On a chilly Tuesday afternoon this month, James Marsh stopped by a Chipotle near his suburban Chicago home to grab something to eat.
It had been a while since Mr. Marsh had been to Chipotle — he estimated he goes five times a year — and he stopped cold when he saw the prices.
“I had been getting my usual, a steak burrito, which had been maybe in the mid-$8 range,” said Mr. Marsh, who trades stock options at his home in Hinsdale, Ill. “Now it was more than $9.”
He walked out.
“I figured I’d find something at home,” he said.
The pandemic has led to price spikes in everything from pizza slices in Manhattan to sides of beef in Colorado. And it has led to more expensive items on the menus at fast-food chains, traditionally establishments where people are used to grabbing a quick bite that doesn’t hurt their wallet.
government data. And, in some cases, portions have shrunk.
“In recent years, most fast-food restaurants had, maybe, raised prices in the low single digits each year,” said Matthew Goodman, an analyst at M Science, an alternative data research and analytics firm. “What we’ve seen over the last six-plus months are restaurants being aggressive in pushing through prices.”
This comes at a time when the hypercompetitive fast-food market is booming.
Chains like McDonald’s, Chipotle and Wingstop were big winners of the pandemic as consumers, stuck at home working and tired of cooking multiple meals for their families, increasingly turned to them for convenient solutions. But in the past year, as the cost of ingredients rose and the average hourly wage increased 16 percent to $16.10 in November from a year earlier, according to government data, restaurants began to quietly bump up prices.
But making customers pay more for a burger or a burrito is a tricky art. For many restaurants, it involves complex algorithms and test markets. They need to walk a fine line between raising prices enough to cover expenses while not scaring away customers. Moreover, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. Chains that are operated by franchisees typically allow individual owners to decide pricing. And national chains, like Chipotle and Shake Shack, charge different prices in various parts of the country.
When Carrols Restaurant Group, which operates more than 1,000 Burger Kings, raised prices in the second half of last year, the number of customers actually improved from the third to the fourth quarter. “Over time, we generally have not seen a whole lot of pushback from consumers” on the higher prices, Carrols’ chief executive, Daniel T. Accordino, told analysts at a conference in early January.
Menu prices are likely to continue to climb this year. Many restaurants say they are still paying higher wages to attract employees and expect food prices to rise.
“We expect unprecedented increases in our food basket costs versus 2021,” Ritch Allison, the chief executive of Domino’s Pizza, told Wall Street analysts at a conference this month. While Domino’s hasn’t raised prices, it is altering its promotions — offering the $7.99 pizza deal only to customers ordering online and shrinking the number of chicken wings in certain promotions to eight from 10 — in an effort to maintain profit margins.
Despite the higher food and labor costs, some restaurants are seeing sales and profits rebound past prepandemic levels.
When McDonald’s reports earnings this month, Wall Street analysts expect that its revenues will have hit a five-year high of more than $23 billion, a $2 billion increase from 2019. Net income is predicted to top $7 billion, up from $6 billion in 2019. Other chains like Cracker Barrel and Darden Restaurants, which owns Olive Garden and Longhorn Steakhouse, have resumed dividend payments or cash buybacks of stock after suspending those activities early in the pandemic to conserve cash.
And next month, when Chipotle reports results for 2021, analysts expect revenues to top $7.5 billion, a 34 percent jump from 2019. Net income is expected to almost double from prepandemic levels. In the third quarter, the company repurchased nearly $100 million of its stock. Chipotle declined to make an executive available for an interview, citing the quiet period ahead of its earnings release.
While Chipotle executives blamed higher labor costs for a 4 percent price increase in menu items this summer, the company has been looking for ways to boost its profitability.
One way was to charge higher prices for delivery. Delivery orders through vendors like DoorDash and Uber Eats exploded for Chipotle and other fast-food chains during the pandemic. But so did the commission fees that Chipotle paid the vendors. So in the fall of 2020, it began running tests to see what would happen if it raised the prices of burritos and guacamole and chips that customers ordered for delivery, executives told Wall Street analysts in an earnings call. It essentially meant the customer covered Chipotle’s side of the delivery costs.
The company discovered customers were willing to pay for the convenience of delivery. Now, customers ordering Chipotle for delivery pay about 21 percent more than if they had ordered and picked the food up in the stores, according to an analysis by Jeff Farmer, an analyst at Gordon Haskett Research Advisors.
“I would say that our ultimate goal, so this would be over the long term, maybe the medium term, is to fully protect our margins,” said Jack Hartung, the chief financial officer of Chipotle, on a call with Wall Street analysts last fall. “When you look at our pricing versus other restaurant companies’ for the quality of the food, the quantity of the food, and the quality and convenience of the experience, we offer great value. So we believe we have room to fully protect the margin.”
That doesn’t mean customers are thrilled about the extra costs.
This month, Jacob Herlin, a data scientist in Lakewood, Colo., placed an order: a steak-and-guacamole burrito for $11.95, a Coca-Cola for $3, and chips and guacamole, which were free with a birthday coupon. The total was $14.95, before tax.
But when he clicked to have the food delivered, the price for the burrito jumped to $14.45 and the soda climbed to $3.65, bringing the total to $18.10 before tax, 21 percent more than if he had picked the food up himself.
There was more. Mr. Herlin was charged a delivery fee of $1 and another “service fee” of $2.32, bringing the total for the delivered meal to $23.20. He tipped the driver an additional $3.
Mr. Herlin said he did not mind paying for delivery and wanted drivers to be paid a decent wage. But he felt that Chipotle wasn’t being upfront with customers about the added costs.
“They’re basically hiding the fees two different ways, through that base price increase and through the hidden ‘service fee,’” Mr. Herlin said in an email. “I would very much prefer if they had the same pricing and were just honest about a $5 delivery fee.”
During the third month of the fraud trial of Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of the blood testing start-up Theranos, Judge Edward J. Davila, who is presiding, called the proceedings “a movable feast.”
We were about as far away from Hemingway’s Paris as I could fathom. The judge was most likely not talking about eating and drinking his way through 1920s France; the phrase “movable feast” also describes an event with a flexible date. But the image put the lack of glamour of covering this trial into relief.
Reporting on the tech industry and its immense wealth and power sometimes affords a glimpse into opulence: a dinner at a European palace, for example, or a crypto yacht party. But during this trial, I spent much of my time sitting on the carpeted floor of the courtroom’s hallway, downing snack bars and writing stories on my laptop.
Four months of covering Elizabeth Holmes’s fraud trial, now in its second week of jury deliberations, has turned me into a nocturnal, sidewalk-dwelling human-shaped snack bar.
fans of white-collar crime” who simply want to see history unfold.
Understand the Elizabeth Holmes Trial
Jury deliberations are underway in the fraud trial of Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of the blood testing start-up Theranos.
One morning outside the courthouse, a group of spectators pretended to sell black turtlenecks — Ms. Holmes’s uniform during Theranos’s rise — as a bit of performance art. They were scolded by court security guards for soliciting on federal property. Another time a woman yelled “You’re a good mom!” to Ms. Holmes as she entered the building. She was scolded by Judge Davila for potentially influencing the jury, whose members use the same door as the public.
Snagging a seat means getting there early. Each day since Ms. Holmes took the stand in late November, I jolt out of my hotel bed around 3 a.m. in a panic. I get ready, then hustle past a San Jose Christmas market that, just hours earlier, was buzzing with lights, people and festivities.
Then I join the group of journalists and spectators gathering outside the courthouse to receive a number, denoting our place in line — entry into the courtroom is first come first served — and sit on the cold sidewalk in the dark, waiting for 5 a.m., when the nearby Starbucks opens. Around 6:20 a.m., the gates to the courthouse unlock and we form a proper line. Around 8 a.m., Ms. Holmes arrives. An hour after that, I take my seat in the courtroom. (A few times, I’ve been relegated to a small overflow room, which also fills up fast.)
prompted the judge to warn journalists to type quietly.) There were tarot cards on one day and a panettone on another. The most critical gear is snacks.
When court is in session I sit in the gallery, hunched over my laptop, barely moving except for my fingers. But my brain is in five places at once, tap-dancing, spinning, back-flipping, walking a tightrope and doing the worm. I’m trying to take fast and accurate notes (quietly) while also sending instant messages to my Times editor, Pui-Wing Tam, (quietly), sending tweets (quietly), posting live updates on the trial for The Times (quietly), emailing outside sources for quotes (quietly) and writing my story in time for our East Coast deadline.
Not every day in court has been as newsworthy as when the defendant took the stand, so our coverage ranges from high-level weekly summaries to minute-by-minute live updates. Big witnesses, like James Mattis, a Theranos board member and former defense secretary, get their own story, as do big themes, like Theranos’s use of the media or the lack of investor due diligence. Our reporting fellow, Erin Woo, has been critical to our coverage. We write background summaries in advance so we can file quickly after adding quotes and analysis from the day’s events.
There are no windows in the courtroom, and by the time we leave the building more than 12 hours after arriving, the sun is going down. Then we do it all again.
When the building was threatened with destruction, in 2007, Professor Black and a charity devoted to Georgian-era architecture tried to get it preserved. They initially failed, but the wrecking ball didn’t swing immediately, in part because the 2007-8 financial crisis left many developers in no mood to spend. It didn’t help that the land behind the Annexe was known to be filled with bodies, although how many was not yet clear.
By then, the Annexe had closed, and the University College London Hospitals National Health Service Foundation Trust — the official name of the organization that owned the building — started renting a hodgepodge of rooms in it to about 40 Londoners looking for cheap, communal living. This is a common strategy among British landlords — populate vacant buildings to prevent them from being vandalized or turned into a squatters’ paradise. Renters in such buildings are known as “guardians,” a slightly misleading term.
“Nobody was walking around with a rifle,” said Dominic Connelly, who lived in the Annexe until 2017, when everyone was finally asked to leave. He paid about $600 a month for a large former patient’s room that included a working X-ray light box.
Tenants were a mix of young people — yoga instructors, actors, a club bouncer — dwelling amid an assortment of medical equipment, security systems, a reception desk and hospital signs, including one for the child psychiatry department. The setting also seems to have inspired “Crashing,” a 2016 television mini-series about young people who flirt and couple in a disused hospital, written by and starring Phoebe Waller-Bridge, the auteur of “Fleabag.”
Except that at the Annexe, people occasionally showed up to dig exploratory trenches.
“You’d see them from the windows, or you’d hear them digging,” Mr. Connelly said. “It was clear they were looking for bodies. Pretty grim stuff when you think about it, so I tried not to think about it.”
All the guardians in the Annexe knew they could be evicted any day, potentially signaling the workhouse’s imminent demise. The prospect was especially galling to a resident who, for unknown reasons, wanted anonymity and has never been identified. She contacted a scholar who had written an essay for The British Medical Journal about one of the medical heroes of the Victorian age, Joseph Rogers, a physician who served as the chief medical officer at the Strand Union Workhouse and crusaded for better conditions.
PARIS — The European Central Bank’s top task is to keep inflation at bay. But as the cost of everything from gas to food has soared to record highs, the bank’s employees are joining workers across Europe in demanding something rarely seen in recent years: a hefty wage increase.
“It seems like a paradox, but the E.C.B. isn’t protecting its own staff against inflation,” said Carlos Bowles, an economist at the central bank and vice president of IPSO, an employee trade union. Workers are pressing for a raise of at least 5 percent to keep up with a historic inflationary surge set off by the end of pandemic lockdowns. The bank says it won’t budge from a planned a 1.3 percent increase.
That simply won’t offset inflation’s pain, said Mr. Bowles, whose union represents 20 percent of the bank’s employees. “Workers shouldn’t have to take a hit when prices rise so much,” he said.
Inflation, relatively quiet for nearly a decade in Europe, has suddenly flared in labor contract talks as a run-up in prices that started in spring courses through the economy and everyday life.
reached 4.90 percent, a record high forthe eurozone.
Austrian metalworkers wrested a 3.6 percent pay raise for 2022. Irish employers said they expect to have to lift wages by at least 3 percent next year. Workers at Tesco supermarkets in Britain won a 5.5 percent raise after threatening to strike around Christmas. And in Germany, where the European Central Bank has its headquarters, the new government raised the minimum wage by a whopping 25 percent, to 12 euros (about $13.60) an hour.
fell for the first time in 10 years in the second quarter from the same period a year earlier, although economists say pandemic shutdowns and job furloughs make it hard to paint an accurate picture. In the decade before the pandemic, when inflation was low, wages in the euro area grew by an average of 1.9 percent a year, according to Eurostat.
The increases are likely to be debated this week at meetings of the European Central Bank and the Bank of England. E.C.B. policymakers have insisted for months that the spike in inflation is temporary, touched off by the reopening of the global economy, labor shortages in some industries and supply-chain bottlenecks that can’t last forever. Energy prices, which jumped in November a staggering 27.4 percent from a year ago, are also expected to cool.
interview in November with the German daily F.A.Z., adding that it was likely to start fading as soon as January.
In the United States, where the government on Friday reported that inflation jumped 6.8 percent in the year through November, the fastest pace in nearly 40 years, officials are not so sure. In congressional testimony last week, the Federal Reserve chair, Jerome H. Powell, stopped using the word “transitory” to describe how long high inflation would last. The Omicron variant of the coronavirus could worsen supply bottlenecks and push up inflation, he said.
In Europe, unions are also agitated after numerous companies reported bumper profits and dividends despite the pandemic. Companies listed on France’s CAC 40 stock index saw margins jump by an average of 35 percent in the first quarter of 2021, and half reported profits around 40 percent higher than the same period a year earlier.
raised in October by 2.2 percent.
Crucially, executives also agreed to return to the bargaining table in April if a continued upward climb in prices hurts employees.
At Sephora, the luxury cosmetics chain owned by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, some unions are seeking an approximately 10 percent pay increase of €180 a month to make up for what they say is stagnant or low pay for employees in France, many of whom earn minimum wage or a couple hundred euros a month more.
€44.2 billion in the first nine months of 2021, up 11 percent from 2019, raised wages at Sephora by 0.5 percent this year and granted occasional work bonuses, said Jenny Urbina, a representative of the Confédération Générale du Travail, the union negotiating with the company.
Sephora has offered a €30 monthly increase for minimum wage workers, and was not replacing many people who quit, straining the remaining employees, she said.
“When we work for a wealthy group like LVMH no one should be earning so little,” said Ms. Urbina, who said she was hired at the minimum wage 18 years ago and now earns €1,819 a month before taxes. “Employees can’t live off of one-time bonuses,” she added. “We want a salary increase to make up for low pay.”
Sephora said in a statement that workers demanding higher wages were in a minority, and that “the question of the purchasing power of our employees has always been at the heart” of the company’s concerns.
At the European Central Bank, employees’ own worries about purchasing power have lingered despite the bank’s forecast that inflation will fade away.
A spokeswoman for the central bank said the 1.3 percent wage increase planned for 2022 is a calculation based on salaries paid at national central banks, and would not change.
But with inflation in Germany at 6 percent, the Frankfurt-based bank’s workers will take a big hit, Mr. Bowles said.
“It’s not in the mentality of E.C.B. staff to go on strike,” he said. “But even if you have a good salary, you don’t want to see it cut by 4 percent.”
Léontine Gallois contributed reporting from Paris.
BERLIN — Last December, as he was plotting what most considered to be a hopeless bid to become Germany’s next chancellor, Olaf Scholz interrupted his campaign preparations for a video call with an American philosopher.
Mr. Scholz, a Social Democrat, wanted to talk to the philosopher, Prof. Michael J. Sandel of Harvard, about why center-left parties like his had been losing working-class voters to populists, and the two men spent an hour discussing a seemingly simple theme that would become the centerpiece of the Scholz campaign: “Respect.”
On Wednesday, Mr. Scholz will be sworn in as Germany’s ninth postwar chancellor — and the first Social Democrat in 16 years — succeeding Angela Merkel and heading a three-party coalition government. Defying polls and pundits, he led his 158-year-old party from the precipice of irrelevance to an unlikely victory — and now wants to show that the center-left can again become a political force in Europe.
Mr. Scholz won for many reasons, not least because he persuaded voters that he was the closest thing to Ms. Merkel, but his message of respect resonated, too. For the first time since 2005, the Social Democrats became the strongest party among the working class. Just over 800,000 voters who had abandoned the party for the far left and far right returned in the last election.
President Biden’s political agenda in the United States.
For the center-left in Europe, Mr. Scholz’s victory comes at a critical moment. Over the past decade, many of the parties that once dominated European politics have become almost obsolete, seemingly bereft of ideas and largely abandoned by their working-class base.
The political energy has been on the right, especially the populist far right, with many American conservatives flocking to countries like Hungary to study the “illiberal democracy” of Viktor Orban, that nation’s far-right prime minister.
the lone defender of liberal democracy in an age of global strongmen, whether President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia or President Donald J. Trump. Yet Germany was not immune to populist fury, and the Alternative for Germany, or AfD, won seats in Parliament and became a political force in the country’s east.
“The biggest concern in politics for me is that our liberal democracies are coming increasingly under pressure,” Mr. Scholz says about himself on the Social Democrats’ website. “We have to solve the problems so that the cheap slogans of the populists don’t catch.”
a Trump victory. Then he spent months analyzing why the Democrats lost and reading a raft of books by authors from working-class backgrounds in the United States, France and Germany.
“He studied very carefully what happened in the United States,” said Cem Özdemir, a prominent member of the Greens who is a minister in Mr. Scholz’s incoming government. “He studied the losses of the Democrats in the U.S. Why didn’t Hillary win?”
When Mr. Scholz’s own party collapsed in the 2017 election, losing for the fourth time in a row, he wrote an unsparing paper concluding that one reason the Social Democrats had lost their core voters was that they had failed to offer them “recognition.”
cut benefits and undertook a painful overhaul of the labor market from 2003 to 2005 in a bid to bring down a jobless toll that had surpassed five million. Mr. Scholz, then the party’s general secretary, became the public face of the changes.
Unemployment did gradually fall, but the program also helped create a sprawling low-wage sector and prompted many working-class voters to defect from the Social Democrats.
Understand Germany’s New Government
Card 1 of 6
The post-Merkel era begins. For the first time in 16 years, Germany will have a center-left government and a new chancellor, Olaf Scholz, whose job will be to fill the shoes of Angela Merkel. Here’s what to know about the new government:
Who is Olaf Scholz? A lifelong Social Democrat, Mr. Scholz, 63, has been a familiar face in German politics and served in two governments led by Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democratic Party, most recently as her finance minister. But he has also been something of a political chameleon.
An uncommon coalition. The new government led by Mr. Scholz brings together three parties — the Social Democrats, the environmentalist Greens and the pro-business Free Democrats. It is the first time since the 1950s that three partners have formed a government.
The governing deal. Despite their differences, the parties said they had found enough common ground to push forward with plans to beat back the pandemic, increase the minimum wage, address climate change and legalize marijuana.
The pandemic offers a crucial test. A spike in cases has thrust Germany into its worst crisis of the pandemic, vaulting the issue to the top of the coalition’s agenda. But in its first test, the incoming government sent mixed signals before the latest wave forced a retreat to tougher measures.
Foreign policy crises await. Rarely has a German leader come into office with so many burning crises. Mr. Scholz will have to deal with tensions on the Polish-Belarusian border, a Russian president mobilizing troops near Ukraine, a more confrontational China and a less dependable U.S.
Professor Sandel argues that it was around this time that center-left parties, including the Democrats of President Bill Clinton, embraced the market triumphalism of the right, became more closely identified with the values and interests of the well-educated and began losing touch with working-class voters.
Mr. Scholz, once a fiery young socialist who joined his party as a teenager, defended workers as a labor lawyer in the 1970s before gradually mellowing into a post-ideological centrist. Today he is considered to be to the right of much of the party’s base, not unlike Mr. Biden, with whom he is sometimes compared, even though, like Mr. Biden, he has demonstrated some liberal reflexes.
a three-party government with the progressive Greens and the libertarian Free Democrats. Their governing treaty calls for raising the minimum wage to 12 euros, or about $13.50, an hour, from €9.60 today — an instant pay rise for about 10 million people. Mr. Scholz has also promised to build 400,000 homes a year,100,000 more than was previously planned, and to guarantee stable pension levels.
More abstract, but equally important, is his promise of another “industrial revolution” that will aim to make Germany a manufacturing power for the carbon-neutral age and provide the economic bedrock for the welfare state of the future.
“We need to tell people two things,” Mr. Scholz said during the campaign. “First, that we need respect, we need good pay and proper recognition for work. And second, we have to ensure that there are good jobs in the future.”
the Socialist mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, who recently announced her own long-shot presidential bid, has evoked the “respect” theme.
But slogans go only so far. The Social Democrats came in first in the splintered September vote in Germany but mustered only 26 percent of the total, a far cry from the 40 percent they recorded at the start of Mr. Schröder’s first term. Mr. Kühnert, the party’s general secretary, said that Mr. Scholz’s challenge was to show that the Social Democratic model is the right approach for the country and beyond.
“We hope that our election victory in Germany will send a signal for the revival of social democracy internationally,” Mr. Kühnert said. “We’re looking above all to the rest of Europe, because we need to strengthen the E.U. in the next years if we want to have anything to say in the world in coming years.”
BEIRUT, Lebanon — Built on the ashes of 10 years of war in Syria, an illegal drug industry run by powerful associates and relatives of President Bashar al-Assad has grown into a multi-billion-dollar operation, eclipsing Syria’s legal exports and turning the country into the world’s newest narcostate.
Its flagship product is captagon, an illegal, addictive amphetamine popular in Saudi Arabia and other Arab states. Its operations stretch across Syria, including workshops that manufacture the pills, packing plants where they are concealed for export, and smuggling networks to spirit them to markets abroad.
An investigation by The New York Times found that much of the production and distribution is overseen by the Fourth Armored Division of the Syrian army, an elite unit commanded by Maher al-Assad, the president’s younger brother and one of Syria’s most powerful men.
Major players also include businessmen with close ties to the government, the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, and other members of the president’s extended family, whose last name ensures protection for illegal activities, according to The Times investigation, which is based on information from law enforcement officials in 10 countries and dozens of interviews with international and regional drug experts, Syrians with knowledge of the drug trade and current and former United States officials.
found 84 million pills hidden in huge rolls of paper and metal gears last year. Malaysian officials discovered more than 94 million pills sealed inside rubber trolley wheels in March.
hub of hashish production and a stronghold of Hezbollah, an Iran-backed militant group that is now part of Lebanon’s government.
While the pharmaceutical Captagon contained the amphetamine fenethylline, the illicit version sold today, often referred to as “captagon” with a lowercase c, usually contains a mix of amphetamines, caffeine and various fillers. Cheap versions retail for less than a dollar a pill in Syria, while higher quality pills can sell for $14 or more apiece in Saudi Arabia.
After the Syrian war broke out, smugglers took advantage of the chaos to sell the drug to fighters on all sides, who took it to bolster their courage in battle. Enterprising Syrians, working with local pharmacists and machinery from disused pharmaceutical factories, began making it.
Syria had the needed components: experts to mix drugs, factories to make products to conceal the pills, access to Mediterranean shipping lanes and established smuggling routes to Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq.
As the war dragged on, the country’s economy fell apart and a growing number of Mr. al-Assad’s associates were targeted with international sanctions. Some of them invested in captagon, and a state-linked cartel developed, bringing together military officers, militia leaders, traders whose businesses had boomed during the war and relatives of Mr. al-Assad.
Mr. Khiti and Mr. Taha. It called Mr. Taha an intermediary for the Fourth Division whose businesses “generate revenue for the regime and its supporters.”
Captagon is still produced in and smuggled through Lebanon. Nouh Zaiter, a Lebanese drug lord who now lives mostly in Syria, links the Lebanese and Syrian sides of the business, according to regional security officials and Syrians with knowledge of the drug trade.
A tall, longhaired Bekaa Valley native, Mr. Zaiter was sentenced in absentia to life in prison with hard labor by a Lebanese military court this year for drug crimes.
Reached by phone, Mr. Zaiter said his business was hashish and denied that he had ever been involved with captagon.
“I have not and will never send such poisons to Saudi Arabia or anywhere else,” he said. “Even my worst enemy, I won’t provide him with captagon.”
sewn into the linings of clothes.
In May, after Saudi authorities discovered more than five million pills hidden inside hollowed out pomegranates shipped from Beirut, they banned produce from Lebanon, a major blow to local farmers.
According to The Times’ database, the number of pills seized has increased every year since 2017.
The street value of the drugs seized has outstripped the value of Syria’s legal exports, mostly agricultural products, every year since 2019.
Last year, global captagon seizures had a street value of about$2.9 billion, more than triple Syria’s legal exports of $860 million.
Law enforcement agencies have struggled to catch the smugglers, not least because the Syrian authorities offer little if any information about shipments that originated in their country.
The name of shippers listed on manifests are usually fake and searches for the intended recipients often lead to mazes of shell companies.
The Italian seizure of 84 million pills in Salerno last year, the largest captagon bust ever at the time, had come from Latakia. Shipping documents listed the sender as Basil al-Shagri Bin Jamal, but the Italian authorities were unable to find him.
GPS Global Aviation Supplier, a company registered in Lugano, Switzerland, that appears to have no office.
Phone calls, text messages and emails to the company received no response, and the wealth management firm that the company listed as its mailing address, SMC Family Office SA, declined to comment.
Greek investigators have hit similar roadblocks.
In June 2019, workers in Piraeus found five tons of captagon, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, inside sheets of fiberboard on their way to China.
Seehog, a Chinese logistics firm. When reached by phone, she denied knowing anything about the shipment and refused to answer questions.
“You are not the police,” she said, and hung up.
There was one more clue in the documents: The sender was Mohammed Amer al-Dakak, with a Syrian phone number. When entered into WhatsApp, the phone number showed a photo of Maher al-Assad, the commander of Syria’s Fourth Armored Division, suggesting the number belonged to, at least, one of his fans.
A man who answered that number said that he was not Mr. al-Dakak. He said that he had acquired the phone number recently.
Loukas Danabasis, the head of the narcotics unit of Greece’s financial crime squad, said the smugglers’ tactics made solving such cases “difficult and sometimes impossible.”
Spilling Into Jordan
While officials in Europe struggle to identify smugglers, Jordan, one of the United States’ closest partners in the Middle East, sits on the front lines of a regional drug war.
“Jordan is the gateway to the Gulf,” Brig. Gen. Ahmad al-Sarhan, the commander of an army unit along Jordan’s border with Syria, said during a visit to the area.
Overlooking a deep valley with views of Syria, General al-Sarhan and his men detailed Syrian smugglers’ tricks to bring drugs into Jordan: They launch crossing attempts at multiple spots. They attach drugs to drones and fly them across. They load drugs onto donkeys trained to cross by themselves.
Sometimes the smugglers stop by Syrian army posts before approaching the border.
“There is clear involvement,” General al-Sarhan said.
The drug trade worries Jordanian officials for many reasons.
The quantities are increasing. The number of Captagon pills seized in Jordan this year is nearly double the amount seized in 2020, according to Colonel Alqudah, the head of the narcotics department.
And while Jordan was originally just a pathway to Saudi Arabia, as much as one-fifth of the drugs smuggled in from Syria are now consumed in Jordan, he estimated. The increased supply has lowered the price, making it easy for students to become addicted.
Even more worrying, he said, is the growing quantity of crystal meth entering Jordan from Syria, which poses a greater threat. As of October, Jordan had seized 132 pounds of it this year, up from 44 pounds the year before.
“We are now in a dangerous stage because we can’t go back,” said Dr. Morad al-Ayasrah, a Jordanian psychiatrist who treats drug addicts. “We are going forward and the drugs are increasing.”
Reporting was contributed by Niki Kitsantonis in Athens; Gaia Pianigiani in Rome; Kit Gillet in Bucharest, Romania; Hannah Beech in Bangkok; and employees of The New York Times in Damascus, Syria, and Beirut, Lebanon.
In private, many senior bank executives tasked with raising attendance among their direct reports expressed irritation. They said it was unfair for highly paid employees to keep working from home while others — like bank tellers or building workers — dutifully come in every day. Salaries at investment banks in the New York area averaged $438,450 in 2020, up 7.8 percent from the previous year, according to data from the office of the state comptroller, Thomas P. DiNapoli.
Two senior executives, who declined to be identified discussing personnel matters, said they might push out subordinates who are not willing to come back to the office regularly. Another manager expressed frustration about a worker who refused to show up at the office, citing concern about the virus — even though the person had recently traveled on vacation.
Executives “have not felt that they could put on pressure to get people back in the office — and those who have put on pressure have gotten real pushback,” said Ms. Wylde, of the Partnership for New York City. “Financial services is one of those industries that are hugely competitive for talent, so nobody wants to be the bad guy.” She expects that big financial firms will eventually drive workers back into the office by dangling pay and promotions.
For now, banks are resorting to coaxing and coddling.
Food trucks, free meals and snacks are occasionally on offer, as are complimentary Uber and Lyft rides. Dress codes have been relaxed. Major firms have adopted safety protocols such as on-site testing and mask mandates in common areas. Goldman, Morgan Stanley and Citigroup are requiring vaccinations for workers entering their offices, while Bank of America asked only inoculated staff to return after Labor Day. JPMorgan has not mandated vaccines for workers to return to the office.
At Citi, which asked employees to come back for at least two days a week starting in September, offices are about 70 percent full on the days with the highest traffic. Citi, whose chief executive, Jane Fraser, started her job in the middle of the pandemic, has hired shuttle buses so that employees coming into Midtown Manhattan from suburban homes can avoid taking the subway to the bank’s downtown offices. To allay concerns about rising crime in New York, at least one other firm has hired shuttle buses to ferry people a few blocks from Pennsylvania Station to offices in Midtown, Ms. Wylde said.
Remote working arrangements are also emerging as a key consideration for workers interviewing for new jobs, according to Alan Johnson, the managing director of Johnson Associates, a Wall Street compensation consultancy.
NEW DELHI — Om Prakash relied on relatives and neighbors to tend his wheat and vegetable fields. He ate food donated by sympathizers at home and abroad. When he felt feverish, he turned to volunteer medical workers huddled, like him, near a noisy overpass for months, through heat and cold and a deadly viral outbreak.
Now, his year away from his farm and his family has finally paid off.
Mr. Prakash was one of thousands of farmers in India who used their organizational skills, broad support network and sheer persistence to force one of the country’s most powerful leaders in modern history into a rare retreat. Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday said lawmakers would repeal new agricultural laws that the protesting farmers feared would leave them vulnerable to rapacious big companies and destroy their way of life.
Their victory won’t help India solve the deep inefficiencies that plague its farming sector, problems that leave people malnourished in some places even as grain in other parts is unused or exported. But it showed how a group desperate to preserve its hold on a middle-class way of life could successfully challenge a government more accustomed to squelching dissent than reckoning with it.
fast-tracked citizenship for some groups but excluded Muslims, were plagued by violence.
The effort isn’t over yet. The farmers have vowed to continue their protests until the government submits to another demand, that it guarantee a minimum price for nearly two dozen crops. Rather than retreat now, they sense an opportunity to push even harder on a prime minister who is nervously watching his party’s poll numbers dip in a string of states with elections next year. The government has said it will form a committee to consider the matter.
India’s farming system still needs to be fixed, a fact that even many of the protesting farmers acknowledge. Initiated during a time of widespread starvation in the 1960s, the system created centralized markets where farmers could sell their crops. Some of the proceeds are funneled back to farming communities though infrastructure projects, pensions and programs providing free technical advice on matters like seed and fertilizer.
in debt. With city and factory jobs hard to find in a country still struggling with poverty, many farm children emigrate to find a better life.
Mr. Modi’s laws were aimed at bringing more private money into agriculture and making it more receptive to market forces. Mr. Singh, the protest leader, said many farmers would prefer subsidies over a wider range of output.
“The root of the agricultural issue in India is that farmers are not getting the proper value of their crops,” said Mr. Singh. “There are two ways to see reforms — giving away land to the corporations, the big people, the capitalists. The other is to help the farmers increase their yields.”
The movement started in Punjab, home to a large community of Sikhs, the religious group, and some of the country’s richest agricultural land. The protest leaders leaned on both to organize and finance their yearlong demonstrations.
farmers rode tractors over police barricades into New Delhi, leading to the death of one protester. Political analysts declared the movement dead. But organizers retreated behind the barricades, and resumed their peaceful protests through the harsh winter, a devastating wave of the coronavirus, a scorching summer and into the fall.
rammed into a group of protesting farmers, resulting in the deaths of four protesters along with four other people, including a local journalist. The son of one of Mr. Modi’s ministers is among those under investigation in connection with the episode.
That incident, which came after the protesters decided to shadow campaigning B.J.P. officials to draw cameras, may have been a turning point. The B.J.P.’s poll numbers soon dropped in Uttar Pradesh, where the deaths took place. Party officials began to worry that they could lose the state in elections set for early next year.
A day after Mr. Modi’s surprise announcement, the mood near Singhu, a village in the state of Haryana that borders the capital, was somber. Religious music and political speeches blared from loudspeakers across the makeshift village of bamboo huts, where people hawked T-shirts and flags that said, “No farmers, no food.”
Outside one of the huts serving free vegetarian lunch, Mr. Prakash, the farmer, described sleeping though cold weather and rain next to a busy road, leaving his farm in the care of his brothers’ children.
Mr. Prakash, who lives off his pension from 20 years in the Indian Air Force, does not need the farm to survive. Instead, holding on to the seven acres he and his siblings inherited from their parents ensures they can maintain a middle class life in a country where the vagaries of the economy often suck people back into poverty.
Mr. Prakash said that the family farm had supported his ambitions, and that he wanted the same for his children.
“To save our motherland,” he said, “we can stay here another two years.”
A driver in Belleville, N.J., cut his cable and downsized his apartment to save money for gas. A retiree in Vallejo, Calif., said he had stopped driving to go fishing because the miles cost too much in fuel. An auto repairman in Toms River, N.J., doesn’t go to restaurants as often. And an Uber Eats deliveryman said he couldn’t afford frequent visits to his family and friends, some of whom live 60 miles away.
“Times are tough right now,” Chris Gonzalez, 31, the Uber Eats driver, said as he filled up his tank at a Safeway gas station off Interstate 80 in California.
Millions of American drivers have acutely felt the recent surge in gas prices, which last month hit their highest level since 2014. The national average for a gallon of gas is $3.41, which is $1.29 more than it was a year ago, according to AAA. Even after a recent price dip in crude oil, gasoline remains 7 cents more per gallon than it was a month ago.
While consumers are seeing a steady rise in the prices of many goods and services, the cost of gas is especially visible. It is displayed along highways across the country, including in areas where a gallon has climbed as high as $7.59.
survey from the fuel savings platform GasBuddy.
instructed the Federal Trade Commission this week to investigate why prices at the pump haven’t declined as much as might be expected, citing the possibility of “illegal conduct” by oil and gas companies. The administration is also facing calls from Congress to tap the country’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which the Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, said would help struggling Americans.
Gas prices have gone up in part because of fluctuations in supply and demand. Demand for oil fell precipitously in the early months of the pandemic, so the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and other oil-producing nations cut production. In the United States, reduced demand led to a substantial decline in drilling; the country’s oil rig count was down nearly 70 percent in summer 2020.
But over the past year, demand for oil recovered far faster than OPEC restored its production, and crude oil prices doubled to as much as $84 a barrel. (Since Nov. 9, the price has declined to just over $76.)
higher in the past; in 2008, the national average rose above $4.10 per gallon. (Adjusted for inflation, that would be equivalent to $5.16 today.) They’re optimistic that the increase in travel and gas demand is a reflection of the economy’s rebound from the pandemic, though they worry that rising prices could make people cut back on other spending.
“If gas prices rise so much that it affects consumers’ disposable incomes, this would weigh on discretionary spending,” said Fawad Razaqzada, a market analyst at ThinkMarkets. “It would be bad news for retailers.”
In California, where the average price of a gallon is the highest in the nation, at more than $4.60, drivers said they were changing their behavior. Some sought out cheaper spots, like Costco and Safeway gas stations, to save a few dollars.
At an Arco station in San Francisco’s NoPa neighborhood, a line of cars extended into the crowded street on Thursday. Some drivers searched for change. Others grumbled about the prices, which have shot up to as much as $4.49 at the Arco — known locally for its normally cheap rates — and up to $5.85 in the most expensive part of the city.
Keith Crawford, 57, who was filling up his Kia Optima, said he had taken to getting smaller amounts of gas twice a week to soften the blow to his bank account.
“You have to spread it out in order to stay afloat,” said Mr. Crawford, a concierge. “It’s part of the budget now.”
Thirty miles northeast of San Francisco in Vallejo, drivers lined up at the Safeway gas station off I-80, where the price was $4.83 per gallon. Several put the blame for their bills on the Biden administration.
“It’s Biden, Gavin Newsom — look at the gas taxes we pay,” said Kevin Altman, a 54-year-old retiree, referring to California’s governor.
Mr. Altman paid $50 to fill up his Jeep and estimated the gas would last him just two days. He said he had stopped driving to go fishing in nearby Benicia to avoid using too much gas, and would do all his Christmas shopping online this year.
The cost can be especially challenging for people who own businesses that depend on transit. Mahmut Sonmez, 33, who runs a car service, spends nearly $800 on gas out of the $2,500 he earns each week driving people around New Jersey. To save money, he moved in September into a Belleville apartment that is $400 cheaper than his previous home. He also cut his cable service and changed cellphone plans.
If gas prices keep rising, Mr. Sonmez said, he will consider changing jobs after nine years in the industry. “Somehow we’ve got to pay the rent,” he said.
In New Jersey, which bans self-service gas, some drivers are directing their ire toward station attendants.
“Every day they’re cursing me out,” said Gaby Marmol, 25, the assistant manager of a BP station in Newark, adding that when she sees how much the customers spend on both gas and convenience store items — $1.19 for ring pops that used to be 50 cents — she feels sympathetic. “We’re just doing our jobs, but they think we set the prices.”
Cheik Diakite, 62, an attendant at a Mobil station in Newark, doesn’t get as many tips as he did before the pandemic, he said, and grows frustrated listening to customers attribute the high prices to Mr. Biden.
Mr. Diakite typically passes afternoons by looking out for his most loyal customers. Bebi Amzad, who works at a nearby school, always has the same request for him: “Fill it up.” But when she pulled in on Thursday, she asked him to give her just $30 worth of gas.
“Today I’m not filling up all the way because I have other expenses,” said Ms. Amzad, 54, who commutes to Newark from Linden, N.J. “Everybody is hurting.”
Because she spends so much on gas and groceries, Ms. Amzad continued, she can’t afford many indulgences. “I don’t go to Marshalls anymore.”
NAIROBI, Kenya — The family was startled awake by a loud bang in the middle of the night on the gate of their home on the outskirts of Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia.
Police officers barged in without a warrant, ransacking the living room and looking under the beds. They seized three members of the family, among them a 76-year-old, one-legged amputee yanked from bed while his sons begged to go in his place.
“They showed him no mercy even after he cried, ‘I am disabled and diabetic,’” said the man’s nephew, Kirubel, who would give only his first name for fear of reprisals.
The family is among hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of Ethiopians belonging to the Tigrayan ethnic group who have been rounded up and detained in the capital and beyond in recent weeks.
routed the Ethiopian army in Tigray, swept south, recently captured two strategic towns and threatened to advance toward the capital.
On Nov. 2, the government declared a state of emergency, and the resulting roundups have swept up anyone of Tigrayan descent, many of whom had no ties to the rebels or even affinity for them. They were not just young men and women, but also mothers with children and the elderly, according to human rights advocates and interviews with nearly a dozen family members and friends of detainees.
They have been seized off the streets, in their homes and even in workplaces — including banks, schools and shopping centers — and taken to overcrowded cells in police stations and detention facilities.
Tigrayans have been targeted by the police based on a mix of hints: their surnames, details listed on identification cards and drivers licenses, even the way they speakAmharic, the national language of Ethiopia.
said Tuesday through a spokeswoman. “Its provisions are extremely broad, with vague prohibitions going as far as encompassing ‘indirect moral’ support for what the government has labeled ‘terrorist groups.’”
The ethnically motivated detentions come amid a significant rise in online hate speech, which is only adding fuel to the civil war tearing apart Africa’s second-most populous nation. Reports of massacres, ethnic cleansing and widespread sexual assault by all sides in the conflict have undermined the vision of Ethiopian unity that Mr. Abiy, the prime minister and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, promised when he rose to power more than three years ago.
The war between Ethiopian federal forces and their allies and Tigrayan rebel fighters has left thousands of people dead, at least 400,000 living in famine-like conditions and millions displaced. It risks engulfing the whole of Ethiopia and the wider Horn of Africa.
Mr. Abiy’s determination to prosecute the war seems to have been only hardened by economic threats from the Biden administration, which has imposed sanctions on his military allies in neighboring Eritrea and suspended Ethiopia from duty-free access to the U.S. market.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, who is traveling to Kenya, Nigeria and Senegal this week, has expressed worry that Ethiopia could “implode.”
defend the capital “with our blood” even as African and Western envoys sought to broker a cease-fire.
Police officials have defended the arrests, saying they were seizing supporters of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, the country’s former dominant party, which Ethiopia now classifies as a terrorist organization.
Activists, however, say the state of emergency provisions are so nebulous that they give security officials unfettered latitude. The provisions allow for the search of any person’s home or their arrest without a warrant “upon reasonable suspicion” that they cooperate with terrorist groups.
Laetitia Bader, the Horn of Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said “the state of emergency is legitimizing and legalizing unlawful practices” and creating “a real climate of fear.”
Many ethnic Tigrayans say they now fear leaving home. Almost all those who agreed to be interviewed declined to be identified by name for fear that they might be arrested or face retaliation.
began a military campaign in the country’s northern Tigray region, hoping to vanquish the Tigray People’s Liberation Front — his most troublesome political foe.
Rebels turned the tide. Despite Mr. Abiy’s promise of a swift campaign, the Ethiopian military suffered a major defeat in June when it was forced to withdraw from Tigray. Now the fighting is rapidly moving south.
Tigrayan forces close in. In late October, Tigrayan rebels captured two towns near Addis Ababa, the nation’s capital. The government declared a state of emergency and called on citizens to arm themselves.
No end in sight. President Biden has threatened to impose sanctions on the country to coax the sides to the negotiating table, but the war’s current trajectory could cause the collapse of Ethiopia.
In Addis Ababa, security officers have demanded that landlords identify Tigrayan tenants. In one secondary school, a teacher said four Tigrayan teachers had been taken into custody as they ate lunch after officers arrived with a letter from the intelligence service containing their names.
A merchant in Addis Ababa, 38, was picked up by security officers after he opened his mobile phone accessories shop. A nearby shop owner phoned that news to the seized merchant’s wife, who said she left their two children with a neighbor and rushed to the shop — only to find it closed and her husband gone.
After a three-day search, the wife said, she found her husband in a crowded Addis Ababa detention facility with no proper bedding or food.
In Addis Ababa, rights groups say, police stations are so full of detainees that the authorities have moved the overflow to heavily guarded makeshift facilities, among them youth recreation centers, warehouses and one major prison. With no access to lawyers, some relatives of detainees say they will not approach these facilities, fearful they could be arrested too.
whistle-blower, have long accused Facebook of failing to moderate hateful incitement speech. With pressure mounting, Facebook this month deleted a post by Mr. Abiy urging citizens to “bury” the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.
Twitter also disabled its Trends section in Ethiopia, citing “the risks of coordination that could incite violence or cause harm.”
Timnit Gebru, an Ethiopian-born American computer scientist who spotted and reported some of the posts on Facebook, said the measures were insufficient and amounted to “a game of whack-a-mole.”
For now, many Tigrayans worry that it’s only a matter of time before they are seized. One businessman, who paid a $400 bribe for his release, said officers had told him they would come for him again.
It’s a fate Kirubel said he worried about as his disabled uncle and cousins remained detained.
“My children worry that I will not come back when I leave the house,” he said. “Everyone is afraid.”
Employees of The New York Times contributed reporting from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.