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    Published on: December 17, 2020

    Curtain up on innovation, as KC offers two examples of companies hard-hit by the pandemic using unorthodox techniques to stay engaged with their customers (and generate a little revenue at the same time) - NYC's Second Stage Theater, and the famed Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, New York.

    Published on: December 17, 2020

    From the Washington Post:

    "As the coronavirus pandemic devastated small businesses and plunged millions of Americans into poverty this summer and fall, executives at some of the country’s largest corporations sounded surprisingly upbeat … With few exceptions, big businesses are having a very different year from most of the country. Between April and September, one of the most tumultuous economic stretches in modern history, 45 of the 50 most valuable publicly traded U.S. companies turned a profit, a Washington Post analysis found.

    "Despite their success, at least 27 of the 50 largest firms held layoffs this year, collectively cutting more than 100,000 workers, the Post found.

    "The data reveals a split screen inside many big companies this year. On one side, corporate leaders are touting their success and casting themselves as leaders on the road to economic recovery. On the other, many of their firms have put Americans out of work and used their profits to increase the wealth of shareholders."

    You can read the entire, fascinating story here.

    KC's View:

    What concerns me about these findings, beyond the evident hypocrisy in some cases, is that they are likely to engender even greater declines in public confidence in our institutions.  

    It also confirms something that I've believed all along - that while there is a lot of conversation about achieving a kind of capitalism that values all stakeholders - not just shareholders, but employees and customers as well - we are a long way from getting there.  At many companies, the people on the front lines remain, for all practical purposes, at the back of the line.

    Published on: December 17, 2020

    From the Wall Street Journal:

    "Ten states sued Google Wednesday, accusing the search giant of running an illegal digital-advertising monopoly and enlisting rival Facebook Inc. in an alleged deal to rig ad auctions that was code-named after 'Star Wars' characters.

    "The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Texas, alleges that Facebook emerged in 2017 as a powerful new rival to Google, challenging the Alphabet Inc. unit’s established dominance in online advertising. Google responded by initiating an agreement in which Facebook would curtail its competitive moves, in return for guaranteed special treatment in Google-run ad auctions, the lawsuit claims."

    The story goes on: "The accusations opened up a fresh front of criticism for both tech giants, each of which face federal antitrust lawsuits filed in recent weeks.

    "Facebook declined to comment. Google denied engaging in any anticompetitive behavior and repeated its stance that it operates in highly competitive markets."

    The Journal writes:  "Many of the accusations involve Google’s ad-tech software, which is used to buy and sell ads on sites across the web. Google owns the dominant tool at every link in the complex chain between online publishers and advertisers, giving it unique power over the monetization of digital content. It also owns key platforms for reaching consumers, such as YouTube.

    "The Texas-led suit accuses Google of illegally tying these products to one another, leveraging its power in one part of the advertising chain to force publishers or advertisers to use another Google-owned tool."

    KC's View:

    I was sort of amused to see that the suit is being led by Ken Paxton, the Texas Attorney General … who had a bad week recently and probably would like to move the attention to this case rather than the one that got summarily dismissed by the US Supreme Court.

    That said, I am sympathetic to this suit and am curious to see how it all plays out.  My growing sense is that the big tech companies - especially, but not just, Google and Facebook - need to be held accountable for their actions and closely regulated.  If Google is innocent, great.  But if not … well, there have to be repercussions.

    Published on: December 17, 2020

    Interesting note from The Ferrero Group, owner of Nutella, about how it is testing an environmentally themed program in France designed to cut down on the number of jars it puts into the ecosystem.

    According to the announcement, "Nutella has joined forces with Loop - the leading reuse platform - and Carrefour for a reuse pilot scheme in Paris, France. Through the new scheme, shoppers will be able to purchase a specially designed reusable Nutella jar from the 10 pilot stores and the Carrefour website for which they pay a deposit. Carrefour will then collect the empty jars for washing and reuse.

    "Ferrero's in-house design team worked closely with Loop's experts to develop the new pilot Nutella jar, the first of its kind, which meets all the needed criteria for reuse. The result of this collaboration – a specially designed jar which is durable, safe, hygienic and which features an optimised label and seal that can be easily removed during the wash cycle."

    KC's View:

    The future?  Maybe?

    Published on: December 17, 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, we've now had 17,394,314 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, with 314,629 resultant deaths and 10,170,788 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 74,645,473 confirmed coronavirus cases, resulting in 1,657,680 fatalities and 52,466,399 reported recoveries.  (Source.)


    •  The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that "the U.S. logged its latest record-high number of newly reported Covid-19 cases in a day, while also setting new daily records for reported deaths and for hospitalizations … The U.S. also reported 3,656 deaths for Wednesday, according to Johns Hopkins data, surpassing a record 3,306 reported Friday. It reported 3,019 deaths for Tuesday … Hospitalizations were also at a record high, for the 11th day in a row, according to the Covid Tracking Project, which reported 113,090 people in hospitals across the country. That included another record of 21,936 in intensive care."


    •  From the New York Times this morning:

    "As boxes of Pfizer vaccines began arriving around the country this week, hospital pharmacists made a surprising discovery: Some of the glass vials that are supposed to hold five doses contained enough for a sixth — or even a seventh — person.

    "The news prompted a flurry of excited exchanges on Twitter and pharmacy message boards this week as hospital workers considered the tantalizing possibility that the limited supply of desperately needed vaccine might be stretched to reach more people.

    "But it also set off a wave of confusion and debate over whether to use the extra doses, or to throw them out. At Northwell Health in New York, for example, an executive estimated that the hospital network might have thrown out enough extra vaccine to account for 15 to 20 doses while it waited for guidance from the state health department.

    "On Wednesday, the pharmacists got an answer. In a statement, the Food and Drug Administration said that, 'given the public health emergency,' it was acceptable to use every full dose left over in each vial. The agency said it was consulting with Pfizer to determine 'the best path forward' and advised health officials not to pool doses from multiple vials."


    •  Fast Company reports that even as the Covid-19 vaccine begins the process of being rolled out around the country, "researchers who looked at the deals that wealthy countries have struck with vaccine manufacturers found that nearly a quarter of the global population is likely to be waiting until 2022—and possibly longer—to have access to the vaccine."

    Here are some of the numbers:

    "By mid-November, before any COVID-19 vaccines had regulatory approval, countries had reserved a total of 7.48 billion doses of the vaccines, enough to cover 3.76 billion people. But of the 13 different vaccines with preorders, it still isn’t clear how many will actually succeed. And just over half of the doses have been reserved by wealthier countries, even though low- and middle-income countries make up 85% of the global population. Even if all of the leading vaccines move forward and can reach maximum production, the study says that 22.5% of the world’s population may have to wait until at least 2022 for vaccination."

    The other side of this, I'm sure, will be that there will be wealthy folks who will charter flights to locations outside the United States where they can get the vaccine expeditiously, essentially jumping the line.  I suppose that there's not much we can do about them doing that, but maybe we could figure out a way not to let them back into the country afterwards?  Because they may be rich and they may be powerful, but they're clearly guilty of helping to erode the moral fiber of the nation.


    •  Politico reports thatVide President Mike Pence will get his Covid19 vaccine on Friday to "promote the safety and efficacy of the vaccine and build confidence among the American people."  Second Lady Karen Pence and Surgeon General Jerome Adams also will get vaccinated at the same time.

    President-elect Joe Biden is scheduled to get his vaccine next week, though the story says " he's torn — like many other political leaders — between wanting to set a good example for the country by getting vaccinated and not wanting to appear to cut in front of health care workers and other priority groups. As the incoming commander in chief, he has had the option of taking one of the country's currently scarce Pfizer vaccines, which began rolling out this week, but Biden has so far held off."


    •  From Fox News:

    "California has sent orders for 5,000 additional body bags, with 60 refrigerated storage units on standby as the state battles historic highs in daily virus cases and positivity rates.

    "'We’re going through the most intense and urgent moment since the beginning of this pandemic,' Gov. Gavin Newsom said at a briefing Tuesday.  'I want to focus on the issue of how deadly this disease is.'

    "Newsom said California is in the midst of its 'most acute peak' at the moment, and 60 53-foot refrigerated storage units are on standby, while thousands of body bags were distributed to San Diego, Los Angeles and Inyo counties."


    •  The Los Angeles Times reports that in Southern California, "the Long Beach City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to draft an urgent ordinance mandating an extra $4 an hour for grocery store workers for at least the next 120 days.

    "Councilwoman Mary Zendejas, who introduced the proposal, cited the need for immediate action amid soaring hospitalizations and infection rates."

    The story notes that "in March, several grocery store corporations offered $2 to $4 hourly raises to employees in response to the burgeoning pandemic. Many of those pay bumps lapsed in May, but workers said the risk is far greater now than it was then."

    However, "the California Grocers Assn., which counts large chains such as Kroger and Albertsons among its members, said it was concerned by the council’s decision and called it 'limited in scope … By singling out the grocery community, and by the same turn, failing to consult with store operators, we are concerned the city will make policy decisions based on flawed information and reasoning."

    This should be a retailer decision, not a mandate from the government that only impacts one sector.


    •  From National Public Radio:

    "Tyson Foods has fired seven managers at an Iowa pork plant after investigating allegations they bet on how many workers there would get sick from the coronavirus.

    "The company, one of the country's largest meat suppliers, launched an independent investigation into the complaints last month, suspending without pay the managers allegedly involved. Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder led the investigation."

    "The behaviors exhibited by these individuals do not represent the Tyson core values, which is why we took immediate and appropriate action to get to the truth," Tyson Foods President and CEO Dean Banks said in a statement Wednesday. "Now that the investigation has concluded, we are taking action based on the findings."

    They ought to be required to hand in their "I am a human being" identity cards, if you ask me.


    •  CBS News reports that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) has joined with the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 7 in Denver to "send a letter to Kroger Co. CEO Rodney McMullen, urging him to reinstate" a Hero Pay Nonus of $2 an hour for essential workers to "the 42,000 grocery workers represented by UFCW across the nation. The letter also requests the following safety improvements:  Enforcing mask requirements … Reinstating and enforcing strict shopper limits to allow social distancing … Improved staffing on all shifts to enable all workers to take COVID-19 sanitation breaks to wash their hands and disinfect the store."

    The letter says, in part:  “Hundreds of thousands of UFCW members work to keep YOUR stores clean, YOUR shelves stocked, and YOUR business running. Their work has enabled the large increases in sales and higher profits you’ve reaped since the pandemic began. Yet, they are working in fear, they are working in danger, and they are working without adequate support and respect from their employer, Kroger … They are risking their health and that of their families to keep America’s food supply chain running and the country fed.  It is time that YOU take care of Kroger’s frontline Essential Workers like they are taking care of your customers.”

    Kroger-owned King Soopers responded, in part:  “Our most urgent priority throughout this pandemic has been to provide a safe environment for our associates and customers. While meeting our societal obligation to provide open stores, e-commerce solutions and an efficiently operating supply chain so that our communities have access to fresh, affordable food and essentials. We are proud of our dedicated associates who are on the frontlines, serving our customers when they need us most. Since March, we have invested over $1.3 billion to reward our associates (i.e., Appreciation Pay, Hero Bonus and Thank You Pay) and safeguard our associates and customers."

    Just for fun, Kroger/King Soopers should've capitalized  a bunch of words in its statement, since that's clearly how Sanders and UFCW think you get people's attention.


    •  Channel 5 News in St. Louis reports that "Schnucks is investing $200,000 in the communities it operates by purchasing gift cards to local restaurants that will be awarded to all its employees.  Each Schnucks employee will receive a $15 gift card to a restaurant located within five miles of their work location, Schnucks announced in a press release Wednesday."

    This is a pattern with Schnucks in terms of community orientation:  "In April, Schnucks announced it would begin carrying grab-and-go meals from local restaurants and in July, the company expanded the partnerships to focus on Black-owned restaurants. "


    •  CNN reports that Starbucks "is temporarily suspending its buy-one-get-one drink deals, better known as "Happy Hour," in an effort to reduce the number of customers in its stores as US Covid-19 cases rise."

    The next two promotions, scheduled for December and January, were scratched "the increasing infection rate" and the "current guidance from the scientific community to not gather indoors in large groups for prolonged periods of time."

    In other words, the responsible thing to do, even if the bottom line takes a hit because of reduced promotions.


    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that Amazon "has asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to give priority to its workers as vaccinations for Covid-19 begin to roll out.

    "In a letter to a CDC vaccine-advisory panel Wednesday, the retail company requested that its front-line workers at its warehouses, data centers and Whole Foods Market grocery stores receive the vaccine 'at the earliest appropriate time.'

    "Amazon wrote that it employs more than 800,000 people in the U.S., making it the nation’s second-largest employer behind Walmart Inc."


    •  The Associated Press tells the story of Mayor Joyce Warshaw of Dodge City, Kansas, who resigned from her job this week after she was threatened by email and phone after expressing support for a local mask mandate.

    “I understand people are under a lot of pressure from various things that are happening around society like the pandemic, the politics, the economy, so on and so forth, but I also believe that during these times people are acting not as they normally would,” Warshaw said.

    Or, maybe that's exactly who these people are - bullies and morons.  I think she's giving them too much credit.

    Interestingly, Dodge City's residents once were a lot more civilized - like back in the 1880s.

    I was reading a piece in Smithsonian the other day saying that "Dodge City, Kansas, formed a municipal government in 1878. According to Stephen Aron, a professor of history at UCLA, the first law passed was one prohibiting the carry of guns in town, likely by civic leaders and influential merchants who wanted people to move there, invest their time and resources, and bring their families. Cultivating a reputation of peace and stability was necessary, even in boisterous towns, if it were to become anything more transient than a one-industry boom town."

    And now, they have bullies and morons who threaten anyone who disagrees with them.  

    I wonder what happens in a few months, when a lot of people have been vaccinated, but not enough to let people stop wearing masks.  What will happen to retailers in Dodge City and elsewhere who try to do the right thing to protect their employees and customers?  Will they be subjected to this nonsense, too?


    •  The New York Times this morning reports that "the start of the Australian Open will be delayed bythree weeks because of the coronavirus pandemic, a schedule released by the men’s tennis tour revealed on Wednesday night.

    The year’s first Grand Slam tournament, which usually takes place during the last two weeks of January, has been rescheduled to the middle two weeks of February. It will start on Feb. 8, according to the ATP schedule.


    • The Los Angeles Times has the story of Tom Cruise, who had "a full-blown meltdown about crew members who were caught violating social distancing protocols on the set of Mission: Impossible 7.

    Cruise was caught on tape saying:  “I don’t ever want to see it again — ever! … If I see you do it again, you’re f— gone. … That’s it! No apologies. You can tell it to the people that are losing their f— homes because our industry is shut down.”

    The Times writes that "the 3½ minutes of rage, occurring on the set of Paramount’s seventh entry in the high-stakes M:I franchise, currently filming outside London, is definitely a lot. Punctuated with multiple profanities," Cruise is heard "dressing down of crew members who were, apparently, standing too close to one another."

    “I’m on the phone with every f— studio at night, insurance companies, producers,” he said, “and they’re looking at us and using us to make their movies. We are creating thousands of jobs ... . We are not shutting this motherf— movie down. Is that understood?”

    I'm not a big Tom Cruise fan, to be honest … but I've never liked him as much as  do right now.  He's right - when people ignore the science and abandon necessary precautions, they don't just put other people at risk, but put jobs and industries at risk … not to mention the nation's economy, which cannot recover until we get this thing under control.

    When he gets back from London, maybe he could swing by Dodge City?

    Published on: December 17, 2020

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  Amazon is saying that it has "more than 50 million monthly active users worldwide for its Fire TV device platform," NextTV reports.

    No surprise here.  I'm one of them, and I probably use Fire Tv as much as anything.


    •  From Bloomberg, a story saying that Amazon "said the Defense Department wrongfully awarded a highly lucrative cloud-computing contract to Microsoft even after it proposed a cheaper and technically superior bid for the deal … Amazon’s lawsuit alleges the company’s bid offered the Pentagon superior technology, including better tactical-edge devices, which offer cloud-computing services to remote locations, and more robust data centers."

    The story says that Amazon made the assertions in an amended complaint filed about two months ago but only unsealed this week.

    "Amazon Web Services, Amazon’s cloud unit, filed a lawsuit in November 2019 alleging that political interference by President Donald Trump cost the company the deal," the story says.  "Amazon said in the suit that the Defense Department failed to fairly judge its bid because Trump viewed Amazon Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos as his 'political enemy.'

    "The contract, known as the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, or JEDI, is valued at as much as $10 billion over a decade."

    Published on: December 17, 2020

    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    "BarkBox Inc., a startup best known for its monthly subscription service for dogs, is merging with a blank-check company in a $1.6 billion deal, including debt, according to people familiar with the matter.

    "The acquisition by Northern Star Acquisitions Corp., which is expected to raise $454 million, could be announced as soon as Thursday, they said.

    "The deal seeks to capitalize on a pandemic-fueled rise in pet adoptions and pet-related spending that led Petco Animal Supplies Inc. to file for an initial public offering, and pushed online pet-supply store Chewy Inc.’s latest quarterly sales up 45% year-over-year.

    "Spending on gifts for pets are up 21% this year compared with 2019, a bigger jump than spending on gifts for humans, according to a recent report by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP."


    •  CNBC reports that "Luckin Coffee has agreed to pay a $180 million penalty to settle accounting fraud charges for 'intentionally and materially' overstating its 2019 revenue and understating a net loss, U.S. regulators said on Wednesday.

    "The U.S. Securities and Commission (SEC) fine on the China-based rival to Starbucks comes after it said earlier this year that much of its 2019 sales were fabricated, sending its shares plunging and sparking an investigation by China’s securities regulator and the SEC … Luckin has not admitted or denied the charges, the SEC said. The company has agreed to pay the penalty, which may be offset by certain payments it makes to its security holders in connection with its provisional liquidation proceeding in the Cayman Islands."

    Published on: December 17, 2020

    Got the following email from MNB reader Joe Axford about yesterday's Innovation Conversation about the dangers of social media and the movie, The Social Dilemma:

    Thank you both for a great year of "Innovation Conversation." IMO when Twitter, Google, and FB start to influence elections, and how we think, we have a big problem. Follow the money, find out who they are getting donations from. What news stories they cover or don't cover. I am not currently on any social media, except for Google which can't really be avoided. I tried Twitter this past summer and got off fairly quickly, after being verbally threatened for some of my views. When social media starts to shape how people think and act, we're all in big trouble. 


    In a related email, one MNB reader wrote:

    I found it interesting in today’s MorningNewsBeat, after watching your Innovation Conversation on The Social Dilemma, where you and Tom seemed to make the case that Amazon was different (paraphrasing) because of they are in the business of selling things and have more transparency.

    The next article by Michael Sansolo had this: “… - the harsh reaction given Amazon’s new Halo system (including from the Washington Post, owned by Jeff Bezos), which was described by one tech writer as incredibly invasive and has already triggered talk of a limitations from Congress. Halo tracks a bevy of vital statistics and then goes a few miles further, such as grading the happiness of the user’s vocal tone.”

    And  you followed with this comment in response to the Amazon /Plastic Waste Excess article: “I'd also suggest that the problem is only partly Amazon.  It also is all the people who have become addicted to Prime, to fast deliveries, to random online ordering without thinking about the environmental impact”

    Those don’t seem to align to giving Amazon a ‘pass’ because they are ‘just trying to sell stuff’. Addicted to Prime = “Users”?

     
    I think Amazon is an enormous complicated company.  It does some things right, and other things wrong.  I'm comfortable with saying that the Amazon business model is both different and more transparent than, say, Facebook about how it uses data … and then say that some of what it does is way too invasive and other things may not be the best for the environment.

    Like every other person and company, Amazon is a work in progress.


    Responding to the story about Amazon's waste, one MNB reader wrote:

    Thanks for this. I’m not an Amazon fan because of the waste – both cardboard boxes and plastic. I prefer to support brick and mortar businesses, and... bring my own bags for the things I buy.


    And, on another subject, from another reader:

    Amazon and Walmart getting into the banking business, didn’t Tennessee Ernie Ford sign a popular song “Sixteen Tons” about this very thing. Amazon and Walmart have been both called out in the media for their treatment of their core groups of employees not being able to obtain  livable wages  and benefits. What next, should we have Facebook and Twitter running the United States State Department and Foreign Policy?

    'Wouldn't be how I'd vote.

    Published on: December 17, 2020

    It is time to rewrite Major League Baseball's record books.

    ESPN reports that MLB has decided to reclassify the Negro Leagues, where Black players only were allowed to play until Jackie Robinson broke the sport's color barrier in 1947, as a major league - meaning that statistics and records achieved by Negro League ballplayers now will be added toi the official MLB record.

    What this means, for example, is that "Willie Mays will add some hits to his record, Monte Irvin's big league batting average should climb over .300, and Satchel Paige might add nearly 150 victories to his total.  Josh Gibson, the greatest of all Negro League sluggers, might just wind up with a major league record too."

    ESPN points out that "the Negro Leagues consisted of seven leagues, and MLB will include records from those circuits between 1920 and 1948. The Negro Leagues began to dissolve one year after Jackie Robinson became MLB's first Black player with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947."  While "there was no standard method of record-keeping for the Negro Leagues," it is believed that "there are enough box scores to stitch together some of its statistical past."

    One example:  "While some have estimated Gibson slugged more than 800 homers during 16 Negro League seasons, it's unlikely that enough records exist for him to officially pass Barry Bonds for the career record at 762.

    "Depending on what Elias and MLB rule, though, Gibson could wind up with another notable record. His .441 batting average in 1943 would be the best season mark ever, edging Hugh Duffy's .440 from 1894. Gibson's line came in fewer than 80 games, however, far short of the modern standard of 162."

    KC's View:

    Unlike Bonds, of course, Gibson did it without steroids.  If they conclude that he gets the record, I'm totally cool with that.  This adjustment should've been done a long time ago.