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    Published on: February 11, 2021

    Monday is Presidents Day, a national holiday here in the US that I'm going to take off.  I'm actually going to extend it a bit and take tomorrow off, too, so I can get a four-day weekend.

    I'll be back Tuesday with all-new hand-crafted news and commentary.

    Have a good weekend … Stay safe.  Be healthy.

    Sláinte!

    (My life...)

    Published on: February 11, 2021

    An MNB reader wanted the Content Guy to weigh in on the idea that in some states, smokers are getting priority treatment when it comes to vaccine availability.  KC had an immediate reaction ... and then, some second thoughts.  (And then, a third thought...)

    Published on: February 11, 2021

    by Kevin Coupe

    USA Today reports that home improvement chain Lowe's has come up with a unique Valentine's Day promotion, betting that "quarantining couples stuck at home watching HGTV reruns want nothing more than a 'Night of Lowemance,' an unlikely pairing of flowers and a Sherwin Williams paint menu by candlelight."

    As many as 50 couples c an register to attend the after-hours event, which will be held at Lowe's stores in 10 markets.

    "We’re ready to get a little romantic in an unconventional way," says Marisa Thalberg, Lowe's executive vice president, chief brand and marketing officer.  "Not all of the typical Valentine’s Day night outs will be available to people this year. We thought we can create a really different, fun, surprising and safe Valentine’s Day experience."

    There also will be a virtual event for couples that don't make the cut for the in-store promotion, or live in other markets.

    I have to admit that I'm really hoping that Mrs. Content Guy doesn't see this … because a night in a hardware store would be one of her definitions of heaven.  The problem is, it would be one of my definitions of hell.

    Though, on reflection, if it would make her happy it would make me happy.  (But, after more time together in the last year than we've ever had in our marriage, what she really might want for Valentine's Day is a night away from me.)

    Now there's an Eye-Opener. (Even after 37+ years of marriage.)

    Happy Valentine's Day, all.

    Published on: February 11, 2021

    CNBC reports that Walmart's plan to team up with Oracle to acquire the US business of Chinese social media app TikTok "has been indefinitely shelved as the Biden administration reviews security concerns with Chinese tech companies."

    The acquisition originally was prompted by a Trump administration dictate that the app would not operate in the US while under Chinese control and ownership.  Walmart saw in the policy an opportunity to gain partial ownership of a technology that would allow it to, as CNBC puts it, "follow trends, create shoppable content, and strengthen its brand among teens and 20-somethings."  It first teamed up with Microsoft to make a bid, but then shifted its allegiance to Oracle in an arrangement that would've given it 7.5 percent ownership of TikTok.

    However, CNBC also suggests that even if the deal is not mandated by the federal government, Walmart will remain interested in using the app:

    "Jefferies analyst Steph Wissink said a stake in TikTok would give Walmart an edge over competitors that also use the social media app. She compared it to being an auto mechanic versus an enthusiast. As a partial owner of TikTok, Walmart could pop the hood and better understand the powerful social media app. It could gather more data about how to make its ad campaigns or videos more potent. It could even tinker with how the app works to give it a leg up or box out other retailers, she said."

    But, even if the terms change, "the app will remain an important media platform for Walmart by 'seeding brand awareness and relevance in a generation that will eventually age into their spending power years.'  By using the app, she said, Walmart is thinking a decade ahead."

    KC's View:

    I'm sure that Walmart would prefer to have ownership because that makes this both an offensive and defensive play -  not only can it use the technology, but it can prevent, if it wants to, competitors from using it.  But either way, thinking a decade ahead is a powerful strategic imperative.

    Published on: February 11, 2021

    From the Wall Street Journal this morning:

    "Worker filings for unemployment claims fell last week to a level well below an early January peak, a sign the labor market is mending from a steep slowdown.

    "The number of weekly claims for unemployment benefits decreased to 793,000 last week from 812,000 a week earlier, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Claims have steadily declined since early January when they exceeded 900,000. Filings remain above the pre-pandemic peak of 695,000.

    "Employers resumed hiring in January after payrolls fell at the end of 2020, and job openings picked up, driven by growth in industries that have weathered the pandemic relatively well.

    The worst of the pandemic’s effects on the job market appear to have passed, said Aneta Markowska, chief economist at Jefferies LLC.

    "'Things are really starting to improve again in the labor market,' she said."

    Published on: February 11, 2021

    Portland, Oregon, has had a tough year.  Pandemic.  Business closures.  Civil unrest.  The impact of deadly wildfires.

    But despite it all, "Top Chef" went through with its plans to shoot the new season there, even as it dealt with all the safety regimens and protocols to keep people safe.

    And now, Bravo is out with a trailer for the new season, which will premiere on April 1.

    I miss Portland, Seattle and the entire Pacific Northwest desperately … my time there always revives my soul, and it has been too long … though, in all honesty, I have no idea what I'll find when I finally am able to return.  But I am emotionally invested in Portland's future, and look forward to getting back there.

    In the meantime, the "Top Chef" show, which celebrates so much of what I love about the region, just makes me happy.

    Published on: February 11, 2021

    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 27,897,214 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, resulting in 483,200 deaths and 17,827323 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 107,926,455 confirmed coronavirus cases … 2,366,991 resultant fatalities … and 79,975,949 reported recoveries.  (Source.)


    •  The Washington Post reports that "at least 34.4 million people have received one or both doses of the vaccine in the U.S.  This includes more than 10.9 million people who have been fully vaccinated … 66 million doses have been distributed."

    This translates to about 3.3 percent of the US population being fully vaccinated, and 10.4 percent being partially vaccinated.


    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    "The number of people hospitalized due to Covid-19 in the U.S. fell to the lowest level since Nov. 16 as newly reported cases remained under 100,000 for the fourth day in a row.

    "For the second consecutive day, hospitalizations due to the disease were under 80,000, totaling 76,979 as of Wednesday, according to the Covid Tracking Project. Pressure was also easing on intensive care units, with 15,788 Covid-19 patients requiring treatment in ICUs across the country, the lowest total since Nov. 19."

    However, the Journal writes, "The spread of new variants of the virus is a growing concern. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 34 states had reported 932 cases of the variant first identified in the U.K., while nine cases of a South African variant and three cases of the variant from Brazil had been found, as of Feb. 9. Florida remained the state with the most detected cases of the U.K. variant, at 343 identified cases."


    •  As retailers around the country prepare to receive more than a million doses of the Covid-19 vaccines and develop protocols and hire personnel to make sure that they are able to get the doses into people's arms, a question has emerged - what do they do with leftover doses at the end of the day?

    Retailers tell the Wall Street Journal that " they are determined that no doses will go to waste, and are compiling wait lists and putting their own workers on standby in case extra shots become available."  However, the story says, "The question of what to do with extra shots can be tricky … Doses, which can expire within hours after coming out of cold storage, might go unclaimed if people don’t show for appointments, or if vials contain more doses than expected."

    The Journal writes that "each state has its own rules for vaccine eligibility, in addition to guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In some places, a vaccine provider can be penalized for inoculating a person who doesn’t meet eligibility requirements, though generally those rules are relaxed when it comes to finding a use for spare doses that would otherwise expire, according to retailers and state guidelines.

    "Retail pharmacies are taking varied approaches to extra doses, with some saying they’ll give priority to their employees while others say they’ll try to find takers among the public and only vaccinate employees as a last resort, if at all. Most companies say they will coordinate with local health officials to ensure additional doses get to the right recipients."

    The New York Times has the other side of this story, however:

    "The Texas doctor had six hours. Now that a vial of Covid-19 vaccine had been opened on this late December night, he had to find 10 eligible people for its remaining doses before the precious medicine expired. In six hours.

    "Scrambling, the doctor made house calls and directed people to his home outside Houston. Some were acquaintances; others, strangers. A bed-bound nonagenarian. A woman in her 80s with dementia. A mother with a child who uses a ventilator.

    "After midnight, and with just minutes before the vaccine became unusable, the doctor, Hasan Gokal, gave the last dose to his wife, who has a pulmonary disease that leaves her short of breath.

    "For his actions, Dr. Gokal was fired from his government job and then charged with stealing 10 vaccine doses worth a total of $135 - a shun-worthy misdemeanor that sent his name and mug shot rocketing around the globe."

    The Times goes on:

    "The matter of Dr. Gokal is playing out as pandemic-weary Americans scour websites and cross state lines chasing rumors, all in anxious pursuit of a medicine in short supply. The case opens wide to interpretation, becoming a study in the learn-as-you-go bioethics of the country’s stumbling vaccine rollout.

    "Late last month, a judge dismissed the charge as groundless, after which the local district attorney vowed to present the matter to a grand jury. And while prosecutors portray the doctor as a cold opportunist, his lawyer says he acted responsibly — even heroically."

    If the way the Times describes the scenario is accurate, then this fellow sounds like a hero to me.  Protocols are fine, and I think we have to respect them - the rich people who take advantage of their resources to cut the line, especially at the expense of poor folks who have been bearing the brunt of the pandemic, are utterly disgusting.   But in the end, the goal has to be to let none of the vaccines go to waste, and to use common sense.


    •  Go figure.  Two masks are better than one.

    From the New York Times this morning:

    "Wearing a mask — any mask — reduces the risk of infection with the coronavirus, but wearing a more tightly fitted surgical mask, or layering a cloth mask atop a surgical mask, can vastly increase protections to the wearer and others, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on Wednesday.

    "New research by the agency shows that transmission of the virus can be reduced by up to 96.5 percent if both an infected individual and an uninfected individual wear tightly fitted surgical masks or a cloth-and-surgical-mask combination.

    "Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, director of the C.D.C., announced the findings during Wednesday’s White House coronavirus briefing, and coupled them with a plea for Americans to wear 'a well-fitting mask' that has two or more layers … One option for reducing transmission is to wear a cloth mask over a surgical mask, the agency said. The alternative is to fit the surgical mask more tightly on the face by 'knotting and tucking' - that is, knotting the two strands of the ear loops together where they attach to the edge of the mask, then folding and flattening the extra fabric at the mask’s edge and tucking it in for a tighter seal."


    •  Politico has a piece about some hopeful predictions by Ian Shepherdson, an award-winning British economist who is the founder of Pantheon Macroeconomics.

    Richardson, the story says, has "some very hopeful thoughts on Covid-19," writing, "Could the U.S. be much further down the road towards Covid herd immunity than is popularly believed? We're asking the question because of two unexpected developments in the data, one which has emerged over the past months and one of which is very recent.

    "First, the drop in new cases since the holiday spike began to fade has been steeper than we expected. … [T]he combination of falling test numbers and falling positivity is what we'd expect to see when a pandemic is fading … If this persists indefinitely, Covid will be gone - as far as policymakers are concerned - well before the middle of the year."

    Richardson reportedly has two caveats:  "“Reopenings … could slow this progress, and the risk of much more rapid spread of new variants is very real."  And, a recovery could "torque up the inflation risk."

    Published on: February 11, 2021

    •  Uber this week said that its Q4 revenue was down 16 percent from the same period a year ago, and that it saw a $968 million loss during the quarter, with ride bookings down 47 percent.

    But…it also said that food delivery orders were up 128 percent, and that revenue from food deliveries almost outpaced its ride hailing business.


    •  From the Seattle Times:

    "For the third time in three years, the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has ordered Amazon to stop selling illegal pesticides on its online marketplace, saying the chemicals pose 'a significant and immediate health risk to consumers, children, pets, and others exposed to the products.'

    "In its most recent 'stop-sale' order, issued last month and announced Tuesday, the EPA’s Seattle office told Amazon to take down listings for dozens of products the agency said are potentially dangerous or ineffective, including some products claiming to kill viruses.

    "Amazon has removed those products, a spokesperson for the Seattle-based commerce giant said in a statement. Since the order was issued on Jan. 7, Amazon has put 'processes in place' to 'proactively block' unregistered pesticides and products making inaccurate claims about COVID-19 before they are listed for sale, the spokesperson said."


    •  Same-store sales may be "skyrocketing" at Best Buy, the Wall Street Journal reports, but as the retailer "adapts to a world where more shopping happens online," it is "cutting some jobs and reducing hours."

    A spokesman acknowledged that "customer shopping behavior will be permanently changed in a way that is even more digital.  Our workforce will need to evolve to meet the evolving needs of customers while providing more flexible opportunities for our people."

    Best Buy has been developing a program that uses stores as shipping hubs, which may in part explain why it is adjusting its workforce and labor investment in a way more appropriate to the current environment.


    •  Amazon announced that its "Counterfeit Crimes Unit filed four federal lawsuits on behalf of Dutch Blitz Acquisition Corporation, a family-owned card game maker. The lawsuits seek recovery of the profits the owners of Dutch Blitz have lost from counterfeit versions of its card game, which was born in the Pennsylvania Dutch country."

    According to the announcement, "Amazon and Dutch Blitz filed four lawsuits collectively against four individuals and two entities for counterfeiting Dutch Blitz’s card game product. The defendants attempted to offer the infringing product in Amazon’s store, violating Amazon’s policies, infringing on Dutch Blitz’s trademarks, and breaking the law. The suits were filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington and allege that the six defendants used Dutch Blitz’s registered trademarks, without authorization, to deceive customers about the authenticity and origin of the products and the affiliation with Dutch Blitz."

    Published on: February 11, 2021

    •  The Henrico Citizen reports that c-store chain Sheetz "announced Wednesday that it will boost employee wages at its network of more than 600 Mid-Atlantic stores by a total of $28.5 million, beginning Feb. 12 … The bump will increase average salaries by more than $1,500 annually."

    “Our employees are the heart and soul of this company,” said Travis Sheetz, president/COO of Sheetz. “Sheetz is committed to investing in our people and attracting and retaining top talent. We know in order to do this, we need to exceed expectations by providing competitive wages, industry-leading benefits, career development opportunities and much more.”


    •  Call it a pothole on Thunder Road.

    One of the more lauded commercials that debuted on the Super Bowl last Sunday was an ad for Jeep featuring Bruce Springsteen driving around the rural center of the country, making a plea for national unity.

    But now, the ad has been pulled from broadcast and online venues as it became public that Springsteen was charged with drunk driving last November.

    According to the New York Times, "The charges against Mr. Springsteen, which included reckless driving and driving while intoxicated in New Jersey on Nov. 14, became public on Wednesday. His first virtual court appearance will likely occur toward the end of February."

    Jeep released a statement:  "“It would be inappropriate for us to comment on the details of a matter we have only read about and we cannot substantiate. But it’s also right that we pause our Big Game commercial until the actual facts can be established."

    The New York Post reports that Springsteen's arrest came on November 14 when he was riding his motorcycle in Sandy Hook, New Jersey, and was spotted by fans who asked him to stop and take a picture with them.  Springsteen obliged and then "took a shot of tequila offered by one of them."  The problem was, he did so in full view of a nearby police.

    "The Asbury Park Press reported Springsteen’s blood-alcohol content was 0.02 - just a quarter of New Jersey’s legal limit -0 when he was arrested.   The legal threshold in New Jersey is .08, which the outlet said calls into question why Springsteen was charged with driving while intoxicated."

    Published on: February 11, 2021

    Got the following email from MNB reader Michael Pappas:

    Kevin, I really enjoyed your interview with Thomas and Andrew Parkinson.  I worked for them in the late 90's and opened one of their first wareroom locations located in New Hyde Park, Long Island.  They were and are cutting edge entrepreneurs and also more importantly nice people.  I remember going from printed paper picking sheets to downloading orders to be picked on Palm Pilots.  

    Thanks for having them.

    My pleasure.


    We had a story yesterday about how a UK activist group, ShareAction, is pressuring Tesco to carry more healthy food.  Prompting one MNB reader to write:

    Regarding ShareAction.  Stop wasting your time.  The retailer has the right and a responsibility to its company, to provide what sells.  If their customers are buying it, then so be it.  Let the consumer make the decision, since they are the ones with the obesity problem, not the retailer.  Stop trying to deflect the responsibility of consumers bad choices onto the retailer.  If you the consumer, choose to care about being obese, then actually read the labels and make good buying decisions.  Come on sheeple, take ownership for your own actions.

    This isn't about not taking responsibility for your own actions.  It is just about trying to pressure a retailer to make more healthy food available.

    On the scale of things that are acceptable vs. unacceptable, for me this ranks low on the list of what people shouldn't do.


    On another subject, from an MNB reader:

    Thank you for covering the vanilla lawsuit story. I agree about the need for products to contain the ingredients they are claiming. Has anyone mentioned that castoreum from Beavers (yes, the large rodents) may be used as “natural vanilla flavor” in some products? While beaver secretions are not the most common “natural vanilla flavoring” in use, the term “natural flavoring” is widely distrusted by people who eat a vegan diet and wish to know whether any animal secretions are in their food. As someone who sells “natural” foods for a living, I’m well-aware of the lack of integrity in the natural label. Perhaps this lawsuit is an early step in laying out some rules around manufacturers’ use of the term. 

    Okay, I'm officially grossed out.

    I had to look up "castoreum," and found out that it is "a yellowish exudate from the castor sacs of mature beavers. Beavers use castoreum in combination with urine to scent mark their territory."

    Yuck.

    MNB reader Glenn Rosati wrote:

    I couldn't help but tie your comment, " It is all about the gradual lessening of standards.  It is distressing", concerning the "Vanilla" situation to the changes in baseball this season. 

    As my wife and I have noted, changes whether large, small, or seemingly insignificant, come to us on a drip, drip, drip basis to the point where we sometimes look back and are surprised at the result, be it positive or negative.

    This “dripping” in baseball is a sure lessening of standards.  

    Which leads me to post this email from another reader:

    I too don’t like the 7 inning doubleheader rule or the runner on 2nd base in extra innings. I would like to see the DH in the National League but that’s because I don’t want to see my pitchers bat and maybe hurt themselves.  The one thing I’m not a fan of is the relief pitcher having to face 3 batters but I also don’t want to see a new pitcher after each batter. Maybe try 2 batter rule. I’m a Chicago White Sox fan and last year I thought our games were way too long. Game starts at 7:10pm and it wasn’t over until close to 10:30pm or later where in years past it would be done by 10pm. I think it’s because the reliever was struggling to get thru those 3 batters. I would like to see some research to see if that was the case.