through sunset on Monday to honor the eight victims of the Atlanta spa shootings.

At the hearing on Capitol Hill, Meng was joined by experts and advocates who told the panel that the rising tide of anti-Asian bigotry was fueled in part by rhetoric from Donald Trump and his allies, who referred to Covid-19 as the “China virus” the “China plague” and the “kung flu”.

A student who wished to remain anonymous, holds a sign that reads “hate has no place” during the We Are Not Silent rally organized by the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Coalition Against Hate and Bias in Bellevue, Washington on March 18, 2021.
A student holds a sign at the We Are Not Silent rally organized by the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Coalition Against Hate and Bias in Bellevue, Washington, on Thursday. Photograph: Jason Redmond/AFP/Getty Images

Nearly 3,800 hate incidents, spanning the spectrum of verbal harassment to physical assault, have been reported against Asian Americans nationwide since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, according to Stop AAPI Hate. Asian American women reported nearly twice as many incidents as men, at nearly 70%.

During the hearing, the subcommittee chairman, Steve Cohen, recounted a number of brutal incidents that included a Filipino man being slashed across the face with a box cutter and an 89-year-old Asian American woman being lit on fire.

“All the pandemic did was exacerbate latent anti-Asian prejudices that have a long, long and ugly history in America,” he said.

In a particularly impassioned exchange, Meng confronted one of the panel’s Republican members, the Texas congressman Chip Roy, who said, after a lengthy exhortation of China’s handling of the coronavirus, that he was concerned the hearing amounted to a “policing” of free speech.

“Your president and your party and your colleagues can talk about issues with any other country that you want,” Meng said through tears. “But you don’t have to do it by putting a bullseye on the back of Asian Americans across this country, on our grandparents, on our kids.”

“This hearing was to address the hurt and pain of our community, to find solutions – and we will not let you take our voice away from us,” she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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