have claimed credit for strong economic growth.

“Some have a curious obsession with exaggerating impact of the Rescue Plan while ignoring the degree high inflation is global,” Gene Sperling, a senior White House adviser overseeing the implementation of the stimulus package, wrote on Twitter last week, adding that the law “has had very marginal impact on inflation.”

Brian Deese, the director of the National Economic Council, acknowledged in an interview last week that there were some disagreements among White House economic officials when it came to how to talk about and respond to inflation, but he portrayed that as a positive — and as something that is not leading to any kind of dysfunction.

“If there wasn’t healthy disagreement, debate and people feeling comfortable bringing issues and ideas to the table, then I think we would be not serving the president and the public interest well,” he said.

He also pushed back on the idea that the administration was deeply divided on the March 2021 package’s aftereffects, saying in a separate emailed comment that “there is agreement across the administration that many factors contributed to inflation, and that inflation has been driven by elevated demand and constrained supply across the globe.”

How to portray the Biden administration’s stimulus spending is far from the only challenge the White House faces. As price increases last, Democrats have grappled with how to discuss their plans to combat them.

deficit reduction as a way to lower inflation and arguing that Republicans have a bad plan to deal with rising costs. Mr. Biden regularly acknowledges the pain that higher prices are causing and has emphasized that the problem of taming inflation rests largely with the Fed, an independent entity whose work he has promised not to interfere with.

The administration has also highlighted that inflation is widespread globally, and that the United States is better off than many other nations.

The renewed messaging comes as Mr. Biden and his top aides have grown increasingly concerned about the public’s negative views of the economy, according to an administration official. Economists within the administration are more sidelined when it comes to setting the tone on issues like inflation than in previous White Houses, another person familiar with the discussions said.

So far, the talking points have done little to change public perception or to mollify concerns on Capitol Hill, where some Democrats are pushing for the White House to find a more compelling story.

“There has to be more of a laser focus on the economy, a bolder message, a clearer story,” said Representative Ro Khanna, a California Democrat who wrote a New York Times opinion piece last week saying that Democrats need a more ambitious plan for fighting inflation. He added that “rhetoric about ‘Well, we’re doing really well’ does not capture the profound sense of anxiety that Americans feel.”

Part of the difficulty is that there is only so much politicians can do to fight price increases.

suspended a ban on summertime sales of higher-ethanol gasoline blends to try to temper price increases at the pump, spurring frustration among climate activists still angry over the collapse of the president’s climate and social-spending package.

Talks over whether to roll back Trump-era tariffs on Chinese goods have also gotten caught in the inflation maw. Ms. Yellen has said she supports relaxing tariffs to help ease prices, but other Democrats are wary that removing them would make Mr. Biden look weak on China.

Inflation is also influencing conversations about whether to forgive student loan debt, one of Mr. Biden’s key campaign promises. Economists in the administration think that loan forgiveness would, at most, push inflation up a little bit by giving people with outstanding student debt more financial wiggle room. But some economists in the administration’s orbit have expressed concern about the possibility of doing something that could stimulate demand — even slightly — at a moment when it is already hot.

To help mute the inflationary effect, forgiveness would most likely be accompanied by a resumption of interest payments on all student loans that have been paused since the pandemic.

For now, the administration is considering forgiving at least $10,000 for borrowers in a certain income range, according to people familiar with the matter. Mr. Cárdenas said that Mr. Biden knew he would be attacked over inflation but that he did not think the issue would prevent the president from canceling at least $10,000 worth of debt.

“Will it affect him going beyond that? It may,” he said.

Jonathan Martin contributed reporting.

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Will President Biden Forgive Student Loan Debt?

Justin Nelson’s letter, one of the thousands that arrived at the White House this month, said he was proud to vote for President Biden back in 2020. Now he had a request: Would the president please honor a campaign promise and use the enclosed pen to wipe out thousands of dollars he owes in student loans?

The letter-writing campaign — #PensForBiden — is the latest attempt to sway Mr. Biden on a high-stakes dilemma as the midterm elections approach and much of his domestic agenda remains stalled: What to do about the $1.6 trillion that more than 45 million people owe the government?

So far, Mr. Biden has extended the pandemic pause on student loan payments four times, most recently until Aug. 31. Payments have now been on hold for more than two years, over two presidential administrations.

But all that time poses problems. Many of the issues that have long bedeviled the loan system have only grown more complicated during the pause, and receiving bills again will infuriate and frustrate millions of people who feel trapped by a broken system and crushing debt.

progressive wing of his Democratic Party. He backed the idea on the campaign trail in 2020. “I’m going to make sure that everybody in this generation gets $10,000 knocked off of their student debt as we try to get out of this God-awful pandemic,” he told an audience in Miami.

Senate Democrats lack the votes to help make good on that promise, leaving executive action as the only possible pathway. But close allies say some influential members of Mr. Biden’s team have been reluctant for him to do it — some because they disagree with the idea of forgiveness and some because they don’t believe he has the authority.

“He’s got lawyers telling him he shouldn’t,” said Representative James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, the third-ranking House Democrat and a key supporter of Mr. Biden. But Mr. Clyburn, the most senior Black lawmaker in Congress, said presidential actions had brought sweeping changes before, including Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and Harry Truman’s order banning segregation in the military.

“If executive orders can free slaves and integrate the armed services, it can eliminate debt,” Mr. Clyburn said.

analysis released by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York last week. A separate study by the bank found that surveyed borrowers reported a 16 percent chance of quickly missing a payment if the moratorium ended.

Mr. Nelson, a 32-year-old bank operations associate in Minneapolis, said the pause had freed up $120 a month for home repairs and other expenses.

recent Morning Consult poll found that more than 60 percent of registered voters were in favor of some level of student debt cancellation. But despite Mr. Biden’s campaign promise, his advisers have been divided, three people with knowledge of the discussions said.

Some view debt cancellation as relief for critical constituencies, said the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. Others oppose it as bad policy or because they fear the economic effects of putting more money in consumers’ pockets when inflation is soaring.

But the pressure on Mr. Biden to act has only grown.

Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, whose pledge to cancel up to $50,000 per borrower was a centerpiece of her 2020 presidential primary bid, and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, led more than 90 congressional Democrats in sending Mr. Biden a letter last month asking him to “provide meaningful student debt cancellation.”

voting rights protections and Mr. Biden’s Build Back Better agenda, as reason for the president to take matters into his own hands.

The New Georgia Project, a group focusing on voter registration founded by the gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, has cast debt relief as an action that would serve Mr. Biden’s pledge to put racial equity at the forefront of his presidency.

“Much of your administration’s legislative priorities have been stymied by obstructionist legislators,” the group wrote in a joint letter with the advocacy group the Debt Collective that was reviewed by The New York Times. “Student debt cancellation is a popular campaign promise that you, President Biden, have the executive power to deliver on your own.”

announcing the latest pause extension last month, Mr. Biden’s press secretary, Jen Psaki, said he “hasn’t ruled out” the idea.

But Mr. Biden’s power to act unilaterally remains an open legal question.

Last April, at Mr. Biden’s request, the Education Department’s acting general counsel wrote an analysis of the legality of canceling debt via executive action. The analysis has not been released; a version provided in response to public records requests was fully redacted.

Proponents of forgiveness say the education secretary has broad powers to modify or cancel debt, which both the Trump and Biden administrations have leaned on to carry out the payment freeze that started in March 2020.

Legal challenges would be likely, although who would have standing is unclear. A Virginia Law Review article this month argued that the answer might be no one: States, for example, have little say in the operation of a federal loan system.

scathing criticism from government auditors and watchdogs, with even basic functions sometimes breaking down.

Some problems are being addressed. The Biden administration has wiped out $17 billion in debt for 725,000 borrowers by expanding and streamlining forgiveness programs for public servants and those who were defrauded by their schools, among others. Last week, it offered millions of borrowers added credit toward forgiveness because of previous payment-counting problems.

But there’s much still to do. The Education Department was deluged by applicants after it expanded eligibility for millions of public servants. And settlement talks in a class-action suit by nearly 200,000 borrowers who say they were defrauded by their schools recently broke down, setting up a trial this summer.

will be restored to good standing.

Canceling debt could make addressing all this easier, advocates say. Forgiving $10,000 per borrower would wipe out the debts of 10 million or more people, according to different analyses, which would free up resources to deal with structural flaws, proponents argue.

“We’ve known for years that the system is broken,” said Sarah Sattelmeyer, a higher-education project director at New America, a think tank. “Having an opportunity, during this timeout, to start fixing some of those major issues feels like a place where the Education Department should be focusing its attention.”

Voters like Ashleigh A. Mosley will be watching. Ms. Mosley, 21, a political science major at Albany State University in Georgia, said she had been swayed to vote for Mr. Biden because of his support for debt cancellation.

Ms. Mosley, who also attended Alabama A&M University, has already borrowed $52,000 and expects her balance to grow to $100,000 by the time she graduates. The debt already hangs over her head.

“I don’t think I’m going to even have enough money to start a family or buy a house because of the loans,” she said. “It’s just not designed for us to win.”

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Biden will tap oil reserve, hoping to push gasoline prices down.

Energy experts said the reserve release would pack more punch if other countries, like China, also sold oil from their stockpiles. The International Energy Agency, an organization of more than 30 countries, will meet Friday and may recommend further releases from national reserves.

Russian oil exports normally represent more than one of every 10 barrels the world consumes. The United States, Britain and Canada have stopped importing Russian oil, and many oil companies and shippers in Europe have voluntarily stopped buying Russia’s energy products. That has produced a deficit so far of about three million barrels a day.

The average price of regular gasoline in the United States is $4.23 a gallon, according to AAA, the motor club. That’s about the same as it was a week ago but up 62 cents a gallon in the last month.

Oil prices had dropped this week after peace talks between Russia and Ukraine showed the first signs of progress. Energy traders are also concerned that demand could fall as China, the world’s largest oil importer, imposes lockdowns in Shanghai and other places to deal with coronavirus outbreaks.

“The price effect is likely to be short term,” David Goldwyn, who was a senior State Department official in the Obama administration, said about Mr. Biden’s announcement. “But part of the benefit of this release is that it will provide a bridge to when new physical supply comes online in the second half of this year from the U.S., Canada, Brazil and other countries.”

Some environmentalists criticized the reserve release. “Putting more oil on the market is not the solution to our problem but the perpetuation of our problem,” said Mark Brownstein, a senior vice president at the Environmental Defense Fund.

But Meghan L. O’Sullivan, director of the Geopolitics of Energy Project at Harvard’s Kennedy School, said releasing reserves to ease shortages would not imperil the transition to clean energy. “What the last month has told us is that if there is no energy security today, the appetite for taking hard steps on the path of transition will evaporate,” she said.

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Russia and Far-Right Americans Find Common Ground With Ukraine War

When Victoria Nuland, an under secretary of state, was questioned in the Senate this month over whether Ukraine had biological weapons, she said laboratories in the country had materials that could be dangerous if they fell into Russian hands. Jack Posobiec, a far-right commentator, insinuated on his March 9 podcast that Ms. Nuland’s answer bolstered the conspiracy theory.

“Everybody needs to come clean about what was going on in those labs, because I guarantee you the Russians are about to put all of it onto the world stage,” said Mr. Posobiec, who did not respond to calls seeking comment.

Russian officials also latched on to Ms. Nuland’s comments. “The nervous reaction confirms that Russia’s allegations are grounded,” the country’s official account for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs posted on Twitter.

Beyond the bioweapons conspiracy theory, Joseph Jordan, a white nationalist podcaster who goes by the pseudonym Eric Striker, repeated Russia’s claim that a pregnant woman who was injured in the bombing of a Ukrainian maternity hospital had faked her injuries. In his Telegram channel, Mr. Jordan told his 15,000 followers that the hospital photos had been “staged.” He did not respond to a request for comment.

Some Russians have publicly commented on what appears to be common ground with far-right Americans. Last week on the Russian state-backed news program “60 Minutes,” which is not connected to the CBS show of the same name, the host, Olga Skabeeva, addressed the country’s strengthening ties with Mr. Carlson.

“Our acquaintance, the host of Fox News Tucker Carlson, obviously has his own interests⁠,” she said, airing several clips of Mr. Carlson’s show where he suggested the United States had pushed for conflict in Ukraine. “But lately, more and more often, they’re in tune with our own.”

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How Roman Abramovich Used Shell Companies and Wall Street Ties to Invest in the U.S.

In July 2012, a shell company registered in the British Virgin Islands wired $20 million to an investment vehicle in the Cayman Islands that was controlled by a large American hedge fund firm.

The wire transfer was the culmination of months of work by a small army of handlers and enablers in the United States, Europe and the Caribbean. It was a stealth operation intended, at least in part, to mask the source of the funds: Roman Abramovich.

For two decades, the Russian oligarch has relied on this circuitous investment strategy — deploying a string of shell companies, routing money through a small Austrian bank and tapping the connections of leading Wall Street firms — to quietly place billions of dollars with prominent U.S. hedge funds and private equity firms, according to people with knowledge of the transactions.

The key was that every lawyer, corporate director, hedge fund manager and investment adviser involved in the process could honestly say he or she wasn’t working directly for Mr. Abramovich. In some cases, participants weren’t even aware of whose money they were helping to manage.

asked Congress for more resources as it helps to oversee the Biden administration’s sanctions program along with a new Justice Department kleptocracy task force. And on Capitol Hill, lawmakers are pushing a bill, known as the Enablers Act, that would require investment advisers to identify and more carefully vet their customers.

Mr. Abramovich has an estimated fortune of $13 billion, derived in large part from his well-timed purchase of an oil company owned by the Russian government that he sold back to the state at a massive profit. This month, European and Canadian authorities imposed sanctions on him and froze his assets, which include the famed Chelsea Football Club in London. The United States has not placed sanctions on him.

a pair of luxury residences near Aspen, Colo. But he also invested large sums of money with financial institutions. His ties to Mr. Putin and the source of his wealth have long made him a controversial figure.

Many of Mr. Abramovich’s U.S. investments were facilitated by a small firm, Concord Management, which is led by Michael Matlin, according to people with knowledge of the transactions who were not authorized to speak publicly.

Mr. Matlin declined to comment beyond issuing a statement that described Concord as “a consulting firm that provides independent third-party research, due diligence and monitoring of investments.”

A spokeswoman for Mr. Abramovich didn’t respond to emails and text messages requesting comment.

Concord, founded in 1999, didn’t directly manage any of Mr. Abramovich’s money. It acted more like an investment adviser and due diligence firm, making recommendations to the directors of shell companies in Caribbean tax havens about potential investments in marquee American investment firms, according to people briefed on the matter.

Paycheck Protection Program loan worth $265,000 during the pandemic. (Concord repaid the loan, a spokesman said.)

Concord’s secrecy made some on Wall Street wary.

In 2015 and 2016, investigators at State Street, a financial services firm, filed “suspicious activity reports” alerting the U.S. government to transactions that Concord arranged involving some of Mr. Abramovich’s Caribbean shell companies, BuzzFeed News reported. State Street declined to comment.

American financial institutions are required to file such reports to help the U.S. government combat money laundering and other financial crimes, though the reports are not themselves evidence of any wrongdoing having been committed.

But for the most part, American financiers had no inkling about — or interest in discovering — the source of the money that Concord was directing. As long as routine background checks didn’t turn up red flags, it was fine.

Paulson & Company, the hedge fund run by John Paulson, received investments from a company that Concord represented, according to a person with knowledge of the investment. Mr. Paulson said in an email that he had “no knowledge” of Concord’s investors.

Concord also steered tens of millions of dollars from two shell companies to Highland Capital, a Texas hedge fund. Highland hired a unit of JPMorgan Chase, the nation’s largest bank, to ensure that the companies were legitimate and that the investments complied with anti-money-laundering rules, according to federal court records in an unrelated bankruptcy case.

“corporate governance services” to investment managers.

For $15,000 a year, plus other fees, HighWater would provide an employee to sit on the board of the financial vehicle that the fund manager was expected to launch to accept the wealthy family’s money, according to emails between the fund manager and a HighWater executive reviewed by The New York Times.

The fund manager also brought on Boris Onefater, who ran a small U.S. consulting firm, Constellation, as another board member. Mr. Onefater said in an interview that he couldn’t remember whose money the Cayman vehicle was managing. “You’re asking for ancient history,” he said. “I don’t recall Mr. Abramovich’s name coming up.”

The fund manager hired Mourant, an offshore law firm, to get the paperwork for the Cayman vehicle in order. The managing partner of Mourant did not respond to requests for comment.

He also hired GlobeOp Financial Services, which provides administration services to hedge funds, to ensure that the Cayman entity was complying with anti-money-laundering laws and wasn’t doing business with anyone who had been placed under U.S. government sanctions, according to a copy of the contract.

“We abide by all laws in all jurisdictions in which we do business,” said Emma Lowrey, a spokeswoman for SS&C Technologies, a financial technology company based in Windsor, Conn., that now owns GlobeOp.

John Lewis, a HighWater executive, said in an email to The Times that his firm received four referrals from Concord from 2011 to 2014 and hadn’t dealt with the firm since then.

“We were aware of no links to Russian money or Roman Abramovich,” Mr. Lewis said. He added that GlobeOp “did not identify anything unusual, high risk, or that there were any politically exposed persons with respect to any investors.”

The Cayman fund opened for business in July 2012 when $20 million arrived by wire transfer. The expectation was that tens of millions more would follow, although additional funds never showed up. The Cayman fund was run as an independent entity, using the same investment strategy — buying and selling exchange-traded funds — employed by the fund manager’s main U.S. hedge fund.

The $20 million was wired from an entity called Caythorpe Holdings, which was registered in the British Virgin Islands.

Documents accompanying the wire transfer showed that the money originated with Kathrein Privatbank in Vienna. It arrived in Grand Cayman after passing through another Austrian bank, Raiffeisen, and then JPMorgan. (JPMorgan was serving as a correspondent bank, essentially acting as an intermediary for banks with smaller international networks.)

A spokesman for Kathrein declined to comment. A spokeswoman for JPMorgan declined to comment. Representatives for Raiffeisen did not respond to requests for comment.

The fund manager noticed that some of the documentation was signed by a lawyer named Natalia Bychenkova. The Russian-sounding name led him to conclude that he was probably managing money for a Russian oligarch. But the fund manager wasn’t bothered, since GlobeOp had verified that Caythorpe was compliant with know-your-customer and anti-money-laundering rules and laws.

He didn’t know who controlled Caythorpe, and he didn’t ask.

In early 2014, after Russia invaded the Ukrainian region of Crimea, markets tanked. The fund manager made a bearish bet on the direction of the stock market, and his fund got crushed when stocks rallied.

The next year, Caythorpe withdrew its money from the Cayman fund. Caythorpe was liquidated in 2017.

The fund manager said he didn’t realize until this month that he had been investing money for Mr. Abramovich.

Susan C. Beachy and Kitty Bennett contributed research. Maureen Farrell contributed reporting.

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Trump’s Truth Social Is Poised to Join a Crowded Field

For months, former President Donald J. Trump has promoted Truth Social, the soon-to-be-released flagship app of his fledging social media company, as a platform where free speech can thrive without the constraints imposed by Big Tech.

At least seven other social media companies have promised to do the same.

Gettr, a right-wing alternative to Twitter founded last year by a former adviser to Mr. Trump, bills itself as a haven from censorship. That’s similar to Parler — essentially another Twitter clone backed by Rebekah Mercer, a big donor to the Republican Party. MeWe and CloutHub are similar to Facebook, but with the pitch that they promote speech without restraint.

Truth Social was supposed to go live on Presidents’ Day, but the start date was recently pushed to March, though a limited test version was unveiled recently. A full rollout could be hampered by a regulatory investigation into a proposed merger of its parent company, the Trump Media & Technology Group, with a publicly traded blank-check company.

If and when it does open its doors, Mr. Trump’s app will be the newest — and most conspicuous — entrant in the tightly packed universe of social media companies that have cropped up in recent years, promising to build a parallel internet after Twitter, Facebook, Google and other mainstream platforms began to crack down on hate speech.

211 million daily active users on Twitter who see ads.

Many people who claim to crave a social network that caters to their political cause often aren’t ready to abandon Twitter or Facebook, said Weiai Xu, an assistant professor of communications at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. So the big platforms remain important vehicles for “partisan users” to get their messages out, Mr. Xu said.

Gettr, Parler and Rumble have relied on Twitter to announce the signing of a new right-wing personality or influencer. Parler, for instance, used Twitter to post a link to an announcement that Melania Trump, the former first lady, was making its platform her “social media home.”

Alternative social media companies mainly thrive off politics, said Mark Weinstein, the founder of MeWe, a platform with 20 million registered users that has positioned itself as an option to Facebook.

certain subscription services. His start-up has raised $24 million from 100 investors.

But since political causes drive the most engagement for alternative social media, most other platforms are quick to embrace such opportunities. This month, CloutHub, which has just four million registered users, said its platform could be used to raise money for the protesting truckers of Ottawa.

Mr. Trump wasn’t far behind. “Facebook and Big Tech are seeking to destroy the Freedom Convoy of Truckers,” he said in a statement. (Meta, the parent company of Facebook, said it removed several groups associated with the convoy for violating their rules.)

Trump Media, Mr. Trump added, would let the truckers “communicate freely on Truth Social when we launch — coming very soon!”

Of all the alt-tech sites, Mr. Trump’s venture may have the best chance of success if it launches, not just because of the former president’s star power but also because of its financial heft. In September, Trump Media agreed to merge with Digital World Acquisition, a blank-check or special purpose acquisition company that raised $300 million. The two entities have raised $1 billion from 36 investors in a private placement.

But none of that money can be tapped until regulators wrap up their inquiry into whether Digital World flouted securities regulations in planning its merger with Trump Media. In the meantime, Trump Media, currently valued at more than $10 billion based on Digital World’s stock price, is trying to hire people to build its platform.

Trump supporter, and the venture fund of Mr. Thiel’s protégé J.D. Vance, who is running for a Senate seat from Ohio.

Rumble is also planning to go public through a merger with a special-purpose acquisition company. SPACs are shell companies created solely for the purpose of merging with an operating entity. The deal, arranged by the Wall Street firm Cantor Fitzgerald, will give Rumble $400 million in cash and a $2.1 billion valuation.

The site said in January that it had 39 million monthly active users, up from two million two years ago. It has struck various content deals, including one to provide video and streaming services to Truth Social. Representatives for Rumble did not respond to requests for comment.

removed it from their app stores and Amazon cut off web services after the riot, according to SensorTower, a digital analytics company.

John Matze, one of its founders, from his position as chief executive. Mr. Matze has said he was dismissed after a dispute with Ms. Mercer — the daughter of a wealthy hedge fund executive who is Parler’s main backer — over how to deal with extreme content posted on the platform.

Christina Cravens, a spokeswoman for Parler, said the company had always “prohibited violent and inciting content” and had invested in “content moderation best practices.”

Moderating content will also be a challenge for Truth Social, whose main star, Mr. Trump, has not been able to post messages since early 2021, when Twitter and Facebook kicked him off their platforms for inciting violence tied to the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.

With Mr. Trump as its main poster, it was unclear if Truth Social would grow past subscribers who sign up simply to read the former president’s missives, Mr. Matze said.

“Trump is building a community that will fight for something or whatever he stands for that day,” he said. “This is not social media for friends and family to share pictures.”

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Peter Thiel, the Right’s Would-Be Kingmaker

Mr. Thiel has attracted the most attention for two $10 million donations to the Senate candidates Blake Masters in Arizona and J.D. Vance in Ohio. Like Mr. Thiel, the men are tech investors with pedigrees from elite universities who cast themselves as antagonists to the establishment. They have also worked for the billionaire and been financially dependent on him. Mr. Masters, the chief operating officer of Thiel Capital, the investor’s family office, has promised to leave that job before Arizona’s August primary.

Mr. Thiel, who declined to comment for this article, announced last week that he would leave the board of Meta, the parent company of Facebook, which conservatives have accused of censorship. One reason for the change: He plans to focus more on politics.

Born in West Germany and raised in South Africa and the San Francisco Bay Area, Mr. Thiel showed his provocative side at Stanford in the late 1980s. Classmates recalled Mr. Thiel, who studied philosophy and law, describing South Africa’s apartheid as a sound economic system. (A spokesman for Mr. Thiel has denied that he supported apartheid.)

Mr. Thiel also helped found The Stanford Review, a conservative campus paper that sought to provide “alternative views” to what he deemed left-wing orthodoxy.

In 1995, he co-wrote a book, “The Diversity Myth,” arguing that “the extreme focus on racism” had caused greater societal tension and acrimony. Rape, he and his co-author, David Sacks, wrote, sometimes included “seductions that are later regretted.” (Mr. Thiel has apologized for the book.)

In 1998, Mr. Thiel helped create what would become the digital payments company PayPal. He became Facebook’s first outside investor in 2004 and established the venture capital firm Founders Fund a year later. Forbes puts his fortune at $2.6 billion.

one 2009 piece, Mr. Thiel, who called himself a libertarian, wrote that he had come to “no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible,” arguing that American politics would always be hostile to free-market ideals, and that politics was about interfering with other people’s lives without their consent. Since then, he has hosted and attended events with white nationalists and alt-right figures.

His political giving evolved with those views. He donated lavishly to Ron Paul’s 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns before turning to candidates who were more extreme than the Republican establishment.

In 2013, Curtis Yarvin, an entrepreneur who has voiced racist beliefs and said democracy was a destructive system of government, emailed Mr. Thiel. Mr. Yarvin wrote that Mr. Cruz, then a newly elected senator, “needs to purge every single traitor” from the Republican Party. In the email, which The Times obtained, Mr. Yarvin argued that it didn’t matter if those candidates lost general elections or cost the party control in Congress.

Mr. Thiel, who had donated to Mr. Cruz’s 2012 campaign, replied, “It’s relatively safe to support Cruz (for me) because he threatens the Republican establishment.”

Mr. Thiel used his money to fund other causes. In 2016, he was revealed as the secret funder of a lawsuit that targeted Gawker Media, which had reported he was gay. Gawker declared bankruptcy, partly from the costs of fighting the lawsuit.

proud to be a gay Republican supporting Mr. Trump. He later donated $1.25 million to the candidate.

After Mr. Trump won, Mr. Thiel was named to the president-elect’s executive transition team. At a meeting with tech leaders at Trump Tower in Manhattan in December 2016, Mr. Trump told Mr. Thiel, “You’re a very special guy.”

A month later, Mr. Thiel, a naturalized American, was revealed to have also obtained citizenship in New Zealand. That prompted a furor, especially after Mr. Trump had urged people to pledge “total allegiance to the United States.”

During Mr. Trump’s presidency, Mr. Thiel became frustrated with the administration. “There are all these ways that things have fallen short,” he told The Times in 2018.

In 2020, he stayed on the sidelines. His only notable federal election donation was to Kris Kobach, a Trump ally and former secretary of state of Kansas known for his hard-line views on immigration. (Mr. Kobach lost his primary bid for the Senate.)

Mr. Thiel’s personal priorities also changed. In 2016, he announced that he was moving from San Francisco to Los Angeles. The next year, he married a longtime boyfriend, Matt Danzeisen; they have two children.

Mr. Thiel reduced his business commitments and started pondering leaving Meta’s board, which he had joined in 2005, two of the people with knowledge of his thinking said. At an October event held by a conservative tech group in Miami, he alluded to his frustration with Facebook, which was increasingly removing certain kinds of speech and had barred Mr. Trump.

a $13 million mansion in Washington from Wilbur Ross, Mr. Trump’s commerce secretary. In October, he spoke at the event for the Federalist Society at Stanford and at the National Conservatism Conference.

He also rebuilt his relationship with Mr. Trump. Since the 2020 election, they have met at least three times in New York and at Mar-a-Lago, sometimes with Mr. Masters or Mr. Vance. And Mr. Thiel invested in Mr. McEntee’s company, which is building a dating app for conservatives called the RightStuff.

Mr. McEntee declined to answer questions about his app and said Mr. Thiel was “a great guy.” Mr. Trump’s representatives did not respond to requests for comment.

Mr. Thiel’s political giving ramped up last spring with his $10 million checks to PACs supporting Mr. Vance and Mr. Masters. The sums were his biggest and the largest ever one-time contributions to a PAC backing a single candidate, according to OpenSecrets.

Like Mr. Trump in 2016, Mr. Vance and Mr. Masters lack experience in politics. Mr. Vance, the venture capitalist who wrote the best-selling memoir “Hillbilly Elegy,” met Mr. Thiel a decade ago when the billionaire delivered a lecture at Yale Law School, where Mr. Vance was a student.

Zero to One.” In 2020, Mr. Masters reported more than $1.1 million in salary from Thiel Capital and book royalties.

Mr. Vance, Mr. Masters and their campaigns did not respond to requests for comment.

Both candidates have repeated the Trumpian lie of election fraud, with Mr. Masters stating in a November campaign ad, “I think Trump won in 2020.” They have also made Mr. Thiel a selling point in their campaigns.

In November, Mr. Vance wrote on Twitter that anyone who donated $10,800 to his campaign could attend a small group dinner with him and Mr. Thiel. Mr. Masters offered the same opportunity for a meal with Mr. Thiel and raised $550,000 by selling nonfungible tokens, or NFTs, of “Zero to One” digital art that would give holders “access to parties with me and Peter.”

a 20-minute speech at the National Conservatism Conference in October, he said nationalism was “a corrective” to the “brain-dead, one-world state” of globalism. He also blasted the Biden administration.

“We have the zombie retreads just busy rearranging the deck chairs,” he said. “We need dissident voices more than ever.”

Cade Metz contributed reporting. Rachel Shorey and Kitty Bennett contributed research.

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Why Critics Fear the Fed’s Policy Shift May Prove Late and Abrupt

That caused the Fed to change course late last year — and to do so fairly abruptly.

“Inflation really popped up in the late spring last year, and we had a view — it was very, very widely held in the forecasting community — that this would be temporary,” Mr. Powell said in December. But officials grew more concerned as employment cost data moved higher and inflation indicators showed hot readings, he said, so they pivoted on policy.

“It was essentially higher inflation and faster, turns out much faster, progress in the labor market,” Mr. Powell said.

Asset prices have been jerking around in recent weeks as investors try to make sense of the Fed’s new stance and what it will mean for the economy. Stocks have generally slumped, Bitcoin prices have fallen, and bond prices have been increasing as part of the cacophony.

Had the Fed changed course earlier, “there wouldn’t be this sense that the Fed is behind the curve, and this fear in the market that they are going to go aggressively,” Ms. Markowska at Jefferies said.

Part of the challenge is that while the central bank had clearly detailed a plan for when it would slow bond-buying and lift rates — emphasizing what conditions it would want to see — it has not been as clear about its follow-up moves.

Mr. El-Erian thinks that the Fed should promptly stop buying bonds while clearly signaling the path ahead for rate increases. Otherwise, he said, officials risk having to pull back support all at once later this year.

But there are also arguments for gradualism.

Foreign economic officials are nervously eyeing the Fed’s path, especially when other central banks are also pulling back support amid a widespread burst in prices — the Bank of England, for instance, has already raised interest rates. When big economies raise domestic borrowing costs, it can cause capital to flow away from emerging markets, roiling exchange rates and damaging or destabilizing their economic growth.

“If major economies slam on the brakes or take a U-turn in their monetary policies, there would be serious negative spillovers,” President Xi Jinping of China said during a speech this month, warning of “challenges to global economic and financial stability.”

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Rapid Inflation Fuels Debate Over What’s to Blame: Pandemic or Policy

The price increases bedeviling consumers, businesses and policymakers worldwide have prompted a heated debate in Washington about how much of today’s rapid inflation is a result of policy choices in the United States and how much stems from global factors tied to the pandemic, like snarled supply chains.

At a moment when stubbornly rapid price gains are weighing on consumer confidence and creating a political liability for President Biden, White House officials have repeatedly blamed international forces for high inflation, including factory shutdowns in Asia and overtaxed shipping routes that are causing shortages and pushing up prices everywhere. The officials increasingly cite high inflation in places including the euro area, where prices are climbing at the fastest pace on record, as a sign that the world is experiencing a shared moment of price pain, deflecting the blame away from U.S. policy.

But a chorus of economists point to government policies as a big part of the reason U.S. inflation is at a 40-year high. While they agree that prices are rising as a result of shutdowns and supply chain woes, they say that America’s decision to flood the economy with stimulus money helped to send consumer spending into overdrive, exacerbating those global trends.

The world’s trade machine is producing, shipping and delivering more goods to American consumers than it ever has, as people flush with cash buy couches, cars and home office equipment, but supply chains just haven’t been able to keep up with that supercharged demand.

by 7 percent in the year through December, its fastest pace since 1982. But in recent months, it has also moved up sharply across many countries, a fact administration officials have emphasized.

“The inflation has everything to do with the supply chain,” President Biden said during a news conference on Wednesday. “While there are differences country by country, this is a global phenomenon and driven by these global issues,” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said after the latest inflation data were released.

the euro area. Data released in the United Kingdom and in Canada on Wednesday showed prices accelerating at their fastest rate in 30 years in both countries. Inflation in the eurozone, which is measured differently from how the U.S. calculates it, climbed to an annual rate of 5 percent in December, according to an initial estimate by the European Union statistics office.

“The U.S. is hardly an island amidst this storm of supply disruptions and rising demand, especially for goods and commodities,” said Eswar Prasad, a professor of trade policy at Cornell University and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

But some economists point out that even as inflation proves pervasive around the globe, it has been more pronounced in America than elsewhere.

“The United States has had much more inflation than almost any other advanced economy in the world,” said Jason Furman, an economist at Harvard University and former Obama administration economic adviser, who used comparable methodologies to look across areas and concluded that U.S. price increases have been consistently faster.

The difference, he said, comes because “the United States’ stimulus is in a category of its own.”

White House officials have argued that differences in “core” inflation — which excludes food and fuel — have been small between the United States and other major economies over the past six months. And the gaps all but disappear if you strip out car prices, which are up sharply and have a bigger impact in the United States, where consumers buy more automobiles. (Mr. Furman argued that people who didn’t buy cars would have spent their money on something else and that simply eliminating them from the U.S. consumption basket is not fair.)

Administration officials have also noted that the United States has seen a robust rebound in economic growth. The International Monetary Fund said in October that it expected U.S. output to climb by 6 percent in 2021 and 5.2 percent in 2022, compared with 5 percent growth last year in the euro area and 4.3 percent growth projected for this year.

“To the extent that we got more heat, we got a lot more growth for it,” said Jared Bernstein, a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers.

$5 trillion in spending in 2020 and 2021. That outstripped the response in other major economies as a share of the nation’s output, according to data compiled by the International Monetary Fund.

Many economists supported protecting workers and businesses early in the pandemic, but some took issue with the size of the $1.9 trillion package last March under the Biden administration. They argued that sending households another round of stimulus, including $1,400 checks, further fueled demand when the economy was already healing.

Consumer spending seemed to react: Retail sales, for instance, jumped after the checks went out.

loss of purchasing power over time, meaning your dollar will not go as far tomorrow as it did today. It is typically expressed as the annual change in prices for everyday goods and services such as food, furniture, apparel, transportation costs and toys.

Americans found themselves with a lot of money in the bank, and as they spent that money on goods, demand collided with a global supply chain that was too fragile to catch up.

Virus outbreaks shut down factories, ports faced backlogs and a dearth of truckers roiled transit routes. Americans still managed to buy more goods than ever before in 2021, and foreign factories sent a record sum of products to U.S. shops and doorsteps. But all that shopping wasn’t enough to satisfy consumer demand.

stop spending at the start of the pandemic helped to swell savings stockpiles.

And the Federal Reserve’s interest rates are at rock bottom, which has bolstered demand for big purchases made on credit, from houses and cars to business investments like machinery and computers. Families have been taking on more housing and auto debt, data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York shows, helping to pump up those sectors.

But if stimulus-driven demand is fueling inflation, the diagnosis could come with a silver lining. It may be easier to temper consumer spending than to rapidly reorient tangled supply lines.

People may naturally begin to buy less as government help fades. Spending could shift away from goods and back toward services if the pandemic abates. And the Fed’s policies work on demand — not supply.

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