Former Boeing pilot is indicted in probe of 737 MAX crashes

October 18, 2021

A federal grand jury in Texas has indicted a former Boeing  pilot—alleging that he deceived air-safety regulators about a flight-control system that later was blamed for sending two 737 MAX jets into fatal nosedives, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Mark A. Forkner, 49 years old, was charged with six counts of fraud related to his alleged role in persuading the Federal Aviation Administration to approve pilot-trai

The crashes occurred in late 2018 and early 2019 and took 346 lives.

David Gerger, an attorney for Forkner, did not respond to requests for comment late Thursday, the Journal notes. Gerger has previously said that Forkner, a pilot and Air Force veteran, wouldn’t endanger pilots or passengers and that his communications with regulators were honest.

However, prosecutors allege that Forkner, in his role as Boeing’s 737 MAX chief technical pilot, withheld crucial information from the FAA about the flight-control system known as MCAS. As a result of his alleged deception, a key FAA report, pilot manuals and training materials lacked references to the system, defrauding Boeing’s airline customers, prosecutors said.

Forkner “abused his position of trust by intentionally withholding critical information about MCAS,” Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Polite Jr. said in a statement.

Forkner was expected to make an initial court appearance on Friday in Fort Worth, prosecutors said. He faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison for each count of wire fraud, and 10 years in prison for each count of fraud involving aircraft parts in interstate commerce.

Boeing and the FAA declined to comment. The case against Forkner is the first time an individual has faced charges related to the dual MAX crashes, the first of which occurred three years ago this month. Boeing reached a $2.5 billion settlement with the Justice Department earlier this year.

Research contact: @WSJ

Social Security benefits will rise 5.9% in 2022—the most in four decades

October 14, 2021

Social Security benefits will increase 5.9% in 2022, the Social Security Administration announced on Wednesday, October 13—the biggest boost in 40 years, coming as prices for food, cars and rent continue to surge, reports The New York Times.

The increase, known as a cost of living adjustment, is the largest since 1982 and will affect nearly 70 million recipients, according to data from the Social Security Administration. It comes as consumer prices in the United States have seen their sharpest increase in years. The adjustment is tied to the Labor Department’s  Consumer Price Index, which rose 5.4% in September from a year earlier.

Inflation has accelerated this year as the global economy recovers from pandemic-driven lockdowns. Early on, the price gains were driven by rebounding airfares, rates and other items that had seen a collapse in demand in 2020. More recently, shortages of products or challenges transporting them to consumers have added to the gains, the Times notes.

Consumer Price Index data released on Wednesday, October 13, showed that prices jumped more than expected last month. The price gains came as housing prices firmed, and as food—especially meat and eggs—cost consumers more.

The maximum amount of earnings subject to the Social Security tax will also increase to $147,000 from $142,800, the administration said.

Jo Ann Jenkins, chief executive officer of AARP, said the increase was necessary for families and beneficiaries to keep up with rising costs. “The guaranteed benefits provided by Social Security and the COLA increase are more crucial than ever as millions of Americans continue to face the health and economic impacts of the pandemic,” Jenkins said in a statement released after the announcement.

Among the beneficiaries, 37% of men and 42% of women receive at least half of their income from Social Security, according to an administration fact sheet.

Nearly nine out of 10 people age 65 and older were receiving a benefit as of the end of last year. Older Americans, people with disabilities, and children and spouses of recipients who are deceased are eligible for the benefits.

Research contact: @nytimes

Trump closes in on a deal to sell marquee Washington, D.C., hotel

October 13, 2021

The Miami-based CGI Merchant Group currently is in talks to pay ex-President Donald Trump’s family company around $370 million for the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.—which, during the last administration, attracted GOP lawmakers, lobbyists and other political attention-grabbers, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The Trump International Hotel Washington, D.C., is located in the former Old Post Office, a short walk down Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House in a building featuring some of the largest guest rooms in the capital.

The property is owned by the federal government, but with extensions the lease runs close to 100 years. CGI also has entered into discussions with hotel operators, including Hilton Worldwide HoldingsWaldorf Astoria luxury brand, about removing the Trump name in favor of that of another hotel manager, NBC News sources said.

The lease deal could ultimately fetch closer to $400 million, which would represent roughly a doubling of the money the Trump Organization spent to convert the government building into a luxury hotel, said one of the people familiar with the matter.

The Trump Organization initially hoped to sell the lease for close to $500 million, a person familiar with the matter told The Wall Street Journal in 2019.

The hotel sales talks have been heating up as Democratic-controlled House committees have been investigating and holding hearings on potential conflicts of interest and emoluments issues surrounding Trump.

The House Committee on Oversight and Reform has been examining the lease terms between the Trump Organization and the federal government’s General Services Administration for use of the Old Post Office. The deal predates Mr. Trump’s entry into national politics, but the committee is probing how well Trump managed conflicts of interest while president.

A Friday report from the House committee said the hotel lost more than $70 million between its opening in 2016 and last year—leading the company to inject at least $24 million in aid.

Research contact: @WSJ

FDA moves closer to clearing Moderna and J&J COVID booster shots this week

October 12, 2021

Millions of Americans will be one step closer to receiving a COVID-19 booster shot this week when a key Food and Drug Administration advisory panel meets Thursday and Friday, October  14 and 15, to debate extra doses of the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, reports CNBC.

The FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee meetings come less than a month after U.S. regulators authorized COVID booster shots of Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine to a wide array of Americans, including the elderly, adults with underlying medical conditions; and those who work or live in high-risk settings, like health and grocery workers.

More than 7 million Americans have received a booster dose in the United States as of Saturday, October 9, according to the latest data available from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Members on independent committees by the FDA and CDC and Prevention said at the time they were frustrated that only Pfizer recipients would be eligible to get the extra shots, leaving out millions of Americans who got Moderna or J&J’s shots.

The FDA advisory group is scheduled Thursday to discuss data on the safety and effectiveness of a Moderna booster shot in adults. On Friday, the committee is expected to debate J&J booster shots for adults. The FDA could make a final decision within days of the meetings, handing it off to the CDC and its vaccine advisory committee to make their own decision.

The CDC’s next vaccine advisory meeting is scheduled to take place from October 20 to October 21, when it’s expected to discuss the boosters.

Research contact: @CNBC

‘No Time to Die’ opens to $6.3 million in previews–best ever for a Bond movie

October 11, 2021

Audiences are showing up in force to send British actor Daniel Craig off in style, Variety reports.

MGM’s “No Time to Die”—which marks the actor’s last stint as James Bond and his fifth movie in the series—opened to $6.3 million in previews on Thursday, October 7—the best-ever take for a Bond film. The previous record for an 007 opening night was “Spectre’s” $5.3 million in 2015, and before that “Skyfall” made $4.6 million from advance showings.

Indeed, according to Variety, Craig’s fifth and final Bond film is on pace to earn between $60 million to $70 million in its opening weekend, but projections are difficult to make because of the COVID of things, which could depress turnout. “No Time to Die” needs to make bank. All those exotic locales and action set pieces don’t come cheap, after all. The film carries a massive $250 million budget and cost more than $100 million to market and promote.

The spy thriller already has gotten off to a fast start internationally. It earned $121 million last weekend from its first 54 international markets, which includes the U.K., Brazil, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, and Spain.

Reviewers have mostly embraced the film, giving Craig’s farewell to the role an 82% “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Variety’s chief film critic Owen Gleiberman was one of those fans—writing in his review, “‘No Time to Die’ is a terrific movie: an up-to-the-minute, down-to-the-wire James Bond thriller with a satisfying neoclassical edge.”

Director Cary Joji Fukunaga (“True Detective”) is getting most of the credit for injecting that edge. The cast includes Bond veterans Lea Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Ralph Fiennes and Christoph Waltz, who are joined by Ana de Armas and Lashana Lynch, as two new agents; and Rami Malek as the main antagonist.

Research contact: @Variety

Right-wing conspiracy network OAN receives 90% of its funding from AT&T

October 8, 2021

AT&T, the world’s largest communications company, has been bankrolling a right-wing conspiracy network, an investigation by Reuters has revealed.

According to HuffPost, the damning Reuters report, published on Wednesday, October 6, shows that AT&T helped fund and create One America News Network (OAN)―a right-wing network famous for its fawning coverage of former President Donald Trump; and for spreading lies about the 2020 presidential election that Trump lost.

Without AT&T’s $250 million offering, OAN’s value “would be zero,” according to an accountant’s court testimony obtained by Reuters.

More from the publication:

  • OAN founder and chief executive Robert Herring, Sr., has testified that the inspiration to launch OAN in 2013 came from AT&T executives.
  • “They told us they wanted a conservative network,” Herring said during a 2019 deposition seen by Reuters. “They only had one, which was Fox News, and they had seven others on the other [leftwing] side. When they said that, I jumped to it and built one.”
  • Since then, AT&T has been a crucial source of funds flowing into OAN, providing tens of millions of dollars in revenue, court records show. Ninety percent of OAN’s revenue came from a contract with AT&T-owned television platforms, including satellite broadcaster DirecTV, according to 2020 sworn testimony by an OAN accountant.
  • Herring has testified he was offered $250 million for OAN in 2019. Without the DirecTV deal, the accountant said under oath, the network’s value “would be zero.”
  • Dallas-based AT&T, a mobile-phone and Internet provider, also owns entertainment giant Warner Media, which includes CNNand HBO. AT&T acquired DirecTV in 2015 and in August spun off the satellite service, retaining a 70% share in the new, independently managed company. AT&T’s total U.S. television subscriber base, including satellite and streaming services, fell from 26 million in 2015 to 15.4 million as of August.

Court filings obtained by Reuters show that Herring cited monthly fees in a five-year deal with AT&T as costing approximately $57 million.

In the last two years of his presidency, Trump repeatedly urged his followers to watch OAN, a network that has been loyal to the former president even when facts have gotten in the way of praise. Last year, as the coronavirus swept through the United States, OAN saw a ratings boost as Trump and the network churned out lies about the virus.

Research contact: @HuffPost

Angelina Jolie sells stake in French wine estate, capping fight with Brad Pitt over Miraval

October 7, 2021

Actress Angelina Jolie has sold her stake in a French château and winery business to a third party—capping a yearslong fight in which she and ex-husband Brad Pitt battled over the future of their assets, reports The Wall Steet Journal.

The couple bought the Château Miraval estate in southern France in 2008, and they were married there in 2014. While the two have since divorced; they both retained equal ownership of the estate and the wine brand Miravalknown for its rosé.

Jolie in July sought to lift temporary restraining orders put in place during the couple’s divorce proceedings, which would allow her to sell her half of the estate. A declaration filed by one of her lawyers in Superior Court of Los Angeles County said she wanted to remove herself from being a “disregarded business partner with her ex-husband,” according to court documents.

Tenute del Mondo, the third party that acquired Jolie’s 50% stake, is a wine division and subsidiary of Luxembourg-based Stoli Group. It co-owns wines brands, including Luce and Masseto, with the Frescobaldi family.

Terms of the deal, announced on Tuesday, October 5, weren’t disclosed. A legal representative for Jolie didn’t respond to a request for comment. A representative for Pitt didn’t have an immediate comment.

Pitt will keep his stake in the estate, according to a spokesperson for Stoli Group.

Research contact: @WSJ

Tesla to pay more than $130 million in damages to Black former worker

IOctober 6, 2021

Tesla  subjected a Black former worker to a racially hostile work environment and failed to take reasonable steps to prevent him from being harassed, a federal jury in San Francisco found on Monday, October 4.

The eight-person jury awarded more than $130 million in damages to Owen Diaz, who worked as an elevator operator at Tesla’s Fremont, California, factory in 2015 and 2016, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Diaz often was called racial epithets at work, where he saw racist images and language written in the bathroom and elsewhere, said Bernard Alexander, one of his attorneys, during the trial. The factory, located in the San Francisco Bay Area, was Tesla’s lone auto assembly plant at the time—employing roughly 10,000 people.

The complainant, age 53, held his head in his hands after the jury’s verdict was read. He called the decision a weight off his shoulders. The trial lasted just over a week.

“It shines a light on what’s going on inside of Tesla’s factory,” he said. “Elon Musk, you’ve been put on notice. Clean that factory up.”

Tracey Kennedy, an attorney for Tesla, said in her closing argument that there was no evidence that a Tesla employee harassed Diaz and that the company shouldn’t be held liable for the treatment Diaz alleged. Many workers at Tesla’s factory are contractors employed through staffing agencies.

Tesla’s VP of People Valerie Capers Workman said in an email to employees Monday that when Mr. Diaz complained about harassment, the company ensured its staffing agencies took action.

“While we strongly believe that these facts don’t justify the verdict reached by the jury in San Francisco, we do recognize that in 2015 and 2016 we were not perfect,” she said in the note, which was republished on Tesla’s blog.

Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the verdict or any plans to appeal.

Among the three claims on which the trial centered are the following:

  • Tesla subjected Diaz to a racially hostile work environment;
  • The company failed to prevent him from being racially harassed; and
  • Tesla was negligent in its supervision or retention of an employee, causing harm to Diaz.

Tesla denied in a court filing that it was aware of the alleged discriminatory and harassing behavior and didn’t take action to protect Black employees. Kennedy urged the jury to find in Tesla’s favor on each of the claims.

However, the jury, after roughly four hours of deliberation, found in favor of Diaz on all claims and ordered Tesla to pay Diaz $6.9 million in compensatory damages and $130 million in punitive damages.

It is the second time in recent months that the electric-vehicle maker has been found liable in a case involving claims of race-based harassment or discrimination.

Another Black former Tesla worker, Melvin Berry, won a $1 million judgment in May after an arbitrator found that he was called racial slurs by his supervisors and subjected to other racial conduct in the Fremont factory. Tesla was obligated to investigate and stop the racial discrimination and failed to do so, the arbitrator said in her order.

Tesla said that any actions the company took weren’t racially based, according to the order.

Diaz, who was employed by a staffing agency, didn’t sign an arbitration agreement, allowing his case to proceed to trial. His attorneys said they believed this to be the first case involving alleged harassment or discrimination at Tesla to reach trial.

Tesla is facing similar claims in California state court, where former Tesla assembly worker Marcus Vaughn sued, alleging that Tesla created an intimidating, hostile and offensive work environment for Black workers. He and other plaintiffs are seeking class certification.

Tesla has denied the claims, court records show. In a blog post after Vaughn filed his lawsuit in 2017, Tesla said, “it is not humanly possible to stop all bad conduct, but we will do our best to make it as close to zero as possible.”

An investor proposal up for consideration at Tesla’s annual shareholder meeting Thursday calls on the board to oversee preparation of a report about how the company’s use of mandatory arbitration affects employees and corporate culture. Tesla’s board has urged investors to vote against the proposal. A similar measure failed last year.

Research contact: @WSJ

SeatGeek allows ticket holders to cancel for a credit at least 72 hours before a live event

October 5, 2021

The pandemic introduced a whole new level of uncertainty into planning a night out. But now, SeatGeek says it will offer a credit for any ticket returned at least 72 hours before the event, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The live-event ticketing platform SeatGeek—founded in 2007 and based in New York City—has begun giving buyers the option to return their ticketsfor any reason—and get a credit toward another event.

Its new feature, called SeatGeek Swaps, gives buyers who return their tickets at least 72 hours before any event a promotional credit equal to the purchase price and any fees paid.

SeatGeek told the Journal that it is offering the alternative just  as the pandemic has pushed all manner of purchases—not just tickets—online, and introduced new uncertainty into planning nights out.

“When you look at how people use their phones, and what they expect of the product, people expect more flexibility and expect things to be on-demand, expect to not be locked into something for the long term,” said Jack Groetzinger, a co-founder and the chief executive of SeatGeek.

The new feature could have trickle-down effects across the ticketing and reselling industry, analysts said. Currently, many ticket sellers and marketplaces offer refunds only under specific circumstances, like canceled events, and sell ticket insurance that covers certain changes in plans.

Online sales of event tickets in the United States, including sales and resales, is expected to increase 4.7% between now and 2026 to $7.9 billion, according to IBISWorld, a research firm.

The ticket sales industry is crowded, with powers like Ticketmaster, a subsidiary of Live Nation Entertainment, facing off against rivals like SeatGeek, StubHubEventbrite, and Gametime.

Sellers on the platform receive payment for their tickets even if buyers return them, the company said. SeatGeek will put the returned tickets back up for sale. Ticket brokers and fans, who comprise the vast majority of sellers on the platform, have been automatically added to the swaps program.

But the swaps program might not work smoothly for all venues. SeatGeek is consulting with those that sell season tickets, for instance, to see how the feature could work for them, according to the company. The considerations of venues also differ from those of individuals—for example, venues need to make sure ticket holders show up to buy things like drinks and snacks.

SeatGeek decided to issue credits for returns instead of cash back to avoid potential fraud issues, company executives said. Credits also keep consumers and their money within SeatGeek.

A service like SeatGeek Swaps offers consumers greater freedom in their choices that other platforms don’t have and which may end up encouraging buyers to use SeatGeek over others, said Paul Hardart, director of the Entertainment, Media and Technology program at New York University’s Stern School of Business.

“For the customer, it gives them some optionality that they didn’t have before,” Hardart said. “A lot of that is perceived value, but it is real. You have that choice to get out of it and that might encourage people. Especially during COVID, a lot of people are hesitant to commit to anything too far in advance.”

Research contact: @WSJ

Macy’s sues to block Amazon from filching the billboard at its Herald Square flagship

October 4, 2021

In the heart of Manhattan, a battle is brewing between the traditional, bricks-and-mortar department store Macy’s and the e-commerce giant Amazon.

According to a report by The New York Times, the disagreement is over the high-visibility billboard next to Macy’s flagship store in Herald Square. For 60 years Macy’s has advertised itself on the 2,200-square-foot perch that wraps around the corner of the building, with its star logo prominent against a red background during the annual Thanksgiving Day parade that Macy’s organizes.

Now Macy’s has sued to block Amazon from getting that prime piece of advertising real estate.

Last week the retail chain filed a lawsuit in New York State Court against the billboard’s owner, Kaufman Realty, claiming that the negative impact of allowing a “direct competitor” to promote itself from a block that has long been associated with Macy’s “would be immeasurable.”

“The damages to Macy’s customer good will, image, reputation and brand should a prominent online retailer (especially Amazon) advertise on the billboard are impossible to calculate,” Macy’s said in the complaint.

Amazon and Kaufman did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

In the suit, which was reported earlier by Crain’s New York, Macy’s accused Kaufman of discussing the billboard with Amazon before its lease agreement with Macy’s expired in August. Terms set in 1963 prevent Kaufman from allowing a Macy’s competitor to advertise on the billboard, a prohibition that “runs with the land forever,” according to the complaint.

Macy’s said in a statement that it “continues to have rights relating to advertisements” at the location, adding that “we expect to realize the benefits of these rights and have asked the court to protect them.”

Research contact: @nytimes