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Covid-19 Global Death Toll Nears 3 Million

The world’s Covid-19 death toll is approaching yet another once unthinkable number — nearly three million people have died from the virus since the first cases surfaced more than 14 months ago and upended life for people across the globe.

The global death toll stands at 2,990,993, while the number of confirmed coronavirus cases has surged to nearly 140 million, according to a New York Times database, as countries race to provide enough vaccines to slow the relentless pace of infections.

The pace of deaths has been accelerating. The world did not record one million deaths until Sept. 28, but had recorded two million by Feb. 21, less than five months later. And the latest million took under two months.

The United States, Brazil and Mexico lead the world in Covid-19 deaths.

In the United States, more than 564,800 virus-related deaths have been confirmed, about one in 567 people — the most of any other country.

Brazil, where the spread of the virus has been fueled by a highly contagious variant, political infighting and distrust of science, more than 365,000 people have died. The virus is still pummeling the country, which is averaging over 2,900 deaths per day.

The leaders of both countries, which are the region’s two largest nations, have largely dismissed the dangers and have resisted calls for a lockdown.

India, the country with the fourth-highest number of total coronavirus deaths, has recorded more than 174,300 deaths. The virus is surging there once again, prompting more shutdowns and another mass migration away from big cities.

Britain recently ended one of the longest and most stringent lockdowns in the world — more than 127,100 deaths have been recorded. And in Italy, once the nightmarish epicenter of the virus, there have been almost 116,000 confirmed deaths.

Sweden, where officials have taken a more lax approach to combating the coronavirus, has experienced an increase in new cases and deaths recently, with more than 13,700 deaths.

As dangerous virus variants spread, many developed countries are racing to vaccinate their populations as fast as possible. More than 841 million vaccine doses have been administered worldwide, though some countries have yet to report a single dose, according to a New York Times database that tracks the worldwide rollout of shots.

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How Mario Draghi Has Made Italy a Power Player in Europe

ROME — The European Union was stumbling through a Covid-19 vaccine rollout marred by shortages and logistical bungling in late March when Mario Draghi took matters into his own hands. The new Italian prime minister seized a shipment of vaccines destined for Australia — and along with them, an opportunity to show that a new, aggressive and potent force had arrived in the European bloc.

The move shook up a Brussels leadership that had seemed to be asleep at the switch. Within weeks, in part from his pressing and engineering behind the scenes, the European Union had authorized even broader and harsher measures to curb exports of Covid-19 vaccines badly needed in Europe. The Australia experiment, as officials in Brussels and Italy call it, was a turning point, both for Europe and Italy.

It also demonstrated that Mr. Draghi, renowned as the former European Central Bank president who helped save the euro, was prepared to lead Europe from behind, where Italy has found itself for years, lagging behind its European partners in economic dynamism and much-needed reforms.

In his short time in office — he took power in February after a political crisis — Mr. Draghi has quickly leveraged his European relationships, his skill in navigating E.U. institutions and his nearly messianic reputation to make Italy a player on the continent in a way it has not been in decades.

denied her a chair, rather than a sofa, during a visit to Turkey last week, saying he was “very sorry for the humiliation.”

In his debut in a European meeting as Italy’s prime minister in February, Mr. Draghi, 73, made it clear that he was not there to cheerlead. He told an economic summit including heavy hitters like his European Central Bank successor, Christine Lagarde, to “curb your enthusiasm” when it came to talk about a closer fiscal union.

That sort of union is Mr. Draghi’s long-term ambition. But before he can get anywhere near that, or tackle deep economic problems at home, those around him say Mr. Draghi is keenly aware that his priority needs to be solving Europe’s response to the pandemic.

Italian officials say his distance from the contract negotiations, which were completed before he took office, gave him a freedom to act. He suggested that AstraZeneca had misled the bloc about its supply of vaccine, selling Europe the same doses two or three times, and he immediately zeroed in on an export ban.

“He understood straightaway that the issue was vaccinations and the problem was supplies,” said Lia Quartapelle, a member of Parliament in charge of foreign affairs for Italy’s Democratic Party.

On Feb. 25, he joined a European Council videoconference with Ms. von der Leyen and other European Union leaders. The heads of state warmly welcomed him. “We owe you so much,” Bulgaria’s prime minister told him.

Then Ms. von der Leyen gave an optimistic slide presentation about Europe’s vaccine rollout. But the new member of the club bluntly told Ms. von der Leyen that he found her vaccine forecast “hardly reassuring” and that he didn’t know whether the numbers promised by AstraZeneca could be trusted, according to an official present at the meeting.

He implored Brussels to get tougher and go faster.

Ms. Merkel joined him in scrutinizing Ms. von der Leyen’s numbers, which put the Commission president, a former German defense minister, on the back foot. Mr. Macron, who had championed Ms. von der Leyen’s nomination but quickly formed a strategic alliance with Mr. Draghi, piled on. He urged Brussels, which had negotiated the vaccine contracts on behalf of its members, to “put pressure on corporations not complying.”

At the time, Ms. von der Leyen was coming under withering criticism in Germany for her perceived weakness on the vaccine issue, even as her own commissioners argued that responding too aggressively with a vaccine export ban could hurt the bloc down the road.

Mr. Draghi, with his direct talk during the February meeting, tightened the screws. So did Mr. Macron, who has emerged as his partner — the two are dubbed “Dracon” by the Germans — pushing for a more muscular Europe.

Behind the scenes, Mr. Draghi complemented his more public hard line with a courting campaign. The Italian, who is known to privately call European leaders and pharmaceutical chief executives on their cellphones, reached out to Ms. von der Leyen.

Of all the players in Europe, he knew her the least well, according to European Commission and Italian officials, and he wanted to remedy that and make sure she did not feel isolated.

Then, in early March, as shortages of AstraZeneca’s Covid vaccine continued to disrupt Europe’s rollout and increase public frustration and political pressure, Mr. Draghi found the perfect gift for Ms. von der Leyen: 250,000 doses of seized AstraZeneca vaccine earmarked for Australia.

“He told me that in the days before he was on the phone a lot with von der Leyen,” said Ms. Quartapelle, who spoke with Mr. Draghi the day after the shipment freeze. “He worked a lot with von der Leyen to convince her.”

The move was appreciated in Brussels, according to officials in the Commission, because it took the onus off Ms. von der Leyen and gave her political cover while simultaneously allowing her to seem tough for signing off on it.

The episode has become a clear example of how Mr. Draghi builds relationships with the potential to yield big payoffs not only for himself and Italy, but all of Europe.

On March 25, when the Commission became suspicious over 29 million AstraZeneca doses in a warehouse outside Rome, Ms. von der Leyen called Mr. Draghi for help, officials with knowledge of the calls said. He obliged, and the police were quickly dispatched.

In the meantime, Mr. Draghi and Mr. Macron, joined by Spain and others, continued to support a harder line from the Commission on vaccine exports. The Netherlands was against it, and Germany, with a vibrant pharmaceutical market, was queasy.

When the European leaders met again in a video conference on March 25, Ms. von der Leyen seemed more confident in the political and pragmatic advantages of halting exports of Covid vaccines made in the European Union. She again presented slides, this time authorizing a broader six-week curb on exports from the bloc, and Mr. Draghi stepped back into a supportive role.

“Let me thank you for all the work that has been done,” he said.

After the meeting, Mr. Draghi, however modestly, gave Italy — and by extension himself — credit for the steps allowing export bans. “This is more or less the discussion that took place,” he told reporters, “because this was the issue originally raised by us.”

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In India, a Second Wave of Covid-19 Prompts a New Exodus

NEW DELHI — As dawn broke over Mumbai, India, on Wednesday, Kaleem Ansari sat among a crowd of thousands outside the central rail station waiting for his train to pull in. Mr. Ansari, a factory worker, carried old clothes in his backpack and 200 rupees — not quite $3 — in his pocket.

His factory, which makes sandals, had just closed. Mumbai was locking down as a second wave of the coronavirus rippled through India. Mr. Ansari, originally from a small village nearly a thousand miles away, had been in Mumbai a year ago when it first went into lockdown, and he had vowed not to suffer through another one.

“I remember what happened last time,” he said. “I just have to get out of here.”

Cities in India are once again locking down to fight Covid-19 — and workers are once again pouring out and heading back home to rural areas, which health experts fear could accelerate the spread of the virus and devastate poorly equipped villages, as it did last time. Thousands are fleeing hot spots in cities as India hits another record, with more than 184,000 daily new infections reported on Wednesday. Bus stations are packed. Crowds are growing at railway stations.

And in at least some of their destinations, according to local officials and migrants who have already made the journey, they are arriving in places hardly ready to test arrivals and quarantine the sick.

one of the world’s toughest national lockdowns, eliminating millions of jobs virtually overnight. That lockdown fueled the most disruptive migration across the Indian subcontinent since it was split in two between India and Pakistan in 1947. Tens of millions of lowly paid migrant workers and their families fled cities by train, bus, cargo truck, bicycle, even by blistered feet to reach home villages hundreds of miles away, where the cost of living was cheaper and they could help and be helped by loved ones.

Hundreds died on the sweltering highways. Even more died back home. The migration also played a significant role in spreading the virus, as local officials in remote districts reported that they were swamped with the sick.

iron frames on which the bodies are placed have melted. In Chhattisgarh, a rural state in central India, morgues have overflowed with decomposing corpses.

With the virus closing in, many people have decided to flee.

“I didn’t want to get sick all alone,” said Ajay Kumar, a vendor of mobile phone covers, who left Bangalore this past weekend for a village in Jharkhand State. “In Bangalore, the cases are increasing. And my wife said, ‘Business is not so good. Why don’t you come back?’”

“At least we are together,” Mr. Kumar said.

The full scope of India’s ability to monitor the migration is not clear. But in some places, the sudden rush of migrants appears to be taking local officials by surprise. The lack of preparations seems to mirror the larger sense that this country, whether because of fatigue or familiarity, has been more nonchalant during this second wave than it was during the first one.

Covid-19 positivity rate recently hit 30 percent — are simply stepping off trains or buses and walking into their communities, said Nafees Ahmad Sheikh, a cafe worker who left Mumbai last week, and two other recent arrivals.

Mr. Sheikh left after rumors of an impending lockdown began spreading. He said that the train he took had been packed with migrant workers and with people traveling for a short festival period. Some migrant workers had locked themselves in the train’s bathroom to avoid paying for the tickets because they had run out of money.

“The rich can deal with another lockdown, but what will the poor do?” Mr. Sheikh said. He said he would rather die in his home village than in a city “that treats us like disposable items.”

Some officials said that migrants arriving at railway stations were subjected to temperature checks and that those who were symptomatic were sent for further testing or to quarantine centers. But one official said that few of the centers were actually functioning because many of the contractors who set them up last year still have not been paid and did not want to get involved again.

Chanchal Kumar, an official in the office of Bihar’s chief minister, said that infections “started increasing after workers started coming back.”

“Each passing day, we are trying to minimize the damage,” he said.

India’s central government is sending mixed messages. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has an enormous bully pulpit, last year asked Indians to stay indoors. The roads cleared and a stunning hush descended over the nation of 1.4 billion. When Mr. Modi asked people to stand on their porches and bang pots and pans in solidarity with health care workers, they did that as well.

So far, only about 8 percent have been vaccinated. Only this week did the government authorize the use of imported shots. Until then, the government had been relying on two domestically produced vaccines in rapidly dwindling supply.

Few of the migrants are talking about vaccines. They just want to get home.

At Mumbai’s central train station on Wednesday morning, Mr. Ansari waited anxiously for his train. This time, the city had not yet shut off public transportation.

Last time it did. Mr. Ansari said that he had run out of money and had been constantly beaten by the police when he ventured out to look for food. He went down to eating one small bowl of rice a day, he said, and feared that he would starve.

“I don’t even like talking about what happened last time,” he said. “Nobody cares about us, either here or there.”

Karan Deep Singh contributed reporting.

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National Endowment for the Humanities Announces New Grants

The New York Botanical Garden, the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis and the Judd Foundation in Marfa, Texas, are among 225 beneficiaries of new grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities that were announced on Wednesday.

The grants, which total $24 million, will support projects at museums, libraries, universities and historic sites in 45 states, as well as in Washington and Puerto Rico. They will enable the excavation of a newly discovered ancient Egyptian brewery by researchers from New York University, the implementation of a traveling exhibition honoring Emmett Till’s legacy at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, and research for a biography of the congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis by David Greenberg, a professor at Rutgers University.

Adam Wolfson, the endowment’s acting chairman, said in a statement that the new projects “embody excellence, intellectual rigor and a dedication to the pursuit of knowledge, even as our nation and the humanities community continue to face the challenges of the pandemic.”

As part of a new grant program in archaeology and ethnography, seven of the awards will support empirical field research, including the excavation of the ancient city of Teotihuacan in central Mexico and the investigation of settlement and migration patterns on the Micronesian islands of Pohnpei and Kosrae.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art will receive a grant to produce an exhibition, “Dining With the Sultan,” that features art depicting Islamic courtly dining culture and culinary traditions from the eighth through the 19th centuries. And at California State University’s Fullerton campus, a team will use Bob Damron’s Address Books, a prominent travel directory used by L.G.B.T.Q. Americans in the late 20th century, to create interactive maps and visualizations.

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China Poses Biggest Threat to U.S., Intelligence Report Says

This year’s report offers a far more robust discussion of the national security implications of climate change, whose threats, for the most part, are long term, but can also have short-term consequences, the report said.

“This year, we will see increasing potential for surges in migration by Central American populations, which are reeling from the economic fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic and extreme weather, including multiple hurricanes in 2020 and several years of recurring droughts and storms,” the report said.

It adds that the economic and political implications of the coronavirus would reverberate for years, predicting that the economic damage would worsen instability in a few countries, though it does not name them.

Combined with extreme weather caused by climate change, the report says the number of people worldwide experiencing acute hunger will rise to 330 million this year from 135 million. The report says that the pandemic has disrupted other health services, including polio vaccinations and H.I.V. treatments in Africa.

Typically, the director of national intelligence delivers the threat assessment to Congress and releases a written report alongside it. But no declassified assessment was issued last year, as the Trump administration’s intelligence agencies sought to avoid angering the White House.

In 2019, Dan Coats, then the director of national intelligence, delivered an analysis of threats from Iran, North Korea and the Islamic State that was at odds with President Donald J. Trump’s views. The testimony prompted Mr. Trump to lash out on Twitter, admonishing his intelligence chiefs to “go back to school.”

Avril D. Haines, the director of national intelligence; William J. Burns, the C.I.A. director; and other top intelligence officials will testify about the report on Wednesday and Thursday.

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The Next Level in Office Amenities: Wild Horses

STOREY COUNTY, Nev. — You can’t ride the wild mustangs at the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center in Nevada, but you’re nearly guaranteed to see bands of them loping over sagebrush in a scene that feels straight out of the 1800s.

At least until the dust clears and Tesla’s 5.3-million-square-foot “Gigafactory” comes into focus.

Welcome to the Silver State, where Elon Musk, a cryptocurrency tycoon and a brothel owner are using a symbol of Americana as a social media recruiting tool.

The water cooler used to be the spot in the office to talk shop. Then came on-site cafes, fitness and yoga studios, rooftop gardens, fire pits and rock-climbing walls. “The overarching trend of the last five years has been the hotelification of the office,” said Lenny Beaudoin, an executive managing director at CBRE.

For employers, the newest amenities to wow workers are ideological, with environmental commitments topping the list, said Jason H. Somers, the president of Crest Real Estate, a Southern California real estate consultancy.

progress by corporate giants, but most efforts remain so opaque that it’s tough to spot greenwashing, the use of sustainability efforts to appear more attractive.

Embracing high environmental standards can be challenging and expensive. Some companies pay others to reduce emissions. Others plant trees, which can take years to grow and rely heavily on water and care.

Tesla used a $1.3 billion state tax break to build its $5 billion factory, tapping into a local work force still reeling from the Great Recession and ushering in a wave of Silicon Valley heavies. Switch, a technology infrastructure company, set up three data centers, then Google gobbled up 1,200 acres. Blockchains bought 67,000 acres for $170 million in 2018, becoming the park’s biggest tenant.

hoped to transform the expanse into an experimental city run by his encrypted digital systems. He pledged to build 15,000 homes, turning it into a huge innovation zone, with his company overseeing everything from schools to courts, law and water.

“I want this to become the greatest social experiment in the history of the world,” he said. “It’s going to be a cross between Disneyland and the chocolate factory from Willy Wonka.”

He’ll have to rethink the scope: In March, the county voted against the secession plan.

Mr. Berns says he plans to develop around 25,000 of his 67,000 acres, but for now, it will remain an outpost for wild horses.

Nevada is home to more than half of the country’s 95,000 wild horses and burros, descendants of animals brought to the continent by Spanish conquistadors in the 1500s. Managed by the federal Bureau of Land Management to the tune of about $100 million annually, wild horses live on protected and private land crisscrossed by freeways.

Wild Horse Connection, an advocacy group. “Horses in traffic, on the wrong side of fencing, vehicular, train accidents, sick or ill horses.”

Rescues triple once mares start foaling, said Ms. Vance, whose annual budget is about $100,000, including small donations from the office park and tenants. She says further expansion depletes open spaces and decreases grazing areas.

“Horses have migration patterns, and when a development comes in, it cuts that off and there’s more interactions with people,” she said.

One solution is humane horse fertility so the animals, which can spend up to 16 hours a day eating, don’t overpopulate and overgraze.

American Wild Horse Campaign, has worked with the office park since 2012, spending more than $200,000 on fertility control, water and feeding in the last three years.

“Development displaces wildlife,” she said. Water stations help, she said, as does an underground crossing built by Switch.

But the horses will not offset the park’s overall carbon footprint, said Simon Fischweicher, the North American head of corporations and supply chains at CDP. Tenants like Tesla, whose lithium-ion batteries are costly to mine and nearly impossible to recycle, require a lot of energy.

Switch is installing its own solar panels, and there are two green fuel plants on site, but distribution and data centers use large amounts of water for heating and cooling, and “supply chain emissions are on average 11.4 times higher than operational emissions,” Mr. Fischweicher said.

Others question the need to use the horses as a lure. Mr. Thompson says most of the roughly 25,000 workers at the office park are blue-collar Nevadans living within an hour commute. They’re here for jobs, not because of horses.

Growth for the industrial park means luring workers from out of state, expanding limited housing nearby and developing more land — all of which jeopardize the wildlife incentive.

“Quality of food, retail choices and housing are going to shape those decisions more than having wild horses nearby,” Mr. Beaudoin of CBRE said. “I would never bet against someone like Elon Musk, but there are other factors to attract workers.”

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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.

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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Biden Details $1.52 Trillion Spending Proposal to Fund Discretionary Priorities

WASHINGTON — President Biden outlined 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 proposal 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 document the White House will release this spring. And it does not reflect the spending called for in Mr. Biden’s infrastructure plan or other efforts he has yet to roll out, which are aimed at workers and families.

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.

Democratic leaders in Congress hailed the plan on Friday and suggested they would incorporate it into government spending bills for the 2022 fiscal year. The plan “proposes long overdue and historic investments in jobs, worker training, schools, food security, infrastructure and housing,” said Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the chairman of the Appropriations Committee.

Shalanda D. Young, who is serving as Mr. Biden’s acting budget director, told congressional leaders that the discretionary spending process would be an “important opportunity to continue laying a stronger foundation for the future and reversing a legacy of chronic disinvestment in crucial priorities.”

The administration is focusing on education spending in particular, seeing that as a way to help children escape poverty. Mr. Biden asked Congress to bolster funding to high-poverty schools by $20 billion, which it describes as the largest year-over-year increase to the Title I program since its inception under President Lyndon B. Johnson. The program provides funding for schools that have high numbers of students from low-income families, most often by providing remedial programs and support staff.

The plan also seeks billions of dollars in increases to early-childhood education, to programs serving students with disabilities and to efforts to staff schools with nurses, counselors and mental health professionals — described as an attempt to help children recover from the pandemic, but also a longstanding priority for teachers’ unions.

Mr. Biden heralded the education funding in remarks to reporters at the White House. “The data shows that it puts a child from a household that is a lower-income household in a position if they start school — not day care — but school at 3 and 4 years old, there’s overwhelming evidence that they will compete all the way through high school and beyond,” he said.

There is no talk in the plans of tying federal dollars to accountability measures for teachers and schools, as they often were under President Barack Obama.

his vision of having every cabinet chief, whether they are military leaders, diplomats, fiscal regulators or federal housing planners, charged with incorporating climate change into their missions.

The proposal aims to embed climate programs into agencies that are not usually seen as at the forefront of tackling global warming, like the Agriculture and Labor Departments. That money would be in addition to clean energy spending in Mr. Biden’s proposed infrastructure legislation, which would pour about $500 billion on programs such as increasing electric vehicle production and building climate-resilient roads and bridges.

Strategic National Stockpile, the country’s emergency medical reserve, for supplies and efforts to restructure it that began last year. Nearly $7 billion would create an agency meant to research diseases like cancer and diabetes.

Reporting was contributed by Coral Davenport, Zolan Kanno-Youngs, Lisa Friedman, Brad Plumer, Christopher Flavelle, Mark Walker, Dana Goldstein, Mark Walker, Noah Weiland, Margot Sanger-Katz, Lara Jakes, Noam Scheiber, Katie Benner and Emily Cochrane.

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With the U.S. Asylum System Closed to Many, Some Find Sanctuary in Mexico

MEXICO CITY — Record numbers of asylum seekers are applying for sanctuary in Mexico — some after arriving at the southwest border of the United States hoping to find a safe haven under President Biden, but hitting a closed door.

In March, the Mexican government received asylum petitions from more than 9,000 people, the highest monthly tally ever, officials said. And they predicted that the surging demand, evident in recent month, would continue, possibly reaching a total of 90,000 asylum requests by the end of the year, which would also be an all-time high.

The soaring numbers of asylum petitions in Mexico are in part a reflection of the turmoil at the American border, where the Biden administration is struggling to deal with a surge in undocumented migration and has prevented many asylum seekers from presenting their cases to immigration officials.

Mexico has also become an increasingly attractive destination in its own right for refugees, who have generally found asylum easier to achieve in Mexico than in the United States. Some have also been drawn by the opportunity to reunite with family and friends, and by possibilities of work and a degree of safety that they lacked at home.

has become a more attractive destination for migrants.

Mr. Trump accelerated this process with aggressive efforts to restrict both legal and illegal immigration, including strategies to discourage asylum seekers by making it more difficult for them to secure sanctuary. Among those efforts was a widely criticized policy called Migration Protection Protocols, or M.P.P., that forced those seeking asylum in the United States to wait in Mexico while their cases were processed in American courts.

slowdown in global migration, the number of asylum petitioners dropped to about 41,200 last year. But in the past several months, the volume has risen sharply once again.

This spike has dovetailed with a surge of migrants to the southwest border of the United States driven in part by economic misery that has deepened during the pandemic, two devastating hurricanes that wrecked swaths of Central America and an abiding hope, sometimes fostered by smugglers, that the new administration in Washington would loosen restrictions at the border.

But many migrants and refugees have arrived in Mexico only to find that access to the United States is not as easy as they were led to believe.

are being detained, processed and released into the U.S.

But American officials have continued to use an emergency rule, implemented by the Trump administration, to rapidly expel single adults, who have made up the majority of those caught at the border. Migrants’ advocates say the use of the rule has blocked many asylum seekers from applying for sanctuary.

Once again a tent encampment has cropped up near an official crossing in Tijuana, sheltering migrants hoping for a chance to present their cases to the American authorities.

Fray Matías Human Rights Center, a migrants’ advocacy group in the southern city of Tapachula. “It’s not a second option.”

Some refugees inclined to stay in Mexico are seeking to reunify with relatives and friends who arrived earlier and put down roots, said Mr. Ramírez, director of the Mexican asylum agency, the Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance, or Comar.

Some are also drawn by Mexico’s enormous demand for low-income labor, a need that the government has advertised.

“If they compare the type of life they have in their own countries, at the end of the day they have it better here,” in Mexico, Mr. Ramírez said.

And the country’s approval rate for asylum is high: During the first three months of this year it reached 73 percent, with another 7 percent receiving other sorts of humanitarian protection.

Hondurans — fleeing a toxic mixture of economic distress, government corruption and ineptitude, violence and natural disasters — have been far and away the single largest population of asylum seekers in Mexico since 2019. Approval rates for Honduran petitions concluded during the first three months of this year hit 86 percent.

“We don’t know if it’s their first or their second intention” to remain in Mexico, Mr. Ramírez said of asylum petitioners. “What we can tell you is that more and more people are coming to us.”

The historic number of people filing new asylum petitions in March came despite a decision by the Mexican government last month to close the nation’s southern border to nonessential traffic. The continuing flows of refugees arriving from the south has further exposed the extreme porousness of that border and, migration experts say, the weakness of Mexico’s immigration enforcement efforts.

“These are people who clearly don’t want to go back home,” said Cris Ramón, an immigration consultant based in Washington. “And they’re going to find a mechanism to stay in Mexico or in the United States.”

Oscar Lopez and Natalie Kitroeff contributed reporting

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