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    Published on: November 24, 2021

    Just a quick note this morning to thank you for all the kind and encouraging emails that I've received over the past week, as we've celebrated MNB's 20th anniversary.  It has been amazing to hear from folks who have been along for all or much of the ride, and as I always say, I get more positive reinforcement than any person has any reason to expect.

    I'm also glad so many of you have enjoyed the series of "MNB @ 20" conversations we've featured over the past week - I think it has been great to engage with these folks for 20-30 minutes at a time, to get a sense not just of their opinions but also who they are.  We're not done yet, by the way - we'll have at least a couple more over the coming weeks.

    MNB will be on holiday for the Thanksgiving weekend, but we'll be back on Monday with all-new hand-crafted news and commentary.  I hope you have a terrific weekend, and get to enjoy your time with family and friends.

    I'm going to post all of conversations we've done to date on the site for easy access over the weekend - if you've got nothing else to do, and you want to binge a little Content Guy and enjoy some fascinating conversations, just come to MNB and check them out.


    Published on: November 24, 2021

    Today's completely outside-the-lines guest in our continuing series of "MNB @ 20" conversations is Stu Upson, CEO of the USA Pickleball Association.  Not only does Stu talk about the process of growing - and controlling the growth - of the nation's fastest growing participatory sport, but he also draws a through line to his experience there from previous leadership tenures at Major League Baseball Properties, Skip Barber Racing, the US Bowling Congress and the International Tennis Hall of Fame.  

    If you want to download and listen to this conversation as a podcast, click below.

    Published on: November 24, 2021

    A federal jury in Ohio yesterday found that three of the nation's largest pharmacy chains  - Walmart, CVS and Walgreens - "substantially contributed to the crisis of opioid overdoses and deaths in two Ohio counties," the New York Times  reports.

    It is, the Times writes, "the first time the retail segment of the drug industry has been held accountable in the decades-long epidemic."

    All three chains said they would appeal the verdict.  CVS spokesman Michael DeAngelis characterized the defense this way: “Pharmacists fill legal prescriptions written by DEA-licensed doctors who prescribe legal, FDA-approved substances to treat actual patients in need.  We look forward to the appeals court review of this case, including the misapplication of public nuisance law."

    From the Wall Street Journal coverage:  "Attorneys for Lake and Trumbull counties in northeast Ohio had argued the chains failed to stop pain pills from flooding the counties or stop false prescriptions from being filled.

    "The counties argued that by enabling the opioid crisis, the pharmacy companies created a public nuisance. Each county said the crisis cost them about $1 billion in costs related to law enforcement, social services and courts.

    "The verdict in the bellwether case is being closely watched by attorneys elsewhere as similar cases play out against pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors.

    "Plaintiffs attorneys for the counties issued a joint statement calling the verdict an 'overdue reckoning'."

    The Times writes that "the trial judge will determine how much each company should pay the counties, after as yet unscheduled hearings. New federal data released last week show overdose deaths from illegal opioids such as heroin and street fentanyl have reached record levels during the pandemic."

    KC's View:

    I am completely sympathetic to the pain and agony suffered by patients and families that became embroiled in the opioid addiction epidemic, but I must admit that I am a little conflicted about the degree to which pharmacists could've or should've stepped in to prevent their distribution.

    The Times story points out that the plaintiffs argue that "pharmacies turned a blind eye to countless red flags about suspicious opioid orders, both at the local counter with patients and at corporate headquarters."  In other words, even as they detected a worrying rise in opioid prescriptions, they stopped counting pills because they were too busy counting profits.

    That is a reasonable argument, and it seems entirely possible that all three chains flunked the ethical test.  But allowing pharmacists to question and/or veto doctors' orders may be a slippery slope.

    As I say, I am conflicted … though I'm also okay with companies being penalized for ethical lapses.

    Published on: November 24, 2021

    Dollar Tree, which has spent more than three decades selling products for $1, will raise its price for to $1.25 for most items by the end of April 2022.

    In its statement, the company said:

    "For 35 years, Dollar Tree has managed through inflationary periods to maintain the everything-for-one-dollar philosophy that distinguished Dollar Tree and made it one of the most successful retail concepts for three decades. However, as detailed in its September announcement, the Company believes this is the appropriate time to shift away from the constraints of the $1.00 price point in order to continue offering extreme value to customers. This decision is permanent and is not a reaction to short-term or transitory market conditions.

    "The $1.25 price point, which will apply to a majority of Dollar Tree’s assortment, will enhance the Company’s ability to materially expand its offerings, introduce new products and sizes, and provide families with more of their daily essentials. The Company will have greater flexibility to continue providing incredible value that helps customers get the everyday items they need and celebratory and seasonal products Dollar Tree is best known for.

    "Additionally, this new pricing strategy enables the Company to reintroduce many customer favorites and key traffic-driving products that were previously discontinued due to the constraints of the $1.00 price point.

    "The new price point will enable Dollar Tree to return to its historical gross margin range by mitigating historically-high merchandise cost increases, including freight and distribution costs, as well as higher operating costs, such as wage increases."

    Axios notes that Dollar Tree "was among the last of the major U.S. dollar store chains to retain its $1 price. The change is a reflection of the pressure on low-cost retailers amid rising inflation."

    KC's View:

    This, along with the rising gas prices that are trumpeted by signs on street corners all over America, will be seen as a vivid symbol of inescapable changes taking place in our lives … and will feed cultural and political discontent at the same time as it reflects it.

    Published on: November 24, 2021

    CNN has an interview with Best Buy CEO Corie Barry in which she says that "theft is a growing problem at the company's stores — and it is implementing added security measure to safeguard employees and shoppers … Barry said the company is implementing a number of tactics to minimize theft and protect staff and customers. For example, Best Buy is locking up more products and hiring security when appropriate."

    "This is traumatizing for our associates and is unacceptable," Barry said.  "We are doing everything we can to try to create [an] as safe as possible environment."  However, Barry said that the problem has gotten to the point where not only will the level of theft impact the company's profits, but also could affect its ability to attract and retain employees - a major problem for any retailer these days.

    The CNN story notes that "Barry's comments come on the heels of a string of retail thefts in San Francisco in just the last few days in which thieves targeted a Louis Vuitton store, a Burberry store, a jewelry store and Bloomingdale's and Walgreens locations.

    "On Saturday, a Nordstrom department store near San Francisco was ransacked in what police described as a 'smash-and-grab' incident.

    "Industry experts say store theft is now an acute problem and getting worse."

    KC's View:

    My friend, MNB reader Rich Heiland, brought this story to my attention and commented:

    I’m sorry, but … I am having a hard time getting my 75-year-old arms around this. Even with COVID, the current (and in my opinion temporary) run-up with inflation, times are just not that damn bad in this country. What’s going on? Who’d have thought working in retail would put someone in these kinds of situations? Have to assume grocery stores will be targets at some point….

    I think this latter point is, unfortunately, true - it will be grocery stores at some point, and I imagine that a number of them already are putting security plans into place.

    Two points here, if I may.

    First of all, law enforcement has to be vigilant, swift and decisive in its response to these incidents.  I'm not sure how you do that without turning shopping areas into armed camps, but we have to figure out a way to deal with this that serves as a deterrent.

    I also think that when it gets to the point where we can look back on these events with some level of objectivity, it could well be shown that the bad actors are taking advantage of the political and economic discontent of the moment, and that this is less about civil disobedience and more about a calculated, coordinated crime wave.

    Published on: November 24, 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…

    •  Here are the US Covid-19 coronavirus numbers:  48,835,216 total cases … 796,319 deaths … and 38,709,704 reported recoveries.

    The global numbers:  259,255,826 total cases … 5,187,496 fatalities … and 234,582,602 reported recoveries.  (Source.)

    •  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 69.5 percent of the total US population has received at least one dose of vaccine, 59 percent has been fully vaccinated, and 18.7 percent has received a vaccine booster shot.

    •  From the Washington Post this morning:

    "Senior health officials are calling for Americans to get vaccinated — and get their booster shots — as cases tick back up across the country and the approaching holiday season brings with it more indoor, maskless gatherings. Anthony S. Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser, said Tuesday in an interview with Reuters that the 'overwhelming majority' of vaccinated Americans should receive a booster dose.

    "Fauci also said it is possible that the definition of a full vaccination could expand to include three doses of an mRNA vaccine such as those from Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna, or two doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine — to incorporate the booster doses. Adding to the urgency, new daily coronavirus cases in the United States rose by 10 percent in the past week, according to Washington Post figures. Deaths have increased by 10 percent while hospitalizations have risen by 4 percent during the same period.

    "On Monday, Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, urged Americans to get vaccinated ahead of the holiday season."

    •  The Denver Post reports that "Denver will join most of the metro area in once again requiring masks be worn in indoor public places starting Wednesday, though businesses can be exempted if they demonstrate they’re requiring employees and customers to show proof they’re vaccinated against COVID-19.

    "Adams, Arapahoe and Jefferson counties also will be under nearly identical mandates, which require masks be worn in places like stores, gyms and entertainment venues. The counties acted in concert to help reduce the current surge’s strain on the health care system, officials said."

    •  From the New York Times this morning:

    "Europe’s already fragile economic recovery is at risk of being undermined by a fourth wave of coronavirus infections now dousing the continent, as governments impose increasingly stringent health restrictions that could reduce foot traffic in shopping centers, discourage travel and thin crowds in restaurants, bars and ski resorts.

    "Austria has imposed the strictest measures, mandating vaccinations and imposing a nationwide lockdown that began on Monday. But economic activity will also be dampened by other safety measures — from vaccine passports in France and Switzerland to a requirement to work from home four days a week in Belgium."

    The Times writes that "the tough lockdowns that swept Europe during the early months of the pandemic last year ended up shrinking economic output by nearly 15 percent. Buoyed by a raft of government support to businesses and the unemployed, most of those countries managed to scramble back and recoup their losses after vaccines were introduced, infection rates tumbled and restrictions eased.

    "In September, economists optimistically declared that Europe had reached a turning point. In recent weeks, the main threats to the economy seemed to stem from a post-lockdown exuberance that was causing supply-chain bottlenecks, energy-price increases and inflation worries. And widespread vaccinations were expected to defang the pandemic’s bite so that people could continue to freely gather to shop, dine out and travel.

    "What was not expected was a series of tough government restrictions. A highly contagious strain — aided by some resistance to vaccines and flagging support for other anti-infection measures like masks — has enabled the coronavirus to make a comeback in some regions."

    •  From the Los Angeles Times this morning:

    "The U.S. will pay Pfizer $5.29 billion for 10 million treatment courses of its experimental COVID-19 pill if regulators authorize the drug — the nation’s largest purchase agreement yet for a COVID-19 therapy.

    "Pfizer asked the Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday to authorize emergency use of the pill, which has been shown to significantly cut the rate of hospitalizations and deaths among people with coronavirus infections.

    "The FDA is already reviewing a competing pill from Merck and will hold a public meeting on it later this month."

    Published on: November 24, 2021

    •  Streamable reports that "Amazon is in talks with the NFL to buy a minority stake into the league’s media properties, including NFL Network, NFL RedZone, and even As Amazon is already the exclusive home for the NFL’s Thursday Night Football, it could be said that this further investment into the League will set the groundwork for an eventual play at NFL Sunday Ticket, the NFL’s out-of-market broadcasting service. The current deal with DIRECTV ends in 2022, and Amazon, along with Disney, ViacomCBS, Comcast/NBCUniversal, Apple, and basically any giant media company will likely make a play for the rights.

    "Amazon shelled out big bucks to secure the rights to Thursday Night Football earlier this year as part of the NFL's monstrous 10-year media deal, which also includes CBS, NBC, FOX, and ESPN. TNF will now stream exclusively on Amazon Prime Video for the next decade. Amazon would love nothing more than to partner its Thursday night offerings with the full slate of Sunday afternoon games, too."

    Published on: November 24, 2021

    •  From Newsweek:

    "Amid ongoing concerns about the U.S. supply chain, one major CEO is giving President Joe Biden props for his handling of the problem … Walmart CEO Doug McMillion praised the Biden administration's actions and noted that they are having a noticeable impact. He singled out the deal brokered to keep major ports open 24 hours a day as helping move containers of cargo at a quicker rate."

    "The combination of private enterprise and government working together has been really successful," McMillon said. "We've had a lot of participation, been able to participate in solving some of these congestion issues, so I would like to give the administration credit for helping do things like get the ports open 24 hours a day, to open up some of the trucking lines...and then all the way through the supply chain there's been a lot of innovation."

    The story says that "the notion that consumer spending is outpacing supply has led some economists to predict that shortages could persist until 2023. Companies are also driving the shortfall, ordering and stockpiling more goods than they actually need … 

    Walmart and its competitor Target have notably been able to keep shelves stocked as the holiday shopping season gets underway. McMillon told customers that the chain's U.S. inventory was up over 11 percent in the third quarter. Target also reported that its inventory levels were up 20 percent compared to the same time in 2020."

    Published on: November 24, 2021

    …will return next week.  Happy Thanksgiving!