Chick-fil-A denies that its charitable donations support an anti-LGBTQ agenda

March 25, 2019

Seven years after Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy first publicly voiced support for “the biblical definition of the family unit”—and national gay rights groups vowed to boycott the fast food chain—the Georgia-based private company is again on the defensive against claims that it has a discriminatory agenda.

This time, according to a March 20 report by CBS News, critics are saying that Chick-fil-A’s anti-gay-rights position is being reflected in its charitable donations.

The company’s conservative Christian leanings are back in glaring view—with newly released tax filings first publicized by ThinkProgress. The left-leaning news site found that, in 2017, the Chick-fil-A Foundation gave $1.8 million to three tax-exempt groups with a history of anti-LGBTQ discrimination.

The donations include payments of $1.6 million to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, a ministry that spreads an anti-LGBTQ message to college athletes; $150,000 to the Salvation Army, which has opposed LGBTQ rights; and $6,000 to the Paul Anderson Youth Home, a Christian residential facility for troubled youth that teaches that homosexuality is wrong.

Chick-fil-A also listed the donations on its website, which noted that the company’s foundation as of June 2017 “no longer supports” the Paul Anderson Youth Home.

Chick-fil-A, which has previously denied that it discriminates against any group, reiterated that stand. “To suggest our giving was done to support a political or non-inclusive agenda is inaccurate and misleading,” the company stated in an email to CBS MoneyWatch.  

The private company’s conservative Christian leanings also drew attention last year when then-EPA head Scott Pruitt explained why he had looked into having his wife own a Chick-fil-A franchise. “I love, she loves, we love Chick-fil-A as a franchise of faith,” Pruitt told a reporter.

Research contact: @CBSNews

A small Texas town is home to one of the last baseball glove factories in America

March 22, 2019

At a factory located about 100 miles outside of Dallas, employees literally are working “hand in glove” to produce the high-quality leather accessories used on baseball and softball diamonds nationwide.

Since 1934, in the small town of Nocona, Texas (population: 3,000), premium ball gloves have been handcrafted by skilled American workers. Each of the gloves made at the Nokona American Ballgloves manufacturing site is individually cut, stamped, stitched, laced, and embroidered by the company’s 75 employees—giving the mitt its own unique identity and feel.

And the company, itself, is nearly one of a kind—representing one of the last baseball glove factories in the United States, according to a recent NPR report.

“We literally bring leather in through one door and magically, ball gloves come out the door at the very end,” Rob Storey, Nokona’s executive vice president, told the public radio station.

And Storey should know: He grew up in the business. To survive the Depression, his grandfather, Bob Storey, added baseball gloves to his line of leather goods in 1934. Since then, just about every U.S. competitor has moved production overseas.

[In] a lot of [the overseas] factories, people have never even seen a baseball game or know what it is. Sure, it would be easy to go over there and do something. But that’s not who we are.” he said in an interview.

Who they are is an all-American company dedicated to the nation’s favorite pastime—even if Nokona not a household name like Rawlings or Wilson.

And in the youth market, they are big. “I grew up using a Nokona glove,” recalls Arizona Diamondbacks relief pitcher Robby Scott. “My first glove that I ever really remember was a first baseman’s mitt that was a Nokona.”

Indeed, he told NPR, “I will never wear a different glove.It’s a special bond I have with them. They could have 200 players wearing their gloves. But, to me, it seems special because they make it seem like I’m the only one.”

And, says Storey, Nokona is the only maker he knows of that will refurbish its old, tattered mitts. He says that doesn’t happen with gloves made overseas.

Research contact: @bzeeble

It’s not for ‘mindful shopping,’ but there’s a mental health clinic at Walmart

March 21, 2019

You already can pick up your groceries, prescriptions, tires, sofas, computers, pet food, sporting equipment, and crafts supplies at Walmart.

So what else could you possibly want or need? Now, a Boston-based company is taking the discount retail concept to a new level (and arguably, to an even broader base of consumers)—by offering mental health counseling to Walmart shoppers, the Boston Globe reports.

Beacon Health Options— a provider of clinical mental health and substance use disorder management; as well as specialty programs for autism and depression, grief, and relationship issues—has opened a small clinic in the Walmart store in Carrollton, Texas.

The company, which already claims to serve 40 million people across all 50 U.S. states, plans to roll out the program in other Walmart retail locations nationwide, with the goal of increasing access to mental healthcare.

Staffed for now with one licensed clinical social worker, the clinic treats patients who either walk in or make appointments.

 “The goal is to fight stigma and simplify the process of finding help, while also assuring quality, Russell C. Petrella, Beacon Health’s president and CEO, told the Globe, adding, “ “People don’t know how to find a behavioral health or mental health professional. “People don’t know where to go and what to do.”

The retail clinics will promise access to a credentialed professional in a familiar environment, he said, noting, “We’re trying to mainstream behavioral health services.”.

Shoppers have become accustomed to visiting clinics in department stores or drug stores for sore throats, ear infections, and other everyday medical problems. But whether patients will be equally comfortable revealing their sorrows and worries in a Walmart remains to be seen.

Bonnie Cook, executive director of Mental Health America of Greater Dallas told the news outlet that she welcomed the idea of a Walmart clinic, saying it is likely to reach people in need. Recently, Mental Health America, a national advocacy group, gave Texas the lowest rating of all states for access to mental health services.

“As a mental health community, we have to start thinking outside the box,” Cook told the Boston Globe.

Beacon Health has not decided where to locate its future retail clinics yet, Petrella said. But the Boston area, he said, “is not on the radar” because of its high concentration of providers. A clinic may someday be considered for more rural parts of the state, he said.

The retail clinic in Texas is intended for people with milder forms of mental illness. People with serious mental illnesses and those in crisis will be referred to other professionals in Beacon’s network, as will those who need a prescription.

As backup if the clinic gets busy, patients will be able to speak remotely by Skype or other services to another professional.

The clinic has a sliding-fee schedule for those without health insurance and is in the process of getting approved for Medicaid reimbursement in Texas.

Research contact: felice.freyer@globe.com

Family dormitories are on the rise

March 20, 2019

A co-living company that has been offering dormitory-like accommodations to single 20-somethings now has a new customer base in mind: families.

New York City-based Common, which rents out fully furnished private bedrooms in shared, serviced apartments—complete with a  shared and furnished living area, kitchen, and bathroom(s), and free on-site laundry; as well as a once-a-week professional cleaning team—is teaming with global real-estate developer Tishman Speyer to launch this new product on March 19, The Wall Street Journal reports.

It’s a grown-up concept designed to meet the needs of young and expanding family units. Under the new brand Kin, buildings will feature playrooms, family-size units, and on-demand childcare through an internal mobile app that also helps connect families looking to share nannies and babysitters.

Common and Tishman Speyer are testing out those offerings at an existing luxury project, Jackson Park in Long Island City, with plans to announce new developments in other locales in the coming months, the Journal reports.

The partners see this as an opportunity to help address a shortage of family-size apartments in many major U.S. cities, where developers have overwhelmingly built studios and one-bedrooms targeted to single 20-somethings.

“People are choosing to raise families in big cities more than ever,” said Rob Speyer, president and chief executive at Tishman Speyer. “It’s very difficult to find housing that’s tailored to that.”

Common pioneered the co-living concept, but since then it has become a crowded space with a handful of well-funded competitors. All are racing to see who can most quickly overcome hurdles—such as finding developers and banks willing to gamble on the unconventional layouts, and finding a way to shrink floor plans without alienating customers.

Brad Hargreaves, founder and chief executive at Common, said the idea for the product grew out of his own experience trying to find child care in the city when his son was born in 2015.

“When [my first son] was about to be born we started looking for child-care options, and we really struggled to find anything that was affordable and high-quality,” he said.

The Kin venture also provides a hedge for Common when its clientele are aging out of their 20s and potentially out of Common’s core product.

Some analysts have warned that co-living buildings serve a niche demographic and people are much less likely to live there when they become couples or have children.

“There is a large question from a venture-capital side about what these companies are going to look like in 10 years. When the largest cohort that is using co-living, what happens when these people grow up?” Jeffrey Berman, a general partner at Camber Creek, a real-estate-focused venture-capital firm, told the Journal in an interview.

Unlike Common’s co-living product, Kin buildings won’t require families to share kitchens and bathrooms. But Mr. Hargreaves said units will be compact to help make them more affordable, with larger common spaces to compensate.

Developers traditionally build much fewer two- or three-bedroom apartments because they are more expensive and tend to lease more slowly. In fact, the share of apartments with two or more bedrooms has declined to just over 40% since 2014, from about 55% from 2000 to 2013. Nearly 60% of new units constructed in the 54 largest metros since 2014 have been studio or one-bedroom apartments, according to CoStar, up from about 45% from 2000 to 2013.

Hargreaves told the news outlet that he is confident that families aren’t leaving the city by choice, but because of limited child-care and housing options. “One of the biggest things [families] fear is being forced out of the city into the suburbs,” he said.

Research contact: @hicommon

IKEA Israel offers 3D-printable add-ons to adapt its furnishings for the disabled

March 19, 2019

IKEA—a global retailer that is nearly as famous for its Swedish meatballs as it is for its self-assembled, affordable home furnishings—has started an initiative that will make its products more accessible and adaptable to customers with disabilities.

This month, Goodnet reports, IKEA Israel has teamed up with two NGOs, Access Israel and MILBAT—both of which focus on increasing accessibility for and inclusion of people with disabilities—to create the new ThisAbles line of furnishings.

The line comprises 13 add-ons—designed to be created on a 3D printer—that:

  • Make doors and closets open more easily,
  • Extend the legs of sofas and chairs to better accommodate sitting and standing,
  • Offer a place to attach walking sticks or canes to beds so they are easily accessible,
  • Make shower curtains easier to open and close with a large handle, and e
  • Protect other household furniture with special bumpers to attach at wheelchair levels.

“There is a large population of people with disabilities who cannot enjoy and use a variety of products, furniture and household items that we and our retail colleagues offer to the public,” CEO of IKEA Israel Shuki Koblenz told the Jerusalem Post in an interview, adding, “IKEA has vowed to create a better daily life for as many people as possible, and we feel it is our duty to create this initiative and allow people with disabilities to enjoy a wide range of products, furniture and household items.”

Before starting the new line of accessories, Access Israel conducted a survey in cooperation with IKEA—and found 130 furniture and household items that could be improved for people with disabilities. The accessories were designed by MILBAT, an organization dedicated to increasing the independence of disabled people by means of assistive devices and technology. it was a perfect fit, the three partners say.

In all four of its Israel-based stores, IKEA now has placed special tags that detail the suitability and benefits of the add-ons for people with different disabilities on the 130 items that can be modified by the ThisAbles.

The smart additions also will be displayed in a special area so that shoppers can view the items and see how they connect to existing products.

The full series of additions and the IKEA products that can be modified are available on the ThisAbless website along with helpful product training videos.

In addition, the ThisAbles line of products can be purchased on the MILBAT website—or people can scan the barcode of the new products to print independently in a 3D printer. This makes them readily available to people who live in other countries.

Today, according to Access Israel, over 1.6 million people—8% of the population—live with disabilities; around 700,000 of them, severe.

“I am convinced that this initiative will actually improve the quality of life of people with disabilities in Israel and around the world,” Yuval Wagner, president and founder of nonprofit Access Israel, told the Jerusalem Post.

Research contact:  #ThisAbles

Snap plans launch of gaming platform in April

March 18, 2019

The U.S. technology and camera company, Snap, finally will introduce its widely discussed (but never-disclosed) gaming platform at a summit for content and developer partners in Los Angeles on April 4, Cheddar has reported.

The mobile game platform, internally code-named “Project Cognac,” will feature several games that outside developers have designed specifically to work in the multimedia Snapchat app, according to a person familiar with the matter, Cheddar said.

In addition, the company will launch more videos similar to the augmented reality Snap Originals that it began posting last October.

An invitation to the event that was seen by Cheddar includes the tagline, “Less talk. More play.”—a nod to the gaming platform.

To help bolster its push into the games sector, Snap last year acquired a small Australian gaming studio called Prettygreat for $8.6 million, according to financial documents obtained by Cheddar. One of the employees of Prettygreat was behind the hit mobile games “Fruit Ninja” and “Jetpack Joyride.”

Snap also already has demonstrated its interest in gaming by launching a handful of its own lightweight, augmented reality games—called Snappables— early in 2018.

A year earlier, the Chinese tech giant Tencent—known for its popular messaging platform WeChat, as well as such games as “League of Legends”—acquired roughly 10% of Snap’s publicly traded shares.

Games could provide a new source of revenue for Snap, Cheddar notes—either through in-app purchases or advertising.

A Snap spokesperson declined to comment on the record for the Cheddar story.

Research contact: @cheddar

Class-action lawsuit filed against eight colleges snared in admissions bribery scandal

March 15, 2019

As if top U.S. colleges are not charging enough, parents are bribing industry officials to get their kids into the “right”schools.

Among the high-profile moms and dads who now are being hit with federal criminal charges for providing monetary inducements—some of them, six figures high—to college advisers, test proctors, admissions officers, or athletics coaches to admit their children are actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, as well as top business and legal executives nationwide.

Now, a class-action civil lawsuit has been filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California by two Stanford University students, Erica Olsen and Kalea Woods, against eight top universities in connection with the massive college admissions bribery scandal, which hit the news on March 12,

The defendants in the lawsuit are Yale University, the University of Southern California, Stanford University, UCLA, the University of San Diego, the University of Texas, Wake Forest University, and Georgetown University. Federal prosecutors have said the schools, themselves, were victims of the scam,l according to a report by CNBC.

Indeed, the suit accuses each of the universities of being “negligent in failing to maintain adequate protocols and security measures in places to guarantee the sanctity of the college admissions process.”

And the suit, which claims more than $5 million in damages, alleges that, as a result of the payoffs, “unqualified students found their way into the admissions rolls of highly selective universities, while those students who played by the rules and did not have college-bribing parents were denied admission.”

Although the only two named plaintiffs to date are Olsen and Woods, the action would ultimately include potentially thousands of students as complainants—if not more, if the case is granted class-action status by a judge.

Also named as a defendant, according to The New York Times, is William “Rick” Singer, 59, the owner of a  college preparatory business, the Edge College & Career Network, who masterminded and profited from the scheme.

The suit claims that the universities named as defendants “knew or should have known of these corrupt practices because the funds” that were being used as bribes to gain admittance for the children of wealthy parents “were often going into university accounts; and to prominent figures, such as coaches and directors in charge of university accounts.”

The suit alleges that the plaintiff, “Olsen has also been damaged because she is a student at Stanford University, another one of the universities plagued by the fraud scandal. Her degree is now not worth as much as it was before, because prospective employers may now question whether she was admitted to the university on her own merits, versus having parents who were willing to bribe school officials.”

And it says that her co-plaintiff, Woods, at the time she applied to USC for admission, “similarly was never informed that the process of admission at USC was an unfair, rigged process, in which parents could buy their way into the university through bribery and dishonest schemes.”

Wake Forest’s president, Nathan Hatch, in a letter made public said that “the university has cooperated fully with the investigation.”

Hatch said he “to make abundantly clear that Wake Forest is considered by the U.S. Department of Justice to be a victim of this fraud. In no way has it been suggested that the university was involved in the deceitful practices, nor were any employees, other than [Wake Forest volleyball coach Bill] Ferguson, accused of wrongdoing.”

Ferguson has reportedly been placed on administrative leave by the institution.

Lawyers for Olsen and Woods, as well as spokesmen for the other universities, did not immediately respond to requests for comment from CNBC.

Research contact: @_DanMangan

Travelers ask agents to book other aircraft after Boeing 737 MAX is grounded

March 14, 2019

Travel agents and websites have begun to respond to consumer concerns by rerouting passengers on other aircraft after the grounding of Boeing’s 737 MAX planes by nations worldwide—including China, Singapore, India, Australia, Hong Kong, Malaysia, New Zealand, Canada, and the European Union—Reuters reports (and finally, the USA).

Several news outlets, including MSNBC,  reported that the United States had not grounded its 737 MAX aircraft, following a call received by President Donald Trump from Boeing President Dennis Muilenburg, imploring him to let them fly. (Editor’s note: That was true until late afternoon on March 13, when the president bowed to pressure and grounded the Boeing 737 MAX planes in the United States.)

However, U.S. passengers have the same fears as their global counterparts: Two of the new Boeing aircraft have crashed within the past five months—both just moments after takeoff—including Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 on March 10 and Indonesian Lion Air Flight JT610 on October 28.

The pilots of both flights had reported a technical issue when the controls were switched to autopilot after departure. Indeed, according to flight data from the earlier Lion Air incident, the aircraft took a sudden downward turn after the autopilot was switched on and made a sharp nosedive into the sea.

Boeing, itself, has commented, “[We are] deeply saddened to learn of the passing of the passengers and crew on Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, a 737 MAX 8 airplane. We extend our heartfelt sympathies to the families and loved ones of the passengers and crew on board and stand ready to support the Ethiopian Airlines team. A Boeing technical team will be travelling to the crash site to provide technical assistance under the direction of the Ethiopia Accident Investigation Bureau and U.S. National Transportation Safety Board.”

Among the U.S. carriers that operate the Boeing 737 MAX are Southwest (with 34 of the planes), American Airlines (24), and United (14).

But, whether or not they are ticketing and flying, U.S. travelers do not want to board the aircraft until authorities worldwide have said it is good to go. Therefore, travel agents and websites are moving fast, Reuters says.

Kayak.com, part of the Booking.com stable, was the first big travel search website to say it would modify search filters to allow customers to exclude particular types of planes from queries, Reuters notes.

“We’ve recently received feedback to make Kayak’s filters more granular in order to exclude particular aircraft models from search queries,” a spokesperson for the website told Reuters in an email responding to questions., adding, “We are releasing that enhancement this week and are committed to providing our customers with all the information they need to travel with confidence

Several travel agents said they were dealing with the cancellation of flights due to the grounding of nearly two-thirds of the Boeing 737 MAX planes in most countries outside North America, prompting a wave of re-bookings.

Carlson Wagonlit Travel, which manages travel for big global businesses, said some clients wished to explore the possibility of temporarily restricting travel on Boeing 737 MAX 8 planes.

U.S. travel firm Expedia, Germany’s Trivago and Indian online travel agents MakeMyTrip and Yatra did not immediately respond to Reuters’ requests for comment about the impact the crash is having on bookings.

According to Reuters, the twin crashes have spooked the airline industry and heaped pressure on Boeing, whose shares have plunged, wiping $25 billion off its market value in the space of less than three days.

Research contact: @Morrison1996

No guts, no glory: Mondo snack marketer Mondelēz pivots to take on gut health

March 12, 2019

Chances are that, when you have a “snack attack,” you reach for something from Switzerland-based Mondelēz International—the maker of such popular treats as Oreo cookies, Ritz crackers, Tang flavored drinks, and Toblerone chocolates, among other top brands.

But now, in addition to its tempting goodies, the company has invested in an edible product that actually is good for you.

On March 7, Mondelēz  announced that it had taken a minority investment in Uplift Food, a US-based early-stage start-up focusing on prebiotic functional foods.

This is the first venture investment that the company is making as part of SnackFutures, its innovation and venture hub aimed at unlocking snacking growth opportunities around the world.

“As the global snacking leader, we’re on a clear mission to lead the future of snacking by providing the right snack, for the right moment, made the right way,” commented Mondelēz Executive Vice President and Chief Growth Officer Tim Cofer, adding, “Together with Uplift Food, we have a unique opportunity to disrupt the functional food category by delivering ‘snackable’ products focusing on gut health – something that does not exist today.”

The company believes that consumers are increasingly looking for their snacks to deliver benefits—but options are currently limited. The SnackFutures team will work with Uplift Food to make gut health more understandable, accessible, and enjoyable through new forms and flavors.

Beyond the financial investment, SnackFutures also will provide strategic support in areas such as marketing, distribution, R&D, and sourcing.

Research contact: news@mdlz.com

About time: Labor Department proposal would make 1.1 million U.S. workers eligible for overtime pay

March 11, 2019

The U.S. Department of Labor has announcedproposed rule that would make 1.1 million American workers eligible to receive overtime pay beginning in 2020.

Under a 2004 currently enforced law, employees with a salary below $455 per week ($23,660 annually) must be paid overtime, if they work more than 40 hours during a given week.

The new proposal—which is subject to a 60-day comment period— would raise the salary cap of workers eligible for overtime from $455 to $679 per week (equivalent to $35,308 per year). 

“Our economy has more job openings than job seekers and more Americans are joining the labor force,” said Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta.  “At my confirmation hearings, I committed to an update of the 2004 overtime threshold, and [the new] proposal would bring common sense, consistency, and higher wages to working Americans.”

“Commenters … overwhelmingly agreed that the 2004 levels need to be updated,” said Keith Sonderling, acting administrator for the Department’s Wage and Hour Division.

The NPRM maintains overtime protections for police officers, fire fighters, paramedics, nurses, and laborers including: non-management production-line employees and non-management employees in maintenance, construction and similar occupations such as carpenters, electricians, mechanics, plumbers, iron workers, craftsmen, operating engineers, longshoremen, and construction workers.

According to an NBC News report, the threshold was last raised in 2004 under President George W. Bush. An Obama-era rule that would have raised it to $47,476 was blocked by a judge mere days before it was due to take effect on December 1, 2016. By that point, many big companies already had made adjustments to worker pay and titles — in some cases raising the pay of employees who were just below the higher threshold to just above it, or reclassifying salaried workers as hourly employees eligible to earn overtime.

In its announcement, the network news outlet said, the department indicated it was seeking a middle ground between a 15-year-old figure that had not kept pace with pay trends and the much higher cap that had been sought by President Barack Obama, which would have impacted 4.2 million workers.

Economists said the working poor would be the primary beneficiaries of the higher threshold, based on the NBC News report. “Expanding overtime eligibility will likely have a positive impact on wage growth for workers with lower wages,” said Daniel Zhao, Glassdoor senior economist.

Research contact: sweeney.megan.p@dol.gov