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    Published on: June 25, 2020

    The company that owns the Segway has decided that, after two decades and a mere 140,000 sold, it is time to end Dean Kamen's ambitious transportation experiment.  But KC finds an important lesson even in an idea that never worked as well as hoped.

    Published on: June 25, 2020

    by Kevin Coupe

    The BBC reports that Olympus, the Japanese company that has making cameras for more than eight decades, has decided to sell off that part of its business.

    The reason:  the ubiquity of smartphones with increasingly sophisticated digital cameras has shrunk the camera market beyond the point where it is profitable.  Olympus had navigated the move to digital photography, but the smartphone revolution was too much for it to handle.

    "The market for standalone cameras has fallen dramatically," the BBC reports.  "By one estimate, it dropped by 84% between 2010 and 2018."

    Nigel Atherton, editor of Amateur Photographer magazine, tells the BBC that "continually over the last few years, they've constantly got it wrong, made wrong decisions, taken wrong turns, and gone down cul-de-sacs."

    Whoever ends up owning the brand, the company says, will have the "opportunity to enable our imaging business to grow and delight both long-time and new photography enthusiasts."

    Olympus itself will stay in business - it will continue making the microscopes that it was making before it got into the camera business, and, the BBC writes, " has turned its optical technology to other scientific and medical equipment such as endoscopes."

    It is yet another Eye-Opening example of how technology can challenge even the most respected brands, and how business leaders have to be nimble enough  to change to adapt to new circumstances, and insightful enough to see around competitive corners.

    Published on: June 25, 2020

    The Associated Press reports that "the number of laid-off workers who applied for unemployment benefits declined slightly to 1.48 million last week, the 12th straight drop and a sign that layoffs are slowing but are still at a painfully high level.

    "The steady decline in claims suggests that the job market has begun to slowly heal from the pandemic, which shuttered businesses and sent the unemployment rate up to 14.7% in April, its highest level since the Great Depression."

    More than 47 million Americans have filed for unemployment insurance over the past 14 weeks.

    Published on: June 25, 2020

    The Wall Street Journal reports that "the U.S. Trade Representative’s office, which imposed 25% tariffs on wine, cheeses, olives and other products from the European Union in October, is now considering raising levies to 100%, citing a lack of progress in negotiating a settlement."

    A tariff increase could come as soon as August 12.

    The story notes that "importers, restaurateurs and others who buy European wines say higher tariffs would devastate an industry floored by months of lockdowns."

    Some context about the broader dispute from the Journal:

    "After a long-running dispute, the World Trade Organization ruled last year that the EU had given improper subsidies to the aircraft manufacturer Airbus, a rival to Boeing Co. The WTO ruling allowed the U.S. to impose as much as $7.5 billion in tariffs, but didn’t restrict the products on which the U.S. can impose the tariffs.

    "As is typical when countries impose tariffs, the USTR hit Europeans on culturally significant exports—slapping the 25% tariffs on the food products and just 10% on aircraft. The U.S. later raised the airplane tariff to 15%, despite opposition by U.S. airlines."

    KC's View:

    Get that French rosé now, folks.

    To be honest, I am struggling to understand why this is good public policy at the moment, considering that so many retailers and importers have been hit hard by the pandemic.  Not to mention the wisdom of making something that has become so essential during shelter-at-home policies more expensive when a recession is kicking in.

    Published on: June 25, 2020

    Random and illustrative stories about the global pandemic and how businesses and various business sectors are trying to recover from it, with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  In the United States, there now have been 2,462,713 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, 124,282 deaths, and 1,040,608 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 9,551,507 confirmed coronavirus cases, 485,423 fatalities, and 5,191,864 reported recoveries.


    • From the New York Times:

    "More than two months after the United States recorded its worst day of new infections since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the nation set a record on Wednesday as it reported 36,880 new cases.

    "The number of infections indicated that the country was not only failing to contain the virus, but also that the caseload was worsening — a path at odds with many other nations that have seen steady declines after an earlier peak. Cases in the United States had been on a downward trajectory after the previous high of 36,739 cases on April 24, but they have roared back in recent weeks … The tally of new cases, based on a New York Times database, showed that the outbreak was stronger than ever.

    "The elevated numbers are a result of worsening conditions across much of the country, as well as increased testing - but testing alone does not explain the surge."

    The experience of just the last few days suggests that all this talk of a "second wave" was way too premature … that the first wave is still with us, really big, and crashing down around our heads.


    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that "thirty-three states, from Oklahoma to South Carolina and Washington, had a seven-day average of new cases on Tuesday that was higher than their average during the past two weeks, according to a Journal analysis of Johns Hopkins University data. That was the situation in 21 states at the start of the month, so the data reflect recent increases in new cases."

    The story goes on:

    "The seven-day average of new cases nationwide has been growing faster than the 14-day average since June 13, after lagging behind it since late April. Comparing the one- and two-week averages of new cases helps smooth out anomalies in the data, such as states not reporting cases during a weekend.

    "New York and nearby states such as New Jersey were early pandemic hot spots, but cases and deaths in those states continue to fall. Now, public health officials are expressing concern about rising case counts, the positive percentage of tests, and hospitalizations in Southern and Western states.

    "The recent case increases have already started to delay some plans to reopen economies. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown earlier this month paused the relaxation of coronavirus restrictions as cases in the state rose. In Louisiana, Gov. John Bel Edwards on Monday postponed moving the state into Phase 3 of its reopening for an additional 28 days amid a surge in cases and hospitalizations there."

    And:

    "While death rates have been dropping, experts emphasize that those numbers tend to lag behind infection rates.  In addition, there are concerns that as more young people are infected by the virus, they could end up transmitting the disease to older and more vulnerable people."


    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that "Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak ordered face masks to be worn by everyone in public starting Friday, including gamblers inside Las Vegas Strip casinos, as cases of Covid-19 rise across the U.S.

    "Mr. Sisolak’s mandate Wednesday came after hospitality workers demanded state leaders intervene and require casino customers to wear face coverings. While workers wear masks, face coverings for guests had been mostly voluntary since casinos were allowed to reopen June 4."

    The story points out that "Nevada reported Tuesday a one-day record-high 462 new cases. In the pandemic, Nevada has reported a total of 14,362 cases and 494 deaths. Mr. Sisolak said the rise in cases can be attributed in part to people not wearing masks and contact-tracing efforts.

    "Caesars Entertainment Corp. and MGM Resorts International, Las Vegas-based operators with casinos across the U.S., both announced mandatory mask policies for all of their properties. Some casinos on the Las Vegas Strip have installed plexiglass shields, hand-washing stations and other signs of the new Covid-19 reality, but workers have reported few guests wearing masks inside."

    “I don’t know why or when protecting our health and our neighbors’ lives became a political, partisan or even philosophical decision,” Sisolak wrote on Twitter.  “For me it’s none of those. It’s a medical necessity, a human obligation and it’s good for business.”


    •  From the New York Times:

    "In recent days, Texas has seen record-high levels of hospitalizations for Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Local hospitals, particularly in Houston, have struggled to keep up with the rising number patients needing intensive care. 'There is a massive outbreak of Covid-19 across the state of Texas,' Gov. Greg Abbott said in a television interview on Wednesday.

    "Amid rising hospitalizations in North Carolina, Gov. Roy Cooper said on Wednesday that the state would “pause” its move into the next phase of reopening and make masks required statewide in public when distancing is not possible.

    "In Florida, more than 20,000 people tested positive for the virus over the last five days ending Tuesday; in New York, where far more people are being tested daily, roughly 3,100 tested positive over those same five days."


    •  From National Public Radio (NPR):

    "While politicians spar over the topic, a growing number of scientific studies support the idea that masks are a critical tool in curbing the spread of the coronavirus. 

    "Take, for example, a meta-analysis of 172 studies that looked at various interventions to prevent the transmission of COVID-19, SARS and MERS from an infected person to people close to them. The analysis, which was published in The Lancet on June 1, found that mask wearing significantly reduces the risk of viral transmission. "

    The story goes on:

    "It's understandable if some people remain skeptical, since, at the beginning of the pandemic, public health officials in the U.S. said the general public didn't need masks.

    "But that changed as it became clear that infected people can spread the coronavirus before they even show symptoms of COVID-19 or even if they never show symptoms. 

    "Researchers emphasize there are two main reasons to wear masks. There's some evidence of protection for the wearer, but the stronger evidence is that masks protect others from catching an infection from the person wearing the mask. And infected people can spread the virus just by talking."

    I simply do not understand why the wearing of masks, which should be an act of national solidarity, strength, compassion (because they protect other people, not ourselves) and even patriotism, has become so divisive.


    •  The Texas Tribune reports that a number of elected officials from both parties in the Lone Star state are asking the federal government to walk back plans "to stop funding seven Texas coronavirus testing sites at the end of the month.

    "At issue are federal plans to stop funding sites in Houston, El Paso and Dallas on June 30, as first reported by Talking Points Memo. The sites are a small piece of a much longer list of sites across the state run by private entities, local governments and the state. But the lawmakers are calling for the federal government to keep funding them as the number of Texans testing positive for the virus soars in Texas, particularly in the Houston region."

    U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), said he agreed that  "now is not the time to retreat from our vigilance in testing … I agree with the Houston delegation ... and I believe they need to extend that federal support in Texas, at least until we get the most recent uptick in cases addressed."

    However, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said that the state is prepared for the federal funding to end, and shortly will announce a strategy to compensate for the move.


    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that "New York State will delay plans to reopen shopping malls, gyms and movie theaters that were shuttered in March because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday.

    "The establishments were scheduled to resume operation during the fourth part of the state’s phased reopening, which will begin in some upstate regions on Friday. The Democratic governor said at a press conference that their reopenings were postponed while the State Department of Health reviews more data about indoor viral transmission."

    However, business owners in the state "said they were surprised and disheartened by the news."


    •  The states of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut said yesterday that anyone coming from eight states - Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Utah - would have to quarantine for 14 days before going out in public.  This would apply to people from those states as well as to New York, New Jersey and Connecticut residents returning from trips there.

    New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that failure to quarantine could result in a $1,000 fine.   No such fines have yet been announced in Connecticut and New Jersey.

    This is a dramatic shift from the early days of the pandemic, when the tri-state area was the original hot spot in the US, with other states not wanting people from there to cross their borders. 

    "We now have to make sure that the rate continues to drop,” Cuomo said. “A lot of people come into this region and they could literally bring the infection with them. It wouldn’t be malicious or malevolent, but it would still be real.”


    •  A sweet story from the ABC News affiliate in Houston, Texas:

    "Carol Elbaz and her husband have stayed away from grocery stores for nearly a month because of the COVID-19 pandemic. So, when they decided to try curbside delivery at H-E-B in Houston, Texas, they thought it would be quick and easy.

    "But Carol never expected to find a surprise in her groceries! 

    "Gerardo Flores was working curbside service, when he was inspired to leave a note in the bags. He wrote 'Every situation in life is temporary. So when life is good, make sure you enjoy and receive it fully. And when life is not so good, remember that it will not last forever, and better days are on the way.'

    "Elbaz said the note was the bright spot in her day, and she has now framed the message to remind her to always look on the bright side. "


    •  Interesting piece from the Wall Street Journal about the costs of remaining open during the past few months:

    "A food distributor has paid $20 million for testing and plexiglass. T-Mobile US Inc. has spent $50 million on extra cleaning and safety gear. Walmart Inc. and three other big retail chains have put more than $3 billion into higher salaries, benefits and other Covid-19 measures.

    "Staying open during the pandemic wasn’t cheap. Big companies say they spent anywhere from hundreds of thousands to almost a billion dollars in Covid-19-related costs. Some say they expect the costs to keep rising in coming quarters, even as they face uncertain demand from consumers.

    "The figures include increased pay for front-line workers, expanded cleaning and sanitization protocols, and the purchasing of coronavirus testing or personal protective equipment, according to a Wall Street Journal review of recent quarterly reports and earnings-call transcripts. These are extra expenses and don’t reflect extra revenue or lost business. Some essential retailers that were open as well as makers of safety gear had a surge in revenue during the lockdown."


    •  The 50th running of the New York Marathon, scheduled for the first Sunday in November, has been cancelled because of the pandemic.  While infection rates have been declining in the New York area, there are concerns that a so-called "second wave" could make a race for more than 50,000 runners problematic.

    The Berlin Marathon, scheduled for September 27, also was canceled yesterday.

    The Boston Marathon, at first moved from April to September, also has been canceled this year.

    Still on the schedule as of now:  The London Marathon (October 4), the Chicago Marathon (October 11) and the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, DC (October 25).


    •  ESPN reports that "the preseason-opening Dallas Cowboys-Pittsburgh Steelers game at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, on Aug. 6 is being canceled and the Hall of Fame's Aug. 8 enshrinement ceremony is being postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic."

    The story says that "this marks the first time the NFL has had to cancel an event on its calendar because of the pandemic, with the Hall of Fame Game annually kicking off the preseason. The NFL had been able to conduct free agency, albeit in a different way, as well as a virtual NFL draft."

    The first.  Betcha it won't be the last.


    •  The pandemic continues to force Walt Disney Co. to reevaluate its plans.

    The Los Angeles Times reports that "Disneyland’s reopening will be delayed beyond July 17, Walt Disney Co. announced Wednesday, saying it will wait for state guidelines before specifying a new target date.

    "The Anaheim destination, along with sister park Disney California Adventure, has been closed since mid-March amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Before the newly announced delay, it was slated to reopen in time for its 65th anniversary.

    "But coronavirus infections have been rising, and park employees have pushed back against the mid-July date, citing safety concerns."

    Disney's Grand Californian Hotel & Spa and Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel, which had been slated to reopen July 23, "will also be closed indefinitely," the story says.

    At the same time, Disney reportedly is considering the postponement of the July 24 opening of Mulan, which was expected to be a summer blockbuster, and upon which a lot of hopes were being pinned for a revival of the movie theater industry.

    The Wall Street Journal writes that "Disney is weighing the delay because the theatrical landscape continues to be unpredictable, with locations opening slower than expected and coronavirus case numbers rising, people familiar with the matter said … Disney executives are expected to make a decision on Mulan soon, according to people familiar with the matter. The live-action reboot of the 1998 animated film cost $200 million to produce, and Disney will need to mount a marketing campaign imminently to get consumers reacquainted with the film, which was originally scheduled for release in March."

    Disney has been resolute about keeping Mulan in theaters and not moving it to a streaming platform like Disney+, as has been done with a number of other films.

    That said … Disney this week released the first full trailer for Hamilton, a filmed version of the hit Broadway musical that was recorded on stage with the original cast in 2016, acquired by Disney for $70 million, and was moved up from an originally planned 2021 movie theater run to a Disney+ premiere on July 3.

    Here's the trailer.  Enjoy.

    Published on: June 25, 2020

    •  Fox Business reports that Walmart is rolling out its newest Health Center prototype - which the company says "offers transparent pricing 'regardless of insurance status' for a wide range of services, including primary and urgent care, labs, X-ray and diagnostics, counseling, dental, optical and hearing services 'all in one central facility'" - in Springdale, Arkansas.

    It is the first of the fleet to be opened outside Georgia, where three Walmart Health Centers are up and running as the company "continues its effort to expand health care services in stores across the country."  The Springdale store is said to be a slightly smaller footprint than the Georgia units.


    •  Bloomberg reports that "Walmart is reviewing its policy on working with suppliers that use prison labor as civil unrest over systemic racism roils the U.S. and activists target companies that benefit from the practice … The review is part of the firm’s racial equity initiatives announced this month as protests broke out worldwide following the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. Bentonville, Arkansas-based Walmart said on June 10 that it would stop keeping 'multicultural' hair care and beauty products in locked cases."

    In a statement, Walmart said that "as permitted by law, a small number of our U.S. suppliers use voluntary labor as part of prison rehabilitation programs."  It emphasized that Walmart policies “strictly prohibit involuntary prison labor” and workers that are employed by Walmart suppliers are paid “prevailing wages."

    Published on: June 25, 2020

    •  The Associated Press reports that "Britain’s competition watchdog has provisionally approved Amazon’s plan to buy a stake in food delivery company Deliveroo, saying it would not have a negative impact on customers by reducing choice or raising prices.

    "The Competition and Markets authority approved a deal that will see Amazon take a 16% stake in the delivery platform. The authority warned it would re-assess if Amazon, which has a dominant presence in online retail, sought to increase its stake further."

    Published on: June 25, 2020

    •  Lehigh Valley Business reports that Ahold Delhaize-owned Giant Company has "unveiled a seven-acre, pollinator-friendly solar field at its corporate headquarters in Carlisle (Pennsylvania).  The move, said to be the first of its kind for a grocery retailer, will support clean energy and pollinator populations needed to sustain the agriculture industry."


    •  Consumer Reports is out with a story saying that "bottled water manufactured by Whole Foods and sold in most of its U.S. stores and on Amazon contains potentially harmful levels of arsenic."

    According to the story, "CR recently tested dozens of bottled water brands and found that Starkey Spring Water, introduced by Whole Foods in 2015, had concerning levels of arsenic, ranging from 9.49 to 9.56 parts per billion (ppb), at least three times the level of every other brand tested. Federal regulations require manufacturers to limit the amount of arsenic, a potentially dangerous heavy metal, in bottled water to 10 ppb.

    "Consumer Reports’ experts believe that level does not adequately protect public health."

    The story goes on:  "Drinking a single bottle of Starkey probably will not harm you, says James Dickerson, Ph.D., CR’s chief scientific officer. 'But regular consumption of even small amounts of the heavy metal over extended periods increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, and lower IQ scores in children, and poses other health issues as well,' he says."


    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that Bayer AG "said Wednesday it would pay up to $10.9 billion to settle tens of thousands of lawsuits with U.S. plaintiffs alleging the company’s Roundup herbicide causes cancer, a milestone in the German company’s legal battle that has been weighing down its share price for nearly two years."

    Roundup was a Monsanto product, and when Bayer bought Monsanto for $63 billion in 2018, the acquisition brought with it thousands of lawsuits.

    According to the story, "Wednesday’s deal, which follows months of heated talks between Bayer and plaintiffs’ attorneys, doesn’t change anything in Bayer’s view that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, is safe and doesn’t cause cancer.

    "Bayer didn’t admit to any wrongdoing as part of the settlement and continued to defend its decision to purchase Monsanto. The company will continue to sell Roundup.  The agreement, however, leaves open the potential of more lawsuits being filed against the company in the future, an issue investors have been particularly concerned about."

    Published on: June 25, 2020

    Major League Baseball is out with some of the specifics that will define the upcoming and pandemic-abbreviated season.

    Some details:

    •  "After the July 1 report date and an abbreviated camp, the regular season is anticipated to begin on July 23-24 … MLB has submitted a proposed 60-game schedule to the MLBPA to review. It has not yet been finalized. To limit travel distances, teams would play a majority of games against their division opponents (40, or 10 against each division opponent) and the rest against their geographic counterpart in the other league (in other words, AL East vs. NL East, AL Central vs. NL Central, AL West vs. NL West)."

    •  The postseason will be "the same it has been since 2012: Five playoff teams from each league (three division winners, two Wild Card winners), with the winner of the Wild Card Game in the AL and NL advancing to a best-of-five Division Series against the top division winner. The League Championship Series and World Series remain best-of-seven."

    •  While a universal designated hitter rule "for both 2020 and 2021 was part of a proposal rejected by the players, it remains a piece of the 2020 health and safety protocols. With an abbreviated 'second Spring Training,' an effort is being made not to overtax pitchers by having them hit.  So for now, it is possible that the NL could return to its traditional rules with pitchers hitting again in 2021."

    •  "With a tight schedule and a desire to limit time on the field, the Minor League rule for extra innings will be in effect. That means every half-inning after the ninth will begin with a runner on second base. The designated runner would be the player who made the final out in the prior half-inning (or a pinch-runner for that player), and the pitcher would not be charged with an earned run if that runner scores (it would be scored as if the runner had reached on an error).  Please note that this rule is only in place for 2020 and only in effect for the regular season. Extra innings in the postseason would not begin with a runner on second."

    As far as pandemic-related precautions, here are some of them:

    "Players, coaches and support staff will be tested for COVID-19 every other day during Spring Training, the regular season and postseason … Players will receive temperature/symptom checks twice per day … Antibody testing will be conducted once per month … Social distancing will be encouraged as much as possible both on the field and off. Players and other team personnel not participating in the game will be sitting in the stands, at least six feet apart … Non-playing personnel must wear masks in the dugout and bullpen at all times … No pregame exchange of lineup cards … No celebratory contact (high-fives, fist bumps, hugs, etc.) … No spitting or chewing of tobacco and/or sunflower seeds. Chewing gum is allowed … A ball will be thrown out once it has been touched by multiple players … Fights are strictly prohibited."

    KC's View:

    It pains me to say so, but I'll accept the notion that using the DH in the National League makes sense as a way of protecting the pitchers during an abbreviated season.  

    But I hate the Minor League extra innings rule.  

    I still think it won't matter, though.  As much as I want baseball, I'm really dubious that the season is going to take place as the forest fire that is the pandemic continues to burn its way through the country.

    Published on: June 25, 2020

    I'm happy to announce that tomorrow,  Friday, at 7 pm EDT / 4 pm PDT, we're going to do it again … an MNB Virtual Happy Hour.

    The folks at GMDC have once again agreed to sponsor and host it.  Hopefully, you can put it on your calendar … choose a libation for Happy Hour … and then prop up your laptop or warm up your computer on Friday, June 26, for a conversation and a drink.  (You don't have to let me know you're coming, but it would be nice to know.)

    To join us, click here.