Blue Meridian Partners, whose donor partners include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Ballmer Group and the Sergey Brin Family Foundation.

Others contributing to the fund are the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation and Schmidt Futures, led by Eric Schmidt, former chief executive of Google.

For Social Finance and its backers, the career impact bonds are not traditional investments. For them, breaking even or a small return would be winning — proof the concept is working, which should attract more public and private money.

“We need to move toward evidence-based funding,” said Jim Shelton, chief investment and impact officer for Blue Meridian Partners and a deputy secretary of education in the Obama administration. “And Social Finance is supporting programs that show it can be done.”

The Social Finance income-share agreement with students ranges from about 5 percent to 9 percent depending on their earnings — less from $30,000 to $40,000, and generally more above $40,000. The monthly payments last four years. If you lose your job, the payment obligation stops.

“Our investors aren’t after high returns. They’re primarily after social impact,” Ms. Palandjian said.

When screening programs, Social Finance looks for those that offer training for specific skills linked to local demand, and have data to show that its students graduate and get good-paying jobs. In selecting a skilled-trade school, Social Finance, working with Burning Glass Technologies, which analyzes job-market data, sought a program for an occupation in demand with potential for the worker to move up the career ladder.

American Diesel Training, based in Columbus, Ohio, met the requirements. The for-profit company’s program is designed as a short, intensive course to train entry-level diesel technicians, mostly for trucking companies and dealerships.

Demand for diesel technicians is robust as more goods are shipped by truck, often delivering products ordered online, and baby-boom mechanics are retiring. There is an accessible career path to become a senior mechanic or into administration as a service, distribution or shop manager.

American Diesel Training, founded in 2017, succeeded in placing students in jobs in its first few years, but remained small.

Before Social Finance arrived, Tim Spurlock, co-founder and chief executive of American Diesel Training, looked into financing through income-share agreements offered by venture-backed start-ups. The terms, he said, were far less favorable for students.

“Social Finance comes at it from a completely different angle,” he said.

The first group of Social Finance-funded students started the five-week course last September. There are now about 70 students in each course. That is about four times as many as a year ago.

Social Finance pays American Diesel Training just over 60 percent of its fee initially. The rest comes later, after a student lands and keeps a job.

“I’m fine with that,” Mr. Spurlock said. “We’ve completely proven our educational model. The problem was the funding mechanism.”

A total of 229 students supported by Social Finance have been enrolled. The graduation rate is nearly 100 percent, and 89 percent have jobs. Their average annual income is $36,500, and the average gain from income before the program is $12,400.

Today, Mr. Barber, who saw an ad for the program on Facebook, works in Ohio for U.S. Xpress, a national freight-hauling trucker. As an entry-level diesel technician, he is mostly doing preventive maintenance on trucks. With diesel mechanics in demand, the company paid him a $2,000 signing bonus and a relocation fee.

Jordan Battle earns about $43,000 a year as a diesel mechanic for a large trucking company in Atlanta, far more than she did as a contractor for a civic education organization.

That job ended with the pandemic, so she decided to go for “something essential and to have a real skill others don’t.” She was accepted in the American Diesel Training program, and she was offered a job after three weeks, before she graduated. Practice interviews, résumé building and introductions to employers were part of the curriculum.

“That’s where the program really stands out,” she said. “They fight for you.”

View Source

Upbeat Official Report on Race in Britain Draws a Swift Backlash

LONDON — British cities echoed last year with the cries of Black Lives Matter protesters, demanding a racial reckoning in Britain similar to that convulsing the United States in the wake of multiple killings of Black Americans by the police.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson responded by releasing a government-commissioned report on the state of racial discrimination in Britain that concluded that the country “should be regarded as a model for other white-majority countries.” The backlash was swift and scathing.

Critics accused the Conservative government of whitewashing racial injustice by arguing that discrimination is more a result of socio-economic disparities than skin color. By discouraging use of the term institutional racism, they said, the report sought to turn back the clock on how Britons talk about race.

While the document, compiled by a 10-member Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, acknowledged the enduring nature of racism — “graffiti on someone’s business, violence in the street or prejudice in the labor market” — it came to an upbeat conclusion about the progress of British society as a whole.

“level up” prosperity between wealthy London and the white, working-class strongholds in the Midlands and the north. While the commission is independent, and all but one of its members are ethnic minorities, critics said they were chosen because their views generally align with that agenda.

“The argument is that the real victims of racism are the white working class,” said Kehinde Andrews, a professor of Black Studies at Birmingham City University. “The reason they have asked these Black and brown people to do this report is to legitimize their position.”

pulling down the statue of a notorious 17th-century slave trader, Edward Colston, in Bristol. Critics faulted its advocacy of a “new story” about the slave trade, one that focused less on the suffering it caused and more on how “culturally African people transformed themselves into a remodeled African/Britain.”

Macpherson Report, which grew out of an inquiry into the racially motivated killing of a Black teenager, Stephen Lawrence, in 1993. That document found evidence of institutional racism in the botched investigation of the crime, a provocative new concept that transformed the debate over racism in Britain.

With hate crimes being reported to the police at a greater rate, the new report argues that the term institutional racism should no longer be used so liberally and without evidence to support it — a subtle point that critics say is nonetheless damaging.

“Reverting to the idea that we’re going to focus on racism only as overt hostility and hatred takes us back to the more simplistic ways we talked about racism,” said Matthew Ryder, a lawyer who worked on racial issues as a deputy mayor of London. “It undoes the progress we’ve made in the last 20 years in this country.”

Even before its release, critics complained that the report’s conclusions were handed to selected journalists before publication as part of a media strategy shaped more by politics than a desire to expand the discourse over race.

Afzal Khan, a Labour lawmaker, said the document was “based on a Conservative ideology that seeks to place the blame on individuals rather than addressing its root cause” and was a “blatant and transparent attempt to kick start a culture war.” The report came out against programs, like unconscious bias training for employees, which are often targeted by critics on the right.

There was also criticism from David Lammy, another Labour lawmaker and the author of a 2017 study on how the criminal justice system treated minorities. Mr. Johnson’s approach to the Black Lives Matter movement had “let an entire generation of young white and Black British people down, Mr. Lammy said on LBC, a talk-radio station on which he recently debated patiently with a caller who argued that his Afro-Caribbean heritage meant he could not be considered English.

“This report could have been a turning point and a moment to come together,” Mr. Lammy said. “Instead, it has chosen to divide us once more and keep us debating the existence of racism rather than doing anything about it.”

View Source

Business Groups Push Back on Tax Increase in Biden Plan: Live Updates

15 years of higher taxes on corporations to pay for eight years of spending. The plans include raising the corporate tax rate to 28 percent from 21 percent. The corporate tax rate had been cut from 35 percent under former President Donald J. Trump.

The Business Roundtable said it supported infrastructure investment, calling it “essential to economic growth” and important “to ensure a rapid economic recovery” — but rejected corporate tax increases as a way to pay for it.

Policymakers should avoid creating new barriers to job creation and economic growth, particularly during the recovery,” the group’s chief executive, Joshua Bolten, said in a statement.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce echoed that view. “We strongly oppose the general tax increases proposed by the administration, which will slow the economic recovery and make the U.S. less competitive globally — the exact opposite of the goals of the infrastructure plan,” the chamber’s chief policy officer, Neil Bradley, said in a statement.

Wall Street has been wary of possible tax increases since the presidential election and has hoped that gridlock in Washington would moderate Mr. Biden’s agenda. On Wednesday, a spokesman for JPMorgan Chase said the bank’s chief executive, Jamie Dimon, believed “that the corporate tax rate for companies in the U.S. has to be competitive globally, which it is now.”

But “he has no problem with high-income people like himself paying a higher tax rate,” said the spokesman, Joseph Evangelisti.

The Biden administration has indicated that tax increases for wealthy Americans will help fund the second phase of the infrastructure plan, which is expected to be announced next month and will focus on priorities like education, health care and paid leave. The increase in corporate taxes is an effort to “ensure that corporations pay their fair share,” White House officials said in a news release.

“With vaccinations becoming more widespread and confidence in travel rising, we’re ready to help customers reclaim their lives,” the chief executive of Delta Air Lines said.
Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

Delta Air Lines said Wednesday that it would sell middle seats on flights starting May 1, more than a year after it decided to leave them empty to promote distancing. Other airlines had blocked middle seats early in the pandemic, but Delta held out the longest by several months and is the last of the four big U.S. airlines to get rid of the policy.

The company’s chief executive, Ed Bastian, said that a survey of those who flew Delta in 2019 found that nearly 65 percent expected to have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine by May 1, which gave the airline “the assurance to offer customers the ability to choose any seat on our aircraft.”

Delta started blocking middle seat bookings in April 2020 and said that it continued the policy to give passengers peace of mind.

“During the past year, we transformed our service to ensure their health, safety, convenience and comfort during their travels,” Mr. Bastian said in a statement. “Now, with vaccinations becoming more widespread and confidence in travel rising, we’re ready to help customers reclaim their lives.”

Air travel has started to recover meaningfully in recent weeks, with ticket sales rising and as well over one million people per day have been screened at airport checkpoints since mid-March, according to the Transportation Security Administration. More than 1.5 million people were screened on Sunday, the busiest day at airports since the pandemic began. Air travel is still down about 40 percent from 2019.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to recommend against travel, even for those who have been vaccinated. This week, its director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, warned of “impending doom” from a potential fourth wave of the pandemic if Americans move too quickly to disregard the advice of public health officials.

Delta also said on Wednesday that it would give customers more time to use expiring travel credits. All new tickets purchased in 2021 and credits set to expire this year will now expire at the end of 2022.

Starting April 14, the airline plans to bring back soft drinks, cocktails and snacks on flights within the United States and to nearby international destinations. In June, it plans to start offering hot food in premium classes on some coast-to-coast flights. Delta also announced changes that will make it easier for members of its loyalty program to earn points this year.

Deliveroo is now in 12 countries and has over 100,000 riders.
Credit…Toby Melville/Reuters

Deliveroo, the British food delivery service, dropped as much as 30 percent in its first minutes of trading on Wednesday, a gloomy public debut for the company that was promoted as a post-Brexit win for London’s financial markets.

The company had set its initial public offering price at 3.90 pounds a share, valuing Deliveroo at £7.6 billion or $10.4 billion. But it opened at £3.31, 15 percent lower, and kept falling. By the end of the day, shares had recovered only slightly, closing at about £2.87, 26 percent lower.

The offering has been troubled by major investors planning to sit out the I.P.O. amid concerns about shareholder voting rights and Deliveroo rider pay. Deliveroo, trading under the ticker “ROO,” sold just under 385 million shares, raising £1.5 billion.

The business model of Deliveroo and other gig economy companies is increasingly under threat in Europe as legal challenges mount. Two weeks ago, Uber reclassified more than 70,000 drivers in Britain as workers who will receive a minimum wage, vacation pay and access to a pension plan, after a Supreme Court ruling. Analysts said the move could set a precedent for other companies and increase costs.

Deliveroo, which is based in London and was founded in 2013, is now in 12 countries and has more than 100,000 riders, recognizable on the streets by their teal jackets and food bags. Last year, Amazon became its biggest shareholder.

Demand for Deliveroo’s services could soon diminish, as pandemic restrictions in its largest market, Britain, begin to ease. In a few weeks, restaurants will reopen for outdoor dining. Last year, Deliveroo said, it lost £226.4 million even as its revenue jumped more than 50 percent to nearly £1.2 billion.

Last week, a joint investigation by the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism was published based on invoices of hundreds of Deliveroo riders. It found that a third of the riders made less than £8.72 an hour, the national minimum wage for people over 25.

Deliveroo dismissed the report, calling the union a “fringe organization” that didn’t represent a significant number of Deliveroo riders. The company said that riders were paid for each delivery and earn “£13 per hour on average at our busiest times.”

On Monday, shares traded hands in a period called conditional dealing open to investors allocated shares in the initial offering. The stock is expected to be fully listed on the London Stock Exchange next Wednesday and can be traded without restrictions from then.

Last week, Ed Bastian, the chief executive of Delta, said he thought Georgia’s voting law had been improved, but on Wednesday he sounded a very different note.
Credit…Etienne Laurent/EPA, via Shutterstock

The chief executive of Delta, Ed Bastian, sent a letter on Wednesday to employees expressing regret for the company’s muted opposition to a restrictive voting law passed last week by the Georgia legislature.

“I need to make it crystal clear that the final bill is unacceptable and does not match Delta’s values,” he wrote in an internal memo that was reviewed by The New York Times.

Mr. Bastian’s position is a stark reversal from last week. As Republican lawmakers in Georgia rushed to pass the new law, Delta, along with other big companies headquartered in Atlanta, came under pressure from activists to publicly and directly oppose the effort. Activists called for boycotts, and protested at the Delta terminal at the Atlanta airport.

Instead, Delta chose to offer general statements in support of voting rights, and work behind the scenes to try and remove some of the most onerous provisions as the new law came together. After the law was passed on Thursday, Mr. Bastian said he believed it had been improved and included several useful changes that make voting more secure.

But on Wednesday, after dozens of prominent Black executives called on corporate America to become more engaged in the issue, Mr. Bastian reversed course.

“After having time to now fully understand all that is in the bill, coupled with discussions with leaders and employees in the Black community, it’s evident that the bill includes provisions that will make it harder for many underrepresented voters, particularly Black voters, to exercise their constitutional right to elect their representatives,” he said. “That is wrong.”

Mr. Bastian went further, saying that the entire premise of the new law — and dozens of similar bills being advanced in other states around the country — was based on false pretenses.

“The entire rationale for this bill was based on a lie: that there was widespread voter fraud in Georgia in the 2020 elections,” Mr. Bastian said. “This is simply not true. Unfortunately, that excuse is being used in states across the nation that are attempting to pass similar legislation to restrict voting rights.”

Also on Wednesday, Larry Fink, the chief executive of BlackRock, issued a statement on LinkedIn saying the company was concerned about the wave of new restrictive voting laws. “BlackRock is concerned about efforts that could limit access to the ballot for anyone,” Mr. Fink said. “Voting should be easy and accessible for ALL eligible voters.”

Kenneth Chenault, left, a former chief executive of American Express, and Kenneth Frazier, the chief executive of Merck, organized a letter signed by 72 Black business leaders.
Credit…Left, Justin Sullivan/Getty Images; right, Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Seventy-two Black executives signed a letter calling on companies to fight a wave of voting-rights bills similar to the one that was passed in Georgia being advanced by Republicans in at least 43 states.

The effort was led by Kenneth Chenault, a former chief executive of American Express, and Kenneth Frazier, the chief executive of Merck, Andrew Ross Sorkin and David Gelles report for The New York Times.

The signers included Roger Ferguson Jr., the chief executive of TIAA; Mellody Hobson and John Rogers Jr., the co-chief executives of Ariel Investments; Robert F. Smith, the chief executive of Vista Equity Partners; and Raymond McGuire, a former Citigroup executive who is running for mayor of New York. The group of leaders, with support from the Black Economic Alliance, bought a full-page ad in the Wednesday print edition of The New York Times.

“The Georgia legislature was the first one,” Mr. Frazier said. “If corporate America doesn’t stand up, we’ll get these laws passed in many places in this country.”

Last year, the Human Rights Campaign began persuading companies to sign on to a pledge that states their “clear opposition to harmful legislation aimed at restricting the access of L.G.B.T.Q. people in society.” Dozens of major companies, including AT&T, Facebook, Nike and Pfizer, signed on.

To Mr. Chenault, the contrast between the business community’s response to that issue and to voting restrictions that disproportionately harm Black voters was telling.

“You had 60 major companies — Amazon, Google, American Airlines — that signed on to the statement that states a very clear opposition to harmful legislation aimed at restricting the access of L.G.B.T.Q. people in society,” he said. “So, you know, it is bizarre that we don’t have companies standing up to this.”

“This is not new,” Mr. Chenault added. “When it comes to race, there’s differential treatment. That’s the reality.”

A Huawei store in Beijing. The United States has placed strict controls on Huawei’s ability to buy and make computer chips.
Credit…Greg Baker/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The Chinese tech behemoth Huawei reported sharply slower growth in sales last year, which the company blamed on American sanctions that have both hobbled its ability to produce smartphones and left those handsets unable to run popular Google apps and services, limiting their appeal to many buyers.

Huawei said on Wednesday that global revenue was around $137 billion in 2020, 3.8 percent higher than the year before. The company’s sales growth in 2019 was 19.1 percent.

Over the past two years, Washington has placed strict controls on Huawei’s ability to buy and make computer chips and other essential components. United States officials have expressed concern that the Chinese government could use Huawei or its products for espionage and sabotage. The company has denied that it is a security threat.

In recent months, Huawei has continued to release new handset models. But sales have suffered, including in its home market. Worldwide, shipments of Huawei phones fell by 22 percent between 2019 and 2020, according to the research firm Canalys, making the company the world’s third largest smartphone vendor last year. In 2019, it was No. 2, behind Samsung.

Huawei remained top dog last year in telecom network equipment, according to the consultancy Dell’Oro Group, even as Britain and other governments blocked Huawei from building their nations’ 5G infrastructure.

Announcing the company’s financial results on Wednesday, Ken Hu, one of its deputy chairmen, said that despite the challenges, Huawei was not changing the broad direction of its business. Another Huawei executive recently revealed on social media that the company was offering an artificial intelligence product for pig farms, which some people took as a sign that Huawei was diversifying to survive.

Mr. Hu took note of the news reports about Huawei’s pig-farming product but said it was “not true” that the company was making any major shifts. “Huawei’s business direction is still focused on technology infrastructure,” he said.

Apple led the $50 million funding round in UnitedMasters, which allows musicians keep ownership of their master recordings.
Credit…Kathy Willens/Associated Press

Apple is investing in UnitedMasters, a music distribution company that lets musicians bypass traditional record labels.

Artists who distribute through UnitedMasters keep ownership of their master recordings and pay either a yearly fee or 10 percent of their royalties.

Apple led the $50 million funding round, announced on Wednesday, which values UnitedMasters at $350 million, the DealBook newsletter reports. Existing investors, including Alphabet and Andreessen Horowitz, also participated in the funding.

Musicians are increasingly taking ownership of their work. Taylor Swift, most famously, and Anita Baker, most recently, have publicized their fights with labels over their master recordings. Artists once needed the heft of major publishing labels — which typically demand ownership of master recordings — to build a fan base. But with social media, labels no longer play as significant a gatekeeping role. UnitedMasters has partnerships with the N.B.A., ESPN, TikTok and Twitch, deals that reflect the new ways that people discover music.

“Technology, no doubt, has transformed music for consumers,” said Steve Stoute, the former major label executive who founded UnitedMasters. “Now it’s time for technology to change the economics for the artists.” The deal with UnitedMasters is about “empowering creators,” Eddy Cue, Apple’s head of internet software and services, said.

As streaming services, including Apple’s, compete for subscribers, they are cutting more favorable deals with the artists who attract users to platforms. Spotify announced an initiative called “Loud and Clear” this week to detail how it pays musicians following public pressure.

An H&M store in Beijing. The retailer’s chief executive, Helena Helmersson, said H&M had a “long-term commitment” to China.
Credit…Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

More than a week after the Swedish retailer H&M came under fire in China for a months-old statement expressing concern over reports of Uyghur forced labor in the region of Xinjiang, a major source of cotton, the company published a statement saying it hoped to regain the trust of customers in China.

In recent days, H&M and other Western clothing brands including Nike and Burberry that expressed concerns over reports coming out of Xinjiang have faced an outcry on Chinese social media, including calls for a boycott endorsed by President Xi Jinping’s government. The brands’ local celebrity partners have terminated their contracts, Chinese landlords have shuttered stores and their products have been removed from major e-commerce platforms.

Caught between calls for patriotism among Chinese consumers and campaigns for conscientious sourcing of cotton in the West, some other companies, including Inditex, the owner of the fast-fashion giant Zara, quietly removed statements on forced labor from their websites.

On Wednesday, H&M, the world’s second-largest fashion retailer by sales after Inditex, published a response to the controversy as part of its first quarter 2021 earnings report.

Not that it said much. There were no explicit references to cotton, Xinjiang or forced labor. However, the statement said that H&M wanted to be “a responsible buyer, in China and elsewhere” and was “actively working on next steps with regards to material sourcing.”

“We are dedicated to regaining the trust and confidence of our customers, colleagues, and business partners in China,” it said.

During the earnings conference call, the chief executive, Helena Helmersson, noted the company’s “long-term commitment to the country” and how Chinese suppliers, which were “at the forefront of innovation and technology,” would continue to “play an important role in further developing the entire industry.”

“We are working together with our colleagues in China to do everything we can to manage the current challenges and find a way forward, ” she said.

Executives on the call did not comment on the impact of the controversy on sales, except to state that around 20 stores in China were currently closed.

H&M’s earnings report, which covered a period before the recent outcry in China, reflected diminished profit for a retailer still dealing with pandemic lockdowns. Net sales in the three months through February fell 21 percent compared with the same quarter a year ago, with more than 1,800 stores temporarily closed.

Stocks on Wall Street rose as investors waited for President Biden to lay out plans for a $2 trillion package of infrastructure spending on Wednesday, which he is expected to propose funding with an increase in corporate taxes.

The S&P 500 index gained about 0.7 percent by midday, while the Nasdaq composite climbed about 1.9 percent. Bonds fell, with the yield on 10-year Treasury notes at 1.72 percent. On Tuesday, the 10-year yield climbed as high 1.77 percent, a level not seen since January 2020.

Prospects of a strong economic recovery in the United States, supported by large amounts of fiscal spending and the vaccine rollout, have pushed bond yields higher. Economic growth and higher inflation have made bonds less appealing as investors adjust their expectations for how much longer the Federal Reserve will need to keep its easy-money policies.

The Ever Given cargo ship was stuck in the Suez Canal nearly a week.
Credit…Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The traffic jam at the Suez Canal will soon ease, but behemoth container ships like the one that blocked that crucial passageway for almost a week aren’t going anywhere.

Global supply chains were already under pressure when the Ever Given, a ship longer than the Empire State Building and capable of carrying 20,000 containers, wedged itself between the banks of the Suez Canal last week. It was freed on Monday, but left behind “disruptions and backlogs in global shipping that could take weeks, possibly months, to unravel,” according to A.P. Moller-Maersk, the world’s largest shipping company.

The crisis was short, but it was also years in the making, reports Niraj Chokshi for The New York Times.

For decades, shipping lines have been making bigger and bigger vessels, driven by an expanding global appetite for electronics, clothes, toys and other goods. The growth in ship size, which sped up in recent years, often made economic sense: Bigger vessels are generally cheaper to build and operate on a per-container basis. But the largest ships can come with their own set of problems, not only for the canals and ports that have to handle them, but for the companies that build them.

“They did what they thought was most efficient for themselves — make the ships big — and they didn’t pay much attention at all to the rest of the world,” said Marc Levinson, an economist and author of “Outside the Box,” a history of globalization. “But it turns out that these really big ships are not as efficient as the shipping lines had imagined.”

Despite the risks they pose, however, massive vessels still dominate global shipping. According to Alphaliner, a data firm, the global fleet of container ships includes 133 of the largest ship type — those that can carry 18,000 to 24,000 containers. Another 53 are on order.

A.P. Moller-Maersk said it was premature to blame Ever Given’s size for what happened in the Suez. Ultra-large ships “have existed for many years and have sailed through the Suez Canal without issues,” Palle Brodsgaard Laursen, the company’s chief technical officer, said in a statement on Tuesday.

Video

Cinemagraph
CreditCredit…By Erik Carter

In today’s On Tech newsletter, Shira Ovide talks to New York Times reporter Karen Weise about the vote on whether to form a union at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., and how the outcome may reverberate beyond this one workplace.

View Source

Delta reverses course, calling Georgia’s voting law ‘unacceptable.’

15 years of higher taxes on corporations to pay for eight years of spending. The plans include raising the corporate tax rate to 28 percent from 21 percent. The corporate tax rate had been cut from 35 percent under former President Donald J. Trump.

The Business Roundtable said it supported infrastructure investment, calling it “essential to economic growth” and important “to ensure a rapid economic recovery” — but rejected corporate tax increases as a way to pay for it.

“Business Roundtable strongly opposes corporate tax increases” to pay for infrastructure investment, the group’s chief executive, Joshua Bolten, said in a statement. Policymakers should avoid creating new barriers to job creation and economic growth, particularly during the recovery.”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce echoed Business Roundtable’s view. “We strongly oppose the general tax increases proposed by the administration, which will slow the economic recovery and make the U.S. less competitive globally — the exact opposite of the goals of the infrastructure plan,” the chamber’s chief policy officer, Neil Bradley, said in a statement.

Automakers embraced Mr. Biden’s bet to increase the use of electric cars. The plan proposes spending $174 billion to encourage the manufacture and purchase of electric vehicles by granting tax credits and other incentives to companies that make electric vehicle batteries in the United States instead of China.

“Customers want connected and increasingly electric vehicles, and we need to work together to build the infrastructure to help this transformation,” Jim Farley, the chief executive of Ford Motor, said in a statement. “Ford supports the administration’s efforts to advance a broad infrastructure plan that prioritizes a more sustainable, connected and autonomous future — including an integrated charging network and supportive supply chain, built on a foundation of safe roads and bridges for our customers.”

“With vaccinations becoming more widespread and confidence in travel rising, we’re ready to help customers reclaim their lives,” the chief executive of Delta Air Lines said.
Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

Delta Air Lines said Wednesday that it would sell middle seats on flights starting May 1, more than a year after it decided to leave them empty to promote distancing. Other airlines had blocked middle seats early in the pandemic, but Delta held out the longest by several months and is the last of the four big U.S. airlines to get rid of the policy.

The company’s chief executive, Ed Bastian, said that a survey of those who flew Delta in 2019 found that nearly 65 percent expected to have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine by May 1, which gave the airline “the assurance to offer customers the ability to choose any seat on our aircraft.”

Delta started blocking middle seat bookings in April 2020 and said that it continued the policy to give passengers peace of mind.

“During the past year, we transformed our service to ensure their health, safety, convenience and comfort during their travels,” Mr. Bastian said in a statement. “Now, with vaccinations becoming more widespread and confidence in travel rising, we’re ready to help customers reclaim their lives.”

Air travel has started to recover meaningfully in recent weeks, with ticket sales rising and as well over one million people per day have been screened at airport checkpoints since mid-March, according to the Transportation Security Administration. More than 1.5 million people were screened on Sunday, the busiest day at airports since the pandemic began. Air travel is still down about 40 percent from 2019.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to recommend against travel, even for those who have been vaccinated. This week, its director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, warned of “impending doom” from a potential fourth wave of the pandemic if Americans move too quickly to disregard the advice of public health officials.

Delta also said on Wednesday that it would give customers more time to use expiring travel credits. All new tickets purchased in 2021 and credits set to expire this year will now expire at the end of 2022.

Starting April 14, the airline plans to bring back soft drinks, cocktails and snacks on flights within the United States and to nearby international destinations. In June, it plans to start offering hot food in premium classes on some coast-to-coast flights. Delta also announced changes that will make it easier for members of its loyalty program to earn points this year.

Deliveroo is now in 12 countries and has over 100,000 riders.
Credit…Toby Melville/Reuters

Deliveroo, the British food delivery service, dropped as much as 30 percent in its first minutes of trading on Wednesday, a gloomy public debut for the company that was promoted as a post-Brexit win for London’s financial markets.

The company had set its initial public offering price at 3.90 pounds a share, valuing Deliveroo at £7.6 billion or $10.4 billion. But it opened at £3.31, 15 percent lower, and kept falling. By the end of the day, shares had recovered only slightly, closing at about £2.87, 26 percent lower.

The offering has been troubled by major investors planning to sit out the I.P.O. amid concerns about shareholder voting rights and Deliveroo rider pay. Deliveroo, trading under the ticker “ROO,” sold just under 385 million shares, raising £1.5 billion.

The business model of Deliveroo and other gig economy companies is increasingly under threat in Europe as legal challenges mount. Two weeks ago, Uber reclassified more than 70,000 drivers in Britain as workers who will receive a minimum wage, vacation pay and access to a pension plan, after a Supreme Court ruling. Analysts said the move could set a precedent for other companies and increase costs.

Deliveroo, which is based in London and was founded in 2013, is now in 12 countries and has more than 100,000 riders, recognizable on the streets by their teal jackets and food bags. Last year, Amazon became its biggest shareholder.

Demand for Deliveroo’s services could soon diminish, as pandemic restrictions in its largest market, Britain, begin to ease. In a few weeks, restaurants will reopen for outdoor dining. Last year, Deliveroo said, it lost £226.4 million even as its revenue jumped more than 50 percent to nearly £1.2 billion.

Last week, a joint investigation by the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism was published based on invoices of hundreds of Deliveroo riders. It found that a third of the riders made less than £8.72 an hour, the national minimum wage for people over 25.

Deliveroo dismissed the report, calling the union a “fringe organization” that didn’t represent a significant number of Deliveroo riders. The company said that riders were paid for each delivery and earn “£13 per hour on average at our busiest times.”

On Monday, shares traded hands in a period called conditional dealing open to investors allocated shares in the initial offering. The stock is expected to be fully listed on the London Stock Exchange next Wednesday and can be traded without restrictions from then.

Last week, Ed Bastian, the chief executive of Delta, said he thought Georgia’s voting law had been improved, but on Wednesday he sounded a very different note.
Credit…Etienne Laurent/EPA, via Shutterstock

The chief executive of Delta, Ed Bastian, sent a letter on Wednesday to employees expressing regret for the company’s muted opposition to a restrictive voting law passed last week by the Georgia legislature.

“I need to make it crystal clear that the final bill is unacceptable and does not match Delta’s values,” he wrote in an internal memo that was reviewed by The New York Times.

Mr. Bastian’s position is a stark reversal from last week. As Republican lawmakers in Georgia rushed to pass the new law, Delta, along with other big companies headquartered in Atlanta, came under pressure from activists to publicly and directly oppose the effort. Activists called for boycotts, and protested at the Delta terminal at the Atlanta airport.

Instead, Delta chose to offer general statements in support of voting rights, and work behind the scenes to try and remove some of the most onerous provisions as the new law came together. After the law was passed on Thursday, Mr. Bastian said he believed it had been improved and included several useful changes that make voting more secure.

But on Wednesday, after dozens of prominent Black executives called on corporate America to become more engaged in the issue, Mr. Bastian reversed course.

“After having time to now fully understand all that is in the bill, coupled with discussions with leaders and employees in the Black community, it’s evident that the bill includes provisions that will make it harder for many underrepresented voters, particularly Black voters, to exercise their constitutional right to elect their representatives,” he said. “That is wrong.”

Mr. Bastian went further, saying that the entire premise of the new law — and dozens of similar bills being advanced in other states around the country — was based on false pretenses.

“The entire rationale for this bill was based on a lie: that there was widespread voter fraud in Georgia in the 2020 elections,” Mr. Bastian said. “This is simply not true. Unfortunately, that excuse is being used in states across the nation that are attempting to pass similar legislation to restrict voting rights.”

Also on Wednesday, Larry Fink, the chief executive of BlackRock, issued a statement on LinkedIn saying the company was concerned about the wave of new restrictive voting laws. “BlackRock is concerned about efforts that could limit access to the ballot for anyone,” Mr. Fink said. “Voting should be easy and accessible for ALL eligible voters.”

Kenneth Chenault, left, a former chief executive of American Express, and Kenneth Frazier, the chief executive of Merck, organized a letter signed by 72 Black business leaders.
Credit…Left, Justin Sullivan/Getty Images; right, Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Seventy-two Black executives signed a letter calling on companies to fight a wave of voting-rights bills similar to the one that was passed in Georgia being advanced by Republicans in at least 43 states.

The effort was led by Kenneth Chenault, a former chief executive of American Express, and Kenneth Frazier, the chief executive of Merck, Andrew Ross Sorkin and David Gelles report for The New York Times.

The signers included Roger Ferguson Jr., the chief executive of TIAA; Mellody Hobson and John Rogers Jr., the co-chief executives of Ariel Investments; Robert F. Smith, the chief executive of Vista Equity Partners; and Raymond McGuire, a former Citigroup executive who is running for mayor of New York. The group of leaders, with support from the Black Economic Alliance, bought a full-page ad in the Wednesday print edition of The New York Times.

“The Georgia legislature was the first one,” Mr. Frazier said. “If corporate America doesn’t stand up, we’ll get these laws passed in many places in this country.”

Last year, the Human Rights Campaign began persuading companies to sign on to a pledge that states their “clear opposition to harmful legislation aimed at restricting the access of L.G.B.T.Q. people in society.” Dozens of major companies, including AT&T, Facebook, Nike and Pfizer, signed on.

To Mr. Chenault, the contrast between the business community’s response to that issue and to voting restrictions that disproportionately harm Black voters was telling.

“You had 60 major companies — Amazon, Google, American Airlines — that signed on to the statement that states a very clear opposition to harmful legislation aimed at restricting the access of L.G.B.T.Q. people in society,” he said. “So, you know, it is bizarre that we don’t have companies standing up to this.”

“This is not new,” Mr. Chenault added. “When it comes to race, there’s differential treatment. That’s the reality.”

A Huawei store in Beijing. The United States has placed strict controls on Huawei’s ability to buy and make computer chips.
Credit…Greg Baker/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The Chinese tech behemoth Huawei reported sharply slower growth in sales last year, which the company blamed on American sanctions that have both hobbled its ability to produce smartphones and left those handsets unable to run popular Google apps and services, limiting their appeal to many buyers.

Huawei said on Wednesday that global revenue was around $137 billion in 2020, 3.8 percent higher than the year before. The company’s sales growth in 2019 was 19.1 percent.

Over the past two years, Washington has placed strict controls on Huawei’s ability to buy and make computer chips and other essential components. United States officials have expressed concern that the Chinese government could use Huawei or its products for espionage and sabotage. The company has denied that it is a security threat.

In recent months, Huawei has continued to release new handset models. But sales have suffered, including in its home market. Worldwide, shipments of Huawei phones fell by 22 percent between 2019 and 2020, according to the research firm Canalys, making the company the world’s third largest smartphone vendor last year. In 2019, it was No. 2, behind Samsung.

Huawei remained top dog last year in telecom network equipment, according to the consultancy Dell’Oro Group, even as Britain and other governments blocked Huawei from building their nations’ 5G infrastructure.

Announcing the company’s financial results on Wednesday, Ken Hu, one of its deputy chairmen, said that despite the challenges, Huawei was not changing the broad direction of its business. Another Huawei executive recently revealed on social media that the company was offering an artificial intelligence product for pig farms, which some people took as a sign that Huawei was diversifying to survive.

Mr. Hu took note of the news reports about Huawei’s pig-farming product but said it was “not true” that the company was making any major shifts. “Huawei’s business direction is still focused on technology infrastructure,” he said.

Apple led the $50 million funding round in UnitedMasters, which allows musicians keep ownership of their master recordings.
Credit…Kathy Willens/Associated Press

Apple is investing in UnitedMasters, a music distribution company that lets musicians bypass traditional record labels.

Artists who distribute through UnitedMasters keep ownership of their master recordings and pay either a yearly fee or 10 percent of their royalties.

Apple led the $50 million funding round, announced on Wednesday, which values UnitedMasters at $350 million, the DealBook newsletter reports. Existing investors, including Alphabet and Andreessen Horowitz, also participated in the funding.

Musicians are increasingly taking ownership of their work. Taylor Swift, most famously, and Anita Baker, most recently, have publicized their fights with labels over their master recordings. Artists once needed the heft of major publishing labels — which typically demand ownership of master recordings — to build a fan base. But with social media, labels no longer play as significant a gatekeeping role. UnitedMasters has partnerships with the N.B.A., ESPN, TikTok and Twitch, deals that reflect the new ways that people discover music.

“Technology, no doubt, has transformed music for consumers,” said Steve Stoute, the former major label executive who founded UnitedMasters. “Now it’s time for technology to change the economics for the artists.” The deal with UnitedMasters is about “empowering creators,” Eddy Cue, Apple’s head of internet software and services, said.

As streaming services, including Apple’s, compete for subscribers, they are cutting more favorable deals with the artists who attract users to platforms. Spotify announced an initiative called “Loud and Clear” this week to detail how it pays musicians following public pressure.

An H&M store in Beijing. The retailer’s chief executive, Helena Helmersson, said H&M had a “long-term commitment” to China.
Credit…Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

More than a week after the Swedish retailer H&M came under fire in China for a months-old statement expressing concern over reports of Uyghur forced labor in the region of Xinjiang, a major source of cotton, the company published a statement saying it hoped to regain the trust of customers in China.

In recent days, H&M and other Western clothing brands including Nike and Burberry that expressed concerns over reports coming out of Xinjiang have faced an outcry on Chinese social media, including calls for a boycott endorsed by President Xi Jinping’s government. The brands’ local celebrity partners have terminated their contracts, Chinese landlords have shuttered stores and their products have been removed from major e-commerce platforms.

Caught between calls for patriotism among Chinese consumers and campaigns for conscientious sourcing of cotton in the West, some other companies, including Inditex, the owner of the fast-fashion giant Zara, quietly removed statements on forced labor from their websites.

On Wednesday, H&M, the world’s second-largest fashion retailer by sales after Inditex, published a response to the controversy as part of its first quarter 2021 earnings report.

Not that it said much. There were no explicit references to cotton, Xinjiang or forced labor. However, the statement said that H&M wanted to be “a responsible buyer, in China and elsewhere” and was “actively working on next steps with regards to material sourcing.”

“We are dedicated to regaining the trust and confidence of our customers, colleagues, and business partners in China,” it said.

During the earnings conference call, the chief executive, Helena Helmersson, noted the company’s “long-term commitment to the country” and how Chinese suppliers, which were “at the forefront of innovation and technology,” would continue to “play an important role in further developing the entire industry.”

“We are working together with our colleagues in China to do everything we can to manage the current challenges and find a way forward, ” she said.

Executives on the call did not comment on the impact of the controversy on sales, except to state that around 20 stores in China were currently closed.

H&M’s earnings report, which covered a period before the recent outcry in China, reflected diminished profit for a retailer still dealing with pandemic lockdowns. Net sales in the three months through February fell 21 percent compared with the same quarter a year ago, with more than 1,800 stores temporarily closed.

Stocks on Wall Street rose as investors waited for President Biden to lay out plans for a $2 trillion package of infrastructure spending on Wednesday, which he is expected to propose funding with an increase in corporate taxes.

The S&P 500 index gained about 0.7 percent by midday, while the Nasdaq composite climbed about 1.9 percent. Bonds fell, with the yield on 10-year Treasury notes at 1.72 percent. On Tuesday, the 10-year yield climbed as high 1.77 percent, a level not seen since January 2020.

Prospects of a strong economic recovery in the United States, supported by large amounts of fiscal spending and the vaccine rollout, have pushed bond yields higher. Economic growth and higher inflation have made bonds less appealing as investors adjust their expectations for how much longer the Federal Reserve will need to keep its easy-money policies.

The Ever Given cargo ship was stuck in the Suez Canal nearly a week.
Credit…Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The traffic jam at the Suez Canal will soon ease, but behemoth container ships like the one that blocked that crucial passageway for almost a week aren’t going anywhere.

Global supply chains were already under pressure when the Ever Given, a ship longer than the Empire State Building and capable of carrying 20,000 containers, wedged itself between the banks of the Suez Canal last week. It was freed on Monday, but left behind “disruptions and backlogs in global shipping that could take weeks, possibly months, to unravel,” according to A.P. Moller-Maersk, the world’s largest shipping company.

The crisis was short, but it was also years in the making, reports Niraj Chokshi for The New York Times.

For decades, shipping lines have been making bigger and bigger vessels, driven by an expanding global appetite for electronics, clothes, toys and other goods. The growth in ship size, which sped up in recent years, often made economic sense: Bigger vessels are generally cheaper to build and operate on a per-container basis. But the largest ships can come with their own set of problems, not only for the canals and ports that have to handle them, but for the companies that build them.

“They did what they thought was most efficient for themselves — make the ships big — and they didn’t pay much attention at all to the rest of the world,” said Marc Levinson, an economist and author of “Outside the Box,” a history of globalization. “But it turns out that these really big ships are not as efficient as the shipping lines had imagined.”

Despite the risks they pose, however, massive vessels still dominate global shipping. According to Alphaliner, a data firm, the global fleet of container ships includes 133 of the largest ship type — those that can carry 18,000 to 24,000 containers. Another 53 are on order.

A.P. Moller-Maersk said it was premature to blame Ever Given’s size for what happened in the Suez. Ultra-large ships “have existed for many years and have sailed through the Suez Canal without issues,” Palle Brodsgaard Laursen, the company’s chief technical officer, said in a statement on Tuesday.

Video

Cinemagraph
CreditCredit…By Erik Carter

In today’s On Tech newsletter, Shira Ovide talks to New York Times reporter Karen Weise about the vote on whether to form a union at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., and how the outcome may reverberate beyond this one workplace.

View Source

Stimulus payments may arrive next week for millions of federal beneficiaries.

Some of the most vulnerable Americans still haven’t gotten their stimulus checks, but millions of them who receive federal benefits should get their payments next week, according to the Internal Revenue Service.

People who receive benefits from Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, the Railroad Retirement Board and Veterans Affairs — but do not file tax returns because they don’t meet the income thresholds — were among those who faced delays.

But most of them — with the exception of those receiving benefits from Veterans Affairs — could have their payments arrive by direct deposit on April 7, as long as there are no further problems. Veterans Affairs beneficiaries will have to wait a bit longer; the I.R.S. estimates their checks could be issued by mid-April and expects to provide more specifics soon.

The payments have been delayed because the I.R.S. didn’t have the proper files to process them until last week. The agency said on Tuesday that it had begun a “multi-step process” to check the beneficiaries’ eligibility and calculate their payments.

Get My Payment tool on the I.R.S. website — it’s updated for eligible individuals once their payment has been processed. But the agency said that the tool would not be updated until the weekend of April 3-4 with information for federal beneficiaries expecting payments next week.

But many federal beneficiaries who filed tax returns in 2019 or 2020 — or who used the I.R.S.’s non-filers tool last year — have already received their payments over the past three weeks.

View Source

Companies Quiet on Georgia Voting Law Face Boycotts

Companies were quick to speak out during the racial justice protests last year, putting out statements of solidarity and posting black squares on Instagram. But after Georgia Republicans passed broad voting restrictions, Atlanta’s corporate giants have been much more muted — and activists are now talking boycotts, The Times’s David Gelles writes.

Among the targets:

  • Delta, which has publicly defended gay rights and said it stood with Black people after the police killings of George Floyd and others. But on the voting legislation, the airline has only issued a statement about a need for broader voter participation. It told employees that it had “engaged extensively” with lawmakers in creating the legislation, and that the measure had “improved considerably” during the process, though it noted that “concerns remain.”

  • Coca-Cola, which pledged last summer to “invest our resources to advance social justice causes.” When it came to the recent bill, Coke said that it was aligned with local chambers of commerce, which also spoke mainly of increasing voter participation and avoided sharp criticism. (Late yesterday, Coke said it was “disappointed” in the new law, but added, “We don’t see this as the final chapter.”)

“It’s not as though corporations are unwilling to speak powerfully about social justice issues,” Sherrilyn Ifill, the president of the NAACP Legal Defense, told David. Companies spoke out forcefully against bills on gender and bathroom access, even threatening to pull out of states like Indiana and, yes, Georgia.

What changed? Companies may be shying away from political fights, after spending four years speaking out against the Trump administration. And the Georgia laws were spearheaded by mainstream Republicans, making executives less eager to cross lawmakers they may need on other issues.

  • Ms. Ifill raised a provocative third potential reason. “Why is it that corporations that could speak so powerfully and unequivocally in opposition to discrimination against the L.G.B.T.Q. community and immigrants are not speaking as clearly about the disenfranchisement of Black people?” she said. “This is a race issue.”

For activists, the next step is calling for boycotts on companies with big Georgia presences, including Coke, Delta, Home Depot and UPS. If “Coca-Cola wants Black and brown people to drink their product, then they must speak up when our rights, our lives and our very democracy as we know it is under attack,” Bishop Reginald Jackson of the African Methodist Episcopal Church told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The Suez Canal is clear. Now what? The 224,000-ton Ever Given was freed from the vital shipping passage days after being stuck, hindering global trade. After the celebrations will come two big questions: What happened, and how can the disruptions be sorted out?

prevented 90 percent of Covid-19 infections by two weeks after the second shot. But President Biden and the head of the C.D.C., Dr. Rochelle Walensky, urged Americans to maintain virus safety measures in the face of “impending doom” from a potential fourth wave of cases.

The White House pushes for tax increases to pay for its infrastructure and jobs plan. As it rolls out its multitrillion-dollar spending initiative, the Biden administration is likely to call for about $3 trillion in new taxes, The Washington Post reports.

President Tayyip Reccip Erdogan of Turkey fired another top central bank official. The removal of Murat Cetinkaya, a deputy governor, was announced with no explanation. It came 10 days after Mr. Erdogan fired the bank’s chief, setting off a sell-off in Turkey’s currency.

The Supreme Court wonders what to do in an investor fraud lawsuit against Goldman Sachs. Justices noted that both sides agree that general statements about professional integrity could be the basis for a lawsuit, and that their positions had moved closer over the course of litigation.

huge stock sales tied to Archegos Capital Management, one thing has become clear: Cooperation is not the finance industry’s strong suit.

Archegos’ main lenders met on Thursday to discuss an orderly wind-down of the firm’s trades, according to The Wall Street Journal. The idea was to limit the damage from several banks dumping huge blocks of stock in ViacomCBS and other companies, potentially tanking prices and hurting their own balance sheets.

You can guess what happened next. Credit Suisse and Morgan Stanley sold small amounts of stock after that meeting. But Goldman Sachs opened the floodgates the next day, quickly followed by Morgan Stanley. By market close, the two had sold nearly $20 billion worth of Archegos assets.


Kevin Hartz, the founder of Eventbrite, believes in the value of SPACs: In February, his first SPAC (named “One”) acquired the industrial 3-D printing company Markforged in a $2.1 billion deal. His second blank-check fund — named “Two,” of course — raised $200 million yesterday. Still, he told DealBook that he believes some SPACs pose risks to retail investors.

Below are edited excerpts from their conversation.

On why S.E.C. scrutiny is needed:

Because people are getting hurt. “For some millennial family to invest in a SPAC, or invest in a SPAC merger, and then see that crater is why we need the S.E.C. to be more involved here,” he said.

What could happen next:

Mr. Hartz pointed to the dot-com bubble as a warning: “We still kind of point to 1999, 2000 as an indicator of what SPACs will need to go through, unfortunately, and that is kind of extreme euphoria, followed by the reality of most losing money for investors.”

corporations and governments has grown in recent years. Yet when it comes to the Supreme Court, some are resisting efforts to allow more sunlight into the institution, as demonstrated in the debate over a bipartisan bill that aims to televise the court’s proceedings.

No Supreme Court hearing has ever been filmed, though Congress has been trying to get cameras in federal courts since 1937. Most state courts allow cameras, and some federal circuit courts permit video with limits. But Chief Justice John Roberts and the five other veterans on the bench have said they fear that the presence of cameras would transform oral arguments into showy performances. (The court’s three most recent appointees have said they would consider it.)

Seeing arguments in “monumental cases” shouldn’t be a privilege of the few, said Senator Dick Durbin, the Democratic chairman of the Judiciary Committee, who is sponsoring the Sunshine in the Courtroom Act. Adding cameras “opens our democracy and gives millions of Americans a window into the room where decisions are made that have lasting effects for generations,” he told DealBook.

Then again, the court has adapted during the pandemic, allowing live audio feeds of arguments. Justices may clamp down on the public’s access to the court when the pandemic lifts, but the tech precedent may make that more difficult.

replace President Andrew Jackson on the bill. “The primary reason currency is redesigned is for security against counterfeiting,” Lydia Washington, a representative for the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, told DealBook. “The redesign timeline is driven by security feature development.”

The Obama administration said it would unveil a design “concept” by 2020, to coincide with the centennial of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. Extensive redesign work was reportedly done, but in 2019 President Trump’s Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, said the project would be delayed until at least 2026. (Insiders said they had always doubted that the 2020 deadline could be met).

It turns out that the complex design and testing process for currency can’t be hurried. “No final images have been selected,” Ms. Washington said. (The Treasury Department did not respond to a request for comment).

Deals

Politics and policy

Tech

Best of the rest

We’d like your feedback! Please email thoughts and suggestions to dealbook@nytimes.com.

View Source

Covid-19 Live Updates: Birx Lashes Trump’s Pandemic Response, Speaking of Many Needless Deaths

“so attentive to the scientific literature” and for not publicly correcting the president as he made outlandish claims about unproven therapies, whose disclosures may have been the most compelling.

As of Sunday, more than 548,000 Americans have died from infection with the coronavirus. “I look at it this way,” she said. “The first time, we have an excuse. There were about 100,000 deaths that came from that original surge.”

“All of the rest of them,” she said, referring to almost 450,000 deaths, “in my mind, could have been mitigated or decreased substantially” had the administration acted more aggressively.

In what was in one of her first televised interviews since leaving the White House in January, she also described a “very uncomfortable, very direct and very difficult” phone call with Mr. Trump after she spoke out about the dangers of the virus last summer. “Everybody in the White House was upset with that interview,” she said.

After that, she decided to travel the country to talk to state and local leaders about masks and social distancing and other public health measures that the president didn’t want her to explain to the American public from the White House podium.

Dr. Gupta asked if she was being censored. “Clearly someone was blocking me from doing it,” she said. “My understanding was I could not be national because the president might see it.”

Several of the officials, including Dr. Anthony S. Fauci — who unlike the others is a career scientist and is now advising President Biden — blamed China, where the virus was first detected, for not being open enough with the United States. And several, including Dr. Redfield and Admiral Giroir, said early stumbles with testing — and the attitude within the White House that testing made the president look bad by driving up the number of case reports — were a serious problem in the administration’s response.

And the problems with testing went beyond simply Mr. Trump’s obsession with optics. Admiral Giroir said that the administration simply did not have as many tests as top officials claimed at the time.

“When we said there were millions of tests — there weren’t, right?” he said. “There were components of the test available but not the full deal.”

A vaccination site at Cleveland State University in Ohio was expected to administer 6,000 shots a day shortly after it opened earlier this month. The state is among those expanding vaccinations to all adults.
Credit…Joshua Gunter/The Plain Dealer, via Associated Press

Chris Adams, 36, has spent the past year of the pandemic living with his grandparents in Wichita, Kan., and being “extremely strict” about social distancing. “I never went out,” he said.

But starting Monday, when all adults in Kansas become eligible for the coronavirus vaccine, Mr. Adams plans to find a vaccination site where there is an available appointment. “What I’m looking forward to is seeing my friends again,” he said.

Kansas is one of six states — Louisiana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma and Texas are the others — that are expanding eligibility for the vaccine to all adults on Monday. Minnesota will follow on Tuesday, and Indiana and South Carolina on Wednesday.

Gov. Laura Kelly of Kansas urged residents last week to seek out appointments, saying, “With the anticipated increase in supply from the federal government, we must get every dose of vaccine into arms quickly.”

Even as vaccine eligibility continues to expand across America — nearly all states have pledged to make every adult eligible by May 1 — the United States has also reported an increase in new cases over the past week. About 75,000 new cases were reported on Friday, a significant increase from the 60,000 added the Friday before.

States in the Northeast have accounted for about 30 percent of the nation’s new cases over the past two weeks, up from 20 percent in the first couple of weeks in February.

In New York, there has been an average of 8,426 new cases a day, an 18 percent increase from the average two weeks earlier, according to a New York Times database. In New Jersey over the past week, there have been an average of 4,249 new cases reported daily, a 21 percent increase from the average two weeks earlier. And on Friday, Vermont set a single-day case record with 283 new infections; it is the first state to set a case record since Jan. 18.

For many, the vaccine cannot come soon enough.

Nicole Drum, 42, a writer in the Kansas City, Kan., metro area, cried on Friday when she found out that she would be eligible to get the vaccine as early as Monday. She started calling pharmacies and looking online for available appointments “within minutes of the news breaking,” she said.

Ms. Drum called about 10 places without success. She had more luck on a county website, and booked an appointment for Wednesday.

She said she planned to wear a special T-shirt saying “I believe in science” to her appointment. “I got myself a fun I’m-getting-the-vaccine outfit,” she said, laughing.

She also plans to take her 4-year-old son with her, because she wants him to see “how research and science and people coming together can really help stem these kinds of things,” she said.

“I want him to know that there’s no need to be afraid all the time of big scary things, because there are always helpers trying to figure this out,” Ms. Drum said. “While the solution might be something that’s a jab in the arm that hurts a little bit, it’s worth it.”

Members of the World Health Organization’s team investigating the origins of the coronavirus arrived at the Wuhan Institute of Virology last month.
Credit…Hector Retamal/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The Biden administration has expressed concern over the Chinese government’s role in drafting a forthcoming World Health Organization report about the source of the coronavirus pandemic.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken suggested that Beijing had too much influence over the report, which is being compiled for the global health agency by a team of international experts as well as by Chinese scientists. Several of the Chinese scientists hold official positions or work at government-run institutions.

“We’ve got real concerns about the methodology and the process that went into that report, including the fact that the government in Beijing apparently helped to write it,” Mr. Blinken said in an interview that aired Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Mr. Blinken’s remarks come as the Chinese government works to take control of the narrative before the release of the report, which will explore several theories for how the virus initially spread to humans.

China has been criticized for withholding raw data and repeatedly delaying a visit by the team of W.H.O. experts. The government in January finally allowed the W.H.O. team to visit the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the first coronavirus cases were detected in late 2019.

At a briefing with more than 100 foreign diplomats from 50 countries on Friday in Beijing, Chinese officials said the government had been transparent.

W.H.O. officials have acknowledged difficulties in compiling the report and say it will be released soon.

“It is, in a way, a painful process to get to the finishing line,” Peter K. Ben Embarek, a food safety scientist with the World Health Organization who is leading the team of experts, said at a news conference on Friday. “But the content is now complete.”

GLOBAL ROUNDUP

A vaccination centre at a mosque in London, on Sunday. Britain has given over 30 million vaccine doses.
Credit…Henry Nicholls/Reuters

Britain, which has now given a first dose of the coronavirus vaccine to more than 30 million people, began a gradual lifting of coronavirus restrictions for most of its population on Monday.

People in England are now allowed to gather outdoors in groups of up to six, or two households, after the end of a stay-at-home order in force since early January.

Outdoor sports facilities, like tennis and basketball courts and swimming pools, are also opening in England. Nonessential retail and outdoor dining are set to return from April 12. Students returned to classes earlier this month. Elsewhere in Britain, Scotland and Wales have also begun easing stay-at-home orders, and Northern Ireland is set to review on coronavirus restrictions next month.

For many in Britain, the easing was a cautious optimistic note after months lockdown, the nation’s third. The current lockdown began in January, after a new variant of the coronavirus swept the country, with as many as 60,000 daily cases and 1,800 daily deaths at its winter peak. On Sunday, the country reported 3,862 cases and 19 deaths, according to a New York Times database. London has so far reported no deaths from the virus on Sunday, according to Public Health England. If no reports are added later — the figures are not yet finalized — it would be the capital’s first day without a virus death since September. Officials are hoping a slow lifting will largely remove restrictions on socializing in England by June 21.

Travel abroad for English residents, however, remains banned, with a task force reviewing the rule next month. Officials cautioned that people should still work from home where possible and minimize contact.

In other news from around the globe:

Yan Zhuang contributed reporting.

Passengers heading to Hawaii from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport this month.
Credit…Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

Palakiko Chandler took their little cousins to Nanakuli Beach on Oahu last weekend and noticed something they hadn’t seen in a while: a parking lot full of rental cars. The tourists were back.

“It was just so packed,” said Mr. Chandler, 27 and a Native Hawaiian. “Me and my cousins were looking at each other like, should we just go home?” The youngest cousins needed several reminders to keep their distance from strangers for virus safety.

For much of the pandemic, Hawaii had some of the strictest rules for visitors in the United States, requiring a 14-day quarantine for everyone arriving in the islands. The policy took a heavy economic toll on a state that depends heavily on tourism, but it was lauded for its success in limiting the impact of the virus for months.

Now, though, Hawaii has reopened for travelers: A negative test within 72 hours of arrival lets them skip the quarantine in most places. At least 28,000 people arrived in Hawaii on each of the last two Saturdays, according to state travel data —  the most in a day since the pandemic began, and not far from typical prepandemic levels.

The influx has residents worried. Some have been posting on social media for months, pleading with mainlanders not to come, or if they do, to be mindful of the islands’ isolation and limited resources. The state has a total of 3,000 hospital beds for its population of 1.4 million, and has among the fewest I.C.U. beds per capita of any state; they were often mostly full even before the pandemic.

Hawaii’s precautions did not keep the virus out completely: The islands had a holiday surge, like the rest of the country, and parts of the state are struggling with outbreaks now. Daily new case reports have doubled since late February, with some recent clusters focused on tourism workers. Hospitalizations have increased 17 percent in the last two weeks.

“The looming concerning things are the variants,” said Dr. Damien Kapono Chong-Hanssen of the Kauai Community Health Center. “The California variant has been implicated in what’s happening in Maui right now. Maui is not looking better.”

Mainlanders are making the trip anyway. “Hawaii is again packed with tourists,” wrote the travel site The Points Guy. Favorite sites are sold out, check-in lines are long, and the lines for outbound flights are getting longer.

Tourists are crowding popular beaches without wearing masks or paying much attention to social distancing. Some visitors have gotten rowdy. A pair of arriving tourists were sent home after trying to pay a bribe to avoid the testing requirement.

The situation is worsening the irritation that many state residents feel toward vacationers. Now the tourists aren’t just crowding the island and driving up prices, they say, they are also heedlessly risking everyone’s health.

“Hawaiians and locals alike have always seen the disrespect that tourists bring to our islands,” Mr. Chandler said. “This is kind of the last straw. You’re coming to our home and you’re endangering us during a pandemic.”

The tension is especially prevalent among Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, who face greater risk for Covid-19 and higher rates of chronic disease than average.

“Local people are tired of being treated a certain type of way,” said Charles Kaua Taylor-Fulton, 20, who lives on Oahu. “When tourists come, they can be very rude or entitled. There’s just a sense of entitlement.”

Dr. Lee Buenconsejo-Lum of the University of Hawaii at Manoa said the state’s case numbers are not exploding, at least not yet. But she said she would like to see travelers exhibit the same commitment to wearing masks that locals have. “It’s a matter of constantly educating the tourists,” she said.

Still, the high travel season is just getting started, and restrictions are continuing to ease. Bars have reopened in parts of the state and outdoor weddings are now allowed to welcome up to 100 guests.

“We can already see into the future of summer,” Mr. Chandler said, “and it’s going to be packed.”

Office buildings in Manhattan have remained quiet as about 90 percent of their workers continue working remotely.
Credit…Jonah Markowitz for The New York Times

A year after the coronavirus spurred an extraordinary exodus of workers from New York City office buildings, what had seemed like a short-term inconvenience is now becoming a permanent shift in how and where people work. Employers and employees have both embraced the advantages of remote work, including lower office costs and greater flexibility for employees, especially those with families.

Beyond New York, some of the country’s largest cities have yet to see a substantial return of employees, even where there have been less stringent lockdowns, and some companies have announced that they are not going to have all workers come back all the time.

In recent weeks, major corporations, including Ford in Michigan and Target in Minnesota, have said they are giving up significant office space, while Salesforce, whose headquarters occupies the tallest building in San Francisco, said only a small fraction of its employees would be in the office full time.

But no city in the United States, and perhaps the world, must reckon with this transformation more than New York, and in particular Manhattan, an island whose economy has been sustained, from the corner hot dog vendor to Broadway theaters, by more than 1.6 million daily commuters.

About 90 percent of Manhattan office workers are working remotely, a rate that has remained unchanged for months, according to a recent survey of major employers by the Partnership for New York City, which estimated that less than half of office workers would return by September.

Across Midtown and Lower Manhattan, the country’s two largest central business districts, there has never been a greater proportion of office space for lease — 16.4 percent, much higher than in past crises, including after the Sept. 11 terror attacks in 2001 and the Great Recession in 2008.

As more companies push back dates for returning to offices and make at least some remote work a permanent policy, the consequences for New York could be far-reaching, not just for the city’s restaurants, coffee shops and other small businesses, but for municipal finances, which depend heavily on commercial real estate.

Some of the largest and most enduring companies, including JPMorgan Chase & Co., which has more than 20,000 office employees in the city, have told their work forces that the five-day office workweek is a relic. The bank is considering a model in which employees would rotate between working remotely and in the office.

Other large businesses, including the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, the marketing group Omnicom Group and the advertising giant WPP, have searched for subtenants to take over significant chunks of their Manhattan offices.

The loss of workers has caused the market value of commercial properties that include office buildings to plunge nearly 16 percent, prompting a sharp decline in the tax revenue that pays for essential city services.

The vaccine, which requires only a single shot, comes from Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen subsidiary.
Credit…Stephen Zenner/Getty Images

Johnson & Johnson said on Monday that it would supply its one-shot vaccine to African Union member states, as the continent experiences a slow rollout of vaccines, an uptick in cases and worries about new virus mutations.

The pharmaceutical company said that its unit, Janssen Pharmaceutica NV, agreed a deal with the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust, an African Union organization, to supply up to 220 million doses of its Covid-19 vaccine beginning in the fall. The organization will also have the possibility of ordering an additional 180 million doses for a combined total of up to 400 million doses through 2022.

The company will supply most of the doses from a plant in South Africa, which is operated by Aspen Pharma. The African Export-Import Bank, a Pan-African bank headquartered in Cairo, will pay manufacturers $2 billion on behalf of member countries in the form of loans.

South Africa’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa, who as the chair of the African Union set up the vaccine trust last year, is expected to tour the Aspen Pharma facilities in Port Elizabeth, on country’s southeast coast, on Monday.

“This agreement is a significant milestone in protecting the health of all Africans,” Mr. Ramaphosa said in a statement. “It is also a powerful demonstration of African unity and of what we can achieve through partnership between the state sector, the private sector and international institutions that puts people first.”

The announcement came as coronavirus cases surpassed 4.1 million in Africa, with more than 111,000 deaths, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Concerns have been mounting about the emergence of variants on the continent, particularly in countries like South Africa, where a highly transmissible variant has driven up cases. Scientists also recently said they found a highly mutated variant of the coronavirus in travelers from Tanzania, the East African nation whose leaders have consistently brushed aside the threat of the coronavirus pandemic.

Besides dealing with other deadly outbreaks including Ebola, polio and measles, many nations in Africa are also dealing with vaccine inequity, as developed nations hoard doses and seek to inoculate their entire populations. So far, only 7.7 million vaccines have been administered on the continent, according to the World Health Organization, which last week warned of a slowdown in deliveries even as initial batches were exhausted.

Vaccines were yet to arrive in 10 African countries, the W.H.O. said, while many others continued to face logistical challenges in addition to vaccine hesitancy.

Nations including South Africa have called on governments and pharmaceutical companies to waive vaccine patents to get medicines to more people more quickly.

The Africa C.D.C. has said that a minimum 60 percent of the continent’s population — or 750 million people — must be vaccinated if the virus is to be curbed there. The deal with Johnson & Johnson “enables Africa to meet almost 50 percent of that target,” Dr. John Nkengasong, the head of the Africa C.D.C., said in a statement.

“The key to this particular vaccine is that it is a single-shot vaccine, which makes it easier to roll out quickly and effectively, thus saving lives,” he added.

A vaccination center in Kathmandu, Nepal, this month.
Credit…Niranjan Shrestha/Associated Press

KATHMANDU, Nepal — Nepal on Monday received a donation of 800,000 doses of a Covid-19 vaccine from China, which the authorities said would help them restart an inoculation drive that had been halted because of shipment delays in India.

Dr. Jageshwor Gautam, a spokesman for the ministry of health, said the vaccination campaign could resume in less than a week, “once we determine beneficiary age groups.”

China and India, both of which border Nepal, have been jockeying for influence over the Himalayan nation of 30 million people, most recently through vaccine diplomacy.

Nepal had planned its vaccination campaign around the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine producer. One million doses have been donated by the Indian government, and Nepal had bought an additional two million doses from the Serum Institute.

But half of the purchase from the Serum Institute has been delayed indefinitely, health officials in Nepal said, despite an agreement that it would arrive 15 days after the deal. India, which is supplying the AstraZeneca vaccine to more than 70 countries, has begun holding back nearly all of its exports as it tries to suppress a surge in coronavirus cases at home.

Officials in Nepal suspended vaccinations on March 17, citing the shortage of doses.

To fill the gap, they are now relying on a vaccine developed by the Chinese company Sinopharm, which last month became the second approved for emergency use in Nepal after Beijing pledged to provide doses free.

Since its vaccination drive began in late January, Nepal has administered about 1.6 million doses, according to a New York Times database. Dr. Gautam said the 500,000 remaining AstraZeneca doses would be given to frontline health workers, and that there were none available for the rest of the population “at least for now.”

Nepal has recorded almost 277,000 infections and 3,027 deaths, according to a New York Times database. Although the country’s average daily new cases are a small fraction of what they were at their peak last fall, health officials fear a second wave as infections surge in neighboring India. On Monday, India reported 68,020 new infections, the highest one-day rise since October.

View Source

1st Doses Reach 1 in 3 U.S. Adults; Access Lags in NY and Arkansas

The U.S. vaccination campaign is accelerating rapidly, with more than 91 million people — roughly a third of the adult population — having received at least one shot of a Covid-19 vaccination by Saturday. And nearly every state has announced that it will meet President Biden’s directive to make all adults eligible by May 1.

But as of Saturday afternoon, two states — Arkansas and New York — still had not declared a timeline for their residents, according to a New York Times vaccine rollout tracker.

A third state, Wyoming, has also not said when all adults would be able to get the shot, but eligibility in the state expands on a county-by-county basis, a spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Health said, and 20 of the state’s 23 counties now allow all adults to get vaccinated. She said she expected full access “quite soon.”

In Arkansas, where a Times database shows that about 13 percent of the population of three million has been fully vaccinated, Gov. Asa Hutchinson this week extended eligibility to military veterans who are at least 18 years old. That decision came soon after appointments opened up for additional essential workers and adults between 16 and 64 who have some health conditions.

almost one million new people eligible for the vaccine, and the state department of health anticipates opening up eligibility to all adults by early May, “if not sooner,” a spokeswoman said.

“I want to ask everyone, when it’s your turn, get a shot,” Mr. Hutchinson said at a news briefing this week. “Get that shot in your arm, because it helps our entire state to completely move out of this pandemic and so we need everybody to get vaccinated.”

At the news conference, Mr. Hutchinson said there were parts of the state where eligible residents are still unable to book an appointment, particularly in the northwest and several urban areas. Additionally, not all inmates, who are included in the list of those already eligible, have been vaccinated, he said.

“But stay tuned,” Mr. Hutchinson said, adding that he expected the state to expand eligibility to all adults “in the near future.”

In New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said at a news briefing this week that other states were setting dates based on allocation projections coming from the federal government. But Mr. Cuomo said he wanted “to make sure that the allocation projections that we’re getting from the feds are right” before setting a specific date for eligibility expansion.

“I would rather get the specific allocation number and then tell the people of the state,” Mr. Cuomo said, “so we don’t have to change advice and we don’t create pandemonium for the scheduling operation.”

View Source

Stimulus Payments for Many Low-Income Americans Are Still Being Processed. Here’s Why.

Tens of millions of lower-income Americans are still waiting for their stimulus checks, but there’s been some progress toward getting them paid.

People who receive benefits from Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, the Railroad Retirement Board and Veterans Affairs — while also not having to file tax returns because they don’t meet the income thresholds — have faced delays because the Internal Revenue Service didn’t have the proper payment files to process their stimulus checks.

Now the I.R.S. has all of the necessary files in hand, but it’s still not clear how long it will take for payments to be processed. The I.R.S. did not immediately comment on Friday.

Democratic leaders from the House Ways and Means Committee and other congressional subcommittees had sent a letter to the Social Security Administration and the I.R.S. on Monday, urging the quick transmission of the files. By Wednesday, the lawmakers’ request became an ultimatum: They demanded that the files for 30 million unpaid beneficiaries be sent by Thursday.

statement from the Ways and Means committee. (Veterans Affairs said it delivered its files on Tuesday; the Railroad Retirement Board delivered its files on Monday.)

The Social Security Administration notified congressional leaders that it had transmitted the necessary data to the I.R.S. at 8:48 a.m. Thursday.

Members of the committee blamed the delay on the Social Security Administration’s commissioner, Andrew Saul, who was appointed by President Trump. But the agencysaid it had been unable to act immediately because Congress hadn’t directly given it the money to do the work.

AARP also sent letters to both the Social Security Administration and I.R.S. on Thursday, urging them both to provide clear information on when beneficiaries could expect their payments.

Many federal beneficiaries who filed 2019 or 2020 returns — or who used the tool for non-filers on the I.R.S. website to update their information — have already received their payments.

So far, the I.R.S. has delivered roughly 127 million payments in two batches, totaling $325 billion.

View Source