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The Station: Zoox seeks out rain and Tesla fans go on the attack — again

The Station is a weekly newsletter dedicated to all things transportation. Sign up here — just click The Station — to receive it every weekend in your inbox. Hello readers: Welcome to The Station, your central hub for all past, present and future…



The Station is a weekly newsletter dedicated to all things transportation. Sign up here — just click The Station — to receive it every weekend in your inbox.

Hello readers: Welcome to The Station, your central hub for all past, present and future means of moving people and packages from Point A to Point B.

TechCrunch’s Rebecca Bellan and Aria Alamalhodaei were a bit ambitious this week, which means I dialed back some of the other parts. Let’s go!

But before we dive in, I wanted to give a nod to the inaugural effort of the Indy Autonomous Challenge, which was held Saturday. The IAC brought together students from 21 universities from 9 countries, who were charged with programming driverless racecars to compete in a  high-speed autonomous race. The winning team, which received the $1 million grand prize, was the Technical University of Munich. I did not attend, but was told by a few folks who were there that it was a small, yet fun event and solid foundation had been established for this to continue in future years.

As always, you can email me at to share thoughts, criticisms, opinions or tips. You also can send a direct message to me at Twitter — @kirstenkorosec.


Let’s start the week with a new-ish company and this week’s unsung hero of micromobility: Zoba.

Zoba, a Boston-based startup that runs fleet optimization for many major micromobility companies, including Spin, just announced a $12 million Series A raise.

The company’s AI runs behind the operator’s fleet management software. Zoba’s software takes into account shifting local regulations and basically helps micromobility companies get as many customers on vehicles as possible, while being as efficient as possible and helping to adhere to a company’s bottom line.

While we’re on the subject of bottom lines, Lime said CEO Wayne Ting said the third quarter of 2021 would be the company’s second profitable quarter, adjusted for EBITDA, of course. While Lime wasn’t able to generate more sales or revenue to increase top line growth, it seems it was able to increase efficiency in a way that quite possibly has led to profitability. But we’ll have to take their word for it. Nothing can be certain until the company goes public and dishes up those earnings.

Bolt Mobility is launching both an in-app navigation system for its e-scooters, called “MobilityOS,” as well as a new scooter with a built-in smartphone holder that also uses the scooter’s battery to charge the phone! Let’s see how that one goes. Is it safer to just listen to audio directions and occasionally try to check your phone while riding, or is it safer to take a cheeky peek down at the screen every now and again?

Helbiz has partnered with mapping company Fantasmo to integrate its parking tech into Helbiz’s e-scooter app. Fantasmo’s camera-positioning tech detects the exact location of e-scooters and validates parking within eight inches or less via a rider’s phone camera. The integration will roll out in Miami first.

Voi is making a Copenhagen comeback as the city aims to become the world’s first carbon-neutral capital by 2025. Voi, based in neighboring country Sweden, is bringing 800 e-scooters to the Danish metropolis for the next year; the service could be extended another two years if all goes well.

Niu Technologies, a Chinese electric motor scooter manufacturer, announced it would start making e-bikes in order to help grow its international presence. The e-bike series includes a 15 mph and a 28 mph version. The bikes are pretty heavy at nearly 100 pounds, due to large aluminum frames and oversized dual suspension.

Japanese motorcycle manufacturer Kawasaki says it’s going all-electric in developed countries by 2035, which really gives it plenty of time to get its model together and keep selling gas-powered motorcycles in the meantime.

To compete with Ola’s amazing success selling electric scooters (the big ones, not the kick ones), Honda announced it would be selling the same in India. Honda Motorcycle & Scooter India told the Economic Times it would have a product within the next financial year.

Finally, at the Micromobility America conference last month, micromobility legend Horace Dediu presented the 10 commandments of micromobility, which I now present to you. I do think you should watch the video, as well.

1. Nobody invented micromobility. “Micromobility is the confluence of thousands of ideas and the work of thousands of people.” A range of enabling technologies, like lithium ion batteries becoming cheaper, led to this micro outcome.

2. Most trips are short, which means short trips are more important. 50% of trips are from 0 to 5 miles. That number could actually increase if people have more access to a vehicle that’s designed for shorter trips.

3. Cars are a bundle. You can substitute the short trips with smaller vehicles, and you can substitute the bigger trips with bigger vehicles that are shared, like planes, trains and buses.

4. The smaller it gets, the bigger it gets. And by this he means volumes. For example, Android and iPhone sales far surpass those of PCs and other revolutionary computers, even though they came to market much later. In terms of vehicles, Dediu expects micromobility vehicles to grow much faster than electric vehicles in the future.

5. You can’t get there from here. There are more cars than ever in all of our cities and countries, and based on adoption curves, that number will only increase exponentially. Even if you tried to electrify all cars, emissions would still rise beyond legal limits. But with micromobility, we could have twice the number of drivers with half the amount of emissions.

6. Don’t dig where there’s no treasure. All infrastructure is a sunk cost. All the arguments we have about not changing infrastructure are based on the massive costs associated with infrastructure builds, but those are fallacies. We’ve destroyed infrastructures in the past. Inner-city highways can be demolished, too.

7. They promised flying taxis. We got bike lanes. Hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent on big moonshots like autonomous vehicles and flying cars, but the simple bike lane is far better and more revolutionary than “any of this crap.”

8. You sell miles, but customers buy smiles. The transition to micromobility will happen because people are happy with the vehicles and like riding them.

9. Micromobility is a mind for the bicycle. Micromobility absorbs data, software, intelligence and sensing. It’s cheaper and builds on the shoulders of giants, and it’s increasingly the smartest machine on the road. “The power of software allows us to invest in solutions to overcome most of our machines’ shortcomings.

10. Cities always win. Micromobility is urban freedom. Cities have gone through much worse than coronavirus, and they all came back stronger than ever. Cities are antifragile, the more you stress them, the stronger they become.

— Rebecca Bellan

Deal of the week

money the station

Welp … I’m not ready to call peak urban air mobility quite yet, but we might be getting close.

HT Aero, an urban air mobility company that’s an affiliate of Chinese electric vehicle manufacturer Xpeng, raised an eyebrow-raising $500 million in a Series A round. The company said it will use the funds to acquire top-tier talent, advance R&D and “continue to gain airworthiness provision and certification” as it advances toward the next generation of its vehicles, according to Deli Zhao, founder and president of the company.

The company recently revealed its fifth-generation flying vehicle, the Xpeng X2, which can handle autonomous flight take-off and landing for certain city scenarios, back-end scheduling, charging and flight control. The company says it wants to provide UAM solutions for individual consumers, rather than businesses, which would certainly be in line with Xpeng’s goals.

Other deals that got my attention …

AirGarage, a startup that works with parking real estate owners and offers a full-stack software and management service for their lot or garage, closed a $12.5 million Series A round led by a16z, with participation from existing investors Floodgate, Founders Fund and Abstract Ventures. AirGarage has more than 200 locations across 30 states under its management.

Alaska Airlines launched a new venture capital arm, dubbed Alaska Star Ventures. The aim is to find and invest in emerging technologies to help decarbonize air travel. Its first investment was to put $15 million into the Los Angeles-based UP.Partners’ inaugural venture fund. UP.Partners’ $230 million early-stage fund is focused on mobility technologies. Woven Capital, the investment arm of Toyota Motor’s Woven Planet Group, Standard Industries, Hillwood and OSM Maritime have also invested in the UP.Partners fund.

Ally Financial, the automotive finance giant, plans to acquire credit card company Fair Square Financial for $750 million, reported Automotive News.

BMW i Ventures invested an undisclosed amount into Our Next Energy Inc., a Michigan-based energy storage solutions company working to develop longer range, lower cost batteries for electric vehicles.

FlixMobility, the $3 billion-German transportation startup, showed it’s pretty darned interested in the U.S. market. The company agreed to acquire Greyhound Lines, the iconic U.S. bus network, from U.K.-based owner FirstGroup. The deal, which includes a vehicle fleet, trademarks and related assets and liabilities, has an enterprise value on a debt-free/cash-free basis of $46 million, with an unconditional deferred consideration of $32 million with an interest rate of 5% per annum alongside that.* (Check out Ingrid Lunden’s article to get deeper into the details, including what that * is all about)

Flock Freight, the trucking logistics company, raised a $215 million Series D round led by SoftBank Vision Fund 2, making it the industry’s most recent unicorn at a valuation of more than $1 billion.

Gatik, the autonomous vehicle startup, reached a strategic lease and vehicle maintenance agreement with Ryder System, Freightwaves reported.

River, an Indian startup focused on the electric two-wheeler market, came out of stealth with $2 million in backing from Maniv Mobility and TrucksVC.

Yummy, the Venezuelan delivery super app founded in 2020, raised $18 million in a Series A round aimed at accelerating the company’s proposed expansion throughout Latin America. Anthos Capital led the latest round, with additional participation from JAM Fund, whose founder Justin Mateen was an investor in the startup’s $4 million seed round.

Policy corner


Hello everyone! Welcome back to Policy Corner.

The big news this week is the appointment of Missy Cummings, former Navy fighter pilot and engineering professor at Duke University, to a senior safety advisory role at the nation’s top vehicle safety regulator.

This kind of appointment might not typically get much notice from the general public. But Tesla fans sure did (side note from transportation editor and The Station creator Kirsten Korosec: the AV industry absolutely took notice; they just didn’t comment publicly). The reaction from a community of Tesla owners and shareholders was loud — a torrent of concern and vitriol that frothed forth on Twitter and that at times devolved into attacks on Cummings gender and character.

Cummings has been a vocal critic of Tesla’s Autopilot advanced driver assistance system, and more recently, its rollout of the “Full Self-Driving” beta program to thousands of drivers across the United States. On the McKinsey Global Institute podcast last month, she called attention to what she referred to as “mode confusion,” or when the driver doesn’t have sufficient understanding of the capabilities (and limitations) of a system.

“We’ve known about this for a long time in aviation, but this is new learning for the automotive world,” she said on the podcast. “We see this when people think that Autopilot and Full Self-Driving actually mean those things, and people climb in the backseat or take their hands off the steering wheel and don’t realize the trouble they’re in, and the car crashes.”

Just as news of the appointment was circulating, Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted “Objectively, her track record is extremely biased against Tesla.” That tweet fanned the growing flames of dissent from Tesla fans, many of whom are also shareholders. A petition has even been circulated on requesting her removal.

Supporters of Tesla have also called attention to Cummings’ service on the board of Veoneer, a Tier 1 company that supplies automakers with advanced driver assistance software and the accompanying hardware such as radars, lidars, thermal night vision cameras and other vision systems. It’s the lidar — a sensor that most in the industry with the exception of Tesla believe is required to offer fully automated driving — that triggered Tesla fans. Qualcomm recently reached an agreement to acquire Veoneer.

Her critics suggest that the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration may take a more conservative stance on ADAS and Tesla in the future. (It should be noted that NHTSA has in the past has generally taken rather laissez faire approach with Tesla; anything beyond that will seem as if the regulatory gates have come crashing down on the automaker.) It is unclear whether she will take an advisory role in the investigation into Autopilot currently underway at NHTSA, which was opened following 12 incidents of Teslas crashing into parked emergency vehicles.

Kirsten here with a side note on this issue: Missy Cummings first protected and then ended up deleting her Twitter account because she was not just trolled; she received death threats, which are being investigated, according to my sources.

Update: FSD software beta was rolled back Sunday. Musk tweeted Sunday “Seeing some issues with 10.3, so rolling back to 10.2 temporarily. Please note, this is to be expected with beta software. It is impossible to test all hardware configs in all conditions with internal QA, hence public beta.”

The other piece of news that caught my eye this week  ….

Uber and Lyft have been lobbying the government to include provisions to boost electric vehicle adoption in the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill currently being debated in Congress.

The two ride-hailing giants have made sweeping, ambitious pledges that all rides booked on their platforms will be taken in an electric vehicle by 2030 — a goal that each company is unlikely to reach without hefty government support.

Both companies consider cost and lack of charging infrastructure to be two key obstacles to larger EV uptake, according to reporting from E&E News. And it’s true that for many, electric vehicles remain prohibitively expensive, especially compared to the plethora of used internal combustion engine vehicles available… well, basically anywhere.

“Our population of drivers who use our app, they are coming from lower-income communities, and they’re serving mobility in urban areas,” Adam Gromis, a sustainability policy manager with Uber, told E&E News. “So for us, we want to see slow charging in underserved neighborhoods and multiunit dwellings, and we want to see fast charging in urban areas and areas of high mobility demand.

According to the spending transparency platform OpenSecrets, Uber and Lyft have each spent close to $1 million so far in the first half of the year on lobbying efforts, though each employed fewer lobbyists overall. Data on third quarter lobbying spending is not yet available.

— Aria Alamalhodaei

Notable reads and other tidbits

Keeping this short — and a bit of a mishmash — this week.

Elon Musk’s Boring Company received initial approval to build a transportation system that would shuttle passengers in Tesla vehicles via a network of tunnels under Las Vegas. The special use permit and franchise agreement would allow the Boring Company to expand its Vegas Loop system beyond its current 1.7-mile footprint that connects the Las Vegas Convention Center campus to a 29-mile route with 51 stations that would include stops at casinos along the Las Vegas Strip, the city’s football stadium and UNLV. It would eventually reach the McCarran International Airport.

Lyft released its first and long overdue safety report.

Miles, the universal rewards app that lets users earn miles for every mile traveled, has launched in Japan. The expansion aims to build off of Miles’ marketplace, which now offers users 500 personalized rewards from 350 brands, including Garmin, Hulu, Japan Airlines, Red Bull and Under Armour.

Motional, the autonomous vehicle joint venture between Hyundai Motor Group and Aptiv, is partnering with Transport for New South Wales too help the Australian state better understand the technology and possibilities that come with a driverless ride-hail service.

Plus, self-driving truck technology developer, said it plans to expand into Europe. The company has hired Bosch veteran Sun-Mi “Sunny” Choi as senior director of business development to accelerate that European expansion.

Rivian, which filed to go public, said in a recent regulatory filing that it expects to record a quarterly net loss of up to $1.28 billion due to costs associated with the start of production of its debut truck. The net loss for the period ended Sept. 30 will range from $1.18 billion to $1.28 billion, according to the preliminary results.

Stellantis, the automaker formed through a merger with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Groupe PSA, reached a preliminary deal with LG Energy Solution to produce battery cells and modules in North America.

Tesla continued its profitability streak, reporting net income of $1.62 billion in the third quarter. That’s a nearly fivefold increase from the $331 million it earned in the same period last year. The record-setting profit came thanks to record sales and despite a global chip shortage and supply chain constraints that have affected the industry. Notably, Tesla was able to earn that record net income (on a GAAP basis) even as the vast majority of its sales came from its cheaper Model Y and Model 3 electric vehicles.

Wolfe Research went out and rode in an Argo AI autonomous test vehicle. The tl;dr is that they saw great progress and the vehicle was able to navigate an environment packed with cars, double parked trucks, street-cleaners, e-bikes, aggressively driven scooters, and pedestrians. “For the most part the vehicle performed complex decisions (yielding or not yielding to pedestrians, unprotected left turns, adjusting to construction),” the report said. Their takeaway: “We tested an Argo’s AV. And it reinforced our view that this technology is coming sooner, with potential for greater disruption than investors currently appreciate.”

Zoox, the autonomous vehicle startup acquired last year by Amazon, is expanding to Seattle. The company plans to open in 2022 an engineering office and operations facility, which will act as a base for its autonomous vehicle testing. The company, which today employs more than 1,300 people, tests its autonomous vehicles in San Francisco, Las Vegas and Foster City, California, near its headquarters. The company started testing its autonomous vehicles on public roads in Las Vegas in 2019.

I spoke to co-founder and CTO Jesse Levinson and he said Zoox has been eyeing Seattle as a test site for years. The company even completed a small pilot in the city in late 2019. The frequency of rain in the area is one of the primary reasons Zoox picked Seattle, Levinson said.

Zoox has developed some advanced weather proofing, including what Levinson described as “active rain mitigation” for its sensors. “We’re very excited about that and we want to test it and validate it in the rain; Seattle is a great place for that,” Levinson said.

While Zoox is setting up operations in the city where Amazon is based, Levinson emphasized that the two companies still operate separately. The Zoox office and operations hub will not be housed on the Amazon campus, for instance. Zoox will take advantage of its proximity to Amazon to work with the company on various collaborations in the future, Levinson said, describing that as an “extra bonus.”

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US Sent Billions in Funding to China, Russia For Cat Experiments, Wuhan Lab Research: Ernst

US Sent Billions in Funding to China, Russia For Cat Experiments, Wuhan Lab Research: Ernst

Authored by Mark Tapscott via The Epoch Times…



US Sent Billions in Funding to China, Russia For Cat Experiments, Wuhan Lab Research: Ernst

Authored by Mark Tapscott via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),

Hundreds of millions of U.S. tax dollars went to recipients in China and Russia in recent years without being properly tracked by the federal government, including a grant that enabled a state-run Russian lab to test cats on treadmills, according to Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa).

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) speaks at a Senate Republican news conference in the U.S. Capitol on March 9, 2022. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Ernst and her staff investigators, working with auditors at the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the Congressional Research Service, as well as two nonprofit Washington watchdogs—Open The Books (OTB) and the White Coat Waste Project (WCWP)—discovered dozens of other grants that weren’t counted on the federal government’s internet database.

While the total value of the uncounted grants found by the Ernst team is $1.3 billion, that amount is just the tip of the iceberg, the GAO reported.

Among the newly discovered grants is $4.2 million to China’s infamous Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) “to conduct dangerous experiments on bat coronaviruses and transgenic mice,” according to a May 31 Ernst statement provided to The Epoch Times.

The $4.2 million exposed by Ernst is in addition to previously reported funding to the WIV for extensive gain-of-function research by Chinese scientists, much of it funded in whole or part prior to the COVID-19 pandemic by National Institutes for Health (NIH) grants channeled through the EcoHealth Alliance medical research nonprofit.

The NIH has awarded seven grants totaling more than $4.1 million to EcoHealth to study various aspects of SARS, MERS, and other coronavirus diseases.

Buying Chinese Puppy Parts

As part of another U.S.-funded grant, hearts and other organs from 425 dogs in China were purchased for medical research.

These countryside dogs in China are part of the farmer’s household; they were mainly used for guarding. Their diet includes boiled rice, discarded raw food animal tissues, and whatever dogs can forage. These dogs were sold for food,” an NIH study uncovered by the Ernst researchers reads.

Other previously unreported grants exposed by the Ernst team include $1.6 million to Chinese companies from the federal government’s National School Lunch Program and $4.7 million for health insurance from a Russian company that was sanctioned by the United States in 2022 as a result of the invasion of Ukraine.

“It’s gravely concerning that Washington’s reckless spending has reached the point where nobody really knows where all tax dollars are going,” Ernst separately told The Epoch Times. “But I have the receipts, and I’m shining a light on this, so bureaucrats can no longer cover up their tracks, and taxpayers can know exactly what their hard-earned dollars are funding.”

The problem is that federal officials don’t rigorously track sub-awards made by initial grant recipients, according to the Iowa Republican. Such sub-awards are covered by a multitude of federal regulations that stipulate many conditions to ensure that the tax dollars are appropriately spent.

The GAO said in an April report that “limitations in sub-award data is a government-wide issue and not unique to U.S. funding to entities in China.”

GAO is currently examining the state of federal government-wide sub-award data as part of a separate review,” the report reads.

Peter Daszak, right, the president of the EcoHealth Alliance, is seen in Wuhan, China, on Feb. 3, 2021. (Hector Retamal/AFP via Getty Images)

The Eco-Health sub-awards to WIV illustrate the problem.

“Despite being required by law to make these receipts available to the public on the website, EcoHealth tried to cover its tracks by intentionally not disclosing the amounts of taxpayer money being paid to WIV, which went unnoticed for years,” Ernst said in the statement.

“I was able to determine that more than $490 million of taxpayer money was paid to organizations in China [in] the last five years. That’s ten times more than GAO’s estimate! Over $870 million was paid to entities in Russia during the same period!

Together that adds up to more than $1.3 billion paid to our adversaries. But again, these numbers still do not represent the total dollar amounts paid to institutions in China or Russia since those numbers are not tracked and the information that is being collected is incomplete.”

Adam Andrzejewski, founder and chairman of OTB, told The Epoch Times, “When following the money at the state and local level, the real corruption exists in the subcontractor payments. At the federal level, the existing system doesn’t even track many of those recipients.

“Without better reporting, agencies and appropriators don’t truly understand how tax dollars were used. We now know that taxpayer dollars are traded further downstream than originally realized with third- and fourth-tier recipients. These transactions need scrutiny. Requiring recipients to account for where and how they actually spend each dollar creates a record far better than agencies are capable of generating.”

Read more here...

Tyler Durden Fri, 06/02/2023 - 19:40

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Spread & Containment

COVID-19 Testing Resumes In Beijing, Shandong, As Reinfection Cases Surge

COVID-19 Testing Resumes In Beijing, Shandong, As Reinfection Cases Surge

Authored by Alex Wu via The Epoch Times,

China has resumed COVID-19…



COVID-19 Testing Resumes In Beijing, Shandong, As Reinfection Cases Surge

Authored by Alex Wu via The Epoch Times,

China has resumed COVID-19 PCR testing in Beijing and Shandong Province amid rising re-infections, while the regime’s top health advisers have warned of a new wave of mass infections.

Since May 29, mainland netizens have posted on Chinese social media platforms that PCR test kiosks in Beijing are quietly back in business.

Mainland media “City Interactive,” a subsidiary of Zhejiang “City Express,” reported on May 30 that one of the PCR testing booths that netizens posted about was in Beijing’s Xicheng District, where the central government and the Beijing municipal government are located.

The staff of that testing kiosk said that the PCR test there has never stopped, reported “City Interactive”, without being clear how long it had been open.

“We have been doing nucleic acid testing in Xicheng District, but I’m not sure about other districts in Beijing,” a staff member said.

The staff member said the laboratory she works for is mainly responsible for nucleic acid testing within Xicheng District. Currently, there are more than ten testing points outdoors, and one person is on duty for each booth from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.

Residents get swabbed during mass COVID-19 testing in the Chaoyang District in Beijing on June 14, 2022. (Andy Wong/AP Photo)

A testing kiosk in Chaoyang District, Beijing’s central business district, has been operating since March, reported “City Interactive.” The testing booth staff said it is in the health center near Jinsong Middle Street.

Ms. Wang, a Beijing resident, told The Epoch Times on May 28 that some people have taken the PRC test while others have chosen not to.

She said many people around her, including her child, have already re-infected twice.

“This time, the symptoms seem to include a high fever and then sore throat, very painful,” she said.

“Most people are just resting at home now. Seeing a doctor is very expensive, and now many medicines are paid for by ourselves.”

Gao Yu, a former senior media person in Beijing, confirmed what Wang said. She told The Epoch Times that the relatives around her have been re-infected two or three times, and most are just resting it off at home.

Shandong Resumes Testing

PCR testing booths in Qingdao City, Shandong Province, have also reopened.

A “Peninsula Metropolis Daily” report included a screenshot of an online notice posted by the Laoshan District Health Bureau in Qingdao, which announced that from May 29, the district will conduct COVID-19 PCR testing for “all people who are willing.”

It also listed the working hours of the testing sites, from 7:00 am to 4:00 pm, seven days a week.

Another mainland Chinese media, “Xinmin Evening News,” reported on May 31 that the staff in the district bureau confirmed that the testing has resumed and is for free.

Next Wave

Zhong Nanshan, China’s top respiratory disease specialist, predicted on May 22 that a new wave of COVID-19 infections in China will likely peak in late June when weekly cases could reach 65 million. Then, one Omicron-infected patient will be able to infect more than 30 people,  Zhong said, adding that the infection is difficult to prevent.

A security personnel in a protective suit keeps watch as medical workers attend to patients at the fever department of Tongji Hospital, a major facility for COVID-19 patients in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, Jan. 1, 2023. (Staff/Reuters)

Chinese citizens across the country have said on social media that infections have been swelling since March.

Zhong also said there had been a small peak in infections at the end of April and early May.

Most COVID-19 infections in mainland China are currently caused by the XBB series mutant strains of Omicron. Among the locally transmitted cases, the percentage of XBB series variants increased to 83.6 percent in early May from 0.2 percent in February.

Zhang Wenhong, China’s top virologist and director of China’s National Center for Infectious Diseases, also warned in late April at a conference that COVID-19 infections would reoccur after six months when immunity gained from prior infections has worn out.

Tyler Durden Fri, 06/02/2023 - 11:20

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Florida ‘freakishness’: why the sunshine state might have lost its appeal

Florida’s image as a safe sun and theme park destination may be threatened by recent political divisions and gun crime.




Florida's Clearwater Beach. Viaval Tours/Shutterstock

Florida is known worldwide for its beaches, resorts and theme parks, but has recently made headlines for a different reason. The state has been rocked by political controversies, bitter debates and fatal shootings at odds with its previously laid back holiday destination image.

In his 1947 book, Inside USA, writer John Gunther described Florida’s “freakishness in everything from architecture to social behaviour unmatched in any American state”. If Gunther had been writing today, he might be just as judgemental.

Florida’s recent political turmoil can be attributed to some highly contentious policies. The state has witnessed heated debates and legislative battles on issues including abortion, gun control, education, LGBTQ+ rights and voting rights.

Florida has been derided as “the worst state” in which to live, one of the worst in which to be unemployed or a student, and not a good place to die.

Even Donald Trump, who moved to his Florida Mar-a-Lago home during his presidency, has called it “among the worst states” to live in or retire to. This was an attack on Florida governor Ron DeSantis, who is also running for the Republican presidential nomination.

What was once considered by many to be a purple state – one that could either be Republican or Democrat – is now fiercely Republican. In recent years, the divide between those of different political beliefs has become toxic.

Importance of international image

International tourism and trade is huge business for Florida. In 2022, more than 1.1 million people visited Florida from the UK, the second largest group of international visitors on an annual basis. The UK is also Florida’s eighth largest trade partner with bilateral trade reaching $5.8 billion (£4.6 billion) in 2022. So state leaders might worry about tarnishing its image abroad.

Business leaders are already fretting about a fall in international visitor numbers linked to COVID and negative media coverage of the state. Around US$50 million was invested in marketing the state to tourists in 2023, this is expected to rise dramatically in 2024. The state’s ability to attract workers to keep its tourism and other industries going is weakening, reports suggest.

Heather DiGiacomo, chief of staff at the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, told Florida senators that applications for jobs at state-run agencies were down and staff retention was down too. “These turnover rates … impacts the number of well-trained staff available to mentor new staff and puts additional strain on current staff without longer shifts in detention.”

Republican governor Ron DeSantis, now a presidential candidate, has been at the centre of Florida’s significant political divisions. The Republican state legislature’s controversial partisan bills, such as the recent redrawing of the electoral map to benefit the Republican party, was signed into law despite intense opposition.

While his conservative policies on taxes, regulation and immigration have won strong support from conservatives, critics argue that he prioritises partisan politics over the needs of all Floridians. His outspoken handling of the COVID pandemic sparked controversy, with accusations of downplaying the severity of the virus and prioritising economic interests.

Florida’s restrictive abortion laws have also attracted national and international attention. In April 2023, the state passed the foetal heartbeat bill, which prohibits abortions once a foetal heartbeat is detected, typically at around six weeks gestation. This law has faced significant backlash from reproductive rights advocates, who argue that many individuals may not even be aware of their pregnancy at such an early stage.

School shootings and gun laws

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act was passed into Florida state law after the tragic Parkland school shooting in 2018, in which 17 people were killed. But it was controversial because it did not place restrictions on gun ownership or introduce background checks before gun purchases, but allowed schools to employ armed “guardians”. Critics argued that it fell short of addressing the root causes of gun violence in Florida.

There were seven mass shootings in Florida in the first two months of 2023. Despite this, the state has just passed a law that will come into effect on July 1 that will allow anyone who can legally own a gun in Florida to carry one without the need for a permit.

Florida’s partisan divide has been exacerbated by the introduction and passage of several laws that discriminate against the LGBTQ+ community. These laws cover areas including adoption, education, and transgender rights.

This year a massive LGBTQ event in a Florida theme park, which typically attracts 150,000 people, is taking out extra security measures, after new “don’t say gay” state laws were introduced in 2022. These rules ban teachers from discussing topics including sexual orientation. More generally, travel advisory warnings have been issued on the risks of travel to the state for LGBTQ+, African American and Latino people. A recent federal ruling overturned municipal bans on conversion therapy.

Although the “don’t say gay” bill was originally only aimed at third grade students and under, the bill has since been extended by Florida’s Board of Education to apply to all school pupils.

DeSantis has also become embroiled in a long legal and political battle with the Walt Disney Company, a major state employer, over the “don’t say gay” legislation. Disney recently announced it was cancelling a US$1 billion office complex project in the state.

Bills that restrict transgender students’ participation in school sports teams consistent with their gender identity have also sparked heated debate.

Meanwhile, changes in voting laws brought in by the state, including stricter identification requirements and limitations on the drop boxes where voters can leave mail-in ballots, have been criticised for making it more difficult for some people to vote.

Florida’s recent political turmoil has thrust the state into the national, and global, spotlight. Its deeply partisan divide, controversial policies and gun laws have created a toxic political climate, which has the ability to significantly damage the sunshine state’s appeal.

Dafydd Townley does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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