WASHINGTON — When the nation’s antitrust laws were created more than a century ago, they were aimed at taking on industries such as Big Oil.
But technology giants like Amazon, Facebook, Google and Apple, which dominate e-commerce, social networks, online advertising and search, have risen in ways unforeseen by the laws. In recent decades, the courts have also interpreted the rules more narrowly.
On Monday, a pair of rulings dismissing federal and state antitrust lawsuits against Facebook renewed questions about whether the laws were suited to taking on tech power. A federal judge threw out the federal suit because, he said, the Federal Trade Commission had not supported its claims that Facebook holds a dominant market share, and he said the states had waited too long to make their case.
The decisions underlined how cautious and conservative courts could slow an increasingly aggressive push by lawmakers, regulators and the White House to restrain the tech companies, fueling calls for Congress to revamp the rules and provide regulators with more legal tools to take on the tech firms.
David Cicilline, a Democrat of Rhode Island, said the country needed a “massive overhaul of our antitrust laws and significant updates to our competition system” to police the biggest technology companies.
Moments later, Representative Ken Buck, a Colorado Republican, agreed. He called for lawmakers to adapt antitrust laws to fit the business models of Silicon Valley companies.
This week’s rulings have now put the pressure on lawmakers to push through a recently proposed package of legislation that would rewrite key aspects of monopoly laws to make some of the tech giants’ business practices illegal.
“This is going to strengthen the case for legislation,” said Herbert Hovenkamp, an antitrust expert at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. “It seems to be proof that the antitrust laws are not up to the challenge.”
introduced this month and passed the House Judiciary Committee last week. The bills would make it harder for the major tech companies to buy nascent competitors and to give preference to their own services on their platforms, and ban them from using their dominance in one business to gain the upper hand in another.
including Lina Khan, a scholar whom President Biden named this month to run the F.T.C. — have argued that a broader definition of consumer welfare, beyond prices, should be applied. Consumer harm, they have said, can also be evident in reduced product quality, like Facebook users suffering a loss of privacy when their personal data is harvested and used for targeted ads.
In one of his rulings on Monday, Judge James E. Boasberg of U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia said Facebook’s business model had made it especially difficult for the government to meet the standard for going forward with the case.
The government, Judge Boasberg said, had not presented enough evidence that Facebook held monopoly power. Among the difficulties he highlighted was that Facebook did not charge its users for access to its site, meaning its market share could not be assessed through revenue. The government had not found a good alternative measure to make its case, he said.
He also ruled against another part of the F.T.C.’s lawsuit, concerning how Facebook polices the use of data generated by its product, while citing the kind of conservative antitrust doctrine that critics say is out of step with the technology industry’s business practices.
The F.T.C., which brought the federal antitrust suit against Facebook in December, can file a new complaint that addresses the judge’s concerns within 30 days. State attorneys general can appeal Judge Boasberg’s second ruling dismissing a similar case.
fined Facebook $5 billion in 2019 for privacy violations, there were few significant changes to how the company’s products operate. And Facebook continues to grow: More than 3.45 billion people use one or more of its apps — including WhatsApp, Instagram or Messenger — every month.
The decisions were particularly deflating after actions to rein in tech power in Washington had gathered steam. Ms. Khan’s appointment to the F.T.C. this month followed that of Tim Wu, another lawyer who has been critical of the industry, to the National Economic Council. Bruce Reed, the president’s deputy chief of staff, has called for new privacy regulation.
Mr. Biden has yet to name anyone to permanently lead the Justice Department’s antitrust division, which last year filed a lawsuit arguing Google had illegally protected its monopoly over online search.
The White House is also expected to issue an executive order this week targeting corporate consolidation in tech and other areas of the economy. A spokesman for the White House did not respond to requests for comment about the executive order or Judge Boasberg’s rulings.
Activists and lawmakers said this week that Congress should not wait to give regulators more tools, money and legal red lines to use against the tech giants. Mr. Cicilline, along with Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said in a statement that the judge’s decisions on Facebook show “the dire need to modernize our antitrust laws to address anticompetitive mergers and abusive conduct in the digital economy.”
Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat of Minnesota who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on antitrust, echoed their call.
“After decades of binding Supreme Court decisions that have weakened our antitrust policies, we cannot rely on our courts to keep our markets competitive, open and fair,” she said in a statement. “We urgently need to rejuvenate our antitrust laws to meet the challenges of the modern digital economy.”
But the six bills to update monopoly laws have a long way to go. They still need to pass the full House, where they will likely face criticism from moderate Democrats and libertarian Republicans. In the Senate, Republican support is necessary for them to overcome the legislative filibuster.
The bills may also not go as far in altering antitrust laws as some hope. The House Judiciary Committee amended one last week to reinforce the standard around consumer welfare.
Even so, Monday’s rulings have given the proposals a boost. Bill Baer, who led the Justice Department antitrust division during the Obama administration, said it “gives tremendous impetus to those in Congress who believe that the courts are too conservative in addressing monopoly power.”
Facebook and the tech platforms might like the judge’s decisions, he said, “but they might not like what happens in the Congress.”
Sarah Cavey, a real estate agent in Denver, was thrilled last fall when Colorado introduced an app to warn people of possible coronavirus exposures.
Based on software from Apple and Google, the state’s smartphone app uses Bluetooth signals to detect users who come into close contact. If a user later tests positive, the person can anonymously notify other app users whom the person may have crossed paths with in restaurants, on trains or elsewhere.
Ms. Cavey immediately downloaded the app. But after testing positive for the virus in February, she was unable to get the special verification code she needed from the state to warn others, she said, even after calling Colorado’s health department three times.
“They advertise this app to make people feel good,” Ms. Cavey said, adding that she had since deleted the app, called CO Exposure Notifications, in frustration. “But it’s not really doing anything.”
announced last year that they were working together to create a smartphone-based system to help stem the virus, their collaboration seemed like a game changer. Human contact tracers were struggling to keep up with spiking virus caseloads, and the trillion-dollar rival companies — whose systems run 99 percent of the world’s smartphones — had the potential to quickly and automatically alert far more people.
Soon Austria, Switzerland and other nations introduced virus apps based on the Apple-Google software, as did some two dozen American states, including Alabama and Virginia. To date, the apps have been downloaded more than 90 million times, according to an analysis by Sensor Tower, an app research firm.
But some researchers say the companies’ product and policy choices limited the system’s usefulness, raising questions about the power of Big Tech to set global standards for public health tools.
Stephen Farrell and Doug Leith, computer science researchers at Trinity College in Dublin, wrote in a report in April on Ireland’s virus alert app.
CA Notify in December, about 65,000 people have used the system to alert other app users, the state said.
“Exposure notification technology has shown success,” said Dr. Christopher Longhurst, the chief information officer of UC San Diego Health, which manages California’s app. “Whether it’s hundreds of lives saved or dozens or a handful, if we save lives, that’s a big deal.”
In a joint statement, Apple and Google said: “We’re proud to collaborate with public health authorities and provide a resource — which many millions of people around the world have enabled — that has helped protect public health.”
Let Us Help You Protect Your Digital Life
Based in part on ideas developed by Singapore and by academics, Apple and Google’s system incorporated privacy protections that gave health agencies an alternative to more invasive apps. Unlike virus-tracing apps that continuously track users’ whereabouts, the Apple and Google software relies on Bluetooth signals, which can estimate the distance between smartphones without needing to know people’s locations. And it uses rotating ID codes — not real names — to log app users who come into close contact for 15 minutes or more.
said last year in a video promoting the country’s alert system, called Corona-Warn-App.
But the apps never received the large-scale efficacy testing typically done before governments introduce public health interventions like vaccines. And the software’s privacy features — which prevent government agencies from identifying app users — have made it difficult for researchers to determine whether the notifications helped hinder virus transmission, said Michael T. Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.
“The apps played virtually no role at all in our being able to investigate outbreaks that occurred here,” Dr. Osterholm said.
Some limitations emerged even before the apps were released. For one thing, some researchers note, exposure notification software inherently excludes certain vulnerable populations, such as elderly people who cannot afford smartphones. For another thing, they say, the apps may send out false alarms because the system is not set up to incorporate mitigation factors like whether users are vaccinated, wearing masks or sitting outside.
Proximity detection in virus alert apps can also be inconsistent. Last year, a study on Google’s system for Android phones conducted on a light-rail tram in Dublin reported that the metal walls, flooring and ceilings distorted Bluetooth signal strength to such a degree that the chance of accurate proximity detection would be “similar to that of triggering notifications by randomly selecting” passengers.
Kimbley Craig, the mayor of Salinas, Calif. Last December, when virus rates there were spiking, she said, she downloaded the state’s exposure notification app on her Android phone and soon after tested positive for Covid-19. But after she entered the verification code, she said, the system failed to send an alert to her partner, whom she lives with and who had also downloaded the app.
“If it doesn’t pick up a person in the same household, I don’t know what to tell you,” Mayor Craig said.
In a statement, Steph Hannon, Google’s senior director of product management for exposure notifications, said that there were “known challenges with using Bluetooth technology to approximate the precise distance between devices” and that the company was continuously working to improve accuracy.
The companies’ policies have also influenced usage trends. In certain U.S. states, for instance, iPhone users can activate the exposure notifications with one click — by simply turning on a feature on their settings — but Android users must download a separate app. As a result, about 9.6 million iPhone users in California had turned on the notifications as of May 10, the state said, far outstripping the 900,000 app downloads on Android phones.
Google said it had built its system for states to work on the widest range of devices and be deployed as quickly as possible.
Some public health experts acknowledged that the exposure alert system was an experiment in which they, and the tech giants, were learning and incorporating improvements as they went along.
One issue they discovered early on: To hinder false alarms, states verify positive test results before a person can send out exposure notifications. But local labs can sometimes take days to send test results to health agencies, limiting the ability of app users to quickly alert others.
In Alabama, for instance, the state’s GuideSafe virus alert app has been downloaded about 250,000 times, according to Sensor Tower. But state health officials said they had been able to confirm the positive test results of only 1,300 app users. That is a much lower number than health officials would have expected, they said, given that more than 10 percent of Alabamians have tested positivefor the coronavirus.
“The app would be a lot more efficient if those processes were less manual and more automated,” said Dr. Scott Harris, who oversees the Alabama Department of Public Health.
Colorado, which automatically issues the verification codes to people who test positive, has reported higher usage rates. And in California, UC San Diego Health has set up a dedicated help line that app users can call if they did not receive their verification codes.
Dr. Longhurst, the medical center’s chief information officer, said the California app had proved useful as part of a larger statewide public health push that also involved mask-wearing and virus testing.
“It’s not a panacea,” he said. But “it can be an effective part of a pandemic response.”
Paul Romer was once Silicon Valley’s favorite economist. The theory that helped him win a Nobel prize — that ideas are the turbocharged fuel of the modern economy — resonated deeply in the global capital of wealth-generating ideas. In the 1990s, Wired magazine called him “an economist for the technological age.” The Wall Street Journal said the tech industry treated him “like a rock star.”
Today, Mr. Romer, 65, remains a believer in science and technology as engines of progress. But he has also become a fierce critic of the tech industry’s largest companies, saying that they stifle the flow of new ideas. He has championed new state taxes on the digital ads sold by companies like Facebook and Google, an idea that Maryland adopted this year.
And he is hard on economists, including himself, for long supplying the intellectual cover for hands-off policies and court rulings that have led to what he calls the “collapse of competition” in tech and other industries.
“Economists taught, ‘It’s the market. There’s nothing we can do,’” Mr. Romer said. “That’s really just so wrong.”
free-market theory. Monopoly or oligopoly seems to be the order of the day.
The relentless rise of the digital giants, they say, requires new thinking and new rules. Some were members of the tech-friendly Obama administration. In congressional testimony and research reports, they are contributing ideas and credibility to policymakers who want to rein in the big tech companies.
Their policy recommendations vary. They include stronger enforcement, giving people more control over their data and new legislation. Many economists support the bill introduced this year by Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota, that would tighten curbs on mergers. The bill would effectively “overrule a number of faulty, pro-defendant Supreme Court cases,” Carl Shapiro, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, and a member of the Council of Economic Advisers in the Obama administration, wrote in a recent presentation to the American Bar Association.
Some economists, notably Jason Furman, a Harvard professor, chair of the Council of Economic Advisers in the Obama administration and adviser to the British government on digital markets, recommend a new regulatory authority to enforce a code of conduct on big tech companies that would include fair access to their platforms for rivals, open technical standards and data mobility.
his Nobel lecture in 2018 prompted him to think about the “progress gap” in America. Progress, he explained, is not just a matter of economic growth, but should also be seen in measures of individual and social well-being.
Mr. Romer pushed the idea that new cities of the developing world should be a blend of government design for basics like roads and sanitation, and mostly let markets take care of the rest. During a short stint as chief economist of the World Bank, he had hoped to persuade the bank to back a new city, without success.
In the big-tech debate, Mr. Romer notes the influence of progressives like Lina Khan, an antitrust scholar at Columbia Law School and a Democratic nominee to the Federal Trade Commission, who see market power itself as a danger and look at its impact on workers, suppliers and communities.
That social welfare perspective is a wider lens that appeals to Mr. Romer and others.
“I’m totally on board with Paul on this,” said Rebecca Henderson, an economist and professor at the Harvard Business School. “We have a much broader problem than one that falls within the confines of current antitrust law.”
Mr. Romer’s specific contribution is a proposal for a progressive tax on digital ads that would apply mainly to the largest internet companies supported by advertising. Its premise is that social networks like Facebook and Google’s YouTube rely on keeping people on their sites as long as possible by targeting them with attention-grabbing ads and content — a business model that inherently amplifies disinformation, hate speech and polarizing political messages.
So that digital ad revenue, Mr. Romer insists, is fair game for taxation. He would like to see the tax nudge the companies away from targeted ads toward a subscription model. But at the least, he said, it would give governments needed tax revenue.
In February, Maryland became the first state to pass legislation that embodies Mr. Romer’s digital ad tax concept. Other states including Connecticut and Indiana are considering similar proposals. Industry groups have filed a court challenge to the Maryland law asserting it is an illegal overreach by the state.
Mr. Romer says the tax is an economic tool with a political goal.
“I really do think the much bigger issue we’re facing is the preservation of democracy,” he said. “This goes way beyond efficiency.”
WASHINGTON — The Biden administration’s efforts to provide $4 billion in debt relief to minority farmers is encountering stiff resistance from banks, which are complaining that the government initiative to pay off the loans of borrowers who have faced decades of financial discrimination will cut into their profits and hurt investors.
The debt relief was approved as part of the $1.9 trillion stimulus package that Congress passed in March and was intended to make amends for the discrimination that Black and other nonwhite farmers have faced from lenders and the United States Department of Agriculture over the years. But no money has yet gone out the door.
Instead, the program has become mired in controversy and lawsuits. In April, white farmers who claim that they are victims of reverse discrimination sued the U.S.D.A. over the initiative.
Now, three of the biggest banking groups — the American Bankers Association, the Independent Community Bankers of America and National Rural Lenders Association — are waging their own fight and complaining about the cost of being repaid early.
They also want other investors who bought the loans in the secondary market to get government money that would make up for whatever losses they might incur from the early payoff.
Bank lobbyists, in letters and virtual meetings, have been asking the Agriculture Department to make changes to the repayment program, a U.S.D.A. official said. They are pressing the U.S.D.A. to simply make the loan payments, rather than wipe out the debt all at once. And they are warning of other repercussions, including long-term damage to the U.S.D.A.’s minority lending program.
In a letter sent last month to Tom Vilsack, the agriculture secretary, the banks suggested that they might be more reluctant to extend credit if the loans were quickly repaid, leaving minority farmers worse off in the long run. The intimation was viewed as a threat by some organizations that represent Black farmers.
they wrote to Mr. Vilsack in April.
The U.S.D.A. has shown no inclination to reverse course. An agency official said that obliging the banks would put an undue burden on taxpayers and that the law did not allow the agency to pay interest costs or reimburse secondary market investors. The agency hopes to be able to begin the debt relief process in the coming weeks, according to the official, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to comment on the program.
The relief legislation that Congress passed in March provided “sums as may be necessary” from the Treasury Department to help minority farmers and ranchers pay off loans granted or guaranteed by the Agriculture Department. Most of the loans are made directly to farmers, but about 12 percent, or 3,078, are made through lenders and guaranteed by the U.S.D.A.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the loan forgiveness provision would cost $4 billion over a decade.
While America’s banks have flourished in the last century, the number of Black-owned farms has declined sharply since 1920, to less than 40,000 today from about a million. Their demise is the result of industry consolidation as well as onerous loan terms and high foreclosure rates.
Black farmers have been frustrated by the delays and say they are angry that banks are demanding additional money, slowing down the debt relief process.
“Look at the two groups: You have the Black men and women who have gone through racism and discrimination and have lost their land and their livelihood,” said Bill Bridgeforth, a farmer in Alabama who is on the board of the National Black Growers Council. “And then you have the American Bankers Association, which represents the wealthiest folks in the land, and they’re whining about the money they could potentially lose.”
John Boyd Jr., president of the National Black Farmers Association, a nonprofit, said he found it upsetting that the banks said little about years of discriminatory lending practices and instead complained about losing profits.
“They’ve never signed on to a letter or supported us to end discrimination, but they were quick to send a letter to the secretary telling him how troublesome it’s going to be for the banks,” Mr. Boyd said. “They need to think about the trouble they’ve caused not working with Black farmers and the foreclosure process and how troublesome that was for us.”
Mr. Boyd urged Mr. Vilsack not to let the debt relief stall.
“It’s planting season and Black farmers and farmers of color really could use this relief,” Mr. Boyd said.
Cornelius Blanding, executive director of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund, said that the letter from the banks appeared to be a veiled threat.
“They are prioritizing profits over people,” Mr. Blanding said, expressing concern that the backlash from banks and white farmers could delay the debt relief. “Debt has been a burden on the back of many farmers and especially farmers of color. Them holding this up really prolongs justice.”
Although the government is paying 120 percent of the outstanding loan amounts to cover additional taxes and fees, banks say that unless they get more, they will be on the losing end of the bailout.
The banking industry groups could not offer an estimate of how much additional money they would need to be satisfied. The Agriculture Department said it would cost tens of millions of dollars to meet the banks’ demands.
In the letter to Mr. Vilsack, the bank lobbyists pointed to one large community bank, which they said had a $200 million portfolio of loans to socially disadvantaged farmers that would lose millions of dollars of net income per year if the loans were quickly paid off. They warned that such a move would “undoubtedly reduce the bank’s ability to retain employees.”
The American Bankers Association defended the request, arguing that lenders have been a lifeline to minority farmers. It said that the matter primarily affects the group’s smaller members that have large portfolios of loans from socially disadvantaged borrowers. Representatives for Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup said that the debt relief program had not been on their radar and that they had not been lobbying against it.
“We recognize the need for U.S.D.A. to carry out this act of Congress, and we support the goal of providing financial relief to socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers,” said Sarah Grano, a spokeswoman for the American Bankers Association. “We believe it would be helpful if the U.S.D.A. implemented this one-time action without causing undue financial harm to the very lenders who have been supporting farmers with much-needed credit.”
Danny Creel, the executive director of the National Rural Lenders Association, said he had no comment. An official from the Independent Community Bankers of America said that the group was not currently considering litigation and that it anticipated that the federal government would find a way to accommodate its requests.
Lawmakers who helped craft the relief legislation have expressed little sympathy for the banks and are pressing the agriculture department to get the money out the door.
Senator Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat, said: “U.S.D.A. should now take this first step toward addressing the agency’s history of discrimination by quickly implementing the law that Congress passed and moving forward without delay to pay off in full all direct and guaranteed loans of Black farmers and other socially disadvantaged farmers.”
The banks are not the only ones who have been fighting the debt relief initiative. A group of white farmers in Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota and Ohio are suing the Agriculture Department, arguing that offering debt relief on the basis of skin color is discriminatory. America First Legal, a group led by the former Trump administration official Stephen Miller, filed a lawsuit making a similar argument in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas this month.
Mr. Vilsack said at a White House press briefing this month that his department would not be deterred by pushback against its plans to help minority farmers.
“I think I have to take you back 20, 30 years, when we know for a fact that socially disadvantaged producers were discriminated against by the United States Department of Agriculture,” Mr. Vilsack said. “So, the American Rescue Plan’s effort is to begin addressing the cumulative effect of that discrimination in terms of socially disadvantaged producers.”
Goldbelly’s growth surpassed its expectations. Sales more than quadrupled last year, and it nearly doubled the number of restaurants on its platform, to 850. That, according to Joe Ariel, its co-founder and C.E.O., was because the company allows restaurants like Di Fara pizzeria in Brooklyn and Parkway Bakery and Tavern in New Orleans to go national: “We’re basically opening up a 3,000-mile radius for restaurants.”
Can that good fortune continue? As in-person dining resumes across the U.S., Ariel concedes that Goldbelly’s phenomenal growth rate last year “is not going to happen forever.” But its newest backers believe that restaurants will keep making online sales part of their businesses. Goldbelly is also counting on maintaining its lead by spending more on marketing, offering livestreamed cooking classes and relying on the loyalty of chefs.
Ariel didn’t deny that the company has its eye on an I.P.O. “In the future, we do want to be a public company,” he told DealBook.
The crypto tax thicket
Cryptocurrency’s rise to prominence is reflected in the latest U.S. tax documents (due today, in case you forgot). This year, a virtual currency question tops Form 1040, the individual income tax return form, right after the personal identifying information. The I.R.S. wants to know: “At any time during 2020, did you receive, sell, send, exchange, or otherwise acquire any financial interest in any virtual currency?”
Yes means no, sort of. If you only bought crypto with “real currency” then you aren’t required to answer “yes,” per the I.R.S. But this guidance is not binding, which means you can’t entirely rely on it. This relatively simple question, which is generating consternation among accountants, reflects the greater state of disarray when it comes to digital asset taxation.
“There’s very limited guidance on crypto,” Michael Meisler, a lawyer who leads EY’s crypto tax center, told DealBook. Basic tax principles apply to digital assets and many concepts translate from the physical to digital realm, but crypto is evolving fast. The approach taxpayers take depends on their tolerance for risk, Meisler said.
Cryptocurrency is property for tax purposes.That means that there is a tax liability for every sale or purchase using crypto, said Amy Kim, the chief policy officer of the Chamber of Digital Commerce, a trade group: “Imagine reporting the gain or loss on every cup of coffee you bought at Starbucks.”
Big Crypto wants the I.R.S. to flip its script. The tax authorities have engaged in an “enforcement-focused approach,” Kim said. “We believe this approach should be reversed — issue practical guidance, then enforce that guidance against those who do not comply.”
THE SPEED READ
Alex Rodriguez and the Jet.com cofounder Marc Lore agreed to buy the N.B.A.’s Minnesota Timberwolves and the W.N.B.A.’s Minnesota Lynx for $1.5 billion. (NYT)
George Soros’s investment fund was among those that scooped up stocks at a steep discount when they were offloaded by Archegos during its implosion. (Bloomberg)
The influential proxy adviser I.S.S. backed three of four candidates for Exxon Mobil’s board put forth by the climate-minded activist investor Engine No. 1. (Bloomberg)
Politics and policy
Rural areas are counting on President Biden’s infrastructure proposal, in particular its expansion of broadband access, to help attract more workers. (NYT)
Proponents of Biden’s planned revival of the International Entrepreneur Rule to grant start-up founders special visas say it will create thousands of new jobs. (Axios)
“The Deadly Toll of Amazon’s Trucking Boom” (The Information)
Goldman Sachs’s online consumer banking unit lost another top executive as its C.F.O., Sherry Ann Mohan, defected to JPMorgan Chase. (CNBC)
Best of the rest
Leslie Moonves, who was fired from CBS in 2018, will receive nothing from the $120 million the company set aside in a potential severance package. (NYT)
Some advice on how to prevent the re-emergence of workplace cliques as people return to the office. (FT)
The publicly traded New Jersey deli with a $100 million market cap that David Einhorn identified as a symptom of irrational markets has fired its C.E.O. (CNBC)
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While some states are offering residents incentives like savings bonds or sports tickets to encourage them to be vaccinated, a few are making a very different pitch: The sooner you get a shot, the sooner the state will fully reopen.
The latest is Oregon, where the governor said on Tuesday that the state’s remaining restrictions would stay in place until at least 70 percent of eligible residents 16 and older had had at least one shot.
“We still have some work to do to reach our 70 percent goal, but I am confident we can get there in June and return Oregon to a sense of normalcy,” said Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat.
Oregon, where 49 percent of residents have had at least one dose, is one of the few states that is explicitly tying lifting its indoor mask requirement to the adult vaccination rate. Michigan, Minnesota and Pennsylvania also are awaiting the 70 percent threshold before moving forward with reopening plans.
said on Wednesday.
at least 80 percent.
President Biden has called for 70 percent of adults to have at least one dose by July 4. Jeffrey Zients, Mr. Biden’s Covid response coordinator, said that the goal should be to achieve some sense of normality by hitting that target. Reaching 70 percent will create “a pattern of decreasing cases, hospitalizations and deaths and take us down to a sustainable low level,” he said this week.
Many of the states that have suffered the worst recent coronavirus outbreaks have seen notable declines both in new cases and in hospitalizations over the last two weeks, according to a New York Times database.
For example, in Michigan, which has had one of the country’s steepest drops, the average number of daily cases sank 45 percent and hospitalizations tumbled 32 percent over that time period, as of Tuesday.
The average number of new cases is also down 30 percent in Minnesota, 38 percent in Pennsylvania and 33 percent in Florida in the past two weeks. In the same three states, hospitalizations are down 20 percent, 27 percent and 11 percent.
The progress for states like Michigan, which recently began to recover from one of its worst stretches in the pandemic, could indicate that vaccinations are beginning to rein in the virus in the United States. Hospitalization data can often lag behind case numbers for a number of reasons.
lower vaccination rates but did not see the same recent spike in case numbers as its northern neighbor.
“I don’t see us having a national surge. We’re not going to be like India. I do think the vaccine levels have surely helped us tremendously in taking that off the table,” Dr. Osterholm said. “But I do think at the state level, where we have substantial populations that need to be vaccinated, we could still see substantial activity.”
the pace of U.S. vaccinations had declined. Nearly all states now have a glut of vaccine doses that could be quickly redirected to adolescents once the Pfizer-BionTech vaccine has been authorized for 12- to 15-year-olds.
President Biden is pursuing a strategy focused on local outreach and expanded accessibility to the vaccine to help reach his goal of at least partly vaccinating 70 percent of Americans by Independence Day.
“If it’s available, if it’s nearby, if it’s convenient, people are getting vaccinated,” Mr. Biden said at the White House on Wednesday, highlighting initiatives like walk-up availability and free Uber and Lyft rides to vaccination sites.
Making it easier to get vaccinated could appeal to the roughly 30 million Americans who say they would get the shot, but have not yet done so for myriad reasons. Local officials and private businesses are also offering a wide range of different incentives, like free subway rides, beer, baseball tickets and cash payouts, to convince more reluctant Americans to get vaccinated.
The changes in the trajectory of the virus in the United States comes as other regions of the world, especially India and Southeast Asia, are getting hit hard. A number of variants are also spreading around the world, and scientists told a U.S. congressional panel on Wednesday that variants will pose a continuing threat to the nation.
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the W.H.O., said on Monday that the world was seeing a plateau in known cases, “but it is an unacceptably high plateau with more than 5.4 million cases and almost 90,000 deaths last week.”
He continued, “Any decline is welcome but we have been here before, over the past year many countries have experienced a declining trend in cases and deaths, have relaxed public health and social measures too quickly, and individuals have let down their guard only for those hard-won gains to be lost.”
At a briefing on Monday, Ned Price, the State Department spokesman, was asked about a tweet by Representative Ilhan Omar, Democrat of Minnesota, who said that the deputy mayor of Jerusalem, in a defense of the proposed evictions, had endorsed “ethnic cleansing.” Mr. Price said the claim was “not something that our analysis supports.”
Some analysts said that even if Mr. Biden shared the assessment that more pressure on Israel’s government would be effective, he might be wary of further exacerbating tensions with Israeli leaders anxious about his top priority in the Middle East: an effort to restore the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, which Mr. Netanyahu and other top Israeli officials have long opposed.
Mr. Biden also took office at a moment of enormous political flux, with Israel in the midst of several failed efforts to form a lasting government and the Palestinians headed toward elections — since postponed, another source of the current unrest — that complicated efforts to devise a clear U.S. policy. Mr. Netanyahu is struggling to hold on to power, and U.S. officials say the influence of Mr. Abbas over Palestinian protests and violence, driven by militants and social media, is close to zero.
Mr. Biden also has memories from his days as vice president of Mr. Obama’s call for an Israeli settlement freeze and territorial concessions, which had little effect on policies over the long term but drew fierce political blowback from Republicans and some Democrats who said Mr. Obama failed to understand Israel’s security needs.
Republicans continue to exploit tensions in the Democratic Party over Israel policy. On Tuesday, Mr. Trump issued a statement charging that Mr. Biden’s “lack of support for Israel is leading to new attacks on our allies.” But it was unclear what support Mr. Trump felt the United States was not providing, given that his own statement of support for Israel’s “right to defend itself” matched Biden administration talking points.
Many Democrats, including Biden officials speaking privately, say that Mr. Trump is a key cause of the current problems. Halie Soifer, the chief executive of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, said that Mr. Trump, who fulsomely supported Mr. Netanyahu’s pro-settlement policies and defied warnings of Palestinian unrest in moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, “was willing to intervene in Israeli domestic politics and elections to pursue his political agenda, regardless of its impact on the region or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
Ms. Soifer said that Mr. Biden deserved credit for being a supporter, during the Obama administration, of Israel’s so-called Iron Dome antirocket system, which has been defending Israeli cities from incoming fire.
Not all teenagers long for the vaccine. Many hate getting shots. Others say that because young people often get milder cases of Covid, why risk a new vaccine?
Patsy Stinchfield, a nurse practitioner who oversees vaccination for Children’s Minnesota, has stark evidence that some cases in young people can be serious. Not only have more children with Covid been admitted to the hospital recently, but its intensive care unit also has Covid patients who are 13, 15, 16 and 17 years old.
The F.D.A.’s new authorization means all those patients would be eligible for the shots, she noted. “If you can prevent your child ending up in the I.C.U. with a safe vaccine, why wouldn’t you ?” she said.
Mr. Quesnel, the East Hartford, Conn., superintendent, said the most powerful message for reaching older adolescents would probably appeal just as much to younger ones. Rather than focusing on the fact that the shot will protect them, he said, they seize on the idea that it will keep them from having to quarantine if they are exposed.
“They’re not so afraid of the health care dangers from Covid but the social losses that come along with it,” he said, adding that 60 percent of his district’s seniors, or about 300 students, got their first dose at a mass vaccination site run by Community Health Center on April 26. “Some of our greatest leverage right now is that social component — ‘You won’t be quarantined.’”
Michael Jackson of North Port, Fla., can’t wait for his 14-year-old son, Devin, to get the vaccine. During the past year, he said, his son’s beloved Little League games went on hiatus and the family had to suspend their regular Sunday suppers with grandparents And Devin, an eighth grader, had to quarantine three times after being exposed to Covid.
The Times’s David Gelles gives DealBook the backstory to his recent front-page article about rising C.E.O. pay during the pandemic.
Companies battered by the pandemic are handing out enormous pay packages to their C.E.O.s, highlighting the sharp divides in a nation on the precipice of an economic boom, but still wracked by steep income inequality.
Executive compensation has, of course, been soaring for decades now. Chief executives of big companies in the U.S. now make, on average, 320 times as much as the typical worker. In 1989, that ratio was 61 to 1.
Read the full story here.
HERE’S WHAT’S HAPPENING
A deep split in pandemic fortunes highlights an uneven global recovery. On one hand: The E.U. could let vaccinated Americans visit this summer, bringing much-needed tourism revenue to the region. (One potential hangup is a rising number of people who aren’t getting their second doses.) On the other: India will receive emergency medical supplies from the U.S. as it reports half of all new Covid-19 cases worldwide.
Netflix had a big night at the Oscars. The streaming company won seven Academy Awards last night, the most of any studio, but again fell short in its quest to win Best Picture. (That went to Disney, whose Searchlight Pictures’ “Nomadland” won the big prize; Disney won five awards over all.) AT&T’s Warner Bros. won three Oscars, while Amazon took home two.
An activist investor steps up its challenge at Exxon Mobil. Engine No. 1 argues in a new presentation that the oil giant faces an “existential business risk” because it is not taking bolder steps to move away from fossil fuels, The Financial Times reports. (Exxon and other major producers are set to report earnings this week.)
Second Chance Business Coalition, which was announced today.
Elon Musk is hosting “S.N.L.” Yes, really. The Tesla chief is scheduled to host “Saturday Night Live” on May 8. (We bet S.E.C. officials will be watching.) John Authers of Bloomberg Opinion has an interesting take on it: The Tesla chief’s antics are doing more to encourage adoption of green technology than any amount of environmentalist scolding.
The ‘massive threat’ in a ‘measly’ Supreme Court case
Today the Supreme Court will hear a case that could upend American politics. It has largely escaped attention because it’s not obviously political at all. “Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Rodriquez” involves a fight over California’s donor disclosure requirements for charities and “may seem like a measly spat over state nonprofit rules,” Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, told DealBook. “But a massive threat lurks within.”
Today in Business
Nonprofits want more donor anonymity. Americans for Prosperity Foundation is a “social welfare” nonprofit arguing that the right to anonymous assembly guaranteed by the First Amendment extends to donor data. Critics say that a ruling in favor of the Koch-funded charity would allow more untraceable money to flow through groups designed to mask the outsize role that a few wealthy players have in American politics. If A.F.P.F. wins, “special interests will have a free pass to rig our democracy from behind a veil of secrecy,” Whitehouse said.
Companies secretly influence politics with “dark money” donations that are deliberately opaque. Basically, some “social welfare” groups are quasi-political yet don’t have the same reporting requirements as explicitly political groups. Similarly, trade groups take corporate donations and pass them on, obscuring the sources.
“The importance of dark money in society, the scope of it, is something people don’t really grasp, but it impacts everyday life,” said Anna Massoglia, a researcher at the Center for Responsive Politics.
A decision is expected around late June. Notably, the court took the case on Jan. 8, two days after the Capitol riot prompted a reckoning over corporate political donations. Both the Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers filed briefs supporting A.F.P.F.’s case for anonymity, and Allen Dickerson of the Federal Election Commission argued the same in a Wall Street Journal op-ed yesterday.
cottage industry of scammers.
Bain is buying $1 billion worth of desserts
Bain Capital Private Equity is buying Dessert Holdings in a deal that DealBook hears values the company at about $1 billion.
Dessert Holdings makes “Insta-worthy” cheesecakes and other desserts through three brands: The Original Cakerie, Lawler’s Desserts and Atlanta Cheesecake. The company, which sells to retailers and restaurants, was created through acquisitions led by its prior owner, Gryphon Investors. The dessert conglomerate emphasizes the “wow factor” of products like tuxedo truffle mousse cake that are made to look good on social media.
A sweet deal? In-store bakeries have held up well during the pandemic, while restaurants are expected to rebound post-Covid. There could be more consolidation in the industry, with George Weston announcing in March it plans to put its bakery business — which includes Wonder Bread in Canada — up for sale. Over the years, Bain has invested in a number of food service and restaurant brands, like Dunkin’ and Domino’s Pizza. It plans to develop “new and innovative products” as well as pursue more acquisitions after the Dessert Holdings deal, said Adam Nebesar, a managing director at the private equity firm.
Trevor Lawrence is getting paid in Bitcoin
As cryptocurrency goes more mainstream — thanks in part to the recent public listing of Coinbase — blockchain businesses are hustling for brand recognition. “We’re really trying to get our name out a lot,” said Sam Bankman-Fried, the C.E.O. of FTX, a crypto exchange that competes with Coinbase. One of FTX’s companies, the investment app Blockfolio, has signed an endorsement deal with Trevor Lawrence, the former Clemson quarterback and presumptive number-one pick in this week’s N.F.L. draft, DealBook is first to report.
29-year-old billionaire founded FTX in 2019, and said he regrets spending his early years “playing video games.” Now, he’s trying to make up for lost time and the “low name recognition” of his crypto brands by hitching their wagon to bigger brands. FTX recently agreed to pay $135 million for the naming rights to the N.B.A.’s Miami Heat arena for 19 years.
THE SPEED READ
ByteDance, the Chinese parent of TikTok, has reportedly delayed plans to go public because it hasn’t devised a corporate structure that would win approval from Washington and Beijing. (South China Morning Post)
A close look at the efforts by the Carlyle Group’s C.E.O., Kewsong Lee, to catch up to his private equity rivals. (WSJ)
Politics and policy
The law firm Jones Day has rehired at least seven lawyers who worked in the Trump administration, cementing its status as a top outpost for Republican legal experts. (FT)
Advisers to wealthy Americans are studying various strategies to minimize the hit from the Biden administration’s proposed tax hikes. (Bloomberg)
Ant Group, the Chinese fintech giant, reportedly plans to offer employees zero-interest loans backed by their stock options to bolster morale. (Bloomberg)
The culture of Travis Kalanick’s food-delivery start-up, CloudKitchens, is said to closely resemble the “bro-y” early days of Uber — and it’s losing workers as a result. (Insider)
Best of the rest
Honda said it expects all cars it sells will be electric by 2040. (Bloomberg)
One of the men who created the “Yale model” of endowment investing says the strategy is past its prime. (FT)
An eye-opening look inside the “slander industry.” (NYT)
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