Pacific Gas & Electric announced an ambitious plan on Wednesday to put 10,000 miles of its power lines underground to prevent the kind of wildfires that led the utility to bankruptcy court in 2019.
The project, which would involve about 10 percent of the lines currently above ground, could cost tens of billions of dollars to carry out.
The company, California’s largest electricity provider, said the work would aim first at areas most vulnerable to wildfires and expand throughout its service territory, which includes 5.5 million electric customers in Northern and Central California.
PG&E’s announcement followed a preliminary report over the last week to state regulators that its equipment may have caused the Dixie Fire, one of the state’s largest blazes, which has burned at least 85,000 acres. The fire is spreading in Butte County, where the utility’s equipment caused a fire that destroyed the town of Paradise and killed 85 people in 2018.
Although utilities across the country have increasingly moved their power lines underground, none have proposed a project on the scale of PG&E’s plan.
“We need you to know that we are working night and day to solve this incredible problem,” Patricia K. Poppe, chief executive of PG&E Corporation, the utility’s parent.
This year the company is putting 70 miles of lines underground, so increasing the work to 1,000 miles would be a leap. “That’s the moonshot,” Ms. Poppe said on a call with reporters. “It should be a shocking number because it’s a big goal.”
She said that the company had planned to make the announcement in a few months but that it had decided to do so now because of the growing public concern about fire safety.
Mark Toney, executive director of the Utility Reform Network, which represents consumers before the California Public Utilities Commission, said that reducing wildfire risk was a priority but that the utility must develop a plan that would fund the huge project without overburdening ratepayers. The project could cost $40 billion based on about $4 million per mile estimated for underground power line proposals that PG&E has submitted to state regulators, Mr. Toney said.
“We’d be living in a world where only the wealthy could afford electricity,” Mr. Toney said. “PG&E needs a plan to reduce the most risk possible at the least cost possible to ratepayers.”
Ms. Poppe said the utility hoped to get the per-mile expense down sufficiently to put the overall cost at $15 billion to $20 billion. “We can’t put a price on the risk reduction and safety,” she said.
The company said that it could install about a quarter-mile of power lines underground a day but that it aimed to increase that to 1,000 miles or more a year to prevent fires.
PG&E has been a focus of the impact of climate change since a series of record-setting wildfires began burning through Northern California in 2017, several of them caused by the utility’s equipment.
The utility has taken several steps to prevent fires, including installing equipment to monitor weather conditions and to allow lines to be shut off remotely. But the effectiveness of those efforts has increasingly come under question, particularly after the company reported that its equipment might have caused the Dixie Fire. The wildfire season has months to go before its peak.
State regulators and the courts have fined the utility billions of dollars for failing to maintain its equipment and causing fires. The company, which emerged from bankruptcy last year after amassing $30 billion in wildfire liability, pleaded guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter related to the Paradise fire.
It was the second felony conviction for the utility. In 2016, PG&E was found guilty of federal charges related to a gas pipeline explosion six years earlier in the San Francisco suburb of San Bruno that killed eight people.
Here's How Companies Are Responding to the Rise in Virus Cases
Companies are revisiting coronavirus precautions as cases rise across the United States, fueled by the Delta variant.
Lyft said on Wednesday that it would not require employees to return to the office until February, while Twitter said it would close its newly reopened offices in San Francisco and New York and indefinitely postpone other reopening plans.
Their actions follow announcements by authorities in California and New York City that they will require hundreds of thousands of government workers to get inoculations or face weekly testing. And President Biden is set to announce that all civilian federal workers must be vaccinated or submit to regular testing, social distancing, mask requirements and restrictions on most travel.
Apple will start requiring employees and customers to wear masks regardless of their vaccination status in more than half of its stores in the United States, it said on Wednesday, a new sign that shopping in the country may soon resemble earlier days of the pandemic.
Google will require employees who return to the company’s offices to be vaccinated against the coronavirus. It also said it would push back its official return-to-office date to mid-October from September. Google has more than 144,000 employees globally.
Netflix will require the casts of all its U.S. productions to be vaccinated, along with anyone else who comes on set. It’s the first studio to establish such a policy.
Facebook will require employees who work at its U.S. campuses to be vaccinated, depending on local conditions and regulations. Facebook, which has roughly 60,000 workers, said in June that it would permit all full-time employees to continue to work from home when feasible.
The Durst Organization, one of the largest private real estate developers in New York City, is requiring all of its employees in nonunion positions to be vaccinated by Sept. 6 or face termination. Durst has about 350 nonunion employees and about 700 union workers.
Inflation Is New Battle Line as Republicans and Biden Spar Over Spending
Republicans say President Biden’s spending plans will keep inflation rising, but the White House says the proposals could help tame costs.
WASHINGTON — Republicans have made Americans’ concerns over rising prices their primary line of attack on President Biden’s economic agenda, seeking to derail trillions of dollars in spending programs and tax cuts by warning that they will produce rocketing 1970s-style inflation.
They have seized on the increasing costs of gasoline, used cars, and other goods and services to accuse the president of stoking “Bidenflation,” first with the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill he signed in March and now with a proposed $3.5 trillion economic bill that Democrats have begun to draft in the Senate.
There are unusually large amounts of uncertainty over the path of inflation in the coming months, given the vagaries around restarting a pandemic-stricken economy. Yet even many economists who worry that high prices will linger longer than analysts initially expected say there is little reason to believe the problem will worsen if Mr. Biden succeeds in his attempts to bolster child care, education, paid leave, low-emission energy and more.
“There’s been a lot of fear-mongering concerning inflation,” Joseph E. Stiglitz, a liberal economist at Columbia University, said on Tuesday during a conference call to support Mr. Biden’s economic plans. But the president’s spending proposals, he said, “are almost entirely paid for.”
“If they are passed as proposed,” he added, “there is no conceivable way that they would have any significant effect on inflation.”
The debate over the effects of the proposals “has nothing to do with the current angst over inflation,” said Mark Zandi, a Moody’s Analytics economist who has modeled Mr. Biden’s plans.
Still, rising inflation fears have forced the president and his aides to shift their economic sales pitch to voters. The officials have stressed the potential for his efforts to lower the cost of health care, housing, college and raising children, even as they insist the current bout of inflation is a temporary artifact of the pandemic recession.
The administration’s defense has at times jumbled rapid price increases with inflation-dampening efforts that could take years to bear fruit. And officials concede that the president recently overstated his case on a national stage by claiming incorrectly that Mr. Zandi had found his policies would “reduce inflation.”
The economics of the inflation situation are muddled: The United States has little precedent for the crimped supply chains and padded consumer savings that have emerged from the recession and its aftermath, when large parts of the economy shut down or pulled back temporarily and the federal government sent $5 trillion to people, businesses and local governments to help weather the storm. The economy remains seven million jobs short of its prepandemic total, but employers are struggling to attract workers at the wages they are used to paying.
But the political danger for Mr. Biden, and opportunity for Republicans who have sought to derail his plans, is clear.
The price index that the Federal Reserve uses to track inflation was up nearly 4 percent in May from the previous year, its fastest increase since 2008. Republicans say it is self-evident that more spending would further inflame those increases — a new rationale for a longstanding conservative attack on the vast expansion of government programs that Mr. Biden is proposing.
Nine out of 10 respondents to a new national poll for The New York Times by the online research firm Momentive, which was previously known as SurveyMonkey, say they have noticed prices going up recently. Seven in 10 worry those increases will persist “for an extended period.” Half of respondents say that if the increases linger, they will pull back on household spending to compensate.
Administration officials acknowledge that inflation worries are softening consumer confidence, including in the University of Michigan’s survey of consumer sentiment, even as the economy rebounds from recession with its strongest annual growth rate in decades.
The issue has given Mr. Biden’s opponents their clearest and most consistent message to attack an agenda that remains popular in public opinion polls.
“There’s no question we have serious inflation right now,” Senator Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, told CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. “There is a question about how long it lasts. And I’m just worried that the risk is high that this is going to be with us for a while. And the Fed has put itself in a position where it’s going to be behind the curve. You combine that with massively excess spending, and it is a recipe for serious problems.”
Some Republicans say a portion of Mr. Biden’s spending plans would not drive up prices — particularly the bipartisan agreement he and senators are negotiating to invest nearly $600 billion in roads, water pipes, broadband and other physical infrastructure. But the party is unified in criticizing the rest of the president’s proposals in a way that many economists say ignores how they would actually affect the economy.
Some of the proposals would distribute money directly and quickly to American consumers and workers — by raising wages for home health care workers, for example, and continuing an expanded tax credit that effectively functions as a monthly stipend to all but the highest-earning parents. But they would also raise taxes on high earners, and much of the spending would create programs that would take time to find their way into the economy, like paid leave, universal prekindergarten and free community college.
Some conservative economists worry that the relatively small slice of immediate payments would risk further heating an already hot economy, driving up prices. The direct payments in the proposals “would exacerbate pre-existing inflationary pressures, put additional pressure on the Fed to withdrawal monetary policy support earlier than it had planned, and put at risk the longevity of the recovery,” said Michael R. Strain, an economist at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.
Other economists in and outside the administration say those effects would be swamped by the potential of the spending programs like paid leave to reduce inflationary pressure.
“The economics of these investments strongly belies the Republican critique because these are investments that will yield faster productivity growth, greater labor supply, the expansion of the economy’s supply side — which very clearly dampens inflationary pressures, not exacerbates them,” Jared Bernstein, a member of Mr. Biden’s Council of Economic Advisers, said in an interview.
Administration officials pivoted their sales pitch on the president’s agenda last week to emphasize the potential for his plans to reduce prices.
Mr. Biden’s agenda is “about lowering costs for families across the board,” Mike Donilon, a senior adviser at the White House, told reporters. He said officials believed they were in “a strong position” against Republican attacks on inflation, in part by citing Mr. Zandi’s recent analysis. The president also referred to that analysis last week during a forum in Ohio on CNN, saying it had found that his proposals would “reduce inflation.”
The Moody’s analysis did not say that; instead, it found that some of Mr. Biden’s spending plans could help relieve price pressures several years from now. It specifically cited proposals to build additional affordable housing units nationwide, which could help hold down rents and housing prices and reduce the cost of prescription drugs.
White House officials concede that Mr. Biden overstated the analysis but point to more measured remarks in a speech this month, when he said his plans would “enhance our productivity — raising wages without raising prices.”
Will the Delta Variant Wreck the Recovery?
Probably not. But there are potential challenges with both supply and demand that put the economy at risk.
The good economic news, when it comes to the ascendant Delta variant of the coronavirus, is that it puts the economy at risk in only two ways. The bad news: They are supply and demand.
So far, the recovery remains robust by most available data. Real-time indicators of business activity show little evidence that Americans are pulling back their economic activity in any meaningful way.
But while there is no reason to expect a repeat of the huge disruption of 2020, the new variant puts at risk the kind of rapid recovery that has been underway for months. Just as major parts of the economy were figuring out how to return to full functioning, this may amount to throwing sand in the gears.
The emergence of the variant has already caused several wobbly days on Wall Street. And the chairman of the Federal Reserve, Jerome Powell, is likely to face questions about the economic implications of Delta in a news conference Wednesday afternoon after a meeting of the Fed’s policy committee.
At the White House, officials are monitoring the variant closely, but see no evidence that it is hurting the recovery — or that policymakers will need to inject another dose of short-term fiscal stimulus anytime soon.
“Overall it looks like the risks are considerably diminished compared to the height of the crisis,” said Kathy Bostjancic, chief U.S. financial economist at Oxford Economics. “But I do think you have to worry about the macroeconomic risks, and our experience over the last 18 months has shown that.”
As economists and policymakers game out the nature of those risks, what stands out is not the chance of a major shutdown. Instead, the concerns are the constraints on the availability of workers and on the supply and demand for many services.
On the supply side, there are already severe disruptions in many supply chains, especially those that rely on goods imported from Asia. These create ripple effects for the United States, such as a shortage of computer chips that is in turn hindering automobile production and contributing to high inflation.
Many Asian nations — especially those behind the curve on vaccinating their populations — are putting in lockdowns to try to stop the spread of the Delta variant, which threatens to make those shortages and price spikes worse.
“We had already expected that semiconductor shortages would continue into 2022, and that’s virtually assured now,” said Sara Johnson, the executive director of global economics for I.H.S. Markit. She noted that new restrictions were limiting production activity in countries including Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia.
A more domestically focused supply-side risk comes with the U.S. labor supply.
Employers have been complaining about labor shortages, and if the renewed risk of illness makes even vaccinated adults reluctant to enter or re-enter the work force, those shortages could worsen.
That is particularly true if schools were to return to remote learning — even for brief periods — making it all the harder for parents to work.
“What happens if you have a flare-up?” Ms. Bostjancic said. “Do you shut school for a week? That’s very disruptive to parents who want to return to the labor force.”
On the demand side, there is some comfort in the seemingly robust spending from American consumers, who are flush with accumulated savings from the pandemic, federal stimulus dollars and rising wages.
The consumer confidence index rose slightly in July, the Conference Board said Tuesday, suggesting that the emergence of the variant has so far done no major damage to consumers’ willingness to spend.
There is even a perverse twist that could reduce the variant’s impact on demand for things like restaurant meals and concert tickets. The rate of infection has remained relatively low in places with high vaccination rates. In the places where infections are skyrocketing, public sentiment tends to be overwhelmingly against anything resembling a lockdown.
Still, as noted by two Bank of America economists, Stephen Juneau and Anna Zhou, Michigan saw a pullback in consumer spending on services during its surge of infections earlier this year, even absent formal restrictions on activity.
“So far we have seen little evidence of the Delta variant significantly affecting economic activity or spending on services,” they wrote in a recent research note. “However, survey data point to increased hesitancy of being in physical locations and concerns over the virus.”
That could prove particularly relevant in a few segments of the economy that have been slowest to recover from the pandemic recession.
Many white-collar employers have been on the verge of bringing workers back to offices. If those plans change because of the variant, offices and downtown streets risk staying emptier for longer, implying less demand for office space and downtown restaurant meals.
There is a similar story in the business travel sector, which has lagged leisure travel in returning to health. Will conferences and trade shows return with the kind of robust attendance many hotels, convention centers and event planners have been hoping for?
One particularly tricky thing is that the solution to these potential economic ripples lies in the public health arena. If the recovery stalls, fiscal and monetary policy are unlikely to play much of a constructive role. Already, enough money is flowing through the economy to make overheating and inflation a top-of-mind concern.
There may be a demand shortfall for very specific things, like sandwiches from a downtown restaurant or rooms in a convention center hotel. But it is hard to argue in the summer of 2021 that there is much risk of inadequate aggregate demand.
White House officials say vaccinations over the past several months — and strong support from the federal government for people and businesses — have set the foundation for the economy to maintain momentum even as Delta spreads. And they believe consumers will react differently this time to the spreading virus.
In past waves, people who worried about a higher risk of contracting Covid-19 could either assume that risk and keep up their normal economic activities, or pull back spending in places like retail stores and restaurants. Now, the officials say, spooked consumers have a third choice. They can get vaccinated and largely maintain their typical routines — or, if they’re already vaccinated, just keep spending the way they have been.
All of that means that the policy response to the Delta variant, as for Covid all along, relies more heavily on getting the best possible public health outcomes, with conventional economic policy a secondary concern.
Just when it seemed that the pandemic policy story was finally winding down, in other words, it is starting to repeat itself.
Jim Tankersley contributed reporting.
Share Your Stories About Returning to Work if You Don’t Sit at a Desk
Millions of Americans are returning to work at hospitals, retail stores, restaurants and schools. For a short series, we are soliciting stories from those workers about their concerns and hopes for the future.
Millions of Americans are preparing for a return to the office. But millions more are returning to work at hospitals, retail stores, restaurants, schools and other non-office jobs (or office support jobs). For a short series, we are soliciting stories from those workers about their concerns and hopes for the future.
If you are one of them, please share your stories and thoughts below. We may feature them in our return to work series. We will not publish any part of your submission without contacting you first.
Is Jeff Bezos Really an Astronaut?
Blue Origin pinned custom astronaut wings to his flight suit. The Federal Aviation Administration may disagree. Or it may not even matter.
Say you’re Jeff Bezos.
You’re the richest person in the world. You’ve spent billions of dollars starting up a rocket company that has just launched you and three others high enough that everyone agrees you reached outer space, even if just for a few minutes.
Are you now an astronaut?
The answer appears to be no, at least in the eyes of the Federal Aviation Administration, which last week revised its definitions on whom it considers to be an astronaut.
But for Richard Branson, the billionaire who went to space a week earlier on a rocket plane operated by Virgin Galactic, a company he founded, the answer might be yes.
The advent of the age of space tourism brings along a question of semantics: Is the word “astronaut” something that describes where someone has been — outer space — or is it a job description like pilot or sailor?
After all, NASA employs astronauts who are still waiting for their first trip off Earth. And flying in economy class from New York to Los Angeles does not qualify you as a pilot.
The F.A.A. established its commercial astronaut wings program in 2004, spurred by the X Prize. That competition offered $10 million for the first nongovernmental entity to launch a reusable spacecraft to space with people on board — defined as reaching an altitude of 62 miles, the international definition of where space begins — and then do it again within two weeks.
The winning design was a space plane called SpaceShipOne, and the F.A.A. bestowed the first commercial astronaut wings on Michael Melvill and Brian Binnie, the pilots who flew the two winning SpaceShipOne flights.
To qualify for the F.A.A.’s distinction, a person had to reach an altitude of 50 miles — reflecting the earlier United States Air Force practice — and one had to be considered as part of “the flight crew,” which the federal agency defines as:
any employee or independent contractor of a licensee, transferee, or permittee, or of a contractor or subcontractor of a licensee, transferee, or permittee, who performs activities in the course of that employment or contract directly relating to the launch, re-entry, or other operation of or in a launch vehicle or re-entry vehicle that carries human beings.
Everyone else who goes to space is, in the F.A.A.’s view, just a “spaceflight participant,” not an astronaut.
After the wings were awarded to Mr. Melvill and Mr. Binnie, the F.A.A. did not award any other commercial astronaut wings until 2019, to Mark Stucky and Frederick W. Sturckow, the two pilots of Virgin Galactic’s larger successor of SpaceShipOne, aptly named SpaceShipTwo. Two other Virgin Galactic pilots received wings on the next SpaceShipTwo flight, as did Beth Moses, the company’s chief astronaut instructor, who evaluated the crew cabin.
By contrast, the New Shepard spacecraft built by Mr. Bezos’ company, Blue Origin, is entirely automated, and all that the passengers had to do is enjoy the up-and-down ride last Tuesday, which lasted not much more than 10 minutes.
Thus, Mr. Bezos and the other three passengers — his brother Mark; Mary Wallace Funk, an 82-year-old aviation pioneer; and Oliver Daemen, an 18-year-old Dutch student — appear to fall short of the criteria to be classified as flight crew and may not be eligible for the F.A.A. astronaut wings. (That didn’t stop the foursome from having custom astronaut wings pinned to their flight suits last Tuesday.)
The crew definition, however, was vague enough that one could wonder whether a passenger could qualify as a contractor, and whether some of what they did could fall under the “other operation” part of the definition of crew.
On the same day that Mr. Bezos made his trip to space, the F.A.A. added a new requirement for the astronaut wings: “Demonstrated activities during flight that were essential to public safety, or contributed to human spaceflight safety.”
A statement from the agency explains, “The F.A.A. has now changed the focus to recognize flight crew who demonstrate activities during flight that were essential to public safety, or contributed to human spaceflight safety, among other criteria. This change aligns more directly to the F.A.A.’s role to protect public safety during commercial space operations.”
The New Shepard passengers do not appear to have performed such activities. A Blue Origin spokeswoman declined to say whether the company would nominate Mr. Bezos and the other passengers for the F.A.A. commercial astronaut wings.
A Virgin Galactic spokesman said the company has started the paperwork to obtain F.A.A. commercial astronaut wings for Mr. Branson and the other two first-time space fliers on the July 11 Virgin Galactic flight. Virgin Galactic is making the case that they were crew members, performing tasks to evaluate how the spacecraft experience will feel for future customers, although the company is still assessing the implications of the revised criteria.
The revised F.A.A. criteria also, for the first time, creates honorary commercial astronaut wings “to individuals who demonstrated extraordinary contribution or beneficial service to the commercial human spaceflight industry.”
The honorary awardees would not have to meet all of the usual requirements.
In the end, it may not matter what the government thinks.
Both Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin have each created their own astronaut pins to bestow on customers, who are likely to pay at least hundreds of thousands of dollars per flight.
In addition, an international organization of past and present astronauts, the Association of Space Explorers, has created pins to recognize everyone who goes to space. One design — an up-and-down chevron topped with a five-pointed star — is for people who go on short suborbital flights. For those who reach orbit, there’s a variation, adding a circle that indicates they have been around the planet.
About six years ago, Michael López-Alegría, then president of the association’s United States chapter, and Andrew Turnage, the group’s executive director, started discussing the idea of such pins.
NASA has given pins to its astronauts since the earliest days of the space program.
“But none of the other agencies have anything like that,” Mr. López-Alegría said. “So we thought about something, you know, as a universal pin, because that seems only fair that other countries ought to have something to wear as well.”
The association sidestepped the “astronaut” quandary by using the term “space travelers” instead. “There’s some variety of opinions within the membership and we shied away from using the word ‘astronaut’ on the certificates that accompany these pins,” Mr. López-Alegría said.
He presented one of the suborbital pins to Beth Moses of Virgin Galactic after her first flight.
Mr. López-Alegría, a former NASA astronaut, already owns a surfeit of astronaut paraphernalia. He has one of the Association of Space Explorers pins. He has the NASA pin, as well as wings as a Navy officer turned astronaut that he wore on his military uniform. “I have those, but I haven’t worn a Navy uniform since I’ve retired,” he said.
And he could get one of the F.A.A. commercial astronaut wings next year. Mr. López-Alegría, vice president of business development at Axiom Space, a Houston company arranging trips by private citizens to the International Space Station, will be the commander of the first of Axiom’s missions, scheduled to launch in January.
Mr. López-Alegría, for one, would like the more expansive definition of astronaut, that it encompasses everyone who has left Earth’s atmosphere, even if just for a few minutes.
“There’s lots of different kinds of astronauts,” he said. “Private astronauts, national astronauts, company astronauts, whatever. But they’re all astronauts.”
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C.D.C. Warns of Superbug Fungus Outbreaks in 2 Cities
For the first time, the C.D.C. identified several cases of Candida auris that were resistant to all drugs, in two health facilities in Texas and a long-term care center in Washington, D.C.
A deadly, hard-to-treat fungal infection that has been spreading through nursing homes and hospitals across the United States is becoming even more dangerous, according to researchers, who for the first time have identified several cases in which the fungus, Candida auris, was completely impervious to all existing medication.
The finding, released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is an alarming development in the evolution of C. auris, a tenacious yeast infection discovered in Japan in 2009 that has since spread across much of the world.
Federal health officials say the bug has spread even more widely during the coronavirus pandemic, with overwhelmed hospitals and nursing homes struggling to keep up with the surveillance and control measures needed to contain local outbreaks.
In the new report, the C.D.C. said, five of more than 120 cases of C. auris were resistant to treatment.
The C.D.C. did not identify the facilities where the novel infections took place, but health officials said there was no evident link between the outbreaks, which occurred in Texas at a hospital and a long-term care facility that share patients, and at a single long-term care center in Washington, D.C. The outbreaks took place between January and April.
Nearly a third of the infected patients died within 30 days, according to the C.D.C., but because they were already gravely ill, officials said it was unclear whether their deaths were caused by the fungus.
Over the past eight years, the C.D.C. has identified more than 2,000 Americans colonized with C. auris — meaning the fungus was detected on their skin — with most cases concentrated in New York, New Jersey, Illinois and California. Between 5 and 10 percent of those colonized with the pathogen go on to develop more serious bloodstream infections.
Once it gains a foothold, the fungus is difficult to eliminate from health care facilities, clinging to cleaning carts, intravenous poles and other medical equipment. While relatively harmless to those in good health, the yeast infection can be deadly to seriously ill hospital patients, residents of long-term care facilities and others with weakened immune systems.
“If you wanted to conjure up a nightmare scenario for a drug-resistant pathogen, this would be it,” said Dr. Cornelius J. Clancy, an infectious diseases doctor at the VA Pittsburgh Health Care System. “An untreatable fungus infection would pose a grave threat to the immunocompromised, transplant recipients and critically ill patients in the I.C.U.”
While C. auris has long been notoriously hard to treat, researchers for the first time identified five patients in Texas and Washington, D.C., whose infections did not respond to any of the three major classes of antifungal medication. So-called panresistance had been previously reported in three patients in New York who were being treated for C. auris, but health officials said the newly reported panresistant infections occurred in patients who had never received antifungal drugs, said Dr. Meghan Lyman, a medical officer at the C.D.C. who specializes in fungal diseases.
“The concerning thing is that the patients at risk are no longer the small population of people who have infections and are already being treated with these medications,” she said.
Infectious disease specialists say the coronavirus pandemic has probably accelerated the spread of the fungus. The shortages of personal protective equipment that hobbled health care workers during the early months of the pandemic, they say, increased opportunities for the fungus’s transmission, especially among the thousands of Covid-19 patients who ended up on invasive mechanical ventilation.
The chaos of recent months also did not help. “Infection control efforts at most heath care systems are stretched thin in the best of times, but with so many Covid patients, resources that might have gone to infection control were diverted elsewhere,” Dr. Clancy said.
For many health experts, the emergence of a panresistant C. auris is a sobering reminder about the threats posed by antimicrobial resistance, from superbugs like MRSA to antibiotic-resistant salmonella. Such infections sicken 2.8 million Americans a year and kill 35,000, according to the C.D.C.
Dr. Michael S. Phillips, chief epidemiologist at NYU/Langone Health, said health systems across the country were struggling to contain the spread of such pathogens. The problem, he said, was especially acute in big cities like New York, where seriously ill patients shuttle between nursing homes with lax infection control and top-notch medical centers that often draw patients from across a wider region.
“We need to do a better job at surveillance and infection control, especially in places where we put patients in group settings,” he said. “Candida auris is something we should be concerned about, but we can’t lose sight of the bigger picture because there are a lot of other drug-resistant bugs out there we should be worried about.”
Hosting the Olympics Is a Bad Deal
Even in normal times, the Games don’t pay off, argues the economist Andrew Zimbalist.
Andrew Ross Sorkin and
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Yesterday’s Olympic opening ceremony was a year behind schedule and took place in a nearly empty stadium, during a state of emergency. The Games, which most residents of Japan would have preferred to postpone again or cancel, will be unusual at the least — and a public health disaster at the worst.
But the large amount of money that Tokyo will burn by hosting the event fits right in with the financial bonfires still burning at many former Olympic locations.
Tokyo initially said it would spend $7.3 billion, but a 2019 government audit put the actual spending at around $28 billion.
Every Olympics since 1960 has run over budget, at an average of 172 percent in inflation-adjusted terms, according to an analysis by researchers at Oxford University. They concluded that this was “the highest overrun on record for any type of megaproject,” far exceeding roads, bridges, dams and other major undertakings.
For the 2016 Summer Games, Rio de Janeiro budgeted $14 billion and spent an estimated $20 billion, according to data collected by the Council of Foreign Relations. Sochi, Russia, budgeted $10.3 billion for the 2014 Winter Olympics and spent more than $51 billion. And London, the summer host in 2012, aimed for $5 billion and spent $18 billion.
Another study, published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, examined how rosy projections of the Games’ economic impact — usually commissioned by organizations with an interest in their city’s hosting the spectacle — stacked up to reality. It concluded that actual effects “are either near-zero or a fraction of that predicted prior to the event.”
Few researchers have studied the business of the Olympics more than Andrew Zimbalist, a professor at Smith College who has published three books about the economics of the Olympics. His research has led him to raise questions about the value to cities of hosting the Olympics — and influenced some cities to back away from bidding. He believes Tokyo has spent more on the Olympics than the 2019 government audit estimated and expects the Games to lose at least $35 billion.
“They’re going to be white elephants,” he said of many of the newly built Olympic buildings and venues. “The reason why they didn’t exist before the Olympics is because there was no economically viable use for them.”
DealBook spoke with Mr. Zimbalist about why he believes hosting the Olympics, even in normal times, is a money-pit for cities — and why they end up competing to host them anyway. He also has a clever solution to fix it all.
How do Olympic cities end up spending billions of dollars?
The budget put out by the organizing committee is for operating the Games for 17 days. In addition to the 17 days, in recent years they’ve also started to include some other expenses, like temporary venues. The figure they are using for Tokyo is about $15 billion. It doesn’t include the building of the national stadium, the construction of the Olympic Village, the media village. It also doesn’t include any of the transportation, communication and hospitality infrastructure investments that were made in order to host the Games. The number itself is very fungible depending on what you want to include.
Where else does the money go?
The security budget will be somewhere around $2 billion. Then there is transportation for the 205 Olympic teams that are coming to Tokyo. The International Olympic Committee pays for all the flights for them to get to Tokyo.
If you look at the bid document, the I.O.C. requires a lot of hospitality expenditures — Thomas Bach and John Coates and others to stay at fancy hotels and their meals. You’ve got to pay for the 11,000 athletes and their coaches and trainers who were in the Olympic Village. You have to pay for their lodging, food, health care and so on. And another thing that’s there, by the way, is the $3 billion that it costs them to postpone.
Why are cities still bidding for the Olympics if, as you argue, the economics are so bad?
If you go back four or five Olympic Games, consistently you have several European cities dropping their bids because of a plebiscite or their residents voted, “No, we don’t want to do this.” They’re looking at the balance sheet, which is overwhelmingly negative. They’re looking at the social and environmental disruption, which is extremely problematic.
What the I.O.C. has done in response to that is introduce a few tepid reforms. One of which is putting all the bidding behind closed doors. They’re sick and tired of being embarrassed by cities dropping out. So the process is now secretive.
But some cities still do want to do this, right?
The main answer is that you have the construction industry executives deciding that this would be a wonderful thing for their industry. They’re going to get billions of dollars of contracts. They can line up, of course, the trade unions, and some investment bankers. They hire a consulting firm to do an economic impact study, which uses a faulty methodology and makes some unrealistic assumptions. And they come out with “By golly, this is going to put our city on the map.”
So this is about misalignments?
If, say, Deloitte were to come out, having been hired by a chamber of commerce, and say, “This is a crazy idea. Your city should never do this,” they are never going to do another economic impact study for a megastar sport event. So this is their modus operandi.
What about the $4 billion the I.O.C. gets from broadcasters?
Individual members don’t make anything, except that they’re treated to hospitality. The I.O.C. has an immense and elaborate operating structure with all sorts of subcommittees and subagencies. So their operating costs are quite substantial. It’s probably somewhere in the order of 15 percent of their total revenues over a four-year Olympic cycle.
Do you think the broadcasting rights will gain or lose value in the future?
Well, are we going to start betting on the Olympic Games? Certainly the Supreme Court decision invalidating the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act is an indication that sports betting is going to hit all of the sports leagues. This could be a big revenue-generating item for broadcasting rights fees.
The next Olympic Games will be in Beijing this winter. How do you expect it to fare?
I imagine there’s an enormous amount of political pushback to the I.O.C. for having selected Beijing. Of course, they only had a choice between Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan. It was a Hobson’s choice.
Will Beijing make money?
They’re doing some really crazy, crazy things. They’ve selected two venues 60 and 120 miles to the north of Beijing to host the Nordic and Alpine skiing events. Both of those areas are arid — not far from the Gobi Desert. They have to invest tens of billions of dollars in a water transfer system because they’re going to have to use artificial snow. None of that’s going to appear in the Olympic budget. It’s extremely stupid to spend that kind of money to promote skiing in the north of China when it’s not a very popular sport. They admitted to spending $44 billion for the 2008 Summer Games.
How much are the Olympics about countries and cities demonstrating political power?
It’s hard for me to imagine that President Xi thinks that this is going to put Beijing on the map. One of the things we learned in 2008 was that Beijing was horrifically polluted, and we learned much more about repression in China because of the Games’ being broadcast.
So why did Japan bid?
Back in 1964, one of the things that Japan was so happy about when it hosted the Olympics was their opportunity to say to the world: “We’re not part of the Axis powers anymore. We’re a young, growing capitalist society.” To some extent it worked, because they were transforming dramatically.
When they bid in 2013, they promulgated these ideas within Japan: “We were going to be able to show the world that we have recovered from Fukushima and that the economic miracle — which stopped in the early 1990s and was followed by three decades of stagnation — that we’re now over that.”
You’ve identified lots of problems. Do you have a solution?
If we were living in a rational world, we would have the same city hosting the Games every two years. There’s no reason to rebuild the Olympic Shangri-La every four years. It doesn’t make sense for the cities. It certainly makes no sense from the standpoint of climate change. When the modern Olympics were created in 1896, we didn’t have international telecommunications and international jet travel. So in order to have the world participate in and enjoy the Olympics, you had to move it around. We don’t have to do that anymore.
Do you think the I.O.C. would ever do that?
They are not going to respond positively to that idea. Their role in the world and their prestige in the world, and their definition of themselves, revolve around their power to decide where the Olympics are going to happen. Why would they give up that power?
What about the feel-good part of the Olympics? Don’t you buy the argument that the Olympics bring the world together?
I like some of the symbolism of the Olympics. I’m not sure how penetrating it is, but I like the idea that you bring the world’s best athletes together from 205 countries, and you have them compete against each other on the playing field rather than on the battlefield. That resonates for me. I like it. Now, how far does that take us? I don’t think very far. It’s very expensive symbolism.
What do you think? Are the Olympics good or bad for the cities that host them? Let us know: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Laura Foreman, Reporter Whose Romance Became a Scandal, Dies at 76
The disclosure of her relationship with a source while at The Philadelphia Inquirer ended her journalism career and prompted the paper to develop an ethics code.
Laura Foreman, a reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer in the 1970s, was surely not the first journalist to become romantically involved with a source. But she was among the first to have that romance, with a powerful politician, blow up into a public scandal.
By the time the affair was disclosed — and The Inquirer learned that the politician had given her more than $20,000 worth of gifts, including jewelry, furniture and a fur coat, and helped her buy a 1964 Morgan sports car — she was working in the Washington bureau of The New York Times. The disclosure cost Ms. Foreman her job and her journalism career at 34. It gave The Inquirer a black eye. And it led the paper to adopt one of the first ethics policies in what was still a largely freewheeling, unprescribed profession.
The politician, State Senator Henry J. Cianfrani, who was known as Buddy, went to jail on unrelated charges of corruption. He was released in 1979, and he and Ms. Foreman were married in 1980.
While Mr. Cianfrani successfully regained his status as a ward leader in South Philadelphia, Ms. Foreman, a quick and facile writer with a literary bent, went to work for Time-Life Books in Alexandria, Va. She was the author of more than 40 volumes, many of them centered on historical figures or true crimes. She and Mr. Cianfrani later went their separate ways, but were still married when he died in 2002 at 79.
Ms. Foreman, The Times learned recently, died on June 4, 2020, at her home in Memphis. She was 76. She had written in her will that she did not want a funeral or memorial service and had directed that her ashes be scattered in the Mississippi River. There was no obituary. The Times confirmed her death through public records and with friends. One friend, Paul R. Lawler, the executor of her estate, said the cause of death was uterine cancer.
Laura Virginia Foreman was born on June 11, 1943, in Anniston, Ala., about 60 miles east of Birmingham. Her mother, Virginia (Sims) Foreman, was a homemaker. Her father, Wilmer L. Foreman, who was known as Bill, was a journalist. He worked at small papers in Alabama, including The Baldwin Times in Bay Minette, and The Atmore Advance, where he was editor and publisher, as well as at The Columbus Commercial Dispatch in Mississippi, where he was editor.
He was a naval officer during World War II and in 1948 moved the family to Memphis, where he worked in public relations and advertising.
Laura went to Emory University in Atlanta, where she studied English literature and was a member of the Delta Delta Delta sorority. After graduating in 1965, she worked for two years as a public relations supervisor for the Southern Bell Telephone Company in Atlanta.
She began her journalism career in 1967 as a reporter for The Associated Press in New Orleans, a city she loved and returned to often. After a few months, she worked briefly at the A.P. headquarters in New York before being transferred to Atlanta. She resigned in 1969 and moved back to New Orleans, where she joined United Press International.
While covering the South, she crossed paths with Eugene L. Roberts Jr., then the chief Southern and civil rights correspondent for The Times. Mr. Roberts later became the editor of The Inquirer, where he hired Ms. Foreman as a features reporter in 1973. The next year he named her the paper’s political writer, the first woman to hold that title in The Inquirer’s 145-year history.
“She was a very talented political reporter, one of the best I have ever known,” Mr. Roberts, who became managing editor of The Times after he left The Inquirer, said by email.
Her focus was Philadelphia’s 1975 mayoral race, in which the brash and cocky incumbent, Frank L. Rizzo, the city’s former police commissioner, was seeking a second term.
One of Mr. Rizzo’s close allies was Mr. Cianfrani, a longtime ward boss who became chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and one of Pennsylvania’s most influential lawmakers. A streetwise power broker, he was a natural source and occasional subject for the new political writer.
Rumors began circulating that the two were involved romantically, but Ms. Foreman denied them, and the editors discounted them.
She went to The Times in January 1977, arriving in Washington with the new Carter administration. Her writing sparkled. In advance of a visit by President Jimmy Carter to Yazoo City, Miss., she wrote that the city “straddles a subtle cultural fault line between the older, harrier folkways of the hardscrabble hills and the lustier civilization that flourished closer to the Mississippi.” Her literary debt to Edith Wharton, one of her favorite authors, was evident in a light feature article she wrote from a soggy social event in Virginia: “Rain pooled in the brim of Tom Ryder’s black derby, pouring in a miniature waterfall on to his nose, where it dispersed in steady driblets on to his stopwatch.”
But her promising start at The Times exploded eight months later. The Inquirer reported in August 1977 that Ms. Foreman had been questioned by the F.B.I. as part of an investigation into Mr. Cianfrani. It said she had been romantically involved with him and that she had accepted his expensive gifts while she was covering politics. Nonetheless, the article noted, editors had examined her past work and had found it to be fair and accurate.
“I don’t believe I have done anything wrong,” Ms. Foreman told The Inquirer in a statement. “I may have done something injudicious. Certainly, I do not believe I ever wrote anything for The Inquirer which violated my own professional integrity.”
The Times told her she had to resign, even though the conduct in question had occurred at another paper. The Times, in fact, said initially that her work had comported with the highest ethical standards. But according to an account that Ms. Foreman wrote in The Washington Monthly in 1978, A.M. Rosenthal, The Times’s executive editor, told her that because the paper was writing tough stories at the time about conflicts of interest involving Bert Lance, a close Carter adviser, it couldn’t very well harbor a conflict of its own.
To others, Mr. Rosenthal uttered an unforgettable comment that has been rendered several different ways but in essence said that he didn’t care if his reporters were having sex with elephants — as long as they weren’t covering the circus.
In Philadelphia, Mr. Roberts, the Inquirer editor, appointed the paper’s top investigative team of Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele to dig into the affair. They produced a 17,000-word article, published on Oct. 16, 1977, that exposed internal rivalries at the paper and found that editors had looked the other way to protect a favored reporter, Ms. Foreman. It was among the first instances of a newspaper turning its investigative artillery on itself.
Mr. Roberts soon asked the managing editor, Gene Foreman — no relation to Laura — to prepare a comprehensive ethics code, something few newspapers had in that era. The new code required staff members to report potential conflicts to their managers and to take action to remove any conflict, by changing beats, for example. It also banned the widespread practice of accepting “freebies” from sources and others in their news coverage.
The point was to avoid even the appearance of a conflict, Mr. Foreman, author of “The Ethical Journalist,” a college text first published in 2009, said in a phone interview.
The case prompted a torrent of stories in the news media about the news media itself. Some critics saw a double standard for men and women. Male reporters, wrote Richard Cohen, a columnist for The Washington Post, “have been having affairs with women they cover for as long as there have been reporters, women and spare time.” And yet, he added, no man had even been chastised for it.
As Ms. Foreman’s world collapsed, Mr. Cianfrani, at the peak of his power, was indicted by a federal grand jury on 110 counts of racketeering, bribery, obstruction of justice and tax evasion. He pleaded guilty, was sentenced to five years in federal prison and was out on parole after 27 months. He divorced his estranged wife in 1979 and on July 14, 1980, Mr. Cianfrani, 57, and Ms. Foreman, 37, were married in Falls Church, Va., where she lived.
Staying in the Washington area, Ms. Foreman re-established herself at Time-Life Books.
“I hired her as a writer/editor at Time-Life Books because her abilities were unmistakable,” George Constable, the managing editor at the time, said in an email. “She was a big talent — very perceptive, wise about all sorts of things, an excellent writer and an extremely nice and interesting person.”
Ms. Foreman, who at one point supervised a staff of about 20 people at Time-Life, also freelanced for Discovery Publishing, which produced illustrated books to accompany television specials, and for other publishers. Her work included “Cleopatra’s Palace: In Search of a Legend” (1999), a detailed portrait of Egypt’s famous queen; and “Napoleon’s Lost Fleet” (1999, with Ellen Blue Phillips), an account of the 1798 Battle of the Nile.
“She could just tell a story with such seeming effortlessness and was a very fast writer,” Rita Mullin, editorial director of Discovery Publishing, said in a phone interview. “I knew she would get a manuscript to me on time and it would require very little work.”
Ms. Foreman left for New Orleans in the 1990s. “She found the house of her dreams in the French Quarter and knew she could support herself by freelancing, which she did,” Ms. Phillips, a friend from Time-Life, said by phone. Ms. Foreman also moved her ailing father from Memphis into a nursing home nearby.
But after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005, she, along with her father and her pets, moved back to Memphis. Her father died in 2008. She is survived by Mr. Cianfrani’s daughters and grandchildren.
During the last few years of her life, Ms. Foreman developed a romantic relationship with a retired lawyer in Nashville, according to a mutual friend who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
After the man died, his former wife and Ms. Foreman became good friends, and she was with Ms. Foreman at her death.
On a sunny day, the woman and her family took Ms. Foreman’s ashes to Mud Island in Memphis and scattered them on the Mississippi.
Susan C. Beachy contributed research.
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