SAN ANTONIO HUISTA, Guatemala — An American contractor went to a small town in the Guatemalan mountains with an ambitious goal: to ignite the local economy, and hopefully even persuade people not to migrate north to the United States.
Half an hour into his meeting with coffee growers, the contractor excitedly revealed the tool he had brought to change their lives: a pamphlet inviting the farmers to download an app to check coffee prices and “be a part of modern agriculture.”
Pedro Aguilar, a coffee farmer who hadn’t asked for the training and didn’t see how it would keep anyone from heading for the border, looked confused. Eyeing the U.S. government logo on the pamphlet, he began waving it around, asking if anyone had a phone number to call the Americans “and tell them what our needs really are.”
soared in 2019 and is on the upswing once more.
have risen, malnutrition has become a national crisis, corruption is unbridled and the country is sending more unaccompanied children to the United States than anywhere else in the world.
That is the stark reality facing Ms. Harris as she assumes responsibility for expanding the same kind of aid programs that have struggled to stem migration in the past. It is a challenge that initially frustrated her top political aides, some of whom viewed the assignment from Mr. Biden as one that would inevitably set her up for failure in the first months of her tenure.
Her allies worried that she would be expected to solve the entire immigration crisis, irked that the early reports of her new duties appeared to hold her responsible for juggling the recent surge of children crossing the border without adults.
linked to drug traffickers and accused of embezzling American aid money, the leader of El Salvador has been denounced for trampling democratic norms and the government of Guatemala has been criticized for persecuting officials fighting corruption.
Even so, Ms. Harris and her advisers have warmed to the task, according to several people familiar with her thinking in the White House. They say it will give her a chance to dive squarely into foreign policy and prove that she can pass the commander-in-chief test, negotiating with world leaders on a global stage to confront one of America’s most intractable issues.
critics denounced as unlawful and inhumane. Moreover, members of the current administration contend that Mr. Trump’s decision to freeze a portion of the aid to the region in 2019 ended up blunting the impact of the work being done to improve conditions there.
But experts say the reasons that years of aid have not curbed migration run far deeper than that. In particular, they note that much of the money is handed over to American companies, which swallow a lot of it for salaries, expenses and profits, often before any services are delivered.
Record numbers of Central American children and families were crossing, fleeing gang violence and widespread hunger.
independent studies have found.
“All activities funded with U.S.A.I.D.’s foreign assistance benefit countries and people overseas, even if managed through agreements with U.S.-based organizations,” said Mileydi Guilarte, a deputy assistant administrator at U.S.A.I.D. working on Latin America funding.
But the government’s own assessments don’t always agree. After evaluating five years of aid spending in Central America, the Government Accountability Office rendered a blunt assessment in 2019: “Limited information is available about how U.S. assistance improved prosperity, governance, and security.”
One U.S.A.I.D. evaluation of programs intended to help Guatemalan farmers found that from 2006 to 2011, incomes rose less in the places that benefited from U.S. aid than in similar areas where there was no intervention.
Mexico has pushed for a more radical approach, urging the United States to give cash directly to Central Americans affected by two brutal hurricanes last year. But there’s also a clear possibility — that some may simply use the money to pay a smuggler for the trip across the border.
The farmers of San Antonio Huista say they know quite well what will keep their children from migrating. Right now, the vast majority of people here make their money by selling green, unprocessed coffee beans to a few giant Guatemalan companies. This is a fine way to put food on the table — assuming the weather cooperates — but it doesn’t offer much more than subsistence living.
Farmers here have long dreamed of escaping that cycle by roasting their own coffee and selling brown beans in bags to American businesses and consumers, which brings in more money.
“Instead of sending my brother, my father, my son to the United States, why not send my coffee there, and get paid in dollars?” said Esteban Lara, the leader of a local coffee cooperative.
But when they begged a U.S. government program for funding to help develop such a business, Ms. Monzón said, they were told “the money is not designed to be invested in projects like that.”
These days, groups of her neighbors are leaving for the United States every month or two. So many workers have abandoned this town that farmers are scrambling to find laborers to harvest their coffee.
One of Ms. Monzón’s oldest employees, Javier López Pérez, left with his 14-year-old son in 2019, during the last big wave of Central American migration to the United States. Mr. López said he was scaling the border wall with his son when he fell and broke his ankle.
“My son screamed, ‘Papi, no!’ and I said to him, ‘Keep going, my son,’” Mr. López said. He said his son made it to the United States, while he returned to San Antonio Huista alone.
His family was then kicked out of their home, which Mr. López had given as collateral to the person who smuggled him to the border. The house they moved into was destroyed by the two hurricanes that hit Guatemala late last year.
Ms. Monzón put Mr. López in one of her relatives’ houses, then got the community to cobble together money to pay for enough cinder blocks to build the family a place to live.
While mixing cement to bind the blocks together, one of Mr. López’s sons, Vidal, 19, confessed that he had been talking to a smuggler about making the same journey that felled his father, who was realistic at the prospect.
“I told him, ‘Son, we suffered hunger and thirst along the way, and then look at what happened to me, look at what I lost,’” Mr. López said, touching his still-mangled ankle. “But I can’t tell him what to do with his life — he’s a man now.”
LONDON — Over Memorial Day weekend, 135,000 people jammed the oval at the Indianapolis 500. Restaurants across the United States were thronged with customers as mask mandates were being discarded.
The formula, which gained the Biden administration’s blessing, was succinct: In essence, if you are fully vaccinated, you can do as you please.
But while the United States appears to be trying to close the curtain on the pandemic, across the ocean, in Britain and the European Union, it is quite a different story.
Despite plunging infection levels and a surging vaccine program, parts of Europe are maintaining limits on gatherings, reimposing curbs on travel and weighing local lockdowns.
Wellcome Sanger Institute, said of Delta. “It just means we have less certainty about what things will look like going forward.”
estimated on Friday that the Delta variant was roughly 60 percent more contagious than the earlier one from Britain. Health officials also warned that cases caused by the Delta variant might lead to a higher risk of hospitalization, though it was too early to say for certain.
The divergent strategies of European nations and the United States also reflect broader differences in how Western governments are thinking about their responsibility to unvaccinated people, scientists said.
in unvaccinated pockets of the United States, where the virus continues to sicken and kill people at elevated rates. The Biden administration is still searching for ways to overcome that vaccine hesitancy.
In Britain, even with more than 90 percent of people over 65 having been fully vaccinated, health officials have resisted as speedy a reopening as they seek to expand inoculation rates in lower-income and nonwhite areas.
“We know the virus predominantly hits poorer communities and people of color hardest,” said James Naismith, a structural biologist and the director of Britain’s Rosalind Franklin Institute, a medical research center. “The U.S. strategy perhaps reflects a more deep-rooted commitment to individualism. The U.K.’s vaccination campaign is highly managed and mirrors more a sense of being our brother’s keeper.”
Britain decided last year to delay second vaccine doses to give more people the partial protection of a single dose. That helped it weather the wintertime surge but also left it potentially exposed to the Delta variant. Health officials said this past week that there was strong evidence of “a reduction in vaccine effectiveness” for the new variant that was most pronounced after a single dose.
Health officials have since changed the guidance to speed up second doses, but many scientists are urging the government not to commit to reopening until the impact of the variant becomes clearer.
76 percent overall have gotten one shot. As a result, some scientists say, upticks in new infections are tolerable so long as the vast majority do not lead to serious illness or death.
“This variant is going to find it hard to spread, because it’s limited to younger people and limited to certain parts of the country,” Professor Spector said.
He said the government needed to help the neighborhoods where it was spreading and, beyond that, encourage people to keep working from home and socially distancing when possible. But delaying the easing of restrictions, he said, was not necessary.
“We need to get used to the idea there will be a few thousand cases every day and that this is a part of our life,” Professor Spector said. “Those cases will be milder.”
Germany, France and Austria all moved quickly to bar most visitors from Britain.
Like Britain, the bloc was chastened by a surge of the variant from Britain this winter that contributed to one of the world’s highest death tolls. Governments were hammered for failing to cement the gains of last summer, when lockdowns were lifted across most of Europe.
In the bloc, 47 percent of the adult population has received a first dose, according to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, but only 23 percent have full protection.
For those reasons, European leaders have said that vigilance is needed, even though infections have fallen about 80 percent since mid-April.
“This progress is fragile,” Hans Kluge, the World Health Organization’s director in Europe, warned last month. “We have been here before. Let us not make the same mistakes that were made this time last year.”
Still, now that supply bottlenecks have eased, European officials are confident that 70 percent of adults will be fully vaccinated by July.
The quandary that Europe faces over how to react to the Delta variant may recur as the virus continues to evolve, some scientists said. As long as it remains in wide circulation, even more transmissible variants could emerge, forcing countries to grapple with whether to hunker down yet again or risk the virus spreading through unprotected populations.
Poorer nations are facing far more difficult choices, though. If the same sort of lockdowns that controlled the variant from Britain prove insufficient against this new one, those countries could have to choose between even more draconian and economically damaging shutdowns or even more devastating outbreaks. The Delta variant has already taken a horrifying toll on South Asia.
“Globally, it’s a nightmare, because most of the world is still not vaccinated,” said Jeremy Kamil, a virologist at Louisiana State University Health Shreveport. “It raises the stakes.”
Isabella Casillas Guzman, President Biden’s choice to run the Small Business Administration, inherited a portfolio of nearly $1 trillion in emergency aid and an agency plagued by controversy when she took over in March. She has been sprinting from crisis to crisis ever since.
Some new programs have been mired in delays and glitches, while the S.B.A.’s best-known pandemic relief effort, the Paycheck Protection Program, nearly ran out of money for its loans this month, confusing lenders and stranding millions of borrowers. Angry business owners have deluged the agency with criticism and complaints.
Now, it’s Ms. Guzman’s job to turn the ship around. “It’s the largest S.B.A. portfolio we’ve ever had, and clearly there’s going to need to be some changes in how we do business,” she said in a recent interview.
When the coronavirus crisis struck and the economy went into a free fall last year, Congress and the Trump administration pushed the Small Business Administration to the forefront, putting it in charge of huge sums of relief money and complicated new programs.
confusing, often-revised loan terms and several technical meltdowns — the program enjoyed some success. Millions of business owners credit it with helping them survive the pandemic and keep more workers employed.
Economists are skeptical about whether the program’s results justify its huge cost, but Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden both embraced the effort as a centerpiece of their economic rescue plans. As the pandemic stretched on and the economy plunged into a recession, the Paycheck Protection Program morphed into the largest business bailout in American history. More than eight million companies got forgivable loans, totaling $788 billion — nearly as much money as the government spent on its three rounds of direct payments to taxpayers.
Fraud is a major concern. Thousands of people took advantage of the rushed program’s minimal documentation requirements and sought illicit loans, according to prosecutors, to fund gambling sprees, Lamborghinis, luxury watches, an alpaca farm and a Medicare fraud scheme. The Justice Department has charged hundreds of people with stealing more than $440 million, and scores of federal investigations are active. (During her confirmation hearing, Ms. Guzman promised that she would “prioritize the reduction of fraud, waste and abuse.”)
There were other problems. Female and minority business owners were disproportionately left out of the relief effort. A last-minute attempt by Mr. Biden to make the program more generous for solo business owners came too late to help many of them. This month, a new emergency popped up: The program ran short of money and abruptly closed to most new applicants.
“There was no warning,” Toby Scammell, the chief executive of Womply, a company that helps borrowers get loans, said of the latest debacle. His company alone has more than 1.6 million applicants caught in limbo.
low-interest disaster loans of up to $500,000 and new grant funds, created by Congress, for two of the hardest-hit industries: the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant for live-event businesses and the Restaurant Revitalization Fund. (The hotel industry is pushing for its own version.)
Today in Business
Each required the agency to create policies and technology systems from scratch. The venue program has been especially rocky. On its scheduled start day, in early April, the application system completely failed, leaving desperate applicants hitting refresh and relying on social media posts for information and updates.
“I turned to my associate director and said, ‘I figured something like this would happen,’” said Chris Zacher, the executive director of Levitt Pavilion, a nonprofit performing arts center in Denver. The Small Business Administration revived the system three weeks later and has received 12,200 applications, but it does not anticipate awarding grants until late May.
have turned into primal screams of pain. (“I SERIOUSLY CANNOT TAKE THIS WITH SBA ANY LONGER” is one of the milder replies.) She said she understood the urgency.
“It’s definitely unprecedented — across the board, across the nation — and we are seeing multiple disasters at the same time,” she said. “The agency is highly focused on just still responding to disaster and implementing this relief as quickly as possible.”
This is Ms. Guzman’s second tour at the Small Business Administration. When President Barack Obama picked Maria Contreras-Sweet in 2014 to take over the agency, Ms. Guzman went along as a senior adviser and deputy chief of staff. The women had met in the mid-1990s. Ms. Guzman, a California native with an undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, was hired at 7Up/RC Bottling by Ms. Contreras-Sweet, an executive there.
“I was always impressed with her ability to handle jobs with steep learning curves — she has a quick grasp of complex concepts,” Ms. Contreras-Sweet said.
Ms. Guzman spent her first stint at the agency focused on traditional projects like its flagship lending program, which normally facilitates around $28 billion a year in loans. The time, the job is radically different.
community navigators” program, which will fund local organizations, including nonprofits and government groups, to work closely with businesses owned by people with disabilities or in underserved rural, minority and immigrant communities. It’s an expansion of a grass-roots effort by several nonprofits to get vulnerable businesses access to Paycheck Protection Program loans.
Ms. Guzman said she was bullish about that effort and other agency priorities, like expanding Black and other minority entrepreneurs’ access to capital — but first, like the clients it serves, the Small Business Administration has to weather the pandemic.
And to do that, it has to stop shooting itself in the foot.
The much-awaited second attempt at opening the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant fund was preceded by one final debacle: The agency announced — and then, less than a day before the date, abandoned — a plan to open the first-come-first-served fund on a Saturday. For those seeking aid that has not yet arrived, the incident felt like yet another kick in the teeth.
Ms. Guzman said she was aware of the need for her agency to overcome its limitations and rebuild its checkered reputation.
“This is a pivotal moment in time where we can leverage the interest in small business to really deliver a remarkable agency to them,” she said. “I value being the voice for the 30 million small and innovative start-ups around the country. What I always say to my staff is that I want these businesses to feel like the giants that they are in our economy.”
Infections are soaring. So are deaths. Whole cities are under lockdown. And the government seems powerless to help.
India is in the grip of a coronavirus crisis. Experts agree that the spread is probably even worse than the official statistics suggest. In many parts of the country, hospital beds, supplemental oxygen and other vital supplies are running short.
As Western countries roll out mass vaccination campaigns, only about 3 percent of India’s population is fully inoculated. Though conditions are slowly improving in New Delhi and Mumbai, the virus appears to be spreading largely unchecked through the rest of the country.
The New York Times asked readers in India to describe their lives in the midst of the pandemic with words and photos. They wrote about fear and loss, anxiety and boredom. Some wrote about their anger at the stumbling response by India’s government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But they also wrote about family and friends who have helped them cope, and efforts they have made to help neighbors and strangers alike.
‘You can’t leave it to the citizens to bear the brunt of a health care system that’s crumbling.’
“A lot of people my age have been helping people find resources like hospital beds, oxygen cylinders, medication, etc., through social media by verifying whatever leads are floating around on the internet and sending them to whoever needs them. I’ve been working with one such group. I realize that it is a necessary job in these times, but it’s also incredibly draining. It is the sign of a completely broken system that teenagers have to band together and work themselves to exhaustion trying to answer all these desperate pleas all over Twitter. And it’s getting harder to do by the day as things worsen because resources get exhausted very quickly. Most of the time we just end up calling a lot of numbers and get no response, and when we do it’s usually people saying there’s nothing they can do for us. It’s heartbreaking when people around are just suffering and dying and there’s so little you can do to help. We’re all terrified and burnt out and this is a very unsustainable system of getting people access to health care. You can’t leave it to the citizens to bear the brunt of a health care system that’s crumbling.” — Arunima Tiwari, New Delhi
‘I’m trying not to focus on what could have been.’
“I miss spontaneity. I hate that I now have to plan everything out and even when I do, the plans feel like they can just disappear. I’m trying not to focus on what could have been. Instead, I’m determined to stay focused on what I can do. I have reactivated my long-dormant social media accounts to amplify what I can, and I now volunteer at a response center that offers assistance to Covid-positive patients. I don’t have a choice but to help because elected authorities have made it loud and clear that they aren’t going to.” — Anindita Nayak, Bangalore
‘It’s hard to imagine this is actually real and happening.’
“Life in Delhi at the moment feels like you’re having an out-of-body experience. It’s hard to imagine this is actually real and happening. Every social media feed, every WhatsApp group is full of requests from people looking for oxygen, hospital beds, critical lifesaving medicines. The worst part: There’s almost nothing you can do to help anyone immediately. It takes hours of verifying, calling, begging for help to actually find some solutions, if that even happens. By that time, you feel almost too scared to call back and find out if help is still needed for fear of hearing the inevitable — that the person has died without getting adequate care. Indians are dying not because of Covid but because they’re not receiving treatment and care.” — Shweta Bahri, Delhi
‘I lost my mother yesterday.’
“Both my parents got Covid. I lost my mother yesterday. Father is on ventilator support. The reason I lost my mother is because she didn’t get treatment. I live in Bangalore, and there is no way you can get a bed in any hospital. The help line numbers never work. If they do, then they just take details or transfer your call with no help. Being completely helpless, I took my mother to a hospital that I’m not sure is even legitimate. They just wanted money from me. They did not have trained staff. Oxygen was always in short supply. I felt helpless that I could not take her anywhere. I knew that if I kept her there she would not survive. I had to bring my father there, and his condition deteriorated due to lack of oxygen. I managed to take him to a different hospital, but it was too late. Now he is on a ventilator.” — Paresh Patil, Bangalore
Rahul Patil died on May 17, Paresh Patil said, after this submission was received.
‘My extended family has been very helpful during this time.’
“It has been challenging, but I maintain a mood log throughout the day and encourage my family to do the same. I also post a mood meter on social media so people can reply with how they are feeling using an emoji and we can talk about it. I also help my parents with their medicines, food, oximeter and temperature readings. Since both have different sets of medications, it’s really important we keep a record of the medicines along with a chart of the vitals. My extended family has been very helpful during this time. They remain connected through calls and texts and remind us not to lose faith.” — Rachita Ramya, Delhi
‘We played dumb to something which we clearly saw coming.’
“Since I have been going to work every day, I have not really experienced the lockdown in terms of staying inside. But it has been a very stressful year when it comes to working. When the lockdown lifted last year, people immediately rushed into the bank where I work. It has been very difficult and almost impossible here, in a rural part of India, to make people understand the importance of masks and social distancing.”
“The government has done little to make people aware of the situation. Also, the lockdowns initially were more of a television ratings stunt rather than a precautionary measure. A lot of workers in banks have died on duty, and some have been denied leave even when they were sick. The precautionary measures on paper are nowhere close to reality. In the past few months, we played dumb to something which we clearly saw coming.” — Shweta Beniwal, Kolar
Understand the Covid Crisis in India
‘Three of us have now developed Covid symptoms.’
“As I type this out, four doors lay ajar or wide open in my home. Three of us have now developed Covid symptoms. My old dad has been taking care of cooking, cleaning, medicating and sanitizing all day. My dad sleeps in fits through the day and night, interrupted by calls for food, tea, hoarse coughing, and groans of pain and frustration. How do I cope? Each night, as a 21-year-old, lying wide-awake — the weather is unbearably hot, and my fever rarely subsides — I make up positive scenarios in my mind. Getting a job and earning enough to secure my family’s well-being in this cruel dog-eat-dog world. Being more bold, less hesitant, in fighting people who didn’t see the warning signs of a corrupt, inept distribution of resources. Slapping each of those complacent idiots who voted into power a ruthless demagogue who wins elections by stoking fear and resentment but is a dud when it comes to long-term policymaking, tough decision-making and leadership.” — Harmandeep Khera, Chandigarh
Since sending his submission, Mr. Khera said, he and his family have recovered.
‘Still frightening, but we are coping.’
“Many friends have been infected, and we call each other every day to share a joke and to stay positive and make plans to meet in the future. Still frightening, but we are coping. I also try to help people overcome disinformation and keep telling people that most of us who are infected will recover. I ask people to avoid panic buying and seeking unvalidated cures. Since last year I have exercised regularly and continue to do so even while infected and isolated. I am also a pistol shooter for my state of Maharashtra, so mental conditioning has been an important part of my training. I meditate for 10 minutes each day to stay positive.” — Raj Khalid, Mumbai
‘We need to hold on to humanity and have faith in whatever you believe in.’
“It is very frightening. Half of the people I know have been tested positive or have been previously infected. We haven’t stepped out of the house for the past two weeks, and it has taken a greater toll on our physical and mental health. The only rule is to avoid contact. If you want to keep your close ones safe, then you need to keep them away for a while. My mother is an essential worker, and I have seen her doing grocery shopping for many needy people who are quarantined. It’s something I’m proud of. In times like these, we need to hold on to humanity and have faith in whatever you believe in. Being an atheist, I have faith in science and myself.” — Akash Helia, Mumbai
It was seven years ago when Waymo discovered that spring blossoms made its self-driving cars get twitchy on the brakes. So did soap bubbles. And road flares.
New tests, in years of tests, revealed more and more distractions for the driverless cars. Their road skills improved, but matching the competence of human drivers was elusive. The cluttered roads of America, it turned out, were a daunting place for a robot.
The wizards of Silicon Valley said people would be commuting to work in self-driving cars by now. Instead, there have been court fights, injuries and deaths, and tens of billions of dollars spent on a frustratingly fickle technology that some researchers say is still years from becoming the industry’s next big thing.
Now the pursuit of autonomous cars is undergoing a reset. Companies like Uber and Lyft, worried about blowing through their cash in pursuit of autonomous technology, have tapped out. Only the most deep pocketed outfits like Waymo, which is a subsidiary of Google’s parent company Alphabet, auto industry giants, and a handful of start-ups are managing to stay in the game.
said that fully functional self-driving cars were just two years away. More than five years later, Tesla cars offered simpler autonomy designed solely for highway driving. Even that has been tinged with controversy after several fatal crashes (which the company blamed on misuse of the technology).
Perhaps no company experienced the turbulence of driverless car development more fitfully than Uber. After poaching 40 robotics experts from Carnegie Mellon University and acquiring a self-driving truck start-up for $680 million in stock, the ride-hailing company settled a lawsuit from Waymo, which was followed by a guilty plea from a former executive accused of stealing intellectual property. A pedestrian in Arizona was also killed in a crash with one of its driverless cars. In the end, Uber essentially paid Aurora to acquire its self-driving unit.
But for the most deep-pocketed companies, the science, they hope, continues to advance one improved ride at a time. In October, Waymo reached a notable milestone: It launched the world’s first “fully autonomous” taxi service. In the suburbs of Phoenix, Ariz., anyone can now ride in a minivan with no driver behind the wheel. But that does not mean the company will immediately deploy its technology in other parts of the country.
Dmitri Dolgov, who recently took over as Waymo’s co-chief executive after the departure of John Krafcik, an automobile industry veteran, said the company considers its Arizona service a test case. Based on what it has learned in Arizona, he said, Waymo is building a new version of its self-driving technology that it will eventually deploy in other geographies and other kinds of vehicles, including long-haul trucks.
The suburbs of Phoenix are particularly well suited to driverless cars. Streets are wide, pedestrians are few and there is almost no rain or snow. Waymo supports its autonomous vehicles with remote technicians and roadside assistance crews who can help get cars out of a tight spot, either via the internet or in person.
“Autonomous vehicles can be deployed today, in certain situations,” said Elliot Katz, a former lawyer who counseled many of the big autonomous vehicle companies before launching a start-up, Phantom Auto, that provides software for remotely assisting and operating self-driving vehicles when they get stuck in difficult positions. “But you still need a human in the loop.”
Self-driving tech is not yet nimble enough to reliably handle the variety of situations human drivers encounter each day. They can usually handle suburban Phoenix, but they can’t duplicate the human chutzpah needed for merging into the Lincoln Tunnel in New York or dashing for an offramp on Highway 101 in Los Angeles.
“You have to peel back every layer before you can see the next layer” of challenges for the technology, said Nathaniel Fairfield, a Waymo software engineer who has worked on the project since 2009, in describing some of the distractions faced by the cars. “Your car has to be pretty good at driving before you can really get it into the situations where it handles the next most challenging thing.”
Like Waymo, Aurora is now developing autonomous trucks as well as passenger vehicles. No company has deployed trucks without safety drivers behind the wheel, but Mr. Urmson and others argue that autonomous trucks will make it to market faster than anything designed to transport regular consumers.
Long-haul trucking does not involve passengers who might not be forgiving of twitchy brakes. The routes are also simpler. Once you master one stretch of highway, Mr. Urmson said, it is easier to master another. But even driving down a long, relatively straight highway is extraordinarily difficult. Delivering dinner orders across a small neighborhood is an even greater challenge.
“This is one of the biggest technical challenges of our generation,” said Dave Ferguson, another early engineer on the Google team who is now president of Nuro, a company focused on delivering groceries, pizzas and other goods.
Mr. Ferguson said that many thought self-driving technology would improve like an internet service or a smartphone app. But robotics is a lot more challenging. It was wrong to claim anything else.
“If you look at almost every industry that is trying to solve really really difficult technical challenges, the folks that tend to be involved are a little bit crazy and little bit optimistic,” he said. “You need to have that optimism to get up everyday and bang your head against the wall to try to solve a problem that has never been solved, and it’s not guaranteed that it ever will be solved.”
Uber and Lyft aren’t entirely giving up on driverless cars. Even though it may not help the bottom line for a long time, they still want to deploy autonomous vehicles by partnering with the companies that are still working on the technology. Lyft now says autonomous rides could arrive by 2023.
“These cars will be able to operate on a limited set of streets under a limited set of weather conditions at certain speeds,” said Jody Kelman, the executive of Lyft. “We will very safely be able to deploy these cars, but they won’t be able to go that many places.”
When Jeffrey Epstein gave The Times columnist James Stewart a tour of his apartment a few years ago, he boasted of his expansive Rolodex of billionaires — and the dirt he had on them. A year and a half after the financier’s death by suicide in a New York jail, the fallout for those in the registered sex offender’s orbit, and increasingly those a step or two removed from it, continues to spread.
For example, the latest management reshuffle at Apollo, as we reported yesterday, can be linked back to Epstein. Tracing all the resignations and reshuffles directly and indirectly tied to the scandal will take a while (we’re working on it), but here’s a tally of some so far:
The Apollo co-founder Leon Black said in January that he would resign as C.E.O. but stay on as chairman, after an internal inquiry found he had paid $158 million to Epstein for tax advice. He unexpectedly quit both posts in March, and later stepped down as chairman of the Museum of Modern Art. Josh Harris, a fellow co-founder who had unsuccessfully pushed Black to quit immediately, said yesterday that he was stepping back from Apollo after failing to become the next C.E.O.; Marc Rowan, Apollo’s third co-founder and Black’s pick as successor, now leads the firm.
When the details of meetings between Epstein and Bill Gates burst into public view in late 2019, the billionaire’s wife, Melinda French Gates, hired divorce lawyers. The couple’s split, announced this month, could upend their numerous investments and philanthropic ventures
Les Wexner announced last February that he would step down as C.E.O. of the Victoria’s Secret parent company L Brands, under pressure from multiple internal investigations about his close ties to Epstein. Earlier this year, he and his wife, Abigail Wexner, said they would not stand for re-election to the L Brands board this month. (The company is now in the process of spinning off Victoria’s Secret.) Mr. Wexner was Epstein’s biggest early client and, a Times investigation found, the original source of the financier’s wealth.
Prince Andrew of Britain gave up his public duties last November, days after a disastrous interview with the BBC centered on his relationship with Epstein. At least 47 charities and nonprofits of which he was a patron have since cut ties to the prince.
Joi Ito resigned as the director of the M.I.T. Media Lab, a prominent research group, in 2019 and as member of several corporate boards (including The New York Times Co.), after acknowledging that he had received $1.7 million in investments from Epstein.
Alexander Acosta resigned as Donald Trump’s labor secretary in 2019, amid criticism of his handling of a 2008 sex crimes case against Epstein when he was a federal prosecutor in Miami.
HERE’S WHAT’S HAPPENING
Morgan Stanley sets up its C.E.O. succession competition. The Wall Street firm gave new roles to four top executives, marking them as candidates to take over from James Gorman: Ted Pick and Andy Saperstein were named co-presidents; Jonathan Pruzan was named C.O.O.; and Dan Simkowitz was named co-head of strategy with Pick.
The U.S. endorses a global minimum tax of at least 15 percent. The proposal, which was lower than some had expected, is closely tied to the Biden administration’s plans to raise the corporate tax rate. Global coordination would discourage multinationals from shifting to tax havens overseas.
Treasury officials said they could capture at least $700 billion in additional revenue. That would involve hiring 5,000 new I.R.S. agents, imposing new rules on reporting crypto transactions and other measures.
U.S. customs officials block a Uniqlo shipment over Chinese forced labor concerns. Agents at the Port of Los Angeles acted under an order prohibiting imports of cotton items produced in the Xinjiang region.
U.S. steel prices are soaring. After years of job losses and mill closures, American steel producers have enjoyed a reversal of fortune: Nucor, for instance, is the year’s top-performing stock in the S&P 500. Credit goes to industry consolidation, a recovering economy and Trump-era tariffs. Unsurprisingly, steel consumers aren’t thrilled about it.
Oprah Winfrey to Blackstone, made its stock market debut yesterday, ending its first trading session with a valuation of about $13 billion. DealBook spoke with Oatly’s C.E.O., Toni Petersson, about the I.P.O. and what’s next for the company.
resignation letter offering both praise of SoftBank’s chief, Masa Son — and unusually pointed criticism of the company’s corporate governance.
Going out vs. staying in, charted
It’s been a while since we checked in on an alternative indicator of pandemic economic activity: the share price ratio of Clorox to Dave & Buster’s.
Wait, what? Nick Mazing, the director of research at the data provider Sentieo, came up with that metric to gauge the openness of the economy. The higher Clorox’s share price rises relative to Dave & Buster’s, the more people appear to be staying home and disinfecting everything than going out to crowded bars. By this measure, conditions have nearly returned to prepandemic levels — indeed, Dave & Buster’s recently lifted its sales forecast, as nearly all of its beer-and-arcade bars have reopened.
packed concert schedule, selling tickets to people who may have already binge-watched all of “Below Deck.” The second, however, suggests that people aren’t as eager to get back to huffing and puffing at the gym as they are content to exercise at home. As restrictions lift and people feel safer in crowds, drinking and dancing appear to be higher priorities.
new book, “Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgment,” the Princeton psychology professor and Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman, along with co-authors Olivier Sibony and Cass Sunstein, argue that these inconsistencies have enormous and avoidable consequences. Kahneman spoke to DealBook about how to hone judgment and reduce noise.
DealBook: What is “noise” in this context?
Kahneman: It’s unwanted and unpredictable variability in judgments about the same situations. Some decisions and solutions are better than others and there are situations where everyone should be aiming at the same target.
Can you give some examples?
A basic example is the criminal justice system, which is essentially a machine for producing sentences for people convicted of crimes. The punishments should not be too different for the same crime yet sentencing turns out to depend on the judge and their mood and characteristics. Similarly, doctors looking at the same X-ray should not be reaching completely different conclusions.
How do individuals or institutions detect this noise?
You detect noise in a set of measurements and can run an experiment. Present underwriters with the same policy to evaluate and see what they say. You don’t want a price so high that you don’t get the business or one so low that it represents a risk. Noise costs institutions. One underwriter’s decision about one policy will not tell you about variability. But many underwriters’ decisions about the same cases will reveal noise.
An arm of Goldman Sachs has raised $3 billion from clients to invest in later-stage start-ups. (WSJ)
SPACs have raised $100 billion this year through May 19, a record, but new fund listings dropped sharply last month. (Insider)
Politics and policy
President Biden issued an executive order directing government agencies to expand efforts to analyze and mitigate the economic risks tied to climate change. (Axios)
“As Paycheck Protection Program Runs Dry, Desperation Grows” (NYT)
CNN said the prime-time host Chris Cuomo inappropriately advised his brother, Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, on how to respond to sexual harassment allegations. (NYT)
Paul Romer was one of the tech industry’s favorite economists; now he is criticizing Silicon Valley giants for being too big. (NYT)
Amazon was recently pushed to ban prominent electronics accessory makers by the F.T.C. over fake-review schemes. (Recode)
Best of the rest
Bill Gates and Warren Buffett got more than 200 billionaires to pledge half their wealth to charity. Some are falling short, but still getting massive tax breaks. (Insider)
FIFA, the global soccer governing body, secretly considered supporting the European Super League, before reconsidering amid public outcry about the now-failed competition. (NYT)
Five questions to ask before you panic about inflation. (NYT)
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Storms, floods, wildfires — and to a lesser degree, conflict — uprooted 40.5 million people around the world in 2020. It was the largest number in more than a decade, according to figures published Thursday by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, a nonprofit group based in Geneva that tracks displacement data annually.
It was all the more notable as it came during the worst global pandemic in a century.
Extreme weather events, mainly storms and floods, accounted for the vast majority of the displacement. While not all of those disasters could be linked to human-induced climate change, the Center’s report made clear that global temperature rise, fueled by the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, “are increasing the intensity and frequency of weather-related hazards.”
Last May, Cyclone Amphan alone displaced five million people in Bangladesh and India, as it whipped across the Bay of Bengal, downed trees and power lines, and destroyed thousands of buildings. In Bangladesh, weeks later, torrential rains upstream swelled rivers, submerging a quarter of the country and taking away the assets of its people — their homes built of mud and tin, their chickens and livestock, their sacks of rice stored for the lean times.
two ferocious hurricanes, Eta and Iota, pummeled Central America in quick succession, washing away bridges, uprooting trees and causing widespread flooding and deadly mudslides. The 2020 hurricane season was the most active Atlantic hurricane season on record, with 30 named storms, 13 of them hurricanes.
In the United States, rising temperatures and sea level rise have made flooding more frequent, particularly along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, and the rate of that flooding is quickening, according to United States government researchers. At many locations, “floods are now at least five times more common than they were in the 1950s,” according to figures published recently by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Last year’s displacement numbers come as this year’s Atlantic hurricane season approaches. Scientists have projected the season will see above-normal storm activity.
Climate change has led to wetter storms because warmer air holds more moisture. And while the links between climate change and hurricanes are complex, recent research suggests that warming has made stalled Atlantic storms more common. That can be more destructive because they linger in one place for a longer period of time.
The largest numbers of displaced people, mostly weather-related, were in Asia, with five million in China, roughly 4.4 million each in Bangladesh and the Philippines, and 3.9 million in India. The United States recorded 1.7 million displacements. Conflict-related displacement was highest in the Democratic Republic of Congo at 2.2 million and Syria at 1.8 million.
Typically, these relative price changes are not a problem of macroeconomics — something best solved by the Federal Reserve (by raising interest rates) or Congress (by raising taxes) — but a problem of the microeconomics of those industries.
The core challenge of an economy emerging from a pandemic is that numerous industries are going through major shocks in demand and supply simultaneously. That means more big swings in relative price than usual.
Last year, relative price changes cut in both directions (prices for energy and travel-related services fell, while prices for meat and other groceries rose). But this spring, the overwhelming thrust is toward higher prices. There are fewer goods and services with falling prices to offset the rises.
Still, many of the most vivid and economically significant examples of price inflation so far, like for used cars, have unique industry dynamics at play, and therefore represent relative price changes, not economywide price rises. One important thing to watch is whether that changes — whether we start seeing uncomfortably high price increases more dispersed across the full range of goods and services.
That would be a sign that we were in a period not simply of an economy adjusting itself, but one of too much money chasing too little stuff.
One-off prices vs. long-term trends
Not all price changes have equal meaning for inflation. Much depends on what happens next.
If the price of something rises but then is expected to fall back to normal, it will act as a drag on inflation in the future. This often happens when there is a shortage of something caused by an unusual shock, like weather that ruins a crop. In an opposite example, in 2017 a price war brought down the price of mobile phone service, pulling down inflation. But when the price war was over, the downward pull ended.
On the other hand, a price that is expected to rise at exceptional rates year after year has considerably greater implications. Consider, for example, the multi-decade phenomenon in which health care prices rose faster than prices for most other goods, creating a persistent upward push on inflation.
HOUSTON — When OPEC barred oil exports to the United States in 1973, creating long gasoline lines, President Richard Nixon pledged an effort that would combine the spirit of the Apollo program and the determination of the Manhattan Project.
“By the end of this decade, we will have developed the potential to meet our own energy needs without depending on any foreign energy sources,” he said in a televised address.
His timing was off — it took more than 40 years — but the country has come pretty close to energy independence in recent years thanks to a surge in domestic shale oil and natural gas production and the harnessing of solar and wind energy.
That independence, however, is fragile. Last week, cars lined up at gas stations across much of the Southeast after the Colonial Pipeline was paralyzed by a cyberattack by a criminal group seeking a ransom. The electric grid is also coming under greater stress because of climate change. In the last year, a heat wave in California and a deep freeze in Texas forced rolling blackouts as demand for power outstripped supply.
panic buying rarely seen in decades produced shortages, and prices at the pump rose as much as 20 cents a gallon for regular gasoline in some states in a few days, according to AAA.
Mr. Yergin said that drivers who lined up at pumps to fill gas cans and even plastic bags made the situation worse. The impulse to hoard harkened back to the oil shocks of the 1970s and appeared to touch a chord in the national psyche.
“People remembered gas lines even though they weren’t born yet,” Mr. Yergin said.
Colonial Pipeline, a private company, resumed full operations over the weekend, but it will take at least several more days before many gas stations are restocked.
Energy companies will come under greater pressure from governments and investors to bulk up their defenses against cyberattacks, but those and other vulnerabilities will not be easily overcome, especially after years of underinvestment.
Upgrading the energy system will not be easy. Dozens of competing companies that operate a vast web of oil and gas wells and pumping stations, transmission lines and power plants will need coaxing to make their operations more resilient to weather and criminal attacks. Considerable funding will have to come from business and government, as well as research to keep ahead of the cybercriminals. President Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure plan devotes $100 billion to the transmission grid.
The quest for energy independence has never been a straight line, and there have been many unfortunate twists. Reliance on Middle East oil was a major consideration in military action and diplomatic strategy, including alliances with countries like Saudi Arabia with disturbing human rights records. A half-century ago, the country shifted from burning heating oil to relying more heavily on coal, which contributed to climate change.
But the search for energy independence also led to innovation. Fracking — the hydraulic fracturing of shale oil and natural gas deposits — not only slashed energy imports but also made the United States a major exporter. Suddenly oil and gas were not a national security vulnerability but a tool to further American interests.
nearly half of the transportation fuel needs of the region.
When hurricanes hit, and refineries on the Gulf shut down, gasoline and diesel prices tend to rise along the East Coast. Normally, that is not a huge problem because companies store lots of fuel close to where it is used and trucks and barges can usually make up the difference. This time, however, uncertainty about how long it would take to restore supplies made the Colonial Pipeline’s shutdown much more disruptive.
The ransomware attack was the work of DarkSide, an extortionist ring that has been responsible for scores of attacks on companies in several countries. But it is hardly the only group that infiltrates computer systems to extort money. Others go by names like REvil, Maze and LockBit.
“The technology moves so quickly, you solve one or two or twenty possible vulnerabilities in your computer systems and the hackers find a different way to get in.” said Drue Pearce, a former deputy administrator of the federal Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
The criminal groups represent a threat to industries beyond energy. But experts say energy is of particular concern because it is essential to a functioning economy. The peril is no less complex than reducing the United States’ reliance on foreign oil, said Bill Richardson, a former energy secretary.
“This is a new threat that we are not prepared for,” he said.
Macy’s said on Tuesday that its first-quarter sales jumped more than 50 percent from last year, when the start of the pandemic pulverized the retailer’s revenue, and it raised its forecast for sales and profit this year.
The company, which also owns Bloomingdale’s, reported $4.7 billion in sales for the three months that ended May 1, and a profit of $103 million. That compares with about $3 billion in sales and a net loss of $3.6 billion in the same period last year. Macy’s said it anticipated sales in the range of $21.7 billion to $22.2 billion this year, up from a previous forecast of somewhere between $19.8 billion and $20.8 billion.
Macy’s executives said on an earnings call that customers, buoyed by government stimulus were shopping again as the weather warmed up and vaccines have become more readily available. They are beginning to attend events after a year of isolation, and snapping up dresses for proms, casual get-togethers and weddings. Men’s tailored clothing is also seeing increases. Traffic is improving at Macy’s flagship stores, which lost visitors in the past year, though the company said it did not expect international tourism to recover until next year.
Department stores, which have already been under pressure in recent years, were battered by the pandemic as consumers postponed gatherings and avoided enclosed spaces. The news out of Macy’s was a positive for the retail sector, but the company’s first-quarter sales were still down about 15 percent from $5.5 billion in the same period of 2019. Macy’s made headlines recently after proposing the construction of a commercial office tower on top of its flagship Herald Square store in New York. The company said on the call on Tuesday that it expected the project would produce a “significant” amount of cash to support future plans.