Disney quietly dodged DeSantis’s oversight board, appointees now realize

March 31, 2023

The Disney World oversight board installed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) has accused its predecessor of passing an 11th-hour agreement in cahoots with the entertainment giant that takes away much of its administrative power over the Florida amusement park, reports The Washington Post.

In a bureaucratic coup, Disney and the previous board signed an agreement on February 8—the day before the Florida House passed the bill creating the oversight board. With that stealth move, Disney retained its power.

The new board, much to its chagrin, apparently discovered the agreement only recently.

“I’m surprised that they didn’t tell us about it as soon as we were appointed,” one of the board members, Brian Aungst Jr., told local station News 6 as the board held a meeting on Wednesday, March 29. “We had to find out about it late at night on a Friday night.”

The agreement forbids the new board from using Disney’s brand name or any of its trademarks, specifically citing “fanciful characters such as Mickey Mouse.” It also gives the company the right to prior review and comment when making changes to building exteriors.

Through a spokesperson, DeSantis pledged to review the agreement, suggesting certain “legal infirmities” could render it void.

DeSantis, an ascendant voice in the Republican Party and widely seen as a likely contender for the party’s 2024 presidential nomination, appointed a new oversight board after Disney criticized education legislation he had promoted that prohibited teachers from discussing gender and sexual orientation in early grades. Critics derided the policy as a homophobic and discriminatory “don’t say gay” bill. DeSantis signed it into law last year.

In apparent retaliation for the critique, DeSantis replaced the previous Disney-friendly oversight board known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District with a new board, the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, made up entirely of his own appointees, including religious and conservative activists. The board is responsible for approving infrastructure projects; as well as maintaining more mundane aspects of the park, such as trash collection and management of sewer systems. Disney would have been to some degree beholden to DeSantis’s board for its sign-off on major projects.

Describing the agreement as a subversion of the will of voters, Aungst said the board will “have to deal with it and correct it,” according to the Associated Press.

Ron Peri, another board member, said at the meeting that under the agreement, “this board loses, for practical purposes, the majority of its ability to do anything beyond maintain the roads and maintain basic infrastructure,” according to News 6.

Research contact: @washingtonpost

FDA approves over-the-counter sales of lifesaving opioid overdose treatment Narcan nasal spray

March 30, 2023

On Wednesday, March 29, the Food and Drug Administration approved sales without a prescription of the nasal spray Narcan to reverse opioid overdoses—a decision that promises to significantly expand access to the life-saving treatment, reports CNBC.

The FDA’s decision means people will be able to buy the 4 milligram nasal spray in supermarkets, convenience stores, gas stations, vending machines, and online. Emergent BioSolutions, the manufacturer, has said Narcan should be available without a prescription by late summer.

In a formal statement, FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf, noted that the agency is encouraging the company to make the nasal spray available as soon as possible at an affordable price.

Narcan reverses fatal overdoses by blocking the effect that opioids have on the nervous system. The nasal spray must be administered as soon as an overdose is suspected.

Two nasal spray devices typically come in a single package. The first dose should be administered in one nostril of the person suffering an overdose and then 911 should be called, according to the instructions. If the person is still unresponsive after two to three minutes, the second dose should be administered.

After the FDA’s decision, Walgreens said it will offer over-the-counter Narcan later this year in-store and online nationwide.

“Delivering access to this lifesaving medication that can reverse the effects of an overdose if administered in time is imperative and Walgreens is already working with suppliers to bring this OTC medication to shelves,” said Zoe Krey, a Walgreens spokesperson.

The FDA said in November that it was considering approving naloxone products, the generic name for medications that reverse opioid overdoses, for use without a prescription. The push to make naloxone easier to access is part of the agency’s efforts to fight the opioid crisis.

More than 564,000 people died from opioid overdoses between 1999 and 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The first wave of the epidemic began in the 1990s with prescription opioids, followed by an increase in deaths from heroin starting in 2010.

Deaths from synthetic opioids such as fentanyl have increased significantly since 2013. More than 71,000 people died from synthetic opioids in 2021—an 18% increase over the year prior, according to CDC estimates.

Research contact: @CNBC

Las Vegas Sands plans $4B casino development on Long Island, New York

March 29, 2023

The Las Vegas Sands, a Paradise, Nevada-based casino and resort company, announced plans to develop a multi-billion-dollar flagship hospitality, entertainment and casino project on Long Island, New York, reports Hotel Dive.

The transaction, which still requires certain approvals, would grant the resort company control of up to 80 acres in Nassau County, New York. The $4 billion Long Island development would include outdoor community spaces, four- and five-star hotel rooms, a live performance venue, convention space and a casino, Newsday first reported.

Other features of the planned site, which is currently home to the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, will comprise:

  • Restaurants,
  • Ballrooms,
  • A day spa,
  • A swimming pool, and
  • A health club.

And the perks won’t be just for guests: The Las Vegas Sands plans to partner with trade schools, community colleges, and local universities to offer a wide range of training programs and professional advancement opportunities for laborers on the project.

Robert Goldstein, the company’s chairman and CEO, expects the project to generate thousands of union jobs in both construction and operations. He added that the development will use “cutting-edge sustainable building and operating practices” and will seek guidance from Long Island’s environmental leaders on “its ambition to achieve LEED certification and its goal of being the greenest building on Long Island,” according to a press release.

The company brought in former New York Governor David A. Paterson in 2019 to assist with the development timeline, reported The Nevada Independent. He recently spoke in December at the joint meeting of the Nassau Council of Chambers of Commerce and the Suffolk County Alliance of Chambers to present the plan for the Long Island site, according to World Casino News.

“[Las Vegas Sands’ track record] gives us a unique perspective on what it takes to develop transformative tourism destinations that positively impact the local community,” said Goldstein. “Based on that experience, we strongly believe Long Island can be home to one of the region’s great entertainment and hospitality developments.”

Research contact: @HotelDive

The FTC is readying a crackdown on online therapy provider BetterHelp

March 28, 2023

The Federal Trade Commission is making moves to bar the controversial online therapy company, BetterHelp, from sharing private mental health information with advertisers, reports Futurism.

In a new filing, the FTC has announced that it is moving to ban BetterHelp, a subsidiary of the telehealth company Teladoc, from sharing consumers’ mental health information with Big Tech companies like Facebook and Snapchat “after promising to keep such data private.”

“The proposed order also requires the company to pay $7.8 million to consumers to settle charges that it revealed consumers’ sensitive data with third parties,” the filing reads.

In a tweet thread explaining the move, FTC Chair Lina Khan said that the settlement “will be returned to the victims of BetterHelp’s deceptive practices”—a bold statement regarding the use of information by the company that made a cool billion dollars last year for its online therapy app.

“When a person struggling with mental health issues reaches out for help, they do so in a moment of vulnerability and with an expectation that professional counseling services will protect their privacy,” Samuel Levine, the director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in the agency’s statement about the order. “Instead, BetterHelp betrayed consumers’ most personal health information for profit.”

In recent years, BetterHelp and competitors like Talkspace have come under scrutiny from the psychiatric community due to their opaque professionalism standards, which make it hard to tell whether the mental health professionals that people are connected to through the service are actually qualified.

Last year, a jarring example of this concern came to light when a gay BetterHelp patient said that he was linked with a homophobic Christian therapist who told him his sexuality was wrong—a debacle that, unsurprisingly, left the man traumatized.

With this new FTC bombshell, companies like BetterHelp now have even more to answer for and, as Levine said in the statement, the order will, if approved, “be a stout reminder that the FTC will prioritize defending Americans’ sensitive data from illegal exploitation.”

Research contact: @futurism

Yankees remain highest-valued MLB franchise as league average revenue hits all-time high

March 27, 2023

Major League Baseball teams remain very valuable—none more so than the New York Yankees, reports Fox Business.

The Yankees remain atop the league as the most valuable franchise at $7.1 billion, an 18% increase from last year, according to Forbes’ latest list. Forbes has been tracking MLB franchise values since 1998, and the Yankees have never relinquished their spot at the top.

The Los Angeles Dodgers rank second in value at $4.8 billion, also an 18% increase from last year.

The Yankees are a big-market team. And New York Mets owner Steve Cohen is the richest owner in the sport. But the Yankees remain a global brand.

The Yankees, owned by the Steinbrenner family, have an operating income estimated at $16.3 million, according to Forbes.

The Mets’ $2.9 billion valuation at No. 6 is due to a $138.5 million operating loss. Cohen is going for it all with the highest payroll in MLB at a record of over $304 million, according to Spotrac. By comparison, the Yankees have a projected $268 million payroll for 2023.

But, according to Fox Busines, the Yankees are not the only franchise to be thriving at the moment. MLB teams saw a 12% spike in average value to $2.32 billion this year. League revenue also increased to an all-time high of $10.3 billion, a 7.8% increase from the previous year.

Last season marked the first year in a couple of seasons that all 30 MLB clubs didn’t have seating restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which helped teams no matter the market. Ticket revenue jumped 64% to $2.4 billion, which includes postseason and spring training sales. Average operating income was down 20%, though, from 2021 ($17.7 million), while costs for players rose 13%.

The recent bankruptcy filing by Diamond Sports Group, which owns local media rights to 14 different teams, did have an impact on some valuations.

By contrast, teams like the Yankees, who have their own regional sports network, YES Network, do well because of the market and fandom. YES generates around $400 million in operating income, per Forbes.

Behind the Yankees and Dodgers, rounding out the top five, are the Boston Red Sox ($4.5 billion, 15%), Chicago Cubs ($4.1 billion, 8%) and San Francisco Giants ($3.7 billion, 6%). 

At the bottom of the list was the Miami Marlins, estimated to be worth $1 billion under owner Bruce Sherman. The Oakland Athletics franchise, long in flux looking to potentially relocate, is just above the Marlins at $1.18 billion.

Research contact: @FoxBusiness

Epic Gardening’s epic quest to win the booming grow-your-own and homesteading movements

March 24, 2023

Kevin Espiritu’s first foray into growing his own food was hardly an auspicious one. This was back in 2013—just after the Epic Gardening founder and CEO had graduated from the University of California at Santa Barbara.

Espiritu was kicking around at home in San Diego when his mom suggested that he and his younger brother find a bonding activity for the summer. Although they knew nothing about gardening, they decided to give and go and “hit the nursery together,” Espiritu recalls. And with that casual choice, he found his purpose, reports Fast Company.

“I went full nerd,” he says. “I got like a five-gallon bucket and tried to grow hydroponic cucumbers—so no soil, pro lights, and stuff. They were really, really bad. My brother said he almost threw up when he ate them. But for me, it kind of hooked me because of the science-y angle to it. That’s when I decided, hey, I’ll register the [Epic Gardening] domain and kind of journal about it.” (His brother, he said, watched in delight as his bucketful of basil exploded into a giant bush.)

A decade later, Espiritu is hardly winging it anymore. What started as a hobbyist blog that chronicled Espiritu’s coming-of-age as a green thumb has morphed into a direct-to-consumer gardening empire with original content on YouTube, TikTok, and other social media platforms; podcasts; and a line of products—from root pouch fabric pots to raised garden beds—available to buy online.

Last year Epic Gardening, which has an online audience of about 6 million, acquired the seed packet company, Botanical Interests, opening up a distribution pipeline to 4,500 stores around the country. This boost helped Epic Gardening generate $27 million in revenue last year. (Ironically, the cucumber seeds from that forgettable first experiment were from a Botanical Interests packet.)

Espiritu understands that he’s tapped into the culture’s back to the basics movement that has caused an uptick in home chicken coops and homemade bread, particularly amongst sustainably-minded young people. The trend was already underway before the pandemic, but went into overdrive once people were in lockdown mode.

“COVID was crazy,” Espiritu says. “The lockdown was announced on the 10th of March, and on March 11th I woke up and the main Epic Gardening YouTube channel was at like 220,000 views and we were getting 15,000 new subscribers a day.” He acknowledges that “partly it was because we’re named Epic Gardening, so if someone types in ‘gardening,’ we’re just there.”

But Espiritu’s relatable, I’m-just-a-regular-guy tone—accentuated by his uniform of a hoodie, baseball cap, and thin layer of stubble—has clearly struck a vibe with viewers. In a video about what mistakes to avoid when creating a raised bed garden, he says, “I kind of grew up just like a SoCal skater rat kid,” so “I’ve made just about all the mistakes I’m going to show you. And so I know the pain of them, so that gives me the experience to say, really avoid them.”

Yet his videos are hardly glib, clickbait clips. A recent one about starting a chicken coop (“Raising Chickens: Everything You Need to Know!”) runs more than 20 minutes long; and delves into everything from space requirements to different hen breeds and which are suited for warmer or colder climates. A video about how to grow ginger in a container gets into such nerdy details as what ginger roots are technically called (rhizomes) and how photosynthesis affects faster growth. The video has racked up over 10 million views.

With a $17.5 million investment from the Chernin Group behind it (that deal closed in late 2021), Epic Gardening is attempting to expand as steadily as well-fertilized bougainvillea. In addition to online articles, there are now two podcasts and four YouTube channels—including one devoted to regenerative gardening; and one built around Espiritu’s former assistant Jacques, who delves into farm-to-table cooking and sustainable practices. Espiritu’s started the Epic Homesteading channel two years ago when he bought a new house.

Unsurprisingly, Espiritu has talked to production companies about a TV show but says, “It would have to be really juicy, because we have no creative limits on us now.” Instead, he says, “I think a lot of what’s on the focus at least in the next year or so is looking at the industry and saying, ‘Okay, what awesome products could we develop and distribute through our network?”

Research contact: @FastCompany

U.K. billionaire bidding for Manchester United plots a U.S. expansion

March 23, 2023

U. K. billionaire Jim Ratcliffe has built one of the world’s most unconventional conglomerates—a sprawling collection of assets that includes a global chemicals business, and baubles like a centuries-old London pub and a luxury British fashion brand.


Now the 70-year-old tycoon—who was knighted in his home country but isn’t as well known outside of Europe—is making a deeper push into the U.S. market, reports The Wall Street Journal.


Ratcliffe, majority owner of the privately held London-based chemicals giant Ineos, this year plans to launch a sport-utility vehicle in America called the Grenadier, named after the historic pub he owns, where he and his partners hashed out the design over beers.


What’s more, last month, he made a push into the Texas oil patch, launching a $1.4 billion play on fracking at a moment when the business is under growing pressure.


Meanwhile he is in a multibillion-dollar bidding war for Manchester Unitedarguably the U.K.’s most storied soccer club and the team Ratcliffe rooted for as a boy.


“The grand plan—I mean, there isn’t one,” Ratcliffe said in a recent interview by phone from Monaco, the tax-free principality that is his primary residence.


Ratcliffe’s holdings are now spread across 25 core businesses with combined sales of roughly $65 billion in 2021, the most recent year made public—an empire built primarily through deal-making. Ineos has made more than 80 acquisitions in 25 years. 


With most of the deals, Ratcliffe told the Journal, he identified gaps in the market that he thought he could fill. That includes his continued interest in the U.S. energy market. “Oil and gas is in turmoil,” he said. “What that does is create opportunities.”


The bid for Manchester United is an exception. “Our interest in that club would be purely in winning things,”Ratcliffe said. He described Manchester United as a “community asset” rather than a financial one. 


Ratcliffe declined to discuss financial details of his bid, in which he is competing against a Qatari sheikh. Many speculate the final price will top the $5.3 billion paid for Chelsea last year—the highest amount ever for a sports team.


“How do you decide the price of a painting? How do you decide the price of a house? It’s not related to how much it cost to build or how much it cost to paint,” Mr. Ratcliffe said. “What you don’t want to do is pay stupid prices for things because then you regret it subsequently.”


Ratcliffe, who has made expeditions to the North and South Poles, is accustomed to taking chances that others won’t and seeing value in assets others don’t want.


“Jim likes counterintuitive things,” says Ineos director Tom Crotty, a 22-year veteran of the company.


Though a billionaire many times over, Mr. Ratcliffe could struggle to match the deeper pockets of Sheikh Jassim Bin Hamad Al Thani, the chairman of the Qatar Islamic Bank, in a bidding contest for the club.


In a career of calculated investment decisions, this pursuit has a twist. “That in a sense goes without saying, because sport is emotional,” Ratcliffe said.


Research contact: @WSJ

Job listings abound—but many are fake

March 22, 2023

A mystery permeates the job market: You apply for a job and hear nothing—but the ad stays online for months. If you inquire, the company tells you it isn’t really hiring, reports The Wall Street Journal.

Not all job listings are attached to actual jobs, it turns out, the Journal says. The labor market remains robust, with 10.8 million job openings in January, according to the Labor Department. At the same time, companies are feeling budgetary strains—and some are pulling back on hiring.

Although businesses are keeping job postings up, many roles aren’t being filled, recruiters say.

Hiring managers acknowledge as much. In a survey of more than 1,000 hiring managers last summer, 27% reported having job postings up for more than four months. Among those who said they advertised job postings that they weren’t actively trying to fill, close to half said they kept the ads up to give the impression the company was growing, according to Clarify Capital, a small-business-loan provider behind the study.

One-third of the managers who said they advertised jobs they weren’t trying to fill said they kept the listings up to placate overworked employees.Other reasons for keeping jobs up, the hiring managers said: Stocking a pool of ready applicants if an employee quits, or just in case an “irresistible” candidate applied.

Postings for “ghost jobs,” as recruiters and candidates sometimes refer to them, can be frustrating for job seekers.

“It’s a waste of time,” says Will Kelly, who lives in the Washington, D.C., area and has been applying for marketing and writing roles. Kelly, who has decades of experience as a technical and marketing writer, estimates that when he was job hunting in late 2021, about 20% of listings that interested him were posted and reposted without anyone evidently being hired. Since his layoff from a startup in August, he says he has noticed that most jobs that catch his eye have been up for months.

“I first thought of it as an anomaly, and now I see it as a trend,” he says.

Given the uncertain economic outlook, some job ads may be more wishful thinking than anything else, says Vincent Babcock, a Nashville-based recruiter. Such a strategy, he says, risks turning off applicants who may view the ads as misleading.

“They’re posting jobs with the intention of hiring, but not anytime soon,” he says, adding that some companies posting jobs now might not be aiming to hire until the third or fourth quarter.

For employers, constantly looking for talent can make sense, says Kelsey Libert, co-founder of Fractl, a digital marketing agency. She says her company keeps ads up for associate positions even when they aren’t hiring, because turnover for those jobs is often higher than other roles.

“Otherwise, you’re suddenly in a position where you need to spend a lot of money on LinkedIn ads to quickly drum up interest,” she says.

An employer that hasn’t been collecting résumés along the way might have fewer people to choose from when jobs open and need to be filled quickly, Libert adds. Many college seniors look for jobs from April to June, she says, noting that companies don’t want to miss out on that talent just because they didn’t have immediate roles open.

“It’s better for you to hedge by leaving some of those job openings up,” she says.

Research contact: @WSJ

Ticketmaster refunds fans after The Cure’s Robert Smith ‘sickened’ by pricing debacle

Maarch 21, 2023

The Cure’s lead vocalist Robert Smith is fighting back against Ticketmaster and its excessively high concert fees, reports Fox Business.

After Ticketmaster received much criticism for the hefty price tag on their concert fees, Smith took to Twitter to share an update with his fans and expressed his resentment towards the company.

“I am as sickened as you all are by today’s Ticketmaster ‘fees’ debacle. To be very clear: the artist has no way to limit them. I have been asking how they are justified. If I get anything coherent by way of an answer, I will let you all know. X,” Smith said in a tweet on Wednesday, March 15.

The British rock band’s comments come on the heels of outspoken fans addressing their concerns about high fees on low ticket prices for The Cure’s North American tour.

Fans broke down the cost on social media and shared screenshots of their ticket transaction. What was supposed to be a $20 band ticket resulted to nearly double the price with unfamiliar fees—including service fee, facility charge, and order processing fee.

“So @thecure and @RobertSmith wanted to keep ticket prices at a reasonable level for fans on their upcoming North American tour dates. Of course @Ticketmaster absolutely rinsed them with ridiculous extra charges …” a fan tweeted. “wtf even is a service fee or a facility charge or processing fee??”

The 63-year-old singer revealed his decision to work with Ticketmaster was to avoid ticket scalpers. Smith announced that he teamed up with Ticketmaster to reduce concert costs and promises fans a partial refund.

“1 of 2: After further conversation, Ticketmaster have agreed with us that many of the fees being charged are unduly high, and as a gesture of goodwill have offered a $10 per ticket refund to all verified fan accounts for lowest ticket price (‘ltp’) transactions…” he said in a tweet on Thursday.

“2 of 2: … And a $5 per ticket refund to all verified fan accounts for all other ticket price transactions, for all Cure shows at all venues; if you already bought a ticket you will get an automatic refund; all tickets on sale tomorrow will incur lower fees.”

The following day, the “Lullaby” singer continued to explain to fans the issues they may have faced when purchasing The Cure concert tickets.

“1 of 2: This morning 6 shows were prematurely activated for face value exchange prior to face value price restrictions being put in place. The problem was immediately corrected. However, about 900 tickets were purchased above face value…” Smith pointed out.

“2 of 2: All of these buyers are in the process of being contacted and will be automatically refunded to face value,” he assured. 

Ticketmaster additionally updated fans about the refund and stated they’ve been working with The Cure to resolve the high ticket costs.

“This was on our radar early this morning and has already been resolved—refunds are in progress to fans for any costs over original ticket price. We stand with the band on their decision to use a Face Value Exchange and it will be enforced on our marketplace,” Ticketmaster wrote on their Twitter.

The Cure is slated to start their tour on May 10 in New Orleans and end on July 1 in Miami.

Research contact: @FoxBusiness

HelloFresh to stop buying coconut milk from Thailand amid claims of monkey labor

March 20, 2023

HelloFresh, the Berlin, Germany-based meal kit company, has announced that it will stop using coconut milk from Thailand later this year, after allegations by the animal rights advocacy group PETA of the use of forced monkey labor in the coconut industry there, reports The New York Times.

Abby Dreher, a spokeswoman for HelloFresh, confirmed that “out of an abundance of caution” the company had decided not to buy coconut milk from Thailand starting later this year. The decision was made in December and was made public last week.

Walmart, Costco and other large American retailers have halted sales of Chaokoh coconut milk, a Thai brand; but HelloFresh has pledged to stop using coconut milk from Thailand entirely.

The announcement,  reported earlier by Axios, comes after People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals published a report last November claiming monkeys were being abused at dozens of coconut retrieval operations that it said its investigators had visited in nine provinces in Thailand. PETA has long claimed that monkeys in Thailand are forced to climb tall trees for hours and to pick coconuts that will be used to make products such as coconut milk, flour, and oil.

PETA also claims that young monkeys are taken from their families to support the harvest. Abducting a wild animal is illegal in Thailand. The Thai government did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

In the report, PETA said that two of HelloFresh’s suppliers in Thailand relied on the labor of exploited monkeys. The New York Times was unable to confirm details of the PETA investigations independently.

“We have been in an ongoing dialogue with PETA ever since and continue to remind our suppliers, from whom we received written confirmation that they were not using monkey labor in their supply chain, of our high standards,” Dreher said. “Under no circumstances do we tolerate any form of animal abuse in our supply chain.”

In an email to PETA that was obtained by The New York Times, HelloFresh confirmed last month that it would stop buying Thai coconut milk by the summer of 2023 and would seek new suppliers based outside of Thailand.

In a study published in 2021 in the Journal of Applied Animal Behavior Science, researchers interviewed 89 coconut farmers working in three provinces in Thailand. They found that the macaque monkeys worked every day of the week and “typically climbed more than 50 coconut trees” to harvest between 500 and 1,000 coconuts each day.

The Thai embassy told Axios last week that “both the Thai government and the industry are making sure that coconut milk exported from Thailand is not obtained from the use of monkey labor.”

In a government document from last August, the embassy said it was establishing a program, called “Monkey Free Plus,” that would “not only certify coconut plantations on food safety system but also assure that monkeys are not used for harvesting.” The embassy also said it was “promoting hybrid dwarf coconut trees for new planting,” whose short trunks meant that harvesting coconuts would “no longer require monkey labor.”

Research contact: @nytimes