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Elon Musk's AI ambitions for Twitter show that some of the people calling for the tech to 'pause' seem to be acting out of their own self-interest

Tue, 04/11/2023 - 6:31pm
Elon Musk recently called for a 'pause' to AI development while society considered the ramifications. But Insider reports that Twitter, owned by Musk, is spending millions to get in on the generative AI boom.
  • Elon Musk-owned Twitter purchased 10,000 GPUs, apparently to get into the generative AI boom.
  • This move goes against Musk's open-letter plea for companies to slow down AI development.
  • It also backs up Reid Hoffman's claim that some like Musk wanted the pause so they could catch up.

It looks like LinkedIn cofounder Reid Hoffman was right: some execs want to pause AI development out of their own self-interest

Take Elon Musk as "Exhibit A." 

Insider reported Tuesday that Twitter, which is owned by Musk, recently purchased 10,000 graphics processing units (GPUs) in an apparent bid to get in on the generative AI boom.

While it's not clear what Twitter will use the GPUs for, it was reported in February that Musk is looking to create an AI chatbot that will rival OpenAI's ChatGPT. That would dovetail nicely with Musk's stated ambitions to build Twitter into an "everything app." And Twitter has recently attracted researchers away from Google's famed DeepMind AI lab.

Still, the investment in GPUs seems to run counter to what Musk preached in March, when he signed an open letter asking for a pause on AI development to give society a chance to consider the ramifications of large language models like OpenAI's GPT-4. 

That letter, which was signed by Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak and over a thousand other industry figures, was met with criticism. Some tech elites, including Bill Gates and Meta CEO Andrew Bosworth, decried the notion of a pause as "unrealistic." 

Hoffman, for his part, told CNBC last week that the letter was an attempt by some parties involved to get industry leaders like OpenAI to "slow down" so they "can speed up." As Musk's one-time business partner, he also said that the Twitter owner's high-profile participation in the letter was a strategic move.

And Twitter's purchase of those GPUs would definitely reflect an acceleration in AI investment. For context, those GPUs likely cost Twitter millions of dollars. And in 2020, Microsoft told the world that it built a supercomputer encompassing 10,000 GPUs — the same amount that Twitter just bought — exclusively for OpenAI's use.

The move comes as Musk has grown critical of OpenAI, attacking its level of transparency and calling it a "ruthless corporate monopoly." He's got history with the company: Musk cofounded OpenAI, started as a nonprofit AI research lab, with Sam Altman, Hoffman, and Peter Thiel in 2015. He left the company in 2018, citing a conflict of interest as his flagship company, Tesla got more into AI.

In December, a few months after taking full ownership of Twitter, Musk went so far as to tweet about how he cut OpenAI's access to Twitter, which was used to train OpenAI's language models. 

For someone who says he wants to pause AI development, Musk seems to be doing the very opposite of that. It's looking more like his plea to slow down AI to protect humanity was at least partially a business move intended to make OpenAI take a step back while he took a step forward.

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NATO's newest member means Russia's 'unsinkable aircraft carrier' will be even more isolated

Tue, 04/11/2023 - 5:49pm
Russian warships at anchor before a Navy Day parade in Baltiysk in the Kaliningrad region in July 2022.
  • Finland's admission to NATO greatly extends the alliance's land border with Russia.
  • Finland also extends NATO's border along the Baltic Sea, which has been called a "NATO lake."
  • That further isolates Russia's Kaliningrad region, which is surrounded by NATO member countries.

On April 4, Finland officially joined NATO, becoming the alliance's 31st member.

The addition of Finland extends NATO's land border with Russia from 754 miles to 1584 miles, moves alliance territory closer to major Russian cities and military bases, and further isolates Kaliningrad, an important Russian exclave on the Baltic Sea.

Covering an area of twice the size of Rhode Island, Kaliningrad lies between Poland and Lithuania and is home to the port of Baltiysk, Russia's only Baltic port that does not freeze during the winter.

Kaliningrad also borders the Suwalki Gap, a critical 60-mile corridor that connects Poland to the Baltic countries. The Suwalki Gap is widely considered a vulnerability for NATO and is likely to be targeted early in a conflict with Russia.

Kaliningrad is a major military outpost, hosting Russia's Baltic Fleet and other forces, and has been called an "unsinkable aircraft carrier" that allows Moscow to project power deep into NATO and EU territory.

An asset and a vulnerabilityRussian President Vladimir Putin at Navy Day celebrations in Baltiysk in Kaliningrad in July 2015.

In recent years, Russia has modernized and increased its forces in Kaliningrad. The region was further reinforced before Russian's invasion of Ukraine, with the brigade defending it upgraded to a division in 2020. However, some Baltic Fleet units were redeployed to Ukraine where they have reportedly suffered very high casualties.

Russia's Baltic Fleet is based in Baltiysk and is composed of warships — mostly corvettes and a number of support ships — infantry and armored units, and aviation and air-defense forces. Russia also stores tactical nuclear weapons in Kaliningrad and has conducted tactical and conventional missile strike exercises from the region.

"One can argue that Kaliningrad is sort of a fortress sitting on the Baltic, with lots of cruise missiles and other weaponry, so it remains threatening," Steven Wills, a researcher with the Center for Naval Analyses, said on a recent episode of the CNA Talks podcast.

Although Kaliningrad's strategically valuable location means that Russian forces there can threaten neighboring NATO countries, the region is also a vulnerability for Russia, Dmitry Gorenburg, also a researcher with the Center for Naval Analyses, said during the podcast.

A sign on Russian territory next to a Lithuanian border fence near Zerdziny, Poland on western edge of the Suwalki Gap in October 2022.

Kaliningrad is surrounded by NATO members, making it easier to cut it off from mainland Russia in a conflict. To the north are Lithuania and its Baltic neighbors, which have small militaries and would likely be focused on defensive operations in a war with Russia, but Poland to the south has one of the alliance's strongest militaries.

St. Petersburg, one of Russia's most important port cities, is connected to the Baltic Sea through the Gulf of Finland, a narrow waterway bordered to the north by Finland and to the south by Estonia.

With the admission of Finland, which has considerable military assets, the gulf would become a chokepoint in a conflict, limiting Russian maritime transit and complicating efforts to resupply or reinforce Kaliningrad by sea.

The possible addition of Sweden to NATO would further isolate Kaliningrad and bolster perceptions of the Baltic Sea as what has been called a "NATO lake."

The addition of Sweden and Finland would create dilemmas "that Russia does not have right now as they sail forth from St. Petersburg and Kaliningrad, so it will be advantageous" to NATO, US Army Gen. Christopher Cavoli, the alliance's Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, told US lawmakers last year.

A girl rides a scooter over the Pregolya River in Kaliningrad in June 2022.

NATO's control over the Danish Straits — which connect the Baltic to the Atlantic and are bordered by Denmark, Sweden, and Norway — would allow the alliance to further limit the movements of Russia's Baltic Sea Fleet.

"You end up in a situation where the Russian Baltic Fleet can potentially be bottled up quite easily, in much the same way that the Russian Black Sea Fleet has been bottled up by the closure of the Bosphorus" following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Gorenburg said on the podcast.

NATO control over the Baltic would also make it much harder for Russia's powerful Northern Fleet, which is based on the Kola Peninsula in the Arctic, to sail through to Kaliningrad's aid, though the Northern Fleet has long-range aircraft and missiles with which it could strike at NATO forces.

Russia and NATO are well aware of Kaliningrad's vulnerability, and both sides are thinking about the exclave as "being sort of like the Alamo, a bit more vulnerable than maybe the impregnable fort on the Baltic that some have discussed," Wills said.

Constantine Atlamazoglou works on transatlantic and European security. He holds a master's degree in security studies and European affairs from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. You can contact him on LinkedIn.

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Russian jamming may have hamstrung a US-made bomb kit being used in Ukraine, leaked documents say

Tue, 04/11/2023 - 5:20pm
Airmen from the 378th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron Munitions Flight build Joint Direct Attack Munitions at Prince Sultan Air Base, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Sept. 22, 2020.
  • Leaked Pentagon documents highlighted concerns about the Joint Direct Attack Munition weapon. 
  • The American-made bomb kit used by Ukraine may have been hamstrung by Russian jammers.
  • US intel recommended neutralizing the jammers as best as possible before JDAM-ERs are used. 

A US-made bomb kit that has been used by Ukraine's military may have been hindered by Russian signal jamming, leaked Pentagon documents reveal. 

Highly sensitive US intelligence documents recently circulated around the internet and on various social media platforms and are now at the center of a major federal investigation. Dozens of these secret documents contain detailed information about the ongoing war in Ukraine, including each side's combat capabilities and battlefield updates. 

One document in particular highlights concerns about US-made bomb kits which have been sent to Ukraine in recent months. The document is titled "Why are JDAM-ERs Failing? BDA From Recent Strike?" and has markings that show it is secret in nature and not to be revealed to any foreign governments. 

JDAM-ER refers to an extended-range variation of the Joint Direct Attack Munition, which is a kit that converts existing unguided bombs into precision-guided munitions. A new tail section, which includes an inertial navigational system (INS) and a global positioning system (GPS), is added to the bomb to make it more accurate in any weather condition. This air-to-surface weapon navigates to its target autonomously once it's released from an aircraft. 

A dozen 2,000-pound Joint Direct Attack Munitions sit inside a warehouse at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, on Dec. 17, 2015.

One JDAM kit costs just over $24,000 and are used for bombs weighing between 500 and 2,000 pounds, according to a US Navy fact sheet. The range is 15 miles, though that jumps to 45 miles with the extended variant. 

The leaked intelligence document on the JDAMs reviews several issues that this weapon has faced on the battlefield in Ukraine and outlines two factors potentially explaining why there have been "duds and/or misses." One factor is the bomb fuses aren't arming at their release, which Ukraine's air force has worked to fix. 

The other factor, according to the document, is that suspected Russian GPS jamming has gotten in the way of JDAM-ER operations and has caused some misses, which it says has happened before with Ukraine's guided multiple launch rockets (GMLRS).

"However, the Director of the Joint Navigation Warfare Center (JNWC) stated based on their analysis, GPS jamming should not have affected the JDAM-ER strikes based on target location compared to active Russian jammers, but other factors may have prevented the JDAM-ER from acquiring GPS signal," the Pentagon document notes. 

US Air Force weapons load crew members, assigned to the 379th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, attach a GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munition onto a heavy stores adapter beam on the wing of a US Air Force B-52H Stratofortress aircraft at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, May 6, 2021.

At the time of the document's publication — which, for many of the documents that were leaked, is late February or early March — Ukraine's air force had dropped at least nine JDAM-ER bombs against Russian targets, but four of them appear to have missed due to Russian jamming. The confidence in this particular assessment was medium to high. The document recommended neutralizing the jammers as before JDAM-ERs are used for best results. 

Insider was not able to independently verify the contents of the document. Neither the Pentagon, nor Ukraine's embassy in Washington DC, immediately responded to Insider's request for comment on the findings outlined.

The leaked US intelligence about the JDAM-ER is part of a trove of documents that were posted online in recent weeks and contain highly sensitive and classified military information about US allies, like Israel and South Korea, and its adversaries, like Russia, Iran, and China. Experts have described the leaks as one of the most significant intelligence breaches in decades.  

But the documents also contain a significant amount of information about Russia's ongoing war in Ukraine, including detailed casualty estimates and force attrition rates for both sides, as well as intelligence about Ukraine's combat readiness, battlefield preparations, weapons, stockpiles, maps, and more. 

Fighter jet of the Ukrainian Air Forces shoots off flares over Bakhmut, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine on October 28, 2022.

The Pentagon documents first became public last week and circulated through social media platforms like Discord, Twitter, and Telegram. Because the military information included in the documents is, in many cases, top secret, it has triggered widespread alarm, anger, and criticism in Washington and its partner countries. 

A Pentagon official shared a statement with Insider explaining that the Department of Justice has opened a criminal investigation into the leaks and that there is an interagency effort focusing on the potential affect that the documents may have on US national security and that of its allies. 

When asked during a press conference on Monday if the leak was contained and whether or not it's an ongoing threat, White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby responded: "We don't know. We truly don't know." 

Chris Meagher, the assistant to the secretary of defense for public affairs, told reporters on Monday that the Secretary and Department of Defense and the larger United States government "take this apparent unauthorized disclosure extremely seriously and this is a top priority for us."

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Kellyanne Conway said Democrats could turn the youth vote into a 'turnout machine,' warning the GOP shouldn't just 'wait for the young to get old'

Tue, 04/11/2023 - 5:01pm
Former White House senior counselor Kellyanne Conway.
  • Kellyanne Conway is worried Democrats are close to turning the youth vote into a "turnout machine."
  • The former Trump advisor told Fox News that the GOP needs to work to shift youth votes to the right.
  • Conway also emphasized that Republicans couldn't just "wait for the young to get old." 

Former Trump White House senior counselor Kellyanne is worried that Democrats could turn young people into a "turnout machine" that will hurt Republicans at the ballot box.

During a Monday segment of Fox News Channel's "The Ingraham Angle," host Laura Ingraham lambasted President Joe Biden over his efforts to recruit social media influencers to promote his policies, and she specifically mentioned the video app TikTok, which is highly popular among Gen Z voters but has been subject to widespread GOP criticism over what conservatives allege are its parent company's ties to the Chinese Communist Party.

But Conway said that Biden's move was a "smart strategy," while also arguing that the Democratic Party was getting too strong of a hold over young Americans and adding that Republicans needed to work harder to shift the youth vote to the right.

"The Republican Party cannot wait for the young to get old and the single to get married to find new voters," she said, while also claiming the the GOP had "already won the the policy arguments" on the economy and education, as well as several other issues.

"Maybe we've got work to do on the young people who think differently on abortion, perhaps, or guns or climate change, but even there, the Democrats' messages are usually cynical," she continued. "The thing I'm really concerned about with this ... is that the left becomes a turnout machine with young people."

Conway went on to explain how influencers can play a critical role when it comes to voting and engagement.

"Influencers have this domino effect, lemming-like effect, of people just all wanting to be part of the same crowd and if they succeed in that way, we're not doing a great job competing for ballots. We're just competing for votes," she told Ingraham.

"Our candidates lost the early voting miserably last time. Someone like Dr. Oz lost the early vote to John Fetterman by 4-1," she continued, remarking on last year's Pennsylvania Senate race. "We need to compete for ballots, not just voters and not just minds, and I think they're trying to do that with these influencers."

In the lead-up to the 2022 midterms, Republicans were expected to make major gains across in Congress, buoyed by dissatisfaction over the economy. But Democrats expanded their Senate majority and minimized losses in the House, boosted by the votes of Americans aged 18 to 29, who overwhelmingly backed the party's top candidates in critical states including Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

While many Republicans, led by former President Donald Trump, railed against early voting after the 2020 election, Democrats leaned into mail-in voting while also remaining focused on turning out supporters to cast early ballots.

Ingraham then stated that "it seems like the Republicans are always playing catch up" with early voting and she questioned Conway about whether the GOP would work to boost their early voting operation in 2024.

"The answer is 'yes,'" Conway replied. "Many of the voters on the Republican side have gotten mixed messages from some of the candidates themselves. They have sowed doubt about machines or don't like mail-in ballots or don't trust it."

The ex-White House advisor then railed against the some of the election-related measures that were put into place permanently after the coronavirus pandemic, a point that she previously made in January after criticizing how some states now offer over a month of early voting.

"If this is the new normal, let's get a little bit more normal," she said. "You cannot catch up on Election Day when there's been a month of early voting."

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Democrats choose Chicago, a target of years of GOP attacks about crime, for 2024 convention

Tue, 04/11/2023 - 5:00pm
Chicago police investigate the scene where an officer was shot in Chicago's Southwest Side on Wednesday, March 1, 2023.
  • With Chicago, Democrats chose a 2024 convention site that signals the significance of the Midwest.
  • But the city has also been at the center of Democrats' weakest spot with voters: crime.
  • The issue defined the last mayoral election, and Republicans have long used it against Dems.

With Chicago, Democrats chose a 2024 national convention site that signals the significance of the Midwest to the party, but also has been at the center of the party's dilemma on the issue of crime.

Crime was a defining issue of the city's latest mayoral election that upended the city's Democratic leadership. And Republicans have long hammered the city's crime rates to put Democrats on the defensive. 

Shortly after Democrats announced the location, House Republicans' campaign arm fired off a statement with the city's most recent violent crime statistics, mocking the city as "crime-infested."

"What's the bigger concern: sirens drowning out nominating speeches or what items attendees must leave at home to make room for their bulletproof vest in their suitcase?" said Will Reinert, spokesperson for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Chicago wins out

Democrats' choice of Chicago over two other contenders — Atlanta and New York — acknowledges the Midwest's role in President Joe Biden's 2020 presidential victory over then-President Donald Trump. The city's bid was supported by a wide range of midwestern Democratic leaders.

The convention scheduled for August 19 to 22 will be held at the United Center, the largest arena in the United States. Up to 50,000 visitors to the city are expected for the convention.

"Chicago is a vibrant, metropolitan city with neighborhoods that reflect the diversity of America," said Natalie Edelstein, a spokesperson for the city's convention bid. "Not only have we hosted every president since JFK, we also have a strong tradition of hosting large-scale events that safely welcome guests from around the world." 

But the crime rate has been a major concern for the city's voters. Murders, criminal sexual assaults, and aggravated batteries were down by the end of last year, but robberies, burglaries, thefts, and motor vehicle thefts were on the rise. The city's nearly 700 murders last year were the most for any city in the nation, according to one report, but a dozen other cities had higher homicide rates per 100,000.

The city's mayor, Democrat Lori Lightfoot, lost her bid for reelection in February amid crime concerns. Voters ultimately chose a progressive county board commissioner, Brandon Johnson, who embraced a holistic approach to crime prevention and public safety over his tough-on-crime runoff election opponent, Paul Vallas, a former public schools executive. Johnson takes office in May.

Chicagoans overwhelmingly support policies to address root causes of crime versus a tough-on-crime strategy, according to a survey by GQR and Vera Action on the eve of the election.

GOP immediately pivots to attacks on Dem's crime policies 

The NRCC used the announcement of the convention location to once again hit House Democrats for overwhelmingly opposing a GOP effort to strike down changes to the District of Columbia's criminal code that they considered more lenient. Democrats considered it an attack on DC's home rule, but the GOP effort ultimately succeeded.

A DNC spokesperson told Insider: "Every single Republican in Congress voted against funding in the American Rescue Plan that has provided support to local law enforcement, and MAGA House Republicans have proposed a budget that would cut funding for law enforcement and make our communities less safe. And just in the last week, Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis have called for defunding federal law enforcement."

Biden called Chicago a "great choice" in a statement. He called Gov. J.B. Pritzker to give him the news about Chicago's selection on Tuesday morning before leaving for Ireland, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Between 1832 and 2020, Chicago hosted 25 conventions — 11 Democratic and 14 Republican, according to the American Presidency Project at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

The 1968 Democratic 1968 convention led to violent clashes between police and protesters, but their more recent convention there in 1996 was considered to be successful.

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Amazon is starting to charge a fee for some returns amid a crisis that's costing retailers millions every year

Tue, 04/11/2023 - 4:58pm
  • Amazon has started charging a fee to return some products to UPS Stores. 
  • It appears to be part of a shift away from relying on UPS and an effort to cut costs. 
  • Amazon joins a growing list of retailers starting to charge customers to send products back. 

The next time you return something to Amazon, it may not be free. 

The e-commerce giant has started charging a fee for some returns made at UPS Stores. While customers used to be able to drop off their returns at a UPS Store free of charge, Amazon will now charge a $1 fee if customers have another free-return option the same distance away or closer.

Customers can still visit those other drop-off locations — including Whole Foods, Kohl's, and Amazon stores — and leave their packages for free.

"We always offer a free option for customers to return their item," Amazon spokesperson Steve Kelly told Insider by email. "If a customer would prefer to return their item at a UPS Store when there is a free option closer to their delivery address, a very small amount of customers may incur a $1 fee."

The company already charged customers to have UPS pick up returns from their homes or to drop off packages at UPS Access Points, which are located inside third-party businesses, The Information reported

The new fee appears to be part of a twofold effort to trim returns costs and discourage customers from using UPS. While Amazon used to outsource the bulk of its parcel delivery, it's built up its own delivery business over the past several years — in 2021, then-Amazon exec Dave Clark said Amazon was on track to become one of the world's largest carriers thanks to its fleet of cargo jets and delivery vans and web of fulfillment centers worldwide. 

In the process, Amazon has relied on UPS less and less. UPS earned 13.3% of its revenue from Amazon in 2020, but by 2022, that percentage dropped to 11.3%, according to a UPS securities filing. At the same time, UPS shifted its own focus toward smaller firms and more profitable deliveries

Retailers grapple with a flood of returns

Meanwhile, returns have become an expensive headache for retailers – between the logistics of getting consumers' unwanted products back to their warehouses and the labor involved in transporting, sorting, and repackaging those goods. And shoppers are returning more products than ever: customers sent back about $218 billion in merchandise they bought online in 2021, up from about $100 billion the year prior, according to data from the National Retail Federation

Retailers are losing millions of dollars every year processing all those returns, which has made several companies rethink the standard of free returns — a standard that, ironically, some experts attribute to Amazon. Now, with its new fee, Amazon joins the growing list of retailers starting to charge customers to ship their stuff back. 

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Russia's biggest airline reportedly sends first plane to Iran for repairs as sanctions cut off access to new replacement parts

Tue, 04/11/2023 - 4:47pm
Russia's biggest airline, Aeroflot, has reportedly sent one plane to Iran for maintenance by technicians at Mahan Air.
  • Russia's biggest airline reportedly sent a plane to Iran for the first time for maintenance.
  • Technicians from Iran's biggest carrier, Mahan Air, will reportedly repair the plane from Aeroflot.
  • Sanctions on Russia are making it difficult for the country to maintain and repair its fleet.

Russia's biggest airline, Aeroflot, has sent one if its planes to Iran for maintenance for the first time ever, Russian media outlet RBC reported.

An Airbus A330-300 was flown to Tehran last week, and will be repaired by technicians from Mahan Air, Iran's biggest carrier, according to RBC.

Sources told the Russian outlet that Aeroflot had for months been discussing sending aircraft to Iran for maintenance as Russia faces Western sanctions for its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine last February. Boeing and Airbus both stopped supplying Russian airlines with spare parts as part of the sanctions last spring. Aircraft lessors in the European Union were required to end contracts with Russian airlines last March.

Days after the invasion, 33 countries, including all EU countries, the US, and the UK, banned Russian flights from their airspace. 

Analysts predicted Russia could start "cannibalizing" its fleet of planes for parts as Western sanctions blocked suppliers from sending parts and providing repairs for Russian airplanes. Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law last March giving Russian airlines control over hundreds of planes built by Western companies and leased from international firms.

Neither Aeroflot nor Mahan Air immediately responded to Insider's request for comment outside of normal business hours.

According to Aeroflot, most of its fleet of 179 aircraft are Airbus A320, Boeing 737-800, and Boeing 777-300ER planes.

Sources also told RBC that Aeroflot has plans to send more A330 planes to Iran for repairs, but will decide if it will depending on how repairs on this first plane goes.

"Maintenance of the Airbus A330 aircraft [in Iran] will be performed by the provider on a wide range of works," an Aeroflot spokesperson told RBC. "The organization [Mahan Air] has the necessary material base, certificates and vast experience, the provider performs maintenance with a high level of quality."

Russia reportedly signed an agreement with Iran last July to supply Russian airlines with Iranian airplane parts, and for Iran to provide maintenance and repairs for Russian aircraft. The agreement also included increasing the amount of passenger flights between the countries to 35 per week.

"During the decades of economic blockade by the West, Iran has acquired extensive competencies in the repair of aircraft and their components, Oleg Panteleev, executive director of the Russian AviaPort industry agency, told RBC. "These factors are enough to develop partnership relations with Iran." 

However, Iran's aviation fleet has had its own challenges from Western sanctions that had been in place since the 1979 Iranian revolution, Asia Times reported. For decades, Iranian airlines had to smuggle airplane parts to keep their fleets updated, Reuters reported, and the country has had a record of having some of the most unsafe airlines in the world, per Asia Times.

Iran wasn't able to buy planes or parts until it signed the Iran nuclear deal in 2015, but the US pulled out of the deal in 2018, again curtailing Iran's ability to buy parts and planes. Between the time of the deal and the US's exit, Iran only received three Airbus jets, and 20 units of ATR 72-600 short-haul regional planes, Asia Times reported.

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Classified documents mishandled by Trump, Biden, and Pence handed over to Congressional 'Gang of Eight'

Tue, 04/11/2023 - 4:44pm
Classified documents were found in the possession of Mike Pence (left), Joe Biden (center), and Donald Trump (right).

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration has begun sharing with a bipartisan group of lawmakers known as the Gang of Eight classified documents found in the possession of former President Donald Trump, President Joe Biden and former Vice President Mike Pence, according to five people familiar with the matter.

Top lawmakers, including Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, had for months been asking the Justice Department to provide access to the documents — or at least an assessment of what was in them — so that Congress could gauge the potential national security harm.

That process recently got underway, said the people, who insisted on anonymity to discuss private interactions between the Justice Department and Congress.

"They're finally moving. We've got a lot more documents to review and, more importantly, to make sure there was mitigation taken," Warner said Wednesday, adding that the documents were being received on a rolling basis. He said that while he was "glad to see progress," it is "still unacceptable for me that it took this long."

A Justice Department special counsel, Jack Smith, is investigating whether Trump mishandled roughly several hundred documents with classified markings that were taken after his term ended to Mar-a-Lago, the former president's Florida estate, and whether he or his representatives sought to obstruct that probe. Another special counsel, Robert Hur, is also investigating the improper retention of documents from Biden's time as vice president that have been located in his Delaware home and his pre-presidential think-tank office. Biden has said he had no knowledge the documents were there.

A lawyers for Pence also said in January that an apparently small number of papers were inadvertently boxed and transported to his Indiana home at the end of the Trump administration.

Punchbowl News first reported the development.

The Biden administration held a classified briefing on the documents earlier this year for members of Congress, but senators accused the executive branch of stonewalling and insisted that they needed for national security reasons to see for themselves what materials the men had been holding.

The Justice Department had said that it wanted to be cooperative with the lawmakers' demands within the confines of the ongoing investigations.

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More than 50,000 US retail stores are expected to close in the next 5 years as e-commerce and rising costs push smaller shops out of business

Tue, 04/11/2023 - 4:23pm
Specialty retailers are expected to see the most closures, with clothing stores and consumer electronics making up nearly half of the projected 50,000 total.
  • The US has almost a million retail stores, and is on track to shed over 50,000 of them by 2028.
  • Rising costs and more ecommerce are favoring large retailers and pushing smaller ones out of business.
  • UBS analysts say closures could tick even higher if sales growth slows below long-term trends.

Retail store closures are set to ramp up over the next five years, according to a new study by UBS.

A team headed up by Equity Research Analyst Michael Lasser estimates that more than 50,000 stores will likely close  as a result of rising operating costs and a higher proportion of ecommerce sales for businesses. 

The biggest declines are expected to come from specialty retailers, with clothing stores and consumer electronics making up nearly half of the total projected closures. Home improvement and auto parts stores, meanwhile, are expected to emerge relatively unscathed.

That many closures would represent a 5% reduction from the current count of about 940,000 stores across the US, according to UBS. It would also open up potentially $285 billion worth of consumer spending for the surviving stores to compete for, analysts said.

Big box retailers like Walmart, Costco, and Target are poised to win big under this scenario, while smaller chains and independent retailers will likely continue their years-long decline in store counts. The report says that over the past decade, large employers have added 17,000 stores, while smaller ones have shuttered 40,000 locations.

Larger companies are better positioned to absorb the impact of rising rent, labor, and other costs, and stand to benefit from big investments in fulfilling digital orders in a way that smaller companies can't keep up with.

According to UBS, e-commerce sales are projected to rise to 26% of total retail sales by 2028, up from the current estimated level of 20%. UBS estimates nearly one in four digital transactions will likely be fulfilled by either ship-from-store or pick-up options.

In the coming years, if retail sales growth falls short of 4% per year — the long-term historical average — UBS said the number of closures could reach to 70,000 or more. Conversely, stronger sales growth would keep more stores open, the analysts said.

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US stocks trade mixed as investors await big inflation report

Tue, 04/11/2023 - 4:06pm
Traders look on after trading was halted on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., March 18, 2020
  • US stocks were mixed on Tuesday as investors prepared for the March consumer price index.
  • The inflation report should give investors a better idea if the Fed will hike interest rates again.
  • Also on investors' radar is the upcoming first-quarter earnings season, which the banks kick off on Friday.

US stocks were mixed on Tuesday as investors brace for more economic data, with the March consumer price index report scheduled for release Wednesday morning.

Estimates suggest inflation will show a year-over-year pace of 5.2% in March, according to Bloomberg estimates, which would be a deceleration from February's 6% rate.

The inflation report should give investors a better idea if the Federal Reserve will hike interest rates again at its May FOMC meeting. Inflation still remains well above the Fed's long-term target of 2%.

Investors are also preparing for the first-quarter earnings season, which starts with mega-cap banks JPMorgan and Wells Fargo Friday morning. Analysts have lowered their Q1 S&P 500 earnings estimates to $50.76 per share from $54.13 at the start of the year, according to DataTrek Research.

Here's where US indexes stood at the 4:00 p.m. ET close on Tuesday:

Here's what else is happening this morning:

In commodities, bonds and crypto:

  • West Texas Intermediate crude oil rose 2.12% to $81.43 per barrel. Brent crude, oil's international benchmark, jumped 1.59% to $85.52.
  • Gold rose 0.77% to $2,019.30 per ounce.
  • The yield on the 10-year Treasury rose one basis point to 3.43%. 
  • Bitcoin rose 0.16% to $30,196, while ether fell 1.43% to $1,896. 
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High stock valuations suggest investors think the US economy will avoid recession, but expecting more equity gains is a stretch, Barclays says

Tue, 04/11/2023 - 4:04pm
  • The S&P 500 is up about 18% from its October lows, getting close to reach bull-market status. 
  • But Barclays says "the bull case for equities, like valuations, is still a stretch."
  • Earnings estimates are still high for an economy that's unlikely to skirt a recession, the bank says. 

The benchmark for the largest stocks in the US is knocking on the door of a bull market, hoisted from lows in part by investors optimistic about prospects for the economy. But Barclays says the case for a sustainable new bear market is a stretch for now.

The S&P 500 has crept up nearly 18% since hitting a low of 3,491.58 in October when investors shoved the index further into a bear market, shaken largely by the Federal Reserve's rapid rate hikes. It's gained more than 7% in 2023, fronted by a surge in the communications services, tech and consumer discretionary sectors.  

"Equities have thus far leapfrogged an improbable list of pitfalls, and every cleared hurdle may serve as another reason to risk buying a head fake if it means not missing the first step," Venu Krishna, head of US equities strategy at Barclays, wrote to clients in a research note published Monday.

"However, we think we still have a ways to go before seeing the trough," he continued. "Valuations can remain irrational for a time but earnings cannot, and if the history of recessionary bear markets (particularly high-inflationary ones) is a guide, both sides of the P/E multiple remain exposed to asymmetric downside risks." 

Stocks have pushed through stubborn inflation, the Fed's aggressive policy tightening, and — so far — the banking crisis that erupted out of last month's collapse of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank. That sparked an indiscriminate flight to quality and market breadth deterioration, said Krishna.

But Barclays sees valuations as "too optimistic" relative to its base case for a shallow recession and $200 in per-share earnings collectively for S&P 500 companies in 2023.

There's a bull case to be made considering the S&P 500 is trading greater than 18.5 times consensus of 2023 per-share earnings and roughly 21 times the estimate held at Barclays, it said.

Investors are looking through an earnings contraction this year to an implied rebound in 2024 and positioning is making it "far more punitive" to be late than early. Mutual funds and hedge funds, for example, were caught sharply underweight the tech sector ahead of the recent flight-to-quality moves. 

But with a recession looming, Barclays said it's confident the majority of cuts in next twelve months earnings estimates are still on the way. 

Meanwhile, the market is still pricing in a "no landing" scenario, an outlook that sees the Fed bringing inflation to or near its 2% target while the economy skirts a recession and recovers strongly next year.

"This is the outcome that best supports current consensus, and we just don't see it," said Krishna.

"Ultimately, we think the bull case for equities, like valuations, is still a stretch," he said.

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Walmart is closing a batch of stores in 2023 — here's the full list

Tue, 04/11/2023 - 3:52pm
Walmart will close 19 stores in 11 states and Washington, DC.
  • Walmart will close 19 stores in 11 states and Washington, DC.  Four Chicago stores are the latest to join the list.
  • The company is also winding down its two remaining pickup locations in Illinois and Arkansas.
  • Hundreds of workers will also be laid off at five ecommerce fulfillment centers across the US.

Walmart is closing 19 retail locations across the US this year, including four in Chicago, citing poor financial performance at each.

The recent closures follow a trend of Walmart closing a handful of stores across various states each year, with the company saying that the stores are "underperforming" without providing specifics.

In addition, the retail giant is ending its nine-year experiment with two pick-up only locations in Illinois and Arkansas, and confirmed it would lay off hundreds of workers at five ecommerce fulfillment centers across the US.

Here are the latest store closings: Arkansas:
  • 3701 SE Dodson Road, Bentonville (Pick-up only concept)
  • 99 H Street NW, Washington
  • 1801 Howell Mill Rd NW, Atlanta
  • 835 M.L.K. Jr Dr NW, Atlanta
  • 6900 US Highway 19 North, Pinellas Park (Neighborhood Market concept)
  • 1032 Fort Street Mall, Honolulu
  • 17550 South Halsted St, Homewood
  • 12690 S. Route 59, Plainfield
  • 840 N. McCormick Blvd, Lincolnwood (Pick-up only concept)
  • 8431 S. Stewart Ave, Chicago
  • 4720 S. Cottage Grove Ave, Chicago
  • 2844 N. Broadway, Chicago
  • 2551 W. Cermak Road, Chicago
  • 3701 Portage Road, South Bend
  • 1200 Shingle Creek Pkwy, Brooklyn Center
New Mexico:
  • 301 San Mateo Blvd. SE, Albuquerque
  • 4200 82nd Ave. SE, Portland
  • 1123 N Hayden Meadows Dr., Portland
  • 24919 Westheimer Pkwy, Katy (Neighborhood Market concept)
  • 11400 Hwy. 99, Everett
  • 10330 W. Silver Spring Dr, Milwaukee

Do you shop at one of the Walmart stores above and want to share your thoughts? Contact reporters Ben and Dominick at and

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How small businesses are using marketing techniques to demonstrate their values through social causes

Tue, 04/11/2023 - 3:48pm
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Nicole Conway, principal of Conway Marketing Group.
  • Cause marketing can help businesses support social causes that align with their values and connect with customers. 
  • They can help a business highlight its mission and goals through action-oriented campaigns.
  • These experts say cause marketing should be equally balanced with the needs of the business. 
  • This article is part of "Marketing for Small Business," a series exploring the basics of marketing strategy for SBOs to earn new customers and grow their business.

In November 2022, Philadelphia-based jewelry brand Bario Neal debuted a "Bans Off Our Bodies" charm and pledged 100% of the profits to ARC Southeast, a nonprofit that provides funding and support for reproductive care and abortion services to people in the South. 

Page Neal, principal and lead designer of Bario Neal."We're a female-founded business, and supporting female organizations has always been really important to us," Page Neal, principal and lead designer of Bario Neal, told Insider. "To us, the rollback of Roe v. Wade was such an oppressive action taken by the Supreme Court to take away women's rights. It's really important to us to support women in areas where rights have been taken away." 

By March 2023, she said the company had sold 70 of the charms and raised about $2,400 for ARC Southeast. 

The "Bans Off Our Bodies" charm is just one way Bario Neal engages in cause marketing, which refers to for-profit businesses and nonprofits engaging in corporate activism. 

Cause marketing can include sponsoring events, fundraising, or raising awareness for a social or charitable cause. Nicole Conway, principal of Conway Marketing Group, told Insider that this type of marketing works best when businesses support causes or charities that align with their values or make a difference in their local communities. 

How cause marketing can benefit small businesses 

Cause marketing can increase brand awareness for businesses and exposure for nonprofits, Conway said. It boosts a company's credibility in communities and helps companies attract customers who "want to see that their purchasing power is well-spent and goes to something they care about," Neal said. 

More than 80% of consumers said they prefer spending with companies that have values that align with their own, and 75% will stop buying from brands over a conflict in values, according to a Harris Poll commissioned by Google Cloud. 

When businesses support causes, it can also improve employee morale and help with hiring and retention, Conway said. "People want to work with real people who have hearts, brains, and consciences." 

To create a successful cause marketing campaign, small businesses can take these steps: 

1. Establish clear values and goals 

"What is the company's mission, vision, and values?" Conway said that's the first question business leaders should ask themselves when delving into cause marketing. 

Having a mission to do good in the community or a desire to make a difference and identifying causes that are important to the company will lead to opportunities to get involved, she added. A clear mission also helps bring authenticity to cause marketing. 

Logan Mallory, vice president of marketing at Motivosity.One of the values at Motivosity, an employee engagement and recognition software, is "serve always." The Lehi, Utah-based company looks for ways to give back locally, including within its tech and business community, said Logan Mallory, the company's vice president of marketing. 

In December, Motivosity teamed up with a local networking group, Tacos Together, on a toy drive and donated 500 plush yetis. Motivosity's mascot is a yeti.  

2. Identify causes that make sense for the business 

Businesses should choose nonprofits and causes to support that make sense based on their mission and values, Conway said. 

"Wearing your values" is Bario Neal's mission. The company supports causes dedicated to the ethical sourcing of materials for the jewelry industry, women's empowerment, and LGBTQIA+ rights. Neal said the brand also supports arts and educational organizations in Philadelphia, where it's headquartered. 

For this year's upcoming Earth Day, Bario Neal launched a collection made from ethically-sourced Fairmined gold, and 15% of the sales of these items will go to Mercury Free Mining, an organization working to eradicate mercury use in gold mining.  

Neal said her company researches the organizations it works with to ensure that most of their donations go toward the cause, rather than a nonprofit's administrative expenses.  

Motivosity often supports causes that are important to its employees, Mallory said. For instance, a fundraising drive for Ronald McDonald House was inspired by an employee's personal experience with the organization. 

3. Structure an action-oriented campaign

Cause marketing can take many forms, and it can be an inexpensive way to boost brands while helping others, Conway said. 

Action-oriented campaigns — like devoting a percentage of sales to a charity, holding fundraising drives, sponsoring events, encouraging employees to volunteer, or raising awareness about a cause on social media — tend to resonate with consumers according to a 2021 psychology study by the School of Management at Jinan University. 

Social media plays a central role in Motivosity's cause marketing. The company previously ran a campaign, where it donated $1 to Ronald McDonald House and SisterGoods (an organization helping fight period poverty) every time someone used its hashtag #ThanksMatters on social media. 

Motivosity created social media posts and tagged the nonprofits, and encouraged their employees to post about the campaigns, too. Mallory said the campaign raised about $1,000 each for Ronald McDonald House and SisterGoods. 

"There's a corporate side, and then there's a personal side where our team members will say, 'Here's why this matters to me,' and they'll tag the organization to celebrate them," he said. 

Bario Neal has marketed its "Bans Off Our Bodies" charm online, in its newsletter, on social media, and gifted it to influencers to spread the word, Neal said. 

Conway recommends small businesses be prepared for any potential backlash that could accompany their cause marketing efforts, and create a process for handling complaints or negative comments on social media. But, ultimately, she said businesses should stick to their missions. 

"You have to remain focused and not get distracted by the outside influences that may not love what you're doing," Conway said. "You can't make all the people happy all the time." 

Bario Neal has received some negative reactions from supporting reproductive rights and LGBTQIA+ rights, Neal said. But, the company hasn't wavered from its values. 

"Our position is we're not for everybody," she said. "We're not willing to take back our stance on reproductive rights to make someone feel good about their opinion on it." 

5. Don't forget to focus on the business 

Cause marketing is as much about supporting an important issue or organization, as it is growing brand awareness, Mallory said. "When businesses decide to be overly service-oriented or overly cause-oriented and the business suffers, then it limits your ability to give back later."

Sometimes less is more with cause marketing, Mallory added. "Being intentional and choosing a few groups at appropriate times would be more impactful than trying to be everything to everyone." 

Successful cause marketing also often takes trial and error — and, thinking outside the box, Conway said. 

"Most marketing starts out as an experiment," she said. "Start small, and then if it works, you can scale up, or you can pivot and try something new."

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Elon Musk has reportedly merged Twitter with X Corp. Here's everything we know about his ideas for an 'everything app.'

Tue, 04/11/2023 - 3:40pm
Elon Musk has reportedly merged Twitter into a shell company called X Corp.
  • Elon Musk hinted at his plans for "X," an "everything app," after Twitter reportedly merged into X Corp.
  • Musk has discussed his plans for a WeChat-like app on Twitter and in private texts over the years.
  • Here's everything we know about the billionaire's plans for X and Twitter.

Since Elon Musk bought Twitter last year, his master plan for creating an "everything app" has begun to take shape.

On Tuesday, the billionaire cryptically hinted at his plans when he tweeted "X." While Musk did not elaborate on the tweet, it came after it was reportedly revealed Twitter had merged into a shell company called X Corp. On Tuesday, Bloomberg reported that Twitter had been absorbed into X Corp, citing a document from April 4 that was submitted as an exhibit in a lawsuit against Twitter and its cofounder Jack Dorsey. 

The publication reported that the billionaire had created a "trio of holding companies in Delaware with a variation of the name 'X Holdings''' when he first offered to buy the company last year.

It's unclear what the new shell company will mean for Twitter, though it hints at Musk's larger plans for the social media company.

For the billionaire, Twitter represents the first step toward something he calls "X," his vision for a new kind of social media platform that most in the US haven't experienced before.

The Tesla CEO has said the acquisition of Twitter will act as "an accelerant" to creating X — jump-starting the process by three to five years.

Musk has been talking about building X for months. In August, when a Twitter user asked him whether he had considered creating his own social platform, he replied, "" — a web domain he bought over five years ago. At Tesla's annual shareholder meeting that same month, Musk said he had "a pretty grand vision" for X as "something that would be very useful to the world."

While Musk hasn't fully clarified whether he plans to turn Twitter into X or use it to build an entirely new platform, the billionaire has dropped several hints regarding his plans to shake up the world of social media.

Here's what he's said publicly — and privately — about the idea.

A new super-app

X wouldn't be the first app trying to do a bit of everything. In fact, Musk indicated in May that he might look for inspiration from Tencent's WeChat, a Chinese social media juggernaut that's one of the largest super-apps in the world.

WeChat acts as an all-encompassing service that includes messaging and video chatting, video games, photo sharing, ride services, food delivery, banking, and shopping. 

In this photo illustration, the WeChat app is displayed in the App Store on an Apple iPhone on August 7, 2020 in Washington, DC.

"If you're in China, you kind of live on WeChat," he said. "It does everything — sort of like Twitter, plus PayPal, plus a whole bunch of things, and all rolled into one, with a great interface. It's really an excellent app, and we don't have anything like that outside of China."

At his first town hall with Twitter staff last year, the billionaire said there's a "real opportunity" to create a similar app outside of China.

"I think if we could achieve that, or even close to that with Twitter, it would be an immense success," he said.

Matt Navarra, a top social media consultant, told Insider it wouldn't make sense to gut Twitter and turn it into a super-app, but it could become a sort of "mini-app" within Musk's larger platform.

Sha Zhu, of Washington, shows the app WeChat on her phone, which she uses to keep in touch with family and friends in the U.S. and China, Tuesday Aug. 18, 2020, in Washington.Private texts about a blockchain-based platform

Musk has also discussed creating a social media platform built on a blockchain. The billionaire is known for his love of cryptocurrencies, including Bitcoin and Dogecoin. 

Last April, the billionaire privately outlined his idea for a "Doge" social media platform in texts to his younger brother, Kimbal Musk. The messages were made public as part of Musk's court battle with Twitter.

"I have an idea for a blockchain social media system that does both payments and short text messages/links like Twitter," Musk texted. "You have to pay a tiny amount to register your message on the chain, which will cut out the vest majority of spam and bots."

Musk said the site would have a "massive real-time database" that would keep permanent copies of messages and followers, and a "Twitter-like app on your phone" that can access the database in the cloud.

In February, the Financial Times reported that the billionaire plans to add crypto functionality to Twitter after the site is approved for payments. The social media company has applied for a series of licenses to allow the platform to process payments, a major feature of superapps like WeChat, per the FT. 

A subscription model

Musk's idea for a blockchain-based platform feeds into some of his discussions around Twitter's revenue model.

The billionaire has repeatedly expressed his distaste for ads, but advertising makes up the vast majority of Twitter's revenue. In a since-deleted tweet from last April, Musk said the company should exist without ads.

Click the Subscribe button at the bottom to sign up for Twitter Blue.

Instead, Musk has talked about making money from Twitter via alternative methods, including charging some users to be on the site. Shortly after buying Twitter, Musk began charging Twitter users for the app's blue check mark. 

The billionaire has also noted the app could help foster payments directly to users. Twitter launched a "Tips" feature in 2021 that includes an option to pay users with Bitcoin. 

"It's important for content creators to have a revenue share," Musk said at a May event for the "All-In" podcast.

In February, Musk said Twitter will soon launch an early version of a program that will allow some creators to get paid for their tweets.

An emphasis on free speech 

Whatever Musk builds, expect it to have a far more free-wheeling free speech policy than Twitter today.

Musk often refers to Twitter as a "town square" and has said he is against censorship that "goes far beyond the law."

Donald Trump on Tuesday escalated his feud with Elon Musk in a series of Truth Social posts belittling the billionaire.

The billionaire has been critical of Twitter's ban on some users, including its permanent ban on former president Donald Trump following the insurrection at the US Capitol. In November, Musk followed through on his promise to reinstate Trump's account.

Social media expert Navarro said companies are unlikely to want to advertise next to posts that could be labeled as unsavory, but noted it could be a good move for Twitter to diversify its revenue sources.

A battle against bots

One thing is clear throughout Musk's dealings with Twitter — the billionaire's social media platform will be tasked with eliminating scam accounts.

Musk has called bots on Twitter the "single most annoying problem" and made the number of scam accounts on the site the centerpiece of his attempts to wiggle out of the purchase months ago.

In an interview at TED 2022, Musk cited this issue as the first thing he would change as Twitter's new owner.

Since taking over the social media company the billionaire has had less to say on the issue, but on Monday, he said Twitter's subscription process will help eliminate "impersonation fraud" on the site.

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Wharton professor Jeremy Siegel reveals his investment plan if a recession hits and reiterates his view that the stock market bottom is in

Tue, 04/11/2023 - 3:39pm
  • Long-time stock market bull Jeremy Siegel is getting more cautious about a potential recession.
  • The Wharton professor said that a slew of recent economic data did not include the impact of the US banking crisis. 
  • Despite the potential for a recession, Siegel believes the October stock market lows will hold firm.

Long-time stock market bull Jeremy Siegel is growing more concerned about the potential for an economic recession.

In the "Behind the Markets" podcast on Friday, the Wharton professor highlighted a slew of recent economic data that showed worrying signs of weakening, including a drop in job openings, a rise in jobless claims, and softness in the manufacturing sector.

And while the March jobs report was solid, it did show one concerning sign, according to Siegel: a decline in the number of weekly hours worked.

"What wasn't noticed enough was another 1/10th drop in hours worked. A 1/10th of an hour work difference is equivalent to almost 300,000 workers at the same number of hours, so if you have a 1/10th drop in the number of hours worked per week, it's like a 300,000 drop in payroll," he said.

The decline in hours worked last month offset the surge that was seen in January, which points to a growing softness in the labor force, Siegel warned.

But perhaps most concerning to Siegel is the fact that much of the recent weakness in economic data doesn't include the impact of the US banking crisis that was sparked by the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank early last month.

"We've had an upward trend in [jobless] claims. It's not a falling-apart economy, but definitely signs of weakness, and one thing is the most important of all: all of this data is really pre-SVB, the banking crisis," Siegel said.

"We will not get until the next 4-6 weeks really a lot of data about the effect of the banking crisis. That does concern me and keeps me defensive going forward in terms of a recession," he added. "I'm just saying that my feeling is the probability of a recession has gone up."

But if a recession does materialize, Siegel won't be heading for the exits in terms of what he does with his stock portfolio, and he's confident any decline in stocks won't exceed the mid-October lows. 

"I always think recessions are great buying opportunities. I don't sell [stocks] in anticipation of [a recession], but I know a lot of other people do which could lead to softness [in stocks but] no crash. I think the October lows are holding," Siegel said.

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Florida's fight over Safe Haven 'baby boxes' are part of a larger culture war over abortion

Tue, 04/11/2023 - 3:29pm
Safe Haven Baby Boxes founder Monica Kelsey poses with a prototype of the box where parents could surrender their newborns anonymously, outside her fire station in Woodburn, Indiana.
  • Safe Haven Baby Boxes let distressed moms safely and anonymously surrender unwanted newborns instead of dumping them in trash cans or worse.
  • About 145 Safe Haven baby boxes were installed throughout nine states since 2016, and similar bills were recently approved or signed in four other states.
  • A fight over the boxes is brewing in Florida's legislature as Gov. Ron DeSantis is expected to lower the state's abortion limit to six weeks.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Safe Haven Baby Boxes and A Safe Haven for Newborns are two charities with similar names and the same goal: providing distressed mothers with a safe place to surrender their unwanted newborns instead of dumping them in trash cans or along roadsides.

But a fight between the two is brewing in the Florida Senate. An existing state law, supported and promoted by the Miami-based A Safe Haven, allows parents to surrender newborns to firefighters and hospital workers without giving their names. A new bill, supported by the Indiana-based Safe Haven Baby Boxes, would give fire stations and hospitals the option to install the group's ventilated and climate-controlled boxes, where parents could drop off their babies without interacting with fire or hospital employees.

The bill recently passed the Florida House unanimously, but there is a long-shot effort to block it in the Senate, where it might be considered this week. Opponents call the boxes costly, unnecessary and potentially dangerous for the babies, mothers, firefighters and hospital workers. Each side accuses the other of being financially driven.

The fight is getting extra attention because Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and Florida's GOP-dominated Legislature are expected to soon ban abortions performed more than six weeks after conception, lowering the state's current limit of 15 weeks.

Similar baby-box bills have been approved recently by lawmakers in Kansas, Montana and Mississippi and sent to those states' governors for approval. West Virginia's governor recently signed such a bill. The boxes were already allowed in nine states, mostly in the Midwest and South, with the largest numbers in Indiana, Arkansas, and Kentucky, respectively. About 145 boxes have been installed since the first in 2016, with 25 newborns surrendered through one, Safe Haven Baby Boxes says.

Just one baby has been left in Florida's only box, installed two years ago at a central Florida firehouse without state authorization. The boxes open from outside the building, allowing the parent to place the baby in a bassinet as a bag containing instructions and maternal medical advice drops out. The door locks when it is reclosed and the agency is notified electronically. Safe Haven Baby Boxes says the average response time is two minutes.

"Giving women an option of (total) anonymity is just that, an option. Why would (opponents) want to take that away from women?" said the group's founder, firefighter Monica Kelsey, who was abandoned as a newborn and is an outspoken abortion opponent. She accused A Safe Haven for Newborns of fearing a loss of grants if the boxes are installed, something the group denies.

Republican Rep. Jennifer Canady, the bill's lead sponsor, declined an interview request. She said in a statement that her proposed law would be "an important next step to provide options to save lives and protect life at every stage."

Joel Gordon, a spokesman for A Safe Haven for Newborns and deputy chief at a suburban Fort Lauderdale fire department, suggested that Kelsey possibly profits from the boxes. She denies that. Her group gets mixed reviews from organizations that monitor charities.

Gordon also contended that the bill's proponents have opposed all amendments that he says would make the boxes safer and the program more workable. A Safe Haven trains fire departments and hospitals on how to implement the current law.

"It is not an objection to giving the mother as many potentials as possible to help rescue and save these babies. It's the box itself, and the way the box is administered, that gives us concern," Gordon said.

Senate Democratic leader Lauren Book, who heads the bill's opposition, added, "We can do better than putting children in boxes. The safe haven law we have on the books currently is working."

In 2000, Florida became one of the first states to allow babies to be anonymously surrendered for adoption at hospitals and firehouses. Under it, parents can hand over newborns up to 7 days old, no questions asked, assuming there is no evidence of neglect or abuse. Since its enactment, 370 newborns have been legally surrendered, Gordon said.

The new bill would allow but not require fire departments and hospitals to acquire the boxes, which would be leased from Kelsey's group. They cost about $16,000 installed and there is a $300 annual maintenance and inspection fee, paid to Kelsey's charity. Sometimes the installation and fees are paid by donors, she said.

"Was that baby (in central Florida) not worth the fight we have put up to keep that box?" she said. 'I think it was."

Gordon said only five Florida babies have been illegally abandoned since 2018, and in several recent years that number was zero. He argues that a surrendered baby's mother benefits more from direct interaction with a firefighter or hospital worker, who can assess if she needs medical or psychological care. Such contact also provides her with certainty that her baby is safe, he said.

Gordon said Kelsey's boxes also don't meet Florida public building safety standards and would allow those who have abused their newborn or kidnapped or trafficked the child a way to escape detection. Gordon and Book also say the boxes give terrorists a spot to place a bomb or toxic substance, endangering firefighters and hospital workers — something Kelsey says has never happened.

"Until it does," Book responded. "I want to make sure that the people who are there to protect and serve our community are kept safe."

Book, who was recently arrested for trespassing during a protest against the state's proposed abortion restrictions, said the box bill is part of broader effort by DeSantis and the legislative majority to impose conservative Christian morality on all Floridians, regardless of their personal beliefs.

"You can't just look at this one piece of policy. You have to look at the whole of what is going on, and I'm just not going to stand for it," Book said.

Kelsey accused opponents of "grasping at straws." She said while abusers should be identified and tracked down, it is best for the babies if their parents give them up before the abuse leads to serious injury or death.

If enacted, the bill would take effect July 1.

Read the original article on Business Insider

The crypto market rally is built on hopes of Fed rate hike slowdown and looming US credit crunch, Galaxy Digital's Mike Novogratz says

Tue, 04/11/2023 - 3:19pm
Mike Novogratz.
  • Bitcoin notched a 10-month high Tuesday amid a broader upswing in crypto markets. 
  • Galaxy Digital CEO Mike Novogratz said markets are pricing in a Fed rate hike slowdown and a US credit crunch.
  • In an interview with CNBC, he said recent bank failures "re-galvanized" crypto's original use case.

Galaxy Digital CEO Mike Novogratz said the latest cryptocurrency market rally is a nod to trader speculation on a slowdown in central bank tightening and a looming US credit crunch.

In an interview with CNBC, the long-time bitcoin bull also said the upswing in token prices highlights crypto's initial use case as a haven from government monetary policies like the Federal Reserve's interest rate hikes and the risks of holding funds in the traditional banking system.

Bitcoin's white paper, a document which states its intended purpose, was released around the time of the Great Financial Crisis in 2008, out of a "distrust of centralized governments [and] banks," Novogratz told CNBC.

And today, the recent failures of specialist lenders like Silicon Valley Bank as well as fears of a looming credit crunch have "re-galvanized that original story," he added.  

"We're heading into a credit crunch in the United States... Assets that will do well in a slowdown are telling us something," the former Goldman Sachs partner said of bitcoin, ethereum, and gold. 

"We're having a pretty constructive rally based on a bunch of things... The market is pretty certain that [Fed] Chairman [Jerome] Powell is finished or close to finished," he continued, referring to optimism that tightening will end soon.

To be sure, bitcoin proponents often tout it as an inflation hedge. The crypto's price, however, has been extremely sensitive to the Fed's actions, with views for tighter policy hitting crypto and other risk assets while views for looser policy boost those assets.

Cryptos have been mostly trending upward since the start of the year. Bitcoin and ether are up 68% and 37% in the past three months, respectively. Bitcoin notched a 10-month high on Tuesday, shooting past $30,000, according to Messari.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Walmart stops selling shirt after shoppers point out it spells an offensive word

Tue, 04/11/2023 - 3:03pm
Walmart momentarily sold a shirt with a dirty word.
  • Walmart momentarily sold a pro-environment shirt encouraging people to recycle, among other things.
  • Eagle-eyed shoppers posted on social media that the shirt spelled out an offensive word.
  • The shirt was sold at Walmart Canada stores and has been discontinued, a company spokesman said.

Walmart has stopped selling a pro-environment shirt after eagle-eyed shoppers noticed an offensive word on the clothing, a company spokesman told Insider.

The shirt features the letters "RE" on the left and four words on top of each other on the right: "cycle," "use," "new," and "think." Together, the first letter of each of those four words spells the word "c—t."

Shoppers pointed out that spelling on social media.

"I need this shirt before Walmart realizes what they have done," one shopper wrote in an April 3 tweet that now has 2.6 million views and features a photo of the shirt. "Find the hidden word.

Russia's economy is becoming more dependent on China as yuan purchases more than triple

Tue, 04/11/2023 - 3:03pm
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
  • The Russian economy increased its dependence on China as the yuan becomes more prevalent.
  • Russians bought 41.9 billion rubles worth of the yuan in March, the central bank said.
  • That's more than triple the 11.6 billion rubles worth that was purchased in February.

The Russian economy is increasingly linked to China's as the yuan becomes more prominent amid Western sanctions on Moscow.

Russians bought 41.9 billion rubles worth of China's currency last month, more than triple the 11.6 billion rubles worth purchased in February, Russia's central bank said on Monday.

On Russia's foreign exchange markets, ruble-yuan trading accounted for 39% of total volumes, more than the ruble-dollar volume's share of 34%, the bank said, according to Reuters.

Earlier reports already showed that the yuan's trading volume in Russia had outpaced the dollar for the first time in February.

Before Russia's invasion of Ukraine in 2022, the renminbi was a minimally traded currency in the country. But the onslaught of Western sanctions to effectively cut Russia off from global markets has tied it closer to China.

Russian President Vladimir Putin rejected the notion that his country was becoming dependent on China. But Chinese President Xi Jinping was able to secure beneficial trade agreements between the nations despite offering up little in return.

Meanwhile, the ruble recently fell to its lowest level against the dollar in a year as Russian energy export revenue plunged.

"There has been a temporary reduction in sales of foreign currency earnings by exporters, which led to an acceleration of the weakening of the ruble in early April," Russia's central bank said in a Monday report.

In response, sales of foreign currency increased in Russia. 

Despite the declining presence of US dollars in Russia's economy, this is not a definite signal of a de-dollarized regime to come, analysts say, as China's yuan remains under tight controls.

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Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg sues GOP Rep. Jim Jordan, accusing him of carrying out a 'transparent campaign to intimidate and attack' Bragg

Tue, 04/11/2023 - 2:59pm
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.
  • The Manhattan DA sued GOP Rep. Jim Jordan, the House Judiciary Committee, and a special prosecutor who used to work for the DA's office.
  • The suit accuses Jordan of carrying out a "transparent campaign to intimidate and attack" DA Alvin Bragg.
  • It seeks to block GOP subpoenas related to the DA's Trump investigation as well as a subpoena to the ex-prosecutor, Mark Pomerantz.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg filed a lawsuit Tuesday against Republican Rep. Jim Jordan, the House Judiciary Committee, and a special prosecutor who previously worked for Bragg's office.

In the 50-page lawsuit, Bragg accused Jordan of launching an "unprecedentedly brazen and unconstitutional attack" on the DA's office while it's in the middle of an ongoing investigation and criminal prosecution against former President Donald Trump.

Bragg is seeking to block GOP subpoenas related to his investigation, as well as a subpoena to a former prosecutor, Mark Pomerantz, who resigned last year following Bragg's decision not to bring a separate criminal case against Trump over his business practices.

Tuesday's lawsuit accused Jordan of carrying out a "transparent campaign to intimidate and attack District Attorney Bragg, making demands for confidential documents and testimony from the District Attorney himself as well as his current and former employees and officials."

He was referring to a March 20 letter from Jordan and GOP Reps. James Comer and Bryan Steil — prominent Trump allies and the three chairmen of the powerful House Judiciary, Oversight, and Administration committees, respectively — for documents and testimony from the Manhattan DA. Their letter called Bragg's investigation "an unprecedented abuse of prosecutorial authority."

"In light of the serious consequences of your actions, we expect that you will testify about what plainly appears to be a politically motivated prosecutorial decision," the lawmakers said in the letter.

Insider reached out to spokespeople for Jordan and Pomerantz for comment.

"Chairman Jordan's subpoena is an unconstitutional attempt to undermine an ongoing New York felony criminal prosecution and investigation," the DA's office said in a statement. "As our complaint details, this is an unprecedented, illegitimate interference by Congress that lacks any legal merit and defies basic principles of federalism. The Manhattan D.A.'s Office focuses on the law and the evidence, not political gamesmanship or threats. We look forward to presenting our case in court to enjoin enforcement of the subpoena."

Jordan also responded to the lawsuit in a tweet, writing "First, they indict a president for no crime. Then, they sue to block congressional oversight when we ask questions about the federal funds they say they used to do it."

The DA argued in Tuesday's lawsuit that Congress does not have the power to infringe on state criminal prosecutions. "Nor does Congress have the power to serve subpoenas 'for the personal aggrandizement of the investigators or to punish those investigated,'" the suit said.

The lawsuit comes after Bragg's office indicted Trump on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in connection to a $130,000 hush-money payment to the adult film actress Stormy Daniels.

Trump was arraigned at a downtown Manhattan criminal court last week, where he pleaded not guilty to the charges and his lawyers pledged to fight the case.

One Trump attorney, Todd Blanche, called the indictment "boilerplate," and another Trump lawyer, Joe Tacopina, criticized Bragg's office for omitting key details from the indictment that would justify upgrading the charges against him from misdemeanors to felonies.

Diana Florence, a 30-year veteran of the DA's office and Bragg's one-time political rival, told Insider, however, that Bragg was "100 percent right" to leave those details out because he wasn't required to do so by law. She added that the DA will eventually name them "down the road," when he presents a so-called "bill of particulars" to the defense.

Legal experts told Insider that Trump's team will likely launch a three-pronged defense strategy aimed at highlighting those omissions; attacking the credibility of Trump's one-time lawyer, Michael Cohen, as a key prosecution witness; and accusing Bragg of bringing a selective and politically motivated case.

Trump's lawyers are largely expected to try to get the case dismissed, but experts told Insider it will almost certainly survive motions to dismiss and end up going to a trial.

Laura Italiano contributed reporting.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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