OREGON HOUSE, Calif. — In a tiny town in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, a religious organization called the Fellowship of Friends has established an elaborate, 1,200-acre compound full of art and ornate architecture.
More than 200 miles away from the Fellowship’s base in Oregon House, Calif., the religious sect, which believes a higher consciousness can be achieved by embracing fine arts and culture, has also gained a foothold inside a business unit at Google.
Even in Google’s freewheeling office culture, which encourages employees to speak their own minds and pursue their own projects, the Fellowship’s presence in the business unit was unusual. As many as 12 Fellowship members and close relatives worked for the Google Developer Studio, or GDS, which produces videos showcasing the company’s technologies, according to a lawsuit filed by Kevin Lloyd, a 34-year-old former Google video producer.
critically acclaimed winery; and collected art from across the world, including more than $11 million in Chinese antiques.
Revelations.” Mr. Burton described Apollo as the seed of a new civilization that would emerge after a global apocalypse.
sold its collection of Chinese antiques at auction. In 2015, after its chief winemaker left the organization, its winery ceased production. The Fellowship’s president, Greg Holman, declined to comment for this article.
The Google Developer Studio is run by Peter Lubbers, a longtime member of the Fellowship of Friends. A July 2019 Fellowship directory, obtained by The Times, lists him as a member. Former members confirm that he joined the Fellowship after moving to the United States from the Netherlands.
At Google, he is a director, a role that is usually a rung below vice president in Google management and usually receives annual compensation in the high six figures or low seven figures.
Previously, Mr. Lubbers worked for the staffing company Kelly Services. M. Catherine Jones, Mr. Lloyd’s lawyer, won a similar suit against Kelly Services in 2008 on behalf of Lynn Noyes, who claimed that the company had failed to promote her because she was not a member of the Fellowship. A California court awarded Ms. Noyes $6.5 million in damages.
Ms. Noyes said in an interview that Mr. Lubbers was among a large contingent of Fellowship members from the Netherlands who worked for the company in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
At Kelly Services, Mr. Lubbers worked as a software developer before a stint at Oracle, the Silicon Valley software giant, according to his LinkedIn profile, which was recently deleted. He joined Google in 2012, initially working on a team that promoted Google technology to outside software developers. In 2014, he helped create G.D.S., which produced videos promoting Google developer tools.
Kelly Services declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Under Mr. Lubbers, the group brought in several other members of the Fellowship, including a video producer named Gabe Pannell. A 2015 photo posted to the internet by Mr. Pannell’s father shows Mr. Lubbers and Mr. Pannell with Mr. Burton, who is known as “The Teacher” or “Our Beloved Teacher” within the Fellowship. A caption on the photo, which was also recently deleted, calls Mr. Pannell a “new student.”
Echoing claims made in the lawsuit, Erik Johanson, a senior video producer who has worked for the Google Developer Studio since 2015 through ASG, said the team’s leadership abused the hiring system that brought workers in as contractors.
“They were able to further their own aims very rapidly because they could hire people with far less scrutiny and a far less rigorous on-boarding process than if these people were brought on as full-time employees,” he said. “It meant that no one was looking very closely when all these people were brought on from the foothills of the Sierras.”
Mr. Lloyd said that after applying for his job he had interviewed with Mr. Pannell twice, and that he had reported directly to Mr. Pannell when he joined a 25-person Bay Area video production team inside GDS in 2017. He soon noticed that nearly half this team, including Mr. Lubbers and Mr. Pannell, came from Oregon House.
Google paid to have a state-of-the-art sound system installed in the Oregon House home of one Fellowship member who worked for the team as a sound designer, according to the suit. Mr. Lubbers disputed this claim in a phone interview, saying the equipment was old and would have been thrown out if the team had not sent it to the home.
The sound designer’s daughter also worked for the team as a set designer. Additional Fellowship members and their relatives were hired to staff Google events, including a photographer, a masseuse, Mr. Lubbers’s wife and his son, who worked as a DJ at company parties.
The company frequently served wine from Grant Marie, a winery in Oregon House run by a Fellowship member who previously managed the Fellowship’s winery, according to the suit and a person familiar with the matter, who declined to be identified for fear of reprisal.
“My personal religious beliefs are a deeply held private matter,” Mr. Lubbers said. “In all my years in tech, they have never played a role in hiring. I have always performed my role by bringing in the right talent for the situation — bringing in the right vendors for the jobs.”
He said ASG, not Google, hired contractors for the GDS team, adding that it was fine for him to “encourage people to apply for those roles.”And he said that in recent years, the team has grown to more than 250 people, including part-time employees.
Mr. Pannell said in a phone interview that the team brought in workers from “a circle of trusted friends and families with extremely qualified backgrounds,” including graduates of the University of California, Berkeley.
In 2017 and 2018, according to the suit, Mr. Pannell attended video shoots intoxicated and occasionally threw things at the presenter when he was unhappy with a performance. Mr. Pannell said that he did not remember the incidents and that they did not sound like something he would do. He also acknowledged that he’d had problems with alcohol and had sought help.
After seven months at Google, Mr. Pannell was made a full-time employee, according to the suit. He was later promoted to senior producer and then executive producer, according to his LinkedIn profile, which has also been deleted.
Mr. Lloyd brought much of this to the attention of a manager inside the team, he said. But he was repeatedly told not to pursue the matter because Mr. Lubbers was a powerful figure at Google and because Mr. Lloyd could lose his job, according to his lawsuit. He said he was fired in February 2021 and was not given a reason. Google, Mr. Lubbers and Mr. Pannell said he had been fired for performance issues.
Ms. Jones, Mr. Lloyd’s lawyer, argued that Google’s relationship with ASG allowed members of the Fellowship to join the company without being properly vetted. “This is one of the methods the Fellowship used in the Kelly case,” she said. “They can get through the door without the normal scrutiny.”
Mr. Lloyd is seeking damages for wrongful termination, retaliation, failure to prevent discrimination and the intentional infliction of emotion distress. But he said he worries that, by doing so much business with its members, Google fed money into the Fellowship of Friends.
“Once you become aware of this, you become responsible,” Mr. Lloyd said. “You can’t look away.”
Shortly after Russia passed a new censorship law that effectively criminalized accurate reporting on the war in Ukraine, CNN executives on two continents gathered for an emergency video call to figure out what would happen next.
The 24-hour news network had employed numerous correspondents in Russia since the latter years of the Soviet Union. Now their future in the country, and perhaps their safety, were up in the air.
Senior producers in New York and London conferred with lawyers at CNN headquarters in Atlanta and reporters in Moscow about the new law, which raised the prospect of 15-year prison terms for journalists who called the war in Ukraine a “war.” Within hours, the network ceased broadcasting in Russia, joining other Western news outlets — including the BBC, Bloomberg News and ABC News — that temporarily or partly suspended their Moscow-based operations.
“When it comes to a potential threat to somebody, that far and away outweighs everything else in the consideration,” Michael Bass, CNN’s executive vice president of programming, said in an interview. “It would be better for our reporting and our coverage of the story to continue reporting every single day and multiple times a day from Russia, but an assessment had to be made of what can be done for your people.”
In an echo of the exodus of journalists from Afghanistan after the Taliban swept through the country last year, media executives and editors are engaged in a high-stakes debate about risk in Russia. Is it prudent, they ask their reporters over secure apps each day, to gather news in an increasingly hostile and isolated country? If not, is it feasible to continue from outside its borders?
“There is a constant minute-to-minute triage of that balance,” said Matthew Baise, director of digital strategy at Voice of America, the U.S. government broadcaster, which until recently employed several journalists reporting from Russia. “Every day, we’re attempting to adapt to the situation there while not jeopardizing people’s lives, but we also have to have a way to get reporting out of the country.”
Now a dozen Voice of America employees have left Russia. and others are lying low, Mr. Baise said.
Clarissa Ward, CNN’s chief international correspondent, said in an interview from Kyiv, Ukraine, that “it’s a huge blow to not be able to do the kind of journalism we all aspire to do in Russia at the moment.”
“It’s not just a global audience — there are a lot of Russians inside Russia who look to international news outlets to get a more well-rounded perspective,” said Ms. Ward, who has been reporting from Ukraine for nearly two months. One crucial perspective that can be lost, she said, is “how Russia is viewing this war, what ordinary Russians think about it.”
Inside Ukraine, journalists are facing more direct — and potentially lethal — risks. Brent Renaud, an American documentary filmmaker, was fatally shot in the head on Sunday in a suburb of Kyiv. On Monday, a Fox News correspondent, Benjamin Hall, was hospitalized after he was injured outside Kyiv.
Days earlier, Ms. Ward described via telephone how she and her CNN crew work from 9 a.m. to 4 a.m. each day, starting by assessing whether it is safe to travel outside their hotel. Often, spotty cellular service and security concerns force them to improvise: A 15-minute live dispatch from a subway station, where hundreds of Ukrainians were sheltering from a bombardment, was filmed on a producer’s phone.
For now, in Russia, the threat to journalism is statutory, but still dire: Under the new law, many correspondents there face the prospect of yearslong prison terms for doing their jobs. That has led to a stunning disintegration of Russia’s independent media, and left international news outlets racked with uncertainty.
Amnesty International said on Thursday that 150 journalists had fled the country to avoid the new law, which Marie Struthers, the group’s director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, called “a scorched-earth strategy that has turned Russia’s media landscape into a wasteland.”
Amid the strangled flow of outside news, some have gone to great lengths to disrupt the information blackout inside Russia. On Monday, a state television employee burst onto the live broadcast of Russia’s most-watched news show, yelling, “Stop the war!” and holding up a sign that said, “They’re lying to you here.” The employee, Marina Ovsyannikova, was detained after the protest.
A bill introduced last week would create a register of anyone involved, currently or in the past, with media outlets or other organizations that Russia has deemed a “foreign agent.”
News organizations have scrambled to find a working solution as the cohort of credible outlets shrinks and threatens to leave audiences inside and outside the largest nation in the world blind to its dealings.
“There are many other parts of the world where it is unsafe to be a journalist and where newsrooms are having these debates and discussions,” said Damian Radcliffe, a journalism professor at the University of Oregon. “But what’s different here is that this is such a huge, high-profile story that those internal debates are playing out in the public domain in a much more overt way.”
Last week, The New York Times said it would move its editorial staff out of Russia, and The Washington Post said it would protect Moscow-based journalists by removing bylines and datelines from certain stories. Condé Nast said it had suspended its publishing operations there. Correspondents for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation left Russia on March 6.
“It’s definitely a balancing act, and that’s why we are monitoring the situation closely and taking the necessary time to fully understand the new law,” said Chuck Thompson, a spokesman for the Canadian broadcaster.
Some outlets decided to stay put. The German public broadcasters ARD and ZDF said they planned to resume reporting from Moscow after a suspension. But the coverage will focus on the political, economic and social situations in Russia — such as the effects of economic sanctions on civilians — while the war in Ukraine will be covered from outside the country.
The BBC said last week that “after careful deliberation” it would restart its English-language reporting from Russia. (Its Russian-language correspondents have stopped working.) The broadcaster appointed Steve Rosenberg, its longtime Moscow correspondent, to be its Russia editor, and produced segments on public sentiment and McDonald’s closing its stores.
Still, BBC correspondents “have to be wary and careful about what language they use,” said Jamie Angus, a top executive who oversees news output.
On the air, Mr. Rosenberg describes the fighting as “what the Russians are calling a special military intervention.” Analysis that refers more explicitly to a war or an invasion can be delivered from London, Mr. Angus said.
The BBC has begun broadcasting through alternative channels like shortwave radio and TikTok in hopes of eluding Russian censors. Voice of America said that one day last week, 40 percent of its Russian audience had reached its coverage through censor-evading apps such as Psiphon and nthLink. Its Facebook page has also gotten an unusual surge in traffic from Italy, a sign that some Russian citizens may be using VPN services to bypass information blockades.
“There are no challenges that are insurmountable today in the digital world — we just need to be agile,” said Alen Mlatisuma, the managing editor of Voice of America’s Eurasia division.
Deutsche Welle, Germany’s state-owned broadcaster, had 35 people working in Russia, which was also the hub for coverage of Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Kazakhstan and other former Soviet republics.
Last month, the Russian government withdrew the broadcaster’s accreditation and shut down its Moscow studio. Deutsche Welle’s website is now blocked in Russia, and viewership for its Russian Facebook channel plunged. The outlet has pulled all of its reporters out of Russia, said a spokesman, Christoph Jumpelt.
“The fact that they have revoked our credentials and physically kicked us out of the country, and made it impossible to work inside Russia as officially credentialed journalists, doesn’t mean that we cannot continue to cover Russia from inside Russia,” Mr. Jumpelt said. “There are many, many ways to get access to information.”
CORAL GABLES, Fla.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Titan Holdings (“Titan”), via its Renuity subsidiary, today announced the acquisition of Pacific Bath Company (“Pacific Bath”), a leading home improvement company offering walk-in bath, shower, and gutter products across the Pacific Northwest. The transaction bolsters the roster of Renuity’s portfolio of remodelers and marks yet another high-profile acquisition for Titan, the eighth overall since its 2019 launch. As 2021 closed, the home improvement innovator had grown its footprint to 21 states.
“Pacific Bath is an amazing business, growing faster than any other acquisition target we have looked at in 2021,” said Daniel Gluck, Titan CEO. “Expansion to the West Coast is not something I thought we would get to for another year or two, but when you can partner with a business as high quality as Pacific Bath, you jump at the opportunity. Roy, Todd and the team at Pacific Bath are amazing operators and will be welcome additions to our Renuity business. I know they will benefit from the technology, marketing, recruiting and analytics resources that the Titan umbrella provides.”
As an exclusive dealer for Kohler, Pacific Bath has spent the past five years executing 15,000-plus projects and earning high marks from its customers, who keep coming back. The transaction also includes Pacific Gutter, which provides gutter protection to consumers in Washington and Oregon. Renuity will help jumpstart the gutter business after a strong start in its first year.
“There is a lot to be excited about in this deal, but we are most excited about the opportunity to grow our business and utilize the suite of services provided by Titan and Renuity,” said Roy Bletko, Managing Partner of Pacific Bath. “Their organizational infrastructure should only serve to enhance everything we are doing here at Pacific Bath. I am happy that our customers and employees will continue to be well taken care of and that Titan will help us to expand our footprint over the coming years.”
Pacific Bath employs 280 professionals across their four key markets. That workforce will remain in their capacity and will now fall under the Renuity vertical of Titan’s business.
About Titan Holdings
Formerly “Titan Home Improvement,” Titan Holdings features two home-related verticals, including a portfolio of national home improvement operating divisions (“Renuity”) and a technology platform focused on building out a superior managed solution for the home services industry (“Bylt”). The holding company aims to leverage its portfolio of assets to revolutionize the end-to-end residential remodeling process. Titan Holdings is based in Coral Gables, Fla.
Renuity is a portfolio of national home improvement operating divisions owned by Titan Holdings and operating across the United States. These businesses include best-in-class organizations like FHIA Remodeling, Mad City Windows & Baths, Statewide Remodeling, Home Smart Industries, MaxHome, and Paradise Home Improvement. Collectively, these businesses have helped hundreds of thousands of homeowners get quality remodeling services and reliable installation at a competitive price.
About Pacific Bath Company
Pacific Bath Company is a home remodeler based in Portland, Ore. providing superior bath remodeling products and services since 2016. Pacific Bath operates in Washington, Oregon, Nevada and Arizona, and has served more than 20,000 customers. As a certified KOHLER walk-in bath provider, Pacific Bath uses the professional knowledge to transform your outdated bath into a relaxing oasis. The company’s goal is to foster an energetic and enthusiastic environment in which associates at all levels are encouraged to be responsive and act with a sense of accountability.
HOUSTON–(BUSINESS WIRE)–For the first time in North America, Daikin is launching a home comfort product featuring R-32, a refrigerant with one-third the Global Warming Potential (GWP) of the most common refrigerants currently being used in the United States and Canada.
The new Daikin ATMOSPHERA system featuring R-32 refrigerant from Daikin North America LLC is a single zone, ductless system that gains impressive efficiencies over its R-410A predecessor line, the LV Series, with up to 27.4 SEER, 13.8 HSPF and 16.3 EER ratings for ultra-efficient cooling and heating. Four sizes of indoor and outdoor heat pumps are available, from 9,000 to 24,000 BTU.
“Daikin has sold over 33 million R-32 systems in more than 100 countries and regions,” said Takayuki (Taka) Inoue, Executive Vice President and Chief Sales and Marketing Officer.“We are excited to be the first to bring this proven technology to North America. With an estimated 160 million R-32 systems sold by Daikin combined with other manufacturers worldwide, we are confident R-32 has the all-around performance benefits to make it the ideal replacement for R-410A.”
“Daikin ATMOSPHERAbrings North America a powerful, new single-zone system that has a lower GWP, is more efficient and may help lower end-user electric bills compared to R-410A models,” explains Connie Schroder, Sr. Product Manager – Single and Multi-Zone Systems for Daikin. “We’ve also built advanced features into Daikin ATMOSPHERA heat pumps that improve comfort, cleanliness, and usability while simplifying maintenance.”
Daikin ATMOSPHERA’s heat pump performance over its R-410A predecessor is substantial, offering greatly enhanced heating and cooling capacities. The units feature up to 100 percent rated heating capacity at 5°F WB ( -15° C WB) and confirmed continuous operation as low as -13°F WB (-25°C WB). Rated cooling capacity is up to 100 percent at 115°F DB (46°C DB).
New hybrid cooling technology efficiently controls humidity, even in low-cooling loads, and maintains dehumidification effect after the target temperature is reached. Daikin ATMOSPHERA’s novel “CLEAN” operation dries the interior of the indoor unit to reduce the amount of condensation present, while a detachable drain pan allows for easy cleaning.
With the indoor unit’s built-in Wi-Fi, the system can be controlled via the internet with the Daikin Comfort Control App without the need for an additional adaptor. Daikin ATMOSPHERA’s Intelligent Eye employs an infrared sensor to detect movement in the room. If the room is empty for 20 minutes, the set point is changed to start saving energy.
Installation is now more flexible with 50 percent longer piping lengths up to 49 feet, compared to other Daikin single zone systems.
Indoor units include a wireless infrared controller and are compatible with the full suite of optional s21-based single and multi-zone controls solutions, including the Daikin One+ smart thermostat.
Daikin ATMOSPHERAiscurrently available in Washington, Oregon, and Florida.
Daikin ATMOSPHERAsingle zone systems are backed by a 12-year parts limited warranty. Complete warranty details available from your local dealer/contractor or at www.daikincomfort.com. To receive the 12-year parts limited warranty, online registration must be completed within 60 days of installation. Online registration is not required in California or Québec.
For more about Daikin ATMOSPHERA and the low-GWP potential benefits of R-32, visit www.DaikinAtmosphera.com and www.R32Reasons.com.
Daikin Industries, Ltd. (DIL) is a Fortune 1,000 company with more than 84,870 employees worldwide and is the world’s number 1 air conditioning company. Daikin North America LLC (DNA) is a subsidiary of DIL. DNA and its affiliates manufacture heating and cooling systems for residential, commercial and industrial use and are sold via independent HVAC contractors. DNA engineering and manufacturing is located at Daikin Texas Technology Park near Houston, TX. For additional information, visit www.northamerica-daikin.com.
Before purchasing this appliance, read important information about its estimated annual energy consumption, yearly operating cost, or energy efficiency rating that is available from your retailer.
For much of the pandemic, Amazon has offered free on-site Covid testing for employees. It incorporated a variety of design features into warehouses to promote social distancing. But a worker at an Amazon warehouse in Oregon, who did not want to be named for fear of retribution, said there had been a gradual reduction in safety features, like the removal of physical barriers to enforce social distancing.
Kelly Nantel, an Amazon spokeswoman, said that the company had removed barriers in some parts of warehouses where workers don’t spend much time in proximity, but that it had kept up distancing measures in other areas, like break rooms.
“We’re continuously evaluating the temporary measures we implemented in response to Covid-19 and making adjustments in alignment with public health authority guidance,” Ms. Nantel said. She added that the company would “begin ramping down our U.S. testing operations by July 30, 2021.”
At REI, the outdoor equipment and apparel retailer, four workers in different parts of the country, who asked not to be named for fear of workplace repercussions, complained that the company had recently enacted a potentially more punitive attendance policy it had planned to put in place just before the pandemic. Under the policy, part-time workers who use more than their allotted sick days are subject to discipline up to termination if the absences are unexcused. The workers also said they were concerned that many stores — after restricting capacity until this spring — had become more and more crowded.
Halley Knigge, a spokeswoman for REI, said that under its new policies the company allowed part-time workers to accrue sick leave for the first time and that the disciplinary policy was not substantively new but merely reworded. The stores, she added, continue to restrict occupancy to no more than 50 percent capacity, as they have since June 2020.
Workers elsewhere in the retail industry also complained about the growing crowds and difficulty of distancing inside stores like supermarkets. Karyn Johnson-Dorsey, a personal shopper from Riverside, Calif., who finds work on Instacart but also has her own roster of clients, said it had been increasingly difficult to maintain a safe distance from unmasked customers since the state eased masking and capacity restrictions in mid-June.
an ambitious proposal to cut carbon emissions, how will those who hope to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel respond?
If only because of their sheer scale, analysts say, the floods are likely to play a significant role for voters when they go to the polls on Sept 26 to replace Ms. Merkel, who has led the country for 16 years.
The death toll in Germany climbed to at least 143 on Saturday, while the toll across the border in Belgium stood at 27, its national crisis center said. The count rose most sharply in Germany’s Ahrweiler district in Rhineland-Palatinate State, where the police said that more than 90 people had died. The authorities feared that number could yet grow.
In Germany, Europe’s largest economy and a country that prides itself on its sense of stability, the chaos wrought by nature was likely to reverberate for months, if not years.
But on Saturday, residents and rescue workers in flood-hit areas faced the more immediate and daunting task of clearing piles of debris, unclogging roads and salvaging some of the homes that had survived the deluge.
Hundreds of people remain unaccounted for, but officials have struggled to offer precise numbers.
Electricity and telephone services remain inaccessible in parts of Germany, and some roads are still impassable. That lack of access may account for the high tallies of those still considered missing. And some of those who are not accounted for could simply be away, on vacation or work assignment. In Belgium, police officers started knocking on doors to try to confirm the whereabouts of residents.
Still, officials said they expected to find additional victims.
Extreme downpours like the ones that hit Germany are one of the most visible signs that the climate is changing as a result of global warming from greenhouse gas emissions. Studies have shown a warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture, generating more rainfall.
Floods of this size have not been seen in 500 or even 1,000 years, according to meteorologists and German officials.
Rhineland-Palatinate was one of the two hardest-hit German states in the west, along with North Rhine-Westphalia. The Rhine River flows through the two regions, and the rain fell so rapidly that it engorged even small streams and tributaries not typically considered flood threats.
Germany’s president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, traveled on Saturday to the town of Erftstadt, southwest of Cologne, where the flooding destroyed homes. Ms. Merkel planned to travel on Sunday to Schuld in Rhineland-Palatinate, which was badly hit, even as all of its 700 residents managed to survive.
There were scenes of devastation from all around Western Europe, the floods having caused damage from Switzerland to the Netherlands. But Germany was hardest hit.
Days before roiling waters tore through western Germany, a European weather agency had issued an extreme flood warning, as models showed that storms would send rivers surging to levels that had not been seen in hundreds of years.
The warnings, however, did little good.
Though Germany’s flood warning system, a network of sensors that measure river levels, functioned as it was supposed to, state and local officials said the amount of rain was unlike anything they had ever seen, causing even small streams and rivers to flood their banks.
Survivors and officials said many areas were caught unprepared as normally placid brooks and streams turned into torrents that swept away cars, houses and bridges. About 15,000 police officers, soldiers and emergency service workers have been deployed in Germany to help with the search and rescue.
Dr. Linda Speight, a hydrometeorologist at the University of Reading in Britain who studies how flooding occurs, blamed poor communication about the high risk posed by the flooding as contributing to the significant loss of life. “There should not have been so many deaths from this event,” she said.
Residents returning home, only to find their homes no longer there. Roads submerged by landslides. Loved ones still unaccounted for.
As the weather improved on Saturday and rescue workers searched for missing residents, many people in flood-hit areas of Germany were trying to re-establish some order amid the chaos and destruction.
Friends and relatives mobilized to help, maneuvering around blocked roads and washed-out bridges. Crushed cars and mounds of ruined goods were carted away, or piled by the side of muddied, cracked roads.
Many expressed amazement at how so much could have been destroyed so quickly. For Lisa Knopp, 19, who was helping to empty the flood-ruined basement of her grandmother’s home in Sinzig, a small town between the Rhine and Ahr rivers, the scenes of destruction “will stay with me a long time.”
Kim Falkenstein said her mother lost her home in Ahrweiler, one of the hardest-hit spots. Ms. Falkenstein, who was born in Ahrweiler and now lives in New York, said several friends had also lost their homes, and a classmate had died.
“I am heartbroken,” she said.
“Seeing my city being destroyed, people who I am close with losing their existence, and knowing I will never return to something I once called home,” Ms. Falkenstein said, “gives me goose bumps.”
In a country that is among Europe’s most prosperous, where orderliness is highly prized, many Germans were unnerved by the helplessness wrought by nature.
Bertrand Adams, a local official in Trier-Ehrang, a town in western Germany, stared in disbelief at the swirling waters only now receding from his community.
“It is beyond anything that could ever be imagined,” he told ZDF television. “We have a very good flood protection system that we developed only five years ago. We were so certain that nothing can go wrong.”
Daniela Schmitz, who has a ranch in Erftstadt, a town southwest of Cologne, was relieved that her property was not destroyed by the floods and that her horses had been evacuated. Others, she said, weren’t that fortunate.
“We were warned early enough — other stables are not doing so well,” she wrote in a WhatsApp message. “Many animals have drowned, entire stalls destroyed, and feed is becoming scarce. The conditions are really catastrophic in many places.”
On Saturday, German television channels carried wall-to-wall coverage of the flooding, as rescue workers continued searching for those who had been trapped by rising waters, with 143 confirmed dead in Germany and hundreds still missing.
As the official response picked up speed on Saturday, electricity, water and internet coverage were slowly being restored. Hundreds of police, fire and emergency vehicles crammed the roads into the most afflicted areas of Rhine-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia.
devastation from the floods came from all around Western Europe as the death toll passed 125 on Friday, with another 1,300 people still missing. Roads buckled and washed away. Cars piled atop one another. Houses were inundated to the roof tiles. Frightened residents were being evacuated in the shovels of earth movers.
But nowhere was affected more than Germany, where hundreds were still unaccounted for and the death toll had reached 106 and was expected to rise as rescue workers combed through the debris. At least 20 were reported dead in Belgium.
A European weather agency had issued an “extreme” flood warning after detailed models showed storms that threatened to send rivers surging to levels that a German meteorologist said on Friday had not been seen in 500 or even 1,000 years.
German officials said Friday their warning system, which includes a network of sensors that measure river levels in real time, functioned as it was supposed to. The problem, they said, was an amount of rain they had never seen before — falling so rapidly that it engorged even small streams and rivers not normally considered threats.
Extreme downpours like the ones that occurred in Germany are among the most visible and damaging signs that the climate is changing as a result of warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions. Studies have found that they are now occurring more frequently, and scientists point to a simple reason: A warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture, which creates extreme rainfall.
In Central Europe rescue efforts were hampered, with electricity and communications networks down, roads and bridges washed out, and drinking water scarce. The worst hit were thinly populated, rural areas.
In the city of Schleitheim, Switzerland, where a river burst its banks, residents recorded videos of cars being washed through the streets in a swirling flood of muddy water and debris.
Germans struggled even to grasp the scale of the calamity in their country. Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her shock and solidarity from Washington, where she was visiting the White House. Politicians of all stripes called for a truce in the German election campaign. The focus was on how to deal with a disaster that was growing by the hour, with thousands left homeless, in addition to the missing.
In Belgium,the Meuse river overflowed its banks, flooding villages and the center of Liège, leaving thousands without power. The official death toll stands at 20 dead and 20 missing, the authorities said.
“We are still waiting for the final assessment, but these floods could have been the most disastrous that our country has ever known,” Alexander De Croo, Belgium’s prime minister said on Friday.
Relatives of those missing grappled with the fear of the unknown. The authorities in the Ahrweiler district of Rhineland-Palatinate said late Thursday that 1,300 people remained unaccounted for in their region, where the Ahr river swelled to an angry torrent late Wednesday, ripping through the towns and villages that hugged its banks.
One of the places in Germany hardest hit by the flooding was tiny Schuld, where the destruction arrived with remarkable speed in the once-tidy village. After the river swelled, vehicles bobbed like bath toys, six houses collapsed and half of those that remained standing had gaping holes torn by floating debris.
“It went so fast. You tried to do something, and it was already too late,” a resident of Schuld told Germany’s ARD public television.
At least 50 people were confirmed dead in the Ahrweiler district, where torrents of water rushed through towns and villages, washing away cars, homes and businesses.
In Sinzig, a town in the district, efforts to evacuate a care home for people with severe disabilities came just moments before the gushing waters swept through the lower levels, killing 12 of the residents.
BERLIN — Days before roiling waters tore through western Germany, a European weather agency issued an “extreme” flood warning after detailed models showed storms that threatened to send rivers surging to levels that a German meteorologist said on Friday had not been seen in 500 or even 1,000 years.
By Friday those predictions proved devastatingly accurate, with at least 125 people dead and 1,300 unaccounted for, as helicopter rescue crews plucked marooned residents from villages inundated sometimes within minutes, raising questions about lapses in Germany’s elaborate flood warning system.
Numerous areas, victims and officials said, were caught unprepared when normally placid brooks and streams turned into torrents that swept away cars, houses and bridges and everything else in their paths.
“It went so fast. You tried to do something, and it was already too late,” a resident of Schuld told Germany’s ARD public television, after the Ahr River swelled its banks, ripping apart tidy wood-framed houses and sending vehicles bobbing like bath toys.
Extreme downpours like the ones that occurred in Germany are one of the most visible signs that the climate is changing as a result of warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions. Studies have shown a warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture, generating more, and more powerful, rainfall.
The floods that cut a wide path of destruction this week through Germany, Belgium, Switzerland and the Netherlands were bigger than any on record, according to meteorologists and German officials.
German officials said Friday their warning system, which includes a network of sensors that measure river levels in real time, functioned as it was supposed to. The problem, they said, was an amount of rain they had never seen before — falling so rapidly that it engorged even small streams and rivers not normally considered threats.
To describe the events of recent days as a 100-year flood would be an understatement, said Uwe Kirsche, a spokesman for the German Weather Service.
“With these small rivers, they have never experienced anything like that,” Mr. Kirsche said. “Nobody could prepare because no one expected something like this.”
On Tuesday, Felix Dietsch, a meteorologist for the German Weather Service, went on YouTube to warn that some areas of southwest Germany could receive previously unimaginable volumes of rain.
The weather service, a government agency, assigned its most extreme storm warning, code purple, to the Eifel and Mosel regions, one of numerous government warnings issued on Twitter and other media earlier this week and transmitted to state and local officials.
But the waters rose so swiftly that some communities’ response plans were insufficient while others were caught off guard entirely.
Medard Roth, the mayor of Kordel, in the hard-hit state of Rhineland-Palatinate, said that he activated his town’s emergency flood response once Kyll River approached dangerous water levels. But the waters rose too rapidly to be held back by the usual measures.
“By 6 p.m., everything was already under water,” Mr. Roth told Bild, a German newspaper. “Nobody could have predicted that.”
Ursula Heinen-Esser, the environment minister for the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, said on Friday that floodwaters had reached “levels never before recorded.”
The German flood warning system leaves it up to local officials to decide what action to take, on the theory that they are best informed about local terrain and what people or property lies in the path of an overflowing river.
In the Ahrweiler district of neighboring Rhineland-Palatinate, regional officials issued their first warning to residents living near the banks of the river as it approached its record level of 3 meters, or nearly 10 feet. Three hours later, a state of emergency was declared.
By that time, many people had fled to the upper levels of their homes, and those who could not move fast enough died, including 12 handicapped people in an assisted living home in Sinzig.
“The warnings arrived,” Mr. Kirsche of the German Weather Service said. “But the question is why didn’t evacuations take place sooner? That’s something we have to think about.”
MÜSCH, Germany — The bridge that spans the River Ahr washed away last night at around 10:00, said Michael Stoffels, 32, whose own house got flooded by about 12 feet of water.
Müsch, a village of 220 people at the junction of the Ahr and Trierbach rivers, was clobbered by the flash floods that have inundated this part of Germany. Only one person has died, but Müsch on Friday evening was without electricity, running water or cellphone coverage.
Residents and their friends were trying to clean up their battered homes, cracked streets and ruined cars. Local firefighters, like Nils Rademacher, 21, were managing the traffic of bulldozers, small trucks and backhoes, while instructing drivers that roads farther into the river valley were blocked with trees or made impassable by fallen bridges.
“A lot of good cars crashed or got crushed,’’ said Maria Vazquez, who works in a nearby auto repair shop. “I work with cars, so that’s sad, but I just hope that all the people are OK.”
The water rose to flood the village in less than two hours on Wednesday, and came halfway up the houses, Ms. Vazquez said.
The riverbanks were scenes of devastation, with crushed cars and thick tree stumps, while many of the cobbled streets were covered with mud and debris. Truckloads of broken furniture, tree branches and chunks of stone were being driven slowly over downed power lines.
The yellow road sign that tells drivers that they have entered Müsch was pulled out of the ground, laying bent and nearly adrift in the Trierbach River.
Mr. Stoffels said that he had no warning from the government, but that he rushed home from the retail store he manages nearby when a neighbor called. He was lucky, he said, since he has storage on the ground level and his living area is above that. The children’s playground next to his home, along the Ahr, was shattered, as was the main village electrical station, even before the bridge washed away.
He and his brother, who traveled 100 miles to help, and his friends, all wearing boots and muddy clothes, were trying to clean up as best they could. It helped, he said, that Müsch, in the Ahrweiler District of Rhineland-Palatinate close to the border with North Rhine-Westphalia, is farming country.
“Nearly everyone has a small tractor or a bulldozer of some kind,’’ he said. And it was true — the local firefighters were there, but there was little government presence, residents said. On Thursday, Mr. Stoffels said, “a couple of soldiers came for a time and a policeman looked around.”
Not far away, larger villages and towns were devastated, and more than 1,000 people are reported missing by the authorities.
Roger Lewentz, Rhineland-Palatinate’s interior minister, was unable to give an exact number of missing in his state.
“We do not yet know for sure whether some of them may be on vacation or simply unavailable. After all, the power and telephone connections are down in many affected locations,” he told Der Spiegel.
“There haven’t been floods like this here in 100 years,’’ said Sebastian Stich, 28, an office worker from nearby Barweiler who came to help his neighbors. “The bridges, the power, it’s all gone.’’
The floods devastating Europe have killed scores of people, leaving at least 1,300 missing, uprooting families, causing massive financial damage and reducing homes and cars to the state of floating bath toys.But it is not the first time the continent has been buffeted by a deluge. Here are some of the other major lethal floods and flooding caused by storms in recent years:
February and May 2014
A 7-year-old boy dead after falling ill in a flooded home in Surrey. A kayaker drowned on a swollen Welsh river.A coastal railroad ripped up by waves in Cornwall.In a matter of months in 2014, at least 5,000 houses in Britain were damaged in what was then seen as one of the rainiest seasons in nearly 250 years. While some blamed the flooding on the austerity measures of David Cameron, the prime minister at the time, others pointed to climate change. In May of that same year, the heaviest rains and floods in 120 years hit Bosnia and Serbia, killing at least 33 people, forcing thousands out of their homes, and cutting off power in 100,000 households in Serbia, as several months’ worth of rainfall fell in a matter of days.
Germany is no stranger to flooding. In Bitterfeld, in eastern Germany, some 10,000 people were asked to leave their homes in June 2013 after a levee on the Mulde River burst, amid some of the worst flooding that some German regions had seen in centuries. More than 600 residents of Dresden were brought to safety as electricity and water services to the city’s affected center were cut off. Chancellor Angela Merkel, now tested by the current flooding, showed her mettle at the time, touring three of the hardest hit areas to wade through ankle-deep floodwaters and visit victims of the flood.
The storm was called Kyrill by German meteorologists, and it spurred unrelenting rain in Britain, Ireland, France, Belgium and the Netherlands. The howling gale churned through the British Isles and Northern Europe, uprooting trees, shattering windows, flooding beaches and forcing the cancellation of hundreds of flights at airports from London to Frankfurt. According to the European Environment Agency, Kyrill killed 46 people and resulted in overall losses worth 8 billion euros. At the time, it was one of the most damaging extreme weather episodes ever recorded in Europe. The name Kyrill stemmed from a German practice of naming weather systems. Anyone may name one, for a fee, and three siblings had paid to name the system as a 65th birthday gift for their father, not realizing it would grow into a fierce storm.
Such was the deluge in Central and Southern Europe in 2005 that in the Alps, military helicopters were deployed to ferry in supplies, evacuate stranded tourists and even stranded cows in mountain pastures threatened by rising water. The floods left dozens dead. In Romania, which was badly affected by the flooding, victims were drowned as torrents of water rushed into their homes. Austria, Bulgaria, Germany and Switzerland were also buffeted by the flooding. The scenes of devastation were visceral and shocking. The Aare River broke through the windows of a children’s clothes shop in Bern, leaving baby strollers and toys floating in muddy water. Much of the historic old city of Lucerne remained underwater. Meanwhile, in southern Poland, rivers broke their banks and at least seven bridges collapsed.
In 2002, some of the worst rains since 1890 pelted the Czech Republic, putting part of the historic center of Prague underwater and resulting in 50,000 residents being ordered to evacuate, as rivers swelled by near constant rain. The death toll from the floods, which ravaged East and Central Europe, including Germany and Austria, and southern Russia, was more than 110. The flooding caused billions of dollars worth of damage. The floods helped propel Germany’s chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, to re-election because of his management of the crisis. In Austria, the Salzach River burst its banks south of Salzburg and threatened to inundate the city at the height of its famous summer festival, forcing the authorities to close most bridges and major roads. Floodwaters rose in Hungary and Germany, and in northern Austria the authorities halted river traffic on parts of the Danube.
Was the flooding caused by climate change?
Tying a single weather event to climate change requires extensive attribution analysis, and that takes time, but scientists know one thing for sure: Warmer air holds more moisture, and that makes it more likely that any given storm will produce more precipitation.
For every 1 Celsius degree of warming, in fact, air can hold 7 percent more moisture.
On average, the world has warmed by a little more than 1 degree Celsius (about 2 degrees Fahrenheit) since the 19th century, when societies began pumping huge amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
“Any storm that comes along now has more moisture to work with,” said Jennifer Francis, a senior scientist with the Woodwell Climate Research Center in Massachusetts. “That’s the straightforward connection to the increased frequency of heavy downpours.”
And, although it is still a subject of debate, some scientists say climate change might be causing storms to linger longer.
Some studies suggest that rapid warming in the Arctic is affecting the jet stream. One consequence of that, said Hayley Fowler, a professor of climate change impacts at Newcastle University in England, is that the river of wind is weakening and slowing down at certain times during the year, including summer. And that, in turn, affects weather systems farther south.
“That means the storms have to move more slowly,” Dr. Fowler said. The storm that caused the flooding was practically stationary, she noted.
The combination of more moisture and a stalled storm system means a lot of rain can fall over a given area.
Geert Jan van Oldenborgh, one of the primary scientists with World Weather Attribution, a group that quickly analyzes specific extreme weather events to see whether they were made more likely, or not, by climate change, said the group was discussing whether they would study the German floods.
Beyond the speed of a weather system and its moisture content, there are many factors that affect flooding that can make an analysis difficult. Local topography has to be taken into account, as that can affect how much runoff gets into which rivers.
Human impacts can complicate the analysis even further. Development near rivers, for instance, can make runoff worse by reducing the amount of open land that can absorb rain. Infrastructure built to cope with heavy runoff and rising rivers may be under-designed and inadequate.
An increasingly hot, dry and deadly summer has gripped much of the Western United States, with heat claiming lives in the Pacific Northwest and Canada in record numbers, and a deepening drought threatening water supplies — all of which is setting the stage for another potentially catastrophic fire season in California and neighboring states.
A fourth major heat wave was forecast to roast parts of the region again this weekend. It comes two weeks after a record-shattering spate of high temperatures — which scientists said would been virtually impossible without climate change — killed hundreds of people in the United States and Canada.
A week ago, Death Valley hit a 130-degree high, matching a reading from last year that may be the highest reliably recorded temperature on earth. Also this past weekend, Las Vegas tied its record high, 117 degrees, and Grand Junction, Colo., topped its previous record, hitting 107 degrees.
At least 67 weather stations from Washington State through New Mexico have recorded their hottest temperatures ever this summer, the National Weather Service said this week. Those records stretched back at least 75 years.
The heat helped drive the rapid growth of a wildfire in southern Oregon, known as the Bootleg Fire, that has burned more than 240,000 acres — about a third the size of Rhode Island, America’s smallest state. The fire, the largest of dozens across the West, has destroyed about two dozen homes, threatens 1,900 more and has set off a wave of evacuations.
The fire also burned across a power line corridor that serves as a major contributor to the electrical grid in California, where officials have issued warnings this week asking residents to conserve power by turning up their thermostats and turning off appliances, or risk rolling blackouts.
One part of the West saw some relief from the crushing heat this week, as monsoon rains fell on the Southwest, including New Mexico and Arizona. But the result was yet another disaster: flash flooding that left some city streets in Arizona awash in muddy water and propelled a torrent of water through part of the Grand Canyon, washing away a camp where about 30 people on a rafting trip were spending the night, killing one.
As the Earth warms from climate change, heat waves are becoming hotter and more frequent. “And as bad as it might seem today,” Jonathan Overpeck, a climate scientist at the University of Michigan, recently told The New York Times, “this is about as good as it’s going to get if we don’t get global warming under control.”
A breach in the dike along the Juliana Canalin the southern Netherlands on Friday was closed by the Dutch military by dumping hundreds of sandbags into the growing hole. Hours before, thousands had been told to evacuate after the dike was breached along thecanal, a 22-mile waterway that regulates the Meuse River.
The river’s water level is at heights not witnessed since 1911, the Dutch national broadcaster NOS reported.
That is no small thing is a water-logged country where taming water has been a matter of survival for centuries and the imperative to keep levels under control is inextricably bound up with Dutch identity.Much of the country sits below sea level and is gradually sinking. Climate change has also exacerbated the twin threats of storms and rising tides.
Residents of the villages of Brommelen, Bunde, Geulle and Voulwames were ordered to evacuate immediately, after initially being told to move to higher floors in their homes. About 10,000 people live in the area.
The local authorities said there was “a large hole” in the dike, prompting fears that the entire area would be flooded. While parts of the area were flooded, a disaster was averted after the breach was closed. NOS said the dike was still unstable and continued to be monitored.
Upriver, near the city of Venlo, evacuations were ordered for whole neighborhoods and surrounding villages, in total10,700 people and 7,100 houses, the municipality said in a tweet. People have until 6 p.m. local time to leave their homes.
Record water levels are moving through the Meuse River, prompting evacuations andfresh inspections of dikes along the river that empties into the North Sea. The river is a key waterway for European shipping connections.
Following flooding in recent decades, the Dutch authorities have designated special areas that can be flooded with excess water when critical levels are reached.
The Netherlands has so far been spared much of the death and destruction that this week’s flooding has caused in Germany and Belgium. But in Valkenburg, a city in the south of the Netherlands with about 16,000 residents, damage was severe. Hundreds of houses were without power, and the center of the city was flooded.
“The damage is incalculable,” Mayor Daan Prevoo of Valkenburg told the Algemeen Dagblad newspaper. He predicted that repairs would take weeks.
Friedemann Vogel/EPA, via Shutterstock
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Stephanie Lecocq/EPA, via Shutterstock
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Sem Van Der Wal/ANP, via Agence France-Presse
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In Liège, Belgium’s third-largest city, much of the early panic eased on Friday as residents said the waters of the Meuse river seemed to recede, at least a bit.
Fears that a major dam might break led the mayor to call for parts of the city to be evacuated late Thursday. But on Friday, people were allowed back, though they were told to stay away from the river, which was still lapping over its banks.
“The situation is now under control, and people can return to their homes,” Laurence Comminette, the spokeswoman for the mayor, said in an interview. “Of course not everyone can go back, because many homes have been destroyed. But there is no longer an imminent danger of more flooding.”
Georges Lousberg, 78, said he thought the crisis was largely over in the city. “It did not rain much today, and the weather is supposed to be better the rest of the week.”
He said there had been times when the Meuse was even higher, especially before walls were built along its banks. “The worst flooding was in 1926,” he said.
Prasanta Char, 34, a postdoctoral student in physics at the University of Liège, said he had been anxious about rain overnight after the mayor’s evacuation call.
He had gone looking to buy water, but had a hard time because so many stores were closed. He finally found a small convenience store in the shuttered city.
“It’s much worse in Germany, and a lot of the roads are shut and the trains are stopped,” he said, “I’m still a bit anxious about rain, but today it seems better.”
Forecasts predicting improved weather for Western Europe over the weekend offered some hope amid the deluge, potentially aiding search-and-rescue efforts in areas devastated by floods.
The heavy rain in Germany in the Ahrweiler district of Rhineland-Palatinate was forecast to let up later Friday and over the weekend, after flooding left 1,300 people unaccounted for in the region. Emergency workers put sandbags in place to stem the rising waters in the region’s remote villages, like Schuld, where heavy flows of water washed away six homes and left more close to collapse.
On Saturday and Sunday, there is about a 20 percent chance of rain in that area, and temperatures are expected to rise above 70 degrees Fahrenheitwith partial sunshine later in the day, according to Weather.com. Conditions are likewise expected to improve in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, also in western Germany, where at least 43 people have died in the flooding.
Andreas Friedrich, a meteorologist for Germany’s national weather service, said that dry, sunny weather was likely over the next few days in the western states hit by floods. The weather service has issued a warning about possible floods in the touristy area of southeastern Germany, north of the Alps, over the weekend, but conditions are not expected to be as bad as they were in the western part of the country, he said.
In Belgium, the weather is also expected to clear up over the weekend. The Royal Meteorological Institute of Belgium forecast only light rain in the hilly Ardennes region, which experienced heavy flooding over the past few days. In Liège, which was also hard hit, there was a 3 percent chance of precipitation on Saturday, according to the AccuWeather forecasting service.
Alex Dewalque, a spokesman for the meteorological institute, said water levels in the worst-hit parts of Belgium were already falling, making it easier for emergency workers to rescue stranded people and search for casualties. He said the coming days would be much drier and with warmer temperatures, and that there were no flood warnings.
More rain was expected in Switzerland’s northern Alps on Friday, however, and officials warned of more potential flooding in parts of the country. Lake Lucerne reached critical levels, forcing the closing of some bridges and roadways.
Sarah Schöpfer,a meteorologist at Switzerland’s Federal Office of Meteorology and Climatology MeteoSwiss, said she expected rainfall over the affected areas of Switzerland to lighten.
“We expect that tonight the precipitation activity weakens further and tomorrow it mainly affects the eastern Swiss Alps (mainly regions that did not get the highest amounts of rain during the last few days),” she said in an email. “So apart from the last showers today and tomorrow, the following days will be dry.”
In 2017, a study found that the average inbox had 199 unread emails. And here, almost 16 months into remote work for many white-collar employees, inboxes have only become more bloated.
But younger workers, who were disproportionately hard-hit by the instability of the pandemic, appear to be reassessing their professional priorities. And maybe they will really be able to do what the work of Mr. Newport — who at 39 is on the elder cusp of millennial — has not been able to do.
Harrison Stevens, 23, started a vintage clothing company while attending the University of Oregon and opened a brick-and-mortar location after graduating in 2020.He started giving clients his personal number and has them text or call him, which he says helps alleviate the load but introduces a new problem of not having clear work-life balance.
Emailing is “almost like a social anxiety people have,” Mr. Stevens said. “I think a lot of people find it easier and more convenient to send a text than compose an email. It almost feels like there are other eyes looking, like, I have to be so professional in this setting and make sure everything is perfect,” he says, noting that there’s something less formal about using your fingers and thumbs on a phone keyboard, rather than a computer keyboard.
For some people, adding texting can complicate communication, introducing multiple ways to be expected to get in touch with someone.
Aurora Biggers, 22, a journalist who recently graduated from George Fox University, said she used to give out her personal number but was getting so many texts that it was infringing on personal time. She thinks her generation is less inclined to use email as their main form of communication. While she likes the work-home boundaries that email offers, she said what she finds most difficult is that there isn’t one standard form of communication. The main problem with email then is not necessarily that there is too much of it, but there is too much competition.
“It’s impossible to expect email to be the main form of communication because so many people aren’t working office jobs or are sitting in an office with an email notification coming through,” she said. “I don’t think it’s the most relevant way to expect people to communicate with you.”
There were two weeks left in the Trump administration when the Treasury Department handed down a set of rules governing an obscure corner of the tax code.
Overseen by a senior Treasury official whose previous job involved helping the wealthy avoid taxes, the new regulations represented a major victory for private equity firms. They ensured that executives in the $4.5 trillion industry, whose leaders often measure their yearly pay in eight or nine figures, could avoid paying hundreds of millions in taxes.
The rules were approved on Jan. 5, the day before the riot at the U.S. Capitol. Hardly anyone noticed.
The Trump administration’s farewell gift to the buyout industry was part of a pattern that has spanned Republican and Democratic presidencies and Congresses: Private equity has conquered the American tax system.
one recent estimate, the United States loses $75 billion a year from investors in partnerships failing to report their income accurately — at least some of which would probably be recovered if the I.R.S. conducted more audits. That’s enough to roughly double annual federal spending on education.
It is also a dramatic understatement of the true cost. It doesn’t include the ever-changing array of maneuvers — often skating the edge of the law — that private equity firms have devised to help their managers avoid income taxes on the roughly $120 billion the industry pays its executives each year.
Private equity’s ability to vanquish the I.R.S., Treasury and Congress goes a long way toward explaining the deep inequities in the U.S. tax system. When it comes to bankrolling the federal government, the richest of America’s rich — many of them hailing from the private equity industry — play by an entirely different set of rules than everyone else.
The result is that men like Blackstone Group’s chief executive, Stephen A. Schwarzman, who earned more than $610 million last year, can pay federal taxes at rates similar to the average American.
Lawmakers have periodically tried to force private equity to pay more, and the Biden administration has proposed a series of reforms, including enlarging the I.R.S.’s enforcement budget and closing loopholes. The push for reform gained new momentum after ProPublica’s recent revelation that some of America’s richest men paid little or no federal taxes.
nearly $600 million in campaign contributions over the last decade, has repeatedly derailed past efforts to increase its tax burden.
Taylor Swift’s back music catalog.
The industry makes money in two main ways. Firms typically charge their investors a management fee of 2 percent of their assets. And they keep 20 percent of future profits that their investments generate.
That slice of future profits is known as “carried interest.” The term dates at least to the Renaissance. Italian ship captains were compensated in part with an interest in whatever profits were realized on the cargo they carried.
The I.R.S. has long allowed the industry to treat the money it makes from carried interests as capital gains, rather than as ordinary income.
article highlighting the inequity of the tax treatment. It prompted lawmakers from both parties to try to close the so-called carried interest loophole. The on-again, off-again campaign has continued ever since.
Whenever legislation gathers momentum, the private equity industry — joined by real estate, venture capital and other sectors that rely on partnerships — has pumped up campaign contributions and dispatched top executives to Capitol Hill. One bill after another has died, generally without a vote.
An Unexpected Email
One day in 2011, Gregg Polsky, then a professor of tax law at the University of North Carolina, received an out-of-the-blue email. It was from a lawyer for a former private equity executive. The executive had filed a whistle-blower claim with the I.R.S. alleging that their old firm was using illegal tactics to avoid taxes.
The whistle-blower wanted Mr. Polsky’s advice.
Mr. Polsky had previously served as the I.R.S.’s “professor in residence,” and in that role he had developed an expertise in how private equity firms’ vast profits were taxed. Back in academia, he had published a research paper detailing a little-known but pervasive industry tax-dodging technique.
$89 billion in private equity assets — as being “abusive” and a “thinly disguised way of paying the management company its quarterly paycheck.”
Apollo said in a statement that the company stopped using fee waivers in 2012 and is “not aware of any I.R.S. inquiries involving the firm’s use of fee waivers.”
floated the idea of cracking down on carried interest.
Private equity firms mobilized. Blackstone’s lobbying spending increased by nearly a third that year, to $8.5 million. (Matt Anderson, a Blackstone spokesman, said the company’s senior executives “are among the largest individual taxpayers in the country.” He wouldn’t disclose Mr. Schwarzman’s tax rate but said the firm never used fee waivers.)
Lawmakers got cold feet. The initiative fizzled.
In 2015, the Obama administration took a more modest approach. The Treasury Department issued regulations that barred certain types of especially aggressive fee waivers.
But by spelling that out, the new rules codified the legitimacy of fee waivers in general, which until that point many experts had viewed as abusive on their face.
So did his predecessor in the Obama administration, Timothy F. Geithner.
Inside the I.R.S. — which lost about one-third of its agents and officers from 2008 to 2018 — many viewed private equity’s webs of interlocking partnerships as designed to befuddle auditors and dodge taxes.
One I.R.S. agent complained that “income is pushed down so many tiers, you are never able to find out where the real problems or duplication of deductions exist,” according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office investigation of partnerships in 2014. Another agent said the purpose of large partnerships seemed to be making “it difficult to identify income sources and tax shelters.”
The Times reviewed 10 years of annual reports filed by the five largest publicly traded private equity firms. They contained no trace of the firms ever having to pay the I.R.S. extra money, and they referred to only minor audits that they said were unlikely to affect their finances.
Current and former I.R.S. officials said in interviews that such audits generally involved issues like firms’ accounting for travel costs, rather than major reckonings over their taxable profits. The officials said they were unaware of any recent significant audits of private equity firms.
No Money Owed
For a while, it looked as if there would be an exception to this general rule: the I.R.S.’s reviews of the fee waivers spurred by the whistle-blower claims. But it soon became clear that the effort lacked teeth.
Kat Gregor, a tax lawyer at the law firm Ropes & Gray, said the I.R.S. had challenged fee waivers used by four of her clients, whom she wouldn’t identify. The auditors struck her as untrained in the thicket of tax laws governing partnerships.
“It’s the equivalent of picking someone who was used to conducting an interview in English and tell them to go do it in Spanish,” Ms. Gregor said.
The audits of her clients wrapped up in late 2019. None owed any money.
The Mnuchin Compromise
As a presidential candidate, Mr. Trump vowed to “eliminate the carried interest deduction, well-known deduction, and other special-interest loopholes that have been so good for Wall Street investors, and for people like me, but unfair to American workers.”
wanted to close the loophole, congressional Republicans resisted. Instead, they embraced a much milder measure: requiring private equity officials to hold their investments for at least three years before reaping preferential tax treatment on their carried interests. Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, who had previously run an investment partnership, signed off.
McKinsey, typically holds investments for more than five years. The measure, part of a $1.5 trillion package of tax cuts, was projected to generate $1 billion in revenue over a decade.
credited Mr. Mnuchin, hailing him as “an all-star.”
Mr. Fleischer, who a decade earlier had raised alarms about carried interest, said the measure “was structured by industry to appear to do something while affecting as few as possible.”
Months later, Mr. Callas joined the law and lobbying firm Steptoe & Johnson. The private equity giant Carlyle is one of his biggest clients.
‘The Government Caved’
It took the Treasury Department more than two years to propose rules spelling out the fine print of the 2017 law. The Treasury’s suggested language was strict. One proposal would have empowered I.R.S. auditors to more closely examine internal transactions that private equity firms might use to get around the law’s three-year holding period.
The industry, so happy with the tepid 2017 law, was up in arms over the tough rules the Treasury’s staff was now proposing. In a letter in October 2020, the American Investment Council, led by Drew Maloney, a former aide to Mr. Mnuchin, noted how private equity had invested in hundreds of companies during the coronavirus pandemic and said the Treasury’s overzealous approach would harm the industry.
The rules were the responsibility of Treasury’s top tax official, David Kautter. He previously was the national tax director at EY, formerly Ernst & Young, when the firm was marketing illegal tax shelters that led to a federal criminal investigation and a $123 million settlement. (Mr. Kautter has denied being involved with selling the shelters but has expressed regret about not speaking up about them.)
On his watch at Treasury, the rules under development began getting softer, including when it came to the three-year holding period.
Monte Jackel, a former I.R.S. attorney who worked on the original version of the proposed regulations.
Mr. Mnuchin, back in the private sector, is starting an investment fund that could benefit from his department’s weaker rules.
A Charmed March
Even during the pandemic, the charmed march of private equity continued.
The top five publicly traded firms reported net profits last year of $8.6 billion. They paid their executives $8.3 billion. In addition to Mr. Schwarzman’s $610 million, the co-founders of KKR each made about $90 million, and Apollo’s Leon Black received $211 million, according to Equilar, an executive compensation consulting firm.
now advising clients on techniques to circumvent the three-year holding period.
The most popular is known as a “carry waiver.” It enables private equity managers to hold their carried interests for less than three years without paying higher tax rates. The technique is complicated, but it involves temporarily moving money into other investment vehicles. That provides the industry with greater flexibility to buy and sell things whenever it wants, without triggering a higher tax rate.
Private equity firms don’t broadcast this. But there are clues. In a recent presentation to a Pennsylvania retirement system by Hellman & Friedman, the California private equity giant included a string of disclaimers in small font. The last one flagged the firm’s use of carry waivers.
The Biden administration is negotiating its tax overhaul agenda with Republicans, who have aired advertisements attacking the proposal to increase the I.R.S.’s budget. The White House is already backing down from some of its most ambitious proposals.
Even if the agency’s budget were significantly expanded, veterans of the I.R.S. doubt it would make much difference when it comes to scrutinizing complex partnerships.
“If the I.R.S. started staffing up now, it would take them at least a decade to catch up,” Mr. Jackel said. “They don’t have enough I.R.S. agents with enough knowledge to know what they are looking at. They areso grossly overmatched it’s not funny.”
WASHINGTON — From California to Virginia, many states that faced devastating shortfalls in the depths of the pandemic recession now find themselves flush with tax revenues because of a rebounding economy and a soaring stock market. Lawmakers who worried about budget cuts are now proposing lucrative increases in school spending, tax cuts and direct payments to their residents.
That turnaround is partly the product of strong income tax receipts, particularly in states that heavily tax high earners and the wealthy, whose finances have fared well in the crisis. The unexpectedly rosy picture is raising pressure on President Biden to repurpose hundreds of billions of dollars of federal aid approved this year, in order to help fund a potential bipartisan infrastructure deal.
Last week, Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, suggested that Mr. Biden and Republican negotiators look to “some of the funding that’s been sent to states already under the last few bills” to help pay for that agreement. “They don’t know how to use it,” Mr. Romney said. “They could use that money to finance part of the infrastructure relating to roads and bridges and transit.”
Some economists and budget experts support that push, arguing that the money could be better spent elsewhere and that states’ spending plans could add to a risk of rapid inflation breaking out across the country. Other researchers and local budget officials say that the federal aid is rescuing harder-hit cities and states, like New York City and Hawaii, from a cascade of layoffs and spending cuts.
$1.9 trillion economic assistance package that Mr. Biden signed in March. They say the aid will help ensure that the economic rebound does not repeat the years of state and local budget cutting that followed the 2008 financial crisis, which slowed the recovery from recession and contributed to millions of Americans waiting years to reap its benefits.
“We still feel strongly that the state and local plan is critical to ensuring we have a strong insurance policy for the type of strong growth we want, the type of equitable recovery the country deserves,” Gene Sperling, a senior adviser to Mr. Biden who oversees fulfillment of the March assistance package, said in an interview, “and to coming back from the 1.3 million jobs lost at the state and local level.”
Even if the administration wanted to recoup or divert the funds, it is unlikely that it could repurpose the money or make significant changes to how it is used without congressional action.
The debate over the state and local funding comes as Mr. Biden navigates a critical week of negotiations with Republicans over infrastructure in search of a deal, and as he prepares to travel to Cleveland on Thursday to speak about the economy. How to pay for any new spending is a primary hurdle in the talks, with Mr. Biden pushing to raise taxes on corporations and Republicans preferring increased user fees like the gas tax.
Repurposing unspent funds could help advance an agreement, particularly given Republican opposition to bankrolling state aid in previous rescue packages. Democrats pushed hard to include lucrative financial assistance for states, cities and tribes in Mr. Biden’s rescue bill. Republicans fought those efforts, warning they would serve as a “bailout” to high-tax, high-spend liberal states. They also cited a series of projections from Wall Street firms and other analysts suggesting that many states’ revenues were faring better than officials had feared in the early months of the pandemic.
do not need more federal money. That is particularly true in states that do not rely primarily on the tourism or hospitality industries for tax revenues. Those with progressive tax systems that have caught surging revenues from investment income enjoyed by wealthy residents — like Silicon Valley moguls — are also faring well.
California officials expect a $15 billion surplus this fiscal year, after fearing a $54 billion shortfall. Virginia has seen nearly $2 billion in unanticipated revenues. As has Oregon, where economists recently upgraded the state’s revenue forecasts — moving it from projected deficits to surplus — in a report that surprised and delighted many lawmakers.
“It’s extremely surprising,” said Mark McMullen, the Oregon state economist.
“Obviously, when the shutdowns first set in and we saw these catastrophic employment losses, we treated them as a normal recession in our forecasts,” he said.
But surging income tax revenues and several rounds of federal assistance have now put the state “above our prepandemic forecasts,” Mr. McMullen added.
The strong revenue figures come as more federal relief money is just beginning to roll out the door. The Treasury Department began sending funds to states this month and has so far distributed more than $100 billion — about half of what is available to be disbursed immediately. Local governments are expected to receive the rest next year, although states still experiencing a sharp rise in unemployment will get a lump sum right away.
as a much lower risk than Mr. Summers does.
Other analysts warn that state budget situations could sour if the stock market dips sharply or economic growth fizzles. Many cities, like New York, have struggled with sluggish tax revenues and still are reliant on federal to help avoid further layoffs.
New York expects to receive more than $22 billion in Covid-19 federal aid, according to the nonpartisan Citizens Budget Commission. Despite the funds, the city is still anticipating budget gaps in the coming years, the result of declining revenues like property taxes.
In retrospect, said Lucy Dadayan, a senior research associate at the Tax Policy Center, the March law should have included “more targeted funding” for the states and cities that need it most.
$8.8 billion from the federal government. Ben Watkins, the director of the Florida Division of Bond Finance, said the state was using the relief money to invest in infrastructure and water quality projects and directing some of its surplus funds to hurricane preparedness.
He described the windfall as staggering.
“It’s a good problem to have,” Mr. Watkins said, “but that doesn’t mean that it’s not excessive.”
States have substantial leeway in how they use the money, though they are prohibited from using the funds to subsidize tax cuts. Several Republican-led states have sued the Treasury Department, arguing that the restriction infringes on state sovereignty.
The lawsuits do not appear to be slowing the delivery of the funds. Ohio failed to win an injunction blocking the restrictions from being enforced this month, and Missouri had its case thrown out of court after a federal judge said the state did not demonstrate that the law caused it harm.
$26 million corporate tax cut last week, and lawmakers have told The Omaha World-Herald that they believe that by keeping the federal funds in a separate account from the state’s general fund, they will be in compliance with the law.
Nicholas Fandos and Dana Goldstein contributed reporting.