massacre at a supermarket in Buffalo in May.

Connecticut plans to spend nearly $2 million on marketing to share factual information about voting and to create a position for an expert to root out misinformation narratives about voting before they go viral. A similar effort to create a disinformation board at the Department of Homeland Security provoked a political fury before its work was suspended in May pending an internal review.

In California, the State Senate is moving forward with legislation that would require social media companies to disclose their policies regarding hate speech, disinformation, extremism, harassment and foreign political interference. (The legislation would not compel them to restrict content.) Another bill would allow civil lawsuits against large social media platforms like TikTok and Meta’s Facebook and Instagram if their products were proven to have addicted children.

“All of these different challenges that we’re facing have a common thread, and the common thread is the power of social media to amplify really problematic content,” said Assemblyman Jesse Gabriel of California, a Democrat, who sponsored the legislation to require greater transparency from social media platforms. “That has significant consequences both online and in physical spaces.”

It seems unlikely that the flurry of legislative activity will have a significant impact before this fall’s elections; social media companies will have no single response acceptable to both sides when accusations of disinformation inevitably arise.

“Any election cycle brings intense new content challenges for platforms, but the November midterms seem likely to be particularly explosive,” said Matt Perault, a director of the Center on Technology Policy at the University of North Carolina. “With abortion, guns, democratic participation at the forefront of voters’ minds, platforms will face intense challenges in moderating speech. It’s likely that neither side will be satisfied by the decisions platforms make.”

View Source

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

Thanksgiving Holiday Travel Will Test Airlines

Widespread flight cancellations. Excruciating waits for customer service. Unruly passengers.

And that was all before the holiday travel season.

Even in normal times, the days around Thanksgiving are a delicate period for the airlines. But this week is the industry’s biggest test since the pandemic began, as millions more Americans — emboldened by vaccinations and reluctant to spend another holiday alone — are expected to take to the skies than during last year’s holidays.

A lot is riding on the carriers’ ability to pull it off smoothly.

“For many people, this will be the first time they’ve gotten together with family, maybe in a year, year and a half, maybe longer, so it’s very significant,” said Kathleen Bangs, a former commercial pilot who is a spokeswoman for FlightAware, an aviation data provider. “If it goes poorly, that’s when people might rethink travel plans for Christmas. And that’s what the airlines don’t want.”

The Transportation Security Administration said it expected to screen about 20 million passengers at airports in the 10 days that began Friday, a figure approaching prepandemic levels. Two million passed through checkpoints on Saturday alone, about twice as many as on the Saturday before last Thanksgiving.

lengthy note to customers last month.

His apology came after Southwest canceled nearly 2,500 flights over a four-day stretch — nearly 18 percent of its scheduled flights, according to FlightAware — as a brief bout of bad weather and an equally short-lived air traffic control staffing shortage snowballed.

Weeks later, American Airlines suffered a similar collapse, canceling more than 2,300 flights in four days — nearly 23 percent of its schedule — after heavy winds slowed operations at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, its largest hub.

American and Southwest have said they are working to address the problems, offering bonuses to encourage employees to work throughout the holiday period, stepping up hiring and pruning ambitious flight plans.

Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, a union representing roughly 50,000 flight attendants at 17 airlines, gave the carriers good marks for their preparations.

“First and foremost, we are getting demand back after the biggest crisis aviation has ever faced,” she said.

“I think there has been a lot of good planning,” she added. “And barring a major weather event, I think that the airlines are going to be able to handle the demand.”

Flight crews have had to contend with overwork and disruptive and belligerent passengers, leaving them drained and afraid for their safety.

Helene Albert, 54, a longtime flight attendant for American Airlines, said she took an 18-month leave by choice that was offered because of the pandemic. When she returned to work on Nov. 1 on domestic routes, she said, she saw a difference in passengers from when she began her leave.

“People are hostile,” she said. “They don’t know how to wear masks and they act shocked when I tell them we don’t have alcohol on our flights anymore.”

begun investigations into 991 episodes involving passenger misbehavior in 2021, more than in the last seven years combined. In some cases, the disruptions have forced flights to be delayed or even diverted — an additional strain on air traffic.

gathering storm systems were threatening to deliver gusty winds and rain that could interfere with flights, but for the most part, the weather is not expected to cause major disruptions.

“Overall, the news is pretty good in terms of the weather in general across the country cooperating with travel,” said Jon Porter, the chief meteorologist for AccuWeather. “We’re not dealing with any big storms across the country, and in many places the weather will be quite favorable for travel.”

Even so, AAA, the travel services organization, recommended that airline passengers arrive two hours ahead of departure for domestic flights and three hours ahead for international destinations during the Thanksgiving travel wave.

Some lawmakers warned that a Monday vaccination deadline for all federal employees could disrupt T.S.A. staffing at airports, resulting in long lines at security checkpoints, but the agency said those concerns were unfounded.

“The compliance rate is very high, and we do not anticipate any disruptions because of the vaccination requirements,” R. Carter Langston, a T.S.A. spokesman, said in a statement on Friday.

With many people able to do their jobs or classes remotely, some travelers left town early, front-running what are typically the busiest travel days before the holiday.

TripIt, a travel app that organizes itineraries, said 33 percent of holiday travelers booked Thanksgiving flights for last Friday and Saturday, according to its reservation data. (That number was slightly down from last year, when 35 percent of travelers left on the Friday and Saturday before Thanksgiving, and marginally higher than in 2019, when 30 percent of travelers did so, TripIt said.)

Among those taking advantage of the flexibility was Emilia Lam, 18, a student at New York University who traveled home to Houston on Saturday. She is doing her classes this week remotely, she said, and planned her early getaway to get ahead of the crush. “The flights are going to be way more crowded,” she said, as Thursday approaches.

Robert Chiarito and Maria Jimenez Moya contributed reporting.

View Source

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

Why Would an Economist Ever Look on the Bright Side?

“Economists are not known for looking at the glass half full,” said Ms. Coronado.

(It is an enduring observation about her profession. Thomas Carlyle in the 19th century labeled the entire economics profession “the dismal science,” and given its ring of truth, the dreary title stuck.)

Besides inflation, economists are worrying about possible asset bubbles. Central bank officials including Robert S. Kaplan, head of the Dallas Fed, and James Bullard, head of the St. Louis branch, have warned that policymakers should be keeping a careful eye on rising real estate prices. And as Delta surges, analysts of all stripes are watching closely to ensure that it does not slow shopping, traveling and dining out — while worrying that it will.

The gray cloud that seems to hang over the profession might have a silver lining. It could be the case that by monitoring the risks around high inflation and watching for impending doom, the profession is setting up America for a more sustainable expansion down the road — one where government spending policy is more carefully crafted not to tax overextended industries, and where investors believe the Fed will act if needed, keeping exuberance in check.

Mr. Dutta, an eternal optimist who has a habit of releasing all-caps tirades against his profession’s endemic pessimism, thinks people could be a little bit more excited without overdoing it.

“THIS IS A CONSUMER SLOWDOWN??” he wrote in a recent note, pointing out that credit card spending data is holding up. He celebrated the last employment report, a robust reading, by titling it “JULY FIREWORKS.”

He points out that many people think the economy would be even stronger right now if supply bottlenecks weren’t holding back production and preventing spending. At least some of that spending will presumably eventually take place when those holdups clear, setting up for stronger future growth. Plus, he points out that people are making decisions that they would not if they had a glum future in mind: Families are buying houses, which he calls the “the most irreversible-decision asset.” Businesses are buying equipment.

He talks with an air of exasperation, like someone who has been right before. That is, in part, because he recently has been: Mr. Dutta, who has a bachelor’s from New York University but who lacks the fancy doctorates many of his counterparts claim, correctly argued that the economy would not slump headed into 2021, at a time when some Wall Street economists were looking for flat or even negative growth readings as infections surged.

View Source

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

Why Tunisia’s Promise of Democracy Struggles to Bear Fruit

GAZIANTEP, Turkey — In the 10 years since its popular uprising set off the Arab Spring, Tunisia has often been praised as the one success story to emerge from that era of turbulence. It rejected extremism and open warfare, it averted a counterrevolution, and its civic leaders even won a Nobel Peace Prize for consensus building.

Yet for all the praise, Tunisia, a small North African country of 11 million, never fixed the serious economic problems that led to the uprising in the first place.

It also never received the full-throated support of Western backers, something that might have helped it make a real transition from the inequity of dictatorship to prosperous democracy, analysts and activists say. Instead, at critical points in Tunisia’s efforts to remake itself, many of its needs were overlooked by the West, for which the fight against Islamist terrorism overshadowed all other priorities.

Now, as Tunisians grapple with their latest upheaval, which began when President Kais Saied dismissed the prime minister and suspended Parliament over the weekend, many seem divided on whether to condemn his actions — or embrace them.

terrorism and the pandemic, Mr. Kaboub said.

overthrew the country’s authoritarian president of 23 years, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.

But Western officials were obsessively focused on the Islamists — namely the Ennahda, or Renaissance, party that swept early elections — and where they were going and what they represented.

“In conversations, those sorts of questions ate up almost all the oxygen in the room,” Ms. Marks said. “It was almost impossible to get anybody to ask another question.”

awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2015 — to the point that it became a “fetish,” she said.

After the 2011 revolution, Al Qaeda and other extremists were quick to mobilize networks of recruits.

Terrorism burst into the open in 2012 when the U.S. Embassy in Tunis came under attack from a mob. Over the years that followed, extremist cells carried out a string of political assassinations and suicide attacks that shattered Tunisians’ optimism and nearly derailed the democratic transition.

training and assisting Tunisian security forces, and supplying them with military equipment, but so discreetly that the American forces themselves were virtually invisible.

By 2019, some 150 Americans were training and advising their Tunisian counterparts in one of the largest missions of its kind on the African continent, according to American officials. The value of American military supplies delivered to the country increased to $119 million in 2017 from $12 million in 2012, government data show.

The assistance helped Tunisia defeat the broader threat of terrorism, but government ministers noted that the cost of combating terrorism, while unavoidable, burned a larger hole in the national budget.

But it is the structure of the economy that remains the root of the problem, Mr. Kaboub said. All of Tunisia’s political parties have identical economic plans, based on World Bank and International Monetary Fund guidelines. It was the same development platform used by the ousted president, Mr. Ben Ali, Mr. Kaboub said.

“Right now,” he said, “everybody in Tunisia is begging for an I.M.F. loan, and it is going to be seen as the solution to the crisis. But it is really a trap. It’s a Band-Aid — the infection is still there.”

Lilia Blaise contributed reporting from Tunis.

View Source

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

Once Tech’s Favorite Economist, Now a Thorn in Its Side

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.”

Not anymore.

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.”

View Source

Mass Vaccination, India’s Covid-19 Escape Route, Poses a Giant Challenge

NEW DELHI — India is the world’s leading producer of vaccines, but over the past week it has also been the global leader in Covid-19 deaths, and it is not at all clear that the country can vaccinate itself out of the crisis.

The answer to that question is a matter of urgent interest in India, where a second wave of infection has left a tableau of death and despair, but it may also have big implications for other countries battling the pandemic.

India is a critical supplier in the global effort to vaccinate people against the coronavirus, and its struggles to roll out enough vaccine for its own 1.4 billion people are being closely watched abroad.

In Africa, especially, ripples from the Indian crisis are already being felt.

Health officials on the continent who had been counting on vaccine shipments from India learned just weeks ago that they may not be arriving when expected. India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, suspended exports of nearly all 2.4 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine produced daily by its top vaccine company, the Serum Institute of India.

Dr. Celine Gounder, an infectious disease expert who is a professor at New York University Grossman School of Medicine.

Even if India could somehow solve its vaccine supply problem quickly, Dr. Gounder and others said, it might not help, at least, not in the short term. Vaccines take two weeks for the first dose to have an effect, and require an interval of about four weeks between the first and second dose.

said in an interview published Thursday in the Indian Express newspaper. “While we were all aware of second waves in other countries, we had vaccines at hand, and no indications from modeling exercises suggested the scale of the surge.”

A New York Times database of vaccination progress showed that as of Thursday, about 26 million people — 1.8 percent of India’s population — had been fully vaccinated. That is a better rate than some mostly poor countries where practically no one has been vaccinated, but it is still among the world’s lowest.

In the United States, by contrast, where the government has spent billions of dollars to secure vaccines, the figure is 30 percent. And even in Brazil, where the virus has caused an especially acute health and hunger crisis, 5.9 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated.

Mr. Modi’s goal of vaccinating 300 million people by summer is looking increasingly unlikely.

Dr. Peter J. Hotez, a molecular virology professor at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, said one of India’s basic problems is simply not having the supply of vaccine it needs. “They’ve never been scaled before to a level like this,” he said.

The Serum Institute and other vaccine manufacturers in India must now produce hundreds of millions of doses, he said.

could be a significant undercount — its vaccination program was supposed to be a bright spot.

what India needs to inoculate every adult, some 940 million people.

“It is like inviting 100 people at your home for lunch. You have resources to cook for 20.” Dr. Chandrakant Lahariya, an epidemiologist, said on Twitter.

Already, health providers say they are running out of vaccines. Many Indians who have received one shot say they are having trouble getting a second.

“You feel like you are being cheated,” said Aditya Kapoor, a New Delhi businessman who said he had been turned away from two clinics when he went to get his second dose. “We are as vulnerable as we were on Day 1.”

An online portal the government launched on Wednesday to register for shots crashed because of the demand; more than 13 million Indians eventually got appointments.

“The shortage is everywhere,” said Balbir Singh Sidhu, the health minister in Punjab State, which is struggling to obtain the three million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine that it ordered.

The Indian health ministry denied that there was a supply shortage and said it had tried to accelerate the rollout by allowing private facilities to purchase directly from manufacturers. But critics say the policy could lead to companies raising prices for private buyers.

In New Delhi, Dr. Shaikh said her vaccination center would soon be unable to offer even the 150 doses it has been administering on an average day.

“Just thinking about not being able to help at our vaccination center makes me cry,” she said.

Sameer Yasir reported from New Delhi, Shashank Bengali from Singapore, and Rick Gladstone from New York,

View Source

‘A Perfect Positive Storm’: Bonkers Dollars for Big Tech

In the Great Recession more than a decade ago, big tech companies hit a rough patch just like everyone else. Now they have become unquestioned winners of the pandemic economy.

The combined yearly revenue of Amazon, Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft and Facebook is about $1.2 trillion, according to earnings reported this week, more than 25 percent higher than the figure just as the pandemic started to bite in 2020. In less than a week, those five giants make more in sales than McDonald’s does in a year.

The U.S. economy is cranking back from 2020, when it contracted for the first time since the financial crisis. But for the tech giants, the pandemic hit was barely a blip. It’s a fantastic time to be a titan of U.S. technology — as long as you ignore the screaming politicians, the daily headlines about killing free speech or dodging taxes, the gripes from competitors and workers, and the too-many-to-count legal investigations and lawsuits.

America’s technology superpowers aren’t making bonkers dollars in spite of the deadly coronavirus and its ripple effects through the global economy. They have grown even stronger because of the pandemic. It’s both logical and slightly nuts.

have more money in their pockets thanks to government stimulus checks and pandemic savings, and the tech giants are getting a significant share. Their combined revenue is equivalent to roughly 5 percent of the gross domestic product of the United States.

Big Tech’s pandemic big bucks have an understandable root cause: We needed its services.

People gravitated to Facebook’s apps to stay in touch and entertained, and businesses wanted to pay Facebook and Google, which Alphabet owns, to help them find customers who were stuck at home. People preferred to buy diapers and deck chairs from Amazon rather than risk their health shopping in stores. Companies loaded up on software from Microsoft as their businesses and work forces went virtual. Apple’s laptops and iPads become lifelines for office workers and schoolchildren.

Before the pandemic, America’s technology superpowers were already influential in how we communicated, worked, stayed entertained and shopped. Now they are practically unavoidable. Investors have scooped up Big Tech shares in a bet that these companies are nearly invincible.

“They were already on the way up and had been for the best part of a decade, and the pandemic was unique,” said Thomas Philippon, a professor of finance at New York University. “For them it was a perfect positive storm.”

Sales in the first quarter rose 44 percent from a year earlier, and Amazon’s profits before taxes — which have never been exactly robust — more than doubled to $8.9 billion. Businesses are addicted to Amazon’s cloud computer services, where sales rose 32 percent, and shoppers can’t live without Amazon’s delivery. Investors love Amazon, too. The company’s stock market value has nearly doubled since the beginning of 2020 to $1.8 trillion.

For the other tech giants, it’s as if their brief pandemic nosedive never happened. Advertising sales typically rise and fall with the economy. But as other types of ad spending shrank when the U.S. economy contracted last year, ad sales rose for Google and Facebook. The growth was even better for them in the first three months of this year.

A year ago, analysts worried that Apple would be crippled as the pandemic gripped China, which is the hub of the company’s manufacturing operations and its most important consumer market. The fears didn’t last long. In the first three months of 2021, Apple’s revenue from selling iPhones increased at the fastest rate since 2012. Sales in mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong nearly doubled from a year earlier.

been on a tear. So have some younger technology companies, such as Snap and Zoom, the maker of the pandemic-favorite videoconferencing app. The crisis forced all sorts of businesses to go digital fast in ways that could help them thrive. Restaurants invested in online sales and delivery, and doctors went full bore into telemedicine.

But the dictionary doesn’t have enough superlatives to describe what’s happening to the five biggest technology companies. It’s all a bit awkward, really. It’s rocket fuel for critics, including some regulators and lawmakers in Europe and the United States, who say the tech giants crowd out newcomers and leave everyone worse off.

peculiarities of the pandemic economy. Some people and sectors are doing awesome, while other families are lining up at food banks and while companies like airlines are begging for cash. Unlike the stock market clobbering in the Great Recession, stock indexes in the United States have reached new highs.

The tech superstars have also capitalized on this moment. Alphabet and Facebook have used the pandemic to cut back in places that matter less, such as promotional costs and travel and entertainment budgets. And the tech giants have generally increased spending in areas that extend their advantages.

Alphabet is now spending more on big-ticket projects, like building computer complexes, than Exxon Mobil spends to dig oil and gas out of the ground. Amazon’s work force has expanded by more than 470,000 people since the end of 2019. That deepens the moat separating the tech superstars from everyone else.

Big Tech is emerging from the pandemic lean, mean and ready for a U.S. economy expected to roar back to life in 2021. Meanwhile, there are still long lines at food banks. Some American workers who lost their jobs last year may never get them back. Housing advocates are worried that millions of people will be evicted from their homes. And being Big Tech is an invitation for everyone to hate you — but you do have towering piles of money.

View Source