many of the same ships have recently started trading Venezuelan oil that is under U.S. sanctions.

The spread of AIS manipulation by E.U.-registered vessels shows how advances in technology allow some shipowners to earn windfall profits from commodities under sanction while benefiting from European financial services and legal safeguards.

Cyprus’s deputy shipping minister, Vassilios Demetriades, said illegal manipulation of on-ship equipment is punishable by fines or criminal penalties under the island’s laws. But he has downplayed the problem, saying AIS’s “value and trustworthiness as a location device is rather limited.”

According to Cyprus’s corporate documents, Reliable belongs to a company owned by Christos Georgantzoglou, 81, a Greek businessman. The ship crossed the Atlantic for the first time shortly after Mr. Georgantzoglou’s company bought it last year, and has transmitted locations around eastern Caribbean Islands since, according to Windward’s analysis.

But Venezuela’s state oil company records reviewed by The New York Times show that Reliable was working for the Venezuelan government in the country during that time.

Mr. Georgantzoglou and his company did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Their Venezuelan dealings appear to contradict a promise made by Greece’s powerful shipowners association in 2020 to stop transporting the country’s oil. The association did not respond to requests for comment.

Meanwhile, Reliable is still moving fuel around Venezuelan ports or loading crude onto Asia-bound ships in open waters to hide its origin, according to two Venezuelan oil businessmen, who asked not to be named for security reasons. It still broadcasts coordinates of a ship adrift in the Caribbean Sea.

Adriana Loureiro Fernandez and Eric Schmitt contributed reporting.

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President Biden To Help Unveil Obama White House Portraits

President Biden will be the rare president to host a former boss for the unveiling; he was Obama’s vice president.

It’s been more than a decade since President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, welcomed back George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, for the unveiling of their White House portraits, part of a beloved Washington tradition that for decades managed to transcend partisan politics.

President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, are set to revive that ritual — after an awkward and anomalous gap in the Trump years — when they host the Obamas on Wednesday for the big reveal of their portraits in front of scores of friends, family and staff.

The Obama paintings will not look like any in the White House portrait collection to which they will be added: They were America’s first Black president and first lady.

The ceremony will also mark Michelle Obama’s first visit to the White House since Obama’s presidency ended in January 2017, and only the second visit for Barack Obama. He was at the White House in April to mark the 12th anniversary of the health care law he signed in 2010.

Portrait ceremonies often give past presidents an opportunity to showcase their comedic timing.

“I am pleased that my portrait brings an interesting symmetry to the White House collection. It now starts and ends with a George W,” Bush quipped at his ceremony in 2012.

Bill Clinton joked in 2004 that “most of the time, till you get your picture hung like this, the only artists that draw you are cartoonists.”

Recent tradition, no matter the party affiliation, has had the current president genially hosting his immediate predecessor for the unveiling — as Clinton did for George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush did for Clinton and Obama did for the younger Bush.

Then there was an unexplained pause when Donald Trump did not host Obama.

Two spokespeople for Trump did not respond to emailed requests for comment on the lack of a ceremony for Obama, and whether artists are working on portraits of Trump and former first lady Melania Trump.

The White House portrait collection starts with George Washington, America’s first president. Congress bought his portrait.

Other portraits of early presidents and first ladies often came to the White House as gifts. Since the middle of the last century, the White House Historical Association has paid for the paintings.

The first portraits financed by the association were of Lyndon Johnson and Lady Bird Johnson, and John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy, said Stewart McLaurin, president of the private, nonprofit organization established by first lady Kennedy.

Before presidents and first ladies leave office, the association explains the portrait process. The former president and first lady choose the artist or artists, and offer guidance on how they want to be portrayed.

“It really involves how that president and first lady see themselves,” McLaurin said in an interview with The Associated Press.

The collection includes an iconic, full-length portrait of Washington that adorns the East Room. It is the only item still in the White House that was in the executive mansion in November 1800 when John Adams and Abigail Adams became the first president and first lady to live in the White House.

Years later, first lady Dolley Madison saved Gilbert Stuart’s portrait of Washington from almost certain ruin. She had White House staff take it out of the city before advancing British forces burned the mansion in 1814. The painting was held in storage until the White House was rebuilt.

President and first lady portraits are seen by millions of White House visitors, though not all are on display. Some are undergoing conservation or are in storage.

Those that are on display line hallways and rooms in public areas of the mansion, such as the Ground Floor and its Vermeil and China Rooms, and the State Floor one level above, which has the famous Green, Blue and Red Rooms, the East Room and State Dining Room.

Portraits of Mamie Eisenhower, Pat Nixon, Lady Bird Johnson and Lou Henry Hoover grace the Vermeil Room, along with a full-length image of Jacqueline Kennedy. Michelle Obama’s portrait likely will join Barbara Bush, Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush along the Ground Floor hallway.

The State Floor hallway one floor above features recent presidents: John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Gerald Ford’s portrait and the likeness of Richard Nixon — the only president to resign from office — are on view on the Grand Staircase leading to the private living quarters on the second floor.

Past presidents’ images move around the White House, depending on their standing with the current occupants. Ronald Reagan, for example, moved Thomas Jefferson and Harry S. Truman out of the Cabinet Room and swapped in Dwight Eisenhower and Calvin Coolidge.

In the Clinton era, portraits of Richard Nixon and Reagan, idols of the Republican Party, lost their showcase spot in the Grand Foyer and were replaced with pictures of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Truman, heroes of the Democrats. Nancy Reagan temporarily moved Eleanor Roosevelt to a place of prominence in the East Room in 1984 to mark the centennial of her birth.

One of the most prominent spots for a portrait is above the mantle in the State Dining Room and it has been occupied for decades by a painting of a seated Abraham Lincoln, hand supporting his chin. It was placed there by Franklin Roosevelt.

Bill Clinton’s and George W. Bush’s portraits hang on opposing walls in the Grand Foyer.

Clinton’s would be relocated to make room for Barack Obama’s if the White House sticks to tradition and keeps the two most recent Oval Office occupants there, McLaurin said.

“That’s up to the White House, to the curators,” he said.

The association, which is funded through private donations and the sale of books and an annual White House Christmas ornament, keeps the portrait price well below market value because of the “extraordinary honor” an artist derives from having “their work of art hanging perpetually in the White House,” McLaurin said.

Details about the Obamas’ portraits will stay under wraps until Wednesday.

President Biden will be the rare president to host a former boss for the unveiling; he was Obama’s vice president. George H.W. Bush, who held Ronald Reagan’s ceremony, was Reagan’s No. 2.

Betty Monkman, a former White House curator, said during a 2017 podcast for the White House Historical Association that the ceremony is a “statement of generosity” by the president and first lady. “It’s a very warm, lovely moment.”

The White House portraits are one of two sets of portraits of presidents and first ladies. The National Portrait Gallery, a Smithsonian museum, maintains its own collection and those portraits are unveiled before the White House pair. The Obamas unveiled their museum portraits in February 2018.

Linda St. Thomas, chief spokesperson for the Smithsonian Institution, said in an email that a $650,000 donation in July from Save America, Trump’s political action committee, was earmarked for the couple’s museum portraits. Two artists have been commissioned, one for each painting, and work has begun, St. Thomas said.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Source: newsy.com

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FBI: Trump Mixed Top Secret Docs With Magazines, Other Items

No space at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate was authorized for the storage of classified material, according to an FBI affidavit.

Fourteen of the 15 boxes recovered from former President Donald Trump’s Florida estate early this year contained classified documents, many of them top secret, mixed in with miscellaneous newspapers, magazines and personal correspondence, according to an FBI affidavit released Friday.

No space at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate was authorized for the storage of classified material, according to the court papers, which laid out the FBI’s rationale for searching the property this month, including “probable cause to believe that evidence of obstruction will be found.”

The 32-page affidavit — heavily redacted to protect the safety of witnesses and law enforcement officials and “the integrity of the ongoing investigation” — offers the most detailed description to date of the government records being stored at Mar-a-Lago long after Trump left the White House. It also reveals the gravity of the government’s concerns that the documents were there illegally.

The document makes clear how the haphazard retention of top secret government records, and the apparent failure to safeguard them despite months of entreaties from U.S. officials, has exposed Trump to fresh legal peril just as he lays the groundwork for another potential presidential run in 2024.

“The government is conducting a criminal investigation concerning the improper removal and storage of classified information in unauthorized spaces, as well as the unlawful concealment or removal of government records,” an FBI agent wrote on the first page of the affidavit.

Documents previously made public show that federal agents are investigating potential violations of multiple federal laws, including one that governs gathering, transmitting or losing defense information under the Espionage Act. The other statutes address the concealment, mutilation or removal of records and the destruction, alteration or falsification of records in federal investigations.

Trump has long insisted, despite clear evidence to the contrary, that he fully cooperated with government officials. And he has rallied Republicans behind him by painting the search as a politically motivated witch hunt intended to damage his reelection prospects. He repeated that refrain on his social media site Friday, saying he and his representatives had had a close working relationship with the FBI and “GAVE THEM MUCH.”

His attorneys late Friday repeated their request for the appointment of an independent special master to review the documents taken from the home, saying the redacted affidavit doesn’t give Trump sufficient information about why the search took place or what materials were removed.

The affidavit does not provide new details about 11 sets of classified records recovered during the Aug. 8 search at Mar-a-Lago but instead concerns a separate batch of 15 boxes that the National Archives and Records Administration retrieved from the home in January. The Archives sent the matter to the Justice Department, indicating in its referral that a review showed “a lot” of classified materials, the affidavit says.

The affidavit made the case to a judge that a search of Mar-a-Lago was necessary due to the highly sensitive material found in those 15 boxes. Of 184 documents with classification markings, 25 were at the top secret level, the affidavit says. Some had special markings suggesting they included information from highly sensitive human sources or the collection of electronic “signals” authorized by a special intelligence court.

And some of those classified records were mixed with other documents, including newspapers, magazines and miscellaneous print-outs, the affidavit says, citing a letter from the Archives.

Douglas London, a former senior CIA officer and author of “The Recruiter,” said this showed Trump’s lack of respect for controls. “One of the rules of classified is you don’t mix classified and unclassified so there’s no mistakes or accidents,” he said.

The affidavit shows how agents were authorized to search a large swath of Mar-a-Lago, including Trump’s official post-presidential “45 Office,” storage rooms and all other areas in which boxes or documents could be stored. They did not propose searching areas of the property used or rented by Mar-a-Lago members, such as private guest suites.

The FBI submitted the affidavit, or sworn statement, to a judge so it could obtain the warrant to search Trump’s property. Affidavits typically contain vital information about an investigation, with agents spelling out the justification for why they want to search a particular location and why they believe they’re likely to find evidence of a potential crime there.

The documents routinely remain sealed during pending investigations. But in an acknowledgment of the extraordinary public interest in the investigation, U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart on Thursday ordered the department by Friday to make public a redacted version of the affidavit.

In a separate document unsealed Friday, Justice Department officials said it was necessary to redact some information to “protect the safety and privacy of a significant number of civilian witnesses, in addition to law enforcement personnel, as well as to protect the integrity of the ongoing investigation.”

The second half of the affidavit is almost entirely redacted, making it impossible to discern the scope of the investigation or where it might be headed. It does not reveal which individuals might be under investigation and it does not resolve core questions, such as why top secret documents were taken to Mar-a-Lago after the president’s term ended even though classified information requires special storage.

Trump’s Republican allies in Congress were largely silent Friday as the affidavit emerged, another sign of the GOP’s reluctance to publicly part ways with the former president, whose grip on the party remains strong during the midterm election season. Both parties have demanded more information about the search, with lawmakers seeking briefings from the Justice Department and FBI once Congress returns from summer recess.

Though Trump’s spokesman derided the investigation as “all politics,” the affidavit makes clear the FBI search was hardly the first time federal law enforcement had expressed concerns about the records. The Justice Department’s top counterintelligence official, for instance, visited Mar-a-Lago last spring to assess how the documents were being stored.

The affidavit includes excerpts from a June 8 letter in which a Justice Department official reminded a Trump lawyer that Mar-a-Lago did not include a secure location authorized to hold classified records. The official requested that the room at the estate where the documents had been stored be secured, and that the boxes that were moved from the White House to Mar-a-Lago “be preserved in that room in their current condition until further notice.”

The back-and-forth culminated in the Aug. 8 search in which agents retrieved 11 sets of classified records.

The document unsealed Friday also offer insight into arguments the Trump legal team is expected to make. It includes a letter from Trump lawyer M. Evan Corcoran in which he asserts that a president has “absolute authority” to declassify documents and that “presidential actions involving classified documents are not subject to criminal sanction.”

Mark Zaid, a longtime national security lawyer who has criticized Trump for his handling of classified information, said the letter was “blatantly wrong” to assert Trump could declassify “anything and everything.”

“There are some legal, technical defenses as to certain provisions of the espionage act whether it would apply to the president,” Zaid said. “But some of those provisions make no distinction that would raise a defense.”

In addition, the affidavit includes a footnote from the FBI agent who wrote it observing that one of the laws that may have been violated doesn’t even use the term “classified information” but instead criminalizes the unlawful retention of national defense information.

Additional reporting by the Associated Press.

Source: newsy.com

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There’s A Rise In Catalytic Converter Thefts Across The U.S.

Rhodium is used in car converters, but as the rarest metal in the world, it’s also valued for jewelry, high-end mirrors, and electrical devices.

It doesn’t take long; A quick slide under a car and moments later the thief emerges with a catalytic converter stolen for the precious metals inside. 

“You just hear every day or every week somebody in my neighborhood is getting their catalytic converter stolen,” Tempe, Arizona motorist Scott Cook said.

Thieves cut the converters out of the car’s exhaust systems, then sell them to scrappers, who then sell them again to recycling companies. 

The thieves get as little as $50, but the metals inside include rhodium, which is the rarest metal on earth. 

There’s only a gram or two of rhodium inside, but an ounce of the silvery metal can top $15,000. 

“Cars manufactured with a high amount of rhodium thefts, particularly in cars manufactured with a high amount of rhodium, like Prius and others,” Chicago Police Superintendent David O. Brown said. “Certain electric cars that have a high efficiency and high amount of rhodium because of the price of rhodium going up some 1,500% these past few years.”

Rhodium is used in converters with palladium and platinum to reduce exhaust gases, but as the rarest metal in the world, it’s also valued for jewelry, high-end mirrors and electrical devices. 

In Tampa, police busted one recycler last year who advertised on social media he was paying cash for converters and seized his paper work. 

“It showed that he had made well over $800,000 in about a year’s time just with the receipts we found in the home,” Tampa Police Department Officer Greg Noble said.

Bloomberg reports in 2021, State Farm Insurance paid $62 million in claims for around 32,000 converter thefts. That’s up over 1,100% from two years earlier.  

“I started my car and it sounded like a race car,” West Palm Beach, Florida theft victim Pamela Beady said.

That was her first clue that something wasn’t right.

“There was metal pieces laying under the ground underneath,” she continued.

The catalytic converter on her new 2022 Mitsubishi Outlander was gone and cost $1,000 to replace. 

“I’m like, ‘Man, if I would have just known that these were high-targeted,’ because there are things that you can do to your catalytic converters to prevent thieves from taking them,” Beady said.

In West Palm Beach, one way people are trying to prevent theft is by having their car’s VIN number etched onto the converters.  

“If customers will call us, if it’s not one of our customers, ask them for the VIN number,” mechanic Ron Katz said. “We are more than happy to do that. There are other Midas’s around the country now that are also starting this initative.”

In Phoenix, Midas teamed up with the Maricopa County State’s Attorney to push for VIN number markings. 

“For us on the County Attorney’s Office, this type of information that’s being etched today is crucial because it allows us to link a catalytic converter, once it’s recovered, back to its original car, its original owner,” Maricopa County Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Karla Navarrete said. “And it really aids in prosecution.”

Painting them different colors is also an attempt to cut thefts. In Chicago next month, a pilot program will include spray painting the converters hot pink and marking them with a Chicago Police Department stencil. 

Source: newsy.com

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The Fed Raises Interest Rates by 0.75 Percentage Points to Tackle Inflation

The Federal Reserve took its most aggressive step yet to try to tame rapid and persistent inflation, raising interest rates by three-quarters of a percentage point on Wednesday and signaling that it is prepared to inflict economic pain to get prices under control.

The rate increase was the central bank’s biggest since 1994 and could be followed by a similarly sized move next month, suggested Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, underscoring just how much America’s unexpectedly stubborn price gains are unsettling Fed officials.

As central bankers drive their policy rate rapidly higher, it will make buying a home or expanding a business more expensive, restraining spending and slowing the broader economy. Officials expect growth to moderate in the coming months and years and predicted that unemployment will rise about half a percentage point to 4.1 percent by late 2024 as their policy squeezes companies and workers.

economic projections they released Wednesday, which would be the highest level since 2008. They also foresee the Fed’s policy rate peaking at 3.8 percent at the end of 2023, up from 2.8 percent when projections were last released in March.

Consumer Price Index jumped 8.6 percent in May from a year earlier, the fastest increase since late 1981. The pace was brisk even after the stripping out of food and fuel prices.

While the Fed’s preferred price gauge — the Personal Consumption Expenditures measure — is climbing slightly more slowly, it remains too hot for comfort as well. And consumers are beginning to expect faster inflation in the months and years ahead, based on surveys, which is a worrying development. Economists think that expectations can be self-fulfilling, causing people to ask for wage increases and accept price jumps in ways that perpetuate high inflation.

“What we’re looking for is compelling evidence that inflationary pressures are abating, and that inflation is moving back down,” Mr. Powell said at his news conference Wednesday, noting that instead the inflation situation has worsened. “We thought that strong action was warranted.”

One Fed official, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Esther George, voted against the rate increase. Though Ms. George has historically worried about high inflation and favored higher interest rates, she would have preferred a half-point move in this instance.

Stock prices have been plummeting and bond market signals are flashing red as Wall Street traders and economists increasingly expect that the economy may tip into a recession. On Wednesday, the S&P 500 rose 1.5 percent, climbing after the release of the decision and Mr. Powell’s news conference, most likely because investors had already expected the Fed to make a large move.

The economy remains strong for now, but the Fed’s actions are beginning to have a real-world impact: Mortgage rates have risen sharply and are helping to cool the housing market; demand for consumer goods is showing signs of beginning to slow as borrowing becomes more expensive; and job growth, while robust, has begun to moderate.

While the economic path ahead may be a rocky one, the Fed’s policymakers contend that things would be worse in the long run if they did not act. As prices surge, worker pay is not keeping up. That means that families are falling behind as they try to afford gas, food and rent, even in a very strong labor market.

“You really cannot have the kind of labor market we want without price stability,” Mr. Powell said Wednesday, explaining that what officials want is a job market with lots of job opportunities and rising wages. “It’s not going to happen with the levels of inflation we have.”

The White House has been emphasizing that the Fed plays the key role in bringing down inflation, even as the Biden administration does what it can to reduce some costs for beleaguered consumers and urges companies to improve gas supply.

“The Federal Reserve has a primary responsibility to control inflation,” President Biden wrote in a recent opinion column. He added that “past presidents have sought to influence its decisions inappropriately during periods of elevated inflation. I won’t do this.”

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In Colombia, a Leftist and a Right-Wing Populist Move on to June Runoff

Credit…Chelo Camacho/Reuters

Two anti-establishment candidates, Gustavo Petro, a leftist, and Rodolfo Hernández, a right-wing populist, captured the top two spots in Colombia’s presidential election on Sunday, delivering a stunning blow to the country’s dominant conservative political class.

The two men will compete in a runoff election on June 19 that is shaping up to be one of the most consequential in the country’s history. At stake is the country’s economic model, its democratic integrity and the livelihoods of millions of people pushed into poverty during the pandemic.

The Petro-Hernández face-off, said Daniel García-Peña, a Colombian political scientist, pits “change against change.”

Fifty-four percent of eligible voters participated in the election, the same rate as 2018, when Mr. Petro faced the current president, Iván Duque, and a slate of other candidates.

The day was largely peaceful as millions of Colombians voted, despite growing unrest in parts of the country that have seen a resurgence of armed groups.

If Mr. Petro wins the runoff election next month, he will become Colombia’s first leftist president, a watershed moment for a nation that has long been led by a conservative establishment.

In his postelection speech at a hotel near the center of Bogotá, Mr. Petro stood beside his vice-presidential pick and said Sunday’s results showed that the political project of the current president and his allies “has been defeated.”

He then quickly issued warnings about Mr. Hernández, painting a vote for him as a dangerous regression, and daring the electorate to take a chance on what he called a progressive project, “a true change.”

His rise reflects not just a leftist shift across Latin America but also an anti-incumbent fervor that has gained strength as the pandemic has deepened poverty and inequality, intensifying feelings that the region’s economies are built mostly to serve the elite.

Mr. Petro has vowed to transform Colombia’s economic system, which he says fuels inequality, by expanding social programs, halting oil exploration and shifting the country’s focus to domestic agriculture and industry.

Colombia has long been the United States’ strongest ally in the region, and Mr. Petro is calling for a reset of the relationship, including changes to the approach to the drug war and a re-examination of a bilateral trade agreement that could lead to a clash with Washington.

Mr. Hernández, who was relatively unknown before he began surging in the polls in the campaign’s closing days, pushes a populist anti-corruption platform, but has raised alarms with his plan to declare a state of emergency to accomplish his goals.

“Today the country of politicking and corruption lost,” Mr. Hernández wrote in a Facebook message to his supporters following Sunday’s results. “Today, the gangs who thought that they could govern forever have lost.”

Many voters are fed up with rising prices, high unemployment, low wages, rising education costs and surging violence, and polls show that a clear majority of Colombians have an unfavorable view of Mr. Iván Duque, who is largely regarded as part of the conservative establishment.

The election comes as polls show growing distrust in the country’s institutions, including the country’s national registrar, an election body. The registrar bungled the initial count in a March congressional vote, leading to concern that losing candidates in the presidential vote will declare fraud.

The country is also seeing a rise in violence, undermining the democratic process. The Mission for Electoral Observation called this pre-election period the most violent in 12 years.

Mr. Petro and his running mate, Francia Márquez, have both received death threats, leading to increased security, including bodyguards holding riot shields.

Despite these dangers, the election has invigorated many Colombians who had long believed their voices were not represented at the highest levels of power, infusing the election with a sense of hope. That feeling of optimism is partly inspired by Ms. Márquez, a former housekeeper and environmental activist who would be the country’s first Black vice president if her ticket won.

Her campaign has focused on fighting systemic injustice, and its most popular slogan, “vivir sabroso,” means, roughly, “live richly and with dignity.”

Reporting was contributed by Sofía Villamil, Megan Janetsky and Genevieve Glatsky in Bogotá.

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How Tech Companies Are Trying to Woo Employees Returning to Work

When Google employees returned to their mostly empty offices this month, they were told to relax. Office time should be “not only productive but also fun.” Explore the place a little. Don’t book back-to-back meetings.

Also, don’t forget to attend the private show by Lizzo, one of the hottest pop stars in the country. If that’s not enough, the company is also planning “pop-up events” that will feature “every Googler’s favorite duo: food and swag.”

But Google employees in Boulder, Colo., were still reminded of what they were giving up when the company gave them mouse pads with the image of a sad-eyed cat. Underneath the pet was a plea: “You’re not going to RTO, right?”

R.T.O., for return to office, is an abbreviation born of the pandemic. It is a recognition of how Covid-19 forced many companies to abandon office buildings and empty cubicles. The pandemic proved that being in the office does not necessarily equal greater productivity, and some firms continued to thrive without meeting in person.

a happy hour with its chief executive, Cristiano Amon, at its San Diego offices for several thousand employees with free food, drink and T-shirts. The company also started offering weekly events such as pop-up snack stands on “Take a Break Tuesday” and group fitness classes for “Wellness Wednesday.”

the surveys, is that employees want to see colleagues in person.

After a number of postponements, Google kicked off its hybrid work schedule on April 4, requiring most employees to show up at U.S. offices a few days a week. Apple started easing staff back to the office on Monday, with workers expected to check in at the office once a week at first.

reimburse $49 monthly leases for an electric scooter as part of its transportation options for staff. Google also plans to also start experimenting with different office designs to adapt to changing work styles.

When Microsoft employees returned to their offices in February as part of a hybrid work schedule, they were greeted with “appreciation events” and lawn games such as cornhole and life-size chess. There were classes for spring basket making and canvas painting. The campus pub transformed into a beer, wine and “mocktail” garden.

And, of course, there was free food and drink: pizzas, sandwiches and specialty coffees. Microsoft paid for food trucks with offerings including fried chicken, tacos, gyros, Korean food and barbecue.

Unlike other technology companies, Microsoft expects employees to pay for their own food at the office. One employee marveled at how big a draw the free food was.

signed a letter urging management to be more open to flexible work arrangements. It was a rare show of dissent from the company’s rank-and-file, who historically have been less willing to openly challenge executives on workplace matters.

But as tech companies grapple with offering employees greater work flexibility, the firms are also scaling back some office perks.

cutting back or eliminating free services like laundry and dry cleaning. Google, like some other companies, has said it approved requests from thousands of employees to work remotely or transfer to a different office. But if employees move to a less expensive location, Google is cutting pay, arguing that it has always factored in where a person was hired in setting compensation.

Clio, a legal software company in Burnaby, British Columbia, won’t force its employees back to the office. But last week, it gave a party at its offices.

There was upbeat music. There was an asymmetrical balloon sculpture in Clio’s signature bright blue, dark blue, coral and white — perfect for selfies. One of Clio’s best-known workers donned a safari costume to give tours of the facility. At 2 p.m., the company held a cupcake social.

To make its work spaces feel more like home, the company moved desks to the perimeter, allowing Clions — what the company calls its employees — to gaze out at the office complex’s cherry blossoms while banging out emails. A foosball table was upgraded to a workstation with chairs on either end, “so you could have a meeting while playing foosball with your laptop on it,” said Natalie Archibald, Clio’s vice president of people.

Clio’s Burnaby office, which employs 350, is open at only half capacity. Spaced-out desks must be reserved, and employees got red, yellow and green lanyards to convey their comfort levels with handshakes.

Only around 60 people came in that Monday. “To be able to have an IRL laugh rather than an emoji response,” Ms. Archibald said. “People are just excited for that.”

Karen Weise contributed reporting.

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Silvio Berlusconi Angles for Italy’s Presidency, Bunga Bunga and All

ROME — Early this month, Silvio Berlusconi sat at a dining room table in his mansion with his girlfriend, more than a half-century younger, and an old political ally. As they feasted on a pumpkin souffle and truffle tagliatelle, the 85-year-old Italian former prime minister and billionaire made hours of phone calls, working his way down a list of disaffected lawmakers he hoped to persuade to elect him president of Italy next week.

“‘We are forming the Bunga Bunga party and we want you with us,’” Christian Romaniello, a lawmaker formerly with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, recounted Mr. Berlusconi as saying, referring to the sex-fueled bacchanals that Mr. Berlusconi has deemed merely “elegant dinners.” According to Mr. Romaniello, Mr. Berlusconi then added, “‘But I’ll bring the ladies.’”

The Italian presidency, the country’s head of state, is a seven-year position usually filled by a figure of unimpeachable integrity and sobriety whose influence flows from moral authority. The current holder, Sergio Mattarella, is a quiet statesman whose brother was murdered by the mob. Another contender is Mario Draghi, the prime minister and a titan of European politics who has led the country to a period of unusual stability.

Then there is Mr. Berlusconi, who despite his recent bad health, waxen appearance and weakened political standing, is making an unabashed push to win a career-culminating position that he hopes will wash away decades of stains — his allies say unjustly thrown mud — and rewrite his legacy.

mob links and bribing lawmakers; the tax fraud conviction; the ban from office; the sentence to perform community service in a nursing home; his use of his media empire for political gain; his use of the government to protect his media empire; the wiretapped conversations of his libertine party guests regaling the Caligulan extent of his bunga bunga debaucheries; his close relationship with the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, who gifted Mr. Berlusconi a large bed; his appraisal of Barack Obama as “young, handsome and sun tanned”; his comparing a German lawmaker to a concentration camp guard; his second wife’s divorcing him for apparently dating an 18-year-old.

It’s an unorthodox résumé.

Mr. Berlusconi’s conflicts of interest, judicial problems and past behavior made him less than an excellent candidate, said Emma Bonino, a veteran Italian politician and civil rights activist who once ran for the office herself. “I don’t think he would give a good image of our country in the world,” she said.

Mr. Berlusconi declined to comment for this article. But he and his team of longtime advisers are selling him as a moderate, pro-European champion of democracy and can-do capitalism. “I think Silvio Berlusconi can be useful to the country,” Mr. Berlusconi, speaking of himself in the third person, said in October.

In usual fashion, he is using all the levers at his disposal to reach the requisite majority of 505 votes in the secret balloting for the presidency among lawmakers that starts on Monday.

read the headline) and published an insert on his qualities (“hero of liberty”). Weeks ago, lawmakers opening their mailboxes found a photograph of Mr. Berlusconi, arms up and bathing in adoration, on the cover of an anthology of his speeches.

the great-grandfather has remained the father figure of the center-right, which now has — if united — the largest bloc of lawmaker electors in Parliament and a strong desire to choose the next president.

But Mr. Berlusconi’s insistence has caused a major headache for Matteo Salvini, the leader of the nationalist League party, both at work and at home. Mr. Salvini’s girlfriend is the daughter of Denis Verdini, one of Mr. Berlusconi’s closest advisers, who is publicly applying pressure — from house arrest after his conviction in a bankruptcy fraud case — to elect Mr. Berlusconi.

After years of promising Mr. Berlusconi that he would back his candidacy for president, Mr. Salvini sent a stinging message to Mr. Berlusconi this week, saying that, “We must verify if Berlusconi has the numbers before the start of voting next week.” Mr. Salvini indicated that he had somebody else in mind.

Giorgia Meloni, the hard-right leader of Brothers of Italy, the third party in the center-right alliance, spoke on Tuesday of the possibility of Mr. Berlusconi’s stepping aside, prompting speculation that he might drop out.

the cover of Espresso magazine.

For all Mr. Berlusconi’s seeming unsuitability to fill the role of head of state, his allies argue that Italians elected him multiple times, that political considerations motivated the magistrates who hounded him for decades and that he was a self-made and brilliant businessman who built an empire.

But his outsize appetites and self-interested use of power fueled a backlash that seeded and grew the enormous anti-establishment Five Star Movement, co-founded by the comedian Beppe Grillo, who once derided Mr. Berlusconi as a “psychotic dwarf.”

Five Star took power in 2018 as Italy’s leading party, and Mr. Berlusconi’s support dwindled. He took a back seat to the rising nationalists, first Mr. Salvini and then Ms. Meloni, and railed against Five Star as incompetent good-for-nothings and a threat to democracy. He mocked their trademark universal welfare plan as a joke. He called their power structure communist.

Five Star has since imploded and scattered members into a mixed group of lawmakers desperate to avoid new elections that would almost certainly cost them their jobs and pensions. Mr. Berlusconi has explicitly promised to keep the legislature going as president, has called the universal income plan good for the poor and showered gifts on former rivals.

Luigi Di Maio, the Five Star leader who once refused to join any government with Mr. Berlusconi, this Christmas accepted a centuries-old oil painting of Venice from the mogul’s collection, according to a person close to Mr. Di Maio, who declined to comment.

As Mr. Berlusconi worked the phones alongside his girlfriend, who is also a member of Parliament in his political party, he sat next to Vittorio Sgarbi, one of his former ministers and a lawmaker and television personality who is well liked by many Five Star members.

When Mr. Sgarbi called Mr. Romaniello, the former Five Star lawmaker, who was interrupted while making Carnevale masks with his two small children, he jokingly introduced Mr. Berlusconi as “a Grillo-following friend.”

In an interview, Mr. Romaniello said that he was flattered by the call and added that friends contacted by Mr. Berlusconi also respected the former prime minister’s phone banking and “positive charisma.” But Mr. Romaniello said that he still considered himself, politically, “an adversary,” adding that Five Star had been born “as the antithesis of Berlusconi.” A phone call, he said, would not win his vote.

By Tuesday, even Mr. Sgarbi had bailed on Mr. Berlusconi and was urging him to be a kingmaker.

“I don’t think he can do it,” he said in an interview, saying that the duo had only persuaded about 15 lawmakers to back him, far short, even if he had a base of about 450 conservative supporters, to win the election. “It’s useless to try if you don’t have the numbers.”

On Wednesday, as Mr. Berlusconi’s lawyers in Milan successfully argued for a delay in a bribery trial related to his bunga bunga tribulations until after the presidential vote, his team snapped back and vowed that he would persist and, as always, speak for himself.

“I will not disappoint those who have trusted me,” Mr. Berlusconi said.

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