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.”

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How Republican-led states are targeting Wall Street with ‘anti-woke’ laws

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WASHINGTON, July 6 (Reuters) – Republican-led states have unleashed a policy push to punish Wall Street for taking stances on gun control, climate change, diversity and other social issues, in a warning for companies that have waded in to fractious social debates.

Abortion rights are poised to be the next frontier.

This year there are at least 44 bills or new laws in 17 conservative-led states penalizing such company policies, compared with roughly a dozen such measures in 2021, according to a Reuters analysis of state legislative agendas, public documents and statements.

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While some of the individual moves have been reported, the scale and speed at which such “anti-woke” state laws and policies are ballooning and the challenges they are creating for Wall Street companies is detailed here for the first time.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “woke” as being aware of and actively attentive to issues of racial and social justice, but it is often used by conservatives to disparage progressive policies. The term has gained traction as America has become more politically polarized over issues from racial justice and LGBTQ rights to the environment and COVID-19 vaccines.

Reuters counted bills considered and state laws passed in 2021 and 2022, although some state officials are also using executive powers to punish Wall Street.

The growing restrictions show how America’s culture wars are creating new risks for some of the most high-profile U.S. companies, forcing them to balance pressure from workers and investors to take stances on hot-button issues with potential backlash from conservative policymakers.

West Virginia and Arkansas this year, for example, stopped using BlackRock Inc (BLK.N) for certain services, due to its climate stance, according to West Virginia’s Republican treasurer Riley Moore and Arkansas media reports.

In Texas, JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM.N), Bank of America (BAC.N) and Goldman Sachs (GS.N) have been sidelined from the municipal bond market due to laws passed last year barring firms that “boycott” energy companies or “discriminate” against the firearms industry from doing new business with the state.

In many cases, the measures target a range of companies, restricting their ability to conduct state business. But financial institutions have been primary targets due to the pivotal roles they play in the economy and the early stances many took on such issues as fossil fuel and firearms financing.

Republicans say the policies of such companies deprive legitimate businesses of capital.

“They’re using the power of their capital to push their ideas and ideology down onto the rest of us,” said Moore. He spearheaded a law, passed in March, refusing business to banks that “boycott” fossil fuel companies and has rallied officials from 16 other states to promise to adopt similar policies. read more

With several major financial companies stepping in to cover travel costs for employees seeking abortions after the Supreme Court last month reversed federal abortion rights, the Republican push to sanction Wall Street for “woke” stances is likely to grow. read more

Republican Texas lawmaker Briscoe Cain said he plans legislation to outlaw such coverage and prohibit companies that provide it from receiving any Texas state business or contracts.

“No corporation doing business in Texas will be allowed to subsidize abortions or abortion travel in any manner,” Cain told Reuters in an email.

NO BOYCOTTS

The new curbs will make it harder for financial firms to do a range of state business, from bond underwriting to managing state funds, depository accounts and government credit cards, according to interviews with more than a dozen industry sources, bank lobbyists and lawyers.

Such contracts can be worth several million dollars each, public procurement data shows.

JPMorgan, for example, underwrote $3.2 billion worth of Texas muni bonds last year, compared with $210 million so far this year, Refinitiv data shows. Bank of America, which underwrote $3.7 billion in Texas muni bonds last year, has done none this year.

Some smaller firms, including Ramirez & Co Inc and Loop Capital Markets, meanwhile, have jumped more than 10 places so far this year in the Texas muni bond market bookrunner rankings, based on deal values.

To be sure, some Democratic-led states are also looking to tilt the scales. Washington state floated a “climate resiliency fee” for institutions that fund fossil fuel projects. California is considering a bill that would stop its pension plans, the country’s largest, from investing in fossil fuel companies.

But states led by Democrats are not pursuing as many punitive measures, according to the review and sources.

“We’re going to see a lot more of these statutes on one side of the coin or the other,” said John Crossley, a partner at K&L Gates who focuses on energy. “It’s going to make it more and more difficult for people to operate in these markets.”

Spokespeople for the above financial firms declined to comment or did not respond to requests for comment.

Financial firms say they aim to provide comprehensive healthcare benefits. They also argue government restrictions will drive up costs for Americans, and they dispute the characterization of their policies as boycotts.

BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager and a frequent target of Republican attacks, for example, has told Texas officials that while it has joined various efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions, it supports fossil fuel companies. read more

“The economy and financial system are best served when banks of all sizes can make their own banking and lending decisions about how to meet the needs of their communities based on their business model and risk tolerance,” said Joseph Pigg, senior vice president at the American Bankers Association.

ANTI-WOKE PUSH

The review shows “anti-woke” measures are gaining ground not only in traditional conservative strongholds such as Texas and Kentucky but also in so-called purple states – whose voters swing Democratic or Republican – such as Arizona and Ohio.

The issues such measures target are also mushrooming.

Guns and energy were the focus of the roughly dozen state laws and bills last year andof at least 30 legislative measures this year.

But this year there were also more than a dozen bills relating to social and other issues, including “divisive concepts” like critical race theory – an academic theory that racial bias is baked in to U.S. laws and institutions – mandatory COVID-19 vaccines, or the use of “social credit scores,” the Reuters analysis shows.

The latter is a theory that companies may take into account an individual’s political leanings when providing and pricing services.

In April, for example, Florida made it illegal for companies to require training that might make staff feel “guilt” or “anguish” because of past actions by members of the same race. Unveiling the bill, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis flagged Bank of America as one company conducting such “woke” training.

A bank spokesman said the materials were offered to hundreds of companies by a nonprofit and were not part of the bank’s training materials.

While the measures reviewed do not target corporate abortion policies, Cain said he expected other Republican-led states to pursue business restrictions on companies with such policies.

WALL STREET DIVISIONS

The financial industry is struggling to repel the onslaught, the sources said. Its trade groups are mainly registered to lobby the federal government, while state-based groups are not always aligned with Wall Street companies’ priorities.

Moore, for example, said West Virginia’s community banks supported his measures. The West Virginia Bankers Association declined to comment. The Texas Bankers Association said the group had not opposed the Texas curbs because its members were not in “consensus.”

Wall Street’s adversaries, on the other hand, are united.

Galvanized by what they say are efforts by Democrats in the federal government to push “woke” policies, oil and gas, firearms and conservative groups, including the Texas Public Policy Foundation and the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), are successfully pushing such curbs, according to industry sources and advocates. read more

“Banks should stay out of making policy choices,” said Lawrence Keane, general counsel at the NSSF, which advocated for the Texas law targeting lenders’ firearms policies.

The American Petroleum Institute, a major energy group, said it opposes discriminatory policies toward the industry.

Jason Isaac, a former Texas lawmaker who leads energy advocacy for the Texas Public Policy Foundation and helped craft the Texas fossil-fuel law, said he was discussing similar laws with other states, adding: “This woke political ideology will continue unless we get it in check.”

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Reporting by Pete Schroeder in Washington
Additional reporting by Chris Prentice in Washington and Ross Kerber in Boston
Editing by Michelle Price, Paritosh Bansal and Matthew Lewis

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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How War in Ukraine Roiled Russia’s ‘Coolest Company’

What a difference a war makes.

Just a few months ago, Yandex stood out as a rare Russian business success story, having mushroomed from a small start-up into a tech colossus that not only dominated search and ride-hailing across Russia, but boasted a growing global reach.

A Yandex app could hail a taxi in far-flung cities like Abidjan, Ivory Coast; Oslo, Norway; or Tashkent, Uzbekistan; and the company delivered groceries in London, Paris and Tel Aviv. Fifty experimental Yandex robots trundled across the campus of Ohio State University in Columbus, bringing Grubhub food orders to students — with plans to expand to some 250 American campuses.

Often called “the coolest company in Russia,” Yandex employed more than 18,000 people; its founders were billionaires; and at its peak last November, it was worth more than $31 billion. Then President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia invaded Ukraine.

massacre by Russian troops. “In any other situation, it would be a perfect company, like Google, like any tech company. But Yandex has a problem since it is a Russian company.”

Founded by two math wizards in 1997, it has long claimed to generate around 60 percent of the web searches in Russia. (Google has about 35 percent, Dr. Bunina said.)

Before Yandex, Russian taxis consisted of random drivers trying to earn a few rubles. Uber tried to muscle into the market, but eventually relented and became a partner with Yandex in Russia and numerous former Soviet states. Yandex Taxi has expanded to about 20 countries.

Like many successful companies in Russia, particularly those involved in news in any format, Yandex soon caught the eye of the Kremlin. Mr. Putin’s image keepers inevitably noticed that news critical of Mr. Putin was featured frequently on Yandex.News, the company’s aggregator. During street protests in 2011 and 2012, and then the assaults on Crimea and eastern Ukraine in 2014, Kremlin officials sought to edit the list of acceptable news sources and sometimes even individual headlines.

Yandex tried to push back by explaining that an algorithm generated the list automatically from thousands of sources based on popularity.

“The pressure has been ramping up on us since 2014, and we have done everything we can to preserve a neutral role,” John W. Boynton, an American entrepreneur and the chairman of its board of directors, said in a June interview. “We do not get involved in politics, we have never wanted to.”

But Yandex was too big not to be enmeshed in politics, and the Kremlin kept chipping away at its independence. New laws forced news aggregators and search engines to use officially endorsed sources, while the government wrangled more control over the company’s management structure.

“They were just making it easier to pull the strings if they wanted to,” said Esther Dyson, one of two Americans who resigned from the board when the war started. It became clear that the Kremlin “was going further toward complete control,” she said.

After the Feb. 24 invasion, Mr. Putin quickly signed a law making it a crime to spread “fake news” about the military, subject to jail sentences of up to 15 years and hefty fines. What had been a manageable problem, fending off the Kremlin while maintaining an image of independence, suddenly became a crisis.

For users like Tonia Samsonova, a tech entrepreneur who had sold her start-up to Yandex for several million dollars but was still running it, the impact was jarring. Having read an online story from a British newspaper that the Kremlin had placed the country’s nuclear forces on high alert, she checked the headlines on Yandex.

There she found a bland story from a state-run agency about “deterrent” forces. Alarmed, she texted several Yandex executives to suggest that it present news that would rally opposition to the war; that elicited a firm “No,” she said.

Ms. Samsonova then posted her handwritten resignation letter on Instagram, accusing the company of hiding civilian deaths perpetrated by the Russian military.

“It is not accurate by design and the management knows it,” Ms. Samsonova said in an interview. “It is a crime to continue to do that when your country is invading another one.”

Aleksei A. Navalny, the imprisoned opposition leader, wrote on Twitter: “Don’t forget that the main propagandist of the war is not TV at all, but the Russian IT giantYandex.”

In its first sanctions against one top executive, the E.U. cited online accusations of disinformation made by a former head of Yandex.News.

The company responded to the accusations that it spread disinformation by saying that Russian law tied its hands, and that it wanted to preserve the livelihoods of its employees and the interests of its investors.

Keenly aware that the government had wrested control over another social media giant, VKontakte, the equivalent of Facebook, Yandex executives tread carefully, worried about a similar nationalization.

Facing internal questions, Dr. Bunina said that, during a weekly company forum soon after the war started, she told employees that putting independent news onto the home page would last about 10 minutes, bring no change and potentially bring an end to Yandex as they knew it.

Executives figured that as long as they controlled the Yandex search engine, users could find credible news on the war from abroad, she said, noting that Russia was not yet China.

But that proved to be far too optimistic. The company soon announced that it would spin off Yandex.News and Yandex.Zen, a kind of blogging platform that had attracted government wrath as a main vehicle for spreading videos that Mr. Navalny regularly produced exposing Kremlin corruption.

For now, Yandex executives say their main concern is to continue to innovate while the heart of the company remains in Russia, cut off from most Western technology.

“Since the war, we have put all our initiatives to take our services global on hold,” said Mr. Boynton.

Some 2,500 employees who left Russia remain outside, Dr. Bunina said, and the pace of departures from the company is accelerating.

Yandex is further bedeviled by a growing split between the employees who stayed in Russia and those outside, which makes even conversation difficult, much less collaboration. Those inside anxiously refuse to discuss the war or the world, sticking to IT, while those who left in disgust often want nothing more to do with their native land.

“Whether you leave, or whether you stay, these are such different worlds right now, so you will not understand each other,” Mr. Krasilshchik said. “This is not only about Yandex, Yandex is like the country in miniature.”

Alina Lobzina contributed reporting.

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U.S. labor market appears to cool; homebuilding slumps as rates surge

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A “Now hiring” sign is displayed on the window of an IN-N-OUT fast food restaurant in Encinitas, California, U.S., May 9, 2022. REUTERS/Mike Blake

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  • Weekly jobless claims fall 3,000 to 229,000
  • Continuing claims rise 3,000 to 1.312 million
  • Housing starts plunge 14.4% in May; permits drop 7.0%

WASHINGTON, June 16 (Reuters) – The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell less than expected last week, suggesting some cooling in the labor market, though conditions remain tight.

There are growing signs the Federal Reserve’s aggressive efforts to slow demand and bring down inflation to its 2% target are starting to have an impact. Homebuilding slumped to a 13-month low in May, while a gauge of factory activity in the mid-Atlantic region contracted for the first time in two years in June. read more

The U.S. central bank on Wednesday raised its policy interest rate by three-quarters of a percentage point, the biggest hike since 1994. read more

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“The Fed is getting what it wants as financial market conditions tighten and interest rate-sensitive parts of the economy respond to the removal of monetary policy accommodation,” said Ryan Sweet, a senior economist at Moody’s Analytics in West Chester Pennsylvania.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits slipped 3,000 to a seasonally adjusted 229,000 for the week ended June 11, the Labor Department said. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast 215,000 applications for the latest week.

The decline left the bulk of the prior week’s jump intact, which had lifted filings close to a five-month high. California reported a surge in unadjusted claims last week. There were notable rises in Ohio and Michigan, potentially related to the auto industry. Claims also increased considerably in Illinois and Pennsylvania, but fell in Missouri.

Jobless claims

There has been a steady rise in reports of job cuts, mostly in the technology and housing sectors. Still, claims have remained locked in a tight range since plunging to more than a 53-year low of 166,000 in March.

Fed Chair Jerome Powell told reporters on Wednesday that “the labor market has remained extremely tight,” and that “labor demand is very strong.” The U.S. central bank has increased its benchmark overnight interest rate by 150 basis points since March.

There were 11.4 million job openings at the end of April. The number of people receiving benefits after an initial week of aid rose 3,000 to 1.312 million during the week ending June 4.

“For now, supply and demand mismatches will keep filings low,” said Rubeela Farooqi, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics in White Plains, New York. “But the level could start to trend up as the Fed continues to remove policy accommodation to slow demand.”

Thursday’s data followed on the heels of news this week of a surprise decline in U.S. retail sales in May, amplifying fears of a recession.

Stocks on Wall Street tumbled. The dollar fell against a basket of currencies. U.S. Treasury yields fell.

LOSING SPEED

The housing market, the sector most sensitive to interest rates, is losing speed. But this could help to bring housing supply and demand back into alignment and lower prices.

A separate report from the Commerce Department showed housing starts plunged 14.4% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.549 million units last month, the lowest level since April 2021. Economists had forecast starts would slide to a rate of 1.701 million units.

Permits for future homebuilding declined 7.0% to a rate of 1.695 million units. A survey on Wednesday showed the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market sentiment index hit a two-year low in June, with a gauge of prospective buyer traffic falling below the break-even level of 50 for the first time since June 2020. read more

Single-family housing starts, which account for the biggest share of homebuilding, tumbled 9.2% to a rate of 1.051 million units last month, the lowest since August 2020. Starts rose in the Northeast, but fell in the Midwest, South and West regions.

housing starts and building permits

The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage jumped 55 basis points this week to a 13-1/2-year high of 5.78%, mortgage finance agency Freddie Mac reported on Thursday. That was the largest one-week increase since 1987.

“Rising rates aren’t all bad news, however,” said Jacob Channel, senior economist at LendingTree. “Though it’s unlikely that home prices will majorly slump, an increase in housing supply will likely significantly slow home price growth and give would-be buyers more housing options to chose from.”

Building permits for single-family homes declined 5.5% to a rate of 1.048 million units, the lowest since July 2020.

Starts for housing projects with five units or more dove 26.8% to a rate 469,000 units. Multi-family housing permits dropped 10.0% to a rate of 592,000 units.

The number of houses approved for construction that are yet to be started increased 0.7% to 283,000 units. Housing completions were the highest since 2007, which together with slowing demand could help to lower prices.

Goldman Sachs trimmed its second-quarter gross domestic product estimate by two-tenths of a percentage point to a 2.8% annualized rate. The economy contracted at a 1.5% pace in the January-March quarter.

“The Fed’s aggressive and abrupt policy tightening may soon be criticized for letting in the winds of recession,” said Christopher Rupkey, chief economist at FWDBONDS in New York.

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Reporting by Lucia Mutikani
Editing by Nick Zieminski and Paul Simao

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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How Intel Makes Semiconductors in a Global Shortage

Some feature more than 50 billion tiny transistors that are 10,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair. They are made on gigantic, ultraclean factory room floors that can be seven stories tall and run the length of four football fields.

Microchips are in many ways the lifeblood of the modern economy. They power computers, smartphones, cars, appliances and scores of other electronics. But the world’s demand for them has surged since the pandemic, which also caused supply-chain disruptions, resulting in a global shortage.

That, in turn, is fueling inflation and raising alarms that the United States is becoming too dependent on chips made abroad. The United States accounts for only about 12 percent of global semiconductor manufacturing capacity; more than 90 percent of the most advanced chips come from Taiwan.

Intel, a Silicon Valley titan that is seeking to restore its longtime lead in chip manufacturing technology, is making a $20 billion bet that it can help ease the chip shortfall. It is building two factories at its chip-making complex in Chandler, Ariz., that will take three years to complete, and recently announced plans for a potentially bigger expansion, with new sites in New Albany, Ohio, and Magdeburg, Germany.

Why does making millions of these tiny components mean building — and spending — so big? A look inside Intel production plants in Chandler and Hillsboro, Ore., provides some answers.

Chips, or integrated circuits, began to replace bulky individual transistors in the late 1950s. Many of those tiny components are produced on a piece of silicon and connected to work together. The resulting chips store data, amplify radio signals and perform other operations; Intel is famous for a variety called microprocessors, which perform most of the calculating functions of a computer.

Intel has managed to shrink transistors on its microprocessors to mind-bending sizes. But the rival Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company can make even tinier components, a key reason Apple chose it to make the chips for its latest iPhones.

Such wins by a company based in Taiwan, an island that China claims as its own, add to signs of a growing technology gap that could put advances in computing, consumer devices and military hardware at risk from both China’s ambitions and natural threats in Taiwan such as earthquakes and drought. And it has put a spotlight on Intel’s efforts to recapture the technology lead.

Chip makers are packing more and more transistors onto each piece of silicon, which is why technology does more each year. It’s also the reason that new chip factories cost billions and fewer companies can afford to build them.

In addition to paying for buildings and machinery, companies must spend heavily to develop the complex processing steps used to fabricate chips from plate-size silicon wafers — which is why the factories are called “fabs.”

Enormous machines project designs for chips across each wafer, and then deposit and etch away layers of materials to create their transistors and connect them. Up to 25 wafers at a time move among those systems in special pods on automated overhead tracks.

Processing a wafer takes thousands of steps and up to two months. TSMC has set the pace for output in recent years, operating “gigafabs,” sites with four or more production lines. Dan Hutcheson, vice chair of the market research firm TechInsights, estimates that each site can process more than 100,000 wafers a month. He puts the capacity of Intel’s two planned $10 billion facilities in Arizona at roughly 40,000 wafers a month each.

After processing, the wafer is sliced into individual chips. These are tested and wrapped in plastic packages to connect them to circuit boards or parts of a system.

That step has become a new battleground, because it’s more difficult to make transistors even smaller. Companies are now stacking multiple chips or laying them side by side in a package, connecting them to act as a single piece of silicon.

Where packaging a handful of chips together is now routine, Intel has developed one advanced product that uses new technology to bundle a remarkable 47 individual chips, including some made by TSMC and other companies as well those produced in Intel fabs.

Intel chips typically sell for hundreds to thousands of dollars each. Intel in March released its fastest microprocessor for desktop computers, for example, at a starting price of $739. A piece of dust invisible to the human eye can ruin one. So fabs have to be cleaner than a hospital operating room and need complex systems to filter air and regulate temperature and humidity.

Fabs must also be impervious to just about any vibration, which can cause costly equipment to malfunction. So fab clean rooms are built on enormous concrete slabs on special shock absorbers.

Also critical is the ability to move vast amounts of liquids and gases. The top level of Intel’s factories, which are about 70 feet tall, have giant fans to help circulate air to the clean room directly below. Below the clean room are thousands of pumps, transformers, power cabinets, utility pipes and chillers that connect to production machines.

Fabs are water-intensive operations. That’s because water is needed to clean wafers at many stages of the production process.

Intel’s two sites in Chandler collectively draw about 11 million gallons of water a day from the local utility. Intel’s future expansion will require considerably more, a seeming challenge for a drought-plagued state like Arizona, which has cut water allocations to farmers. But farming actually consumes much more water than a chip plant.

Intel says its Chandler sites, which rely on supplies from three rivers and a system of wells, reclaim about 82 percent of the freshwater they use through filtration systems, settling ponds and other equipment. That water is sent back to the city, which operates treatment facilities that Intel funded, and which redistributes it for irrigation and other nonpotable uses.

Intel hopes to help boost the water supply in Arizona and other states by 2030, by working with environmental groups and others on projects that save and restore water for local communities.

To build its future factories, Intel will need roughly 5,000 skilled construction workers for three years.

They have a lot to do. Excavating the foundations is expected to remove 890,000 cubic yards of dirt, carted away at a rate of one dump truck per minute, said Dan Doron, Intel’s construction chief.

The company expects to pour more than 445,000 cubic yards of concrete and use 100,000 tons of reinforcement steel for the foundations — more than in constructing the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

Some cranes for the construction are so large that more than 100 trucks are needed to bring the pieces to assemble them, Mr. Doron said. The cranes will lift, among other things, 55-ton chillers for the new fabs.

Patrick Gelsinger, who became Intel’s chief executive a year ago, is lobbying Congress to provide grants for fab construction and tax credits for equipment investment. To manage Intel’s spending risk, he plans to emphasize construction of fab “shells” that can be outfitted with equipment to respond to market changes.

To address the chip shortage, Mr. Gelsinger will have to make good on his plan to produce chips designed by other companies. But a single company can do only so much; products like phones and cars require components from many suppliers, as well as older chips. And no country can stand alone in semiconductors, either. Though boosting domestic manufacturing can reduce supply risks somewhat, the chip industry will continue to rely on a complex global web of companies for raw materials, production equipment, design software, talent and specialized manufacturing.


Produced by Alana Celii

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Do You Know Who That Worker You Just Hired Really Is?

Employers are also facing a moment in which collective angst is driving all kinds of unusual misbehavior. That’s something Tamara Sylvestre, 32, said she realized last year when she was working as a recruiter at a staffing firm based in Michigan and interviewed someone for an engineering position. She did an initial phone screening with the candidate, in which she noted that he had a high-pitched voice. When she conducted a follow-up technical interview by video, his voice seemed to have deepened.

Ms. Sylvestre later asked why his vocal pitch had changed, and he confessed that he had asked a friend to do the video interview for him.

“What were you going to do if you ended up getting the role?” Ms. Sylvestre recalled asking the candidate, bewildered. “He was like: ‘I was really nervous. I thought no one would notice.’ The role was 100 percent remote, so maybe he thought it wouldn’t make a difference.”

Mark Bradbourne, 46, who works as an engineer in Ohio, recalled a trickster who got even further in the hiring process several years ago. Mr. Bradbourne asked a new employee during his first week to do a data visualization exercise identical to one he had completed in his technical interview. The new hire didn’t know how to proceed. When Mr. Bradbourne reminded the employee that he had done the same task in his hiring process, the man jumped up and ran out of the room, then immediately resigned.

Persuading a friend to pinch-hit during a technical screening is an extreme variety of interview fake-out. But organizational psychologists observe that interviewers tend to reward honesty. They recognize when people speak genuinely to the aspects of a company that resonate with their interests, Dr. Bourdage said.

Interviewers are also getting savvier at detecting dishonesty. Meta, formerly Facebook, has in-house psychologists who devise probing questions that would be hard for interviewees to fake. Scott Gregory, chief executive of the personality testing company Hogan Assessment Systems, encourages employers to scrap classic interview questions — “What are your greatest strengths?” — in favor of situational and behavioral ones, in which candidates narrate experiences they’ve had or explore hypothetical scenarios. Meta’s head recruiter said the company expected candidates to turn on their camera for video interviews, though it can accommodate any circumstances that make it hard to do so.

Still, the subtler stresses of the interview process remain: In a corporate culture where a popular term of art is transparency, how much of your true personality can you reveal before you’re hired? Should you be yourself if yourself might not get you the job?

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Peter Thiel, the Right’s Would-Be Kingmaker

Mr. Thiel has attracted the most attention for two $10 million donations to the Senate candidates Blake Masters in Arizona and J.D. Vance in Ohio. Like Mr. Thiel, the men are tech investors with pedigrees from elite universities who cast themselves as antagonists to the establishment. They have also worked for the billionaire and been financially dependent on him. Mr. Masters, the chief operating officer of Thiel Capital, the investor’s family office, has promised to leave that job before Arizona’s August primary.

Mr. Thiel, who declined to comment for this article, announced last week that he would leave the board of Meta, the parent company of Facebook, which conservatives have accused of censorship. One reason for the change: He plans to focus more on politics.

Born in West Germany and raised in South Africa and the San Francisco Bay Area, Mr. Thiel showed his provocative side at Stanford in the late 1980s. Classmates recalled Mr. Thiel, who studied philosophy and law, describing South Africa’s apartheid as a sound economic system. (A spokesman for Mr. Thiel has denied that he supported apartheid.)

Mr. Thiel also helped found The Stanford Review, a conservative campus paper that sought to provide “alternative views” to what he deemed left-wing orthodoxy.

In 1995, he co-wrote a book, “The Diversity Myth,” arguing that “the extreme focus on racism” had caused greater societal tension and acrimony. Rape, he and his co-author, David Sacks, wrote, sometimes included “seductions that are later regretted.” (Mr. Thiel has apologized for the book.)

In 1998, Mr. Thiel helped create what would become the digital payments company PayPal. He became Facebook’s first outside investor in 2004 and established the venture capital firm Founders Fund a year later. Forbes puts his fortune at $2.6 billion.

one 2009 piece, Mr. Thiel, who called himself a libertarian, wrote that he had come to “no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible,” arguing that American politics would always be hostile to free-market ideals, and that politics was about interfering with other people’s lives without their consent. Since then, he has hosted and attended events with white nationalists and alt-right figures.

His political giving evolved with those views. He donated lavishly to Ron Paul’s 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns before turning to candidates who were more extreme than the Republican establishment.

In 2013, Curtis Yarvin, an entrepreneur who has voiced racist beliefs and said democracy was a destructive system of government, emailed Mr. Thiel. Mr. Yarvin wrote that Mr. Cruz, then a newly elected senator, “needs to purge every single traitor” from the Republican Party. In the email, which The Times obtained, Mr. Yarvin argued that it didn’t matter if those candidates lost general elections or cost the party control in Congress.

Mr. Thiel, who had donated to Mr. Cruz’s 2012 campaign, replied, “It’s relatively safe to support Cruz (for me) because he threatens the Republican establishment.”

Mr. Thiel used his money to fund other causes. In 2016, he was revealed as the secret funder of a lawsuit that targeted Gawker Media, which had reported he was gay. Gawker declared bankruptcy, partly from the costs of fighting the lawsuit.

proud to be a gay Republican supporting Mr. Trump. He later donated $1.25 million to the candidate.

After Mr. Trump won, Mr. Thiel was named to the president-elect’s executive transition team. At a meeting with tech leaders at Trump Tower in Manhattan in December 2016, Mr. Trump told Mr. Thiel, “You’re a very special guy.”

A month later, Mr. Thiel, a naturalized American, was revealed to have also obtained citizenship in New Zealand. That prompted a furor, especially after Mr. Trump had urged people to pledge “total allegiance to the United States.”

During Mr. Trump’s presidency, Mr. Thiel became frustrated with the administration. “There are all these ways that things have fallen short,” he told The Times in 2018.

In 2020, he stayed on the sidelines. His only notable federal election donation was to Kris Kobach, a Trump ally and former secretary of state of Kansas known for his hard-line views on immigration. (Mr. Kobach lost his primary bid for the Senate.)

Mr. Thiel’s personal priorities also changed. In 2016, he announced that he was moving from San Francisco to Los Angeles. The next year, he married a longtime boyfriend, Matt Danzeisen; they have two children.

Mr. Thiel reduced his business commitments and started pondering leaving Meta’s board, which he had joined in 2005, two of the people with knowledge of his thinking said. At an October event held by a conservative tech group in Miami, he alluded to his frustration with Facebook, which was increasingly removing certain kinds of speech and had barred Mr. Trump.

a $13 million mansion in Washington from Wilbur Ross, Mr. Trump’s commerce secretary. In October, he spoke at the event for the Federalist Society at Stanford and at the National Conservatism Conference.

He also rebuilt his relationship with Mr. Trump. Since the 2020 election, they have met at least three times in New York and at Mar-a-Lago, sometimes with Mr. Masters or Mr. Vance. And Mr. Thiel invested in Mr. McEntee’s company, which is building a dating app for conservatives called the RightStuff.

Mr. McEntee declined to answer questions about his app and said Mr. Thiel was “a great guy.” Mr. Trump’s representatives did not respond to requests for comment.

Mr. Thiel’s political giving ramped up last spring with his $10 million checks to PACs supporting Mr. Vance and Mr. Masters. The sums were his biggest and the largest ever one-time contributions to a PAC backing a single candidate, according to OpenSecrets.

Like Mr. Trump in 2016, Mr. Vance and Mr. Masters lack experience in politics. Mr. Vance, the venture capitalist who wrote the best-selling memoir “Hillbilly Elegy,” met Mr. Thiel a decade ago when the billionaire delivered a lecture at Yale Law School, where Mr. Vance was a student.

Zero to One.” In 2020, Mr. Masters reported more than $1.1 million in salary from Thiel Capital and book royalties.

Mr. Vance, Mr. Masters and their campaigns did not respond to requests for comment.

Both candidates have repeated the Trumpian lie of election fraud, with Mr. Masters stating in a November campaign ad, “I think Trump won in 2020.” They have also made Mr. Thiel a selling point in their campaigns.

In November, Mr. Vance wrote on Twitter that anyone who donated $10,800 to his campaign could attend a small group dinner with him and Mr. Thiel. Mr. Masters offered the same opportunity for a meal with Mr. Thiel and raised $550,000 by selling nonfungible tokens, or NFTs, of “Zero to One” digital art that would give holders “access to parties with me and Peter.”

a 20-minute speech at the National Conservatism Conference in October, he said nationalism was “a corrective” to the “brain-dead, one-world state” of globalism. He also blasted the Biden administration.

“We have the zombie retreads just busy rearranging the deck chairs,” he said. “We need dissident voices more than ever.”

Cade Metz contributed reporting. Rachel Shorey and Kitty Bennett contributed research.

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Why This Could Be a Critical Year for Electric Cars

Sales of cars powered solely by batteries surged in the United States, Europe and China last year, while deliveries of fossil fuel vehicles were stagnant. Demand for electric cars is so strong that manufacturers are requiring buyers to put down deposits months in advance. And some models are effectively sold out for the next two years.

Battery-powered cars are having a breakthrough moment and will enter the mainstream this year as automakers begin selling electric versions of one of Americans’ favorite vehicle type: pickup trucks. Their arrival represents the biggest upheaval in the auto industry since Henry Ford introduced the Model T in 1908 and could have far-reaching consequences for factory workers, businesses and the environment. Tailpipe emissions are among the largest contributors to climate change.

While electric vehicles still account for a small slice of the market — nearly 9 percent of the new cars sold last year worldwide were electric, up from 2.5 percent in 2019, according to the International Energy Agency — their rapid growth could make 2022 the year when the march of battery-powered cars became unstoppable, erasing any doubt that the internal combustion engine is lurching toward obsolescence.

The proliferation of electric cars will improve air quality and help slow global warming. The air in Southern California is already a bit cleaner thanks to the popularity of electric vehicles there. And the boom is a rare piece of good news for President Biden, who has struggled to advance his climate agenda in Congress.

more than a dozen new electric car and battery factories just in the United States.

“It’s one of the biggest industrial transformations probably in the history of capitalism,” Scott Keogh, chief executive of Volkswagen Group of America, said in an interview. “The investments are massive, and the mission is massive.”

But not everyone will benefit. Makers of mufflers, fuel injection systems and other parts could go out of business, leaving many workers jobless. Nearly three million Americans make, sell and service cars and auto parts, and industry experts say producing electric cars will require fewer workers because the cars have fewer components.

Over time, battery ingredients like lithium, nickel and cobalt could become more sought after than oil. Prices for these materials are already skyrocketing, which could limit sales in the short term by driving up the cost of electric cars.

The transition could also be limited by the lack of places to plug in electric cars, which has made the vehicles less appealing to people who drive long distances or apartment residents who can’t charge at home. There are fewer than 50,000 public charging stations in the United States. The infrastructure bill that Congress passed in November includes $7.5 billion for 500,000 new chargers, although experts say even that number is too small.

could take decades unless governments provide larger incentives to car buyers. Cleaning up heavy trucks, one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions, could be even harder.

Still, the electric car boom is already reshaping the auto industry.

The biggest beneficiary — and the biggest threat to the established order — is Tesla. Led by Elon Musk, the company delivered nearly a million cars in 2021, a 90 percent increase from 2020.

Tesla is still small compared with auto giants, but it commands the segment with the fastest growth. Wall Street values the company at about $1 trillion, more than 10 times as much as General Motors. That means Tesla, which is building factories in Texas and Germany, can easily expand.

“At the rate it’s growing now, it will be bigger than G.M. in five years,” said John Casesa, a former Ford executive who is now a senior managing director at Guggenheim Securities, at a Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago forum in January.

Most analysts figured that electric vehicles wouldn’t take off until they became as inexpensive to buy as gasoline models — a milestone that is still a few years away for moderately priced cars that most people can afford.

But as extreme weather makes the catastrophic effects of climate change more tangible, and word gets around that electric cars are easy to maintain, cheap to refuel and fun to drive, affluent buyers are increasingly going electric.

outsold diesel cars in Europe for the first time. In 18 countries, including Britain, more than 20 percent of new cars were electric, according to Matthias Schmidt, an independent analyst in Berlin.

study.

Inevitably, a transition this momentous will cause dislocation. Most new battery and electric car factories planned by automakers are in Southern states like Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina and Tennessee. Their gains could come at the expense of the Midwest, which would lose internal combustion production jobs.

Toyota, a pioneer in hybrid vehicles, will not offer a car powered solely by batteries until later this year. Ram does not plan to release a competitor to Ford’s Lightning until 2024.

Chinese companies like SAIC, which owns the British MG brand, are using the technological shift to enter Europe and other markets. Young companies like Lucid, Rivian and Nio aim to follow Tesla’s playbook.

Old-line carmakers face a stiff learning curve. G.M. recalled its Bolt electric hatchback last year because of the risk of battery fires.

The companies most endangered may be small machine shops in Michigan or Ontario that produce piston rings and other parts. At the moment, these businesses are busy because of pent-up demand for all vehicles, said Carla Bailo, chief executive of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich.

“A lot of them kind of have blinders on and are not looking that far down the road,” Ms. Bailo said “That’s troubling.”

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How Chemours and DuPont Avoid Paying for PFAS Pollution

The transactions that created Chemours and reinvented DuPont laid the groundwork for a blame-shifting exercise that has made it difficult for regulators and others to hold anyone accountable for decades of contamination in North Carolina and elsewhere.

State attorneys general in Ohio, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York each sued the companies for having released toxic chemicals into the air, water and soil and for concocting a spinoff to shield DuPont from responsibility. Dutch prosecutors began criminally investigating Chemours for the use of PFOA at a factory in Dordrecht from 2008 to 2012, before Chemours was created.

Yet in courts, in the media and in public settings, DuPont and Chemours have used the spinoff to distance themselves from the problems.

In a court filing in Ohio, where the state has sued over pollution from the Washington Works factory on the West Virginia border, Chemours claimed that the contamination happened before “Chemours even came into existence.” In a securities filing this summer, Chemours stated that it “does not, and has never, used” PFOA. Yet Chemours continues to manufacture other versions of PFAS, including GenX.

DuPont adopted a similar stance. Because Chemours was independent and had assumed responsibility for Washington Works, DuPont claimed it had nothing to do with the pollution. In fact, DuPont insisted, because it was technically a new company, it had never even made the toxic substances in question.

In 2019, Chemours, deep in debt, sued DuPont. Chemours contended that the spinoff was conceived to get DuPont off the hook for its decades of pollution. According to the complaint, DuPont executives decided against a $60 million project that would have stopped Fayetteville Works from discharging chemicals into the Cape Fear River. Instead, DuPont executives made a $2 million change, which they abandoned shortly before they announced the Chemours spinoff.

The lawsuit asked, “Why bother spending money to fix the problem, DuPont apparently reasoned, when it could be conveniently passed on to Chemours?”

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