“This is a significant, historic investment,” Mr. Espinoza said. “But when you take into account the magnitude of the crisis in front of us, it’s clear that this is only a first step.”

View Source

Her Boss Sent Harassing Texts. So She Beat Him With a Mop.

HONG KONG — It was a thrashing to behold.

A government worker in northeastern China who complained of harassing text messages from her boss was captured on video beating him with the business end of a mop, spurring debate about the persistence of workplace harassment and turning her into an internet sensation.

In the 14-minute video, the woman, later identified by her last name, Zhou, can be seen throwing books at the face of her boss, identified as Wang, and dousing him with water, in addition to hitting him with the mop. He is seen hiding his face behind his fingers, attempting to apologize and saying that he had been joking when he sent the messages.

It is unclear exactly when the incident took place, but local news outlets said the woman filed a police report last week accusing her boss of harassment, and the video began circulating widely online this week. It has been viewed millions of times, with many social media users relishing what they saw as an uncommon display of resistance against an authority figure in a country with limited workplace protections against sexual harassment. Many users sided with the woman, lauding her for flipping the balance of power and calling her a defender of justice and a martial arts warrior.

Lu Pin, a prominent Chinese feminist activist, said that many people viewed the video as an outlet for pent-up anger over the general absence of accountability for harassers and of available recourse from courts or the police. Many victims of harassment feel powerless to report it and worry that they will be disbelieved or retaliated against if they do.

become the targets of lawsuits themselves. In 2019, after a woman in the Chinese city of Chengdu filed a police report saying she had been harassed by a colleague, the colleague sued. Though the lawsuit was largely dismissed, the woman was ordered to make a court-reviewed apology in a work chat group where she had discussed the harassment, so as to undo the “adverse effects” to her colleague.

In the video footage of the mop episode, Ms. Zhou says that Mr. Wang sent her unwanted text messages on three occasions and that others in the office had received similar unwelcome attention. She can be seen and heard making a call and accusing her boss of assault.

While on the phone, she says that she has already reported his actions to the police. According to local news outlets, the police said that they registered her report against her boss last week and were investigating her claims. Government offices in the city of Suihua and the district of Beilin, as well as the Beilin district police, did not respond to requests for comment.

Activists called for more protections from the system for such cases.

“How can more victims who have not attracted public attention be supported?” Ms. Lu said. “These questions have only been raised, and there are no answers.”

Ms. Zhou’s case is helped by the fact that she has a recording of her boss’s admissions, Mr. Longarino said.

In many situations, he said, “there is no viral video.”

Claire Fu contributed research from Beijing.

View Source

Afghans Wonder ‘What About Me?’ as US Troops Prepare to Withdraw

KABUL, Afghanistan — A female high school student in Kabul, Afghanistan’s war-scarred capital, is worried that she won’t be allowed to graduate. A pomegranate farmer in Kandahar wonders if his orchards will ever be clear of Taliban land mines. A government soldier in Ghazni fears he will never stop fighting.

Three Afghans from disparate walks of life, now each asking the same question: What will become of me when the Americans leave?

President Biden on Tuesday vowed to withdraw all American troops by Sept. 11, nearly 20 years after the first Americans arrived to drive out Al Qaeda following the 2001 terrorist attacks. The American withdrawal ends the longest war in United States history, but it is also likely to be the start of another difficult chapter for Afghanistan’s people.

reported that in the first three months of the year there were 573 civilians killed and 1,210 wounded, a 29 percent increase over the same period in 2020. More than 40,000 civilians have been killed since the start of the war.

Over two decades, the American mission evolved from hunting terrorists to helping the government build the institutions of a functioning government, dismantle the Taliban and empower women. But the U.S. and Afghan militaries were never able to effectively destroy the Taliban, allowing the insurgents to stage a comeback.

The Taliban never recognized Afghanistan’s democratic government. And they appear closer than ever to achieving the goal of their insurgency: to return to power and establish a government based on their extremist view of Islam.

Women would be most at risk under Taliban rule. When the group controlled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, it banned women from taking most jobs or receiving educations and practically made them prisoners in their own homes.

“It is too early to comment on the subject. We need to know much more,” said Fatima Gailani, an Afghan government negotiator who is involved in the continuing peace talks with the Taliban. “One thing is certain: It is about time that we learn how to rely on ourselves. Women of Afghanistan are totally different now. They are a force in our country; no one can deny them their rights or status.”

Afghanistan’s shaky democracy — propped up by billions of American dollars — has given way to an educated urban class that includes women like Ms. Gailani. Many of them were born in Afghanistan in the 1990s and came of age during the U.S. occupation of the country. Now these women are journalists, part of civil society and members of government.

In the countryside, by contrast, fighting, poverty and oppression remain regular parts of life. Despite the challenges, residents found some comfort in knowing that Afghan forces, backed by the American military, were keeping the peace at least in some areas.

Haji Abdul Samad, 52, a pomegranate farmer from the Arghandab district of Kandahar Province, has been displaced from his home for two months because of the heavy fighting there.

“I am too tired of my life. We are now in a position to beg,” Mr. Samad said. “The Americans are responsible for the troubles, hardships that we are going through. Now they are going to leave with their troops, with no peace, no progress. They just want to leave their war behind.”

Fears about the future are as palpable in the presidential palace in Kabul as they are in far-flung corners of the country. And people across Afghanistan are confused about who will soon be in charge.

The Taliban have repeatedly called for President Ashraf Ghani to step down to make way for an interim government, or most likely, their own. Mr. Ghani has refused, instead pushing for elections but also opening the door to more fighting and a potential civil war. The peace talks in Qatar have faltered and the Taliban have all but backed out of proposed talks in Turkey.

“Ghani will be increasingly isolated. Power brokers see every one of his moves as designed to keep himself and his deputies at the helm,” said Torek Farhadi, an adviser to former President Hamid Karzai. “Reality is, free and fair elections are not possible in the country amid war. In fact, it could fuel more violence.”

As American troops prepare to leave and fractures form in the Afghan government, militias controlled by powerful local warlords are once more rising to prominence and attacking government forces.

The American withdrawal will undoubtedly be a massive blow to morale for the Afghan security forces, spread across the country at hundreds of checkpoints, inside bases and along violent front lines. For years, the U.S. presence has meant that American air power, if needed, was nearby. But since the Trump administration’s deal with the Taliban, those airstrikes have become much less frequent, occurring only in the most dire of situations.

Without American military support, Afghan government troops are up against a Taliban enemy who is frequently more experienced and better equipped than the average foot soldier.

The history of Afghanistan has been one of foreign invasion and withdrawal: the British in the 19th century and the Soviets in the 20th. After each invasion, the country underwent a period of infighting and civil war.

“It is not the right time to withdraw their troops,” said Major Saifuddin Azizi, a commando commander in the southeastern province of Ghazni, where fighting has been especially brutal in recent days. “It is unreasonable, hasty and a betrayal to us. It pushes Afghanistan into another civil war. Afghanistan’s destiny will look like it did two decades ago.”

Reporting was contributed by Fahim Abed, Najim Rahim and Fatima Faizi from Kabul, and Taimoor Shah from Kandahar.

View Source

Afghans Wonder ‘What About Me?’ as American Troops Prepare to Withdraw

KABUL, Afghanistan — A female high school student in Kabul, Afghanistan’s war-scarred capital, is worried that she won’t be allowed to graduate. A pomegranate farmer in Kandahar wonders if his orchards will ever be clear of Taliban land mines. A government soldier in Ghazni fears he will never stop fighting.

Three Afghans from disparate walks of life, now each asking the same question: What will become of me when the Americans leave?

President Biden on Tuesday vowed to withdraw all American troops by Sept. 11, nearly 20 years after the first Americans arrived to drive out Al Qaeda following the 2001 terrorist attacks. The American withdrawal ends the longest war in United States history, but it is also likely to be the start of another difficult chapter for Afghanistan’s people.

reported that in the first three months of the year there were 573 civilians killed and 1,210 wounded, a 29 percent increase over the same period in 2020. More than 40,000 civilians have been killed since the start of the war.

Over two decades, the American mission evolved from hunting terrorists to helping the government build the institutions of a functioning government, dismantle the Taliban and empower women. But the U.S. and Afghan militaries were never able to effectively destroy the Taliban, allowing the insurgents to stage a comeback.

The Taliban never recognized Afghanistan’s democratic government. And they appear closer than ever to achieving the goal of their insurgency: to return to power and establish a government based on their extremist view of Islam.

Women would be most at risk under Taliban rule. When the group controlled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, it banned women from taking most jobs or receiving educations and practically made them prisoners in their own homes.

“It is too early to comment on the subject. We need to know much more,” said Fatima Gailani, an Afghan government negotiator who is involved in the continuing peace talks with the Taliban. “One thing is certain: It is about time that we learn how to rely on ourselves. Women of Afghanistan are totally different now. They are a force in our country; no one can deny them their rights or status.”

Afghanistan’s shaky democracy — propped up by billions of American dollars — has given way to an educated urban class that includes women like Ms. Gailani. Many of them were born in Afghanistan in the 1990s and came of age during the U.S. occupation of the country. Now these women are journalists, part of civil society and members of government.

In the countryside, by contrast, fighting, poverty and oppression remain regular parts of life. Despite the challenges, residents found some comfort in knowing that Afghan forces, backed by the American military, were keeping the peace at least in some areas.

Haji Abdul Samad, 52, a pomegranate farmer from the Arghandab district of Kandahar Province, has been displaced from his home for two months because of the heavy fighting there.

“I am too tired of my life. We are now in a position to beg,” Mr. Samad said. “The Americans are responsible for the troubles, hardships that we are going through. Now they are going to leave with their troops, with no peace, no progress. They just want to leave their war behind.”

Fears about the future are as palpable in the presidential palace in Kabul as they are in far-flung corners of the country. And people across Afghanistan are confused about who will soon be in charge.

The Taliban have repeatedly called for President Ashraf Ghani to step down to make way for an interim government, or most likely, their own. Mr. Ghani has refused, instead pushing for elections but also opening the door to more fighting and a potential civil war. The peace talks in Qatar have faltered and the Taliban have all but backed out of proposed talks in Turkey.

“Ghani will be increasingly isolated. Power brokers see every one of his moves as designed to keep himself and his deputies at the helm,” said Torek Farhadi, an adviser to former President Hamid Karzai. “Reality is, free and fair elections are not possible in the country amid war. In fact, it could fuel more violence.”

As American troops prepare to leave and fractures form in the Afghan government, militias controlled by powerful local warlords are once more rising to prominence and attacking government forces.

The American withdrawal will undoubtedly be a massive blow to morale for the Afghan security forces, spread across the country at hundreds of checkpoints, inside bases and along violent front lines. For years, the U.S. presence has meant that American air power, if needed, was nearby. But since the Trump administration’s deal with the Taliban, those airstrikes have become much less frequent, occurring only in the most dire of situations.

Without American military support, Afghan government troops are up against a Taliban enemy who is frequently more experienced and better equipped than the average foot soldier.

The history of Afghanistan has been one of foreign invasion and withdrawal: the British in the 19th century and the Soviets in the 20th. After each invasion, the country underwent a period of infighting and civil war.

“It is not the right time to withdraw their troops,” said Major Saifuddin Azizi, a commando commander in the southeastern province of Ghazni, where fighting has been especially brutal in recent days. “It is unreasonable, hasty and a betrayal to us. It pushes Afghanistan into another civil war. Afghanistan’s destiny will look like it did two decades ago.”

Reporting was contributed by Fahim Abed, Najim Rahim and Fatima Faizi from Kabul, and Taimoor Shah from Kandahar.

View Source

With Afghan Decision, Biden Seeks to Focus U.S. on New Challenges

WASHINGTON — President Biden’s decision to pull all American troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11 was rooted in his belief that there is no room for continuing 20 years of failed efforts to remake that country, especially at a moment when he wants the United States focused on a transformational economic and social agenda at home and other fast-evolving threats from abroad.

Though Mr. Biden would never use the term, getting out of Afghanistan is part of his own version of “America First,” one that differs drastically from how his predecessor, Donald J. Trump, used the phrase. His years on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and as vice president convinced him that the United States-led effort in Afghanistan was destined to collapse of its own weight.

Time and again during the Obama administration, Mr. Biden lost arguments to reduce the American presence to a minimal counterterrorism force. But after less than three months as president, Mr. Biden came to the determination that only a full withdrawal — with no link to political conditions on the ground — would wrench America’s attention away from the conflict of the past two decades in favor of the very different kinds he expects in the next two.

He has defined his presidency’s goals as releasing the country from the grip of a virus that is morphing into new variants, seizing an opportunity to bolster economic competitiveness against China and proving to the world that American democracy can still rise to great challenges.

annual worldwide threat assessment published by his intelligence chiefs on Tuesday morning, as word of his decision leaked, explicitly warned that “the Afghan government will struggle to hold the Taliban at bay” if the American-led coalition withdraws. Administration officials said that raised the specter of something akin to the 1975 fall of Saigon, after the United States gave up on another ill-considered war.

But Mr. Biden’s decision makes clear his belief that contending with a rising China takes precedence over the idea that with just a few more years in Afghanistan, and a few more billions of dollars, the United States could achieve with a few thousand troops what it could not achieve with hundreds of thousands and the more than $2 trillion already poured into two decades of warfighting and nation building.

After Mr. Biden declared at a news conference last month that “We’ve got to prove democracy works,” he went on to describe a foreign policy that was focused on restoring America’s reputation for getting big things done. “China is outinvesting us by a long shot,” the president noted, “because their plan is to own that future.”

Indeed, no one celebrated the American involvement in Afghanistan, or Iraq, more than the Chinese — conflicts that kept Americans up at night worrying about casualties and taking control of distant provinces, while Beijing focused on spreading its influence in regions of the world where America was once the unquestioned dominant power.

Afghanistan’s stability deeply in jeopardy. If there is no terrorist attack launched from Afghan territory again, no echo of Sep. 11, 2001, Mr. Biden may well have been judged to have made the right bet.

In the end, the argument that won the day is that the future of Kenosha is more important than defending Kabul. And if Mr. Biden can truly focus the country on far bigger strategic challenges — in space and cyberspace, against declining powers like Russia and rising ones like China — he will have finally moved the country out of its post-9/11 fixation, where counterterrorism overrode every other foreign policy and domestic imperative.

That would be a real change in the way Americans think about the purpose of the country’s influence and power, and the nature of national security.

View Source

A Ramadan Closer to Normal for 2021

CAIRO — Compared with Ramadan 2020, when mosques around the world were closed for prayer during the holiest month of the year for Muslims, and curfews prevented friends and family from gathering to break the fast, the religious holiday this year offered the promise of something much closer to normal.

“Last year, I felt depressed and I didn’t know how long the pandemic would last,” said Riyad Deis, a co-owner of a spice and dried-fruit shop in Jerusalem’s Old City. On Tuesday, the first day of the Muslim fasting month, its narrow alleys were alive with shoppers browsing Ramadan sweets and worshipers heading to the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Mr. Deis, 51, who was selling whole pieces of turmeric and Medjool dates to a customer, recalled how empty and subdued the Old City had felt last year as virus cases surged and the authorities closed Al-Aqsa to the public. “Now, I’m relaxed, I have enough money to provide for my family and people are purchasing goods from my shop,” he said. “It’s a totally different reality.”

rising coronavirus infections across many countries.

In Kenya, the authorities have introduced longer curfews, closed bars and schools, restricted gatherings at spaces of worship, and limited travel in and out of five counties including Nairobi, the capital.

For Nairobi residents like Ahmed Asmali, this means a prolonged inability to break the fast with loved ones or attend prayers with larger congregations.

“It’s the second year now that we are in a lockdown,” said Mr. Asmali, a 41-year-old public relations worker. The experience, he said “feels weird. Feels out of place.”

Lebanon Crisis Observatory, a project by the American University in Beirut.

The pandemic still shadows much of the festivities. Shop owners in Jerusalem’s Old City said they were worried that Israel would not allow large numbers of Palestinians from the West Bank, where few have been vaccinated, to visit the Old City this Ramadan, depriving the area of their holiday spending.

Prepandemic, Israel usually allowed tens of thousands of Palestinians from the West Bank to visit Jerusalem on Fridays during the fasting month. The arm of the Israeli government that liaises with the Palestinian Authority said on Tuesday that Israel would allow 10,000 vaccinated Palestinians from the West Bank to pray at the Aqsa on Friday. It also said authorities would permit 5,000 vaccinated Palestinians from the West Bank to make family visits in Israel between Sunday and Thursday next week.

Omar Kiswani, the director of the Aqsa Mosque, said he was overjoyed that the compound was open to worshipers — an estimated 11,000 attended the taraweeh prayers at the compound Monday evening — but he emphasized that people would still need to be careful. He said masks and two meters’ distance between worshipers are required at the mosque, and the indoor and outdoor spaces will be sterilized daily.

“These are times of great happiness,” Mr. Kiswani said. “We hope the blessed Aqsa Mosque will return to its prepandemic glory. But these are also times of caution, because the virus is still out there.”

Vivian Yee reported from Cairo, and Adam Rasgon from Jerusalem. Asmaa al-Omar contributed reporting form Istanbul and Abdi Latif Dahir from Nairobi.

View Source

Indigenous Party, Not on the Ballot, Is Still a Big Winner in Ecuador Election

TARQUI, Ecuador — Though its candidate is not on the ballot, one big winner in Sunday’s presidential runoff in Ecuador was clear before the first vote was cast: the nation’s long-marginalized Indigenous movement.

The Indigenous party and its allies jolted the nation in the first round of voting in February, winning half of all states, becoming the second-largest presence in Congress and transforming the agenda of the finalists in Sunday’s presidential race, the leftist Andrés Arauz and the conservative Guillermo Lasso.

“The politics of Ecuador will never be the same,” said Farith Simon, an Ecuadorean law professor and columnist. “There’s still racism, but there’s also a re-vindication of the value of Indigenous culture, of pride in their national role.”

Eager to court Indigenous voters and mindful of the need to work with the newly powerful Indigenous bloc in Congress, Mr. Arauz and Mr. Lasso have revamped their messages and shifted the contest from the polarizing socialist-versus-conservative ground that has defined national politics for years. Debates are emerging instead on Ecuador’s deep-seated inequality and on an economic model reliant on the export of oil and metals extracted from Indigenous lands.

Both candidates have promised to enact greater environmental safeguards and to grant Indigenous communities more say over the extraction of resources. Mr. Lasso, 66, a banker, has vowed to improve economic opportunities for Indigenous people, who, despite decades of progress, lag far behind national averages in access to education, health care and jobs.

Mr. Arauz, 36, an economist who led in the first round of voting, has promised to lead Ecuador as a true “plurinational” country in recognition of its 15 Indigenous nations. Though largely symbolic, the designation had been sought for decades by the country’s Indigenous party, Pachakutik, as a powerful acknowledgment of its people’s central place in Ecuador.

The rise of Pachakutik on the national stage has not only brought attention to the country’s Indigenous minority, it has posed deeper questions of identity for the entire electorate. Though just 8 percent of Ecuadoreans identified themselves as Indigenous in the last census, much of the population is ethnically mixed.

“This is a difficult conversation for us as a nation, but there’s no turning back,” Mr. Simon said.

The man most responsible for the political sea change has been the environmental activist Yaku Pérez, the Pachakutik presidential candidate in February’s first round of voting.

Mr. Pérez, 52, narrowly missed the runoff, but he greatly broadened Pachakutik’s historic single-digit appeal with his support for women’s rights, equality for L.G.B.T.Q. people and efforts to fight climate change. Mr. Pérez also backed abortion rights and same-sex marriage, creating tensions inside his socially conservative Indigenous constituency.

“Pérez had an enormous capacity to open his horizons, his discourse, to incorporate themes that weren’t there” in Ecuadorean politics, said Alberto Acosta, a former Pachakutik presidential candidate.

Mr. Pérez’s rise is part of a larger generational shift in Latin America’s leftist movements. Partly driven by social media and political protests in the United States, where most Latin American nations have large diasporas, younger left-leaning politicians are prioritizing environment, gender and minority issues over the Marxist doctrine of their mentors.

In neighboring Peru, Verónika Mendoza, 40, is among the top contenders in Sunday’s presidential election, promising to grant land titles to Indigenous communities and protect the environment. In Bolivia, the 34-year-old Indigenous leader Eva Copa recently won a mayor’s race in El Alto, a melting-pot city considered a bellwether.

This new generation of leaders is going beyond the traditional left-right divide, challenging their countries’ historic reliance on large mining, oil and agribusiness projects for economic growth, said Carwil Bjork-James, an anthropologist at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee.

“These are big continental questions that the Indigenous movements have been asking for a long time,” Mr. Bjork-James said. “To see these questions being asked politically is a new level.”

Such a framework is shortsighted, their rivals say. South American nations have no alternative but to rely on revenue from raw materials to recover from the pandemic. And only through economic development, they say, can inequalities be fully addressed.

In Ecuador, Mr. Pérez managed to win nearly 20 percent of February’s vote, but his party and its allies soared from nine to 43 congressional seats in the election, becoming kingmakers in the country’s fractured 137-seat legislature.

The campaign had initially focused on the legacy of Rafael Correa, Ecuador’s longest-serving democratic president. He had lifted millions from poverty during a commodities boom in the 2000s, but his authoritarian style and the corruption allegations that trailed him had left the nation bitterly divided.

Mr. Correa, who left office in 2017, picked Mr. Arauz to represent his leftist movement this year, catapulting the 36-year-old to the top of the polls despite his limited experience and national recognition. Mr. Lasso centered his early campaign message on fears that Mr. Correa would continue to exert influence.

But the first-round results “showed that a great part of the population doesn’t want to be boxed into this conflict between Correa’s supporters and opponents, which reduces Ecuadoreans’ problems to a binary vision,” said Mr. Acosta, the former candidate.

Pachakutik’s electoral success this year traces to a wave of national protests in October 2019, when the Indigenous movement marched on the capital, Quito, to demand the repeal of a deeply unpopular cut in gasoline subsidies. The protests turned violent, claiming at least eight lives, but the government withdrew the subsidy cut after 12 days of unrest.

“We showed the country that the Indigenous people are looking for a transformation of this dominant system that only serves the most affluent,” said Diocelinda Iza, a leader of the Kichwa nation in the central province of Cotopaxi.

The life of Mr. Pérez, the presidential candidate, embodies the travails of the Indigenous movement. He was born in a high Andean valley in southern Ecuador to a family of impoverished farmers. His father was Kichwa, his mother Kañari.

His parents worked on the estate of a local landowner without pay in return for living on his property, a rural arrangement that has changed little since colonial times.

From his childhood, Mr. Pérez said he remembers the seemingly endless toil in the fields, the pangs of hunger, and the humiliation he felt at school when his mother came to parent meetings dressed in traditional skirts.

“I felt a lot of shame to be Indigenous, to come from the field, to be a farmer, to have a sharecropper father,” Mr. Pérez said in an interview in March. To succeed at school, he said, “I ended up whitening myself, colonizing myself, rejecting our identity.”

Mr. Pérez ended up studying at a local university, practicing law and becoming involved in politics through local associations defending communal water rights. He rose to become the governor of Ecuador’s Azuay region, the country’s fifth-most populous, before quitting to run for president.

His story has resonated with other Indigenous people, many of whom see the political efforts of today in the context of the five centuries since Ecuador’s colonial conquest.

“We’re not campaigning for a person,” said one Indigenous leader, Luz Namicela Contento, “but for a political project.”

Jose María León Cabrera reported from Tarqui, Ecuador, and Anatoly Kurmanaev from Moscow. Mitra Taj contributed reporting from Lima, Peru.

View Source

Saudi Aramco Sells Oil Pipeline Stake for $12.4 Billion

BJ’s Wholesale Club, died unexpectedly on Thursday of “presumed natural causes,” according to a statement released Friday by the company. He was 49.

“We are shocked and profoundly saddened by the passing of Lee Delaney,” said Christopher J. Baldwin, the company’s executive chairman, said in a statement. “Lee was a brilliant and humble leader who cared deeply for his colleagues, his family and his community.”

Mr. Delaney joined BJ’s in 2016 as executive vice president and chief growth officer. He was promoted to president in 2019 and became chief executive last year. Before joining BJ’s, he was a partner in the Boston office of Bain & Company from 1996 to 2016. Mr. Delaney earned a master’s in business administration from Carnegie Mellon University, and attended the University of Massachusetts, where he pursued a double major in computer science and mathematics.

Mr. Delaney led the company through the unexpected changes in consumer demand spurred by the pandemic, with many customers stockpiling wholesale goods as they hunkered down at home. “2020 was a remarkable, transformative and challenging year that structurally changed our business for the better,” Mr. Delaney said in the company’s last quarterly earnings report.

The BJ’s board appointed Bob Eddy, the chief administrative and financial officer, to serve as the company’s interim chief executive. Mr. Eddy joined the company in 2007 and became the chief financial officer in 2011, adding the job of chief administrative officer in 2018.

“Bob partnered closely with Lee and has played an integral role in transforming and growing BJ’s Wholesale Club,” Mr. Baldwin said. He said that the company would announce decisions about its permanent executive leadership in a “reasonably short timeframe.”

BJ’s, based in Westborough, Mass., operates 221 clubs and 151 BJ’s Gas locations in 17 states.

Revolut’s office in London in 2018. The banking start-up is offering its workers the opportunity to work abroad for up to two months a year.
Credit…Tom Jamieson for The New York Times

Before the pandemic, companies used to lure top talent with lavish perks like subsidized massages, Pilates classes and free gourmet meals. Now, the hottest enticement is permission to work not just from home, but from anywhere — even, say, from the French Alps or a Caribbean island.

Revolut, a banking start-up based in London, said Thursday that it would allow its more than 2,000 employees to work abroad for up to two months a year in response to requests to visit overseas family for longer periods.

“Our employees asked for flexibility, and that’s what we’re giving them as part of our ongoing focus on employee experience and choice,” said Jim MacDougall, Revolut’s vice president of human resources.

Georgia Pacquette-Bramble, a communications manager for Revolut, said she was planning to trade the winter in London for Spain or somewhere in the Caribbean. Other colleagues have talked about spending time with family abroad.

Revolut has been valued at $5.5 billion, making it one of Europe’s most valuable financial technology firms. It joins a number of companies that will allow more flexible working arrangements to continue after the pandemic ends. JPMorgan Chase, Salesforce, Ford Motor and Target have said they are giving up office space as they expect workers to spend less time in the office, and Spotify has told employees they can work from anywhere.

Not all companies, however, are shifting away from the office. Tech companies, including Amazon, Facebook, Google and Apple, have added office space in New York over the last year. Amazon told employees it would “return to an office-centric culture as our baseline.”

Dr. Dan Wang, an associate professor at Columbia Business School, said he did not expect office-centric companies to lose top talent to companies that allow flexible working, in part because many employees prefer to work from the office.

Furthermore, when employees are not in the same space, there are fewer spontaneous interactions, and spontaneity is critical for developing ideas and collaborating, Dr. Wang said.

“There is a cost,” he said. “Yes, we can interact via email, via Slack, via Zoom — we’ve all gotten used to that. But part of it is that we’ve lowered our expectations for what social interaction actually entails.”

Revolut said it studied tax laws and regulations before introducing its policy, and that each request to work from abroad was subject to an internal review and approval process. But for some companies looking to put a similar policy in place, a hefty tax bill, or at least a complicated tax return, could be a drawback.

After its initial public offering imploded, WeWork went public through a SPAC deal.
Credit…Kate Munsch/Reuters

After weeks of wading into the debate over how to regulate SPACS, the popular blank-check deals that provide companies a back door to public markets, the Securities and Exchange Commission is sending its first shot across the bow.

John Coates, the acting director of the corporate finance division at the S.E.C., issued a lengthy statement on Thursday about how securities laws apply to blank-check firms, the DealBook newsletter reports.

“With the unprecedented surge has come unprecedented scrutiny,” Mr. Coates wrote of the recent boom in blank-check deals.

In particular, he is interested in a crucial (and controversial) difference between SPACs and traditional initial public offerings: blank-check firms are allowed to publish often-rosy financial forecasts when merging with an acquisition target, while companies going public in an I.P.O. are not. Regulators consider such forecasts too risky for firms as yet untested by the public markets.

Investors raise money for SPACs via an I.P.O. of a shell company, and those funds are used within two years to merge with an unspecified company, which then also becomes a publicly traded company. Because the deal is technically a merger, it’s given the same “safe harbor” legal protections for its financial forecasts as a typical M.& A. deal. And that’s why there are flying-taxi companies with little revenue going public via a SPAC while promising billions in sales far in the future.

The S.E.C. thinks allowing financial forecasts for these deals might be a problem. They can be “untested, speculative, misleading or even fraudulent,” Mr. Coates wrote. And he concludes his statement by suggesting a major rethink of how the “full panoply” of securities laws applies to SPACs, which could upend the blank-check business model.

If the S.E.C. does not treat SPAC deals as the I.P.Os they effectively are, he writes, “potentially problematic forward-looking information may be disseminated without appropriate safeguards.”

The letter serves as a warning, but perhaps not much else — yet. Unless the S.E.C. issues new rules (as it did for penny stocks) or Congress passes legislation, SPAC projections will continue. But this strongly worded statement could moderate or even mute them.

“The S.E.C. has now put them on notice,” Lynn Turner, a former chief accountant of the agency, said.


Amazon Warehouse Unionization Votes

Either side needed 1,521 votes to win.

A total of 505 ballots were challenged; 76 were void.·Source: National Labor Relations Board

Amazon beat back the unionization drive at its warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., the counting of ballots in the closely watched effort showed on Friday.

A total of 738 workers voted “Yes” to unionize and 1,798 voted “No.” There were 76 ballots marked as void and 505 votes were challenged, according to the National Labor Relations Board. The union leading the drive to organize, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, said most of the challenges were from Amazon.

About 50 percent of the 5,805 eligible voters at the warehouse cast ballots in the election. Either side needed to receive more than 50 percent of all cast ballots to prevail.

The ballots were counted in random order in the National Labor Relations Board’s office in Birmingham, Ala., and the process was broadcast via Zoom to more than 200 journalists, lawyers and other observers.

The voting was conducted by mail from early February until the end of last month. A handful of workers from the labor board called out the results of each vote — “Yes” for a union or “No” — for nearly four hours on Thursday.

Sophia June and Miles McKinley contributed to this report.

A screenshot of a “vax cards” page on Facebook. 

Online stores offering counterfeit or stolen vaccine cards have mushroomed in recent weeks, according to Saoud Khalifah, the founder of FakeSpot, which offers tools to detect fake listings and reviews online.

The efforts are far from hidden, with Facebook pages named “vax-cards” and eBay listings with “blank vaccine cards” openly hawking the items, Sheera Frenkel reports for The New York Times.

Last week, 45 state attorneys general banded together to call on Twitter, Shopify and eBay to stop the sale of false and stolen vaccine cards.

Facebook, Twitter, eBay, Shopify and Etsy said that the sale of fake vaccine cards violated their rules and that they were removing posts that advertised the items.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention introduced the vaccination cards in December, describing them as the “simplest” way to keep track of Covid-19 shots. By January, sales of false vaccine cards started picking up, Mr. Khalifah said. Many people found the cards were easy to forge from samples available online. Authentic cards were also stolen by pharmacists from their workplaces and put up for sale, he said.

Many people who bought the cards were opposed to the Covid-19 vaccines, Mr. Khalifah said. In some anti-vaccine groups on Facebook, people have publicly boasted about getting the cards.

Other buyers want to use the cards to trick pharmacists into giving them a vaccine, Mr. Khalifah said. Because some of the vaccines are two-shot regimens, people can enter a false date for a first inoculation on the card, which makes it appear as if they need a second dose soon. Some pharmacies and state vaccination sites have prioritized people due for their second shots.

An empty conference room in New York, which is among the cities with the lowest rate of workers returning to offices.
Credit…George Etheredge for The New York Times

In only a year, the market value of office towers in Manhattan has plummeted 25 percent, according to city projections released on Wednesday.

Across the country, the vacancy rate for office buildings in city centers has steadily climbed over the past year to reach 16.4 percent, according to Cushman & Wakefield, the highest in about a decade. That number could climb further if companies keep giving up office space because of hybrid or fully remote work, Peter Eavis and Matthew Haag report for The New York Times.

So far, landlords like Boston Properties and SL Green have not suffered huge financial losses, having survived the past year by collecting rent from tenants locked into long leases — the average contract for office space runs about seven years.

But as leases come up for renewal, property owners could be left with scores of empty floors. At the same time, many new office buildings are under construction — 124 million square feet nationwide, or enough for roughly 700,000 workers. Those changes could drive down rents, which were touching new highs before the pandemic. And rents help determine assessments that are the basis for property tax bills.

Many big employers have already given notice to the owners of some prestigious buildings that they are leaving when their leases end. JPMorgan Chase, Ford Motor, Salesforce, Target and more are giving up expensive office space and others are considering doing so.

The stock prices of the big landlords, which are often structured as real estate investment trusts that pass almost all of their profit to investors, trade well below their previous highs. Shares of Boston Properties, one of the largest office landlords, are down 29 percent from the prepandemic high. SL Green, a major New York landlord, is 26 percent lower.

President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris during a White House appearance on Thursday.
Credit…Amr Alfiky/The New York Times

President Biden proposed a vast expansion of federal spending on Friday, calling for a 16 percent increase in domestic programs as he tries to harness the government’s power to reverse what officials called a decade of underinvestment in the nation’s most pressing issues.

The proposed $1.52 trillion in spending on discretionary programs would significantly bolster education, health research and fighting climate change. It comes on top of Mr. Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package and a separate plan to spend $2.3 trillion on the nation’s infrastructure.

Mr. Biden’s first spending request to Congress showcases his belief that expanding, not shrinking, the federal government is crucial to economic growth and prosperity. It would direct billions of dollars toward reducing inequities in housing and education, as well as making sure every government agency puts climate change at the front of its agenda.

It does not include tax proposals, economic projections or so-called mandatory programs like Social Security, which will all be included in a formal budget request the White House will release this spring.

Among its major new spending initiatives, the plan would dedicate an additional $20 billion to help schools that serve low-income children and provide more money to students who have experienced racial or economic barriers to higher education. It would create a multi-billion-dollar program for researching diseases like cancer and add $14 billion to fight and adapt to the damages of climate change.

It would also seek to lift the economies of Central American countries, where rampant poverty, corruption and devastating hurricanes have fueled migration toward the southwestern border and a variety of initiatives to address homelessness and housing affordability, including on tribal lands. And it asks for an increase of about 2 percent in spending on national defense.

The request represents a sharp break with the policies of President Donald J. Trump, whose budget proposals prioritized military spending and border security, while seeking to cut funding in areas like environmental protection.

All told, the proposal calls for a $118 billion increase in discretionary spending in the 2022 fiscal year, when compared with the base spending allocations this year. It seeks to capitalize on the expiration of a decade of caps on spending growth, which lawmakers agreed to in 2010 but frequently breached in subsequent years.

Administration officials would not specify on Friday whether that increase would result in higher federal deficits in their coming budget proposal, but promised its full budget would “address the overlapping challenges we face in a fiscally and economically responsible way.”

As part of that effort, the request seeks $1 billion in new funding for the Internal Revenue Service to enforce tax laws, including “increased oversight of high-income and corporate tax returns.” That is clearly aimed at raising tax receipts by cracking down on tax avoidance by companies and the wealthy.

Officials said the proposals did not reflect the spending called for in Mr. Biden’s infrastructure plan, which he introduced last week, or for a second plan he has yet to roll out, which will focus on what officials call “human infrastructure” like education and child care.

Congress, which is responsible for approving government spending, is under no requirement to adhere to White House requests. In recent years, lawmakers rejected many of the Trump administration’s efforts to gut domestic programs.

But Mr. Biden’s plan, while incomplete as a budget, could provide a blueprint for Democrats who narrowly control the House and Senate and are anxious to reassert their spending priorities after four years of a Republican White House.

Part of Saudi Aramco’s giant Ras Tanura oil terminal. The company said it would raise $12.4 billion from selling a minority stake in its oil pipeline business.
Credit…Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters

Saudi Aramco, the national oil company of Saudi Arabia, has reached a deal to raise $12.4 billion from the sale of a 49 percent stake in a pipeline-rights company.

The money will come from a consortium led by EIG Global Energy Partners, a Washington-based investor in pipelines and other energy infrastructure.

Under the arrangement announced on Friday, the investor group will buy 49 percent of a new company called Aramco Oil Pipelines, which will have the rights to 25 years of payments from Aramco for transporting oil through Saudi Arabia’s pipeline networks.

Aramco is under pressure from its main owner, the Saudi government, to generate cash to finance state operations as well as investments like new cities to diversify the economy away from oil.

The company has pledged to pay $75 billion in annual dividends, nearly all to the government, as well as other taxes.

Last year, the dividends came to well in excess of the company’s net income of $49 billion. Recently, Aramco was tapped by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s main policymaker, to lead a new domestic investment drive to build up the Saudi economy.

The pipeline sale “reinforces Aramco’s role as a catalyst for attracting significant foreign investment into the Kingdom,” Aramco said in a statement.

From Saudi Arabia’s perspective, the deal has the virtue of raising money up front without giving up control. Aramco will own a 51 percent majority share in the pipeline company and “retain full ownership and operational control” of the pipes the company said.

Aramco said Saudi Arabia would retain control over how much oil the company produces.

Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich neighbor, has struck similar oil and gas deals with outside investors.

View Source

‘You Can’t Trust Anyone’: Russia’s Hidden Covid Toll Is an Open Secret

SAMARA, Russia — She burst into the hospital morgue and the bodies were everywhere, about a dozen of them in black bags on stretchers. She headed straight for the autopsy room, pleading with the guard in a black jacket: “Can I speak to the doctor who opened up my father?”

Olga Kagarlitskaya’s father had been hospitalized weeks earlier in a coronavirus ward. Now he was gone, cause of death: “viral pneumonia, unspecified.” Ms. Kagarlitskaya, recording the scene on her smartphone, wanted to know the truth. But the guard, hands in pockets, sent her away.

There were thousands of similar cases across Russia last year, the government’s own statistics show. At least 300,000 more people died last year during the coronavirus pandemic than were reported in Russia’s most widely cited official statistics.

Russian scientists had developed a Covid vaccine widely seen as one of the best in the world — but the Kremlin has put a greater emphasis on using the Sputnik V shot to score geopolitical points rather than on immunizing its own population.

Perhaps the starkest sign, though, of the state’s priorities is its minimization of the coronavirus death toll — a move that, many critics say, kept much of the public in the dark about the disease’s dangers and about the importance of getting a vaccine.

to the World Health Organization — is far lower, when adjusted for the population, than that of United States and most of Western Europe.

However, a far different story is told by the official statistics agency Rosstat, which tallies deaths from all causes. Russia saw a jump of 360,000 deaths above normal from last April through December, according to a Times analysis of historical data. Rosstat figures for January and February of this year show that the number is now well above 400,000.

In the United States, with more than twice the population of Russia, such “excess deaths” since the start of the pandemic have numbered about 574,000. By that measure, which many demographers see as the most accurate way to assess the virus’s overall toll, the pandemic killed about one in every 400 people in Russia, compared with one in every 600 in the United States.

another poll found that 60 percent of Russians said they were not planning to get Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine, and that most believed the coronavirus to be a biological weapon.

In the Samara region, Inna Pogozheva’s mother, an obstetrician-gynecologist, died in November after being hospitalized with a Covid-19 referral based on a CT scan. The undertakers, clad in rubber boots and hazmat suits, carried her mother from the morgue into their hearse in a sealed coffin, then doused each other in disinfectant.

But there was no word about Covid-19 on the death certificate.

Ms. Pogozheva said she did not know what to believe about the pandemic — including whether, as the widely circulating and false conspiracy theories go, the Gates Foundation might be behind it. But one thing was certain, she said: She will not get vaccinated, even after seeing Covid’s devastation up close. After all, if she cannot trust her mother’s state-issued death certificate, why should she trust the Russian government about the safety of the vaccine?

“Who the heck knows what they mixed in there?” Ms. Pogozheva said. “You can’t trust anyone, especially when it comes to this situation.”

Ms. Pogozheva is appealing to have her mother’s cause of death reinvestigated. The next of kin of a medical worker shown to have died from Covid-19 caught on the job are entitled to a special payout from the state. Ms. Kagarlitskaya, whose father was a paramedic, succeeded in having his cause of death changed to Covid-19 after her outrage went viral on Instagram and Samara’s governor personally intervened.

For all the death, there has been minimal opposition in Russia — even among Mr. Putin’s critics — to the government’s decision to keep businesses open last winter and fall. Some liken it to a Russian stoicism, or fatalism, or the lack of an alternative to keeping the economy running given minimal aid from the state.

Mr. Raksha, the demographer, noted that the elevated mortality that accompanied the chaos and poverty of the 1990s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, was deadlier than the overall toll of the pandemic.

“This nation has seen so many traumas,” Mr. Raksha said. “A people that has been through so much develops a very different relationship to death.”

In the Samara region, according to the excess death statistics, the pandemic took the life of as many as one in every 250 people. Viktor Dolonko, the editor of a culture newspaper in the city of Samara, says that about 50 people he knew — many of them part of the region’s thriving arts scene — lost their lives during the pandemic. But he does not believe that Samara should have closed its theaters — currently, they are allowed to be filled to 50 percent of capacity — in order to slow the spread of the disease.

The deaths during the pandemic have been tragic, he said, but he believes they have mostly occurred in people who were of a very advanced age or had other health problems, and were not all related to the virus. Mr. Dolonko, 62, says he wears a mask in crowded places and frequently washes his hands — and regularly goes to gallery openings and shows.

“You can choose between continuing to live your life, carefully, or to wall yourself up and stop living,” Mr. Dolonko said. “Unlike you” — Westerners — “Russians know what it means to live in extreme conditions.”

At a Samara church service on a recent Sunday, the Rev. Sergiy Rybakov preached, “Let us love one another,” and the congregants hugged and kissed. One 59-year-old woman, leaving the service, explained why she did not fear catching the virus there: “I trust God.”

A website tracking coronavirus deaths in the Orthodox Church lists seven members of the clergy in the Samara region; Father Sergiy knew several of them well. He said he figured Russia had lifted its coronavirus restrictions because there was no end in sight to the pandemic. He quoted Dostoyevsky: “Man grows used to everything, the scoundrel!”

“We are growing used to living in a pandemic,” Father Sergiy said. “We are growing used to the deaths.”

Allison McCann and Oleg Matsnev contributed research.

View Source

Biden Details $1.52 Trillion Spending Proposal to Fund Discretionary Priorities

WASHINGTON — President Biden outlined a vast expansion of federal spending on Friday, calling for a 16 percent increase in domestic programs as he tries to harness the government’s power to reverse what officials called a decade of underinvestment in the nation’s most pressing issues.

The proposed $1.52 trillion in spending on discretionary programs would significantly bolster education, health research and fighting climate change. It comes on top of Mr. Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package and a separate plan to spend $2.3 trillion on the nation’s infrastructure.

Mr. Biden’s first spending proposal to Congress showcases his belief that expanding, not shrinking, the federal government is crucial to economic growth and prosperity. It would direct billions of dollars toward reducing inequities in housing and education, as well as making sure every government agency puts climate change at the front of its agenda.

It does not include tax proposals, economic projections or so-called mandatory programs like Social Security, which will all be included in a formal budget document the White House will release this spring. And it does not reflect the spending called for in Mr. Biden’s infrastructure plan or other efforts he has yet to roll out, which are aimed at workers and families.

Trump administration’s efforts to gut domestic programs.

But Mr. Biden’s plan, while incomplete as a budget, could provide a blueprint for Democrats who narrowly control the House and Senate and are anxious to reassert their spending priorities after four years of a Republican White House.

Democratic leaders in Congress hailed the plan on Friday and suggested they would incorporate it into government spending bills for the 2022 fiscal year. The plan “proposes long overdue and historic investments in jobs, worker training, schools, food security, infrastructure and housing,” said Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the chairman of the Appropriations Committee.

Shalanda D. Young, who is serving as Mr. Biden’s acting budget director, told congressional leaders that the discretionary spending process would be an “important opportunity to continue laying a stronger foundation for the future and reversing a legacy of chronic disinvestment in crucial priorities.”

The administration is focusing on education spending in particular, seeing that as a way to help children escape poverty. Mr. Biden asked Congress to bolster funding to high-poverty schools by $20 billion, which it describes as the largest year-over-year increase to the Title I program since its inception under President Lyndon B. Johnson. The program provides funding for schools that have high numbers of students from low-income families, most often by providing remedial programs and support staff.

The plan also seeks billions of dollars in increases to early-childhood education, to programs serving students with disabilities and to efforts to staff schools with nurses, counselors and mental health professionals — described as an attempt to help children recover from the pandemic, but also a longstanding priority for teachers’ unions.

Mr. Biden heralded the education funding in remarks to reporters at the White House. “The data shows that it puts a child from a household that is a lower-income household in a position if they start school — not day care — but school at 3 and 4 years old, there’s overwhelming evidence that they will compete all the way through high school and beyond,” he said.

There is no talk in the plans of tying federal dollars to accountability measures for teachers and schools, as they often were under President Barack Obama.

his vision of having every cabinet chief, whether they are military leaders, diplomats, fiscal regulators or federal housing planners, charged with incorporating climate change into their missions.

The proposal aims to embed climate programs into agencies that are not usually seen as at the forefront of tackling global warming, like the Agriculture and Labor Departments. That money would be in addition to clean energy spending in Mr. Biden’s proposed infrastructure legislation, which would pour about $500 billion on programs such as increasing electric vehicle production and building climate-resilient roads and bridges.

Strategic National Stockpile, the country’s emergency medical reserve, for supplies and efforts to restructure it that began last year. Nearly $7 billion would create an agency meant to research diseases like cancer and diabetes.

Reporting was contributed by Coral Davenport, Zolan Kanno-Youngs, Lisa Friedman, Brad Plumer, Christopher Flavelle, Mark Walker, Dana Goldstein, Mark Walker, Noah Weiland, Margot Sanger-Katz, Lara Jakes, Noam Scheiber, Katie Benner and Emily Cochrane.

View Source