WASHINGTON — When the nation’s antitrust laws were created more than a century ago, they were aimed at taking on industries such as Big Oil.
But technology giants like Amazon, Facebook, Google and Apple, which dominate e-commerce, social networks, online advertising and search, have risen in ways unforeseen by the laws. In recent decades, the courts have also interpreted the rules more narrowly.
On Monday, a pair of rulings dismissing federal and state antitrust lawsuits against Facebook renewed questions about whether the laws were suited to taking on tech power. A federal judge threw out the federal suit because, he said, the Federal Trade Commission had not supported its claims that Facebook holds a dominant market share, and he said the states had waited too long to make their case.
The decisions underlined how cautious and conservative courts could slow an increasingly aggressive push by lawmakers, regulators and the White House to restrain the tech companies, fueling calls for Congress to revamp the rules and provide regulators with more legal tools to take on the tech firms.
David Cicilline, a Democrat of Rhode Island, said the country needed a “massive overhaul of our antitrust laws and significant updates to our competition system” to police the biggest technology companies.
Moments later, Representative Ken Buck, a Colorado Republican, agreed. He called for lawmakers to adapt antitrust laws to fit the business models of Silicon Valley companies.
This week’s rulings have now put the pressure on lawmakers to push through a recently proposed package of legislation that would rewrite key aspects of monopoly laws to make some of the tech giants’ business practices illegal.
“This is going to strengthen the case for legislation,” said Herbert Hovenkamp, an antitrust expert at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. “It seems to be proof that the antitrust laws are not up to the challenge.”
introduced this month and passed the House Judiciary Committee last week. The bills would make it harder for the major tech companies to buy nascent competitors and to give preference to their own services on their platforms, and ban them from using their dominance in one business to gain the upper hand in another.
including Lina Khan, a scholar whom President Biden named this month to run the F.T.C. — have argued that a broader definition of consumer welfare, beyond prices, should be applied. Consumer harm, they have said, can also be evident in reduced product quality, like Facebook users suffering a loss of privacy when their personal data is harvested and used for targeted ads.
In one of his rulings on Monday, Judge James E. Boasberg of U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia said Facebook’s business model had made it especially difficult for the government to meet the standard for going forward with the case.
The government, Judge Boasberg said, had not presented enough evidence that Facebook held monopoly power. Among the difficulties he highlighted was that Facebook did not charge its users for access to its site, meaning its market share could not be assessed through revenue. The government had not found a good alternative measure to make its case, he said.
He also ruled against another part of the F.T.C.’s lawsuit, concerning how Facebook polices the use of data generated by its product, while citing the kind of conservative antitrust doctrine that critics say is out of step with the technology industry’s business practices.
The F.T.C., which brought the federal antitrust suit against Facebook in December, can file a new complaint that addresses the judge’s concerns within 30 days. State attorneys general can appeal Judge Boasberg’s second ruling dismissing a similar case.
fined Facebook $5 billion in 2019 for privacy violations, there were few significant changes to how the company’s products operate. And Facebook continues to grow: More than 3.45 billion people use one or more of its apps — including WhatsApp, Instagram or Messenger — every month.
The decisions were particularly deflating after actions to rein in tech power in Washington had gathered steam. Ms. Khan’s appointment to the F.T.C. this month followed that of Tim Wu, another lawyer who has been critical of the industry, to the National Economic Council. Bruce Reed, the president’s deputy chief of staff, has called for new privacy regulation.
Mr. Biden has yet to name anyone to permanently lead the Justice Department’s antitrust division, which last year filed a lawsuit arguing Google had illegally protected its monopoly over online search.
The White House is also expected to issue an executive order this week targeting corporate consolidation in tech and other areas of the economy. A spokesman for the White House did not respond to requests for comment about the executive order or Judge Boasberg’s rulings.
Activists and lawmakers said this week that Congress should not wait to give regulators more tools, money and legal red lines to use against the tech giants. Mr. Cicilline, along with Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said in a statement that the judge’s decisions on Facebook show “the dire need to modernize our antitrust laws to address anticompetitive mergers and abusive conduct in the digital economy.”
Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat of Minnesota who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on antitrust, echoed their call.
“After decades of binding Supreme Court decisions that have weakened our antitrust policies, we cannot rely on our courts to keep our markets competitive, open and fair,” she said in a statement. “We urgently need to rejuvenate our antitrust laws to meet the challenges of the modern digital economy.”
But the six bills to update monopoly laws have a long way to go. They still need to pass the full House, where they will likely face criticism from moderate Democrats and libertarian Republicans. In the Senate, Republican support is necessary for them to overcome the legislative filibuster.
The bills may also not go as far in altering antitrust laws as some hope. The House Judiciary Committee amended one last week to reinforce the standard around consumer welfare.
Even so, Monday’s rulings have given the proposals a boost. Bill Baer, who led the Justice Department antitrust division during the Obama administration, said it “gives tremendous impetus to those in Congress who believe that the courts are too conservative in addressing monopoly power.”
Facebook and the tech platforms might like the judge’s decisions, he said, “but they might not like what happens in the Congress.”
There were two weeks left in the Trump administration when the Treasury Department handed down a set of rules governing an obscure corner of the tax code.
Overseen by a senior Treasury official whose previous job involved helping the wealthy avoid taxes, the new regulations represented a major victory for private equity firms. They ensured that executives in the $4.5 trillion industry, whose leaders often measure their yearly pay in eight or nine figures, could avoid paying hundreds of millions in taxes.
The rules were approved on Jan. 5, the day before the riot at the U.S. Capitol. Hardly anyone noticed.
The Trump administration’s farewell gift to the buyout industry was part of a pattern that has spanned Republican and Democratic presidencies and Congresses: Private equity has conquered the American tax system.
one recent estimate, the United States loses $75 billion a year from investors in partnerships failing to report their income accurately — at least some of which would probably be recovered if the I.R.S. conducted more audits. That’s enough to roughly double annual federal spending on education.
It is also a dramatic understatement of the true cost. It doesn’t include the ever-changing array of maneuvers — often skating the edge of the law — that private equity firms have devised to help their managers avoid income taxes on the roughly $120 billion the industry pays its executives each year.
Private equity’s ability to vanquish the I.R.S., Treasury and Congress goes a long way toward explaining the deep inequities in the U.S. tax system. When it comes to bankrolling the federal government, the richest of America’s rich — many of them hailing from the private equity industry — play by an entirely different set of rules than everyone else.
The result is that men like Blackstone Group’s chief executive, Stephen A. Schwarzman, who earned more than $610 million last year, can pay federal taxes at rates similar to the average American.
Lawmakers have periodically tried to force private equity to pay more, and the Biden administration has proposed a series of reforms, including enlarging the I.R.S.’s enforcement budget and closing loopholes. The push for reform gained new momentum after ProPublica’s recent revelation that some of America’s richest men paid little or no federal taxes.
nearly $600 million in campaign contributions over the last decade, has repeatedly derailed past efforts to increase its tax burden.
Taylor Swift’s back music catalog.
The industry makes money in two main ways. Firms typically charge their investors a management fee of 2 percent of their assets. And they keep 20 percent of future profits that their investments generate.
That slice of future profits is known as “carried interest.” The term dates at least to the Renaissance. Italian ship captains were compensated in part with an interest in whatever profits were realized on the cargo they carried.
The I.R.S. has long allowed the industry to treat the money it makes from carried interests as capital gains, rather than as ordinary income.
article highlighting the inequity of the tax treatment. It prompted lawmakers from both parties to try to close the so-called carried interest loophole. The on-again, off-again campaign has continued ever since.
Whenever legislation gathers momentum, the private equity industry — joined by real estate, venture capital and other sectors that rely on partnerships — has pumped up campaign contributions and dispatched top executives to Capitol Hill. One bill after another has died, generally without a vote.
An Unexpected Email
One day in 2011, Gregg Polsky, then a professor of tax law at the University of North Carolina, received an out-of-the-blue email. It was from a lawyer for a former private equity executive. The executive had filed a whistle-blower claim with the I.R.S. alleging that their old firm was using illegal tactics to avoid taxes.
The whistle-blower wanted Mr. Polsky’s advice.
Mr. Polsky had previously served as the I.R.S.’s “professor in residence,” and in that role he had developed an expertise in how private equity firms’ vast profits were taxed. Back in academia, he had published a research paper detailing a little-known but pervasive industry tax-dodging technique.
$89 billion in private equity assets — as being “abusive” and a “thinly disguised way of paying the management company its quarterly paycheck.”
Apollo said in a statement that the company stopped using fee waivers in 2012 and is “not aware of any I.R.S. inquiries involving the firm’s use of fee waivers.”
floated the idea of cracking down on carried interest.
Private equity firms mobilized. Blackstone’s lobbying spending increased by nearly a third that year, to $8.5 million. (Matt Anderson, a Blackstone spokesman, said the company’s senior executives “are among the largest individual taxpayers in the country.” He wouldn’t disclose Mr. Schwarzman’s tax rate but said the firm never used fee waivers.)
Lawmakers got cold feet. The initiative fizzled.
In 2015, the Obama administration took a more modest approach. The Treasury Department issued regulations that barred certain types of especially aggressive fee waivers.
But by spelling that out, the new rules codified the legitimacy of fee waivers in general, which until that point many experts had viewed as abusive on their face.
So did his predecessor in the Obama administration, Timothy F. Geithner.
Inside the I.R.S. — which lost about one-third of its agents and officers from 2008 to 2018 — many viewed private equity’s webs of interlocking partnerships as designed to befuddle auditors and dodge taxes.
One I.R.S. agent complained that “income is pushed down so many tiers, you are never able to find out where the real problems or duplication of deductions exist,” according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office investigation of partnerships in 2014. Another agent said the purpose of large partnerships seemed to be making “it difficult to identify income sources and tax shelters.”
The Times reviewed 10 years of annual reports filed by the five largest publicly traded private equity firms. They contained no trace of the firms ever having to pay the I.R.S. extra money, and they referred to only minor audits that they said were unlikely to affect their finances.
Current and former I.R.S. officials said in interviews that such audits generally involved issues like firms’ accounting for travel costs, rather than major reckonings over their taxable profits. The officials said they were unaware of any recent significant audits of private equity firms.
No Money Owed
For a while, it looked as if there would be an exception to this general rule: the I.R.S.’s reviews of the fee waivers spurred by the whistle-blower claims. But it soon became clear that the effort lacked teeth.
Kat Gregor, a tax lawyer at the law firm Ropes & Gray, said the I.R.S. had challenged fee waivers used by four of her clients, whom she wouldn’t identify. The auditors struck her as untrained in the thicket of tax laws governing partnerships.
“It’s the equivalent of picking someone who was used to conducting an interview in English and tell them to go do it in Spanish,” Ms. Gregor said.
The audits of her clients wrapped up in late 2019. None owed any money.
The Mnuchin Compromise
As a presidential candidate, Mr. Trump vowed to “eliminate the carried interest deduction, well-known deduction, and other special-interest loopholes that have been so good for Wall Street investors, and for people like me, but unfair to American workers.”
wanted to close the loophole, congressional Republicans resisted. Instead, they embraced a much milder measure: requiring private equity officials to hold their investments for at least three years before reaping preferential tax treatment on their carried interests. Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, who had previously run an investment partnership, signed off.
McKinsey, typically holds investments for more than five years. The measure, part of a $1.5 trillion package of tax cuts, was projected to generate $1 billion in revenue over a decade.
credited Mr. Mnuchin, hailing him as “an all-star.”
Mr. Fleischer, who a decade earlier had raised alarms about carried interest, said the measure “was structured by industry to appear to do something while affecting as few as possible.”
Months later, Mr. Callas joined the law and lobbying firm Steptoe & Johnson. The private equity giant Carlyle is one of his biggest clients.
‘The Government Caved’
It took the Treasury Department more than two years to propose rules spelling out the fine print of the 2017 law. The Treasury’s suggested language was strict. One proposal would have empowered I.R.S. auditors to more closely examine internal transactions that private equity firms might use to get around the law’s three-year holding period.
The industry, so happy with the tepid 2017 law, was up in arms over the tough rules the Treasury’s staff was now proposing. In a letter in October 2020, the American Investment Council, led by Drew Maloney, a former aide to Mr. Mnuchin, noted how private equity had invested in hundreds of companies during the coronavirus pandemic and said the Treasury’s overzealous approach would harm the industry.
The rules were the responsibility of Treasury’s top tax official, David Kautter. He previously was the national tax director at EY, formerly Ernst & Young, when the firm was marketing illegal tax shelters that led to a federal criminal investigation and a $123 million settlement. (Mr. Kautter has denied being involved with selling the shelters but has expressed regret about not speaking up about them.)
On his watch at Treasury, the rules under development began getting softer, including when it came to the three-year holding period.
Monte Jackel, a former I.R.S. attorney who worked on the original version of the proposed regulations.
Mr. Mnuchin, back in the private sector, is starting an investment fund that could benefit from his department’s weaker rules.
A Charmed March
Even during the pandemic, the charmed march of private equity continued.
The top five publicly traded firms reported net profits last year of $8.6 billion. They paid their executives $8.3 billion. In addition to Mr. Schwarzman’s $610 million, the co-founders of KKR each made about $90 million, and Apollo’s Leon Black received $211 million, according to Equilar, an executive compensation consulting firm.
now advising clients on techniques to circumvent the three-year holding period.
The most popular is known as a “carry waiver.” It enables private equity managers to hold their carried interests for less than three years without paying higher tax rates. The technique is complicated, but it involves temporarily moving money into other investment vehicles. That provides the industry with greater flexibility to buy and sell things whenever it wants, without triggering a higher tax rate.
Private equity firms don’t broadcast this. But there are clues. In a recent presentation to a Pennsylvania retirement system by Hellman & Friedman, the California private equity giant included a string of disclaimers in small font. The last one flagged the firm’s use of carry waivers.
The Biden administration is negotiating its tax overhaul agenda with Republicans, who have aired advertisements attacking the proposal to increase the I.R.S.’s budget. The White House is already backing down from some of its most ambitious proposals.
Even if the agency’s budget were significantly expanded, veterans of the I.R.S. doubt it would make much difference when it comes to scrutinizing complex partnerships.
“If the I.R.S. started staffing up now, it would take them at least a decade to catch up,” Mr. Jackel said. “They don’t have enough I.R.S. agents with enough knowledge to know what they are looking at. They areso grossly overmatched it’s not funny.”
Immunity to the coronavirus lasts at least a year, possibly a lifetime, improving over time especially after vaccination, according to two new studies. The findings may help put to rest lingering fears that protection against the virus will be short-lived.
Together, the studies suggest that most people who have recovered from Covid-19 and who were later immunized will not need boosters. Vaccinated people who were never infected most likely will need the shots, however, as will a minority who were infected but did not produce a robust immune response.
Both reports looked at people who had been exposed to the coronavirus about a year earlier. Cells that retain a memory of the virus persist in the bone marrow and may churn out antibodies whenever needed, according to one of the studies, published on Monday in the journal Nature.
The other study, which is also under review for publication in Nature, found that these so-called memory B cells continue to mature and strengthen for at least 12 months after the initial infection.
Some scientists have interpreted this decrease as a sign of waning immunity, but it is exactly what’s expected, other experts said. If blood contained high quantities of antibodies to every pathogen the body had ever encountered, it would quickly transform into a thick sludge.
Instead, blood levels of antibodies fall sharply following acute infection, while memory B cells remain quiescent in the bone marrow, ready to take action when needed.
landmark study in 2007 showed that antibodies in theory could survive decades, perhaps even well beyond the average life span, hinting at the long-term presence of memory B cells. But the new study offered a rare proof of their existence, Dr. Gommerman said.
Dr. Nussenzweig’s team looked at how memory B cells mature over time. The researchers analyzed blood from 63 people who had recovered from Covid-19 about a year earlier. The vast majority of the participants had mild symptoms, and 26 had also received at least one dose of either the Moderna or the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
So-called neutralizing antibodies, needed to prevent reinfection with the virus, remained unchanged between six and 12 months, while related but less important antibodies slowly disappeared, the team found.
confirming results from other studies; the shots also ramped up the body’s neutralizing ability by about 50-fold.
Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, said on Sunday that he would not get a coronavirus vaccine because he had been infected in March of last year and was therefore immune.
But there is no guarantee that such immunity will be powerful enough to protect him for years, particularly given the emergence of variants of the coronavirus that can partially sidestep the body’s defenses.
The results of Dr. Nussenzweig’s study suggest that people who have recovered from Covid-19 and who have later been vaccinated will continue to have extremely high levels of protection against emerging variants, even without receiving a vaccine booster down the line.
“It kind of looks exactly like what we would hope a good memory B cell response would look like,” said Marion Pepper, an immunologist at the University of Washington in Seattle who was not involved in the new research.
The experts all agreed that immunity is likely to play out very differently in people who have never had Covid-19. Fighting a live virus is different from responding to a single viral protein introduced by a vaccine. And in those who had Covid-19, the initial immune response had time to mature over six to 12 months before being challenged by the vaccine.
“Those kinetics are different than someone who got immunized and then gets immunized again three weeks later,” Dr. Pepper said. “That’s not to say that they might not have as broad a response, but it could be very different.”
OREFIELD, Pa. — From his office in an old barn on a turkey farm, David Jaindl watches a towering flat-screen TV with video feeds from the hatchery to the processing room, where the birds are butchered. Mr. Jaindl is a third-generation farmer in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley. His turkeys are sold at Whole Foods and served at the White House on Thanksgiving.
But there is more to Mr. Jaindl’s business than turkeys. For decades, he has been involved in developing land into offices, medical facilities and subdivisions, as the area in and around the Lehigh Valley has evolved from its agricultural and manufacturing roots to also become a health care and higher education hub.
Now Mr. Jaindl is taking part in a new shift. Huge warehouses are sprouting up like mushrooms along local highways, on country roads and in farm fields. The boom is being driven, in large part, by the astonishing growth of Amazon and other e-commerce retailers and the area’s proximity to New York City, the nation’s largest concentration of online shoppers, roughly 80 miles away.
“They are certainly good for our area,” said Mr. Jaindl, who is developing land for several new warehouses. “They add a nice tax base and good employment.”
promotional video posted on the economic development agency’s website, there are images of welders, builders and aerial footage of the former Bethlehem Steel plant, which closed in the 1990s. The narrator touts the Lehigh Valley’s ethos as the home of “makers” and “dreamers.”
“We know the value of an honest day’s work,” the narrator intones. “We practically wrote the book on it.”
Jason Arias found an honest day’s work in the Lehigh Valley’s warehouses, but he also found the physical strain too difficult to bear.
Mr. Arias moved to the area from Puerto Rico 20 years ago to take a job in a manufacturing plant. After being laid off in 2010, Mr. Arias found a job packing and scanning boxes at an Amazon warehouse. The job soon started to take a toll — the constant lifting of boxes, the bending and walking.
“Manufacturing is easy,” he said. “Everything was brought to you on pallets pushed by machines. The heaviest thing you lift is a box of screws.”
One day, walking down stairs in the warehouse, Mr. Arias, 44, missed a step and felt something pop in his hip as he landed awkwardly. It was torn cartilage. At the time, Mr. Arias was making $13 an hour. (Today, Amazon pays an hourly minimum of $15.)
In 2012, Mr. Arias left Amazon and went to a warehouse operated by a food distributor. After a few years, he injured his shoulder on the job and needed surgery.
“Every time I went home I was completely beat up,” said Mr. Arias, who now drives a truck for UPS, a unionized job which he likes.
Dr. Amato, the regional planning official, is a chiropractor whose patients include distribution workers. Manufacturing work is difficult, but the repetitive nature of working in a warehouse is unsustainable, he said.
“If you take a coat hanger and bend it back and forth 50 times, it will break,” he said. “If you are lifting 25-pound boxes multiple times per hour, eventually things start to break down.”
Dennis Hower, the president of the local Teamsters union, which represents drivers for UPS and other companies in the Lehigh Valley, said he was happy that the e-commerce boom was resulting in new jobs. At the same time, he’s reminded by the empty storefronts everywhere that other jobs are being destroyed.
“Every day you open up the newspaper and see another retail store going out of business,” he said.
Not everyone can handle the physicality of warehouse work or has the temperament to drive a truck for 10 hours a day. In fact, many distribution companies are having a hard time finding enough local workers to fill their openings and have had to bus employees in from out of state, Mr. Hower said.
“You can always find someone somewhere who is willing to work for whatever you are going to pay them,” he said.
A slave’s final resting place
Two years ago, there were no warehouses near Lara Thomas’s home in Shoemakersville, Pa., a town of 1,400 people west of the Lehigh Valley. Today, five of them are within walking distance.
“It hurts my heart,” said Ms. Thomas. “This is a small community.”
A local history buff, Ms. Thomas is a member of a group of volunteers who regularly clean up old, dilapidated cemeteries in the area, including one in Maxatawny that is about two miles from her church.
The cemetery, under a grove of trees next to a wide-open field, is the final resting place of George L. Kemp, a farmer and a captain in the Revolutionary War. Last summer, the warehouse developer Duke Realty, which is based in Indianapolis, argued in county court that it could find no living relatives of Mr. Kemp and proposed moving the graves to another location. A “logistics park” is planned on the property.
Meredith Goldey, who is a Kemp descendant, was not impressed with Duke’s due diligence. “They didn’t look very hard.”
Ms. Goldey, other descendants and Ms. Thomas pored through old property and probate records and found Mr. Kemp’s will.
The documents stipulated that a woman enslaved by Mr. Kemp, identified only as Hannah, would receive a proper burial. While there is no visible marker for Hannah in the cemetery, the captain’s will strongly suggests she is buried alongside the rest of the family.
“This is not the Deep South,” Ms. Thomas said. “It is almost unheard-of for a family to own a slave in eastern Pennsylvania in the early 19th century and then to have her buried with them.”
Several descendants of Mr. Kemp filed a lawsuit against Duke Realty seeking to protect the cemetery. A judge has ordered the two sides to come up with a solution by next month. A spokesman for Duke Realty said in an email that the company “is optimistic that the parties will reach an amicable settlement in the near future.”
Ms. Thomas worries that if the bodies are exhumed and interred in another location, they will not be able to locate Hannah’s remains and they will be buried under the warehouse.
Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator and Republican presidential candidate, has been dropped from his role as a CNN political commentator amid controversy over recent remarks that seemed to erase the role of Native Americans in U.S. history.
Matt Dornic, head of strategic communications at CNN, confirmed on Saturday that the network had “parted ways” with the former senator.
Mr. Santorum could not immediately be reached for comment on Saturday afternoon.
Mr. Santorum’s departure from CNN came after comments he made about Native Americans at a Young America’s Foundation event last month.
“We birthed a nation from nothing — I mean, there was nothing here,” Mr. Santorum said at the event. “I mean, yes, we have Native Americans, but candidly, there isn’t much Native American culture in American culture.”
Fawn R. Sharp, president of the National Congress of American Indians.
“It wasn’t a matter of if, but when,” Ms. Sharp said on Twitter on Saturday after Mr. Santorum’s departure from CNN was announced. “Justice is served.”
“We should be on track for a fantastic American comeback summer, full steam ahead,” Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, said this month on the chamber floor. “From vaccinations to job growth, the new Biden administration inherited favorable trends in every direction.”
“But in several important ways, the decisions of elected Democrats have contributed to slowing the return to normalcy,” he added.
Critics have also questioned the wisdom of the Fed’s commitment to keeping interest rates low and buying bonds even as prices begin to rise. Senator Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, said last month that while the Fed “maintains that this bout of inflation will be mild and temporary,” it “may be time for the central bank to consider the alternative.”
Mr. Biden’s aides say they continue to monitor the threat that consumer prices could spiral upward, forcing a rapid policy response that could slam the brakes on economic growth. They say that those risks remain low, and that they see no reason to change course on the president’s agenda, including proposed infrastructure and social programs that the president asserts will bolster the economy for years to come. That agenda could prove a more difficult sell, even among congressional Democrats, if job growth continues to disappoint and inflation soars higher than expected.
Fed officials also remain undaunted. They show no sign of raising interest rates soon and are continuing to buy $120 billion in government-backed bonds each month. Officials have given only the earliest hints that they might begin to tiptoe away from that emergency policy setting. They argue that their job is to manage risks, and the risk of withdrawing help early is bigger than the risk that the economy will overheat.
“I don’t think it would be good for the industries we want to see thriving as the recovery continues for us to close off that recovery prematurely,” Randal K. Quarles, the Fed’s vice chair for supervision, said at a House committee hearing this week as lawmakers pressed him on the threat of inflation. The Fed is independent of the White House, but responsible for keeping prices in check.
Voters give Mr. Biden high marks for his economic stewardship thus far. A solid majority of Americans — including many Republicans — approve of the president’s plans to raise taxes on high earners and corporations to fund new spending on water pipes, electric vehicles, education, child care assistance, paid leave and other programs, according to polling for The New York Times conducted by the online research firm Survey Monkey from May 3 to 9.
As the threat from the coronavirus pandemic grew in early 2020, so did many governors’ executive powers. Without a federal plan, it fell to the states to issue lockdown and stay-at-home orders, mandate masks, and close schools and businesses.
Nearly 14 months later, with states moving to reopen amid a drastic drop in new cases, legislators have been asking about the current need for restrictions. And just how much sweeping authority do governors need to have during a public health emergency.
Voters in Pennsylvania this week became the first in the United States to help check an executive’s authority during an emergency period. The state’s Democratic governor, Tom Wolf, and its Republican-controlled legislature sparred over Mr. Wolf’s emergency actions, which included closing schools and many businesses, during the pandemic.
Two measures passed on Tuesday in Pennsylvania, both with about 54 percent approval. The state’s Constitution will be amended to end a governor’s emergency disaster declaration after 21 days. And lawmakers, with a simple majority, will be given the only authority to extend or end the emergency disaster declaration. The ballot questions had been pushed forward by Republican legislators.
Mr. Wolf said this week. “So I’m looking forward to working with the legislature to figure out how to make this work.”
In New Jersey, a Democrat-led legislature took the initial step this week to roll back dozens of Covid-related orders issued by Gov. Phil Murphy, also a Democrat. But the bill that was introduced also leaves the governor with expansive powers to apply new measures in an emergency. Mr. Murphy is one of two governors to keep an indoor mask mandate, even for vaccinated people; the other is Hawaii’s.
New executive orders related to the pandemic are still being announced. Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, a Republican, said on Tuesday that counties, cities, public health authorities and local government officials in his state would be prohibited from requiring people to wear masks. His order came days after federal health officials announced new guidance that encouraged people who were fully vaccinated to forgo masks in most situations.
Democratic lawmakers in Connecticut, though, supported an extension this week of Gov. Ned Lamont’s expanded pandemic powers through mid-July. They were set to expire this week. Lawmakers argued that executive orders were still needed to manage the vaccine rollout and federal relief funds.
curtailed Mr. Cuomo’s emergency powers, and in late April, it suspended some of his pandemic directives, including a rule that required New Yorkers to order food with their alcohol orders at bars and restaurants.
Mr. Cuomo also faces federal and state investigations, including one looking into his reporting of deaths at nursing home during the pandemic.
For decades, the story of American steel had been one of job losses, mill closures and the bruising effects of foreign competition. But now, the industry is experiencing a comeback that few would have predicted even months ago.
Steel prices are at record highs and demand is surging, as businesses step up production amid an easing of pandemic restrictions. Steel makers have consolidated in the past year, allowing them to exert more control over supply. Tariffs on foreign steel imposed by the Trump administration have kept cheaper imports out. And steel companies are hiring again.
Evidence of the boom can even be found on Wall Street: Nucor, the country’s biggest steel producer, is this year’s top performing stock in the S&P 500, and shares of steel makers are generating some of the best returns in the index.
“We are running 24/7 everywhere,” said Lourenco Goncalves, the chief executive of Cleveland-Cliffs, an Ohio-based steel producer that reported a significant surge in sales during its latest quarter. “Shifts that were not being used, we are using,” Mr. Goncalves said in an interview. “That’s why we’re hiring.”
has fallen more than 75 percent. More than 400,000 jobs disappeared as foreign competition grew and as the industry shifted toward production processes that required fewer workers. But the price surge is delivering some optimism to steel towns across the country, especially after job losses during the pandemic pushed American steel employment to the lowest level on record.
“Last year we were laying off,” said Pete Trinidad, president of the United Steelworkers Local 6787 union, which represents roughly 3,300 workers at a Cleveland-Cliffs steel mill in Burns Harbor, Ind. “Everybody was offered jobs back. And we’re hiring now. So, yes, it’s a 180-degree turn.”
broader tariffs on imported steel in 2018. Steel imports have collapsed by roughly a quarter, compared with 2017 levels, according to Goldman Sachs, opening up an opportunity for domestic producers, who are capturing prices as much as $600 per ton above those prevailing on the global markets.
Those tariffs have been eased somewhat by one-off agreements with trade partners like Mexico and Canada, and by exemptions granted to companies. But the tariffs are in place and continue to be applied to imports from key competitors in the European Union and China.
steel and aluminum imports that had played a major role in the Trump administration’s trade wars.
It is unclear whether the talks will lead to any significant breakthroughs. They could, however, make for difficult politics for the White House. On Wednesday, a coalition of steel industry groups including steel manufacturing trade groups and the United Steelworkers union — whose leadership endorsed President Biden in the 2020 election — called on the Biden administration to ensure that tariffs remain in place.
“Eliminating the steel tariffs now would undermine the viability of our industry,” they wrote in a letter addressed to the president.
Adam Hodge, a spokesman for the Office of the United States Trade Representative, which announced the trade talks, said the discussions were focused on “effective solutions that address global steel and aluminum overcapacity by China and other countries while ensuring the long-term viability of our steel and aluminum industries.”
Although producers are rejoicing, the price increases are painful for consumers of steel.
At its Plymouth, Mich., plant, Clips & Clamps Industries employs roughly 50 workers who stamp and form steel into components for cars such as the metal props that are used to keep the hood open when checking the oil.
“Last month, I can tell you, we lost money,” said Jeffrey Aznavorian,the manufacturer’s president. He attributed the loss, in part, to higher prices the company had to pay for steel. Mr. Aznavorian said he worried that his company would lose ground to foreign auto parts suppliers in Mexico and Canada who can buy cheaper steel and offer lower prices.
And it does not look like things are going to get easier for steel buyers any time soon. Wall Street analysts recently lifted forecasts for U.S. steel prices, citing the combination of industry consolidation and the durability, at least so far, of Trump-era tariffs under Mr. Biden. The two have helped create what analysts from Citibank called “the best backdrop for steel in a decade.”
Leon Topalian, the chief executive of Nucor, said the economy was showing an ability to absorb high steel prices, which reflect the high-demand nature of the recovery from the pandemic. “When Nucor is doing well, our customer segment is doing well,” Mr. Topalian said, “which means their customers are doing well.”
For their part, steel workers are enjoying a respite after being hit hard by the pandemic.
The city of Middletown in southwestern Ohio was spared the worst of the downturn, which saw 7,000 iron and steel production jobs disappear nationwide. Middletown Works — a sprawling Cleveland-Cliffs steel plant and one of the area’s most important employers — managed to avoid layoffs. But as demand has surged, activity and hours at the plant are picking up.
“We’re definitely running good,” said Neil Douglas, president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local Lodge 1943, which represents more than 1,800 workers at Middletown Works. The plant, Mr. Douglas said, is having trouble finding the additional workers to hire for positions that could earn as much as $85,000 a year.
And the buzz at the plant is spilling over into the town. Mr. Douglas says he can’t walk into the home improvement center without running into someone from the mill who is embarking on a new project at home.
“You can definitely feel in the town that people are using their disposable income,” he said. “When we’re running good and we’re making money, people are going to spend it in town for sure.”
Properties that cater to large-scale gatherings are feeling the windfall. At Woodloch, a Pennsylvania family resort in the Pocono Mountains, multigenerational travel has always been their bread and butter. But bookings for 2021 are already outpacing 2019, with 117 reservations currently on the books (2019 saw 162 bookings total). “Demand is stronger than it has ever been,” said Rory O’Fee, Woodloch’s director of marketing.
Salamander Hotels & Resorts, which has five properties in Florida, Virginia, South Carolina and Jamaica, has seen 506 family reunions already booked in 2021, accounting for $2.47 million in revenue. In the full calendar year of 2019, they saw only 368 events total, worth about $1.31 million. Club Med said that 16 percent of its 2021 bookings are multigenerational, compared with 3 percent in 2019.
Guided tours are also newly becoming more popular with families looking to reunite: Guy Young, president of Insight Vacations, launched several new small private group trips — which can be booked for as few as 12 people and include a private bus and travel director — after noting that extended families accounted for 20 percent of his business in March and April, compared to a prepandemic average of 8 percent. “Coming out of Covid, with families separated for many months, we saw a significant increase in demand for multigenerational family travel,” he said.
Reuniting at long last
Mr. Belcher hopes his family’s reunion trip to Williamsburg, which will require a nearly nine-hour drive from his home in Livonia, Mich., will offer an opportunity to mend some of the tensions that have built up in the past year. Mr. Belcher and his wife, Stephanie, a financial educator, have been strict about mask-wearing for themselves and their children, who are 9, 5 and almost 6 months. Other family members have been more relaxed, which is one of the reasons they have spent so many months apart. “I am hoping to make some post-Covid memories, starting to hopefully put some of this behind us,” Mr. Belcher said, noting that all the adults attending the reunion will be vaccinated, and as long as there are no additional strangers in the room, they will allow their children to be unmasked, just like the adults, at indoor family events. “Before all of this happened, we were a very close family.”
Traveling together will also offer families a chance to reconnect offline after many months of Skype and screen time.
Starbucks has joined a growing list of retailers, restaurants and theme parks that will now allow fully vaccinated customers to go mask free following new coronavirus safety guidance from the federal government.
The company said in a statement that “facial coverings will be optional for vaccinated customers” as of May 17, where allowed by local regulations.
[Answers to your questions about vaccines and masks at work]
On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention took many businesses by surprise when it said that people who are vaccinated could go maskless in most places, including indoors. (The policies do not apply to people traveling by bus, plane, train or other kinds of public transportation.) For businesses, the announcement was complicated by the fact that C.D.C. guidance does not override state and local rules. But in a matter of days, several major companies have moved to relax mask requirements. Businesses for the most part have not said they would require customers to show proof that they have been vaccinated.
Here’s the latest on companies that are changing their mask policies.
Costco, which has more than 500 U.S. stores, said it would allow fully vaccinated customers to go mask-free where state and local guidance allows. The retailer said it would “not require proof of vaccination” but would ask for its customers’ “responsible and respectful cooperation with this revised policy.”
Publix, which has 1,270 grocery stores in the Southeast, said “face coverings are optional for fully vaccinated individuals inside Publix stores” subject to local regulations.
Trader Joe’s, which operates 517 grocery stores across the country, said that customers who are fully vaccinated no longer need to wear masks in its stores. It will not require proof of vaccination “as we trust our customers to follow C.D.C. guidelines,” a spokeswoman, Kenya Friend-Daniel, said in an email. Masks are still required for store employees.
Walmart and Sam’s Club
Walmart said that vaccinated customers are allowed to go maskless starting May 18 in areas that don’t have stricter mandates. A spokesman for the company, which operates more than 4,000 Walmart and nearly 600 Sam’s Club stores in the United States, said it expects its customers to abide by the honor system. Employees can also go mask-free by answering “yes” to a vaccination question that is part of a daily health assessment.
Walt Disney World Resort in Florida said that it was no longer requiring visitors to wear masks in most outdoor areas as of this weekend, though masks are still required in indoor locations. Disneyland in California continues to require masks indoors and out because of state mandates. Disney’s chief executive, Bob Chapek, said on an earnings call Thursday that the company had begun to increase capacity and that the C.D.C.’s new guidance “is very big news for us, particularly if anybody’s been in Florida in the middle of summer with a mask on.” About 150 million people visited Disney’s parks in 2019.
Hershey Park in Pennsylvania said it would no longer require masks nor social distancing for fully vaccinated guests. The theme park, which drew 3.4 million visitors in 2019, said it would rely on its guests to “accurately follow the guidelines based on their vaccination status.”
Universal Orlando Resortsaid masks are no longer required when outdoors but still must be used in “all indoor locations.” Its theme park in California will still require masks both outside and inside because of the state rules.