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Consumer Robotics Show

CES has always been a weird show for robotics. That’s not an indictment of the show itself, so much as a comment on the state of robotics generally. It’s true the organization behind the show dropped the name “Consumer Electronics Show” some number…



CES has always been a weird show for robotics. That’s not an indictment of the show itself, so much as a comment on the state of robotics generally. It’s true the organization behind the show dropped the name “Consumer Electronics Show” some number of years ago (a fact it continues to be very insistent about in its press materials), but at its heart the show is still very much about consumer technologies.

For robotics, consumer has been an exceedingly difficult nut to crack, for reasons of pricing, scalability and the general unpredictability of operating in uncontrolled environments. In much the same way that the robotic vacuum has long been the main exception to that rule, robotic vacuums have been the one consistent feature at the show over the past decade-plus.

Back in 2020 (the last time TechCrunch attended the show in person), I wrote a piece titled, “Companies take baby steps toward home robots at CES.” Fittingly (for reasons that will be made clear below), the first person I quoted in the piece was Labrador Systems co-founder/CEO Mike Dooley, who told me, “I think there are fewer fake robots this year.”

“Fake” is, obviously, a loaded word in this — and just about any — context. But it’s also not wrong. CES has been — and will continue to be for the foreseeable future — a platform for fake robotics. There are a number of reasons for this, but the main one is simple: robots are an easy way of visualizing sci-fi stuff. Robots, flying cars, space and now the metaverse. If you want a shorthand way of telling the world that your company has its head in the clouds in the most pragmatic way, you wheel out (or walk out) a robot.

They’ve been a common fixture over the years at press conferences from companies with an arguably limited investment in real robotics R&D. And there’s a big, gaping hole between science fiction and that year’s umpteenth robot vacuum. What we’ve started to see is companies begin to fill in that gap. Startups have played an important role in this. But just as important is the role played by automotive companies.

In the lead up to CES, I wrote a 10-year piece reflecting on the biggest trends of CES 2012. One of the things that struck me is the shift the show has made away from things like handsets (Mobile World Congress has taken a lot of wind out of those sails) and toward other industries — mobility in particular. Carmakers have a big role to play in all of this, both in terms of how they use robotics in the manufacturing process and also the role these technologies play in the future of the companies — starting with autonomous driving and moving well beyond.

Image Credits: Hyundai

For those reasons, I’m likely not surprising anyone by saying that the combined Hyundai/Boston Dynamics press conference grabbed the biggest headlines from the robotics world. Tuesday night’s show rode the line in an interesting way. As a company, Boston Dynamics has always taken a pragmatic approach to robotics. Sure, they look like the stuff of science fiction to many, but the products the company showcases are very real.

It was a contrast from the sorts of fantastical concepts Hyundai put center stage. Watching a video of Spot hanging out on Mars to serve as a real-world avatar for a family cruising through the metaverse was, in a word, strange. Boston Dynamics has suggested many potential jobs for its quadrupedal robot over the years, but somehow, to the best of my knowledge, Martian avatar hadn’t come up. I had the opportunity to ask founder Marc Raibert a couple of questions, and opened with that, asking how the Hyundai acquisition will impact what has been an aggressive — but practical — approach to making robots.

Last night’s presentation was a bit on the fantastical side.There was a sci-fi projection out into the future. How profound an impact will the Hyundai acquisition have on Boston Dynamics’ roadmap going forward?

It’s early days, six months. I would say that, on the one hand, there seems to be a commitment at Hyundai for us to keep doing what we’re doing. I think you’re going see all the things we’re doing, really in an enhanced state, continue to go on. We’re going to do [Atlas, Stretch and Spot]. There’s more investment going into there. Productization and research, in the case of Atlas. We’ll add additional robots onto what I’ll call the Boston Dynamics side. While that’s going on, we’re also building connections with Hyundai, and starting some projects […]

Hyundai is a big company. There are a lot of different sub-companies, but we’re talking to all of them. We’re not exactly sure who all of the interaction partners will be, but we’re planning to have a robust set of interactions. I don’t have any sense that Hyundai is going to come in and say, ‘Stop being who you are. Be something different.’ To the contrary, if anything, they’ve been very enthusiastic about us continuing. Although we’ve been making products, we’ve also been an R&D company for a long time. I think they see value in that and they will continue investing in that, so we can continue the legacy, as well as the commercial side of things.

During the event, he was clearly enjoying himself. It is, in a lot of ways, an ideal position for a lifelong roboticist: suddenly seeing a whole influx of resources from new corporate owners looking to deliver the moon and stars — or, at the very least, Mars. I do appreciate Raibert’s off-handed mention that Mars is still a ways off for Spot.

Hyundai CES 2022 plug n drive

Image Credits: Hyundai

I had a follow-up question with Hyundai’s VP and head of Robotics Lab, Dong Jin Hyun, who said, similarly, that the Personal Mobility PnD plug and drive plaftform is also very much a “proposal/concept,” adding that the company would “show the real applications of PnD soon.” For now, at least, we’re stuck with some far out videos.

Before we move on from Boston Dynamics completely for the week, a fun aside from Raibert. In the company’s past flirations with the home/consumer market, “we even worked for years with Sony Aibo, making ones you’ve never seen, but were more capable.” The latest Aibo was a very cool piece of machinery, but you’ve got to wonder how a pet Boston Dynamics dog would have looked. Less cute and more technologically impressive, if I had to guess. Hopefully it never got as far as figuring out how to open doors.

As I mentioned last week, the big thing trendwise on the robotics front at CES are UV-C disinfecting robots. This makes a lot of sense on the face of it. It’s a way to leverage existing indoor mapping/navigation technologies with a major hot button topic during the pandemic. The list includes:

Image Credits: UBTech

  • ADIBOT, which comes in S (stationary) and A (autonomous) models. Of the latter, the company says, “ADIBOT-A is the fully-loaded autonomous disinfection solution that can be programmed and mapped to independently navigate one or multiple floor plans. ADIBOT-S provides 360-degree radiant light coverage, powerful UV-C disinfection, autonomous movement using U-SLAM mapping, secured app, dedicated server and cloud-based connectivity, automatic recharging, and intelligent safety features including the use of ‘risk mitigation’ cameras, PIR sensors.”
  • LG technically announced the excitingly named Autonomous Robot With Disinfecting Light late last year. “This autonomous UV robot comes at a time when hygiene is of the highest priority for hotel guests, students and restaurant customers,” Robotics VP Roh Kyu-chan said in a statement. “Consumers can have the peace of mind that the LG UV robot will help reduce their exposure to potentially harmful germs.”

John Deere acquires Bear Flag Robotics to accelerate autonomous technology on the farm. Image Credits: Bear Flag Robotics

John Deere also made headlines this week with the long-awaited arrival of its fully autonomous 8R tractor. The system, which features six pairs of stereo cameras, a pair of Nvidia Jetson modules and a GPS guidance for fully automated operation, will be available in select parts of the U.S. starting this fall.

“This precise location-sensing technology (already) enables farmers to place seeds, spread nutrients and harvest their crops without having to touch the steering wheel,” CTO Jahmy Hindman said in a release. “Without this self-driving technology, farming is incredibly exhausting mentally and physically. GPS technology allows farmers to spend their time in the cab of a tractor looking at the real-time data they are collecting during the job they are doing and making adjustments.”

Image Credits: Labrador Systems

Getting back to Mike Dooley, Labrador finally showed off a production version of its assistance robot, Retriever. It’s one of the more compelling home robots I’ve seen in some time — namely because it deals with the very real issue of helping older and mobility impaired people live on their own. At its heart, it’s a robotic shelf, but one that can potentially offer a lot of assistance to people who want to keep living independently.

Labrador also used the opportunity to announce a $3.1 million seed, co-led by Amazon’s Alexa Fund and iRobot Ventures.

I’m still crawling through the virtual halls for more interesting robotics co’s this week, and expect a few more to trickle into next week’s newsletter. In the meantime, a lightning round/stray thoughts.

Image Credits: Yukai Engineering

  1. After being a mainstay for the last several CESes, there are no robots at the Samsung press conference; the company appears to have pivoted entirely to talking about sustainability. I’m all for sustainability talk, obviously, but I do wonder what this means for the company’s robotics ambitions. Frankly, I’ve never been entirely sure how far the extends/extended beyond showing off some cool demos.
  2. French (where else) robotics firm Naïo showed off its vineyard robot, TED, which its aiming to deploy in California fields. “Labor issues and the need to reduce the use of pesticides are global challenges,” COO Ingrid Sarlandie said. “With its autonomous agricultural robots Oz, Dino and Ted, Naïo addresses these issues to ensure a sustainable agricultural production in phase with people and the environment.”
  3. Doosan announced that it has sold 1,000 cobots and raised $33.7 million, as it showed off its new robotic camera system. “We’re looking forward to expediting the growth of our business with the recent funds raised,” said CEO Junghoon Ryu, CEO at Doosan Robotics. “We will further enhance the competitiveness of new products and software that are mounted with our proprietary technology and strive to attain the position as number one market share holder in the global cobot market.”
  4. And, of course, I would be remise if I didn’t mention Amagami Ham Ham, the latest robot from Qoobo maker, Yukai Engineering. I will let this quote about the finger-nibbling cat robot speak for itself. The robot uses a special algorithm, “HAMgorithm,” to randomly select from two dozen “nibbling patterns” to keep users interested. The company is launching a crowdfunding campaign for the robot this spring.

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Will 2022 be the year you subscribe to Actuator?!


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Report: Pfizer, NIH Discussing Study of Longer Paxlovid Dosing Regimen

With increasing concerns about COVID-19 reinfection, Pfizer and the National Institutes of Health are discussing potential studies regarding a longer treatment…



Report: Pfizer, NIH Discussing Study of Longer Paxlovid Dosing Regimen

With increasing concerns about COVID-19 reinfection, Pfizer and the National Institutes of Health are discussing potential studies regarding a longer treatment period with the antiviral medication, Paxlovid.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and scientific adviser to the White House, said the plan for the new studies could come over the next few days, Reuters reported this afternoon. During a White House briefing on COVID-19, Fauci pointed out that the rising cases of COVID-19 driven by an Omicron sub-variant are increasing the use of Pfizer’s Paxlovid. So far, more than 660,000 courses of Paxlovid have been administered across the U.S., Reuters said.

However, there is a growing concern that some patients are not shaking the virus as quickly as expected following a treatment regimen of the antiviral. Some continue to experience symptoms, or see a recurrence of their COVID-19 symptoms, following treatment with Paxlovid, Reuters said. Currently, there is no clear indication on the number of patients who are experiencing such a recurrence, or whether or not it is due to the variant type of COVID-19. But, the numbers appear to be enough to warrant such a conversation between America’s top infectious disease expert and Pfizer.

Paxlovid was granted Emergency Use Authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in December. It was granted EUA for the treatment of high-risk adults and pediatric patients 12 years and older who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and are at serious risk of hospitalization. A combination of nirmatrelvir and ritonavir tablets, during clinical trials, Paxlovid significantly reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by 89% compared to placebo in non-hospitalized, high-risk adults with COVID-19 within three days of symptom-onset. However, even then, there were cases of a recurrence of symptoms in some clinical trial patients.

Pfizer Chief Executive Officer Albert Bourla has suggested that those patients who experience a recurrence of symptoms should undergo a second round of treatment with Paxlovid. As BioSpace previously reported, Bourla said if symptoms reoccur, “then you give a second course, like you do with antibiotics, and that’s it.”

However, the FDA has balked at that suggestion. Dr. John Farley, director of the FDA’s Office of Infectious Diseases, argued that there is no evidence of benefit for a longer course of treatment, such as 10 days instead of the current five days of administration, or a second five-day round of treatment.

Mark Van Scyoc/Shutterstock

While Pfizer may undertake these additional studies, as BioSpace reported earlier Wednesday, the pharma giant has so far reportedly resisted requests to use Paxlovid in combination studies. The nonprofit Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative said that Pfizer rejected a January request to offer doses of Paxlovid to be used in a study alongside an inhaled steroid in Africa.

Also Wednesday, Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly said studies have confirmed that bebtelovimab, the company’s monoclonal antibody against COVID-19, is effective against all variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, including BA.2, which is currently the dominant strain in the U.S., Seeking Alpha reported.


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Missouri Bill Prevents Doctors Being Disciplined If They Prescribe Ivermectin Or Hydroxychloroquine

Missouri Bill Prevents Doctors Being Disciplined If They Prescribe Ivermectin Or Hydroxychloroquine

Authored by Naveen Athrappully via The…



Missouri Bill Prevents Doctors Being Disciplined If They Prescribe Ivermectin Or Hydroxychloroquine

Authored by Naveen Athrappully via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),

Missouri lawmakers passed legislation that prevents state licensing boards from disciplining doctors who prescribe ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson signs a bill in Jefferson City, Mo., on May 24, 2019. (Summer Balentine/AP Photo)

Sponsored by Rep. Brenda Kay Shields (R-Mo.), HB 2149 also bars pharmacists from questioning doctors or disputing patients regarding the usage of such drugs and their efficacy.

With a convincing 130–4 vote in the House, HB 2149 passed both chambers on May 12 and currently heads to the office of Gov. Mike Parson to be potentially signed into law.

The board shall not deny, revoke, or suspend, or otherwise take any disciplinary action against, a certificate of registration or authority, permit, or license required by this chapter for any person due to the lawful dispensing, distributing, or selling of ivermectin tablets or hydroxychloroquine sulfate tablets for human use in accordance with prescriber directions,” reads the draft of the bill (pdf).

It adds, “A pharmacist shall not contact the prescribing physician or the patient to dispute the efficacy of ivermectin tablets or hydroxychloroquine sulfate tablets for human use unless the physician or patient inquires of the pharmacist about the efficacy of ivermectin tablets or hydroxychloroquine sulfate tablets.”

Critics of the bill have noted that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not given approval for usage of the drugs. Ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine have been divisive drugs and politically polarized throughout the pandemic.

“But, nevertheless, the Missouri legislature has chosen to ‘own the libs’ by issuing a gag order against every pharmacist in this state from offering their medical opinion on taking either one of those medications—even if it could kill their patient,” wrote former Democratic nominee Lindsey Simmons in a May 12 Twitter post.

Although 22 countries across the world have approved the use of ivermectin in treating COVID-19, the FDA maintains that the current data show the drug to be ineffective. Large doses can be dangerous, it says.

A recent study published in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases analyzed a national federated database of adults that compared ivermectin with the FDA-approved COVID-19 medication, remdesivir.

After using propensity score matching and adjusting for potential confounders, ivermectin was associated with reduced mortality vs remdesivir,” researchers wrote. “To our knowledge, this is the largest association study of patients with COVID-19, mortality, and ivermectin.”

According to The Associated Press, Missouri state Rep. Patty Lewis, a Democrat, agreed to the bill to satisfy a group of conservatives in the Senate. She added that the bill will not change anything significantly as medical boards do not engage in punishing doctors who prescribe drugs legally.

Tyler Durden Wed, 05/18/2022 - 23:25

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“They Shut Us Down”: Michigan Businesses Sue Whitmer For Losses Due To COVID Lockdowns

"They Shut Us Down": Michigan Businesses Sue Whitmer For Losses Due To COVID Lockdowns

Authored by Steven Kovac via The Epoch Times (emphasis…



"They Shut Us Down": Michigan Businesses Sue Whitmer For Losses Due To COVID Lockdowns

Authored by Steven Kovac via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),

A coalition of five bowling alleys and family entertainment centers is suing Michigan’s Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, for losses incurred due to her mandatory COVID-19 shutdowns in 2020.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer listens to Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) in Clawson, Mich., on March 18, 2019. (Paul Sancya/AP)

Michigan Dept. of Health and Human Services director Robert Gordon is also a defendant in the case.

The plaintiffs allege that the shutdowns imposed by Whitmer and Gordon were a “taking” of their businesses without just compensation in violation of both the state and the U.S. Constitution.

The case has been winding its way through the federal courts since January 2021.

Fred Kautz runs the lane oiler at Kautz Shore Lanes in Lexington, Mich., on May 13, 2022. (Steven Kovac/The Epoch Times)

The coalition lost the first round of the legal battle when the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan ruled against it.

Oral arguments were recently held before a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals Sixth Circuit.

Plaintiff’s chief counsel David Kallman told The Epoch Times after the appeals court hearing, “The oral arguments from both sides were vigorous. The judges asked a lot of questions. It was the kind of proceeding that makes you proud to be a lawyer.

“Even the defense acknowledges that we are presenting ‘novel’ arguments.

“Michigan is the only state in the nation where a governor’s public health emergency powers were overturned as unconstitutional.

“If we lose in the court of appeals, we will take this case to the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Scott Bennett, executive director of the Independent Bowling and Entertainment Centers Association, told The Epoch Times,

“The governor’s actions were devastating to our industry.

“Things went from ‘two weeks to slow the spread’ to indefinite shutdowns.”

Bennett said that the forced closures were not based on solid scientific proof that bowling alleys and family entertainment centers would spread the virus any more than the Walmart stores or the GM plants that were allowed to remain open.

“They were allowed to operate with hundreds and even thousands of people in them but we had to shut down. We feel our industry was unfairly singled-out.

“We cannot stand for a repeat of such arbitrary treatment and don’t want the people of Michigan to forget what was done to them.”

With the recent uptick in COVID cases and the approaching mid-term elections, Bennett said his members that survived the 2020 shutdowns feel like it can happen all over again.

“It’s like operating day-to-day with a hammer held over your head. The uncertainty is altering business plans. The value of our businesses is dropping through the floor,” Bennett said.

Brian and Mindy Hill work the counter at their bowling alley in Imlay City, Mich. on May 13, 2022. (Steven Kovac/Epoch Times)

Fred Kautz, the proprietor of Kautz’s Shore Lanes in Lexington, Michigan, started working in the family business when he was 13.

The business has 12 bowling lanes, a bar, an arcade, a restaurant, and living quarters upstairs.

“We’ve owned this place for 42 years. For me and my family, it’s more than a place to work. It’s a way of life. And it has become an institution in our community—a real gathering place,” said Kautz.

He said he is still smarting from what happened after Whitmer’s executive actions were ruled unconstitutional by the Michigan Supreme Court in the fall of 2020.

“We got a little reprieve. We thought we were in the clear until she came back with another round of forced closures, this time under the authority of the Michigan Department of Public Health.

The first 30 days knocked us right on our butts. But we were willing to cooperate, to do our part. We were all scared and we did not want to see harm come to anybody.

We lost a lot of money at the time. We are coming back slowly, but our overall revenue is still down 20 percent from pre-pandemic days. That’s hard to make up.

“In the spring of 2020, I tried to do what was recommended and go along. Never again!

“If my Dad was still alive, he’d have never closed at all,” said Kautz.

Brian and Mindy Hill, owners of I.C. Strikes, a 16-lane bowling alley, bar, and snack bar in Imlay City said their business was hit hard by the shutdowns.

Brian was the town barber for 25 years, before purchasing the bowling alley where he learned to bowl as a child.

“We took over in December 2018. We’d saved up money to buy this place and make some upgrades. When COVID hit, we were forced to close down. It took all the money we saved for improvements just to survive,” said Brian.

The Hills said they never thought they’d see the day when their own government could do something like that to them.

Mary Bacon, assistant manager of Jump City, a family recreation center, cleans an arcade machine in Imlay City, Mich., on May 13, 2022. (Steven Kovac/The Epoch Times)

They shut us down. They took away our livelihood with no end date in sight. Then they wanted to loan us money. Think about that. They first put us in a situation where we had zero income to pay our previous debt. And then they wanted to loan us more money.

“Lots of small business people lost their businesses but kept their debt. It ruined them,” said Brian.

The Hills did apply for and receive a Small Business Administration loan at 3.25 percent interest for 30 years, and they participated in the Paycheck Protection Program which helped their business survive.

Up the road from the Hill’s bowling alley is Jump City, a large indoor recreation center offering an array of bouncy houses and arcade games for children.

Assistant manager Mary Bacon told The Epoch Times, “We lost a lot of business. We were forced to close for 15 months and had to make our payments with no income.”

Bacon remembers the morning of March 16, 2020, when many area businesses were gearing up for big St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.

“By afternoon everybody had to close. All that food went to waste.

“The shutdown was supposed to be for a couple of weeks. Nobody foresaw it would drag on for a year and three months.

“Oh, they said we could open again, but they so severely restricted the number of customers that we lost all of our big birthday parties. With so few kids allowed in, we couldn’t operate. We were losing too much money.”

Bacon said people are coming back to the center but are still scared, even though the games and bouncy houses are continuously cleaned and sanitized.

Navaeh Smalstig, 8, climbs out of a bouncy house at Jump City in Imlay City, Mich., on May 13, 2022. (Steven Kovac/The Epoch Times)

Before the pandemic, Danny Brown owned a roller rink in Grand Blanc and Owasso, two south-central Michigan towns.

“The lockdowns forced us to sell the Owasso rink for less than half of what we paid for it. We will be trying to make up our loss for years to come.”

Brown, who is a plaintiff in the lawsuit, told The Epoch Times, “To keep going I had to decide to triple our debt. Since the shutdown, I am three-quarters of a million dollars deeper in debt.

“Small businesses put everything on the line. All of our personal and family money. I am personally responsible for our debt. If I die my children will have to pay it.”

Brown said Michigan’s government acted without a real understanding and regarded the state’s small businesses as “nonessential throwaways.”

“One of the reasons we filed suit is to push the government to think differently,” he said.

According to Brown, family entertainment centers like skating rinks, bowling alleys, arcades, pool halls, miniature golf, and go-cart tracks have been nearly wiped out.

“A few years ago, there were 3,500 roller skating rinks in the United States. Now there are 700. There were five rinks in Genesee County, now there are two.” he said.

Brown attributes the decrease to years of ongoing government mandates and interference that led up to the COVID-19 lockdowns.

“They took, they stole our businesses!” he said.

Donn Slimmen, another plaintiff in the case, owns Spartan West Bowling in the west Michigan resort town of Ludington.

“The lockdown just about killed us. It was 14 to 15 months of agony. Our bank payments and utility bills didn’t stop. We went from being two to three months behind to more months behind.

“We entered into survival mode. We ate a lot of pork and beans and hotdogs. We’re still trying to work ourselves out of the hole. By the end of this summer, we might be solvent again.

“We were lucky to survive. We are still hanging on by threads,” said Slimmen.

Along with 16 bowling lanes, Slimmen operates a full-service restaurant.

It’s never come back. Pre-pandemic, we’d serve 200 customers at an ordinary Friday fish fry. Now our best night is 100.

“Our restaurant went from a thriving seated-guest business to a take-out operation grossing only two to three percent of the seated sales.

“We were spending $400 to take in proceeds of $100.

“The politicians and bureaucrats don’t understand. They never cleaned a toilet seat or climbed into a bowling machine to fix it,” said Slimmen.

Slimmen blames Gov.Gretchen Whitmer for the plight of his community and the state.

“You didn’t see Republican governors closing businesses. Their states did so much better.

“Drive through downtown Ludington or Muskegon and look at all the boarded-up storefronts. So many places are out of business. Michigan is in terrible shape,” Slimmen said.

The Tomassoni family has been in the bowling business for 84 years in the western Upper Peninsula town of Iron Mountain, Michigan.

We had to close bowling and our banquet facility a total of 161 days in two different periods of time in 2020. After the second shutdown, we could operate at 25 percent occupancy and only during restricted hours. No wedding receptions, no special events. It was a disaster.

“It ripped my heart out. I am so bitter towards my government,” said owner Pete Tomassoni.

Tomassoni’s business suffered further because of its proximity to Wisconsin which is only minutes away.

“Wisconsin closed for just 30 days. For the most part, they were wide open. That really hurt us.

“Our governor was picking and choosing which of our state’s businesses could operate. To force a business to close with no notice and without proven science is straight out wrong.

“I think that she came down so hard on small business because we, by and large, lean to the right.

“The state dangled the threat of yanking business licenses to keep people in line.

“Some of our businesses tried to defy the state and stayed open

Tyler Durden Wed, 05/18/2022 - 21:25

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