“reckless taxing and spending spree.”

Conservative policy experts said that although some expansion of government aid was appropriate during the pandemic, those programs should be wound down, not expanded, as the economy healed.

“Policymakers did a remarkable job last March enacting CARES and other legislation, lending to businesses, providing loan forbearance, expanding the safety net,” Scott Winship, a senior fellow and the director of poverty studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative group, wrote in reaction to the data, referring to an early pandemic aid bill, which included around $2 trillion in spending. “But we should have pivoted to other priorities thereafter.”

Jason DeParle and Margot Sanger-Katz contributed reporting.

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Companies Begin to Mandate Covid Vaccines for Employees

Some of the nation’s largest employers, for months reluctant to wade into the fraught issue of whether Covid-19 vaccinations should be mandatory for workers, have in recent days been compelled to act as infections have surged again.

On Tuesday, Tyson Foods told its 120,000 workers in offices, slaughterhouses and poultry plants across the country that they would need to be vaccinated by Nov. 1 as a “condition of employment.” And Microsoft, which employs roughly 100,000 people in the United States, said it would require proof of vaccination for all employees, vendors and guests to gain access to its offices.

Last week, Google said it would require employees who returned to the company’s offices to be vaccinated, while Disney announced a mandate for all salaried and nonunion hourly workers who work on site.

Other companies, including Walmart, the largest private employer in the United States, and Lyft and Uber, have taken a less forceful approach, mandating vaccines for white-collar workers but not for millions of frontline workers. Those moves essentially set up a divide between the employees who work in offices and employees who deal directly with the public and, collectively, have been more reluctant to get the shots.

different set of reasons that are not primarily political. They say many of their members are worried about potential health side effects or bristle at the idea of an employer’s interfering in what they regard as a personal health decision.

Marc Perrone, the president of the United Food and Commercial Workers union, representing 1.3 million employees in grocery chains such as Kroger and at large meatpacking plants, said he would not support employer mandates until the Food and Drug Administration gave full approval to the vaccine, which is being administered on an emergency basis.

“You can’t just say, ‘Accept the mandate or hit the door,’” Mr. Perrone said in an interview on Monday.

After Tyson announced its vaccine mandate on Tuesday, Mr. Perrone issued a statement that the union “will be meeting with Tyson in the coming weeks to discuss this vaccine mandate and to ensure that the rights of these workers are protected and this policy is fairly implemented.”

several meat plants became virus hot spots. Now, it is requiring its leadership team to be vaccinated by Sept. 24 and the rest of its office workers by Oct. 1. Frontline employees have until Nov. 1 to be fully inoculated, extra time the company is providing because there are “significantly more frontline team members than office workers who still need to be vaccinated,” a Tyson spokesman said.

Throughout the pandemic, companies have treaded carefully in carrying out public health measures while trying to avoid harm to their businesses.

Last year, when major retailers began requiring customers to wear masks, they quietly told their employees not to enforce the rule if a customer was adamant about not wearing one.

Companies like Walmart have tried a similarly tentative approach with vaccine requirements.

Walmart announced last week that it was requiring the roughly 17,000 workers in its Arkansas headquarters to be vaccinated but not those in stores and distribution centers, who make up the bulk of its 1.6 million U.S. employees.

In a statement, the retailer said the limited mandate would send a message to all workers that they should get vaccinated.

“We’re asking our leaders, which already have a higher vaccination rate, to make their example clear,” the company said. “We’re hoping that will influence even more of our frontline associates to become vaccinated.”

Lyft told their corporate employees last week that they would need to show proof they had been inoculated before returning to company offices.

Requiring vaccinations “is the most effective way to create a safe environment and give our team members peace of mind as we return to the office,” said Ashley Adams, a spokeswoman for Lyft.

But those mandates did not extend to the workers the companies contract with to drive millions of customers to and from their destinations. The drivers are being encouraged to be vaccinated, but neither Lyft or Uber has plans to require them.

Public health experts warn that limited mandates may reinforce the gaping divide between the nation’s high- and low-wage workers without furthering the public health goal of substantially increasing vaccination rates.

They also say it’s naïve to think that workers who resisted vaccines for ideological reasons would suddenly change their mind after seeing a company’s higher-paid executives receive the shots.

“Ultimately we want to ensure that they really have the broadest reach,” Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, the vice dean for population health and health equity at the University of California, San Francisco, said of company directives. “Failing to do that, I think, will only cause others to be more suspicious of these types of mandates.”

Legally, companies are likely to be on solid ground if they mandate vaccines. Last year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said employers could require immunization, though companies that do could still face lawsuits.

George W. Ingham, a partner at the law firm Hogan Lovells, said companies with mandates would potentially have to make difficult decisions.

“They are going to have to fire high performers and low performers who refuse vaccines,” he said. “They have to be consistent.” Reasons an employee could be exempted include religious beliefs or a disability, though the process of sorting those out on an individual basis promises to be an arduous one.

Companies may also have to contend with pushback from state governments. Ten states have passed legislation limiting the ability to require vaccines for students, employees or the public, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Disney is among the few big companies pursuing a broad vaccine mandate for their work forces, even in the face of pushback from some employees.

In addition to mandating vaccines for nonunion workers who are on-site, Disney said all new hires — union and nonunion — would be required to be fully vaccinated before starting their jobs. Nonunion hourly workers include theme park guest-relations staff, in-park photographers, executive assistants and some seasonal theme park employees.

It was the furthest that Disney could go without a sign-off from the dozen unions that represent the bulk of its employees. Walt Disney World in Florida, for instance, has more than 65,000 workers; roughly 38,000 are union members.

Disney is now seeking union approval for the mandate both in Florida and in California, where tens of thousands of workers at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim are unionized. Most of the leaders of Disney’s unions appear to be in favor of a mandate — as long as accommodations can be worked out for those refusing the vaccine for medical, religious or other acceptable reasons.

“Vaccinations are safe and effective and the best line of defense to protect workers, frontline or otherwise,” Eric Clinton, the president of UNITE HERE Local 362, which represents roughly 8,000 attraction workers and custodians at Disney World, said in a phone interview.

Mr. Clinton declined to comment on any pushback from his membership, but another union leader at Disney World, speaking on the condition of anonymity so he could speak candidly, said “a fair number” of his members were up in arms over Disney-mandated vaccinations, citing personal choice and fear of the vaccine.

“The company has probably done a calculation and decided that some people will unfortunately quit rather than protect themselves, and so be it,” the person said.

Lananh Nguyen contributed reporting.

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A Great Inflation Redux? Economists Point to Big Differences.

“It gave me a feeling of déjà vu, because that’s what we were doing in the ’70s — we were trying to get supply-side effects,” said Barry P. Bosworth, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who led the Council on Wage and Price Stability under President Jimmy Carter. The efforts failed to control overall inflation, he said.

“It doesn’t work,” he said. “As a macro policy, you can’t go around trying to put your finger in the dike everywhere it pops up.”

The big price spikes in the 1960s and 1970s reversed once the underlying conditions that created them eased. But not all the way — in each case, the rate of inflation bottomed out a bit higher than the time before. Many economists believe that pattern had to do with human psychology: Workers and businesses had come to expect a higher rate of inflation, and had adapted their behavior accordingly, creating a self-sustaining cycle.

Economists particularly highlight the role of wages. Businesses can cut prices just as easily as they can raise them, but cutting wages is harder. No worker wants to be told that a job that was worth $10 an hour yesterday is worth just $9.50 an hour today. And if workers expect prices to rise at 5 percent per year, they will want raises to keep up with inflation.

Most economists believe that the forces driving the current surge in inflation will ease in the months ahead. The question is whether that will happen before expectations shift. Some surveys have found that consumers are already beginning to anticipate faster inflation to stick around, although that evidence is mixed. Wages, too, have continued rising as employers struggle to rehire workers, although it’s not yet clear that they are taking off.

One reason that temporary price increases turned into permanent wage increases in the middle of the 20th century is that many union contracts had escalator clauses that tied wage gains directly to inflation. Those provisions effectively helped lock in price increases, feeding into the price spiral, said David Card, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, who has studied the role of union contracts in inflation. Far fewer workers are members of unions today, and few contracts have inflation clauses, in part because they haven’t been necessary in a period of low inflation.

Perhaps the largest difference of all? Time. In the 1960s, it took years of price spikes and policy failures for Americans to lose confidence that their leaders could keep inflation under control.

“What happened by the ’70s took almost 10 years to develop,” Mr. Card said. “I don’t think it’s that feasible that it could happen that quickly.”

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How Private Equity Firms Avoid Taxes

There were two weeks left in the Trump administration when the Treasury Department handed down a set of rules governing an obscure corner of the tax code.

Overseen by a senior Treasury official whose previous job involved helping the wealthy avoid taxes, the new regulations represented a major victory for private equity firms. They ensured that executives in the $4.5 trillion industry, whose leaders often measure their yearly pay in eight or nine figures, could avoid paying hundreds of millions in taxes.

The rules were approved on Jan. 5, the day before the riot at the U.S. Capitol. Hardly anyone noticed.

The Trump administration’s farewell gift to the buyout industry was part of a pattern that has spanned Republican and Democratic presidencies and Congresses: Private equity has conquered the American tax system.

one recent estimate, the United States loses $75 billion a year from investors in partnerships failing to report their income accurately — at least some of which would probably be recovered if the I.R.S. conducted more audits. That’s enough to roughly double annual federal spending on education.

It is also a dramatic understatement of the true cost. It doesn’t include the ever-changing array of maneuvers — often skating the edge of the law — that private equity firms have devised to help their managers avoid income taxes on the roughly $120 billion the industry pays its executives each year.

Private equity’s ability to vanquish the I.R.S., Treasury and Congress goes a long way toward explaining the deep inequities in the U.S. tax system. When it comes to bankrolling the federal government, the richest of America’s rich — many of them hailing from the private equity industry — play by an entirely different set of rules than everyone else.

The result is that men like Blackstone Group’s chief executive, Stephen A. Schwarzman, who earned more than $610 million last year, can pay federal taxes at rates similar to the average American.

Lawmakers have periodically tried to force private equity to pay more, and the Biden administration has proposed a series of reforms, including enlarging the I.R.S.’s enforcement budget and closing loopholes. The push for reform gained new momentum after ProPublica’s recent revelation that some of America’s richest men paid little or no federal taxes.

nearly $600 million in campaign contributions over the last decade, has repeatedly derailed past efforts to increase its tax burden.

Taylor Swift’s back music catalog.

The industry makes money in two main ways. Firms typically charge their investors a management fee of 2 percent of their assets. And they keep 20 percent of future profits that their investments generate.

That slice of future profits is known as “carried interest.” The term dates at least to the Renaissance. Italian ship captains were compensated in part with an interest in whatever profits were realized on the cargo they carried.

The I.R.S. has long allowed the industry to treat the money it makes from carried interests as capital gains, rather than as ordinary income.

article highlighting the inequity of the tax treatment. It prompted lawmakers from both parties to try to close the so-called carried interest loophole. The on-again, off-again campaign has continued ever since.

Whenever legislation gathers momentum, the private equity industry — joined by real estate, venture capital and other sectors that rely on partnerships — has pumped up campaign contributions and dispatched top executives to Capitol Hill. One bill after another has died, generally without a vote.

One day in 2011, Gregg Polsky, then a professor of tax law at the University of North Carolina, received an out-of-the-blue email. It was from a lawyer for a former private equity executive. The executive had filed a whistle-blower claim with the I.R.S. alleging that their old firm was using illegal tactics to avoid taxes.

The whistle-blower wanted Mr. Polsky’s advice.

Mr. Polsky had previously served as the I.R.S.’s “professor in residence,” and in that role he had developed an expertise in how private equity firms’ vast profits were taxed. Back in academia, he had published a research paper detailing a little-known but pervasive industry tax-dodging technique.

$89 billion in private equity assets — as being “abusive” and a “thinly disguised way of paying the management company its quarterly paycheck.”

Apollo said in a statement that the company stopped using fee waivers in 2012 and is “not aware of any I.R.S. inquiries involving the firm’s use of fee waivers.”

floated the idea of cracking down on carried interest.

Private equity firms mobilized. Blackstone’s lobbying spending increased by nearly a third that year, to $8.5 million. (Matt Anderson, a Blackstone spokesman, said the company’s senior executives “are among the largest individual taxpayers in the country.” He wouldn’t disclose Mr. Schwarzman’s tax rate but said the firm never used fee waivers.)

Lawmakers got cold feet. The initiative fizzled.

In 2015, the Obama administration took a more modest approach. The Treasury Department issued regulations that barred certain types of especially aggressive fee waivers.

But by spelling that out, the new rules codified the legitimacy of fee waivers in general, which until that point many experts had viewed as abusive on their face.

So did his predecessor in the Obama administration, Timothy F. Geithner.

Inside the I.R.S. — which lost about one-third of its agents and officers from 2008 to 2018 — many viewed private equity’s webs of interlocking partnerships as designed to befuddle auditors and dodge taxes.

One I.R.S. agent complained that “income is pushed down so many tiers, you are never able to find out where the real problems or duplication of deductions exist,” according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office investigation of partnerships in 2014. Another agent said the purpose of large partnerships seemed to be making “it difficult to identify income sources and tax shelters.”

The Times reviewed 10 years of annual reports filed by the five largest publicly traded private equity firms. They contained no trace of the firms ever having to pay the I.R.S. extra money, and they referred to only minor audits that they said were unlikely to affect their finances.

Current and former I.R.S. officials said in interviews that such audits generally involved issues like firms’ accounting for travel costs, rather than major reckonings over their taxable profits. The officials said they were unaware of any recent significant audits of private equity firms.

For a while, it looked as if there would be an exception to this general rule: the I.R.S.’s reviews of the fee waivers spurred by the whistle-blower claims. But it soon became clear that the effort lacked teeth.

Kat Gregor, a tax lawyer at the law firm Ropes & Gray, said the I.R.S. had challenged fee waivers used by four of her clients, whom she wouldn’t identify. The auditors struck her as untrained in the thicket of tax laws governing partnerships.

“It’s the equivalent of picking someone who was used to conducting an interview in English and tell them to go do it in Spanish,” Ms. Gregor said.

The audits of her clients wrapped up in late 2019. None owed any money.

As a presidential candidate, Mr. Trump vowed to “eliminate the carried interest deduction, well-known deduction, and other special-interest loopholes that have been so good for Wall Street investors, and for people like me, but unfair to American workers.”

wanted to close the loophole, congressional Republicans resisted. Instead, they embraced a much milder measure: requiring private equity officials to hold their investments for at least three years before reaping preferential tax treatment on their carried interests. Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, who had previously run an investment partnership, signed off.

McKinsey, typically holds investments for more than five years. The measure, part of a $1.5 trillion package of tax cuts, was projected to generate $1 billion in revenue over a decade.

credited Mr. Mnuchin, hailing him as “an all-star.”

Mr. Fleischer, who a decade earlier had raised alarms about carried interest, said the measure “was structured by industry to appear to do something while affecting as few as possible.”

Months later, Mr. Callas joined the law and lobbying firm Steptoe & Johnson. The private equity giant Carlyle is one of his biggest clients.

It took the Treasury Department more than two years to propose rules spelling out the fine print of the 2017 law. The Treasury’s suggested language was strict. One proposal would have empowered I.R.S. auditors to more closely examine internal transactions that private equity firms might use to get around the law’s three-year holding period.

The industry, so happy with the tepid 2017 law, was up in arms over the tough rules the Treasury’s staff was now proposing. In a letter in October 2020, the American Investment Council, led by Drew Maloney, a former aide to Mr. Mnuchin, noted how private equity had invested in hundreds of companies during the coronavirus pandemic and said the Treasury’s overzealous approach would harm the industry.

The rules were the responsibility of Treasury’s top tax official, David Kautter. He previously was the national tax director at EY, formerly Ernst & Young, when the firm was marketing illegal tax shelters that led to a federal criminal investigation and a $123 million settlement. (Mr. Kautter has denied being involved with selling the shelters but has expressed regret about not speaking up about them.)

On his watch at Treasury, the rules under development began getting softer, including when it came to the three-year holding period.

Monte Jackel, a former I.R.S. attorney who worked on the original version of the proposed regulations.

Mr. Mnuchin, back in the private sector, is starting an investment fund that could benefit from his department’s weaker rules.

Even during the pandemic, the charmed march of private equity continued.

The top five publicly traded firms reported net profits last year of $8.6 billion. They paid their executives $8.3 billion. In addition to Mr. Schwarzman’s $610 million, the co-founders of KKR each made about $90 million, and Apollo’s Leon Black received $211 million, according to Equilar, an executive compensation consulting firm.

now advising clients on techniques to circumvent the three-year holding period.

The most popular is known as a “carry waiver.” It enables private equity managers to hold their carried interests for less than three years without paying higher tax rates. The technique is complicated, but it involves temporarily moving money into other investment vehicles. That provides the industry with greater flexibility to buy and sell things whenever it wants, without triggering a higher tax rate.

Private equity firms don’t broadcast this. But there are clues. In a recent presentation to a Pennsylvania retirement system by Hellman & Friedman, the California private equity giant included a string of disclaimers in small font. The last one flagged the firm’s use of carry waivers.

The Biden administration is negotiating its tax overhaul agenda with Republicans, who have aired advertisements attacking the proposal to increase the I.R.S.’s budget. The White House is already backing down from some of its most ambitious proposals.

Even if the agency’s budget were significantly expanded, veterans of the I.R.S. doubt it would make much difference when it comes to scrutinizing complex partnerships.

“If the I.R.S. started staffing up now, it would take them at least a decade to catch up,” Mr. Jackel said. “They don’t have enough I.R.S. agents with enough knowledge to know what they are looking at. They are so grossly overmatched it’s not funny.”

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The Cost of Being an ‘Interchangeable Asian’

On a recent Tuesday evening, Jully Lee and her boyfriend curled up on the couch and turned on the TV to watch the Ovation Awards, a ceremony honoring stage work in the Los Angeles area that was held virtually this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. Ms. Lee, an actor, had been nominated for her role in the play “Hannah and the Dread Gazebo,” which was in production before the pandemic.

Ms. Lee, 40, had submitted a prerecorded acceptance speech in case she won. During the ceremony, each nominee’s photo was shown as his or her name was announced. When Ms. Lee’s category arrived, her name was called, and a photo appeared on the screen. A photo of the wrong Asian: her colleague Monica Hong. The announcer also mispronounced Ms. Lee’s name.

“I was just stunned,” Ms. Lee said. She added that after a pause, she and her boyfriend started cracking up. “When things are awkward or uncomfortable or painful, it’s much safer to laugh than to express other emotions. It’s like a polite way of responding to things.”

The LA Stage Alliance, which hosted the ceremony, disbanded in the wake of outrage over the blunder.

The irony of a mix-up like this wasn’t lost on Ms. Lee. It was rare to even be performing with other Asian actors, rather than competing for the same part. “It’s so funny because when there’s so many Asians, then you can’t tell them apart, but in media there are so few Asians that you can’t tell us apart,” she said. “What is it?”

The invisibility of Asians in pop culture is part of what, scholars say, contributes to the “wrong Asian” experience: When people aren’t accustomed to seeing Asian faces onstage or onscreen, they may have more trouble telling them apart in real life. To put it another way: If all you really have to work with are John Cho, Steven Yeun, Aziz Ansari and Kal Penn, that’s not going to go a long way in training you to distinguish among men of Asian descent offscreen. In contrast, Hollywood has given everyone plenty of training on distinguishing white faces, Dr. Nadal said.

Out of Hollywood’s top 100 movies of 2018, only two lead roles went to Asian and Asian American actors (one male and one female), according to a study by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

Donatella Galella, a professor of theater history and theory at the University of California, Riverside, said that popular culture has long reflected the Western world’s xenophobic views toward Asians, which resulted in placing them in diminished roles onstage and onscreen — the villain, the sidekick. That entrenched a kind of marginalization feedback loop.

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A New C.D.C. Story

This morning, I am going to tell you another story about the C.D.C. and its approach to Covid-19 behavioral guidelines. It’s a story that highlights the costs of extreme caution.

When Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the C.D.C. director, appeared before a Senate committee this month and defended the agency’s description of how often Covid-19 is transmitted outdoors, she cited a single academic study.

She was responding to a question from Senator Susan Collins of Maine, who had asked why some C.D.C. guidelines seemed inconsistent with the available data. Collins quoted from that day’s edition of this newsletter and argued that the C.D.C. was exaggerating the risk of outdoor activities by claiming that “less than 10 percent” of Covid transmission occurred outside.

Anything close to 10 percent would mean that outdoor infections were a huge problem. Yet the true share appears to be closer to 0.1 percent.

a study published in The Journal of Infectious Diseases. The study was “a meta-analysis,” she explained, which means it synthesized data from other studies. “The topline result of all studies that were included in the systematic review said less than 10 percent of cases were transmitted outdoors,” she said.

Her answer made the study sound definitive. Walensky did not mention any other studies or offer any logical argument for why she believed outdoor transmission was a significant risk. She implied that the C.D.C. was simply listening to The Journal of Infectious Diseases, which, as she noted, is a top journal.

Later that day, one of the study’s authors posted several messages on Twitter, and the story got more complicated.

The tweets came from Dr. Nooshin Razani, an epidemiologist at the University of California, San Francisco. In them, she emphasized that the study’s results suggested that the share of Covid occurring outdoors was “much lower than 10 percent.” The central message of the paper, Razani wrote, was the relative safety of the outdoors:

in her testimony, had used the two terms interchangeably.)

Singapore construction workers who probably transmitted it in enclosed spaces.)

The actual share occurring outdoors is “probably substantially less than 1 percent,” Razani told me. “The outdoors is an amazing resource,” she added. “What we really should be focused on is how to transition more activities to be outdoors.”

Yet the C.D.C.’s guidance continues to treat outdoor activities as a major risk — as if the truth were closer to 10 percent than 0.1 percent.

The agency advises unvaccinated people to wear masks outdoors much of the time, and many communities still impose strict guidelines on outdoor activities. The C.D.C. has also directed virtually everyone attending summer camp this year — counselor or camper, vaccinated or not — to wear a mask at almost all times. The camp guidelines use the word “universal.”

It’s true that for many people, masks are a minor nuisance. For others, though, masks bring real costs. Some children find it harder to breathe while wearing one during, say, a game of soccer or tag. Many adults and children find it more difficult to communicate. That’s especially true for people without perfect hearing and for young children, both of whom rely heavily on facial movements to understand others.

has written, is often “like talking on your phone in a zone with weak cell service.”

For unvaccinated adults indoors or in close conversation outdoors, the costs of a mask are vastly lower than the risks from Covid. But the trade-offs are different in most outdoor settings, and they are different for children. The Covid risks for children are similar to those from a normal flu (as these charts show).

There does not appear to be much scientific reason that campers and counselors, or most other people, should wear a mask outdoors all summer. Telling them to do so is an example of extreme caution — like staying out of the ocean to avoid sharks — that seems to have a greater cost than benefit.

The C.D.C., as I’ve written before, is an agency full of dedicated people trying their best to keep Americans healthy. Walensky, a widely admired infectious-diseases expert, is one of them. Yet more than once during this pandemic, C.D.C. officials have acted as if extreme caution has no downsides.

Everything has downsides. And it is the job of scientific experts and public-health officials to help the rest of us think clearly about the benefits and costs of our choices.

They’re on the menu.

Like a boss: Meet Beyoncé’s go-to stylist.

Not who she says: A scholar faked her Cherokee ancestry. Her career has thrived.

A Times classic: See how climate change is weakening the Gulf Stream.

Lives Lived: As a performer, writer and director, Robbie McCauley often put race at the center of her works. “Our nation is starving for the kinds of courageous conversation that Robbie and her work engendered,” a fellow artist said. McCauley died at 78.

baked feta pasta and dalgona coffee — as well as a new generation of cooking stars who are largely self-taught, preparing meals in their home kitchens.

Within 24 hours of posting his first TikTok in 2019, Eitan Bernath, now 19, had tens of thousands of followers. His upbeat and approachable food videos have since earned him over a million more, and he has three full-time employees, as well as a gig as a resident culinary expert on “The Drew Barrymore Show.”

Other up-and-coming food creators are making six figures through the app and sponsorships, often using TikTok fame to launch cookware lines, cookbooks and more.

Read Taylor Lorenz’s full story. — Sanam Yar, a Morning writer

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So You Want to End the Conversation?

With vaccination spreading across the United States, social life has begun to bend toward a semblance of normalcy: dinner parties, restaurants, spontaneous encounters with strangers, friends and colleagues on the street or in the office. It’s exciting but also slightly nerve-racking.

“I think there will be a period of heightened anxiety as we meet people face-to-face again,” Adam Mastroianni, a fifth-year Ph.D. student in psychology at Harvard, told me (over the phone). “I’ve heard this from a lot of my friends, that we’re worried: Have we forgotten how to be with other people?”

I’d called Mr. Mastroianni for some help in rediscovering this ancient calculus. In March, he and his colleagues Daniel Gilbert, Gus Cooney and Timothy Wilson published a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences — “Do conversations end when people want them to?” — on one of the stickier aspects of human interaction. Our conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Prisoner’s Dilemma, and the prison is politeness.

When Your Company is Named Covid, You’ve Heard All the Jokes.”

  • How and when to go about viewing the Super Flower Blood Moon of 2021. (Hint: It helps if you live in Oceania, Hawaii, eastern Asia or Antarctica.)

  • According to researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, there are at least 65 creatures, including humans, that make a laugh-like sound: “There could be more that, we think, are out there. Part of the reason they probably aren’t documented is because they’re probably really quiet, or just in species that aren’t well studied for now.”

  • Some of us were wondering — and now we know — why the iPhone’s “snooze” button provides exactly nine minutes of snoozing.

  • Jill Lepore, in The New Yorker, provides a brief and compelling history of burnout: “May there one day come again more peaceful metaphors for anguish, bone-aching weariness, bitter regret, and haunting loss.”

  • What went wrong in the Suez Canal, from a fluid dynamics perspective, courtesy of the Practical Engineering channel on YouTube.

  • All about the “cartoonishly evil-looking” amblypygid, sometimes known as the whip spider or tail-less whip scorpion but which, as Eric Boodman writes in Undark, is “neither spider nor scorpion.”

  • If you prefer true spiders, there’s this BBC video segment on how some make use of electric fields to get around.

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    Covid on the Run

    I want to end this week by showing you two Covid-19 charts. They contain the same message: The pandemic is in retreat.

    received at least one vaccine shot, and the share is growing by about two percentage points per week. Among unvaccinated people, a substantial number have already had Covid and therefore have some natural immunity. “The virus is running out of places to be communicable,” Andy Slavitt, one of President Biden’s top Covid advisers, told me.

    noted. For the first time since March 5 of last year, San Francisco General Hospital yesterday had no Covid patients — “a truly momentous day,” Dr. Vivek Jain said.

    There are still important caveats. Covid remains especially dangerous in communities with low vaccination rates, as Slavitt noted, including much of the Southeast; these communities may suffer through future outbreaks. And about 600 Americans continue to die from the disease every day.

    But the sharp decline in cases over the past month virtually guarantees that deaths will fall over the next month. The pandemic appears to be in an exponential-decay phase, as this helpful Times essay by Zoë McLaren explains. “Every case of Covid-19 that is prevented cuts off transmission chains, which prevents many more cases down the line,” she writes.

    This isn’t merely a theoretical prediction. In Britain, one of the few countries to have given a shot to a greater share of the population than the U.S., deaths are down more than 99 percent from their peak.

    down 23 percent from their peak in late April. In India, caseloads have been falling rapidly for almost two weeks.

    The rising number of vaccinations also helps; it has exceeded 1.5 billion, which means that more than 10 percent of the world’s population — and maybe closer to 15 percent — has received at least one shot. (A new outlier: Mongolia has secured enough shots to vaccinate all of its adults, thanks to deals with neighboring Russia and China.) Natural immunity, from past infections, may also be slowing the spread in many places, and the virus’s seasonal cycles may play a role, too.

    Most countries remain more vulnerable than the U.S. because of their lower vaccination rates. In Africa, a tiny share of people have received a shot, and the numbers are only modestly higher in much of Latin America, the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

    The vaccines are how this pandemic ends. That point is coming nearer in the United States and a few other affluent countries, but it remains distant in much of the world. Accelerating the global manufacturing and distribution of vaccines is the only sure way to avoid many more preventable deaths this year. (The Times editorial board, The Economist and National Review have each recently laid out arguments for how to do so.)

    “Unless vaccine supplies reach poorer countries, the tragic scenes now unfolding in India risk being repeated elsewhere,” The Economist’s editors wrote. “Millions more will die.”

    More on the virus:

    disqualified Belarus over lyrics that seemed to endorse a crackdown on antigovernment protests. In 2009, Georgia withdrew over a song about Vladimir Putin.

    The Netherlands, which won the contest in 2019, is hosting the event tomorrow in an arena that will allow 3,500 audience members. Many of this year’s contestants qualified for Eurovision last year, though the show was canceled. While they’re getting another chance at performing this year, they’re singing different songs than they had planned in 2020.

    The Guardian has a roundup of this year’s entries, including Ukrainian folk-techno and an Azerbaijani ode to a wartime spy. — Claire Moses, a Morning writer

    tender chicken skewers with tarragon and yogurt.

    The former N.B.A. star Chris Bosh recommends some of his favorite basketball books. Kobe Bryant makes the list.

    Climbing the world’s tallest mountains without reaching the top and more stories read aloud by the Times journalists who wrote them.

    Take the weekly News Quiz and see how you do compared with other Times readers.

    The hosts discussed Michael Cohen.

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    The global vaccination effort, already in dire shape, faces more setbacks.

    As inoculations help a sense of normalcy return in the lives of many Americans, much of the world remains gripped by the pandemic, with little hope that a significant number of vaccine doses will be made available soon.

    The effort to vaccinate enough of the world’s population to get the virus under control — already a huge struggle, experts said — was set back again this week after the Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine producer, signaled that it would not be able to export doses until the end of the year.

    The Serum Institute’s manufacturing capacity is at the heart of Covax, a global effort to vaccinate the populations of low- and middle-income countries. The program is already more than 140 million doses behind schedule, and the Serum Institute announcement suggested that its goal of two billion doses by the end of the year would be all but impossible to meet.

    Dr. Arthur Reingold, chief of the epidemiology division at the University of California, Berkeley, said that the delay was “not surprising, given the drastic situation” in India, which has been pummeled by the virus in recent weeks.

    devastating second wave of coronavirus infections, the institute has diverted all its manufacturing powers to domestic needs, falling behind on commitments to the Covax partnership as well as on bilateral commercial deals with many countries.

    “It simply means that poor countries of the world, the low- and middle-income countries of the world,” Dr. Reingold said, “are going to have to wait longer to come anywhere close to the kind of vaccination coverage that we’ve achieved in some of the wealthier countries.”

    About 48 percent of people in the United States have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, according to federal data on Wednesday. In the United Kingdom, the figure is 54 percent, and in Germany, nearly 38 percent, according to the Our World in Data project at Oxford University.

    But only 10 percent of people in India have received a dose of the vaccine. Just over 1 percent of people in Honduras have received a shot, and less than 1 percent have been at least partially vaccinated in Somalia.

    100 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine were now on hold as regulators checked them for possible contamination.

    The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been viewed by public health officials as an important tool to vaccinate populations that are more difficult to reach, because it requires only one dose and does not need the special low-temperature storage required by the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines.

    The rate of vaccinations in the United States has slowed considerably in recent weeks, though about 1.8 million doses are being administered to Americans each day on average, according to a New York Times database.

    President Biden announced on Monday that the United States would send 20 million doses of the three vaccines abroad. The 100 million Johnson & Johnson doses under inspection could pad the American stockpile, or be sent to help meet the dire need abroad.

    Still, Dr. Reingold said that it was “time well spent” to “very carefully look at those doses and ensure that they’re safe and effective.”

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    Once Tech’s Favorite Economist, Now a Thorn in Its Side

    Paul Romer was once Silicon Valley’s favorite economist. The theory that helped him win a Nobel prize — that ideas are the turbocharged fuel of the modern economy — resonated deeply in the global capital of wealth-generating ideas. In the 1990s, Wired magazine called him “an economist for the technological age.” The Wall Street Journal said the tech industry treated him “like a rock star.”

    Not anymore.

    Today, Mr. Romer, 65, remains a believer in science and technology as engines of progress. But he has also become a fierce critic of the tech industry’s largest companies, saying that they stifle the flow of new ideas. He has championed new state taxes on the digital ads sold by companies like Facebook and Google, an idea that Maryland adopted this year.

    And he is hard on economists, including himself, for long supplying the intellectual cover for hands-off policies and court rulings that have led to what he calls the “collapse of competition” in tech and other industries.

    “Economists taught, ‘It’s the market. There’s nothing we can do,’” Mr. Romer said. “That’s really just so wrong.”

    free-market theory. Monopoly or oligopoly seems to be the order of the day.

    The relentless rise of the digital giants, they say, requires new thinking and new rules. Some were members of the tech-friendly Obama administration. In congressional testimony and research reports, they are contributing ideas and credibility to policymakers who want to rein in the big tech companies.

    Their policy recommendations vary. They include stronger enforcement, giving people more control over their data and new legislation. Many economists support the bill introduced this year by Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota, that would tighten curbs on mergers. The bill would effectively “overrule a number of faulty, pro-defendant Supreme Court cases,” Carl Shapiro, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, and a member of the Council of Economic Advisers in the Obama administration, wrote in a recent presentation to the American Bar Association.

    Some economists, notably Jason Furman, a Harvard professor, chair of the Council of Economic Advisers in the Obama administration and adviser to the British government on digital markets, recommend a new regulatory authority to enforce a code of conduct on big tech companies that would include fair access to their platforms for rivals, open technical standards and data mobility.

    his Nobel lecture in 2018 prompted him to think about the “progress gap” in America. Progress, he explained, is not just a matter of economic growth, but should also be seen in measures of individual and social well-being.

    Mr. Romer pushed the idea that new cities of the developing world should be a blend of government design for basics like roads and sanitation, and mostly let markets take care of the rest. During a short stint as chief economist of the World Bank, he had hoped to persuade the bank to back a new city, without success.

    In the big-tech debate, Mr. Romer notes the influence of progressives like Lina Khan, an antitrust scholar at Columbia Law School and a Democratic nominee to the Federal Trade Commission, who see market power itself as a danger and look at its impact on workers, suppliers and communities.

    That social welfare perspective is a wider lens that appeals to Mr. Romer and others.

    “I’m totally on board with Paul on this,” said Rebecca Henderson, an economist and professor at the Harvard Business School. “We have a much broader problem than one that falls within the confines of current antitrust law.”

    Mr. Romer’s specific contribution is a proposal for a progressive tax on digital ads that would apply mainly to the largest internet companies supported by advertising. Its premise is that social networks like Facebook and Google’s YouTube rely on keeping people on their sites as long as possible by targeting them with attention-grabbing ads and content — a business model that inherently amplifies disinformation, hate speech and polarizing political messages.

    So that digital ad revenue, Mr. Romer insists, is fair game for taxation. He would like to see the tax nudge the companies away from targeted ads toward a subscription model. But at the least, he said, it would give governments needed tax revenue.

    In February, Maryland became the first state to pass legislation that embodies Mr. Romer’s digital ad tax concept. Other states including Connecticut and Indiana are considering similar proposals. Industry groups have filed a court challenge to the Maryland law asserting it is an illegal overreach by the state.

    Mr. Romer says the tax is an economic tool with a political goal.

    “I really do think the much bigger issue we’re facing is the preservation of democracy,” he said. “This goes way beyond efficiency.”

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