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    Published on: December 18, 2020

    The US Department of Labor yesterday said that during the week ending December 12, unemployment claims  rose for the second straight week and hit a three-month high at 885,000.

    To be sure, claims are down significantly since March, when they were close to seven million, but, as the Wall Street Journal writes, "the four-week moving average, which smooths out weekly volatility, is increasing after trending downward since the spring … they rose in some populous states, including Illinois and California, that have seen steep infection increases and new rounds of government restrictions."

    The Journal points out that "economic data broadly point to a slowdown. Retail sales dropped 1.1% in November from a month earlier, according to a Commerce Department report Wednesday. Overall consumer spending, which includes retail and services consumption, has continued to increase, but more slowly than over the summer."

    KC's View:

    It all seems to point to a K-shaped recovery, in which some folks are doing very well (especially if they are invested in the stock market) and a lot of folks struggling … which means that up-market and specialty food stores will do well, as well as value-centric formats.

    Published on: December 18, 2020

    Rolling Stone reports that meal kit company Blue Apron is collaborating with animation company Pixar for a dinner-and-a-movie promotion built around Soul, the new film about a jazz musician who accidentally finds himself in the afterlife, being released for the holiday season.

    According to the story, "The musical munchies include four meal kit deliveries over the course of a month between December 21 and the week of January 11. Each week, a new Soul food option will be added to Blue Apron’s 'Signature For 4' family plan menu and subscribers can select it to fill one of their food slots at no added cost. Blue Apron says the entrees were inspired by Soul, which features the voices of Jamie Foxx and Tina Fey and music by Jon Batiste, Trent Reznor, and Atticus Ross."

    Rolling Stone writes that the meals include "'Tempo Turkey Sloppy Joes,' a 'harmonic' pan-roasted chicken with buttermilk smashed potatoes and collard greens, 'Cool Cajun' chicken lettuce cups, and a 'Smooth Salmon' dish with homemade barbecue sauce and vegetables … Pixar curated a 21-song playlist to listen to while following each recipe. The playlist can be accessed through a QR code on the recipe card and played through all the usual channels like Spotify, Amazon, or YouTube."

    Here's a trailer for the movie:

    KC's View:

    First of all, the movie looks utterly charming … I suspect this will be a big hit over the holidays with families largely cooped up with fewer options than usual.  Smart play for Blue Apron.

    This also reminds me of the story from last week in which chef/restaurateur Rick Bayless talked about creating "experiences" even with take out food, and even doing things like providing Latin music playlists for people ordered food from his Topolobampo in Chicago.  "Experiential" doesn't have to mean just in store.

    Published on: December 18, 2020

    This one is a total winner … sent to me by MNB reader Greg Seminara … it is for a Dutch mail order pharmacy company called Doc Morris.

    KC's View:

    I can remember a time, seemingly not that long ago, when I would identify with the young people in a commercial like this.  And then, with the parents.  And now, I see myself in the old guy.

    When the hell did that happen?

    Published on: December 18, 2020

    Bloomberg has an excellent story that shines a light on Amazon's labor practices.

    Here's how the story frames the issue:

    " Inc. job ads are everywhere. Plastered on city buses, displayed on career web sites, slotted between songs on classic rock stations. They promise a quick start, $15 an hour and health insurance. In recent weeks, America’s second-largest employer has rolled out videos featuring happy package handlers wearing masks, a pandemic-era twist on its annual holiday season hiring spree.

    :Amazon’s object is to persuade potential recruits that there’s no better place to work.

    "The reality is less rosy. Many Amazon warehouse employees struggle to pay the bills, and more than 4,000 employees are on food stamps in nine states studied by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Only Walmart, McDonald’s and two dollar-store chains have more workers requiring such assistance, according to the report, which said 70% of recipients work full-time.

    "As Amazon opens U.S. warehouses at the rate of about one a day, it’s transforming the logistics industry from a career destination with the promise of middle-class wages into entry-level work that’s just a notch above being a burger flipper or convenience store cashier. "

    You can read the full story here.

    KC's View:

    The big question that Bloomberg is asking, it seems to me, is whether the K-shaped recovery that we're experiencing right now actually is a map of the foreseeable future, and what that means not just in terms of the economy, but the nation's culture and politics.

    Nothing good, I think.

    It further polarizes the country, dampening belief in the American dream being available to everyone.  That's a hard country to do business in for a lot of companies.

    Published on: December 18, 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 US, here are the numbers:  17,628,568 confirmed Covid-19 coronavirus cases, with 317,929 resultant deaths and 10,294,941 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there now have been 75,380,870 confirmed coronavirus cases, 1,670,620 fatalities, and 52,938,025 reported  recoveries.  (Source.)

    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    "A Food and Drug Administration advisory panel recommended Thursday that Moderna Inc.’s Covid-19 vaccine be cleared for broad use, setting the stage for the FDA to grant an expected emergency-use authorization by late Friday.

    "The advisory panel’s vote was 20-0, with one abstention, to recommend use of the Moderna vaccine for people 18 years of age and older."

    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    "Newly reported cases of Covid-19 in the U.S. dipped from a record high a day earlier, as did deaths, but hospitalizations continued to set records … Hospitalizations hit a record for a 12th straight day, with 114,237 people admitted, including 21,900 in intensive care, according to the Covid Tracking Project.

    "In Southern California, one of the hardest-hit areas of the nation, intensive-care unit capacity reached 0% on Thursday. Although officials have said that hitting 0% doesn’t mean that no beds are available, Southern California’s ICU capacity has steadily eroded as case numbers have climbed.

    "Hospitalizations in New York are also surging. The number of people hospitalized for Covid-19 across New York state reached 6,147 people on Thursday, a figure not seen since mid-May and more than six times the number of patients hospitalized for the disease just two months ago."

    •  The Washington Post reports that "in Boston, pediatric wards are being consolidated to fit all the adults battling covid-19. Philadelphia hospitals are once again barring family visitors due to transmission worries. And in Los Angeles, a public hospital canceled elective and scheduled surgeries because it cannot spare ICU beds.

    "Mounting hospitalizations in these and other states are pushing some hospital systems to near breaking points, with many scrambling to reconfigure themselves to handle a crush of patients streaming in after holiday gatherings and the arrival of flu season."

    •  From the Washington Post:

    "The Food and Drug Administration reiterated Thursday that the newly authorized Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine should continue to be used with no new restrictions despite several reports of health-care workers who had a severe allergic reaction after receiving the injection.

    "Two of those incidents happened in the United Kingdom last week, and a third in Alaska on Tuesday. Another Alaska hospital employee had a brief but much less serious reaction on Wednesday.

    "The FDA said it is closely monitoring these situations and is teaming with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to investigate what incited these responses. While that is being investigated, the FDA is working with Pfizer to update fact sheets and prescribing information to reflect the evolving information. 

    "The FDA said that would underscore an existing requirement — that facilities administering the vaccine must be capable of immediately treating any severe allergic reaction."

    •  USA Today reports that "Uber will offer 10 million free or discounted rides to people looking to receive the COVID-19 vaccination.  The rides include transportation to and from their destination, as well as rides for their second and final dose."

    The story says that Uber is partnering "with organizations dedicated to serving communities of color, such as the National Urban League, the Morehouse School of Medicine and the National Action Network, to help target riders that could benefit from the offer the most."

    •  The New York Times has a story about how a mass-vaccination program designed to target residents and employees in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, who have been hard-hit by the coronavirus.  "In coming days, squads of CVS and Walgreens employees, clad in protective gear and carrying small coolers, will begin to arrive" at these facilities, prepared to administer vaccinations.

    But, the Times writes, "even before it begins, the mass-vaccination campaign is facing serious obstacles that are worrying nursing home executives, industry watchdogs, elder-care lawyers and medical experts. They expect nursing homes to be the most challenging front in the mission to vaccinate Americans.

    "Some residents and staff are balking at taking the vaccine. Short-staffed facilities are concerned about workers calling in sick with side effects, straining resources just as some frail residents are likely to experience fever and fatigue from the shot."

    And, the Times writes, "there remains widespread confusion about a key element: how nursing homes will get consent to vaccinate residents who aren’t able to make their own medical decisions. A CVS executive said such residents’ legal representatives will be able to provide consent to nursing homes electronically or over the phone, but officials at multiple large nursing home chains said they weren’t aware of that.

    "If residents or their representatives haven’t given consent before CVS or Walgreens employees show up, it is not clear whether or when they will have another chance to be inoculated."

    •  Business Insider reports that "CVS Health is planning to pay special $250 bonuses to almost 200,000 of its workers to reward them for their work during the COVID-19 pandemic.  The bonuses are for part-time and full-time workers in a variety of roles, including retail, long-term care pharmacy, distribution, pharmacy benefit management, and other areas.

    "This is the second time CVS has paid bonuses during the pandemic. CVS offered bonuses ranging from $100 to $500 in March."

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that an independent report has criticized the Swedish government's approach to dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.  The story notes that "in the spring, Sweden hoped the virus would spread chiefly among the young and healthy, creating herd immunity with minimal deaths."

    Now, "The increase in deaths and hospitalizations has already forced Sweden to set aside a policy of using voluntary measures to contain the virus, a strategy that has drawn global interest. By contrast, most European countries have used lockdowns and mandatory restrictions to contain the virus this year … With a daily average of over 6,000 new cases over the past week, hospitals in virtually all of the country are under strain, Ann Söderström, Sweden’s director of health and medical care, told reporters Tuesday. In Stockholm, hospitals have nearly twice as many Covid-19 patients as they do intensive-care beds, said Bjorn Eriksson, the city’s health and medical care director."

    Interesting, since there are folks in this country who point to Sweden as an example of how to do it right, of how herd immunity is the best way to approach the pandemic.  Not so much, apparently.

    Published on: December 18, 2020

    From the Wall Street Journal:

    "A coalition of 38 states filed an antitrust suit against Alphabet Inc.’s Google unit, alleging it maintained monopoly power over the internet-search market through anticompetitive contracts and conduct.

    "The states alleged that Google leverages its position as the dominant search engine - and the personal data such a perch allows the company to gather - to limit consumers from using competing search engines, force businesses to use its proprietary advertising tools and foreclose competition from specialized search engines for travel or local businesses."

    According to the story, "The 38 states filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., the same venue where the Justice Department filed a suit Oct. 20 against Google targeting its search business. The states said they were seeking to join the two lawsuits into one piece of litigation.

    "Another state case, which focused on Google’s digital advertising empire, was filed Wednesday in a Texas federal court."

    “Consumers have better products and services when they’ve got choice in the marketplace, and they’ve been deprived,” Phil Weiser, the Democratic Colorado Attorney General of Colorado, tells the Journal.

    Tom Miller, the Republican Attorney General of Iowa, added, “This will be a unified effort."

    The story notes that "Google has called the federal suit and the Texas-led suit deeply flawed, arguing that it competes on merit and maintains dominance because consumers choose its product first."

    KC's View:

    I refer you back to the Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma, and this week's Innovation Conversation on MNB.

    This discussion has just begun.

    Published on: December 18, 2020

    •  USA Today reports that Target has set December 24 at 5 pm as the cutoff to order for same-day curbside pickup or delivery.

    “We know guests are looking for those last-minute gifts or items right before the holiday, and our industry-leading same-day services are here to save the day with a fast, safe and reliable way to get everything they need,” Rick Gomez, Target’s chief marketing, digital and strategy officer, said in a statement.

    •  USA Today also reports that "Amazon is giving last-minute shoppers until Christmas Eve to place orders for delivery by Christmas."

    Published on: December 18, 2020

    •  From TechCrunch:

    "Walmart and TikTok announced … they will be partnering on the first pilot test of a new shoppable product experience on TikTok’s social video app. Walmart, as you may recall, had planned to invest in TikTok when the app was being threatened with a ban from the U.S. market unless it sold its U.S. operations to an American company, per a Trump administration executive order — a ban that’s now on pause after multiple legal challenges.

    "Walmart’s interest in TikTok, however, has not waned. The retailer, though seemingly an odd fit for a social network, had seen the potential to attract a younger online consumer through video and, in particular, livestreamed video … During a Walmart livestream, TikTok users will be able to shop from Walmart’s fashion items without having to leave the TikTok app, in a pilot of TikTok’s new 'shoppable product.' The fashion items themselves will be featured in content from 10 TikTok creators, led by host Michael Le, whose TikTok dances have earned him 43+ million fans. Other creators will be more up-and-coming stars, like Devan Anderson, Taylor Hage and Zahra Hashimee."

    Published on: December 18, 2020

    •  Coca-Cola announced that, as part of its paring back of non-core brands, it plans to eliminate 2,200 jobs around the world, including 1,200 in the US, through a combination of buyouts and layoffs.

    The Wall Street Journal writes that Coke "has been trimming expenses and products amid the closures of restaurants, bars, movie theaters and sports stadiums that sell its drinks around the world.

    "The reductions amount to roughly 12% of the company’s U.S. workforce."

    Published on: December 18, 2020

    We had a story yesterday about how The Ferrero Group, owner of Nutella, 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."

    One MNB reader responded:

    Something old is new again.  Think soda/beer bottles from 50 plus years ago.  However, what bothers me is the use of the word ‘scheme’, starts the story off on a bad note. 

    "Scheme," in this case, isn't a bad thing - in Europe, that word is used as a synonym for "initiative."

    MNB reader Jim Antrup wrote:

    I noted your piece this morning on the returnable jars for Nutella and it reminded me of a trip several years ago visiting my son and daughter in law in Germany during the Christmas holidays. We visited several Christmas markets  around the Stuttgart area, in all cases you could purchase Gluwien (mulled wine) in glass mugs  for 3 Euro’s, refills were 1 euro and at the end of the evening you could turn them back in a get 2 Euros deposit back. We also visited a medieval Christmas Market where in one of the booths they were serving a very hearty hot soup in glass bowls with the same approach, when you turned the soup bowl back in you received your deposit back. Europeans are much more comfortable and accepting of this, but yes I do hope this is the future.

    From MNB reader Kathy Means:

    Back in the dark ages, when I was a girl, this was a common thing – you paid a deposit on a milk bottle, even soda bottles (I was too young to know if you paid them on beer bottles). You turned the bottles back in and they were sanitized and used again. So is this the future? Or maybe back to the future.

    Finally, the other day MNB took note of a Los Angeles Times report that yesterday the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) "approved a final rule governing 'industrial loan companies' that will allow major businesses to seek banking charters while escaping capital and liquidity demands faced by dedicated financial firms."  Businesses that, as it happens, could include familiar names such as Walmart, Amazon, and Facebook.  While the rule change does not allow these companies to launch full-service banks, it will allow them to get into the lending business."

    Yesterday, an MNB reader said that the possibility had him humming Tennessee Ernie Ford's "Sixteen Tons" … and that prompted another MNB reader to write:

    "South Park" tackled this a few years back.  It's a bit crude at the beginning but it hits exactly the notes in the comments.

    The "South Park" segment actually is sort of brilliant … I found a version of it on YouTube that trimmed most of the profanity.  Here it is:

    Published on: December 18, 2020

    In Thursday Night Football, the LA Chargers defeated the Las Vegas Raiders 30-27.

    Published on: December 18, 2020

    It always has been my opinion that The Godfather, Part III is not nearly as bad a movie as its reputation would suggest.  I saw it in the theater (remember movie theaters?) when it first opened in 1990, and probably have seen it once or twice since then.  Its biggest problem always has been that it wasn't The Godfather or The Godfather, Part II - the third and concluding film of the saga of the Corleone crime family was a very good movie by any standard other than the one set by director Francis Ford Coppola.

    Now, in celebration of the movie's 30th anniversary, Coppola has returned to the film by re-editing it and renaming it - it is now The Godfather Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone, available for home viewing via a number of streaming services.

    The biggest change in the movie is the placement of a key scene in which Michael Corleone, the Godfather of the title who is desperately trying to get out of the crime business and embrace legitimacy, is asked for a favor by a corrupt Catholic Cardinal, a request that sets much of the plot in motion.  Originally, the scene was about a half-hour into the movie, which was the equivalent of burying the lede;  now, it is right up front, and it gives the movie a charge and momentum.

    There are other bits and pieces of the movie that have been reshaped, and the ending has been changed -  the result is that The Godfather Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone is a better movie than The Godfather, Part III - though still not as good as the original two. I suspect that some might be frustrated by the moviemaking - Coppola is a classicist, and the movie has a deliberate pace that some may find too slow.  (He loves to fade to black between scenes, which is something you don't often see in modern movies.  It isn't either a good or bad thing.  Just different and of a specific time.)  Oddly enough, it feels a little more timely - we know a lot more now about the machinations of the Catholic Church bureaucracy than we did three decades ago - Coda shows us that in some ways, there is a thin ethical line between the Mob and some in the Church.

    It's important to remember that one of the reasons Part III wasn't particularly well-received when it first opened is that Martin Scorsese's Good Fellas -  an energetic crime film that is the stylistic antithesis of Coppola's movie - had opened just three months before, which had the effect of making The Godfather, Part III look like a remnant of an earlier time.  Which, to be fair, it is -  but it remains a very good film worth seeing, if only as a reminder of what a great filmmaker Coppola was.

    I've found myself occasionally, when looking for something to watch that feels like comfort food, turning to the very first season of "Mission: Impossible," available on CBS All Access.

    I remember vividly watching that season when it premiered in 1966 - we only had a black and white TV at the time, and I can recall being fascinated with the pacing and tension so effectively communicated in those one-hour episodes.  It was like nothing I'd seen before.   I've been watching them in color these days, and they pretty much hold up - you can see the writers and producers testing different things and breaking the formula before it was set in stone. It's fun and, for time, kind of daring.

    Also, it allows you to know a piece of trivia that most people get wrong.  Ask folks the makeup of the original cast of "Mission: Impossible," and they'll usually say Peter Graves, Martin Landau, Barbara Bain, Greg Morris and Peter Lupus.  But that's wrong on two counts.  First, Peter Graves joined the series as Jim Phelps in season two - in the first season, the team is led by Dan Briggs, played by Steven Hill.  And Landau, while he is in many of the season one episodes, only is a guest star - he doesn't become a regular until season two.  

    Just more useless information available here on MNB.

    Here's an old promo:

    I have a wine for you this week - the 2017 Acrobat Pinot Noir from Oregon.   It's rich and delicious … but let's face it, if you told me that the only wine I could drink for the rest of my life would be Oregon pinot noirs, I'd be okay with that.

    That's it for this week.  Have a good weekend … I'll see you Monday.

    Stay safe.  Be healthy.