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Jack Ma has shot action scenes with great martial artists, sang duets with pop stars and has appeared at corporate rallies as a glam rocker and as a masked Michael Jackson impersonator. He’s not a wallflower.
The speculation was rife after the prominent entrepreneur and co-founder of the Alibaba Group disappeared from the public eye late last year. He had criticized the Chinese regulators for their overly cautious stance on the country’s financial system, and the authorities took action against his business empire shortly thereafter. He then began to skip previously planned appearances, raising questions about his fate in China and the global news media.
Mr Ma now appears to be trying to calm the speculation.
On Wednesday he appeared in public for the first time since the end of October. He spoke at a livestream event honoring educators in China’s village schools. He didn’t address his problems, but said he would spend more time in philanthropic endeavors.
“During that time, my colleagues and I learned and thought,” he said, according to a transcript of his comments on the local news media. “We will throw ourselves more resolutely into the philanthropy of education.”
Mr. Ma, a former English teacher, said it was the responsibility of business people of his generation to work towards shared prosperity by revitalizing rural areas and developing village education. His speech was in line with his recent efforts to move away from Alibaba’s day-to-day activities and focus more on philanthropy, although he continues to have significant influence on his business empire.
His remarks were covered extensively in the state-run Chinese news media, which at least indicated that Beijing’s censorship machine approved of his remarks. His appearance made it easier for some investors, who gained around 9 percent in Alibaba’s Hong Kong-traded stocks in afternoon trading.
Mr. Ma, who led Alibaba from its founding in 1999 to its rise as one of the largest and most valuable technology companies in the world, has long been cautious of the Chinese government. Like many entrepreneurs in the country, he has forged ties with the Beijing Office to avoid regulatory issues.
However, the rise of Alibaba’s sister company Ant Group brought it increasingly into conflict with China’s state-dominated financial system. The Ant Group, which was once a subsidiary of Alibaba and provides services such as electronic payments and credit, now plays a huge role in the financial lives of many Chinese people. It had planned an IPO in Shanghai and Hong Kong late last year, which was widely expected to be the largest fundraiser of its kind.
In October, at a public event, Mr. Ma accused Chinese state-run banks of acting like “pawn shops” and the country’s financial regulators to limit innovation through risk obsession.
About a week later, the government stopped the Ant Group’s IPO and later ordered it to change its business practices. Then an antitrust investigation began against Alibaba.
In the midst of the official setback, Mr. Ma began to withdraw from previously planned appearances, including serving as a judge on a talent show he launched on the theme of African entrepreneurs. This sparked speculation, especially after severe penalties were imposed on other entrepreneurs who questioned the Chinese office.
Recognition…Anna Moneymaker for the New York Times
Republicans on Tuesday announced their opposition to President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s economic plans and urged Janet L. Yellen, his Treasury candidate, to defend a $ 1.9 trillion stimulus proposal that the more direct payments to individuals would allow unemployment benefits and money for states and cities.
The Republican opposition on the Senate Finance Committee during the confirmation hearing of Ms. Yellen underscored the challenge the future Biden administration will face in trying to get its proposal through Congress as it has one in the Senate and House of Representatives has tight control.
“We’re looking at another loss of spending,” said Senator Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania. “The only principle of organization that I can apparently understand is to spend as much money as possible, seemingly to spend it.”
Mr Toomey questioned Mr Biden’s plans to send more money to states and cities, a move Republicans opposed last year and which has been removed from the last round of stimulus talks to raise the $ 900 billion Dollar help win package. He also expressed concern about Mr. Biden’s proposed tax hikes and his request to raise the minimum wage to $ 15.
South Carolina Republican Senator Tim Scott took up Mr Biden’s call to raise the $ 7.25 minimum wage, arguing to Ms. Yellen that doing so would harm small businesses while they are vulnerable and result in more job losses.
Other Republicans complained that Biden’s economic plan was fiscally irresponsible given the country’s growing debt burden and the federal budget deficit that exceeded $ 3 trillion last year. Louisiana Republican Senator Bill Cassidy said Mr. Biden’s plan was not targeted enough and that it was not an efficient use of federal resources to provide additional direct payments of $ 1,400 to some people who have lost jobs.
Ms. Yellen dismissed her arguments point by point, arguing that doing too little to stimulate the economy would be more expensive in the long run. She said economic research has shown minimal job losses from raising the minimum wage, citing studies by neighboring states when one imposes an increase and the other does not.
She also argued that unemployment benefits, supplemented by an additional $ 400 per week under Mr. Biden’s plan, are not enough to address families’ financial troubles and that the $ 1,400 stimulus tests are important in situations where a person, generally a woman, is present, has left a job to look after children who are out of school.
“There are many families who face exceptional financial burdens that are not covered by unemployment benefits,” she said.
Ms. Yellen has given some assurances to Republicans who fear the Democrats will repeal the entire 2017 tax bill that cut taxes on individuals and businesses. She said that while Mr Biden would like to make changes to the law, including increasing the corporate tax rate, such measures are not an immediate priority.
“The focus right now is on providing relief and helping families keep a roof over their heads and food on the table, not on collecting taxes,” she said.
The revitalized paycheck protection program is off to a smoother and slower start than last spring, when desperate borrowers inundated banks with loan applications and overwhelmed government computer systems.
The program largely opened on Tuesday when the Small Business Administration, which manages the aid program, accepted applications from all lenders. The agency allowed a small group of lenders and small banks to submit their applications last week.
In the first week of the program, the agency approved around 60,000 applications from nearly 3,000 lenders, it said on Tuesday. These requests totaled $ 5 billion, consuming approximately 2 percent of the $ 284 billion the program makes available.
These numbers don’t include loan applications sent to the agency on Tuesday. This was the first day most lenders were allowed to submit loan applications. New fraud checks and other safeguards mean that most applications will take at least a day to get approval.
The program is open to both first-time and recurring borrowers: the hardest-hit small businesses, which have seen sales declined by at least 25 percent since the pandemic began, are eligible for a second loan.
Lenders said they are preparing for significant demand, particularly second-round loans. John Asbury, the executive director of Atlantic Union Bank in Richmond, Virginia, said he expected at least 60 percent of his bank’s 11,000 borrowers to return for another loan.
Finance officials have announced that funding for the program will be enough to meet all requests. Mr. Asbury hopes that’s true.
“We just don’t know how much rush we’re going to get,” he said. “We get a lot of calls.”
Recognition…Al Drago for the New York Times
Bed Bath & Beyond and Kohl’s said they would be dropping MyPillow products amid backlash to comments from Mike Lindell, the executive director of the bedding company, who promoted debunked conspiracy theories related to the election on social media.
Kohl’s and Bed Bath & Beyond acted after people put pressure on them on social media, according to an interview posted on a pro-Trump website called the Right Side Broadcasting Network on Monday. Mr Lindell, who said he spoke to Bed Bath & Beyond minutes before the interview, claimed, without citing any evidence, that the criticism came from fake reports.
Bed Bath & Beyond said Tuesday that its decision was based on the performance of MyPillow. “We have streamlined our range to discontinue a number of underperforming items and brands,” a representative said in a statement. A Kohl’s spokeswoman said “customer demand for MyPillow has declined” and that the chain had no plans to purchase future inventory after closing its offer.
Mr. Lindell, whose company is a major advertiser on Fox News, has become a prominent supporter of President Trump. He attracted a wave of attention last week after a photo of partially visible notes he carried into the White House showed a mention of the Insurrection Act. MyPillow also offered a “FightforTrump” discount code on the day of the Capitol Riots. On social media, groups like Sleeping Giants, formed to stifle advertising dollars for Breitbart News, have asked vendors for their support for MyPillow products.
Mr. Lindell railed against Sleeping Giants in the interview.
“These people don’t understand, they are scared,” said Mr. Lindell of Bed Bath & Beyond and Kohl’s. “They were good partners. In fact, I told them, come back whenever you want. “