5 Ways Tesla, Elon Musk Could Win From UAW Strikes Against Ford, GM, Stellantis

The ongoing UAW strike from the big three Detroit automakers continued to be a big topic of discussion for the markets and auto industry. read more.....»»

Category: blogSource: benzingaSep 18th, 2023

Elon Musk will improve Twitter by allowing for greater free speech without it being disruptive to society, according to entrepreneur Eric Schiffer

Elon Musk is one of the few businessmen who always understood the power of Twitter, Eric Schiffer, the CEO of The Patriarch Organization told Insider. Tesla and SpaceX chief Elon Musk.Susan Walsh/AP Elon Musk will likely improve Twitter, according to entrepreneur and finance expert Eric Schiffer.  Musk always understood the power of Twitter for its ability to influence news and society, he said.  He added Musk will find ways to make Twitter "more inspiring and more exciting" to participate in.  Elon Musk is a forward-thinking entrepreneur, according to finance expert Eric Schiffer. Schiffer, who heads The Patriarch Organization, a Los Angeles-based private equity firm, spoke to Insider about the effect he thinks Musk will have on Twitter, following his recent acquisition of the platform.At the beginning of April, Musk bought a 10% stake in Twitter for almost $3 billion, automatically becoming its biggest shareholder. Just weeks later, he offered to buy the company outright for $44 billion. The offer was accepted by Twitter's board, causing distress and disappointment among some of its employees. Recently, one Twitter employee even changed their Twitter profile name to "elon musk is a racist demagogue with a god complex," following the takeover, Insider's Kali Hays reported.Many have been vocal about Musk's buyout of Twitter, and while some leading figures approve of the deal, others haven't. Schiffer among others, including Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, expressed positivity over Musk's Twitter deal.Haugen, for instance, recently told Fox Business she is "cautiously optimistic" about Musk's takeover of Twitter. She also contrasted Musk to her former boss, Mark Zuckerberg, saying she thinks Musk can receive feedback better and make meaningful changes.  Her views mirror that of Schiffer who says he thinks Musk will improve Twitter in the long term while also highlighting his leadership qualities. "I think [Musk] will be able to thread the needle to be able to benefit society with greater free speech without it going too far that it could be disruptive to society," Schiffer said. According to Schiffer, Twitter has in many ways, "gone over the line" in regulating speech. In some cases, he noted, it can be a good thing to filter out voices that have not been helpful to society, but the vast majority of Twitter users are on the platform because they want to speak without prevarication. "I think what he'll try to do is find an even better balance, in accordance with laws, that doesn't have a brutal backlash from a user utilization standpoint, but also empowers free speech," Schiffer said of Musk. Musk has previously spoken about wanting to bring greater free speech to Twitter in an effort to create a platform that is "maximally trusted and broadly inclusive."Schiffer further added that Musk understands what the current standard is in terms of engaging people on social-media platforms. "I would imagine he would enable opportunities for Twitter to have more entertainment components," he said. He added: "[Musk] will want to look for ways to make things more inspiring and more exciting to participate in," and that could include changes to Twitter's algorithm and the way users interact with each other on the platform. Musk is one of the few entrepreneurs that has always understood the power of social media, and particularly the power of Twitter, Schiffer said. This is true "from a revenue perspective but also its ability to influence news, culture, society and certainly commerce," Schiffer added."It's first nature for Musk to want to purchase Twitter because it has great asset potential, he can leverage it in a way that will benefit his businesses and more importantly, has a greater voice in the media and in culture," Schiffer said. It's more than about just being a player but also an orchestrator, he added, alluding to Musk's Twitter purchase.Schiffer's views towards the purchase and the benefits that it may bring contrast with the views of Bill Gates, who recently said Musk could make the platform worse.         Read the original article on Business Insider.....»»

Category: topSource: businessinsiderMay 7th, 2022

Robots From China Don"t Strike

Robots From China Don't Strike Authored by Anders Corr via The Epoch Times, The United Auto Workers (UAW) went on strike on Sept. 15. The strike affected the “big three” in Detroit—General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis, maker of the Jeep. The union wants to increase average labor costs from $65 per hour, including benefits, which is already above market rates. Nonunionized Tesla, for example, pays “just” $45 per hour in labor, considering the cost of benefits. The UAW's demands would roughly double labor costs and, according to management, make the companies unviable. Where will the workers go when the automakers go bankrupt, further mechanize their assembly lines, or move yet more production to China? Many workers in these companies who aren't on strike are already getting fired. Striking unions attempt to inflict maximum pain on their own companies with as little effort and expenditure as possible. The companies are forced to let go of misguided workers, who they can’t keep busy because other misguided workers on whom they depend are striking. All the strikers and fired UAW workers are getting paid from union funds that came from dues imposed on workers, whether they like it or not. They're getting paid by the union to halt production. This ludicrous practice introduces massive inefficiencies into U.S. manufacturing, yet Americans over the decades have gotten used to the deadweight it attaches to the economy. The supply chain chaos of the latest strike is purposefully engineered by the UAW, which keeps management guessing which factory will close next. Downstream and upstream workers, including from hundreds of other companies, depend on a reliable supply chain and are made redundant by the UAW’s actions as soon as the factory can't produce vehicles and supply them to paying customers. Shareholders in these companies have felt more pain than strikers in recent months, with shares of Stellantis falling by more than 7 percent and shares of Ford and GM falling by more than 20 percent. Compare that to rising inflation, which is less and hits the pocketbooks of both shareholders and workers. Yet union bosses want to grab even more value from shareholders in a manner that's ultimately a small win and big loss for not only the workers and companies, respectively, but also for the entire economy. What a tiny percentage of U.S. unionized auto workers hope to gain in increased wages, shareholders lose in multiples, and Americans as a whole lose in our market’s competitiveness. Investors prefer to invest in countries where they aren’t compelled to share profits when times are good. That’s why investors risk their capital. With no significant upside, investors will keep their money in lower-profit but more reliable investments such as bonds, a preference that, if widespread, would impoverish not only the auto industry but all of the American industry. It's an inefficient form of investing and removes the critical element to the economic growth of risk-takers as decision-makers with skin in the game. Shareholders aren't all billionaires. In fact, 158 million Americans own shares in companies—about three-quarters of all adults. As should be clear from those numbers, most shareholders are regular folks, and those regular folks are getting fleeced by the union (full disclosure: This author is a regular guy who holds GM shares). The problem isn't just with the unions. The problem is with our politicians, who can't stand up to the unions, or they get voted out of office. That's why both Republicans and Democrats avoid angering unions, and why they silently endure strikes that debilitate not only the affected companies but the entire economy. A general view of GMC Hummer EVs is pictured at General Motors' Factory ZERO electric vehicle assembly plant in Detroit on Nov. 17, 2021. (Nic Antaya/Getty Images) The more liberal a country is toward strikers, the more illiberal its economy. Strikers have the power to shut down free markets of labor and capital, which is where they get their power to raise wages beyond what the market bears. That power of shutting down markets, like the power of monopolies, is inherently illiberal. It impinges on the freedom of labor and capital to operate in a manner that maximizes economic efficiency and growth. True liberals should support free markets, including labor markets, as do true conservatives. Yet both liberal and conservative politicians in the United States avoid criticizing unions. That's a historical weakness in the American economy that too few are working to fix. It's the historical weakness that leads our corporations to deindustrialize the United States in favor of nonunionized China and mechanize assembly lines with robots that can increasingly be bought in China. American unions are self-defeating because they lack principles beyond their driving cause, which is more money for themselves in the short term, without regard for long-term consequences and negative externalities. As one honest 20-year-old striker told The Washington Post, “I’m just here for the money.” Fortunately, only about 10 percent of American workers are unionized, which is low for OECD countries. U.S. unionization rates have fallen almost every year since the 1950s, when it reached a peak of 35 percent. Unfortunately, the concentration of wealth appears to be negatively correlated with unionization. Higher rates of unionization cause a more equal distribution of wealth in the United States, but at the cost of lower growth. A more equitable distribution of wealth leads to positives from an American values perspective, such as homeownership, a more vibrant small business sector, broader ownership of stocks and bonds, and more political stability. But there are better ways to achieve this than through damaging strikes, for example, through a combination of right-to-work laws and progressive taxation. The United States already has such taxation, so there's no need for the supply chain dislocations that result from overly aggressive union leaders. Tyler Durden Sat, 09/23/2023 - 22:55.....»»

Category: blogSource: zerohedgeSep 23rd, 2023

Worried about vulnerable airbases, a US ally landed a F-35A stealth fighter on a highway for the first time in NATO"s newest member

A Norwegian military official said the goal of the exercise is to make it more challenging for an enemy to take out aircraft on the ground. Norwegian F-35A performing a "touch and go" on highway in Finland for the first time.Ole Andreas Vekve, Norwegian Armed Forces Norway's military did something that's never been done before and landed a F-35A on a highway for the first time.  The exercise showed a flexible solution for militaries worried about having vulnerable airbases and runways. For years, the US and others have been experimenting with non-traditional airstrips as a way to disperse forces. Norway made history this week by landing a F-35A stealth fighter jet on the highway for the first time, showcasing a flexible solution for militaries worried about vulnerable airbases. The Norwegian Armed Forces said two F-35As landed on a highway in neighboring Finland — a fellow NATO member and also the latest country to join the military alliance — on Thursday during a training exercise with Finnish F-18s. After landing, the F-35s were refueled with their engines running (known as hot-pit refueling) before the fighter jets quickly took off again.  "This is a milestone. Not only for the Norwegian Air Force, but also for the Nordic countries, and for NATO. This demonstrates our ability to execute a concept of dispersal", said Maj. Gen. Rolf Folland, chief of the Royal Norwegian Air Force, in a statement."So by being able to use small airfields — and now motorways —  increases our survivability in war," Folland added. "In addition, this is also a demonstration of the exciting development we have initiated within the military-air cooperation in the Nordic region."Two Norwegian F-35As.Eivind Byre, Norwegian Armed ForcesNorway's military praised the F-35, a highly advanced fifth-generation aircraft, in its announcement on the successful highway exercise, but it said that the fighter jets are hamstrung by how long they can operate without a resupply of fuel, weapons, and ground support.   Gen. Eirik Kristoffersen, Norway's chief of defense, said that the highway demonstration underscored deep cooperation among the Nordic countries."Finland has been a close partner for a long time, and now also an ally. Their straight and wide highways means that we can further develop our concept for dispersal," said Folland. "The aim of the concept is to make it more challenging for an enemy to take out our aircraft when on ground. If such a concept is to work, we must map out all possibilities, and practice them."Norwegian F-35A taking off from a highway in Finland for the first time.Ole Andreas Vekve, Norwegian Armed Forces Though the landing was a first, the concept of operating military aircraft on a highway is nothing new. The US military has been doing this for years as part of its Agile Combat Employment efforts, which are focused on the idea that forces can be dispersed by using both traditional and non-traditional airstrips so that it's more difficult for an enemy to suppress air power in strikes on known, fixed airbases.The US military and its partners put the idea to work on European highways, and then in 2021, a US Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II attack plane first demonstrated this concept in the US when one landed on a Michigan highway.This capability has been showcased in several different ways since. Earlier this year, the military landed multiple aircraft — including a MC-130J Commando II, a MQ-9 Reaper drone, and MH-6M Little Bird helicopters — on a highway in rural Wyoming. And non-traditional airstrips also extend beyond the highway. The military landed a Reaper drone on a dirt strip in Texas this past summer, something the A-10 has also done before, and Air Force special operators are even looking at beaches as an option. Norwegian F-35A taking off from a highway in Finland for the first time.Ole Andreas Vekve, Norwegian Armed ForcesWhile the demonstration in Finland on Thursday marked a first for the F-35A, it's not the first time an F-35 variant has landed on a highway.Lockheed Martin makes three versions of the aircraft, and the US military has previously conducted highway landings with the F-35B, which is a short-takeoff/vertical landing jet used by the Marine Corps at smaller airfields and aboard amphibious assault ships. In August, for instance, the Marines landed an F-35B on the Old Pacific Coast Highway in Southern California. The F-35A is used by the Air Force while the F-35C is employed by the Navy and Marine Corps aboard carriers. US military officials have asserted that these efforts to utilize non-traditional landing strips, such as highways, are a response to threats that American adversaries — like Russia and China — could pose to traditional airbases and runways in the event of war. These demonstrations are an "acknowledgement that our adversaries have watched the American way of war for several decades and they are going to hold our initial staging bases and our forward operating bases at risk," Lt. Gen. Tony Bauernfeind, the head of Air Force Special Operations Command, said earlier this month, according to previous Insider reporting.Read the original article on Business Insider.....»»

Category: topSource: businessinsiderSep 22nd, 2023

Worried about vulnerable airbases, a US ally landed a F-35A stealth fighter on highway for the first time in NATO"s newest member

A Norwegian military official said the goal of the exercise is to make it more challenging for an enemy to take out aircraft on the ground. Norwegian F-35A performing a "touch and go" on highway in Finland for the first time.Ole Andreas Vekve, Norwegian Armed Forces Norway's military did something that's never been done before and landed a F-35A on a highway for the first time.  The exercise showed a flexible solution for militaries worried about having vulnerable airbases and runways. For years, the US and others have been experimenting with non-traditional airstrips as a way to disperse forces. Norway made history this week by landing a F-35A stealth fighter jet on the highway for the first time, showcasing a flexible solution for militaries worried about vulnerable airbases. The Norwegian Armed Forces said two F-35As landed on a highway in neighboring Finland — a fellow NATO member and also the latest country to join the military alliance — on Thursday during a training exercise with Finnish F-18s. After landing, the F-35s were refueled with their engines running (known as hot-pit refueling) before the fighter jets quickly took off again.  "This is a milestone. Not only for the Norwegian Air Force, but also for the Nordic countries, and for NATO. This demonstrates our ability to execute a concept of dispersal", said Maj. Gen. Rolf Folland, chief of the Royal Norwegian Air Force, in a statement."So by being able to use small airfields — and now motorways —  increases our survivability in war," Folland added. "In addition, this is also a demonstration of the exciting development we have initiated within the military-air cooperation in the Nordic region."Two Norwegian F-35As.Eivind Byre, Norwegian Armed ForcesNorway's military praised the F-35, a highly advanced fifth-generation aircraft, in its announcement on the successful highway exercise, but it said that the fighter jets are hamstrung by how long they can operate without a resupply of fuel, weapons, and ground support.   Gen. Eirik Kristoffersen, Norway's chief of defense, said that the highway demonstration underscored deep cooperation among the Nordic countries."Finland has been a close partner for a long time, and now also an ally. Their straight and wide highways means that we can further develop our concept for dispersal," said Folland. "The aim of the concept is to make it more challenging for an enemy to take out our aircraft when on ground. If such a concept is to work, we must map out all possibilities, and practice them."Norwegian F-35A taking off from a highway in Finland for the first time.Ole Andreas Vekve, Norwegian Armed Forces Though the landing was a first, the concept of operating military aircraft on a highway is nothing new. The US military has been doing this for years as part of its Agile Combat Employment efforts, which are focused on the idea that forces can be dispersed by using both traditional and non-traditional airstrips so that it's more difficult for an enemy to suppress air power in strikes on known, fixed airbases.The US military and its partners put the idea to work on European highways, and then in 2021, a US Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II attack plane first demonstrated this concept in the US when one landed on a Michigan highway.This capability has been showcased in several different ways since. Earlier this year, the military landed multiple aircraft — including a MC-130J Commando II, a MQ-9 Reaper drone, and MH-6M Little Bird helicopters — on a highway in rural Wyoming. And non-traditional airstrips also extend beyond the highway. The military landed a Reaper drone on a dirt strip in Texas this past summer, something the A-10 has also done before, and Air Force special operators are even looking at beaches as an option. Norwegian F-35A taking off from a highway in Finland for the first time.Ole Andreas Vekve, Norwegian Armed ForcesWhile the demonstration in Finland on Thursday marked a first for the F-35A, it's not the first time an F-35 variant has landed on a highway.Lockheed Martin makes three versions of the aircraft, and the US military has previously conducted highway landings with the F-35B, which is a short-takeoff/vertical landing jet used by the Marine Corps at smaller airfields and aboard amphibious assault ships. In August, for instance, the Marines landed an F-35B on the Old Pacific Coast Highway in Southern California. The F-35A is used by the Air Force while the F-35C is employed by the Navy and Marine Corps aboard carriers. US military officials have asserted that these efforts to utilize non-traditional landing strips, such as highways, are a response to threats that American adversaries — like Russia and China — could pose to traditional airbases and runways in the event of war. These demonstrations are an "acknowledgement that our adversaries have watched the American way of war for several decades and they are going to hold our initial staging bases and our forward operating bases at risk," Lt. Gen. Tony Bauernfeind, the head of Air Force Special Operations Command, said earlier this month, according to previous Insider reporting.Read the original article on Business Insider.....»»

Category: topSource: businessinsiderSep 22nd, 2023

Taylor Swift helped lift the US economy this summer with her Eras Tour — she can"t get back to the states soon enough

The Summer of Taylor Swift is over and that could be bad news for a US economy that is suddenly under fire from several directions. The Summer of Taylor Swift is over for Swifties and the US economy.Jeff Kravitz/Getty ImagesThe Summer of Taylor Swift is over for the US economy.Swift proved to be "an economic phenomenon," but now she is overseas.With the economy now facing some bad signs, it needs SuperTaylor back.The Summer of Taylor Swift is over, and that could be bad news for a US economy that is suddenly under fire from several directions.After five months and 53 shows, the economic impact of Swift's "The Eras Tour" was monumental and non-stop. Consider the following:Data from the research company QuestionPro provided exclusively to CNN estimates the tour will gross $2.2 billion in North American ticket sales, and that is before the resale market, where fans are spending thousands.Data from the research company QuestionPro obtained by Fortune estimates that the tour could generate $4.6 billion in US consumer spending.Hits Daily Double reports that Swifties spent $1,300-$1,500 on hotels, travel, and food for every $100 spent on tickets, 4-5X the typical rate. As somebody who took his 12- and 14-year-old daughters to nearby Houston and far-away LA shows, this feels painfully accurate.In Glendale, Arizona, her first concert helped generate more local revenue than the Super Bowl had in February.Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker credited the tour stops in Chicago for helping to set a hotel revenue record.The Las Vegas Convention and Vistors Authority credited Swift's tour with bringing tourism back to pre-COVID levels.Swift even got a shout-out from the Philadelphia Fed, which wrote in their Beige Book chapter, "May was the strongest month for hotel revenue in Philadelphia since the onset of the pandemic, in large part due to an influx of guests for the Taylor Swift concerts in the city.""Taylor Swift's 'Eras' tour is rewriting the playbook of entertainment economics," Chris Leyden, director of growth marketing at SeatGeek told CNN. "She's not just a performer — she's an economic phenomenon."Taylor Swift performs in Arlington, Texas.Omar Vega/TAS23/Getty Images for TAS Rights ManagementSwift's bottom line is also booming, with Bloomberg News estimating that she made more than $10 million from each show. But even some of that is going back into the US economy.In August, it was announced that Swift gave $100,000 bonuses to the truckers on her tour. One trucking company's CEO told CNN the money was "life-changing" for many of the employees.Swift has also made large donations to food banks in cities where she performed.Swift's perfect post-pandemic timingMost of this is the magic of Swift and her music, but the timing couldn't have been better. As the pandemic was winding down, Americans were craving a chance to get out and spend on experiences."We are in an experience economy where people crave going out and participating in social events," Alice Enders, a music industry analyst at Enders Analysis and a former senior economist at the World Trade Organization told CNN. "It's no surprise that people are flocking to this Eras Tour experience in what is increasingly an otherwise digital environment we live in."This appears to be borne out in recent economic data showing people are spending money but not on tangible items.Swifties at a concert.Grace Smith/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty ImagesAnd in some ways, pandemic-era working conditions helped create this wild summer. As people were itching to get out again, many were still working from home. This gave people a chance to work on the road a bit, get out of town, and maybe stay there a little longer."Remote work created the flexibility to travel for events and shows," Andrew Heilmann from Robert Douglas told Moody's Analytics. "We are just now at a point to be able to truly see the supporting data around the impact of 'bleisure travel' on hotel performance and if people willing to travel for an event or show really did turn what was a pre-covid 1-night trip into a 3-night trip."One Swiftie who spoke with Insider called their "Eras Tour" trip "a little bit concert, a little bit vacation." My family and I agreed. When it came time to choose a summer vacation, instead of Disney or some tropical locale, we landed on LA for a second dose of "The Eras Tour."The author's Taylor Swift bracelets, including one for his favorite TS song, "The Lakes."Cork Gaines/Business InsiderWith the help of Swift's tour — and Beyoncé's "Rennaisance World Tour," as well as the "Barbie" and "Oppenheimer" movie premieres — we ended up in an economic era with a fitting nickname: "Goldilocks." That is, the economy this summer was not too hot, not too cold.Bad news for the US economyWhile many worried about an oncoming recession, consumer spending held up the economy this summer. But now, a recent survey from Bloomberg Markets Live Pulse found that 21% of more than 500 investors predicted that personal consumption would shrink in the fourth quarter. A further 56% said consumption would reverse in early 2024.Pandemic-era savings are running dry with record levels of credit card debt, student-loan payments are resuming, and we are about to hit the window for the delayed impact of higher interest rates. All of that adds up to a perfect storm of pressure on American consumers.A customer paying for movie tickets with a credit card.Klaus VedfeltPiper Sandler's Chief Global Economist, Nancy Lazar, recently warned that the economy was "overheating" and was about to get more "painful.""Save your pennies because, unfortunately, the economic outlook is going to get worse before it gets better," Lazar told Fox News Digital, adding that it was "a time to hunker down and to try to maintain your savings rather get further into debt."The temporary buzz is overSwift is not returning to the US until October 2024 and then to only three cities. Beyoncé's tour is over, and the buzz for "Barbie" and "Oppenheimer" is waning.The movie industry will get a nice boost this fall from — you guessed it! — Taylor Swift, who is releasing a film version of "The Eras Tour."Bloomberg analysts argued that the entertainment boost from this summer will not last with the end of the tours and what they described as the "once-in-blue moon" phenomenon of "Barbenheimer.""A large chunk of that strength comes from temporary factors," the analysts wrote. "These factors create a mirage of resilient consumption, when in fact it's running out of steam."This will only be exasperated by the ongoing SAG-AFTRA and WGA strikes in Hollywood, which have caused the production of most movies to come to a screeching halt.Taylor Swift.Fernando Leon/TAS23/Getty Images for TAS Rights ManagementThe economy needs more Swift.We are already seeing world leaders begging her to bring her tour to their countries. And it may not be long before US mayors and governors do the same.The good news is that Swift's impact will be back at some point as long as she continues to tour. Before the pandemic, she was touring every two or three years.Charlie Harding, a music journalist and co-host of the podcast @SwitchedOnPop, told Time that Swift is not going anywhere."Taylor Swift has the capacity to be around for a whole lifetime," he told Time.For the US economy, hopefully, that means more tour stops.Read the original article on Business Insider.....»»

Category: topSource: businessinsiderSep 17th, 2023

Ukraine"s army keeps outsmarting Russia on the battlefield, with cunning ruses and opportunistic attacks

Ukraine has used decoys, cellphone data, and a range of other ploys to ensnare Russian troops during the conflict, often with impressive results. A rocket is launched from a truck-mounted multiple rocket launcher near Svyatohirsk, eastern Ukraine, on May 14, 2022.YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP via Getty Images Russia has proven vulnerable to deception during the Ukraine war.  Ukraine has used decoys, cellphone data, and a range of other ploys to ensnare Russian troops.  Problems with Russia's command structure and equipment leave it vulnerable to deception.  Deception has been at the heart of some of history's most successful military campaigns, and it's an art Ukraine has excelled at in its battle to resist and drive out Russian forces.In many ways, it's had to. At the outset of the full-scale invasion, Russia's vastly larger army and equipment reserves appeared ready to quash any resistance. Ukraine therefore had to rely on its improvisational skill to offset the imbalance, exploiting Russian mistakes and using deception and cunning to inflict blows on the invaders.As a report by the UK think tank the Royal United Services Institute found last year, Russian forces have been vulnerable to deception — not because its soldiers are stupid, but because of weaknesses in how they are organized and structured. It said the Russian military lacked tactical commanders with the experience to spot dubious intelligence, or to sense when a situation contains a hidden danger."Deception has succeeded against Russian forces at all echelons and across all three service branches," the report said. Ukraine, too, suffers from leadership failures, but it has been admired for its canny ability to adapt, innovate, and quickly seize the advantage on the ground.Meanwhile, Russia frequently finds itself the agent of its own disasters. A fleet of ailing UK farming trucks deceives Russian snipers A British farm car before and after it was refitted into a Ukrainian military vehicleCar4UkraineIvan Oleksii, a 25-year-old esports analyst, told Insider in December that he was buying old British farm trucks and refitting them for military use in Ukraine.The trucks, he said, had a crucial feature enabling them to deceive Russian snipers — the driving seat was on the right-hand side, unlike other European vehicles where it's on the left. Oleksii said his team often put dummies on the left side to aid the deception, saving the lives of Ukrainian troops driving the refitted vehicles.Russian troops use cell phones – making them easy targets A Russian military radio is displayed during an open-air exhibition of destroyed Russian military equipment and tactical gear on June 15, 2023 in Kyiv, Ukraine.Zinchenko/Global Images Ukraine via Getty ImagesThe Russian military has had serious problems supplying troops with communications equipment during the war, meaning some have had to resort to using their own phones to communicate. This has allowed Ukraine to detect their positions using cellphone data, and target them in missile strikes. In January, Ukraine killed 89 Russian troops who had gathered in the east Ukrainian town of Makiivka in one of the single biggest losses of life during the conflict.The Kremlin said Ukraine had been able to identify the location of the troops because some were using cell phones at the site.Even top commanders in the early weeks of the conflict had to resort to using cell phones to communicate on the battlefield, with Ukraine successfully targeting one general and his staff in a March 2022 strike after detecting his unsecured phone signal.It's a problem Russian troops still face, with Russian mercenary group Rusich recently posting on Telegram that communications equipment shortages exist across the Russian front line. The wooden decoy Russians blew up with a $35,000 drone — and crowed over on social mediaSide-by-side stills from Russian drone footage (L) and Lt. Cmdr. Oleksandr Afanasyev (R).Kremlin Prachka/Telegram / Oleksandr Afanasyev/Instagram / InsiderEarlier this year Lieutenant Commander Oleksandr Afanasyev and his fellow soldiers spotted a Russian reconnaissance drone scoping out their equipment, stationed at a cluster of farm buildings near Lyman, in the Donetsk region.A Russian drone had earlier damaged a tank there, and Afanasyev wanted to make sure it didn't happen again. So he and the others installed a wooden version of the tank made out of empty 155mm shell boxes.Soon after, a drone strike took it out.Russian social media unknowingly celebrated the strike, sharing the video and saying that a "tank" was destroyed with a Lancet drone, a weapon with an estimated price tag of $35,000. The video earned a share from Russia's top propagandist, Vladimir Solovyov.But Afanasyev posted his own video showing the reality — that, as Insider confirmed, they had just wasted a drone on a now-charred pile of wood. Russians also celebrated taking out a radar array — which again turned out to be fakeUkrainian soldiers in the field are not the only ones turning out decoys. Ukrainian steel company Metinvest says it's creating convincing fake howitzers, mortars, and radars — anything that might be an enticing target for Russia.According to the company, Russian forces recently blew up what they believed was a valuable Ukrainian P-18 Malakhit radar array in the Donetsk region, celebrating the feat in propaganda videos. But Metinvest, in remarks Insider was unable to independently verify, said it was actually a plywood and metal replica. The company says over 250 of these decoys have so far been handed over to the Ukrainian military. When a Russian journalist posted a picture of a Wagner Group base online and got it blasted to piecesThe Wagner Group's Russian headquarters in St Petersburg, November 4, 2022.Igor Russak/ReutersSometimes it is just Ukraine taking advantage of a situation.In eastern Ukraine's Popasna, a base used by the mercenary pro-Russian Wagner Group was bombed to rubble by Ukrainian troops in April 2022.As Wired reported, Ukrainian officials hinted strongly that the location had been revealed through analysis of a pro-Russian journalist's social media posts. One since-deleted image even included the base's exact address, according to Wired.Russia has been aware of the power of open-source intelligence for some time, launching a ban on its soldiers posting their locations to social media in 2019, as Task & Purpose reported. But this isn't always enough.Ukraine also isn't immune. According to the Center for Information Resilience, Russian forces were able to identify and strike a munitions factory in Kyiv in April 2022 with the inadvertent help of footage from a Ukrainian news channel.Russian forces fire on a Ukrainian flag, exposing their positionUkraine's military releases balloons carrying the national flag into the sky in Avdiyivka, eastern Ukraine, on September 9, 2023EuropeRecently, a Ukrainian flag attached to balloons was flown over the town of Avdiyivka to mark the 245th anniversary of its founding. As it traveled toward the occupied city of Donetsk, in east Ukraine, the Russian military opened fire on it, a Ukrainian official said.The official, whose claims have not been independently verified, said this allowed Ukraine to identify the Russian position. Ukraine's 110th brigade then "worked effectively to attack the Russian soldiers," he said.When Ukraine made a big noise about a counteroffensive in the south — and surprised everyone by going east insteadUkrainian serviceman from the 25th Airborne Brigade patrolling the street in the liberated city of Izium, Ukraine, on September 14, 2022.Global Images Ukraine via Getty ImagesIn perhaps the most striking recent example of military deception, Ukraine's sweeping counteroffensive in the fall of last year astonished onlookers as it retook a wide swathe of land surrounding the eastern city of Kharkiv in just a matter of weeks.Analysts have called it "the Kherson ruse" because part of the counteroffensive's success depended on convincing the world that Ukrainian troops were going to push toward the southern city of Kherson instead. According to Modern War Institute scholars Huw Dylan, David Gioe, and Joe Littell, Ukraine started loudly signaling that it was going in the direction of Kherson, to the extent that several Western media outlets began confidently predicting the push — and Russia started redeploying its troops southwards."In this case, the Kherson front was dangled as the intended target and Russian commanders took the bait," the scholars wrote.Read the original article on Business Insider.....»»

Category: topSource: businessinsiderSep 15th, 2023

Russia is getting hundreds of volunteers to protect its vulnerable planes from attacks, likely because it lacks enough trained security teams, intel says

A drone attack on the Kresty airbase last month left several military transport aircraft destroyed, prompting Russia to explore alternative defenses. Russian Ilyushin Il-76 planes fly over the Kremlin and Red Square in Moscow on May 7, 2021, during a rehearsal for the Victory Day military paradeALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP via Getty Images A recent drone attack on a Russian airbase left several military aircraft damaged and destroyed. In response to strikes, Russia got hundreds of civilian volunteers to patrol the Kresty base. But the use of volunteers shows Moscow lacks enough trained security personnel, Western intel says. Looking for ways to defend an airbase where several military transport aircraft were damaged or destroyed in a drone attack last month, Russia is turning to civilian volunteers to patrol the area, likely because it lacks enough trained security personnel to do the job, according to Western intelligence.In late August, several drones struck the Kresty base, which is located in the northeastern Pskov region not far from Russia's border with Estonia but more than 400 miles from its border with Ukraine.The nighttime attack destroyed two Ilyushin Il-76s — Soviet-era airlift planes that can move cargo and personnel — and damaged two more. Kyiv's military intelligence chief, Maj. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov, revealed several days later that the drones were launched from within Russia's own territory, although it remains unclear if it was carried out by the Ukrainian military or Russian partisans. The Kresty attack proved to be one of the more significant on Russia's internationally recognized territory since its forces invaded Ukraine in late February 2022, and the attack came amid a string of assaults specifically targeting Russian airfields. These incidents have exposed serious shortcomings in Moscow's force protection and air-defense capabilities, prompting it to seek alternative solutions to mitigate the problem — one of which is a newly constructed volunteer force. Britain's defense ministry wrote in a Sunday intelligence update that Pskov's governor recently organized volunteer security patrols to prevent additional drone attacks on the Kresty base. As many as 800 citizens have signed up to join the patrols, which will include groups of 50 individuals divided into municipalities to patrol airports, airbases, and other infrastructure. A satellite image shows the air base in Pskov, after what Kyiv confirmed to have been a Ukrainian drone attack, in Russia, August 31, 2023.Planet Labs PBC/Handout via REUTERS"The creation of these volunteer security patrols will likely act as a deterrence and provide a level of defence against quadcopter UAVs being operated from the immediate vicinity of the air base," Britain's defense ministry said.It's unclear if the patrols will be armed with any specific weapons or if they'll be acting purely in a surveillance role. "Historically it has proven difficult to destroy UAVs using small-arms fire, so Russian forces will still require air-defence systems, with a surveillance capability and both kinetic and electronic means of interception, to destroy attacking UAVs," Britain's defense ministry said, noting that "the use of volunteers highly likely indicates a shortage of trained security personnel within Russia" — the same issue that has plagued Moscow's military throughout its war in Ukraine.  The new measures to protect its bases underscore major deficiencies in Russia's domestic security and air-defense network. Moscow has prided itself for having layered and sophisticated defenses, and while these may be more capable when it comes to identifying bigger targets like missiles and aircraft, smaller drones have managed to find gaps in the network and overcome them. A plume of smoke is illuminated by a flash of light amid a drone attack in Pskov, Russia, in this still image obtained from social media video released August 30, 2023.TELEGRAM / MIKHAIL VEDERNIKOV/via REUTERSAugust alone saw over two dozen drone attacks on Russian territory. Britain's defense ministry said shortly after the Kresty incident that because these weapons have managed to reach their intended targets, it shows that Russia's air-defense network is likely having a hard time detecting and destroying the threats.In response, it said, Russia is likely "rethinking" its air-defense posture on its own territory and could be forced to consider adding more capabilities to defend its vulnerable bases. One remedy to these deficiencies has been the recent construction of towers with guns on top — copying a World War II-era system.  Another action Russia has taken to seemingly defend vulnerable aircraft from potential aerial threats is placing car tires on the fuselages and wings of bombers. It's an unusual form of protection, although it's not the first time Russia has built a makeshift defense to defend against strategic targets. Moscow purposefully sank ships near a key bridge in occupied Crimea to try and protect it from potential Ukrainian sea drone attacks. An Ilyushin Il-76 Strategic airlifter, several of which were damaged in the drone attack.Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency via Getty ImagesAs Ukraine continues to ramp up its drone attacks on Russian territory, Moscow has been working to expand its arsenal of drones. It recently begun producing its own version of the Iranian-made Shahed-136, which are explosive loitering munitions that the Kremlin has relied on for a year to terrorize Ukrainian cities and damage civilian infrastructure. As it increases the number of drones it possesses, Russia is expected to stage larger attacks on military and civilian targets across Ukraine in the near future, experts told Insider. This could pose a major headache for Ukraine's own air-defense network, although US officials have asserted that the Biden administration will continue to prioritize additional capabilities to help meet the threat. Other NATO partners have indicated the same.Indeed, last week alone the Pentagon announced two separate security assistance packages for Ukraine that include equipment to support and sustain Kyiv's air-defense capabilities. Read the original article on Business Insider.....»»

Category: topSource: businessinsiderSep 11th, 2023

Who"s Better At Generating Innovative Ideas, ChatGPT Or MBA Students?

Who's Better At Generating Innovative Ideas, ChatGPT Or MBA Students? By Mish Shedlock of MishTalk Wharton professors say Ideas Are Dimes a Dozen and they put that theory to a test. But how does one determine a good idea? And what does better mean? Wharton notes the difference between consistency and better. For example, an airplane pilot who lands aircraft with average smoothness 10 times out of 10 is better than one who is brilliant 9 times out of 10 and crashes once. With ideas, one fantastic idea and 10 poor ones is better than 10 average ones. With that backdrop let’s dive into the article. Abstract: ChatGPT-4 can generate ideas much faster and cheaper than students, and the ideas are on average of higher quality (as measured by purchase-intent surveys) and exhibit higher variance in quality. More important, the vast majority of the best ideas in the pooled sample are generated by ChatGPT and not by the students. Providing ChatGPT with a few examples of highly rated ideas further increases its performance. We discuss the implications of these findings for the management of innovation. Introduction: Generative artificial intelligence has made remarkable advances in creating life-like images and coherent, fluent text. OpenAI’s ChatGPT chatbot, based on the GPT series of large language models (LLM) can equal or surpass human performance in academic examinations and tests for professional certifications (OpenAI, 2023). Despite their remarkable performance, LLMs sometimes produce text that is semantically or syntactically plausible but is, in fact, factually incorrect or nonsensical (i.e., hallucinations). The models are optimized to generate the most statistically likely sequences of words with an injection of randomness. They are not designed to exercise any judgment on the veracity or feasibility of the output. In what applications can we leverage artificial intelligence that is brilliant in many ways yet cannot be trusted to produce reliably accurate results? One possibility is to turn their weaknesses – hallucinations and inconsistent quality – into a strength (Terwiesch, 2023). ChatGPT can generate ides far faster than humans. This gives them a huge edge in coming up with a few great ideas. For this study the professors gave ChatGPT and the students the same prompt. I believe I would get a big zero in coming up with a truly innovative product idea. Could you do this? How fast? System Prompt “You are a creative entrepreneur looking to generate new product ideas. The product will target college students in the United States. It should be a physical good, not a service or software. I’d like a product that could be sold at a retail price of less than about USD 50. The ideas are just ideas. The product need not yet exist, nor may it necessarily be clearly feasible. Number all ideas and give them a name. The name and idea are separated by a colon.” User Prompt “Please generate ten ideas as ten separate paragraphs. The idea should be expressed as a paragraph of 40-80 words.” Do LLMs Enhance Productivity in Generating Ideas? The answer to this question is straightforward. ChatGPT-4 is very efficient at generating ideas. This question does not require much precision to answer. Two hundred ideas can be generated by one human interacting with ChatGPT-4 in about 15 minutes. A human working alone can generate about five ideas in 15 minutes (Girotra et al., 2010). Humans working in groups do even worse. In short, the productivity race between humans and ChatGPT is not even close. Still, the old saying that ideas are a dime a dozen is perhaps a tad optimistic. A professional working with ChatGPT-4 can generate ideas at a rate of about 800 ideas per hour. At a cost of USD 500 per hour of human effort, a figure representing an estimate of the fully loaded cost of a skilled professional, ideas are generated at a cost of about USD 0.63 each, or USD 7.50 (75 dimes) per dozen. At the time we used ChatGPT-4, the API fee for 800 ideas was about USD 20. For that same USD 500 per hour, a human working alone, without assistance from an LLM, only generates 20 ideas at a cost of roughly USD 25 each, hardly a dime a dozen. For the focused idea generation task itself, a human using ChatGPT-4 is thus about 40 times more productive than a human working alone. What Is The Quality Distribution of the Ideas Generated Using LLMs? A “stochastic parrot” can generate ideas, and LLMs do so shockingly productively. But we don’t care about quantity alone. More typically, the objective of idea generation is to generate at least a few truly exceptionally good ideas. In most innovation settings, we’d rather have 10 great ideas and 90 terrible ideas than 100 ideas of average quality. We, therefore, care about the quality distribution of the ideas, and in particular, the quality of the best few ideas in a sample. Of course, we might as well also measure the mean and standard deviation of the three sets of ideas, and we do so. Two useful measures of the extreme values are: What is the average quality of the ideas in the top decile of each of the three samples? Which sources provided the ideas comprising the top 10 percent of the ideas in the pooled sample? Chat-GPT generated the best-rated idea in our sample, with an 11% higher purchase probability than the best human idea. The average quality of the top decile in each of the three pools also follows the same pattern as average quality— seeded Chat-GPT ≻ ChatGPT ≻ Humans. Overall, we have 400 ideas, with an equal number generated by ChatGPT and humans. In the top 40 ideas (top decile) a full 35 (87.5%) are those generated by ChatGPT. ChatGPT vs the Screen Actors Guild The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) joined the Writers Guild (WGA) in coordinated strikes. The writers demand protection from Artificial Intelligence. Articles abound. Deadline: September 6: WGA & SAG-AFTRA To Rally For California Bill That Would Grant Unemployment Insurance To Strikers Deadline: September 6: SAG-AFTRA Says Dual Strikes Against Video Games & Film/TV Industry “Makes Sense” As Key Issues Of Wages & AI “Mirror” Each Other MovieWeb: September 7: Bill Maher Says Writers Are Not ‘Owed a Living’ as the WGA & SAG-AFTRA Strikes Continue Hoot of the Day from the World Socialist Organization The World Socialist Website reports US film and television writers’ and actors’ anger reaching the boiling point The struggle by 11,000 film and television writers, members of the Writers Guild of America (WGA), is now in its fifth month, while 65,000 actors in the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) are nearing the end of their second month on the picket lines. The militant determination of the writers and actors to fight for decent living standards and a more meaningful future for art and culture have been met with intransigence and outright cruelty by the entertainment mega-corporations united in the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). The companies have made clear their willingness to drive thousands of artists into misery and out of the arts and entertainment industry. Similarly, with all its phony rhetoric about “solidarity,” SAG-AFTRA has prevented video game workers from joining the strike of their fellow union members and only this week began a strike authorization vote. Moreover, the use of “interim agreements,” allowing hundreds of productions to go ahead, has created a surreal situation of internal scabbing that weakens or negates the purpose of strike action. Outright cruelty!? I discussed this on July 24, asking If the Screen Actors and Writers Strikes Went on Forever, Who Would Care? The strike started on July 14. Did you notice? Care? I don’t watch TV so I am not a good judge. In a podcast, Maher expressed some sympathy for the writers. “I feel for my writers. I love my writers. I’m one of my writers. But there’s a big other side to it. And a lot of people are being hurt besides them — a lot of people who don’t make as much money as them in this bipartisan world we have where you’re just in one camp or the other, there’s no in between. You’re either for the strike like they’re f—ing Che Guevara out there, you know, like, this is Cesar Chavez’s lettuce picking strike — or you’re with Trump. There’s no difference — there’s only two camps. And it’s much more complicated than that.” But I side with Bill Maher who says writers are not “owed” a living and that the strike demands can be excessive and unrealistic. The strike demands of the United Auto Workers are also excessive and unrealistic. United Auto Workers (UAW) Demands 32-hour workweek 46 percent pay raise over 4 years Right to strike over plant closures Increased retiree benefits Defined pension plan for all workers Cost of living adjustments Bernie Sanders Comments and an Accurate Rebuttal The irony in the UAW case is Biden is recklessly pursuing an avenue faster than infrastructure allows and that will cost UAW jobs, but increase them elsewhere, in a highly inflationary manner. Note that Biden’s Green Energy Inflation Reduction Act Needs a Big Bailout Already “What, me worry?” Some on Twitter predict, even cheer for my demise to AI writers for my stance against the UAW. Like Bill Maher. I’m not worried. Unlike Bill Maher, I am so small no one would even want to bother to try to replace me. When I started this article, I had no idea it would morph into the Screen Actors Guild or the UAW. On a day to day basis, I have no idea what I am going to write about. Could AI have produced this article better? Even if so, would it bother? In retrospect, I am terrible at producing ideas for products, but pretty good at commenting on the global economic news. If I am replaced by AI, so be it. No one is owed a living. Not the Screen Actors Guild, not the UAW, and not me. UAW Gearing Up for a Strike, It Could be Long and Nasty On August 29, I commented UAW Gearing Up for a Strike, It Could be Long and Nasty Bloomberg estimates the UAW demands would add $80 billion to costs. If the Big Three automakers gave into UAW demand, they would all go bankrupt in short order. The fact is, EVs are easier to produce. That means fewer workers. But the workers want protection from losing their jobs. The SAG wants protection from ChatGPT. It’s really the same story. Change happens. It’s disruptive. Biden’s Green Energy Inflation Reduction Act Needs a Big Bailout Already The irony in the UAW case is Biden is recklessly pursuing an avenue faster than infrastructure allows and that will cost UAW jobs, but increase them elsewhere, in a highly inflationary manner. Note that Biden’s Green Energy Inflation Reduction Act Needs a Big Bailout Already “What, me worry?” Some on Twitter predict, even cheer for my demise to AI writers for my stance against the UAW. Like Bill Maher. I’m not worried. Unlike Bill Maher, I am so small no one would even want to bother to try to replace me. When I started this article, I had no idea it would morph into the Screen Actors Guild or the UAW. On a day to day basis, I have no idea what I am going to write about. Could AI have produced this article better? Even if so, would it bother? In retrospect, I am terrible at producing ideas for products, but pretty good at commenting on the global economic news. If I am replaced by AI, so be it. No one is owed a living. Not the Screen Actors Guild, not the UAW, and not me. Tyler Durden Sun, 09/10/2023 - 20:30.....»»

Category: worldSource: nytSep 10th, 2023

How the Hollywood strikes are affecting social-media influencers, who are turning away brand deals and 5-figure paychecks to follow SAG-AFTRA rules

SAG-AFTRA has warned creators that accepting work on behalf of struck companies could bar them from union membership after. Some say it's causing pain. Jasmine Paige Moore, a social-media influencer, stands on the picket lines during the SAG-AFTRA strike.Courtesy of Jasmine Paige MooreThe ongoing Hollywood strikes have thrown some social-media creators into disarray.Many creators who previously promoted Hollywood films and TV shows are passing on those jobs.They're seeking ways to make money without running afoul of SAG-AFTRA, the actors' union.In Hollywood, strikes by actors and writers against studios, networks, and streamers have been underway for months over a variety of issues from residuals to artificial intelligence. The ripple effects of the labor stoppages reach far beyond union members on the picket lines, however. Members of the creator economy — the growing industry of influencers and online personalities who generate content on platforms like TikTok and Instagram — often have ambitions beyond the mobile screen, including to become actors or writer-producers. Some are already members of the actors' guild, SAG-AFTRA, which began welcoming influencers in 2021, while many others are hoping to join as they make more progress in their careers.This summer, SAG-AFTRA warned Hollywood creators who have previously performed paid work for studios — like appearances on red carpets at premieres or promotion of upcoming films and TV shows — that accepting such contracts or paid gigs during the strike could bar those influencers from being admitted to the union later. (This guidance dovetails with what SAG-AFTRA and the Writers Guild of America have told current members — that they are prohibited during this period from promoting new content they've worked on before the strikes, should the studios release it now.)It's a warning that creators aren't taking lightly, with some pivoting or postponing the development of new Hollywood-related content altogether.'We're casualties of this,' one creator saysJasmine Paige Moore, a movie-focused creator who has nearly 470,000 followers on TikTok, told Insider in a first-person account that she's asked her manager to pause sending new opportunities tied to studios or film launches. She has also gathered other creators on the picket lines to show their support. But the process hasn't been easy, she added — Moore said she's turned down multiple five-figure paychecks this summer to avoid running afoul of SAG-AFTRA rules, and has had to take up bartending to make ends meet during a painful financial crunch.She said creators have experienced a "mob mentality" and "harsh rhetoric" from those who have taken up the mantle of policing influencers to ensure they don't cross the picket line, and she experienced a "heavy depression" by having to forgo creating content she loves or engaging in activities like cosplay."We are casualties of this," Moore added, explaining that some creators she knows have been privately raising questions about how long the strike could last and what it could mean for their financial well-being."The implicit message from the actors' guild is: We're the gatekeepers of the career you want. If you don't follow our rules, you won't be able to join us. That door will be closed to you," added Moore, who said she worries about the creators who may abandon Hollywood entirely when this is all over.A SAG-AFTRA spokesperson told Insider in a statement that the changes its members are striking for "will benefit everyone in the years to come" and the guild is "committed to working with [creators] to navigate strike rules as they look for new partnership opportunities during this time."Showing support for the unionsOther creators are finding fresh ways to stay relevant during this period while being mindful of adhering to the picket line. Joseph Arujo, a TikTok personality counting about 861,000 followers on that platform, has been doubling down on music-related content, a space less prone to landing him in hot water with guild supporters. Earlier this summer, Arujo came under fire from online critics after posting about attending a film premiere in July. "It was at that point I decided it might just be better to completely shift away from that kind of content," he told Insider in an interview.Joe Aragon, a TikTok creator whose account, Cinema Joe, commands nearly 950,000 followers and is famed for its movie reviews and film-related content, said he's in solidarity with the actors and writers as well, emphasizing that they're "not asking for anything over the moon" and are "striking for essentially their basic need to survive."In an interview with Insider, he called on other creators to hold the line. "I may be facing a toll, creators may be facing a toll, because of the strike, but you know who else is facing a toll? The writers and the actors," he said. Aragon added that he's told studios that he's withdrawing his services indefinitely and might resume once the labor stoppages have ended."I'm making changes in my life to make sure that I'm going to be safe and OK," he explained, which could include taking a part-time job if necessary. "This is a monumental time, a historic time in the industry," Aragon concluded, "and if that means losing out on a couple brand deals and I can't promote a movie or two that's coming up, I will happily accept that this is so much bigger than that."Insider correspondent Reed Alexander is a member of SAG-AFTRA.Are you a member of the creator economy or have thoughts to share on the SAG-AFTRA and WGA strikes in Hollywood? Contact these reporters: Reed Alexander can be reached via email at, and Shriya Bhattacharya can be reached at Read the original article on Business Insider.....»»

Category: topSource: businessinsiderSep 8th, 2023

I Rode With An Ice Road Trucker To The Arctic Circle. Here"s What It Was Like

I Rode With An Ice Road Trucker To The Arctic Circle. Here's What It Was Like By Rachel Premack of Freightwaves On July 30, I flew from my home in New York City to Anchorage, Alaska, to hitchhike to the Arctic Ocean. I am not mentally imbalanced. I am a reporter who covers the trucking industry. Let me provide some more context: Back in May, with my colleague John Paul Hampstead, I wrote a story about the controversial growth of drilling in Alaska and its effect on the $800 billion trucking industry. There’s a nasty freight recession slamming U.S. trucking fleets, but Alaska seems to be experiencing the opposite. Alaskan trucking executives told me in May that they’re planning on doubling in size. They want to hire not just Alaska residents, but folks from the Lower 48.  Sourdough Express, which was founded in 1898, is one of those companies looking to lavish pay raises on employees and hire more. Just this month, President Josh Norum gave his linehaul truck drivers a 25% pay bump. “[W]e are building the team for all the work the next 4 years,” he recently told me over text message. These companies particularly want more drivers to haul equipment on the Dalton Highway, which ends in the North Slope oil drilling region. It’s not a job for any ol’ truck driver. I wanted to see the experience for myself — why was it that trucking in Alaska had inspired shows like “Ice Road Truckers?” Why is everyone so fascinated by driving a truck in a really cold place? And is it as dangerous as it looks on television? Alaska’s North Slope Borough. A whopping 11,000 people live here, which is actually more than I would have guessed. (Image: U.S. Bureau of Land Management) Norum advised me to come before the summer was up. So, on July 30, I took the 12-ish hour trip to Anchorage. I was only four hours behind Eastern Time but incredibly thrown off. At 10 p.m. local time, or 2 a.m. Eastern, the skies were bright blue, the sun beating down.  I fell asleep regardless. That next morning, I was off to Sourdough Express’ Anchorage terminal.  My path. I would travel from Anchorage to Fairbanks, stay in a hotel overnight, then go from Fairbanks to Deadhorse. (Google Maps) The Anchorage terminal was more hectic than I would have expected. It reminded me of other truck terminals I’ve been to in New York City — plenty of day cabs and overnight cabs alike. Summer is actually a slower time for Alaskan trucking fleets for Sourdough. Even in the Arctic Circle, the summer is too warm to maintain the region’s famous ice roads.  Local governments create those ice roads every November and December. On that hard, frozen ground, oil company workers build and live in so-called “man camps” where they work wild shifts all winter. Truck drivers service those man camps with everything from Cheetos to drilling equipment to mattresses.  The land is too soft and squishy to support oil rigs and trucks in the summer. Instead, this season is when truckers bring up everything that oil companies will need in the winter. It’s the full-time Alaskan truck drivers who stick around, hauling pipes and steel plates that will be used in a few months. I wouldn’t be experiencing the ice roads during this trip, but if I gathered my gumption perhaps I could come back in the winter.  Then, in the winter, truck drivers from all over the U.S. come up to cash in on the lucrative, dangerous, thrilling job of being an ice road trucker. An executive at Alaska West Express, another local trucking company, told me in May that such truck drivers can make $150,000 to $170,000 a year, in addition to benefits. It’s an amazing compensation compared to the typical tractor-trailer driver, who the federal government says earns a median annual wage of around $48,000. Well, anyways, before I could enjoy the Dalton Highway, I had to get from Anchorage to Fairbanks. Kyle Monnier, a 30-year-old who was born and raised in Alaska, would be my driver for that journey.  I went to the bathroom before we left. I got used to wearing this safety vest. It provides a nice splash of color to any outfit you may be wearing. 8:38 a.m. Stylish! (Photo: Rachel Premack/FreightWaves) And off we went!  July 31: Anchorage to Fairbanks, 359 miles Monnier and I would be hauling two trailers (typical for Alaska) of building supplies from Anchorage to Fairbanks. These weren’t urgent loads. The first trailer was wood and the one behind was insulation.   12:51 p.m. A full view of the truck while we grabbed lunch. (Photo: Rachel Premack/FreightWaves) The first, unexpected thing I learned about trucking in Alaska is the difference in the state’s hours-of-service (HOS) laws. Federal laws require truck drivers to drive no more than 11 hours in a 14-hour period. They also need to take 34 hours off duty if they’ve driven up to 60 hours in a seven-day period or 70 hours in an eight-day period. (Here’s more information on HOS regulations if for some bizarre reason you are curious.) HOS regulations can be a snore outside the trucking community, but they’re huge for drivers. They function totally differently in Alaska. I was shocked when I got into Monnier’s cab that he had 15 hours of driving in a 20-hour window. His on-duty time was 80 hours, too. Alaska has extended HOS rules in part because driving here can be so unpredictable. For example, dirt roads means equipment can get unexpectedly beat up. Because Alaska is so sparsely populated, you might be waiting a while for a mechanic if you need help.  Getting out of Anchorage was quick enough, though Monnier said the traffic leaving the big city is pretty bad. Coming from New York, this didn’t look terribly congested to me. 8:55 a.m. A definite plus of driving in Alaska is the lack of traffic and the views. (Photo: Rachel Premack/FreightWaves)2:09 p.m. We’re near Denali National Park here. (Photo: Rachel Premack/FreightWaves) On days that he works, Monnier drives the six hours from Anchorage to Fairbanks, unloads, and then typically drives the six hours back to Anchorage empty. He usually stops at a gas station for a simple meal. At his usual spot, I got surprisingly good chicken nuggets and a bag of chips. I’ve reported for years about how truck drivers usually have to rely on packaged and processed foods. One thing I didn’t truly understand before riding along with Monnier is just how important energy drinks are for a truck driver. When you’re chugging along the road, you can’t exactly park at an artisan cafe or go through a Starbucks drive-thru. Instead, Monster energy drinks — or in my case, Celsius — become your main source of caffeine. 2:20 p.m. I built up the courage at last to ask Monnier if I could get a picture of him. (Photo: Rachel Premack/FreightWaves) We were on the road for about seven hours, so we naturally talked for a while. Monnier’s wife and son live in the Lower 48, though she’s also from Alaska. Monnier became a truck driver shortly after graduating from high school.  After several hours chatting, Monnier played the music he normally listens to while he’s driving. He was worried I might be offended by rap music, but I am not. His music taste ended up eclectic at minimum — rap to country to electronica to “Barbie Girl.” (He has not watched the movie!) “I have listened to every song on Pandora at least 20 times,” he said. 5:23 p.m. Unhooking and leaving Fairbanks. (Photo: Rachel Premack/FreightWaves) All good things must come to an end, and eventually Monnier and I reached Fairbanks. He unhooked his load and bobtailed back to Anchorage; very little freight comes out of Fairbanks headed downstate. My day was finished, but his was only halfway over. Aug. 1: Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay, 495 miles I enjoyed a good night’s sleep at a Best Western Plus. The sun set at 11:02 p.m. Next on deck was the more fearsome part of the journey: Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay on the Dalton Highway. Monnier said he had gone a few times and was open to driving on it again. I would be riding with Richard Mustain. Monnier assured me Mustain — or Mustang, as his call sign goes — was a Dalton Highway veteran, who knew just about everything there is to know about the road.  After a good night’s sleep, I arrived before 8 the next morning at Sourdough’s Fairbanks terminal. 7:56 a.m. The trucks are ready to rumble. (Photo: Rachel Premack/FreightWaves) Mustang and I would be hauling pipes for the oil fields in Prudhoe. We would also be joined by a training driver named Mike who had never gone on the Dalton Highway before. Alaskan truck drivers call it “the Dalton.” They also all know it is exactly 414 miles. Construction on the road finished in 1974. It exists only because of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, which runs above and below ground alongside the Dalton. During the ride, I would gaze upon the pipeline as a fond friend accompanying us. In retrospect, it is incredibly odd to rely upon a pipeline as a source of mental support. The Dalton does not begin in Fairbanks. First, you have to drive exactly 73.1 miles on another road called the Elliot Highway. I lost phone service shortly into the Elliot, and did not get it again until we reached the end of the trip. At the beginning of the Dalton, you see a series of alarming signs that make clear to anyone not driving an 18-wheeler that maybe you should bugger off: “HEAVY INDUSTRIAL TRAFFIC. PROCEED WITH CAUTION.” I was comfortably in the passenger seat of Mustang’s 2024 Peterbilt and had no guilt about proceeding. Mustang at 10:45 a.m. (Photo: Rachel Premack/FreightWaves) Truck drivers on the Dalton are dealing with steep grades in addition to heavy loads. Sourdough trucks typically haul around 110,000 pounds here – a significant bump from the typical 80,000-pound limit in the Lower 48. Oversized loads escorted by two pick-up trucks are also common here. So, when truck drivers are slowly navigating hills or curves on the road, typical passenger vehicles or motorbikes pose a safety issue. Mustang said he typically drives around 35 mph. It’s not surprising, then, that passenger vehicles might try to skirt around him. The issue of motorcyclists and “four-wheelers” (as truck drivers call us plebeians) quickly became clear.  Mustang remained calm about 6 miles into the Dalton when a pack of motorbikes passed us. Moves on the road that might send a typical driver (not me, of course) into a fit of expletives didn’t get more than a chuckle from Mustang. Whenever the odd car appeared on the horizon, he would get on his CB radio and alert Mike behind us to keep a watch out. 10:36 a.m. Respect heavy industrial traffic! (Photo: Rachel Premack/FreightWaves) Mustang is a Missouri native, a self-described “farm boy” who quit high school and started a family as a young man. He’s been a truck driver for 30 years. In 2015, a friend of his was telling a group — all truck drivers — about his experience hauling fuel. Mustang was the only one who actually went that winter. He showed up at the Fairbanks airport with a gym bag, completely out of his element. “It was scary to come up here,” Mustang said. “I didn’t know nobody. People I didn’t know picked me up from the airport.” He loved it immediately. He barely took photos on his phone before he moved to Alaska; now, he has about 10,000 of them. Most of them are in the same place, just different seasons. The long grasses change colors — red, pink, beige. That makes the mountains look different week to week. And then there’s the sky. Because of the ice crystals that form in the atmosphere during the long winters, “sun dogs” appear where it looks like there are three suns in the sky. Most fantastic might be the aurora borealis, which can make it look like the sky is swirling, shooting fingers down. “It will make your insides feel funny,” Mustang said. Mustang identifies as a “cheechako,” which is Alaskan slang for someone who just moved here and is amazed by everything. After about 10 years as a cheechako, Mustang says you become a “sourdough” — not a native-born Alaskan, but a hardened resident who isn’t, say, taking pictures of the same mountain every few days.  “They come outside, look around and aren’t amazed by what they see,” Mustang said. “I’m not sure I’ll get to that point.” John, an Anchorage resident I met after the ride-along, mentioned to me that he views himself as Alaskan, not American. Alaska is, of course, a U.S. state, but many residents here refer to the contiguous 48 states the way Canadians might. I heard folks call the Lower 48 the “States,” “America” or simply “the lower.” “Once you start living in Alaska, you lose touch with ‘the lower’ — the last tornado, the last school shooting,” Mustang told me. “It’s like being in a different country when you live here.” 11:34 a.m. Truck drivers on the Dalton typically warn each other when they’re approaching each other. (Photo: Rachel Premack/FreightWaves) The Dalton is mostly a dirt road. Mustang told me it’s normal for a trucker’s windshield to crack during the workday because rocks fling around the vehicle’s tires and hit the windshield. Four-wheelers and motorcyclists aside, the Dalton is truly a trucker’s kingdom. Every few dozen mileposts, there’s a spot with a nickname, likely christened by a truck driver. At milepost 74, there’s the “Roller Coaster,” featuring ups and downs. “Finger Mountain” is at milepost 98, so named because it looks like a middle finger. (I didn’t see the resemblance.) Milepost 126 is “Oh Shit Corner,” where a sharp turn may shock Dalton truckers who don’t have Mustang on the CB radio guiding them. Milepost 132 is “Gobbler’s Knob.” We are in polite company and I will not share the origin of that name. 12:23 p.m. A rare moment of paved highway. (Photo: Rachel Premack/FreightWaves) Some signs on the Dalton pointed out these charming names, but it’s otherwise just passed down from each generation of Dalton truckers. Mustang said he’s part of the third generation of truck drivers on the Dalton. The first came in the 1970s and 1980s — guys who truly roughed it and whom Mustang spoke of with reverence. He said it took three days back then to get to Prudhoe Bay; now it can be done in 14 hours. Next, there was the next generation who trained the likes of Mustang. Mustang embraces the responsibility of training the next generation. He wears a Prudhoe Bay T-shirt most days as a sort of uniform.  Most exciting to me was milepost 115, when we officially crossed into the Arctic Circle. 2:10 p.m. It wasn’t even that cold. (Photo: Rachel Premack/FreightWaves) I learned that the Arctic Circle, which I previously thought meant “it’s really cold,” refers to any location on Earth where the sun is up for 24 hours at least one day a year and down for 24 hours at least one day a year. It cannot be overstated that the Dalton, and the entire state of Alaska, is beautiful. The summer is particularly fantastic. I did not see a dark sky once the entire week I was in Alaska, which is probably why I was easily delighted during my seven days there. The weather was a perfect 60 to 70 degrees. The winter, of course, is less charming. In Anchorage, where nearly half of the state lives, the sun is up for as little as 5 1/2 hours a day. Research on Alaska suggests that depression, alcoholism and even partner abuse increase amid these dark, cold days. “The light and dark messes with your insides, your mind, your body,” Mustang said, and luckily added, “but it doesn’t seem to bother me.” It’s even worse in our final destination of Prudhoe Bay, where thousands work and live in the winter. The sun does not rise — at all — from late November to late January. John, the Alaskan I met later that week, told me he was an oil rig worker when he was a younger man. The big conversation during the winters in the cafeteria was whether or not you saw the sun that day. The truck cabin was getting sunnier as we discussed all this. That’s because the trees were shrinking. We were approaching the tundra. 3:20 p.m. If you think this picture is nice, guess what the real view was like! We were also approaching the last place where a truck driver (or trucking journalist) could get food and use the bathroom until we hit Deadhorse, the main settlement of Prudhoe Bay. It was also frankly one of the first places since we got on the Dalton that functioned as a rest stop. The town is Coldfoot. By the way, you may have been wondering how anyone uses the bathroom when driving in the Arctic wilderness. It’s called pulling over to “kick a tire” (read: peeing next to your truck). Creative ways to use the bathroom while trucking aren’t exclusive to Alaska, but here it can get dangerous. Mustang told me of a recent episode when he kicked a tire and came back around to his truck to find a bear standing there. He charged the bear and it mercifully ran off. I do not need to tell you here that I drank very little water the day I was on the Dalton. Exhausted and hungry, I was happy to get to Coldfoot. It’s allegedly the world’s farthest north truck stop. Mustang warned me not to get anything fried. As previously stated, opportunities for bathrooms are limited. 3:50 p.m. Coldfoot Camp, which claims to be the world’s farthest north truck stop. Google ranks it as a 1-star hotel, but its Google and TripAdvisor reviews overwhelmingly cheery. Here’s the menu. I got a burger and a bowl of their soup of the day. My colleague Justin Martin, aka “Super Trucker,” noted when I showed him a picture of the menu that the prices weren’t as bad as he had guessed.  Mustang went back out to his truck to check up on his and Mike’s equipment. Meanwhile, I was kind of … confused on what to do next. We were going to sit at a communal table specifically for truck drivers, but I felt a bit out of sorts. The jet lag started to kick in and I felt a bit awkward.  3:49 p.m. Trucking in Alaska is what I picture it was like back in the good ol’ days. Most truckstops and gas stations are small, or at least locally owned chains. Because of the oil industry, truck drivers and the industrial economy just loom larger in the public imagination. That seems to allow truck drivers to command more respect from the driving population. Anyways, I sat down and ate my burger. Then I bought some stuff from the gift shop. I started to get a real appreciation then for how long a truck driver’s workday is. We started the work day nearly eight hours ago, but we still had about half the Dalton left to drive. Mustang told me that a particularly active Dalton truck driver can do three trips to Prudhoe a week, which translates to about six 14-hour days and three nights away from home. Mustang sticks to two weekly trips up to Prudhoe.  Our workday was about to get a bit longer. Mustang and Mike, the trainee behind us, needed to get some work done on Mike’s truck. Coldfoot has a machine shop with a mechanic who can fix up minor equipment issues. 4:50 p.m. This is the point in which I am slightly fading away. Ultimately, the issue was fixed. We were back on the road a bit after 5 p.m. It was longer than anyone wanted to be held up. We still had about 5 1/2 hours before we reached Prudhoe. It’s a necessity for Dalton truck drivers to know how to do minor — or major — repairs on their vehicles. The issue on Mike’s equipment was thankfully quick and the guys were able to catch it near a mechanic’s shop, rather than on the side of the highway hours from anyone. These were brand-new Peterbilts, and the road had already given them a bit of a beating. Mustang noted to me that most trucks in Alaska have separate fuel tanks because, say, a caribou might come up and pierce one of them with its antlers. This sounded slightly ridiculous until I saw caribou later on the drive. At 5:52 p.m., I wrote the following in my notes: “I am tired!!!” 6:46 p.m. No more trees. It was time for me to wake up. We were nearing milepost 248: the fearsome Atigun Pass, nearly 4,800 feet above sea level. That’s where the Continental Divide crosses with the Dalton. In the winter, avalanches often shut down the road. Robb Christenson, the director of sales and pricing at Sourdough, warned me about this one back in Anchorage. As we climbed the Atigun, drivers waiting to descend waited for us; this was all coordinated on the CB radio. The altitude meter clicked up and up and up. Mustang said the Atigun is “a piece of cake.” But you need to know how to approach it. In the Lower 48, truck drivers learn that they need to shift into a lower gear when descending a hill. However, in Alaska, Mustang said instead while going downhill you actually need to go into a higher gear. It’s because drivers here are hauling heavier loads. Keeping to a low gear would just push your vehicle down the mountain and you’d risk losing control. It sounds like a quick fix, but Mustang said new drivers from the Lower 48 struggle to make this adjustment. The busted guardrails on either side of the Dalton at this stretch of the drive was a grim reminder that this stretch of highway is unforgiving to mistakes.  Anyways, Mustang indeed went into the 10th gear as we descended the Continental Divide. And here I am, weeks later, telling you the tale. “This is the greatest trucking job in the world,” Mustang told me. “No traffic, no stoplights, just trucking. You see bears and critters and water.” That’s great for Mustang. However, I was not doing so hot. Sitting in a passenger seat for 12 hours (without air ride!) was not ideal. For some reason, my left knee hurt. My stomach held two Celsius energy drinks, a burger, a cream-based soup and very little water. It was becoming very clear to me again why truck drivers struggle with not just food on the road, but their body literally hurting. Combating the boredom, monotony and body aches by eating junk food seemed appropriate to me. Mustang said he once struggled with the same urges. He proudly now snacks on beef jerky and berries instead of candy bars and sips water instead of soda pop.  “It’s really easy to eat the wrong stuff while you’re trucking,” Mustang said. “A lot of depression goes on in trucking, because you’re away from your family. I love what I do but I’m way out of shape. Sitting in here, you don’t get no workout on your muscles.” Mustang tells me we have about 2 1/2 hours left. This is the most glorious news in the world. Now that the elevation (and avalanche risk) has passed us, the pipeline has reemerged. 8:05 p.m. I am still in the truck. Don’t worry, my dear pipeline is on the other side of the road. There aren’t too many people who live out here, as you could pretty well imagine. However, Mustang does drive to them during the wintertime, when ice roads make a slew of other communities accessible by car. Truck drivers bring food and other supplies to towns in the “bush.” These are communities of mostly Alaska Natives who aren’t connected to other settlements with roads. Until recently, people in the bush fished, hunted and foraged for food. But now, as money from drilling projects floods their communities, Alaska Natives are buying more from, say, Walmart and truck drivers are able to drive these goods to the bush towns. When there are no ice roads in warmer months, bush communities rely on planes or boats to deliver these nonperishable goods. Not all of the residents of these bush communities are happy with these developments. On one hand, energy companies have flooded Alaska Native communities with cash and work opportunities. Subsistence living is no longer the norm. However, new issues have plagued these settlements. Alaska Native communities now see outsize rates of diabetes, alcoholism and drug abuse compared to other Alaskans.  Some local leaders say these issues are partially a result of oil development. They’re particularly concerned about ConocoPhillips Alaska’s Willow project, which could produce up to 180,000 barrels of oil a day. President Joe Biden approved the Willow project in March. That’s good news for truck drivers and oil workers but alarming for those who say the project will be a “carbon bomb” that heightens the climate crisis. Locally, some Native Alaskans say increased drilling affects traditional rites like caribou hunting. (And that would, in turn, make them more reliant on nonperishable, processed foods from outside their communities.) Speaking of hunting, we start scanning the horizon for critters. I do spot a few caribou. We haven’t seen any bears, but they’re more scared of people than you’d think. Mustang said buffalo out here will ram your truck “until they die.” There’s another creature called muskox, which is native to the Arctic. Their fur is incredibly soft. Before I realize it, the ride is nearly finished. I am a little sad to leave.  10:10 p.m. This is the tundra! We are at last in the tundra. It’s not what I expected. It’s a beautiful, bright green grass dotted with wildflowers and slashed with light blue streams. Mustang tells me the fields are soaking wet. We still see some hunters nestled in the tall grasses, looking to shoot caribou. It’s unclear to me if they’re locals or came up here to hunt. And, once again, the landscape changes. Now it’s permafrost, which is soil that remains at or below freezing even in the summer. It’s cracked because the permafrost is no longer so permanent. Even in the Arctic Circle, temperatures are rising. Even parts of the road are starting to get hilly because the permafrost is melting and expanding. 10:24 p.m. Permafrost galore. Did I mention this is hour 14 in the truck? And then, against all odds, we make it to Deadhorse. The oil rigs, the squat buildings, the man camps, they all appear like a mirage. 10:31 p.m. I never thought I would be so happy to see an oil rig. I thank Mustang for an unforgettable experience. He admits it’s another workday for him. I fear I was an annoying passenger, or maybe he’s finally sick of Alaska, sick of trucking. But later, he sends me no fewer than nine videos (a mere slice of his 10,000-photo library) of musk oxen, pink grasses, caribou interrupting traffic, Northern Lights and even his truck on a barge heading out to the Arctic Ocean. “All of these videos pretty much explain why I love this job so much,” Mustang writes in his text message. He is a “cheechako” yet.  Thank you to Richard Mustain, Kyle Monnier, Josh Norum and everyone else at Sourdough Express I met for taking the time to show me around Alaska. If you are a truck driver with a story to share, email me at And don’t forget to subscribe to MODES for more trucking insights. Tyler Durden Thu, 09/07/2023 - 15:00.....»»

Category: worldSource: nytSep 7th, 2023

Paramount CEO: Disney-Charter Dispute Was Inevitable

Following is the unofficial transcript of a CNBC interview with Paramount Global (NASDAQ:PARA) President & CEO Bob Bakish on CNBC’s ... Read more Following is the unofficial transcript of a CNBC interview with Paramount Global (NASDAQ:PARA) President & CEO Bob Bakish on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street” (M-F, 9AM-12PM ET) today, Wednesday, September 6 from the GS Communacopia + Technology Conference in San Francisco. Disney-Charter Dispute Was Inevitable, Says Paramount Global's Bob Bakish DAVID FABER: We are live from the Goldman Sachs Communacopia conference here in San Francisco. And joining me now is Paramount Global CEO Bob Bakish. It’s good to see you Bob. BOB BAKISH: It’s good to see you David. FABER: Lot of things to talk about with Paramount but I'd also love to get your take on broader issues beginning with this dispute between Disney (NYSE:DIS) and Charter (NASDAQ:CHTR). That is, you know, anybody who wants to watch the US Open in Charter territory right now who actually has it and or Monday Night Football coming up is starting to think, whoa, I got a problem. Give me your take care here. What do you think? I mean, obviously, on the content side, somebody who also owns a lot of cable networks, I have to believe you have a certain view, but what's this about? And how worried are you? BAKISH: Yeah, so look, it certainly impacted markets on Friday. And, you know, for us, frankly, it wasn't a surprise, the exact timing was, but it was inevitable that something like this would happen. And I would point out that because we thought about this, we've actually evolved our portfolio, our strategy and our relationships really over the last seven years as we continue to modernize our business and I'd point to a couple of things. One is we have co-marketing agreements with virtually every MVPD, vMVPD distributor in the U.S. for our streaming services. So they very much have an interest in the broadband side of our business, video distribution, as well as the linear side of the business. So that's something we've done. Second thing is if you look outside the U.S., we've taken that a step further where there are multiple customers, Sky, some others where they actually provide our streaming product Paramount Plus in this case as a tier offering for their sets out box consumers, again, investing them in our streaming service getting access to our product. Add to that, when we when we look at skinny bundles and Charter Spectrum Essentials is an example of a skinny bundle. We are in that too. FABER: Right well you don't have, you don't have a sports focused network. BAKISH: That is true. We don't have 100% of sports property. And frankly, I think that's a plus not a minus so we don't have that issue. And lastly, if you look at again the streaming partnership, we are now in a place with Paramount Plus with Showtime where we have a true multi-platform product which I really think is the future of this. That product exists on linear, that product exists on streaming obviously. And if you're a Showtime if you're a previous Showtime linear subscriber, we have been placed with, multiple deals in place of multiple MVPDs and vMVPDs including some of the biggest in the country where they will get credentials to log into the app, which is along the lines of what Charter was talking about so again— FABER: But you said this was inevitable or was inevitable. Why? What about it? BAKISH: Because we're dealing with is a transforming media ecosystem. We fundamentally believe in multi-platform, which means we believe in the linear ecosystem and in the streaming ecosystem. And we're focused on providing our partners solutions for both as consumer behavior continues to migrate. So yes, inevitably you have to modernize these relationships. You have to do things like again, streaming co-marketing partnership— FABER: So is the market getting this wrong? I mean, your stock price has gotten crushed on this as well in the last, you know, few days because you own cable networks and everybody's saying if they get, if this thing goes for a while, Charter’s basically saying we don't care anymore. BAKISH: This is why I say all companies are not created equal, are not executing equal. If you look at Charter again go back to Tom Rutledge when we did last did our deal with them, he was quoted on his earnings call that said the new what was called Viacom CBS at the time now Paramount that deal that was done is a modernization in the relationship because it's exactly those things, includes Charter Spectrum Essentials, includes streaming launches in this case for Pluto and Paramount Plus. So that's what you got to do. You've got to modernize these relationships. We're doing it, we're very pleased by the way with the financial expression of Paramount Plus with Showtime on a multi platform basis. And frankly, I think we're ahead of the curve and yeah, we got dragged down on Friday with the rest of them— FABER: Dragged down again today another 2%. BAKISH: Yeah the market didn’t look like it opened that great today. FABER: No, overall, I won’t, alright fine, we'll give you that one. The other thing I want to talk about as well before we get to sort of the Paramount Plus and a lot of the important parts of the company is the strike. Well, obviously it's related to that anyway. What are your expectations here? I mean, it's September. I don't need to tell you but, you know, we're heading, barreling close to October and then perhaps towards the end of the year. Is this thing going to get resolved? BAKISH: Well, ultimately, it will get resolved but— FABER: Yeah, I know but – I guess is the question. BAKISH: And obviously, you know, we're, it's extremely unfortunate that we're in this place as an industry, you know, we would have hoped we could have avert the duality of the strikes we have with the writers and the actors. That obviously didn't come to pass, the partnership between the creatives and call it the studios is integral to the industry and therefore, we very much would like to get this back on track. But it's a complicated negotiation. It's obviously a multifaceted negotiation, many players involved. And, you know, so we're focused on it. And— FABER: Bob Iger said to me not that long ago and perhaps comments that he regrets that they weren't being realistic. Do you agree? BAKISH: There's a lot of issues on the table. It's complicated. I think there is, we will ultimately get this sorted and beyond that, again, since it’s a public negotiation, it's not really worth commenting on. FABER: What does it mean then for the business though? I mean, short term obviously, it's got a positive impact in some ways, given expenses but longer term in terms of the library in terms of the robustness of the most important product right now at your company Paramount Plus, what's the impact? BAKISH: In the short term as we said on our second quarter earnings call, we're in pretty good shape. We have mounted an alternate CBS fall schedule, which pulls from international, pulls from streaming, adds additional reality weight and of course, includes sports and thankfully more sports because we've added the Big Ten to our lineup so we're in good shape there. Obviously over time, we will begin to feel more impact and that's why we're focused on getting some resolution here, while simultaneously continuing to do what we can to support important constituencies whether they're consumers, distributors, or advertisers, which is what we're focused on. FABER: Is there anything that you've heard from the strike, from the conversations that gives you some sense that something will get resolved sooner rather than later? BAKISH: Look, I think the good news is there's conversation. You know, there was there was a time where there wasn't conversation and I'm referring to the writers, not the actors. And so that's what's important. People have to get to the table to figure something out. And that's that would be what would make me optimistic at this point in time, but again, the duration of these things is unknown because there are material issues that people are working to resolve. FABER: Yeah. Alright, let's talk a bit about Paramount Plus which we've done in many previous interviews was sort of go along the same lines, getting to profitability, this being the key big expense here and then things starting to really moderate. You still feel confident about that? BAKISH: 100%. We said going back two years ago when we launched Paramount Plus the 2023 would be our peak investment year. We updated that a year ago. We updated that as recently as our second quarter call. So yes, 100% and we look at ‘24 as a year where there will be significant reduction in streaming operating losses and importantly, that will drive a return to total company earnings growth for Paramount Global and that's obviously a very good thing and look when you look at Paramount Plus, we are scaling the service. We’re north of 60 million subscribers. We are significantly growing revenue, second quarter we posted 50% streaming revenue growth and that's on the back of subscriber growth, churn reduction, ARPU growth driven both by price increases and by add ARPU growth, so fundamentally, the top line side is working and on the expense side, we continue to every day take advantage of what we learned honing the content slate and by the way, the integration of Paramount Plus with Showtime is the latest example of that. FABER: Yeah, I’ve read a lot of the metrics in terms of knowing that you can keep a subscriber if they watch, you know, more than two shows or but there's still this bigger question which is do you have the scale to actually make this thing really profitable and sustainable for a long period of time and you have so many there are still many doubters, Bob, that that ultimately Paramount Plus can do that. BAKISH: What I would say to that is everything we've said we would do, we have done. When we announced the Pluto acquisition, people said, what’s that? Turned out to be a billion dollar plus business and a huge category. When we launched Paramount Plus, they said too little too late. Turns out to be over 60 million subscribers today, growing very robustly very much a cornerstone service for news, sports. You know, we are tracking on our plan, we will get there. We will continue to prove the doubters wrong. FABER: Real quickly because I did want to hit the studio briefly. It hasn't been the greatest run. I mean, the “Mission Impossible,” I watched. I thought it was great, but it didn't do as well. “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” seem to swamp it particularly at IMAX. I think you had a “Transformers” and a “Dungeons and Dragons” movies that didn't do as well as perhaps had been thought. Do you have any issues at Paramount, the studio right now? BAKISH: Look, we continue to view Paramount Pictures as really a crown jewel asset. The combination of its original production and really irreplaceable library that dates back over 100 years is a tremendous asset for our company. We continue to believe in theatrical exploitation and franchises as an extension. Our “Turtles” movie is our most recent example that that's we're very pleased with that. And I would add second point is films are not just about theatrical, it is about driving total company performance, obviously that's include streaming, where Paramount Pictures, particularly the pay one product is very effective at driving subscriber engagement and it's things like consumer products. If you look at “Turtles,” that's crossed over a billion dollars in retail this year. That's a nice incremental business tied back to a film— FABER: Alright, but you're not concerned about this failure at the box office with some of these names? BAKISH: We will continue to execute. I am not concerned about Paramount Pictures. I'm not concerned that the franchise strategy is not delivering. You know, some films do well, some films— FABER: Of course. And finally, oh by the way, speaking of films, Taylor Swift you could have distributed her documentary or something, but you couldn't do it by 20—by the current— BAKISH: I don’t know where that came from the ‘25 comment because I’ll just say that’s categorically untrue. I saw that piece on CNBC. FABER: Alright, you don't know. BAKISH: I don't know about 2025. FABER: Got it. Bob, thank you. BAKISH: Great to see you, David. We will continue to swap stories in this evolving consumer landscape. And importantly, you will see, we’ll continue to drive Paramount forward. Very excited about we're doing in elongating the TV media ecosystem. Very excited about streaming. You will see significant earnings growth in ‘24 and a path to continue to delivering the company......»»

Category: blogSource: valuewalkSep 6th, 2023

As Ukraine"s air force dodges Russian missiles, the US and its allies are practicing to keep their jets flying while under attack

US Air Force officials have seen how effective Ukraine's air force has been at moving its jets around, and they want to be just as good at it. A technician refuels a US F-16 during exercise Astral Knight 23 Part 6 at Šiauliai Air Base in Lithuania on August 22.US Air Force/Tech. Sgt. Stephanie Longoria Ukraine's air force has remained operational in the face of ongoing Russian attacks. It's able to do so largely because of its ability to disperse its aircraft and remain effective. That success has added urgency to US Air Force's own work on dispersing its aircraft and airmen. After 18 months of attacks by Russia's bigger and better equipped military, Ukraine's air force is still intact and operational. While neither side can control the air, Ukrainian jets can still get airborne and attack Russian forces.That success stems from the Ukrainian air force's ability to dodge attacks by Russian aircraft, missiles, and drones, and it has added urgency to the US Air Force's focus on being able to distribute its forces and operate while under attack.The Air Force's concept for such operations, called agile combat employment, or ACE, predates the war and was devised with the Pacific in mind, but events in Ukraine highlight the capabilities that the US and its allies need to develop, Gen. James Hecker, commander of US Air Forces Europe, said at a Defense Writers Group event on August 18."Now we kind of see how they're doing and what's being effective for them by them moving their airplanes around against the threat that we would most likely face," Hecker said of the Ukrainians.A US tactical air control party controller monitors airspace during Astral Knight 23 Part 6 in Rovaniemi, Finland on August 22.US Air Force/Airman 1st Class Albert Morel"Ukraine has been doing it for a year and a half, and they've gotten really good at it. We haven't been doing it very often," Hecker told reporters. "We do it, but not every day like they do, so we've just got to make sure that that we can be as proficient as they are."Hecker said ACE is one of his top priorities, and it is part of the Air Force's work on resilient basing, which service leaders say is one of their "operational imperatives." Air Force units around the world have incorporated ACE into their exercises, training to deploy quickly to less developed bases, refuel and rearm on the go, and do more with fewer personnel.As Hecker spoke last month, US airmen and aircraft from across Europe were converging on bases in Finland and Lithuania for Astral Knight 23 Part 6, an exercise focused on "proactive and reactive asset movements, as well as ground and aerial interoperability training" related to ACE."Astral Knight will continue to strengthen ally and partner interoperability while validating new ways to deploy and maneuver assets during a crisis or conflict," Lt. Gen. John Lamontagne, deputy commander US Air Forces Europe, said in a release at the start of the exercise.A US crew chief does a post-flight inspection on an F-16 at Rovaniemi Air Base during Astral Knight 23 Part 6 on August 23.US Air Force/Airman 1st Class Albert MorelRunning from August 18 to August 31, the drill was the culmination of a larger exercise that began in May to allow airmen from participating countries — including new NATO member Finland and Sweden, whose application is pending — to improve command-and-control and logistical procedures in the Arctic and Baltic regions.The training included operations in Sweden and Latvia and work on integrating fourth- and fifth-generation jets, like F-16s and F-35s, the Air Force said."We were able to move metal and people quickly around the world and established continuous combat operations," doing so "on an extremely quick timeline," Capt. Quincy Watts, an F-16 instructor pilot with a squadron based at Aviano air base in Italy, said in a release at the end of the exercise."Over the course of the last week, we had the opportunity to take a highly motivated, tight-knit team from Aviano to two bases that were completely unknown to us," Watts said.Watts said airmen from other career fields also trained to launch and recover jets while still performing their main duties, part of the Air Force's "multi-capable airmen" concept.'Something that we're really getting after'A US Air Force KC-135 tanker is unloaded at Kallax Air Base in Sweden during Astral Knight 23 Part 6 on August 25.US Air Force/Airman 1st Class Albert MorelLike other Air Force commands, US Air Forces Europe regularly conducts ACE exercises. That work is in part about restoring some of the capacity that existed during the Cold War."If you go back 30, 40 years ago," Hecker said, "we had a lot of air bases that had a lot of protection at these bases, and back then, if I flew a fighter into any one of those bases, when I landed, no matter what country it was, they could give you gas, they could change your tires if you needed to, and some of them could even load up weapons on your aircraft.""That atrophied over the last 30 years, so we are working to get that back," Hecker said.The Air Force's concern is driven by the proliferation of precision weapons that could allow an adversary to pick off valuable targets. US officials worry that the long-range missiles China has developed over the past two decades would allow it to knock out the US's large main operating bases in that region early in a war. According to Hecker, similar strikes are possible against bases in Europe.Dispersing aircraft and "high-value equipment" across different sections of one base is "not good enough now," Hecker said, adding that with more accurate weapons, an adversary "can just hit every single aircraft even if it's dispersed."US airmen and Finnish Air Force pilots at Rovaniemi Air Base during Astral Knight 23 Part 6 on August 23.US Air Force/Airman 1st Class Albert Morel"What we have to do now is disperse our aircraft amongst different airfields and potentially even on highways and these kinds of things that Finland brings to the plate," Hecker added, referring to the practice of operating jets on sections of highway, which Finland and Sweden have long used and which the US Air Force has practiced in Estonia.After Russia's attack on Ukraine in 2014, the US military stepped up its investment in bases and facilities in Europe through the European Deterrence Initiative. EDI funding dwindled in the years prior to Russia's attack on Ukraine in 2022 but has increased since then. The Pentagon's EDI budget request for 2024 includes nearly $500 million for the Air Force to improve base infrastructure and pre-positioned equipment.Asked about plans to rebuild the capacity that atrophied after the Cold War, Hecker said his command would start by working on 20 or 25 bases "in strategic locations around Europe.""We're going to put equipment in there that common aircraft need," Hecker added, "and then we're going to work with the nations and their maintenance so that we can get interoperable on different kinds of aircraft, like we were able to do 30, 40 years ago.""That's something that obviously doesn't happen overnight, but as I said, it's one of my priorities, so it's something that we're really getting after," Hecker said.Read the original article on Business Insider.....»»

Category: topSource: businessinsiderSep 3rd, 2023

What"s next for Disney as CEO Bob Iger works to streamline the company, cut costs, and make streaming profitable

Bob Iger is working to streamline Disney, make its streaming business profitable, and find a successor to replace him after his second run as CEO ends in 2026. Disney CEO Bob Iger at Allen & Co.'s 2023 Sun Valley conference.Kevin Dietsch/Getty Image Bob Iger is trying to reshape Disney as a leaner company in his second act as CEO. Iger recently extended his tenure by 2 years, but the clock is ticking for him to find a successor. Iger's also working to take ESPN direct-to-consumer and to build a profitable streaming business. When Bob Iger came back to Disney in November 2022, the company and the town celebrated the return of a successful and statesmanlike CEO for the world's largest entertainment brand. Two years under Iger's predecessor Bob Chapek left the company reorganized — in ways many company insiders didn't like — and executives, teams, and creative partners demoralized.But Iger soon had to get tough, announcing 7,000 job cuts as part of $5.5 billion in cuts. Over the spring, those layoffs were completed, but the tough decisions are not. Iger has made it clear he is looking for buyers and partners for significant parts of Disney's business.He's also venturing into sports betting, an area he previously said wasn't a fit for family-friendly Disney; trying to turn around the performance of the company's films; and working to make streaming profitable, all amid historic Hollywood strikes.Meanwhile, after extending his contract another two years, Iger and the Disney board also have a big problem to solve with finding Iger's successor while battling lawsuits over streaming losses, the question of whether there's a buyer for the TV properties, and speculation that the company could eventually sell itself to a bigger entity, like Apple. Iger still also finds himself in an ongoing political battle with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis over the state's "Don't Say Gay" law and control of Disney's Orlando theme park, a dustup that has calmed in recent months but not ended.Here are the key challenges ahead and how Iger's tackling them.Cutting costs, eliminating roles, and streamlining a sprawling portfolioAfter executing three rounds of layoffs, from the parks division to ESPN, Iger reorganized Disney into three core units — Entertainment, ESPN, and Parks — and is now looking for more ways to streamline the company by potentially shedding its TV and cable business to focus on streaming.Iger told CNBC in July that Disney's TV and cable businesses, including ABC and cable networks like FX, "may not be core" to the company. He also said on the company's August earnings call that the company was in discussion with potential partners to help take ESPN direct-to-consumer. Even as it seeks to shed or share some of its businesses, though, Disney is expected to take full control of Hulu in early 2024. That's when, by the terms of a 2019 "put/call" agreement between the two companies, Disney can buy Comcast's 33% share of the streamer. More on Iger's efforts to cut costs and build revenue:CEO Bob Iger's new Disney structure raises succession questions, insiders say, as some top execs depart and others jockey for powerMedia insiders say ESPN's new sports-betting push could help it court a younger crowd and set up a spinoff from DisneyBob Iger says Disney's TV and cable business 'may not be core' and leaves the door open to a sale of assets like ABC or cable network FXHow Bob Iger's big plan to shrink Disney could pay off and how it could backfire, according to industry insidersHulu insiders are confused and frustrated about their future as Disney and Comcast battle it out for control of the streamerGetting Disney and Hollywood out of the strike zoneHollywood production has since May been largely shut down by a Writers Guild of America strike against the studios and streamers, who are represented by the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers. SAG-AFTRA, the film and TV actors' union, called its own strike and joined writers on the picket lines in July. Among the issues for both groups are concerns about compensation, particularly residuals for streaming content, and the encroachment of artificial intelligence on their craft.In that same CNBC interview, Iger called striking actors and writers' demands "just not realistic." He's since taken a more conciliatory tone, saying he had "deep respect and admiration" for creators and that he was "personally committed" to finding a solution to the months-long impasse. He's been an on-off participant in union negotiations to end the strikes, which have entered their fifth month with no end in sight.The WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes are a threat to all of Hollywood, not to mention the California economy, and Iger was one of the studio leaders who helped bring an end to the last writers' walkout in 2008. More on the Hollywood strikes and their impact on Disney:Inside the actors' strike: Why Netflix, Max, and Paramount+ series stars are bringing their 'war' over pay and AI to Hollywood companies that are 'trying to kill our industry'How the writers' strike is crushing Hollywood's next generation, as job-seekers face 'skyrocketing' debt, crumbling hope, and endless hours 'just doom-scrolling LinkedIn'Disney heiress says 'money and power have hijacked' CEO Bob Iger's sensibilitiesHollywood's 100 days of strikes have likely dealt a $3 billion blow to California's economy, a university professor says'We are casualties of this': A film influencer with 470,000 TikTok followers on scrambling to take second jobs, making up for lost income, and facing online hate as Hollywood's strikes drag onA push for profitability in streamingWith Wall Street's patience for media companies' money-losing streaming business running out, Iger has promised to make Disney's profitable by the end of its 2024 fiscal year. He's following the Netflix playbook, cracking down on password sharing and hiking the price of Disney streamers' ad-free tiers to push people to its cheaper, ad-supported offerings. If Iger succeeds in acquiring all of Hulu, some analysts believe it would help Disney with streaming content, marketing, and ad revenue. And with ESPN on the decline like the rest of cable, Iger's looking to take the sports outlet direct-to-consumer, but he needs partners to scale it quickly, given the soaring cost of sports rights. Meanwhile, he's looking to Disney's deal with Penn Entertainment to ease the financial pressure on ESPN. After years of speculation about if, when, and how ESPN would enter the sports-betting fray, the company announced in August a $2 billion deal with the regional casino operator to create ESPN Bet. Penn is set to rebrand its US sportsbook with ESPN this fall.More on the future of streaming at Disney and ESPN:ESPN's layoffs underscore its challenges as cord-cutting accelerates, but analysts are split on whether Disney's plan to make it a streaming service will pay offDisney+ is increasing its price (again) and gearing up for a crackdown on the 'significant' number of people sharing passwordsHow ESPN's $2 billion deal with Penn Entertainment could shake up sports betting, from reinvigorating competition to evolving media's relationship with gamblingMedia insiders say ESPN's new sports-betting push could help it court a younger crowd and set up a spinoff from Disney'I remain intensely focused on a successful transition'Perhaps the biggest challenge facing Iger is the search for a successor who can lead Disney's disparate businesses and appeal to Wall Street. During his first tenure, a string of executives were positioned — and then eliminated — as candidates to replace Iger, who ultimately handed the reins to Bob Chapek.Iger's recent extension will keep him in the CEO role through 2026, buying him time to transform Disney and signaling to some that he's confident in the company's future — but it could also suggest there's no clear contender for CEO. Many believe the front-runners are the co-chairs of Disney's entertainment unit, Dana Walden and Alan Bergman. Iger could also look to the parks division, a profit center led by Josh D'Amaro. In late July, Iger tapped former top Disney execs (and onetime CEO contenders) Kevin Mayer and Tom Staggs to consult on the TV business, Puck reported, which some saw as an audition for CEO.In a statement accompanying Disney's announcement of his extension, Iger emphasized a search for the company's next chief remains a priority: "The importance of the succession process cannot be overstated, and as the Board continues to evaluate a highly qualified slate of internal and external candidates, I remain intensely focused on a successful transition."More on CEO succession at Disney:Why Disney's theme parks division may get a big boost ahead of CEO Bob Iger's succession searchSome Disney insiders are questioning whether the company can follow through on splashy Apple Vision Pro plans after layoffs on its innovation teamBob Iger's new Disney contract gives him 2 more years to protect his legacy and find the right successor this time: 'There is more work to be done'Read the original article on Business Insider.....»»

Category: topSource: businessinsiderSep 3rd, 2023

Luongo: BRICS Summit Proves Geography Trumps Currency

Luongo: BRICS Summit Proves Geography Trumps Currency Authored by Tom Luongo via Gold, Goats, 'n Guns blog, The older I get the more time I spend asking the question, “Why does someone want me to know this?” Our media is so compromised that questioning the editorial bias of every issue is a full time job. And I know that it is done on purpose to distract us from the real issues in some instances while advancing an agenda in others. In 2023, the topic of de-dollarization has been all the rage. It’s been a non-stop barrage of hype and hyperbole. The din of de-dollarization talk became so loud in the lead up to the recent BRICS Summit that it drowned out what was really on the agenda for those few days. This talk came from all sides, from the BRICS leaders themselves as well as the western press dominated by both British and Davos interests. People fell all over themselves talking up the “BRICS gold-backed currency” trying to edge each other out in being ahead of the curve on this issue. After a while it became another moment to ask who benefits from all of this amplification? I’ve been writing about these things for years, knowing that those who control the production of commodities would ultimately get tired of the wealth extraction schemes operated by the financialization masters in New York, London, and Zurich. It was only a matter of time before they would make their move. And I can tell you for real that I’ve never been amplified on any subject like this until such time as people in Moscow, Brussels and Beijing wanted this commentary out there. Don’t take this for grousing, because it isn’t. It’s just an observation born of years of experience. I’ve come to understand what a lack of amplification means; that this is the story no one wants to be told. So, this begs the question, why do they want it told now? In many ways this is how I know I’m usually on the right track with respect to a particular issue. It’s my forever internalizing the baseball great Wee Willy Keeler who famously said that baseball is an easy game, “Just hit ’em where they ain’t.” So, a lot of important someones wanted us to know about de-dollarization this year. They had their reasons to promote this concept. And, as always, it has to do with influencing global capital flow while distracting the commentary from what was really on the agenda. For Davos de-dollarization is just another attack vector on the United States. By playing up the problems the US has domestically as well as geopolitically they create uncertainty. Capital hates uncertainty. Throw in a purposefully-belligerent and incompetent “Biden” administration and you have a perfect cocktail of uncertainty which keeps capital markets globally distrustful of both the near-term policy mixed with the long-term trends. Conclusion? The US is FUBAR. Russia is at war with the West, so, of course, Vladimir Putin will talk his book on de-dollarization. He is the point man on the BRICS being “anti-dollar.” There’s only this one little problem with all of this: The US dollar itself and the lack of alternative infrastructure for ditching it. Despite all of the jawboning and, frankly, propaganda on this subject, the reality is far, far different. While everyone is talking de-dollarization, the real currency losing it’s position in global trade is the euro. But no one is talking about de-eruoization. I guess it doesn’t roll off the tongue as well? According to the latest data from the SWIFT RMB Tracker, there is no currency that has lost more ground in global trade than the euro. In just over two years the euro has fallen from 39.5% of global payments outside the euro-zone to just 13.6%. The dollar absorbed most of those payments with the British pound, Japanese yen and, yes, the Chinese renminbi taking up the rest. So, the great distraction about de-dollarization is, in part, about paying no attention to the rapid demise of the euro and the emerging sovereign bond crisis that ECB President Christine Lagarde works everyday to paper over. I’ve talked about this so much people are getting sick of it. (Here, Here, Here, and Here) Eventually, however, no matter how hard they try to game the math, paint the tape and make deals to keep up appearances, markets are simply smarter than central planners. So, with this in mind I fully expect over the next couple of months for the bond vigilantes to return with a vengeance now that Jerome Powell has everyone’s attention. He can further up his street cred with another 25 basis point raise in September, but honestly, he may not have to. BRICS in the Wall But, back to the BRICS. If de-dollarization wasn’t the point of the Summit this year, then what was? Expansion. And not just expansion for the sake of expansion, but geographically strategic expansion. The BRICS formally added six countries — Iran, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Argentina, Egypt and Ethiopia. They could have added others and almost added Algeria if not for a last-minute veto by India on behalf of France. Algeria is symbolic of the fight between Italy and France for access to African oil and gas. There can be no Ital-exit from the EU without Italy minimizing France’s influence in North Africa, shoring up its energy needs as collateral for a return to the lira. Thankfully, with the help of Russia and China, the Africans are taking care of the Italians’ French Problem all on their own. If there is one common theme beyond the geography (more on that in a bit) with all six of these countries it is their relationship with the supposedly former British empire. From the Arab states and Egypt to those that defied the Brits in the past — e.g. Iran and Argentina — these additions represent a power shift that is profound. One look at the world map should make this point crystal clear. Countries in Red are members of the alliance. Those in green have formally applied for membership and yellow are those that have openly expressed interest. But it is the 5 countries clustered around the center of global trade that should grab your attention. Because all talk of a BRICS common currency are nothing more than theatre if there isn’t a fully developed alternative financial supply chain to capture the profits and minimize currency risks and friction for all the members. Taking them one by one let’s discuss. Iran So, let’s start with the easy one. Iran, in my book, has been the “I” in BRICS for years. Because with India constantly keeping everyone off-balance, much like Erdogan in Turkey, that incentivized Russia and China to invest heavily in Iran, as a counterpoint, making it the key to both China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and Russia’s long-desired International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC). India dragged their feet for so long on their contracted work on the Iranian port at Chabahar, that Iran nullified the contract, handed it to China, who then finished the work in less time than it took for Iran to get India on the phone to complain about it. This is the kind of pivot that gets results. China and Russia have pledged hundreds of billions in investment and sales to Iran, supporting them after Former President Trump tore up the JCPOA and put on sanctions which didn’t work, unless Trump’s goal was to ensure what has transpired since. This is further proof Trump doesn’t play 4-d chess. Both the ports at Chabahar and Bandar Abbas now serve to get Asian trade, especially coming from Russia, exits beyond the choke points around the Mediterranean, Red, and Black Seas. So, Iran was always going to be the first country added to the bloc. It quickly put India on notice to stop playing games. Saudi Arabia Adding Saudi Arabia and the UAE weren’t on anyone’s radar back during the Trump Interregnum, because Trump understood how important the Saudis were to the US maintaining its presence in the region. The problem for Trump was that the Saudis knew he wasn’t a long-term solution in the US. All during his presidency events occurred that trace a line straight back to Obama’s foreign policy. Undermining Trump was the sole focus of Obama’s shadow government, especially our relationship with the Saudis. With the successful intervention by Russia in Syria, and their own disastrous results in the War in Yemen, it was only a matter of time before Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) came to his senses. Saudi Arabia’s future was with the BRICS not the remnants of the British empire. As an aside here, I talk about Neocons all the time and the best way to think of them, beyond their hatred of pretty much the rest of the world, is to see them as the inheritors of the British empire’s foreign policy. The US adopted this foreign policy a century ago under Woodrow Wilson (see my podcast with Richard Poe). Since then it’s been the one thing, aside from ruinous spending, that unites the Uniparty on Capitol Hill. Empire or bust. Looking at the ruin of our finances and domestic politics, “Bust” was the obvious outcome. Saudi Arabia had no other option than to go along with its OPEC+ partner, Russia, if MbS wants the country to survive the end of its oil reserves. UAE The UAE addition is definitely part of the currency discussion. Dubai and Abu Dhabi have rapidly become centers for strategic commodities trading with very successful and deepening gold and oil trading. Dubai has its own crude oil benchmark. Even Moscow doesn’t have one of those (yet). As Vince Lanci and I talked about at length in a recent appearance on Palisades Gold Raio (parts I and II here), in order to even talk about some form of gold-backed trade settlement system, there has to be a deep and liquid supply chain and financial industry in place to facilitate both that settlement and minimize the storage risks to gold and currency risks of the alliance members trading bilaterally without the dollar as the intermediate. So, adding Dubai as one node in that network outside of China’s control was important to building trust there. Having multiple exchanges, vaults, and refineries simplifies everything. And, with that, minimizes the ‘convenience premium’ of using the US dollar and maximizing members’ use of local currencies with gold acting as the universal trust layer and a blockchain for back office and auditing functions. So, first, you add the financial center, then you start really talking the whole “Gold-Backed BRICS Currency.” Order of operations matters folks. The UAE was necessary to get India to even consider going along with Russia and China on this idea, which is why the UAE dirham will be the settlement currency between India and Russia on oil sales, and not the ruble. It both creates validity for a third party while also keeps India free from directly contravening US sanctions on buying Russian energy. Argentina It shouldn’t be underestimated how much the IMF and European corruption have wreaked havoc in Argentina over the years. This is another resource-rich country that has been kept under constant upheaval which now has the opportunity, like Egypt, to get out from underneath the IMF’s thumb, depriving vulture capitalists all across the west the opportunity to plunder the country one more time. Adding Argentina should see the development money necessary to build out its significant shale reserves at Vaca Muerta make its way into the country. This stabilizes its foreign exchange reserves and access to the BRICS New Development Bank (NDB) gives it an alternative to the IMF loan sharks. The upcoming elections could quickly become a referendum on IMF requirements and capital controls. Egypt and Ethiopia Egypt is a fascinating turn of events, because Egypt’s financial weakness was the very thing to create a strategic opportunity for Russia and China to make President Al-Sisi a great offer. Use our New Development Bank and stiff the International Monetary Fund if they won’t negotiate a debt write-down. Like what’s in front of Argentina, Egypt now has leverage in negotiations they didn’t have before. Either way the IMF loses here, because Egypt has an alternative lender it can force a write-down by the IMF for the first time ever or they can just default. China is already willing to forgive $8 billion in Egypt’s debt while the IMF is holding fast only to restructuring. And if you think Egypt doesn’t have this leverage here let’s not forget that the Suez Canal still handles 12% of global trade daily. The BRICS bloc now have a political ally that controls the Suez. With Ethiopia, along with Russia’s deft diplomacy with both Eretria and China’s with Djibouti where they have port access, the BRICS now has effectively unfettered access to the Red Sea. The pressure will mount for Eretria and Djibouti to make peace with Ethiopia, thus opening up trade in eastern Africa. Access to or circumventing the historic chokepoints to global trade has been a long-held goal of both Russia and China. And it looks like with these additions to the BRICS bloc, they have finally achieved that. Meet the New Boss? In my last article on geopolitics, I brought up the importance of physical collateral for the future of the West’s financial dominance, especially that of Europe. The main reason why I keep harping on why Europe is in such trouble is because it’s obvious now that those with physical collateral, including the US, are no longer interested in selling that collateral to a colonial-minded Europe at cut-rate prices. Russia, under Putin, was happy to court the EU as energy partners because he thought it would secure Russia’s future from potential war with Europe. He was willing to sell Europe cheap gas to maximize the total profit to Russia, not directly measurable in things like GDP or trade balances. Some capital is political. Some profits are social, despite crappy Marxist commentary to the contrary. This is why he went along with Former German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s plea to build Nordstream 2, knowing it would incense the US/UK Neocons. The peace dividend to Russia was just too big not to make a run at. Merkel’s betrayal of Putin over NS2 and the Minsk agreements are why we are in the mess we’re in today. The Neocons struck geopolitical gold with blowing up Nordstream, depriving Germany and France of much needed gas. Things are so bad in Germany that they are now quietly dismantling their wind farms to rebuild coal-fired plants, going back to the one energy source they have in abundance in Europe. Now Africa is in revolt against France. Last month it was Niger. This month it is Gabon. There is no way France can respond to all of these revolts on their own. They need outside intervention and it doesn’t look like it’s coming. Queen Warmonger Vicky Nudelman went to Niger and was rebuffed. Reports are now circulating that she and her staff were caught completely by surprise with events in Africa and had no solutions, offers or even credible threats to bring to bear. Pretoria was well aware of Nuland’s hawkish reputation, but when she arrived in Pretoria, the official described her as “totally caught off guard” by winds of change engulfing the region. The July putsch that saw a popular military junta come to power in Niger followed military coups in Mali and Burkina Faso that were similarly inspired by mass anti-colonial sentiment. Though Washington has so far refused to characterize developments in the Nigerien capital of Niamey as a coup, the South African source confirmed that Nuland sought South Africa’s assistance in responding to regional conflicts, including in Niger, where she emphasized that Washington not only held significant financial investments, but also maintained 1,000 of its own troops. For Nuland, the realization that she was negotiating from a position of weakness was likely a rude awakening. If you map Nuland to the UK/US Neocons who are not necessarily aligned with Davos then this report should shock you, because it tells us that neither are capable of moving into the power vacuum left by these juntas seizing power. It says, with little equivocation, that all of the colonial powers of Europe are paper tigers. What started in Burkina Faso and Mali is spreading like wildfires set by Climate Change arsonists in Canada across Africa. French President Emmanuel Macron can only scream impotently in Paris, Nuland can shake her fist screaming, “You’ll rue the day…,” and the US Dept. of Defense stands by and says exactly nothing. At the same time clashes between Syrian Arab Army troops and US occupying forces east of the Euphrates River are back under the headlines. Do you get the picture yet? The fight for physical collateral is dovetailing perfectly with capturing control of the major trade routes. While the UK and their Neocon quislings are hell bent on starting WWIII over Ukraine, c.f. drone strikes on Russia’s Pskov airport from Latvia, the BRICS bloc understands that their best course of action is to continue building new relationships, networks, and pressuring the centuries-old colonial networks that have financed their power. Staying out of a direct hot war simply makes good strategic sense. Attrition is a bitch, energetically. Now they are being forced to expend their seed capital built up over these centuries on influencing events to their liking, and it’s clear they really don’t have the resources to do so for very long. Against that backdrop, de-dollarization is the least of their worries. It will be the thing that grinds away in the background, like Powell’s shrinking the Fed’s balance sheet, and will just emerge out of these events. The choice the West is now facing is at what point do they stop fighting this and finally come to the negotiating table. Some factions, like the US military and the banking sector, have already made their intentions clear. The others? Not so much. When facing extinction, that’s when you find out where someone’s true loyalties are. *  *  * Join my Patreon if you value loyalty Tyler Durden Sun, 09/03/2023 - 07:00.....»»

Category: dealsSource: nytSep 3rd, 2023

Duluth Holdings Inc. (NASDAQ:DLTH) Q2 2023 Earnings Call Transcript

Duluth Holdings Inc. (NASDAQ:DLTH) Q2 2023 Earnings Call Transcript August 31, 2023 Duluth Holdings Inc. beats earnings expectations. Reported EPS is $0.06, expectations were $0.01. Operator: Good morning, and welcome to the Duluth Holdings Second Quarter 2023 Conference Call. [Operator Instructions] Please note, this event is being recorded. I would now like to turn the […] Duluth Holdings Inc. (NASDAQ:DLTH) Q2 2023 Earnings Call Transcript August 31, 2023 Duluth Holdings Inc. beats earnings expectations. Reported EPS is $0.06, expectations were $0.01. Operator: Good morning, and welcome to the Duluth Holdings Second Quarter 2023 Conference Call. [Operator Instructions] Please note, this event is being recorded. I would now like to turn the conference over to Nitza McKee. Please go ahead. Nitza McKee: Thank you, and welcome to today’s call to discuss Duluth Trading’s second quarter financial results. Our earnings release, which was issued this morning, is available on our Investor Relations website at under Press Releases. I’m here today with Sam Sato, President and Chief Executive Officer; and Dave Loretta, Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer. On today’s call, management will provide prepared remarks, and then we will open the call to your questions. Before we begin, I would like to remind you that the comments on today’s call will include forward-looking statements, which can be identified by the use of words such as estimate, anticipate, expect and similar phrases. Forward-looking statements, by their nature, involve estimates, projections, goals, forecasts and assumptions and are subject to risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results or outcomes to differ materially from those expressed in the forward-looking statements. Such risks and uncertainties include, but are not limited to, those that are described in our most recent annual report on Form 10-K and other SEC filings as applicable. These forward-looking statements speak only as of the date of this conference call and should not be relied upon as prediction of future events. And with that, I’ll turn the call over to Sam Sato, President and Chief Executive Officer. Sam? Sam Sato: Good morning, and thanks for joining today’s call. Before I review our second quarter results, I’m thrilled to share an update on two of our key strategic initiatives that are cornerstones to our Big Dam Blueprint. I’ll start with the exciting news that our newest highly automated fulfillment center located in Adairsville, Georgia has, as planned, begun fulfilling customer online orders and replenishing our store inventories. The scheduled ramp-up is on time and gives us confidence that our October target date for being fully operational is achievable. Representing a significant investment to future-proof our business, this upgrade to our logistics network will support meaningful long-term growth, address our customers’ expectations for faster delivery and immediately generate cost efficiencies that will build over time. I’ll share more about this shortly, but first, I’d like to thank all our team members and vendor partners responsible for delivering on this key milestone. In addition to going live in our highly automated fulfillment center, I’m equally excited to share on the growth of our sourcing and product innovation functions with the onboarding of several new team members that have deep and extensive experience in apparel design and manufacturing. This team accelerates our efforts to develop and bring to market innovative products that serve a purpose or solve a problem for our customers. Duluth has a long track record of bringing first-to-market fabrications and features to our customers, representing a strong price value proposition, supported by cut-through marketing that is fun and memorable. The sourcing team will augment and strengthen this competitive advantage, allowing us to enhance the pipeline of new products, while improving our speed to market, fueling greater full price selling and sub-brand loyalty while generating significant product cost savings over time. This strategic initiative, coupled with the go-live of our highly automated fulfillment center sets the stage for meaningful and sustainable long-term profitable growth. Now turning to our second quarter performance and the current consumer environment. Customer demand for our offer remains strong as evidenced by continued growth in units sold, increased buyer counts and online visits, all with higher conversion rates. We shipped more orders in the second quarter compared to last year as demand for our spring and summer collections were healthy. As we navigate what remains a dynamic macro environment in which customers continue to seek value, we are managing the business prudently, controlling what we can control while staying keenly focused on elevating our unique brand and sub-brand positioning. Importantly, our inventory position is in good shape and ended the quarter below prior year levels due to strong seasonal sell-through and our disciplined efforts to appropriately plan our purchases and receipt flow. Total net sales for the second quarter were $139 million, which was down 1.7% last year and can largely be attributed to lower store traffic in the month of May, which subsequently trended flat to slightly positive beginning in June. We were very pleased by our strong online performance, which grew by nearly 2% in the quarter. Importantly, our second quarter conversion rate improved year-over-year, both in-store and online, as our assortments and marketing efforts resonated with our broadening customer base. Double clicking on our online performance. Visits to our website were up in the quarter, driven by higher volume on mobile traffic, which accounts for nearly 70% of all online visits. Sales transactions through mobile devices increased roughly 8% and accounted for 55% of direct channel sales. We continue to realize the benefits from last fall’s web platform upgrade, which enables faster load times on mobile devices and easier navigation, contributing to an increase of 50 basis points in our mobile conversion rate. With our direct channel representing 62% of the total, an increase of 200 basis points from last year, our results continue to prove that our digital-first strategy balanced with an omnichannel service model is delivering on our customer shopping expectations with Duluth. Moving down the P&L. We delivered adjusted EBITDA of $8.6 million for the second quarter. And while we’re not satisfied with the bottom line EPS results, the investments we are making now in technology, supply chain and product innovation are keys to unlocking and fueling longer-term profitable growth. Our balance sheet strength with no drawings on our $200 million line of credit at second quarter end and none expected at year-end, supports our multiyear strategy to invest in the key growth drivers of the business while being funded by operating cash flows. We have strategically managed our inventories to support the programs that have momentum and minimize end-of-season clearance, which is in a healthy position and below last year. As I mentioned, demand for our spring and summer collections were strong, and we continue to deliver great results in key collections like Garden and Landscaping and Planting. These collections delivered a sales increase of nearly 40% in the second quarter. Our women’s heirloom gardening bib overall was again the number one style for the quarter. Our plans are to make this hero product a year-round item, which we’ve designed with a soft fleece lining option to add warmth and comfort during cooler months. Our total women’s business grew almost 3% during the quarter, with increases in Duluth branded collections like heirloom garden, but also in the base layer unders and the newer AKHG collections. Growing our women’s apparel segment, which now represents 35% of total apparel sales is a key strategic initiative and continues to gain momentum. Success in the women’s business is being derived from a combination of outstanding product design, expansion into relevant categories and our secret sauce of utilizing proven fabrications across styles and uses. The women’s bra collection was up nearly 50% in the quarter and represents a significant growth opportunity engineered with unique comfort, fabrics and features in a wide range of fits and sizes. We’re seeing great response from the newly released Armachillo TeeLUXE Bra, which is infused with Made-in-the-Jade technology that features soft-touch, seamless comfort and all-around support elements. As we — last year’s launch of women’s AKHG, we’re pleased to see continued interest in demand for our outdoor recreation offering. We saw notable success in our lightweight Access Point collection made for ultimate endurance on the trails and the Stone Run collection, which provides the same functionality with a more structured and durable design. For fall, we’re introducing new soft and cozy cross-layer styles in the AKHG nightwear [ph] and Bamboo programs. We’re also expanding our use of sherpa and fleece linings within AKHG which broadens our assortment during seasonal transition periods. And our long success in flannel shirts continues as we expand new styles, colors and prints. Overall, the AKHG sub-brand grew 14% in the second quarter, and we expect a similar growth rate in the back half of 2023. AKHG represents a significant growth opportunity for Duluth. We draw so much inspiration and product design ideas from our loyal Wayforger community, sharing their stories of work in play and the apparel they love that helps enable their passion. I encourage you to visit our Duluth Wayforger web page to view the imagery and read about the folks that help shape our brand offering as they embrace and live the true spirit of our family of brands. We’re pleased with the favorable response to our early fall and winter collections and are particularly enthused about our core men’s Duluth assortment with the recent introduction of new colors and fits in the Longtail T program as well as the increased demand for our Duluth Ballroom Double Flex denim pants, which features new combinations of styles, washes and fits. We expect men’s pants to be a high volume driver for us this fall with the support of robust marketing plans over the next few months. We’ve also recently launched a new men’s collection called Powercord, which strikes the right balance between business casual and job site utility. Designed with abrasion-resistant Cordura nylon twill, the pants combine durability with sharp styling that pair well with button down long sleeve shirts, polos or even a long sleeve henley. The new Powercord collection is off to a great start and addresses the needs of our customers who are transitioning back to the office more regularly. Excitingly, our pipeline of new and innovative products is full this year, and we still have several key items that we’ll be launching in the fourth quarter. This includes a new addition to our Buck Naked underwear collection that features a soft and smooth fabric, allowing for more extensive pattern printing, including photo images, a new Fire Hose carpenter pant featuring our strongest, most durable Flex Fire Hose fabric to date and a new women’s AKHG fitness apparel assortment launching in January just in time for New Year’s resolutions. We’ve also been busy rolling out new pattern and printed underwear styles for men and women. Our Buck Naked collaboration with Pabst Blue Ribbon was a customer favorite and is being followed up with several additional collaborations with favorite beer brands dropping in September. Product newness, combined with data-driven marketing strategies are proving to effectively increase customer retention rates and increased brand awareness. Our year-to-date retention rate on prior year customers is up 200 basis points with much of that driven by our longer term and most loyal customers. Our active buyer file overall is up year-over-year and orders per customer is up mid-single-digits, driven by increased purchase frequency. Within the paid social channels, our return on ad spend was up over 60% in the quarter from retained customers and new customer acquisition rates have been on an improving trend all year long. Our marketing strategy provides nimble and informed shifts when appropriate, and we’re looking to realize efficiency gains in the back half of 2023. New customer acquisition will continue to be a focus, and an expanded reach of new influencers and online content creators will be powerful sources of new buyers. As I mentioned in my opening comments, the go-live of our newest, highly automated fulfillment center in Adairsville, Georgia represents a significant milestone within our strategic road map. This facility is the largest and most efficient within our fulfillment network, and we remain on track to process up to 60% of online customer orders and store inventory replenishment through this new facility by the end of Q3. The efficiency gains will help us realize healthy reductions in cost per unit processing as well as faster delivery times to a greater portion of our direct customer base. We’re poised to fulfill our customers’ needs and meet the peak demands as it builds towards the holiday selling season. Our inventory is in great shape. We’re accelerating receipt of new product innovation. Our marketing plans are as sharp as ever. And our customer service teams are prepped to deliver superior omnichannel experiences. With the critical investments we’ve made and will continue to make, we’re well positioned to meet the needs of our customers and drive sustainable long-term growth and profitability. I look forward to sharing more on our third quarter call and will now turn it over to Dave to provide more details on our second quarter results and outlook for the year. Dave? Dave Loretta: Thanks, Sam, and good morning. For the second quarter, we reported net sales of $139.1 million, down 1.7% compared to $141.5 million last year, and brings our year-to-date sales close to flat to last year. Sales in our direct channel were up 1.8% in the quarter, driven by an increase in web visits of roughly 1% and increased conversion of nearly 50 basis points across both, mobile devices and desktop. Sales on mobile devices increased high single digits and continues to become the digital channel of choice for our customers with enhancements made to site speed, navigation and product information. Our retail channel sales were down 7% with store traffic down 2% compared to last year, which is an improvement from the trend — traffic in the first quarter. The store teams are also continuing to drive increases in the conversion rate on the store visits with outstanding customer service and compelling assortments and targeted offers. As Sam mentioned, the demand for our seasonal and year-round offering was strong, generating positive growth in items sold and orders shipped. The slight decrease in net sales was largely attributed to a lower average retail and order value due to lower levels of full price selling and a higher level of promotional and clearance sales. Our quarter-end inventory position is healthy with spring and summer goods down to high-single-digit penetration to the total from low-teens last year. And clearance is down more than 300 basis points year-over-year to roughly 7% of the total. As planned, we began to receive and offered new fall and winter seasonal items sooner than last year, and the customer response has been strong. We have also improved the flow of our core year-round items and are experiencing demand build for some of the largest programs, spanning men’s pants, tops and underwear. Total men’s division sales during the quarter were down 3.5%, while women’s was up nearly 3%, with increases for women’s in Duluth, AKHG and the First Layer categories. We drove higher sell-through rates in part through the use of incremental events and targeted offers, enabling us to keep our inventory turning. Our second quarter gross profit margin was 51.4% compared to 53.4% last year and reflects a lower mix of full price sales. Gross profit dollars declined 5.5% from last year. We did see stabilization in product gross margins relative to last year, near the end of the quarter. Turning to expenses. SG&A for the second quarter increased 1.7% to $72.9 million or 52.4% of sales compared to $71.7 million last year or 50.7% of sales. This included an increase of $2.8 million in general and administrative expenses, an increase of $1.1 million in selling expenses and a decrease of $2.7 million in advertising and marketing expenses. Selling expenses as a percentage of net sales increased 100 basis points to 16% compared to 15% last year and was the result of higher outbound shipping costs from rate increases as well as a greater volume of direct orders shipped with lower average order values. Within selling expense, costs related to variable labor in our stores and fulfillment centers declined compared to last year and leverage as a percent of sales due to efficiency gains made from scheduling and continuous improvement initiatives across our fulfillment network. Advertising and marketing costs were $11.9 million in the quarter compared to $14.6 million last year and as a percentage of sales decreased 180 basis points to 8.5% compared to 10.3% last year. Our investment in brand awareness through national ad channels and TV streaming was flat compared to last year and our digital media channel spend was reduced along with lower creative costs. We saw stronger results with increased web traffic from organic search and email activities that focused on new product arrivals and clearance messaging that helped drive the increase in retention and reactivation rates. We also continue to realize high return on media spend through social channels when we highlight product innovation, features and benefits. Overall, customer counts increased mid-single-digits during the quarter, while maintaining roughly flat sales per customer productivity. General and administrative expenses during the second quarter were $38.8 million or 27.9% of net sales compared to $36 million or 25.4% last year. Similar to the first quarter, the increase over last year reflects the incremental fixed cost for the new automated fulfillment center that is now operational and additional personnel expenses associated with the new facility and our corporate functions in the area of product development, sourcing and stock compensation costs. Adjusted EBITDA for the second quarter was $8.6 million or 6.2% of sales compared to $13.2 million or 9.4% of sales last year. Our net loss per share was $0.06 versus a profit per share of $0.07 in the second quarter last year. Moving to the balance sheet. We ended the quarter with net working capital of $85 million, including $11 million in cash and zero outstanding on our $200 million line of credit. The healthy inventory flow during the second quarter lifted free cash flow and increased our cash balance by $2 million from the end of the first quarter. We remain on target for overall capital expenditures of $55 million this year funded by cash with the lion’s share of that spend associated with the new fulfillment center in Adairsville, Georgia. As Sam mentioned, we’re pleased to see this project go live and ramp production up over the course of Q3 to begin realizing efficiency gains on our selling costs related to fulfillment center activities as well as faster delivery times to a greater portion of our direct customer base. Our inventory balance ended the quarter down 4.5% from the same period last year and is in a healthy position with a mix of seasonal goods weighted to more fall-winter versus spring-summer, reflecting the strong sell-through on spring-summer and planned earlier receiving on fall-winter goods. Total clearance units on hand are down over 10% from last year as a result of actively managing markdowns during the season to optimize sales and inventory turnover. We are confirming our net sales guidance for the year of $645 million to $660 million, but have reduced the EPS and adjusted EBITDA estimates, reflecting our first half results and a second half outlook in which we see consumers remaining somewhat price sensitive. We now expect full year adjusted EBITDA of $40 million to $42 million and a loss per share of $0.15 to $0.08. We expect full year gross profit margins will be down 50 to 100 basis points and SG&A to be flat to up 50 basis points. Before I turn it back to Sam, I want to take a moment to address my decision to step down as Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer on September 15th. I have accepted an employment opportunity outside the Company, but I want to emphasize that it’s been a privilege and an honor to work alongside Sam and the many talented individuals across this organization. I believe Duluth is well-positioned to execute against the strategic pillars of the Big Dam Blueprint, and I wish the team all the best and continued success in the future. I’ll now pass it back to Sam. Sam Sato: Thanks, Dave. I can’t thank Dave enough for his many contributions and leadership at Duluth over the past six years. Under Dave’s leadership, Duluth has elevated and strengthened its finance organization anchored on a deep bench of talent with extensive experience across all finance functions. I have the utmost confidence this will be a seamless transition as we search for a permanent replacement for Dave. I’d like to take this opportunity to welcome Mike Murphy, our current Vice President and Chief Accounting Officer, who will serve as Interim Chief Financial Officer. Mike has been in his current position since 2019. Prior to joining the Company, Mike served for three years as Chief Accounting Officer at First Business Financial Services as well as eight years at KPMG. In closing, it’s been an honor to partner with Dave and I wish him much success in his future endeavors. And with that, we’ll open the call for questions. See also 30 Top Tourists Attractions in the USA and 13 Best Cryptocurrency Exchanges and Apps in the US in 2023. Q&A Session Follow Duluth Holdings Inc. (NASDAQ:DLTH) Follow Duluth Holdings Inc. (NASDAQ:DLTH) We may use your email to send marketing emails about our services. Click here to read our privacy policy. Operator: [Operator Instructions] Our first question will come from Janine Stichter with BTIG. Janine Stichter: I was hoping you could elaborate a bit more on the cadence of what you saw throughout the quarter. It sounds like May was the weakest and I think you said you saw some improvement in June. So maybe just some thoughts on what changed there? How much of it’s been maybe some stabilization in the environment versus some of the product initiatives that you spoke to versus just customers shopping around key events like Father’s Day. And I’d love to hear about it both from a top line standpoint and then also from a margin standpoint, where I think you mentioned some product margin stabilization towards the end of the quarter. Thank you. Dave Loretta: Yes. Hi Janine. This is Dave. So, the quarter did kind of play out with May being the toughest month for us. Both retail and direct were down. But as we entered the June, things were improving. Father’s Day and — was a big event for us and continued to build into July. I’d say July was our best month and we saw positive traffic into the stores as well as a pretty high growth rate in the direct channel. So — but when you blend it together, the results of being down just under 2%, margin pressure was certainly part of the impact as we continue to find ways to drive traffic and transactions into the business, the margin pressure did impact with the 200 basis points down from last year. But as I did call out on my remarks, the — as we came out of July, we’re now starting to comp last year’s period when gross margin pressures were really first starting to impact the business. And so far, as we look through August, gross margins are up to last year. But the top line is still slightly down. So, top line, we’re seeing kind of a continuing trend, but the margin has stabilized and has started to turn for us in a good way on that front. Janine Stichter: Great. And then on the promotions or some of the pricing actions that you’ve been taking just to keep the product flowing through, maybe speak to potential for product cost reductions or sourcing benefits as you seem like you might need to keep these more promotional prices in place for longer? Sam Sato: Yes. Janine, this is Sam. Yes. So, we’re going to be and continue to be targeted with our offers. We try to balance the consumer sensitivity with the integrity of our brand and pricing strategy. So, we’re not going to have a fire sale, so to speak. There’s a balance there. As I said in my prepared remarks, we’ve now onboarded several new members to our sourcing group. And with the intent of — over the long term of creating a structural change to our pricing model and ultimately — gives us more flexibility when business is a bit more challenged. And so, we think the ramp-up will occur over the next couple of years, but certainly see a tremendous opportunity for us to drive increased gross product margins over the long term. Operator: Our next question will come from Jonathan Komp with Baird. Jonathan Komp: I want to follow up on the guidance, holding the full year revenue, but lowering the margin again and participating in the promotional environment. Can you just maybe elaborate a little further thoughts on the strategy to participate in the price promotions you’re seeing and why that’s the right move to the brand here? Dave Loretta: Yes. I’ll start there, Jon. Clearly, there’s pricing pressure that we’re feeling from the consumer out there, yet the demand is still robust. As we said, we shipped more orders, sold more units. But the price point is what the consumers are telling us needs to be a value for them to proceed. So, we’re confident that the brand has got the momentum. And where we’re seeing some of the optimism that keeps us from a top line standpoint confident is in some of the core categories of men’s, while the quarter men’s was down about 3.5%, it’s an improving trend from the last two quarters. And as we’re entering the — in our third quarter here, we’re seeing that play out with newness in some of our styles in the men’s category, innovation and some other items that are bringing to market. In fact, this back half of the year, we’re really bringing a significant amount of new items to market that we think is going to drive — sustain that top line, which we’re pleased with. But pricing pressures are still keeping the margin impact weighted on the bottom line results. Jonathan Komp: And maybe just a follow-up, Sam. When I think of the Big Dam Blueprint, this year being a transition year still, you’re not guiding to much profitability in terms of the EBIT dollars. So, can you maybe talk about what’s temporarily impacting the business that might benefit future years? And, are you pursuing the right strategies, growth at the current margin levels that you have today? Sam Sato: Yes. Thanks, Jonathan. Yes. I mean, as I talked at the beginning of my remarks, two really exciting pillars to the Big Dam Blueprint is our highly automated fulfillment center and our sourcing group. And so when you think about that relative to the structural change of the business and mid- and long-term implication of that from a sustainability in both sales growth and profitability, they are two really critical unlocks. So from a fulfillment perspective, it’s not only about cost efficiencies and being much more efficient from a CPU perspective, but also delivers on the consumers’ expectations, not just from us, but in general, of faster deliveries, especially click to doorbell and the online part of our business is the majority of how we sell products. And so, that has real application to not only scaling our current business, but as the business continues to grow and we consider other avenues for growth, be it wholesale or anything else, that fulfillment center as the key part of our network becomes an unlock from a delivery and fulfillment perspective. The sourcing piece, last year, we announced the hiring of our first Director of Material Innovations. And as a vertical operation, that’s a critical component, not just in terms of design and product development, and at the core of who Duluth is, it’s about bringing high-quality, well-priced products that are innovative and solve a problem. And so, investing in a more dynamic and experienced sourcing group will also bring a change to our pricing model and allow for longer term greater profits and flow-through. So yes, I think that in the near term, some of these challenges in the P&L are really related to two things. One is the investment in our enablers, what we’re calling our enablers for the enterprise. And then two, the choppy macro conditions and the sensitivity that consumers are still showing, but we’ve been through these times in the past. And ultimately, our brand loyalty and the affinity consumers have for Duluth ultimately leads back to higher full price selling based on our innovative products and what we bring to market. So, I’m confident that that part will occur. And then, it’s about us ensuring that we’ve got the right infrastructure in place to take advantage of that and scale the business in a more cost-efficient way that’s sustainable......»»

Category: topSource: insidermonkeySep 1st, 2023

As Hawaii mourns its dead, "disaster vultures" are swooping in to make a quick buck

Disaster investors swoop in after hurricanes, storms, and wildfires to prey on vulnerable families and turn a quick profit on their damaged homes. Disaster vultures are investors who take advantage of people who lost their homes to natural disasters in order to turn a profit.Tyler Le/InsiderAs Hawaii mourns its dead, investors are swooping in to make a quick buckWhen disaster strikes, there are often two tragedies. The first, and most important, is the loss of life: Over 100 people died when wildfires burned across Hawaii in early August. Homes, cherished belongings, and local history were engulfed in flames. Thousands of locals were displaced, and there are still hundreds of people missing. But the tragedy doesn't stop when the fires go out. The second tragedy is the exploitation of grief by investors looking to make a buck. While families are still mourning their loved ones and figuring out how to move forward, these disaster investors swoop in to buy damaged properties from locals. They purchase the cheap land and then wait to resell the properties after the lingering effects of the disaster have passed and property values increase. Critics refer to these real-estate players as "vulture investors" because they prey on grieving families.In the Maui fire, more than 2,000 buildings were destroyed — 86% of them residential homes. Before the fire, many of those properties would have been worth millions of dollars. But just a week after the devastation, investors began calling residents of Hawaii's destroyed townships to try to convince them to sell their homes for cut-rate prices. Concerned about predatory investors taking advantage of vulnerable families, Hawaii's governor, Josh Green, called for a moratorium on damaged-land sales in his first press conference after the fires.The Hawaiian fires aren't the first time investors have trotted out this playbook — every time disaster strikes, the "vultures" come calling. When tornadoes struck Tennessee in 2020, destroying 771 businesses and residences, the Nashville Metro Council passed a resolution against predatory developers targeting residents who had lost their homes and offering to purchase plots for submarket rates. Hurricane Ian, which struck Florida last fall, also saw developers swarm vulnerable families, hoping to snap up destroyed properties for cheap. Climate disasters are growing more common and more destructive by the year. And after the initial losses subside, the profiteers inevitably arrive.Strike earlyThe vulture playbook is pretty straightforward: Investors approach affected homeowners with an offer just days after tragedy strikes, hand them a prewritten contract, and try to reach an agreement on the spot. Once acquired, the investors turn around and resell the land for a higher price — sometimes without ever repairing the property. After Hurricane Michael struck Florida in 2018, home sales rose significantly, allowing disaster investors to reap the rewards.K.C. Wilsey, FEMAThis strategy works because the value of disaster-struck land consistently bounces back — often within months of the tragedy. A 2021 study of the 20 most-expensive hurricanes on record showed that in each case, home values in disaster areas increased at a higher rate the year after the disaster — compared to the same area the year prior and the national average. The study found that the year after Hurricane Katrina destroyed nearly 850,000 homes, home values in New Orleans increased by 12% compared to the year before the disaster — and the gains were 9% above the US national average for the year. Home sales in areas affected by Hurricane Michael, which struck the Florida panhandle in 2018, killing 45 people and destroying 60,000 homes, also rose significantly in the months following the storm. And these gains have been shown to maintain their momentum for up to three years after disaster strikes. A 2019 Wall Street Journal report found that one investor who bought up properties damaged by Hurricane Michael was able to earn $10,000 to $15,000 per property — without doing any work on them. Another investor group bought up more than 600 properties after Hurricane Katrina, making an average of $20,000 per property, also without touching most of them.Prices generally go up post-disaster because the area is suddenly hit by a reduced supply of habitable property, while the demand to live there stays the same. So as homes are rebuilt or the debris is cleared for a new structure, the plots become more lucrative. The rebuilt homes are also newer than the ones that were destroyed, which adds value.This venture has the potential to be even more rewarding given the increasing frequency of natural disasters in the US. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Centers for Environmental Information released a disaster report last year that found the US suffered 18 billion-dollar weather disasters in 2022, resulting in $165 billion in total damages. And this year is shaping up to be even more expensive. In eight months, there have already been 15 weather disasters, each with losses exceeding $1 billion. For disaster investors, these increasingly common tragedies are an opportunity to win big, and the residents who have lost their homes pay the price. Desperate situationsEven if there's an economic explanation for predatory investments, why would residents sell their homes for insultingly low prices? One obvious reason is that they simply don't have enough cash on hand to renovate their property back to a habitable state. For most families, their homes are the source of their wealth. According to the Federal Reserve's Survey of Consumer Finances, American families consistently list their primary residence as their largest asset, with home ownership accounting for 30% of household wealth for non-white families. With most Americans having their money tied to their house, losing it to a wildfire or other natural disaster can be devastating.Home insurance often covers wildfire and storm damage, but private coverage is increasingly more costly and more companies are dropping home coverage altogether as the number of natural disasters keep rising, something that has already happened to many homeowners in Florida and California. Those left with no insurance or inadequate insurance are forced to rely on tenuous government aid for funds to rebuild. But federal disaster relief is painfully slow to respond and often doesn't cover most of the costs. Individuals, renters, and homeowners are all, in theory, potentially eligible for disaster-relief aid. However, qualifying for aid involves a long and convoluted process. Generally, the Federal Emergency Managment Agency first refers homeowners to the Small Business Administration to apply for a home-disaster loan. These loans require applicants to show certain levels of creditworthiness and an ability to repay the loan with interest, meaning many lower- and middle-income households may not qualify. Applying for FEMA aid can be a confusing and time-consuming process. And the average payout is only $8,000.Joe Raedle/Getty ImagesThe next option is to apply for aid directly from FEMA — a process that requires several confusing and time-consuming steps. First, a presidential declaration of a major disaster is required, then residents must complete a self-assessment and application for relief. After that, FEMA officials conduct an inspection of damages and decide how much relief to provide. This process can take up to a month — and for other expenses like lodging reimbursements, people often wait up to two months for the funds. And other problems often arise: Inconsistent damage inspections, minimum damage amounts, and a confusing application process that has to be completed in a short time frame often leave disaster victims without the relief they desperately need. In Puerto Rico, where thousands remained unhoused three years after Hurricane Maria struck, or in tight-knit areas like Lahaina, Hawaii, residents can face even steeper barriers to aid. Both Puerto Rico and Lahaina have a history of informal construction, meaning buildings often lack documentation, and homeowners can have a hard time proving property ownership. Given FEMA's strict proof-of-ownership requirements, many end up being unqualified to receive FEMA relief. The Urban Institute reported that "multigenerational family homeowners without active mortgages or who live in rural communities where a formal title is not readily documented are at a disadvantage." The Government Accountability Office found that fewer than half of the applicants for relief under FEMA's Individual and Housing Assistance program between 2016 and 2018 — most of whom were uninsured or had an income under $50,000 — qualified for aid. For those who do qualify, the FEMA funds can be inadequate to cover the cost of rebuilding. Payments max out at $36,000 for home-rebuilding assistance and the average payout from FEMA is just $8,000. After FEMA's 18-month funding period ends — assuming enough money has been approved by Congress — a last backstop is supposed to kick in through the Department of Housing and Urban Development's Community Development Block Grants. The grants are for long-term rebuilding projects, but administration of the funds often takes nearly two years. A 2020 congressional report found that New York still had more than $700 million to be distributed from grants given after Hurricane Sandy in 2017. This interlocking nest of confusing aid options leaves many people desperate and willing to wash their hands of the properties. Some families may look at the damage and decide it's better for them to sell their home and rebuild somewhere else with the money from the sale. But other families may feel forced to sell their home for less than it's worth just to bridge the financial gap between the destruction and the potential aid. Given the threadbare relief options, an offer from an outside investor and a plane ticket to a new state may seem like a lifeline. How to curb profiteersInstead of being a boon for residents and towns that are trying to build, outside investment often changes the character of an area. New developments often include strip malls and luxury hotels that can replace working-class communities and previously affordable housing — usually without creating any new housing. And the profits that out-of-state investors make by reselling damaged properties comes at the expense of the struggling households that could have reaped those benefits. One promising solution is a piece of legislation proposed in 2019, the Reforming Disaster Recovery Act, that aims to streamline the process to receive HUD's block grants so that communities get relief more quickly. The bill, which passed the House but has yet to be put up for a vote in the Senate, would help relieve the pressure on homeowners to sell because they're out of funds to rebuild. In Hawaii, local grassroots organizing has provided a crucial cushion for people who lost their homes. Organic efforts have raised more than $12 million, and locals have even set up a home-sharing system where people have volunteered to host families who have lost their homes. And while moratoriums on damaged land sales aren't a long-term, legally tenable solution, there are ways state officials might be able to deter disaster investors. For instance, a state "disaster-relief tax" could be applied to all sales of land occurring within a certain amount of time after a presidential declaration of a major disaster. The tax could serve as an indirect deterrent to disaster investors, and the revenue generated by the tax could be redirected into local relief efforts, helping other families who intend to remain in the area. Since the climate crisis isn't going away, finding a solution is critical. As the threat of natural disasters increases, so will disaster profiteers.Anthony DiMauro is a New York-based writer. His work has appeared in Bloomberg, Newsweek, L.A. Review of Books and elsewhere.Read the original article on Business Insider.....»»

Category: worldSource: nytAug 31st, 2023

Why Mark Meadows wants an Obama-appointed judge to oversee his Georgia indictment

Mark Meadows wants his Georgia RICO case tried in federal court. Trump will likely try the same move for his indictment. Mark Meadows and former President Donald Trump.Win McNamee/Getty Images Mark Meadows wants his criminal case moved to federal court, under an Obama-appointed judge. A federal judge may be more sympathetic to arguments that he's immune from the case, experts say. Trump is likely to try the same move — but will have an uphill climb. This week Mark Meadows — ex-President Donald Trump's former chief-of-staff — testified for four hours in federal court, pleading for a judge appointed by former President Barack Obama to take over his criminal case.Trump himself is expected to make a similar move.Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis originally brought criminal charges against Meadows, Trump, former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark, and more than a dozen other political allies in Georgia state court earlier this month. In a sprawling RICO indictment, she accuses the group of participating in a racketeering enterprise that illegally pressured public officials to toss out now-President Joe Biden's Georgia victory during the 2020 election and keep Trump in power instead.Meadows, Clark, and several other defendants have asked to have their cases removed to federal court. If Meadows is successful, it could pave the way for Trump to maneuver his way into federal court — where he may get a more favorable jury and could get less scrutiny from the cameras as he runs in the 2024 presidential race."This is a powerfully significant procedure because the move to federal court for at least three of the defendants will throw a big harpoon into the sea of charges brought by the state," Ronald Carlson, a professor at the University of Georgia School of Law, told Insider. "If lightning strikes and Meadows wins, it'll assist his case in a compelling way."Why is Meadows — and potentially Trump — so desperate to have a trial in federal court?His lawyers may believe that a federal judge might be more willing than a state judge to consider legal arguments that would make him immune from the criminal charges, according to Mai Ratakonda, a senior counsel at States United Democracy Center."A federal court judge might be more sympathetic to some of their federal constitutional defenses that they might want to raise," Ratakonda told Insider. "So if they are planning to raise defenses involving, for example, executive immunity, they might be thinking that a federal judge might be more amenable to hearing them out on those."Meadows is the first defendant to have a hearing over whether his case should be removed to federal court. If the case is moved, a federal judge would oversee the criminal case in federal court instead of state court, but the charges would stay the same and the district attorney's office would still prosecute the case. Both Trump and Meadows have denied wrongdoing.US District Judge Steve C. Jones, the Obama-appointed judge who was randomly assigned to the case, scheduled a removal hearing for Clark on September 18. He set another hearing on September 20 for David Shafer and Cathleen Latham, two fake electors also under indictment.At the Monday hearing, Meadows said all of his actions were within the scope of his role as Trump's chief of staff. In court filings, his lawyers have argued that he's shielded by the Supremacy Clause of the US Constitution, which protects federal employees against interference from state officials. Meadows's conduct, they argued, was within "his official duties and the federal policy underlying them.""In order for the court to accept this case as a federal case, the defendants have to show that they were acting within their capacity as federal officers when they took the actions that underlie the indictment," Ratakonda said.Trump may raise some of the same legal argumentsThere are other benefits to removal. While Georgia's state courts are famed for their public access, often allowing live video cameras into courtrooms, federal courts are not. Any trial is sure to be covered closely by the media, but having it in a federal courtroom might minimize unsavory public images as Trump continues to run for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.A state court proceeding would also take in jurors from Fulton County, which voted overwhelmingly for Biden in 2020. A federal court trial would have a much wider jury pool, including from counties that voted for Trump in the election.Even if Meadows successfully shows he was acting within his duties as a federal official and gets his case removed to federal court, it doesn't mean Jones will automatically accept his arguments that he was just doing his job. The legal standards for removal and executive immunity overlap, but differ in important ways.Mark Meadows and Donald Trump at the White House.Sarah Silbiger/Getty ImagesThe indictment notes that Meadows spoke to Georgia officials and traveled to the state in order to observe the electoral process. But states — not the federal government — historically oversee the voting process, Norm Eisen, a political ethics lawyer, told Insider. Prosecutors argue he took those actions on behalf of Trump's political goals, not as part of his chief-of-staff job.Trump and his legal team are likely paying close attention to Meadows's removal fight. Jones hasn't yet made a decision, and on Tuesday asked Meadows and prosecutors to file more legal briefings on the issue.But Trump faces far more risk than Meadows in the case — and arguably more risk than he does in any of his three other indictments.Prosecutors brought two charges against Meadows, accusing him of racketeering and soliciting Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to break his oath and alter election results.Trump faces 13 criminal counts. Prosecutors brought the same charges against him, plus additional ones for pressuring even more state officials to overturn election results, and for pushing a plot to appoint fake electors that would deny Biden his rightful victory."You would have to embrace the idea that an attempted coup is part of the official duties of a president or a chief of staff when they're clearly doing it as a failed campaign candidate, and in a political activity," Eisen said at a panel organized by the States United Democracy Center. "No court is going to swallow that."Azmi Haroun contributed reporting.Read the original article on Business Insider.....»»

Category: topSource: businessinsiderAug 29th, 2023

It"s become harder for middle-class workers to give their kids a better life. Unions could help turn that around, a new Treasury report finds.

Union workers make more money and have more benefits. That could make it easier for them to buy homes and move up the ladder, a Treasury report says. Joe Biden walks with members of Culinary Workers Union Local 226 on a picket line outside of Palms Casino Resort on February 19, 2020, in Las Vegas.Mario Tama/Getty Images A new report from the Treasury Department looked at the economic impact of unions. The report found that union workers make more than their nonunion peers and have more benefits. That might be a solution for a middle class dealing with rising debt and stagnant wages. The American middle class has been shrinking and weakening over the past 50 years. The Biden administration's latest research suggests that labor unions might be able to help turn that around.A new report from the Treasury Department — the first from the department to probe how unions impact the economy and middle class — looked at how the middle class has deteriorated in the US and ways that union benefits might ameliorate that. "Middle-class wages and household incomes have stagnated in recent decades," Janet Yellen, the Treasury secretary, said in a press call. "Both renting and owning a home have become more expensive and so have education and healthcare." Middle-class workers, whom the Treasury defines as falling in the middle of the national income distribution and by markers such as owning a home or being able to afford a college education, have seen real wages barely grow, income volatility increase, house prices skyrocket, and debt-to-income ratios more than double. Many are also contending with student-loan and mortgage debt, leaving them unable to save for retirement. "The decline in intergenerational mobility may be the single trend that best encapsulates the pervasive sense of the deterioration in the middle class," the Treasury report found. That's where unions can come in, Yellen said."These findings challenge arguments that unions hold back growth," Yellen said. "Unions could contribute to reversing the stark increase in inequality we've seen in recent decades, promoting economy-wide growth."Over the past 50 years, middle-class wages have stagnated, with middle-class workers still earning less than the highest earners' median income in 1970. Pew Research Center found that the share of adults living in middle-class households fell from 61% in 1971 to 50% in 2021. The Treasury report found that union workers make 10% to 15% more than nonunionized colleagues. That's one economic factor that could give union workers — who are more likely to be considered middle class — a boost. But beyond higher pay, union workers are five times more likely to have what's called defined-benefit retirement plans, meaning that their retirement funds will guarantee a specific monthly payout once they're no longer working. Union workers are more likely to know their schedules ahead of time, cutting down on scheduling instability and effectively putting more money in their pockets since they're able to plan ahead for things like childcare. Union workers are also more likely to have paid sick leave, medical benefits, subsidized commuting, and even more likely to receive unemployment insurance should they get laid off — which the report finds is "likely the result of unions providing resources that ease filing procedures for members regarding their access to and eligibility for UI benefits."The trickle-down effect of those benefits might boost the middle class, especially since nonunion firms feel a spillover effect and have to compete on workplace amenities and wages. The report found that the combination of higher union wages, stronger job security, and equity might help raise homeownership and education and spur mobility."For generations, union workers have fought for and won higher wages, better benefits, and safer working conditions for millions of American workers," Vice President Kamala Harris said. "Union organizing and collective bargaining has made it possible for so many working families to buy a home, build a future, and retire with dignity."Despite increased interest in labor unions and prominent strikes across the country, union membership still remains at historic lows. Labor advocates say that membership would be bolstered by stronger federal protections such as the stalled PRO Act — a bill that's unlikely to get passed anytime soon.Read the original article on Business Insider.....»»

Category: topSource: businessinsiderAug 28th, 2023

The State Protects Itself While Crime Against Ordinary People Surges

The State Protects Itself While Crime Against Ordinary People Surges Authored by Ryan McMaken via The Mises Institute, In all the media and regime frenzy over the January 6 riots and the Pentagon Leaker in recent months, it is interesting to examine the contrast between how the regime treats "crimes" against its own interests, and real crime committed against ordinary private citizens.  Witness, for example, how the Biden administration and corporate media have treated the January 6 riot as if it were some kind of military coup, demanding that draconian sentences be handed down even to small-time vandals and trespassers. Regime paranoia has led the Justice Department to ask for a 30-year sentence for Enrique Tarrio, a man who was convicted of the non-crime of "seditious conspiracy" even though he wasn't even in Washington on January 6. In recent months, Jacob Chansley, the "QAnon Shaman," received a sentence of three-and-a-half years, even though prosecutors admit he did nothing violent. Riley Williams was given three years for simply trespassing in Nancy Pelosi's office. Members of the Capitol Police force have been lionized in the media as great protectors of "sacred" government buildings, and any threat to the property or persons of Washington politicians has been equated with an assault on "democracy."  Yet, had these supposed insurrectionists inflicted these same actions against an ordinary private individual, there's a good chance the perpetrators would not even be arrested, let alone given years of prison time. Consider, for example, the mobs that ransack private businesses in American cities, stealing tens of thousands of dollars of merchandise while police and prosecutors consider it all to be low priority.  Violent crime and property crime surge in many areas of the United States, with violent crime rising 30 percent in New York City in 2022. Unsolved murders in the US are at a record high. Meanwhile, progressives and social democrats are looking for ways to reduce criminal penalties against violent criminals. Police departments often devote only tiny portions of their budgets to homicide investigations, and if your property is stolen, odds are good you can forget about ever seeing it again.  The situation is quite different when it comes to protecting the state, its agents, and its property from any threat. During urban riots, such as those which occurred in Ferguson, Missouri and Minneapolis, Minnesota, the police went to great lengths to protect themselves and government property. If you were just a private shopkeeper or ordinary citizen, however, you were on your own. At the Uvalde School shooting in 2022, hundreds of law enforcement officers from all levels of government chose to protect themselves rather than the children who were being murdered inside. When Uvalde parents demanded the police act, the police attacked the parents.  We find similar phenomena at the federal level. There are, of course, special federal laws against violence perpetrated against federal employees. Ordinary taxpayers receive no such consideration. Note how federal agencies move to arm themselves to the teeth while also seeking to disarm the private-sector. Federal agents will spare no expense finding someone who put his feet up on Nancy Pelosi's desk, but it's another matter entirely when we're talking about serious violent crime against regular people.  Federal agents, of course, allowed 9/11 to occur right under their noses, they refused to investigate known rapist Larry Nasser, and shrugged off reports about the man who would end up slaughtering children at a high school in Parkland, Florida. Contrast this with how long the federal government has been conniving to get revenge on Julian Assange for merely telling the truth about US war crimes.   Naturally, law enforcement officers rarely face any sanctions for their failures to bother themselves with private property, life, or limb. The federal courts have made it clear that law enforcement officers are not obligated to actually protect the public. In other words, the taxpayers must always pay taxes to hold up their end of the imagined "social contract" or face fines and imprisonment. But the other side of that "contract," the state, has no legal obligation to make good on its end. This, of course, is not how real contracts work.  The state's fastidious devotion to protecting itself, compared to its casual concern for the safety of mere taxpayers, illustrates an important principle of state behavior. In his essay The Anatomy of the State, Murray Rothbard notes  We may test the hypothesis that the State is largely interested in protecting itself rather than its subjects by asking: which category of crimes does the State pursue and punish most intensely—those against private citizens or those against itself? The gravest crimes in the State's lexicon are almost invariably not invasions of private person or property, but dangers to its own contentment, for example, treason, desertion of a soldier to the enemy, failure to register for the draft, subversion and subversive conspiracy, assassination of rulers and such economic crimes against the State as counterfeiting its money or evasion of its income tax. Or compare the degree of zeal devoted to pursuing the man who assaults a policeman, with the attention that the State pays to the assault of an ordinary citizen. Yet, curiously, the State's openly assigned priority to its own defense against the public strikes few people as inconsistent with its presumed raison d'etre. This double standard has been repeatedly on display in recent years as the regime has increasingly been consumed with paranoia over threats to itself—propagandistically termed "threats to democracy"—while attention given to real crime against private citizens is apparently not a priority at all.  Tyler Durden Fri, 08/25/2023 - 23:00.....»»

Category: worldSource: nytAug 25th, 2023

Videos of an artillery ambush show Russian tanks and armor making "opening day mistakes" and paying the price for them

A former US Army general told Insider that he is amazed that after 18 months of fighting, Russia is still making these kinds of costly errors. Ukrainian soldiers fire D-30 artillery at Russian positions near Klishchiivka on August 12.Diego Herrera Carcedo/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images Videos of an apparent artillery ambush have emerged and show Russian forces taking heavy hits. A retired US Army general said Russians were making "opening day mistakes" 18 months into the war. Russian forces have made similar mistakes repeatedly in the war in Ukraine. Videos of what looks like a very skillfully executed artillery ambush appear to show Russian armor forces making costly mistakes as the Ukrainians carry out what a retired US general called a "textbook" integration of combat capabilities.In the videos — drone footage that was shared on social media by Ukraine war monitors and open-source intelligence accounts — a group of Russian tanks and armored vehicles can be seen moving into the open in an area around Klishchiivka in Donetsk. The ground is already noticeably scarred by previous exchanges of fire, and smoke seems to fill the air. The Russian vehicles are running close together in a line when multiple explosions, some seemingly caused by mines and others by artillery strikes, tear through them. Cluster munitions appear to rain down in the aftermath. —Ben Hodges (@general_ben) August 21, 2023 In the resulting chaos, surviving troops can be seen running from burning vehicles and a Russian tank inexplicably fires toward another Russian vehicle, possibly because the gunner panicked or because a round cooked off in the barrel. —OSINTtechnical (@Osinttechnical) August 21, 2023 The clips of this single engagement posted online are just two of dozens of videos showing fierce and horrific combat in Ukraine that are shared every day, but they're telling about the conflict. Beyond simply showing what the war looks like, they speak to what each side is and is not learning about warfare.Ukrainian soldiers fire D-30 artillery at Russian positions near Klishchiivka on August 13.Diego Herrera Carcedo/Anadolu Agency via Getty ImagesThe video footage stood out to retired US Army Lt. Gen. Benjamin Hodges, formerly the head of United States Army Europe."You've got the juxtaposition of what looks to me to be very, very well-trained professional artillery against a Russian formation that is not well-trained or not disciplined and didn't have the leaders making those soldiers do the right thing," he told Insider.While coordinating fires and capabilities the way the Ukrainians do in the videos is no easy task, the Russians lightened the lift for them by bunching up close together in a line."The easiest way to destroy a formation is when they line up nice and neat for you," Hodges said.When moving an area that has potentially been mined, it may be necessary to follow behind the vehicle in front, but bunching up like the Russian vehicles do is a mistake. It's human nature when scared and surrounded by threats to circle the wagons, so to speak, but training and discipline are meant to break that."What has continued to amaze me after 18 months, since the so-called 'special military operation' started," is that "after all this time, they are still making opening day mistakes of not being dispersed," Hodges said."You can imagine the confusion" of this moment, he said, "and if you're not really trained and you're not really disciplined and you're not really confident about what's happening around you, it's terrifying.""This is when mistakes happen," Hodges added.A Ukrainian military press officer looks at a destroyed Russian vehicle in the village of Novodarivka in southeastern Ukraine.Ukrinform/NurPhoto via Getty ImagesUnlike the Ukrainians, who spent years building a Western-style military structure, Russia lacks a similar corps of noncommissioned officers for battlefield decision-making. Furthermore, many experienced Russian units have been decimated by high casualties and filled with less-experienced troops. That dearth of leadership and experience, along with other issues, has been costly.The problem with Russian tank formations is one that has been seen repeatedly.During fighting near Vuhledar earlier this year, for instance, Russian forces drove tank and armor columns straight into Ukrainian ambushes, using some of the same flawed tactics seen the year prior, and the results were catastrophic.The issues extend beyond armor operations. In just the past few weeks, Russia has put troops in vulnerable positions within range of Ukrainian HIMARS, left key supply routes unguarded, and left warships unprotected from known threats, among other failures.And just the other day, after video footage of a Russian Ka-52 "Alligator" attack helicopter being shot down emerged, Hodges noted the way the aircraft was flying pointed to Russian inexperience, incompetence, and an inability to learn important lessons. —Ben Hodges (@general_ben) August 18, 2023 Ukrainian forces, of course, are not infallible, and mistakes have jeopardized operations, including the opening phase of the ongoing counteroffensive, according to experts who visited areas near the front.In the early days of the Ukrainian counteroffensive, for example, some less-experienced units found themselves disoriented, especially at night. They also moved the wrong way and sometimes they ran into deadly minefields covered by defending Russian forces — traps not entirely unlike the ambush seen in the recent videos.Additionally, Ukraine's indirect fire and assault operations were not always well coordinated, its troops didn't have adequate backup plans for when situations went sideways, and, at times, the element of surprise was forfeited by certain unforced errors.In the aftermath of those early setbacks, the Ukrainians stepped back and adjusted their approach, making changes to the ways they advanced. They have been able to put increased pressure on the Russians through artillery and counter-battery fire and to adapt to major threats like Russia's attack helicopters, at least three of which were reportedly shot down last week.Russia, which was expected to overpower and overrun Ukrainian defenses within weeks, if not days, of the start of the special military operation, has often demonstrated less flexibility and a limited ability to adapt.As one expert told Insider, the Russians have a tendency to repeatedly "run teeth first into the problem" before going looking for a solution.Read the original article on Business Insider.....»»

Category: dealsSource: nytAug 22nd, 2023