Starbucks’s ‘full-scale racial equity overhaul’ will take more than an afternoon, outside review says

One month after Starbucks closed 8,000 stores for racial-bias training for 175,000 employees, two of the curriculum’s advisers laid out a new set of recommendations for how one of the world’s most dominant companies can further address diversity, equity and inclusion.

In a report published Monday, Heather McGhee, distinguished senior fellow of the public policy organization Demos, and Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-council of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, outlined how Starbucks and other companies could achieve a “full-scale racial equity overhaul.” While McGhee and Ifill served as pro bono advisers on Starbucks’s May 29 training, they conducted the report independently and in consultation with dozens of organizations and experts, from racial and religious groups to legal and policy centers.

“It’s really important that we wrote this report with an audience of Starbucks, but also with an audience of other corporations that might want to take steps to address racism in their company,” McGhee said. “Because not everybody is going to have 40 conversations, and we wanted to make sure that this broader audience understood what some of the key principles are in designing a training like that.”

McGhee and Ifill wrote that in the weeks leading up to the training, Starbucks would have to — and did — make clear to employees that the May 29 training marked the start of a long-term, companywide commitment to diversity and inclusion. Moreover, McGhee and Ifill wrote that the April arrests of Donte Robinson and Rashon Nelson had to be framed within the broader context of the historical discrimination against black people in public spaces.

[Starbucks arrests: Who gets to decide whether you’re a patron or a trespasser?]

The report also acknowledged swift changes to Starbucks’s policy in the wake of the arrests in Philadelphia, including that customers didn’t have to make a purchase to sit in stores or use the restroom, as well as new guidelines for when employees should call 911. Starbucks also announced 12 additional months of training for managers and employees.

Still, McGhee and Ifill noted that “there is a drawback to the speed with which the company has developed the plan of action” and recommended that Starbucks spend time identifying which specific practices employees should develop in future trainings.

McGhee told The Washington Post that other incidents at Starbucks stores, including an anti-Latino slur written on a customer’s cup, “in some ways provided enough evidence that there was a problem.”

“You have to take a racial-equity lens to all parts of the business, and that’s a science,” McGhee said. “That involves data and assessments and monitoring and evaluation, and most importantly goal setting. So if they don’t know exactly what the dimensions are of bias and inequity in the corporation’s culture, then how can they develop training to address that?”

Asked specifically about Starbucks’s pace in crafting future trainings, Alisha Damodaran, a spokeswoman for Starbucks, said the company appreciated the report’s acknowledgment that Starbucks acted quickly after the arrests “and with an unequivocal commitment to address bias and discrimination.” She said the content for future training is being designed with input from experts and feedback from employees after May 29.

[Starbucks’s racial-bias training has another goal]

“We also agree with the importance of being deliberate and will consider carefully all of the inputs we have received and continue to receive as we determine how to take next steps,” Damodaran said.

The report laid out detailed recommendations for Starbucks’s long-term initiatives, including a broad civil rights audit of company policies and practices, from racial diversity at all staff levels to contractors throughout the supply chain. The report also included recommendations from Nelson and Robinson to, among other steps, create a customer bill of rights that would be posted at the entrance of all stores.

Nelson and Robinson called on Starbucks to adopt the recommendations in McGhee and Ifill’s report and “to undertake a comprehensive overhaul of its business practices.” In consultation with their attorneys, Nelson and Robinson worked with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law to craft their own recommendations for Starbucks, which included sponsoring an SAT and college prep program for public school students in Philadelphia and developing a internal complaint process to investigate customer complaints of discrimination.

“What happened to us shouldn’t happen to anyone,” Robinson said. “While we cannot change the events of April 12, we are committed to doing what we can to increase opportunities in our community and to prevent other African Americans from being profiled at Starbucks or any other business. This report is an important first step.”

McGhee and Ifill called on Starbucks to apply its “third place” policy to communities nationwide, including by considering the effects stores have on gentrification and policing. The report noted a 2015 Zillow study that found that Starbucks stores contributed to an increase in local home prices. The report also tied gentrification and displacement to how police respond to changing neighborhood demographics, especially in communities of color.

The report recommended Starbucks work with experts on fair policing to learn more about discriminatory policing and engage with local community groups to discuss the relationships between those communities and the police.

[What Starbucks could learn from this Washington restaurateur about race at work]

Also on Monday, Starbucks published a news release on lessons from the May 29 training and what is still to come. The release said that the first of the new monthly trainings will debut later this summer and focus on understanding the effects of discrimination and making decisions to confront bias. Stores will not close for future training, but employees will be encouraged and expected to complete them. Six of the training sessions will target managers and above, and six will apply to all employees.

Before and after May 29, Starbucks surveyed employees on racism and other issues and will use the responses from 9,000 baristas, shift supervisors and store managers to craft its long-term plans. The company is also planning a conference for more than 15,000 store managers next year to discuss bias and how to be more inclusive.

“It’s not solely diversity training,” said Roz Brewer, Starbucks’s chief operating officer, in the release. “We’re addressing issues around leadership. We’re offering new tools.”

Trump stands firm on trade, even as foreign tariffs begin kicking in

President Trump defiantly stood by his tariffs on Sunday as Canada hit back hard, Mexico elected a new leader who seems prepared to confront him, and the European Union issued a scathing condemnation of his policy as “in effect, a tax on the American people.”

Instead of backing down, Trump brushed off the mounting pressure from businesses and world leaders to scale back the taxes before they cause additional job losses and slower economic growth.

This week will be a critical test of Trump’s resolve as Canada on Sunday imposed tariffs on $12.6 billion of U.S. products and China is set to levy high tariffs on $34 billion worth of American goods, including soybeans, on Friday, the same day that Trump plans to tax an additional $34 billion worth of Chinese items.

The additional taxes make it harder for U.S. companies and farmers to sell some items abroad, and they raise costs on many products used in U.S. manufacturing. But Trump shrugged off fears that the tariffs will hurt the economy.

“Every country is calling every day, saying, ‘Let’s make a deal, let’s make a deal.’ It’s going to all work out,” Trump said Sunday, echoing his remarks earlier in the year that trade wars are “easy to win.”

Despite Trump’s rhetoric, concerns are growing that Trump’s appetite for tariffs only appears to be expanding as trade tensions escalate. Many who argued that Trump was just threatening tariffs as a negotiating tactic and would never let the skirmish intensify are now saying they may have miscalculated.

Trump said in an interview on Fox News’s “Sunday Morning Futures” that the European Union is just as bad as China on trade and that he didn’t intend to sign a new North American Free Trade Agreement deal until after the midterm elections in November.

“The European Union is possibly as bad as China, just smaller,” Trump said Sunday, pointing to the “car situation.”

The E.U. sent Trump’s Commerce Department an 11-page document on Friday threatening that the global community would put tariffs on up to $290 billion of U.S. products if Trump moves forward with tariffs on foreign autos, according to a copy obtained by The Washington Post.

“Protective measures would undermine U.S. growth, negatively impact job creation, and not improve the trade balance,” E.U. leaders wrote, adding that auto tariffs would “damage further the reputation of the United States.”

Trump is now engaged in trade fights with most of the world’s major economies, including China, the European Union and Japan. Although Trump speaks periodically with leaders from these nations, formal trade talks have stalled with most of them as the two sides remain far apart and foreign countries say Trump’s wishes are unclear.

“NAFTA, I could sign it tomorrow, but I’m not happy with it. I want to make it more fair, okay?” Trump said, adding that “I want to wait until after the election” to sign it.

The election of leftist leader Andrés Manuel López Obrador as president of Mexico is likely to decrease prospects for signing a revised NAFTA by the end of the year. Many foreign leaders, including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, are getting overwhelming support at home for standing up to Trump, making quick deals even less likely.

“This is a really dangerous path we’re going down,” said Chad Bown, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “Warning Trump doesn’t seem to be enough. It may actually take the costs of these things to show up before he can be convinced of it.”

Iconic American brands such as Harley-Davidson, General Motors and Polaris have warned in recent days that they intend to move production overseas and potentially lay off workers if Trump doesn’t end the tariffs. Harley has already made the decision to shift some production abroad, which led to multiple angry tweets from the president.

The pressure on Trump is increasing as the negative effects many have warned him about are starting to be realized. The largest nail manufacturer in the United States, Mid-Continent Nail, has laid off 60 workers and said it might be out of business by Labor Day.

“If the trade rhetoric and uncertainty continues, it will be very, very bad for the market and for the midterm election and other elements of the president’s strategy,” said Anthony Scaramucci, a longtime investor and close ally of the president’s. “There’s been a seismic change in psychology in the markets in the last four to six weeks.”

But Trump has shown few signs of pulling back, saying last week that the tariffs have been “incredible” and are “doing great.” Instead, he is calling for additional tariffs on China and on imported cars, a move that would hurt Europe, Japan and South Korea.

Trump asked his staff to prepare a bill that would give him the ability to skirt many World Trade Organization rules that have been in place since 1995 and helped lower tariffs and protect trade, according to a report by Axios.

Congress is unlikely to pass the legislation — or even consider it — because it would give even more authority to the president on trade matters, but the draft legislation is another indication of how Trump is ready to blow up the global economic framework that past U.S. presidents of both parties spent years building.

Trump is especially upset at how the WTO treats China, according to a person familiar with the president’s thinking who was not authorized to speak publicly. Despite being the world’s second-largest economy, China is still considered a developing nation in the eyes of the WTO, which allows China to have higher trade barriers than developed countries.

Trump has fairly widespread support for pushing China on trade concessions. But his tariffs on steel and aluminum from U.S. allies and potentially on autos are backed mainly by parts of the manufacturing sector that argue they have been put at a disadvantage for years. Supporters of the tariffs contend that any short-term pain will be worth it in the end and that the impact so far is small.

“I view this as a step in the process to get better agreements,” said Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing. “We have an economy doing well, very low unemployment, manufacturing indicators that continue to be quite positive. The size and scope of tariffs is quite limited when you consider we have a $19 trillion economy.”

At the moment, the United States has imposed tariffs on about $42 billion worth of imports, and foreign nations have retaliated at about the same level. Those figures will jump significantly as Trump and China impose more tariffs on each other, and it would escalate by hundreds of billions if Trump goes forward with import taxes on cars.

General Motors warned Friday that Trump’s tariffs and the retaliation from other nations would force GM to cut jobs and put it at a disadvantage against foreign competitors. But Trump argued that the only consequence would be that more cars would be built in the United States.

“What’s going to really happen is there’s going to be no tax. You know why? They’re going to build their cars in America. They’re going to make them here,” Trump said.

Some experts now think the only way Trump will change his approach is if there’s a major drop in the stock market or economy.

“It will probably take a significant pullback in the stock market to get Trump to back down,” said Scott Lincicome, a trade lawyer and adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank. “The Dow and S&P 500 have leveled off, but they are still pretty high since the election, something Trump is proud of.”

Emails reveal close rapport between top EPA officials, those they regulate

On the morning of April 1, 2017, Environmental Protection Agency appointee Mandy Gunasekara welcomed to her office a team of lobbyists representing the makers of portable generators.

For months, the Portable Generators Manufacturers’ Association had been trying to block federal regulations aimed at making its product less dangerous. The machines — used by many Americans during power outages after severe storms — emit more carbon monoxide than cars and cause about 70 accidental deaths a year.

Just before President Barack Obama left office, the Consumer Product Safety Commission had approved a proposal that would require generators to emit lower levels of the poisonous gas. Now industry lobbyists were warning Gunasekara of “a potential turf battle . . . brewing” between the commission and the EPA, which traditionally regulates air emissions from engines.

Less than six weeks later, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt sent a letter informing Ann Marie Buerkle, the commission’s acting chair, that his agency had primary jurisdiction over the issue. Just over three months later, Buerkle signaled she might reassess mandatory regulations and described the industry’s work toward voluntary standards as “very promising.”

The communication between the lobbyists and one of Pruitt’s top policy aides — detailed in emails the agency provided to Democratic Sens. Bill Nelson (Fla.) and Thomas R. Carper (Del.) — open a window on the often close relationship between the EPA’s political appointees and those they regulate. Littered among tens of thousands of emails that have surfaced in recent weeks, largely through a public records lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club, are dozens of requests for regulatory relief by industry players. Many have been granted.

In March 2017, for example, a lobbyist for Waste Management, one of the nation’s largest trash companies, wrote to two top EPA appointees seeking reconsideration of “two climate-related rules” affecting business. (Another lobbyist “sings your praises,” she told the pair.) The EPA subsequently delayed a rule targeting methane emissions from landfills until at least 2020.

Less than six weeks later, a representative of the golf industry wrote Samantha Dravis, then-associate EPA administrator for the Office of Policy, that “our guys” had been “amazed at the marked difference between our meeting today and the reception at EPA in years” past. The chief executive of the World Golf Association later sent his own email reminding Dravis of “our specific interest in repeal of the Clean Water Rule” — a rule the agency is now reviewing.

And in June 2017, Michael Formica, a lawyer for the National Pork Producers Council, sent a note “from my SwinePhone” thanking Gunasekara and other senior Pruitt aides “for your efforts to help address the recent air emission reporting issues facing livestock agriculture.” The EPA later revamped its guidelines so that pork, poultry and dairy operations do not have to report on potentially hazardous air pollutants arising from animal waste.

EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said many of these groups “were dealing with the costly consequences of President Obama’s policies that expanded federal overreach while doing little for the environment.”

Any rule changes underway, he added in an email, received “robust public comment” and have been developed “consistent with administrative law and the rulemaking process” with the goal of improving the environment.

Others are far less enthusiastic about the EPA’s performance under Pruitt — including what appears to be an “open-door policy towards the industries they are supposed to be regulating,” said Brendan Fischer, director of federal reform at the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan public watchdog group. “As these emails show, when lobbyists ask top EPA officials to jump, the answer is often ‘how high.’ ”

On some occasions, top EPA officials pushed back on the idea that they would automatically grant industry’s requests: In a sharply worded Aug. 21 email, Dravis told a lobbyist from ConocoPhillips that “no one committed” to relaxing a rule on small incinerators at the oil and gas company’s request. Career staff, she added, had raised concerns about the move.

Although the vast majority of the emails focused on industry concerns, Pruitt aides also tried to reach out to environmentalists, including Natural Resources Defense Council attorney John Walke and Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp.

Walke, however, was unimpressed. “Scott Pruitt is at EPA only to serve the interests of polluting industries,” he said when asked about the overture. “A few token meetings with environmental groups cannot hide his destructive agenda.’’

EPA’s shifting stand on portable generators has proven particularly consequential. The Consumer Product Safety Commission had spent years examining whether to impose mandatory emissions requirements, concluding in late 2016 that the industry could not be trusted to lower emissions on its own. After Pruitt intervened, Buerkle announced last August that the commission would explore the voluntary standards being developed by the industry trade association even as rulemaking on the other front technically continued.

“Staff is obligated to proceed,” a spokeswoman for the commission said Sunday.

It is now working with the National Institute of Standards and Technology to evaluate two voluntary standards that would require a generator’s engine to shut off when carbon monoxide levels get too high.

“I don’t think anyone can deny that safer generators will now be produced,” Bracewell senior principal Edward Krenik, who represents the industry, said in an email Sunday. He noted that the shift is happening “voluntarily and without protracted litigation, which would have delayed any change.”

The safety consulting and certification company UL has proposed a more restrictive limit that would require the generators to emit lower levels of carbon monoxide overall — and shut off much sooner.

In May, Buerkle wrote Nelson and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) to stress how, “thanks to many years of effort by the CPSC staff and generator manufacturers, safer portable generators are coming to market soon.” However, given that older machines remain in use, she wrote, “it is crucial to keep emphasizing the message that portable generators must be kept outdoors and as far from open windows and doors as possible.”

Despite aggressive public-information campaigns by federal and local officials on that point, carbon monoxide poisoning incidents remain a serious problem. The Florida Poison Information Center Network recorded 509 patients last year, compared with 327 in 2016 and 276 in 2015.

After Hurricane Irma, Nelson said in a statement, “at least 12 people died and many more were injured by carbon monoxide poisoning from portable generators in Florida.”

Nelson went on to accuse Buerkle and Pruitt of colluding “with industry and outside lobbyists to actually kill mandatory safety standards. It’s one of the worst examples of the fox guarding the henhouse I have seen, and it’s just shameful.”

Brady Dennis and Andrew Ba Tran contributed to this report.

Crash and burn. Watch Japanese entrepreneur’s unmanned rocket launch end in a huge fireball

TOKYO — Talk about crash and burn. A rocket developed by a controversial Japanese entrepreneur burst into flames and crashed to earth in a fireball over the weekend.

The MOMO-2 rocket was developed by Interstellar Technologies, a startup that was partially crowd-funded and aims to lower the cost of space flight. Its founder is Takafumi Horie, a colorful Internet entrepreneur and convicted fraudster, who says he wants to start by putting small satellites into space and ultimately, like U.S. entrepreneurs Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, send private citizens into space.

But his second major launch ended in spectacular failure on Saturday morning, according to Kyodo News. The 30-foot rocket was supposed to reach 60 miles into space: instead it barely managed to lift off before flames started to shoot from its base and it crashed back down to earth.

The crash, at a test site near the town of Taiki in Japan’s Hokkaido island, caused no injuries. It was the second failure for the startup after engineers lost contact with the first rocket 66 seconds after it launched last July. MOMO-1 fell into the sea after reaching a height of around 12 miles, the Nikkei Asian Review reported at the time.

In a Facebook post, Interstellar Technologies apologized for failing to meet the expectations of the hundreds of people who had traveled to Taiki town to watch the dawn launch, but said it would continue to “challenge the universe.”

Horie’s own career achieved spectacular lift-off when he dropped out of college to launch the internet portal Livedoor in 1995, becoming a symbol of a new, modern entrepreneur in Japan and an icon for many young people.

He flouted convention by wearing T-shirts rather than the conventional shirt and tie, but also raised eyebrows with his flashy lifestyle, driving a silver-blue Ferrari and owning a racehorse carrying his nickname Horiemon — due to his supposed resemblance to the manga-anime robotic cat Doraemon. He is the author of several bestselling books with titles such as “The One Who Makes Money Wins.”

He once branded Japan’s establishment a “club of old men,” but his attempts to shake-up the status quo were often thwarted — a bid to buy a baseball team and a hostile takeover of a major media conglomerate were both blocked, and his attempt to stand for parliament as an independent reform candidate in 2005 ended in defeat.

Horie’s career eventually crashed to earth when he was convicted of securities fraud in 2007 and served 21 months in prison. Unlike Musk and Bezos, whose personal fortunes have backed their space ambitions, funds have been running low for Horie’s Interstellar Technologies, forcing him to partially crowd-fund his latest launch, according to the Nikkei Asian Review.

“Regretfully, it was a pitiful rocket failure this time,” Horie posted on Twitter. “But, we have already started running to the next step. The view from the control room right before the launch was this beautiful. I want to launch it successfully against this beautiful sky next time!”

‘A way of monetizing poor people’: How private equity firms make money offering loans to cash-strapped Americans

The check arrived out of the blue, issued in his name for $1,200, a mailing from a consumer finance company. Stephen Huggins eyed it carefully.

A loan, it said. Smaller type said the interest rate would be 33 percent.

Way too high, Huggins thought. He put it aside.

A week later, though, his 2005 Chevy pickup was in the shop, and he didn’t have enough to pay for the repairs. He needed the truck to get to work, to get the kids to school. So Huggins, a 56-year-old heavy equipment operator in Nashville, fished the check out that day in April 2017 and cashed it.

Within a year, the company, Mariner Finance, sued Huggins for $3,221.27. That included the original $1,200, plus an additional $800 a company representative later persuaded him to take, plus hundreds of dollars in processing fees, insurance and other items, plus interest. It didn’t matter that he’d made a few payments already.

“It would have been cheaper for me to go out and borrow money from the mob,” Huggins said before his first court hearing in April.

Most galling, Huggins couldn’t afford a lawyer but was obliged by the loan contract to pay for the company’s. That had added 20 percent — $536.88 — to the size of his bill.

“They really got me,” Huggins said.

Mass-mailing checks to strangers might seem like risky business, but Mariner Finance occupies a fertile niche in the U.S. economy. The company enables some of the nation’s wealthiest investors and investment funds to make money offering high-interest loans to cash-strapped Americans.

Mariner Finance is owned and managed by a $11.2 billion private equity fund controlled by Warburg Pincus, a storied New York firm. The president of Warburg Pincus is Timothy F. Geithner, who, as treasury secretary in the Obama administration, condemned predatory lenders. The firm’s co-chief executives, Charles R. Kaye and Joseph P. Landy, are established figures in New York’s financial world. The minimum investment in the fund is $20 million.

Dozens of other investment firms bought Mariner bonds last year, allowing the company to raise an additional $550 million. That allowed the lender to make more loans to people like Huggins.

“It’s basically a way of monetizing poor people,” said John Lafferty, who was a manager trainee at a Mariner Finance branch for four months in 2015 in Nashville. His misgivings about the business echoed those of other former employees contacted by The Washington Post. “Maybe at the beginning, people thought these loans could help people pay their electric bill. But it has become a cash cow.”

The market for “consumer installment loans,” which Mariner and its competitors serve, has grown rapidly in recent years, particularly as new federal regulations have curtailed payday lending, according to the Center for Financial Services Innovation, a nonprofit research group. Private equity firms, with billions to invest, have taken significant stakes in the growing field.

Among its rivals, Mariner stands out for the frequent use of mass-mailed checks, which allows customers to accept a high-interest loan on an impulse — just sign the check. It has become a key marketing method.

The company’s other tactics include borrowing money for as little as 4 or 5 percent — thanks to the bond market — and lending at rates as high as 36 percent, a rate that some states consider usurious; making millions of dollars by charging borrowers for insurance policies of questionable value; operating an insurance company in the Turks and Caicos, where regulations are notably lax, to profit further from the insurance policies; and aggressive collection practices that include calling delinquent customers once a day and embarrassing them by calling their friends and relatives, customers said.

Finally, Mariner enforces its collections with a busy legal operation, funded in part by the customers themselves: The fine print in the loan contracts obliges customers to pay as much as an extra 20 percent of the amount owed to cover Mariner’s attorney fees, and this has helped fund legal proceedings that are both voluminous and swift. Last year, in Baltimore alone, Mariner filed nearly 300 lawsuits. In some cases, Mariner has sued customers within five months of the check being cashed.

The company’s pace of growth is brisk — the number of Mariner branches has risen eightfold since 2013. A financial statement obtained by The Post for a portion of the loan portfolio indicated substantial returns.

Mariner Finance officials declined to grant interview requests or provide financial statements, but they offered written responses to questions.

Company representatives described Mariner as a business that yields reasonable profits while fulfilling an important social need. In states where usury laws cap interest rates, the company lowers its highest rate — 36 percent — to comply.

“The installment lending industry provides an important service to tens of millions of Americans who might otherwise not have safe, responsible access to credit,” John C. Morton, the company’s general counsel, wrote. “We operate in a competitive environment on narrow margins, and are driven by that competition to offer exceptional service to our customers. . . . A responsible story on our industry would focus on this reality.”

Regarding the money that borrowers pay for Mariner’s attorneys, the company representatives noted that those payments go only toward the attorneys it hires, not to Mariner itself.

The company declined to discuss the affiliated offshore company that handles insurance, citing competitive reasons. Mariner sells insurance policies that are supposed to cover a borrower’s loan payments in case of various mishaps — death, accident, unemployment and the like.

“It is not our duty to explain to reporters . . . why companies make decisions to locate entities in different jurisdictions,” Morton wrote.

Through a Warburg Pincus spokesman, Geithner, the company president, declined to comment. So did other Warburg Pincus officials. Instead, through spokeswoman Mary Armstrong, the firm issued a statement:

“Mariner Finance delivers a valuable service to hundreds of thousands of Americans who have limited access to consumer credit,” it says. “Mariner is licensed, regulated, and in good standing, in all states in which it operates and its operations are subject to frequent examination by state regulators. Mariner’s products are transparent with clear disclosure and Mariner proactively educates its customers in every step of the process.”

Over the past decade or so, private equity firms, which pool money from investment funds and wealthy individuals to buy up and manage companies for eventual resale, have taken stakes in companies that offer loans to people who lack access to banks and traditional credit cards.

Some private equity firms have bought up payday lenders. Today, prominent brands in that field, such as Money Mart, Speedy Cash, ACE Cash Express and the Check Cashing Store, are owned by private equity funds.

Other private equity firms have taken stakes in “consumer installment” lenders, such as Mariner, and these offer slightly larger loans — from about $1,000 to more than $25,000 — for longer periods of time.

Today, three of the largest companies in consumer installment lending are owned to a significant extent by private equity funds — Mariner is owned by Warburg Pincus; Lendmark Financial Services is held by the Blackstone Group, which is led by billionaire Stephen Schwarzman; and a portion of OneMain Financial is slated to be purchased by Apollo Global, led by billionaire Leon Black, and Varde Partners.

These lending companies have undergone significant growth in recent years. To raise more money to lend, they have sold bonds on Wall Street.

“Some of the largest private equity firms today are supercharging the payday and subprime lending industries,” said Jim Baker of the Private Equity Stakeholder Project, a nonprofit organization that has criticized the industry. In some cases, “you’ve got billionaires extracting wealth from working people.”

Exactly how much Mariner Finance and Warburg Pincus are making is difficult to know.

Mariner Finance said that the company earns a 2.6 percent rate of “return on assets,” a performance measure commonly used for lenders that measures profits as a percentage of total assets. Officials declined to share financial statements that would provide context for that number, however. Banks typically earn about a 1 percent return on assets, but other consumer installment lenders have earned more.

The financial statements obtained by The Post for “Mariner Finance LLC” indicate ample profits. Those financial statements have limitations: “Mariner Finance LLC” is one of several Mariner entities; the statements cover only the first nine months of 2017; and they don’t include the Mariner insurance affiliate in Turks and Caicos. Mariner Finance objected to The Post citing the figures, saying they offered only a partial view of the company.

The “Mariner Finance LLC” documents show a net profit before income taxes of $34 million; retained earnings, which include those of past years, of $145 million; and assets totaling $561 million. Two independent accountants who reviewed the documents said the figures suggest a strong financial performance.

“They are not hurting at least in terms of their profits,” said Kurt Schulzke, a professor of accounting and business law at Kennesaw State University, who reviewed the documents. “They’ve probably been doing pretty well.”

As treasury secretary, Geithner excoriated predatory lenders and their role in the Wall Street meltdown of 2007. Bonds based on subprime mortgages, he noted at the time, had a role in precipitating the panic.

“The financial crisis exposed our system of consumer protection as a dysfunctional mess, leaving ordinary Americans way too vulnerable to fraud and other malfeasance,” Geithner wrote in his memoir, “Stress Test.” “Many borrowers, especially in subprime markets, bit off more than they could chew because they didn’t understand the absurdly complex and opaque terms of their financial arrangements, or were actively channeled into the riskiest deals.”

In November 2013, it was announced that Geithner would join Warburg Pincus as president. Months earlier, one of the firm’s funds had purchased Mariner Finance for $234 million.

Under the management of Warburg Pincus, Mariner Finance has expanded briskly.

When it was purchased, the company operated 57 branches in seven states. It has since acquired competitors and opened dozens of branches. It now operates more than 450 branches in 22 states, according to company filings.

Twice last year, Mariner Finance raised more money by issuing bonds based on its loans to “subprime” borrowers — that is, people with imperfect credit.

To get a better idea of business practices at this private company, The Post reviewed documents filed for state licensing, insurance company documents, scores of court cases, and analyses of Mariner bond issues by Kroll Bond Rating Agency and S&P Global Ratings; obtained the income statement and balance sheet covering most of last year from a state regulator; and interviewed customers and a dozen people who have worked for the company in its branch locations.

Mariner Finance has about 500,000 active customers, who borrow money to cover medical bills, car and home repairs, and vacations. Their average income is about $50,000. As a group, Mariner’s target customers are risky: They generally rank in the “fair” range of credit scores. About 8 percent of Mariner loans were written off last year, according to a report by S&P Global Ratings, with losses on the mailed loans even higher. By comparison, commercial banks typically have suffered losses of between 1 and 3 percent on consumer loans.

Despite the risks, however, Mariner Finance is eager to gain new customers. The company declined to say how many unsolicited checks it mails out, but because only about 1 percent of recipients cash them, the number is probably in the millions. The “loans-by-mail” program accounted for 28 percent of Mariner’s loans issued in the third quarter of 2017, according to Kroll. Mariner’s two largest competitors, by contrast, rarely use the tactic.

Mariner generally targets people who have imperfect credit scores, according to the bond rating agencies. After a mailed check is cashed by a recipient, a Mariner rep follows up and solicits more information about the borrower — this helps in collections — and sometimes proposes additional lending. About half of the loans that begin with an unsolicited check are later converted into conventional loans.

“Our customer satisfaction rates with this product are exceptional,” wrote Morton, the company’s general counsel. He said that only about .02 percent of the mailed loan accounts lead to complaints.

Ten of the 12 former employees whom The Post contacted, however, expressed qualms about the company’s sales practices, describing an environment where meeting monthly goals seemed at times to rely on customer ignorance or distress. Those interviewed worked in branches across five states where Mariner is especially active: Virginia, Maryland, Tennessee, Pennsylvania and Florida.

“I didn’t like the idea of dragging people down into debt — they really make it a big deal to call and collect and not take no for an answer,” said Asha Kabirou, 28, a former customer service representative in two Maryland locations in 2014. “If someone started to fall behind on their payments — which happened a lot — they would say, ‘Why don’t we offer you another $200?’ But they wouldn’t have the money the next month, either.”

“Were there a few loans that actually helped people? Yes. Were 80 percent of them predatory? Probably,” said one former branch manager who was at the company in 2016. He spoke on the condition of anonymity, saying he did not want to antagonize his former employer. “I’m still embarrassed by some of the things I did there.”

“The company is here to make money — I understand that,” said Mauricio Posso, 28, who worked at a Northern Virginia location in 2016 and said he viewed it as valuable work experience. “At the same time, it’s taking advantage of customers. Most customers do not read what they get in the mail. It’s just little tiny type. They just see the $1,200 for you. . . . It can be a win-win. In some situations, it was just a win for us.”

While Mariner and industry advocates note that consumers can simply decline a loan if the terms are onerous, at least some of them may lack the time, English skills or other knowledge to shop around. Some are acutely in need of cash.

“I wanted to go to my mother’s funeral — I needed to go to Laos,” Keo Thepmany, a 67-year-old from Laos who is a housekeeper in Northern Virginia, said through an interpreter. To cover costs, she took out a loan from Mariner Finance and then refinanced and took out an additional $1,000. The new loan was at a rate of 33 percent and cost her $390 for insurance and processing fees.

She fell behind, and Mariner filed suit against her last year for $4,200, including $703 for attorney fees. The company also sought a court order to take out money from her wages.

Barbara Williams, 72, a retired school custodian from Prince William County, in Northern Virginia, said she cashed a Mariner loan check for $2,539 because “I wanted to get my teeth fixed. And I wanted to pay my hospital bills.”

She’d been in the hospital with three mini-strokes and pneumonia, she said. Within a few months, Mariner suggested she borrow another $500, and she did. She paid more than $350 for fees and insurance on the loan, according to the loan documents. The interest rate was 30 percent.

“It was kind of like I was in a trance,” she said of her decision to borrow from Mariner. She paid back some of the money but then fell behind, and Mariner sued. The company won court judgment against her in April for $3,852, including $632 in fees for Mariner’s attorney.

The other pool of Mariner Finance revenue comes from selling insurance polices.

Mariner pitches the insurance policies to customers as a way of paying off a loan in case of mishaps: There is a life insurance policy that promises to make the loan payments if you die, an unemployment policy that makes the payments if you lose your job, and an accident and disability policy in case of those possibilities.

Mariner also sells a car club membership that covers the cost of repairs.

These can add several hundred dollars to a loan.

The insurance policies provide “tangible benefits” for customers whose financial arrangements are vulnerable to life’s interruptions, the company said.

Customers are supposed to be informed that the insurance policies are optional. Several former employees alleged that some salesmen tacked on these products and waited for customers to object. They likened it to the add-ons that pad the bill when buying a car.

“If you sold a car club membership, you were like a god,” said a former assistant branch manager in Pennsylvania.

When Mariner salesmen were closing a loan and “went to print out the loan contract, they would just automatically add the insurance on there — every time,” Kabirou, the customer service representative said. “Clients would say, ‘Do I really need it?’ And the person would say, ‘Yes, you need to be covered.’ ”

In response, the company said steps are taken to make sure that customers understand that the insurance is optional.

The company has “numerous safeguards in place to make sure that all of our products are sold in a responsible manner. . . . Our audit teams regularly visit branch locations and monitor loan closings to ensure that our employees are explaining all products correctly. And we call a randomly selected subset of new customers every day to make sure they understand the terms of the loans.”

Mariner makes money from the insurance sales in two ways.

First, Mariner gets a commission from the insurance companies for selling the policies.

Mariner sells insurance policies issued by Lyndon Southern and Life of the South, and these two companies often give sales commissions of as much as 50 percent of the premium price, according to statistics filed with the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

Mariner Finance officials declined to say how much of a commission Mariner receives on insurance policies it sells.

The second way that Mariner profits from the insurance sales is through its insurance company registered in Turks and Caicos. That company, too, earns money on policies issued by Life of the South and Lyndon Southern.

Essentially, it works like this: Mariner sells the insurance policies written by the two companies. Those two insurance companies, in turn, buy reinsurance from Mariner’s offshore affiliate, called MFI Insurance. Last year, those two insurance companies ceded $20 million in premiums back to MFI, according to documents filed in Delaware, where Lyndon Southern is based, and from Georgia, where Life of the South is.

Mariner declined to discuss its offshore insurance company. According to a Turks and Caicos financial regulator, it is the ease of doing business there — not laxity of regulation — that attracts companies to set up shop there.

“We have a risk-appropriate regulatory framework,” said Niguel Streete, managing director of the Turks and Caicos Islands Financial Services Commission.

But numerous business experts have advised U.S. insurers to set up shop in Turks and Caicos to avoid regulation.

“Much of the appeal of an offshore reinsurer is the modest regulatory climate,” according to a guidebook published by an insurance consulting agency known as CreditRe. Many such reinsurers “were developed as a legal mechanism to generate potential total income in excess of the [state-mandated] commission caps.”

The trouble with the insurance policies like the ones that Mariner sells to borrowers is that they devote so little money to covering claims, said Birny Birnbaum, executive director of the consumer advocacy organization Center for Economic Justice, which has issued reports on the credit insurance industry. He formerly served as the Texas Department of Insurance’s chief economist.

“At the end of the day, these lenders take far more in profit from the insurance premium than the amount paid in benefits for the consumer,” Birnbaum said.

Some regulators call for insurers to allocate at least 60 percent of premiums collected for covering customer claims; by contrast, some of the policies from Life of the South return as little as 20 percent to consumers; the policies from Lyndon Southern offer as little as 9 percent on average, according to the NAIC statistics.

Take, for example, the unemployment policy that Huggins bought from Lyndon Southern. The insurance cost Huggins a total of $172.

The average Lyndon Southern unemployment policy gives half of the premium back to the seller as a commission, according to the NAIC statistics. Less than 9 percent of premiums goes to covering customer claims, an extraordinarily low number, insurance experts said.

Life of the South and Lyndon Southern did not respond to requests for comment. Neither did the parent company of the insurers, known as Fortegra.

So far, Huggins’s unemployment policy hasn’t done him much good. He thought he was covered when he became unemployed last year and informed Mariner Finance. Instead, Mariner Finance summoned him to court.

Huggins said he’s worried about how disruptive the court case may be. He’s lost a day or two from work. More ominously, while he had hoped to raise his credit score enough to buy a house, a legal judgment against him could undo those plans. He and his stepkids are renting a place from a friend for now.

“Who sends someone $1,200 in the mail that they don’t know nothing about except maybe their credit score?” he said. “It was postdated, good for a month. I guess they give you a month to sit around and look at it and everything else until you just convince yourself you really need that money. . . .

“You think they’re helping you out — and what they’re doing is they’re sinking you further down,” he said. “They’re actually digging the hole deeper and pushing you further down.”

Jon Gerberg contributed to this report.

Top EPA ethics official discloses that he has urged additional investigations into Scott Pruitt

The Environmental Protection Agency’s chief ethics officer, who initially had approved a $50-a-night condo rental and other decisions by administrator Scott Pruitt, disclosed this week that he has urged the agency’s inspector general to investigate various allegations that Pruitt misused his government position.

Kevin Minoli, who focuses on ensuring that EPA employees abide by federal laws governing conduct, told the Office of Government Ethics in a letter dated Wednesday that he had recommended the new inquiries after “additional potential issues regarding Mr. Pruitt have come to my attention through sources within the EPA and media reports.”

The letter, first reported Saturday by the New York Times and obtained independently by The Washington Post, does not spell out the precise actions that triggered Minoli’s concern. But a government official with direct knowledge of the inquiries, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because details have not been released publicly, said the referrals involved instances in which Pruitt potentially misused his position, such as having subordinates help with his housing search, inquire about a mattress or secure tickets to the Rose Bowl. Federal standards of conduct bar public officials from accepting free services or gifts from their subordinates, and from using their position for their own financial benefit.

The referrals also included a $2,000 payment, first reported by The Post nearly a month ago, that Pruitt’s wife received last year to help with logistics at an annual conference for the New York nonprofit group Concordia, the official said. Pruitt also spoke at the conference and had introduced his wife to the group’s chief executive as part of a broader push to find her employment.

“To the best of my knowledge, all of the matters that I have referred are either under consideration for acceptance or under active investigation,” Minoli wrote, adding that he had “provided ‘ready and active assistance’ to the Inspector General and his office.”

In a March memo, Minoli initially had approved retroactively of Pruitt’s lease of a room in a Capitol Hill condo co-owned by health-care lobbyist Vicki Hart, saying that the favorable rate — $50-a-night, charged only when he stayed there — did not constitute a gift because that rate for 30 consecutive days would have equated to a monthly rent of $1,500. Minoli described that as “a reasonable market value.”

But days later, he wrote a subsequent memo saying he lacked key facts when he first evaluated the lease. After the news broke, multiple current and former EPA officials confirmed that Pruitt’s daughter stayed at the condo free last summer while she was working as a White House intern.

“Some have raised questions whether the actual use of the space was consistent with the terms of the lease,” Minoli wrote. “Evaluating those questions would have required factual information that was not before us and the Review does not address those questions.”

In addition, EPA ethics officials only later learned that Vicki Hart’s husband, J. Steven Hart, who was the chairman of the prominent firm Williams & Jensen at the time of the rental, also had lobbied the EPA on behalf of clients such as Coca-Cola and Smithfield Foods.

Minoli also gave ethics approval for several private and military flights that Pruitt took early in his tenure, including a $5,719 private air charter last August from Denver to Durango, Colo., as well as a $36,068 military jet that Pruitt and several aides took last June from an event with President Trump in Ohio to New York to catch a flight to Italy.

In a statement Saturday, the EPA noted that the bulk of Minoli’s five-page letter to the OGE’s acting director involved merely reporting back “on a number of administrative and staffing issues, some of which predate the Trump Administration.” The EPA noted that it had taken “early steps to address some of the concerns the OGE raised well before this letter was sent last week, including the hiring of two additional ethics officials and ongoing ethics training and retraining” staff.

“Part of the remainder of the letter discusses cooperation with the [Office of the Inspector General], a normal course of business for any agency, and the entire EPA is always responsive to the OIG and their requests for information,” EPA spokesman John Konkus said in the statement.

The EPA inspector general’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Saturday.

Minoli’s letter came months after a top government ethics official implored the EPA to address any violations linked to Pruitt’s spending habits, his condo lease from a lobbyist and various personnel decisions.

David J. Apol, the OGE’s acting director, took the unusual step in April of telling EPA officials that some ethics questions surrounding Pruitt deserved further scrutiny.

“Public trust demands that all employees act in the public interest, and free from any actual or perceived conflicts,” he wrote to Minoli at the time.

The EPA’s Minoli answered Apol’s letter with one of his own, noting that agency ethics officials “lack independent investigatory authority,” according to a copy of the response reviewed by The Post. Rather, Minoli wrote, his office has a “long-standing practice” of referring such inquiries to the EPA inspector general.

The working-class struggles that propelled Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to victory

BRONX — When Ali Ahmed is not running the convenience store he owns in Queens, he is criss-crossing the city as an Uber driver.

The side job helps him to afford the mortgage and other bills on the house he bought two years ago in the Parkchester neighborhood of the Bronx. Ahmed happens to work and live in New York’s 14th congressional district, which could soon elect the youngest woman ever to Congress: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Ahmed says he works hard to get his bills paid and try to create a better financial foundation for his children. It’s a struggle that resonates strongly among voters here who propelled Ocasio-Cortez, 28, to victory last week in the Democratic primary over incumbent Joe Crowley.

Their constituents are  a mass of working-class families who hustle to make a good life in the shadow of the extreme prosperity in Manhattan. In Parkchester, New York natives with Italian or Puerto Rican roots live alongside people who have immigrated in past decades from Ecuador, Mexico, Bangladesh and other parts of the globe. Neighborhoods in Queens, including Jackson Heights, Astoria and Sunnyside, are equally diverse.

[Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: The Democrat who challenged her party’s establishment — and won]

The district offers a window into the modern economy. The financial recovery of the past decade has buoyed some Americans who feel flush from rising home values and a steady march up in the stock market. Yet despite record low unemployment across the nation, those who live on the fringes of a strong economy find they are working double time just to keep up.

Ahmed, 41, moved his family to the Bronx after more than 20 years in Queens because the rent on his apartment in Astoria, an increasingly trendy neighborhood, was becoming too expensive.

The move made some things better and other things more complicated. He used to be a few minutes from his store. Now it takes up to an hour to drive there. His bills are larger as a homeowner. But his family has more space. There is a yard. And his kids, a 4-year-old daughter and an 8-year-old son, are happier.

“My family is comfortable here,” he said, adding later that he thinks it will be better for his children in the long run. “I want to make my kids educated, I try to do my best,” he said in a phone interview from the park as his children played. “My hope is that I make something better for them. So they can have a good career.”

The business owner said that he has noticed a pattern among his friends and neighbors — many people are moving to more affordable places in New York City. Professionals who work in Manhattan are moving to Queens as they look for lower rent. That shift is pricing out families and immigrants like him.

“For any one-bedroom apartment, there are 15 people who want to move in so they put pressure on you,” he said. He watched as many of his friends moved from Queens to the Bronx or out of state.

Living costs are also creeping up around him in the Bronx. A cousin searching for apartments in the area was recently quoted about $1,500 for a one-bedroom, Ahmed said. The same place would have cost $1,000 just two years ago.

The Congressional district that Ocasio-Cortez would represent if elected in November has gone from being predominantly white in 1980 to being nearly 50 percent Hispanic, 17 percent Asian and 23 percent white in 2016, according to Census figures.

Some of the residents there have achieved the milestones considered staples of economic success in America, such as owning a home, sending a child to college and running a business. Others struggle more to make ends meet, toiling away as servers, drivers and cashiers.

For many, life is characterized by long commutes and even longer workdays. The district has the fifth highest percentage of workers with service-sector jobs out of all Congressional districts, including Washington D.C., according to Census data. It ranks seventh for having the longest average commute time.

It’s no surprise, then, that voters here were pulled over by Ocasio-Cortez’s platform of Medicare for all, free education and a livable minimum wage.

In Parkchester, which is a roughly 35 minute train ride north of Grand Central Terminal, people converse and do business in a mix of languages, including English, Spanish and Bengali. On Starling Avenue, which was renamed Bangla Bazaar, a long-standing pizza place shares the street with a Bangladeshi restaurant and a halal meat shop.

Within a few blocks of the busy Parkchester train station, residents can find a Starbucks, a hair braiding salon, a barbershop and Latino restaurants. A pharmacy with a “help wanted” sign on the window that says applicants must speak and write Spanish. A note on the awning, which labels the pharmacy in both English and Spanish, lets people know that workers also speak “Bangla.”

George Penn, who owns the Phase One barbershop on Westchester Avenue, said the neighborhood has changed a lot since he moved there from Harlem as a kid. It used to be much whiter. “There was a lot of racism,” he said. But that faded as more black and Hispanic people moved into the neighborhood — creating a more welcoming environment for his wife and children, who are black and Puerto Rican.

Penn, 44, said higher rents and luxury developments around the city are contributing to an influx of people from other boroughs who need an affordable place to live. “People come from Brooklyn, Harlem — they’re coming to the Bronx,” he said.

[Perspective | Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is the intersectional remix of Latino roots and socialist politics]

But many people who live in the area feel squeezed. “The only thing that’s affordable around here are the clothes,” said Elsa Luna, 60, who moved to  Parkchester from Ecuador two years ago so that she could be close to her daughter and two granddaughters.

Their apartment is blocks away from a busy street with a Macy’s, Marshall’s and other retailers. “Everything else is expensive,” Luna said in Spanish.

The family’s budget is tight since she is unable to work because of a back injury. But they pass the time taking trips to the park and going to church. There are so many languages spoken in the neighborhood that it can be hard to communicate.

“My neighbor is Indian. She likes me and she knows that I like her, but we can’t really say more to each other beyond ‘hello,’” Luna said.

Affordability has been a major theme of Ocasio-Cortez’s platform. In an interview with Vogue this month, Ocasio-Cortez noted that the median price of a two-bedroom in New York has increased by 80 percent in the past three years.

“Our incomes certainly aren’t going up 80 percent to compensate for that, and what that is doing is a wave of aggressive economic displacement of the communities that have always been here,” she told the magazine.

[Analysis | What Ocasio-Cortez wants for America after beating Joe Crowley]

After her father died from cancer during the financial crisis, Ocasio-Cortez took on three jobs to help her family fight off foreclosure.

“In a modern, moral and wealthy society, no person in America should be too poor to live,” she said on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert on Thursday night.

People in her neighborhood know all too well.

Rezwana Parvin, who moved to Parkchester a year ago from Bangladesh, said her family is struggling to save even though her husband works 60 to 70 hours a week as a cashier at a grocery store in Queens.

“He pays the rent and there’s nothing left,” she said, sitting on a bench with her two daughters at a small park with a fountain, just blocks from the apartment where Ocasio-Cortez lives.

Her husband is usually off on Sundays, but they typically spend the time doing laundry, grocery shopping and preparing for the week. “It’s work, work work,” she said while feeding her nine month old.

With the changing makeup of the neighborhood, crime levels ebb and flow over time, Penn said. He no longer sees as many smashed car windows, but he worries about incidents of violent crime. Some other residents in the area echoed his sentiment, recalling stories of fights on the subway or of people hit by stray bullets.

But generally, people said they felt safe here Bad things happen everywhere, they say.

There is struggle, but there is optimism, too. Penn says he believes his neighborhood “is on the upswing.”

And maybe Ocasio-Cortez could help. Penn agreed to display one of the candidate’s bold blue flyers in his barbershop after a friend came in to talk about how she wanted to bring her young, vibrant energy to Congress.

“When you see nothing is really changing,” he said, “you say, let me try somebody new.”

— Andrew Van Dam contributed to reporting.

Facebook offers fresh detail about its ties to dozens of outside companies in more than 700 pages of new data turned over to Congress

Facebook shared user information with 52 hardware and software makers, including some based in China, under agreements designed to make its social media platform work more effectively on smartphones and other devices, the company said in information furnished to Congress late Friday night.

The acknowledgment, which came in more than 700 pages of replies to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, is the fullest to date regarding reports that Facebook shared user data with some companies for years after it stopped doing so with most app makers. Some of the partnerships continued into this year, and some continue to this day, the documents say.

The list of these partners includes major American tech brands such Apple, and Microsoft, along with South Korean tech giant Samsung and China-based companies Huawei and Alibaba. Not all of the companies are device makers; some make operating systems or other software. (Jeffrey P. Bezos, the co-founder and chief executive of Amazon, owns The Washington Post.)

“We engaged companies to build integrations for a variety of devices, operating systems and other products where we and our partners wanted to offer people a way to receive Facebook or Facebook experiences,” the company said in the documents. “These integrations were built by our partners, for our users, but approved by Facebook.”

Facebook has ended 38 of the 52 partnerships and plans to soon end seven more, the company said.

The social network has been sharply criticized on Capitol Hill over reports that it shared detailed information on its users with a wide range of outside companies. Lawmakers have taken special issue with Facebook’s relationships with Chinese device makers, particularly Huawei, which Democrats and Republicans alike have alleged is too closely intertwined with the country’s government, posing even greater privacy and security risks to users.

The 747-page disclosure from Facebook came in response to roughly 1,200 questions posted by members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which grilled Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg at a hearing in April. The replies were due by Friday, and Facebook submitted them closer to midnight.

The wide-ranging queries grew out of Facebook’s entanglement with Cambridge Analytica, a political consultancy hired by the Trump campaign that previously had gained access to information on 87 million Facebook users, including 71 million Americans, without their knowledge in 2014. Cambridge Analytica accessed this data through a Facebook app, a quiz called “thisisyourdigitallife,” which collected information about its immediate users as well as their friends on the site.

While Facebook required third-party developers to cease collecting information this way by 2015, the social giant acknowledged Friday that 61 apps — including dating services like Hinge and streaming-music giant Spotify — received special extensions of up to six months to comply with the new rules. Facebook also said at least five other developers “theoretically could have accessed limited friends’ data” as part of a beta test, but the company did not further elaborate on the matter.

Reports about the data-sharing arrangements with device makers caused renewed controversy because the practice continued years after Facebook began restricting access to the user information available to app makers — a move Facebook portrayed as a sign that it had grown more careful in guarding user privacy.

Before the data sharing was discontinued, Apple, for example, allowed Facebook users to download profile photos for their friends and use them in their iPhone contact lists. Some BlackBerry devices appeared to access several categories of data, including messages. Facebook has defended the practices as helpful to making the social media platform perform properly on the hundreds of individual mobile devices sold to customers worldwide.

The release Saturday morning was the second batch of questions that Facebook has submitted to Congress since Zuckerberg’s appearance before Congress. The first, of roughly 500 pages, was furnished earlier this month to the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Commerce Committee.

Yet Facebook once again left many lawmakers’ questions unanswered. It didn’t say repeatedly why Facebook didn’t audit apps like the one at the heart of the Cambridge Analytica controversy years before it became the subject of international scrutiny, for example, or provide the names of company employees who were responsible for the lack of oversight. Facebook couldn’t specify how many users actually read or accessed its terms of use policies in response to a question from Rep. Michael C. Burgess (R-Tex.). It declined to answer if the company has considered ever charging users as an alternative to serving them targeted ads. And it didn’t address the inquiries of two lawmakers who wanted to know the number of demands Facebook has received from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, which is under fire for its handling of children and parents who cross the border.

Facebook also dodged hundreds of questions that the site’s own users had submitted to Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-Calif.), who then forwarded them to Facebook. Many users sought to understand more about Facebook’s privacy and security practices as well as its handling of controversial content, including posts that sympathize with the alt-right. In many cases, though, Facebook repeated general, stock answers to those queries.

Cambridge Analytica used the data it accessed from Facebook to help Republican candidates target voters with political messages based on psychological evaluations of their personalities, including personal preferences and other information shared on social media.

News reports revealing that Facebook data had been used in this way triggered an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission, which is probing whether Facebook violated a 2011 consent decree on its privacy practices, and also generated sharp bipartisan complaints about data management by the company. Reports about the sharing of data with device makes sharpened that scrutiny.

Under the 2011 decree with the FTC, Facebook is required to obtain permission before sharing a user’s private information with a “third party” in a way that exceeds that user’s existing privacy settings. Facebook officials said that device makers such as Samsung or BlackBerry were suppliers, not “third parties.” On Friday, the social media giant again told Congress it had not run afoul of the settlement.

Trump presses Saudis to increase oil production in face of rising gas prices

BRIDGEWATER, N.J. — President Trump said Saturday that he has asked Saudi King Salman to increase oil production to help ease pressure on rising gas prices, which have threatened to stifle economics benefits for Americans from the Republican tax cut bill.

In a morning tweet from his private Bedminster golf club, Trump said he made the request during a conversation with Salman, citing the “turmoil” and dysfunction in Venezuela and Iran for driving up prices at the pump.

The average per-gallon price for gasoline in the United States was $2.85, a jump of 63 cents from a year ago, according to AAA. Prices over the past two months have been higher than any time since late 2014, according to the Energy Information Administration.

Trump’s tweet caps an unsettling week for oil prices. Just a week ago, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries reached an agreement to gradually increase output by about 700,000 barrels a day to stabilize oil prices and offset lost production in Venezuela, where political and oil patch upheaval has led to a drop of exports. The cartel, which had curtailed production in 2016, also said it would boost output more later in the year to offset limits on Iranian oil sales resulting from the re-imposition of U.S. sanctions on Iran.

But oil prices have climbed steadily since the OPEC meeting, and gasoline prices at the pump will rise, too, in the middle of peak driving season.

That has led Democrats to lay the blame on the White House, highlighting Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal as a factor in the tightening global oil supply.

“President Trump’s reckless decision to pull out of the Iran deal has led to higher oil prices,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said last month during a photo op outside an Exxon station. “These higher oil prices are translating directly to soaring gas prices, something we know hurts middle- and lower-income people.”

[The Energy 202: Democrats ding Trump on gas prices, just as Trump once did to Obama]

The impact of rising gas prices in offsetting the pocketbook benefits of the tax cuts approved by Congress in December could dampen public enthusiasm over the economy ahead of the midterm elections. Trump should know about the potential political consequences, having routinely blamed Barack Obama when prices rose during that administration.

Trump said he asked the Saudi king to crank up production by as much as 2 million barrels a day, which would bring Saudi production close to its maximum capacity. But oil experts were cautious about whether that would actually reduce international prices or raise anxiety further.

“If the Saudis were really to raise output by 2 million barrels a day, their maximum capacity according to the International Energy Agency, that may backfire from an oil price standpoint by leaving the oil market with no meaningful spare capacity to handle any possible future supply problems, from geopolitics in places like Iran or Libya to hurricane season to any other issues,” said Jason Bordoff, director of the center for global energy at Columbia University.

The overt pressure brought by Trump on Saudi Arabia is unusual, but the kingdom has been actively urging the president to withdraw from the international agreement that placed restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program. When Trump withdrew and reimposed sanctions, that meant Iranian exports would come under pressure.

Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest exporter of crude oil, exporting 7 million barrels a day.

“This is not just about turning the spigot a little further. This would be extraordinary,” said Robert McNally, president of the consulting firm Rapidian Energy Group. McNally, who served on President George W. Bush’s National Security Council, said, “It reminds me of when the Federal Reserve undertakes an emergency injection of liquidity gets people worried. This is like that. The president is asking the central bank of oil to make a massive injection of liquidity into the market.”

The Saudi official government press agency gave a more ambiguous description of the king’s discussion with Trump. It did not give a figure for expanding production. “The two leaders stressed the need to make efforts to maintain the stability of oil markets, the growth of the global economy, and the efforts of producing countries to compensate for any potential shortage of supplies,” Riyadh said in a statement.

The oil markets were also shaken last week when a senior State Department official said that the United States would ask countries to reduce their purchases of Iranian oil to “zero.” This far exceeded expectations in the oil markets. When President Obama sought to ramp up pressure on Iran, he sought “significant” reductions in other countries’ purchases of Iranian oil and that meant about 20 percent cuts.

At the OPEC meeting last week, Iran’s oil minister said that the cartel should not be influenced by Trump and should deal with supply and demand. Trump has twice before called on OPEC to boost production to bring down prices, including a tweet on the eve of OPEC negotiations in Vienna.

Iranian exports have been running around 2.4 million barrels a day, according to the International Energy Agency. Venezuela’s production has fallen to 1.4 million barrels a day, about a million barrels a day less than it produced two years ago.

In addition, Libya’s output has fluctuated as groups fighting one another disrupt supplies. Last week, one group said that oil fields in the eastern part of the country would be split off into a new national oil company separate from the existing one. Two tankers refused to dock at a port in eastern Libya because they did not have permission from eastern Libyan forces.

Mufson reported from Washington.

California, home of the first soda tax, agrees to ban them

The beverage industry scored a defining victory in its battle against soda taxes this week as California lawmakers voted to bar future local taxes on sugary drinks.

The state had been a hotbed for the soda tax movement, passing laws designed to slash soda drinking in four jurisdictions. But under the fast-moving ban introduced June 23 and signed into law five days later, no new food or beverage taxes can be passed in the state until 2031 at the earliest.

The law represents a significant, if long-anticipated, shift among the nation’s sodamakers, who have previously fought taxes, city by city, expending millions of dollars in the process. Soda companies say the statewide bans more efficiently protect jobs and businesses that could be hurt by local tax laws.

But public-health advocates argue the state preemptions undermine the will and health of voters, pointing out that similar tactics have been embraced by tobacco companies and fast-food chains to fend off everything from cigarette taxes to menu labels.

Now backers of the soda-tax movement are searching for other options in California — and bracing for similar fights across the country.

“There’s a fear that as California goes, so goes the nation,” said Sabrina Adler, a senior staff attorney at ChangeLab Solutions, which develops public-health policies. “This could be the beginning of further preemption in other states.”

Advocates say the tactical shift from sodamakers was not unexpected, though the speed of the California ban caught many by surprise. California has long been seen as the vanguard of the soda-tax movement, which seeks to slash consumption of sugary drinks while raising revenue for local governments.

Soda is a primary source of calories and added sugars in the American diet, and cities that have passed taxes — such as Berkeley, Calif., which became the first in 2014 — have seen consumption fall. According to the American Heart Association, eight cities now have soda taxes on the books, four of them in California, and a number of other cities in the state were readying ballot measures.

But while California’s existing taxes will remain in place under this week’s ban, others in the pipeline can no longer proceed. That will protect consumers and retailers from unexpected price hikes, argues the American Beverage Association, the trade group for soda companies.

Stores in other cities that passed soda taxes have faced sharp sales declines, risking jobs, ABA has said. The group has also argued that soda taxes disproportionately affect low-income shoppers, who spend a larger portion of their income on food and beverages.

“Our aim is to help working families by preventing unfair increases to their grocery bills,” said William Dermody, ABA’s vice president of policy, in a statement. “At the same time, we’re working with the public health community and government officials to help Californians reduce sugar consumption in ways that don’t cost jobs or hurt the small businesses that are so important to local communities.”

But such choices should be left to local communities, argues Carter Headrick, the director of state and local obesity policy at the American Heart Association, which fought the ban. Cities and towns are in the best position to judge whether a tax will improve health and raise revenue in their jurisdiction, he said, and the experience of most cities has been positive. Only two states, Michigan and Arizona, have previously passed this sort of preemptive ban, and in neither state were any cities actively pursuing taxes.

Critics have also taken issue with the way the ban was introduced. After lobbying hard for another, far more sweeping tax measure, ABA and other business groups agreed to the soda-tax ban as part of a last-minute deal with state lawmakers and unions.

Many lawmakers — including Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon — described the ban as a means of killing that ballot initiative, which would have made it far more difficult for cities and counties to pass taxes on anything, let alone soda.

“We’re disappointed with the vote, and we’re disappointed with the governor signing the bill,” Headrick said. “But we’re especially disappointed that ABA resorted to putting up a blackmail ballot measure and using it to force a preemption law through the legislature.”

Some advocates see a silver lining in this escalation, however. Jilted California cities may now be more open to other anti-soda measures, such as warning labels and kids’ meal restrictions, Adler said. There is also hope that lawmakers, many of whom have said in statements that they felt forced to approve the ban, will now support a statewide soda tax — which is not prohibited by this legislation.

And outside of California, advocates will continue pushing hard for city and county soda taxes, said Margo Wootan, the vice president for nutrition at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Public health advocates are no strangers to preemption laws like California’s, Wootan added, or to similar bans now pending in Pennsylvania, Oregon or Washington.

The strategy is closely associated with tobacco companies, who used it to stall cigarette taxes and bans on smoking in public spaces. More recently, Wootan has clashed with restaurant groups who sought to ban menu labeling at the state level.

Today, she points out, such bans are moot: In early May, the Food and Drug Administration began requiring all chain restaurants to post calorie counts, after years of pressure from health groups.

“We are used to working on these issues for decades,” Wootan said. “The industry’s hope is that this becomes a significant roadblock to the soda-tax movement. But this is a temporary win for them.”