Air Travel is Getting Worse Here are 6 Tips To Make It Less of a Headache

Thousands of flights were canceled or delayed over the Father’s Day weekend, with the chaos at airports in the U.S. and abroad pointing to a summer of discontent for travelers. Airlines, tricky to operate under the best of conditions, are now also grappling with severe personnel shortages just as passengers return in droves as the pandemic eases.

“We’re used to navigating around weather delays in the summer, but having this huge travel resurgence combined with weather and staffing issues at airports and airlines has made it a much more complicated landscape,” said Misty Belles, a travel expert and spokesperson for Virtuoso, a global network of travel advisers specializing in luxury experiences. So what can you do to minimize the frustrations? Travel pros recommend some tricks of the trade to make air travel less of a headache this summer.

Book through the airline

Booking your ticket directly through an airline can make for more effective customer service and faster rebooking if necessary. By contrast, airlines tend to be less helpful when your travel arrangements are made through online aggregators such as Expedia or Priceline.“There has never been a more important time to book directly with the airline. When you book through a third party and you have to rebook, the airline says, ‘Go to them,’” Willis Orlando, travel expert at Scott’s Cheap Flights, told CBS MoneyWatch.

“They also have less robust customer service operations than an airline does.”

Even if it can seem like takes forever to connect with an airline customer service representative, once you’re in touch they can usually resolve problems. “With online travel sites, there is an extra layer of communication and policies, and you’re not always owed the same as what you are if you booked through the airline,” Orlando added.

Catch the first flight of the day

Another rule of thumb is to always book the first departing flight of the day for a better chance of it taking off on-time, even if it’s $50 or $100 more expensive than other fares. “Take the first morning flight out,” Belles of Virtuoso said. “It’s painful getting up at 4 a.m., but those flights are less likely to get bumped as the day goes on and things get backed up.”

Plus, bad weather typically disrupt operations later in the day, she added. For extra assurance, purchase a second, fully-refundable ticket for a flight scheduled two to three hours later. If your first flight is cancelled or significantly delayed, call the airline and request a full refund — then hop on the second flight.

When arranging a backup flight, book through a different carrier and try to use airline miles or points, which go right back into your travel bank if you end up cancelling the flight. “Booking tickets with airline miles gives you the benefit of a refundable ticket without paying for one. You can get your miles credited back to your account,” said Melissa Biggs Bradley, founder of Indagare Travel, a luxury travel planning company.

Fly direct

On a recent trip, Bradley flew from New York to Venice, Italy, and then drove an hour and a half to Slovenia, as opposed to connecting through Paris or Amsterdam and flying to a regional airport located closer to her final destination. And she’s glad she did. “Other people went through Paris or Amsterdam and connected and had massive lines, huge issues with bags and worries about flights being cancelled,” she said. “They would have been much better off going to a major airport a little further away and doing that drive.”

Of course, direct flights are more expensive than routes with connections, but they reduce the odds of something going wrong that mars your long-awaited vacation.  

“Avoid connections. If there are two or three legs, you’re doubling or tripling your chances of running into a problem,” said James Ferrara, co-founder and president of InteleTravel, a network of 75,000 independent travel advisers. “The more you can connect the lower the price, so it’s not an option for everyone.” If you must use connecting flights, don’t even think about a 45 minute layover. Give yourself at least two hours, or longer.

Upgrade to be first in line

Once you’ve booked your flight, download your airline’s mobile app and enable text messages to receive alerts related to your flight. Also join the airline’s frequent-flier program. “All of those things will help you get information quicker,” Ferrara said. Consider upgrading to a premium seat if one is available. Indeed, the better your standing with the airline, the more priority you’ll be given when it comes to rebooking a canceled or significantly delayed flight.

“When seats are overbooked or flights are canceled, they award seats on new planes based upon your status on that first plane. First class, business class and passengers with higher mileage levels will be rebooked first. You’ll get a seat before the person at the back of the plane does,” Bradley said. If you work with a travel adviser, they will take care of the rebooking process for you and advocate on your behalf. And it won’t cost you anything, as their fees are paid by airlines and hotels.

Travel on a Wednesday

If you’re traveling for an event like a wedding or sports tournament, if possible plan on arriving a couple of days in advance. Building a two to three day cushion leaves room for canceled flights or other travel mishaps without it causing you to miss the main event. “Don’t count on flying and arriving the same day,” Bradley said. “Build in a buffer and you’ll get there.”

Take an extra day off of work and fly on a weekday if you can. Also avoid flying between Friday and Monday, experts say. “The most important thing right now is not to fly on weekends. This is what weekends are going to look like at least through the summer,” Ferrara said, referring to the recent chaos at airports.

Only bring carry-on

If possible, avoid checking luggage, which avoids long bag drop lines at airports. Bradley urges her clients to either carry on or ship. In addition, if your flight is canceled and you have your bag with you, you’ll be more nimble. “You can jump on a different flight, whereas if your bag is in the belly of plane, it takes longer to maneuver and get yourself on a different flight,” Bradley said. “I am huge proponent of never checking your bag.”

By:

Source: Air travel is getting worse. Here are 6 tips to make it less of a headache. – Vigour Times

Critics by

When deciding what to wear to the airport, you’ll want to keep airport security in mind. Skip the belt and chunky jewelry, wear a jacket you can easily take on or off, and opt for shoes you can slip off easily. I also always wear socks because no one wants to walk barefoot through security.vPlus, since you will likely be checking your ticket a thousand times while you’re at the airport, wear something with pockets so you can easily access your phone and passport.

It doesn’t matter if you’re traveling for two weeks, a month, or a weekend. You can fit everything you need in a carry-on suitcase and a backpack. Remember, laundry exists all over the world, and when is the last time you ever wore everything you packed anyway? What you pack will vary based on where you’re going of course, but my go-to is two pairs of shoes, a couple pairs of jeans, a couple dresses, a sweater or sweatshirt, five shirts, PJs, and five pairs of socks and underwear.

Depending where you’re traveling you may need extras (like a swimsuit, scarf, rain jacket, etc), but you get the idea. When deciding what to wear to the airport, you’ll want to keep airport security in mind. Skip the belt and chunky jewelry, wear a jacket you can easily take on or off, and opt for shoes you can slip off easily. I also always wear socks because no one wants to walk barefoot through security.

Plus, since you will likely be checking your ticket a thousand times while you’re at the airport, wear something with pockets so you can easily access your phone and passport. The TSA suggests packing in layers, which works well. Put things you won’t need to touch at security or in-flight at the bottom of your personal item, and pack items you know you’ll have to access at the top. These items might include large electronics (laptop, Kindle, iPad), food, liquids, gels, and aerosols.

All airports have different procedures, and actually I’ve been through some airports that don’t even make you pull out liquids. I think it depends on their screening equipment. That being said, you can avoid any holds-ups by following the “official” rules, which say all liquids, gels, and aerosols should be 3.4 ounces or less, and they should all fit in a single, quart-sized plastic bag.There is nothing worse than getting to your seat only to find that the overhead bin space around you is full. If this happens, you’re basically suck with two unfortunate options: 1.) put your bag behind you, knowing that you’ll have to wait for everyone to deplane before you get it, or 2.) move against the flow of people boarding the plane and find a bin closer to the front of the aircraft.

I always make a game-time call as I’m boarding or I ask the welcoming flight attendant about the status of overhead bin space. If it looks full, I put my bag in a bin closer to the front of the plane on the way to my seat so it will be easy to grab as I deplane. Just make sure to remember the aisle number! If you’re worried about making a connection, there are a few things you can do to deplane and get to your connecting gate quickly. First, use the airline’s app to figure out where you’ll be landing and what gate you need to go to.

Next, let a flight attendant know you have a tight connection. You might also want to inform your seat mate so you can get up quickly. If you’re lucky, the flight team will make an announcement asking people to stay seated so passengers with tight connections can deplane. 

Qatar on a Budget: Insider Travel Tips From Qatar Tourism GlobeNewswire (Press Release)

16:32 Thu, 23 Jun
15:10 Thu, 23 Jun
01:23 Thu, 23 Jun

16:52 Wed, 22 JunCost of watching Leeds United home and away revealed as travel fares mount Leeds Live

Rising fares, staff gaps casts shadow on air travel rebound Reuters – YouTube

04:17 Sat, 18 Jun
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23:00 Thu, 16 Jun

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Stock Market Could Crash Another 20% If U.S. Plunges Into Recession

As a growing number of investment banks and company chiefs warn that the likelihood of a recession is increasing, analysts at Morgan Stanley are telling clients that the stock market—despite reeling from a steep selloff in recent weeks—has plenty of room to fall before hitting levels consistent with recession-era lows, which would be especially bad for cyclical industries like travel and hospitality.

Despite major stock indexes plunging more than 20% below recent highs, markets are still only down by about 60% of the average drawdown compared with previous recessions (which denote two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth), Morgan Stanley analysts told clients in a Tuesday note.

As the Federal Reserve works to combat decades-high inflation with interest rate hikes that will likely stunt economic growth, a recession “is no longer just a tail risk,” analysts led by Michael Wilson wrote, putting the odds of one over the next year at 35%, up from 20% in March.

They estimate the S&P 500 could plunge as much as 20% to 3,000 points, from current levels of 3,770, if the U.S. falls into recession, citing earnings that tend to fall an average of 14% during recessions—a marked turnaround from record profits and 25% growth last year.

“The bear market will not be over until recession arrives—or the risk of one is extinguished,” the analysts said, adding that market weakness will likely continue over the next three to six months in the face of “very stubborn” inflation readings.

With high prices deterring some consumer spending, Morgan Stanley says stocks tied to discretionary spending, like those in retail, hotels, restaurants and clothing, are at higher risk of a downturn, while those tied to the internet, payments and durable household goods (like appliances and computers) are less at risk.

The note comes the same day Tesla CEO Elon Musk said the U.S. economy will “more likely than not” face a recession in the near term, echoing concerns raised by several other top business leaders and financial institutions following last week’s steeper-than-expected hike in key interest rates, which tend to deter spending by making borrowing more expensive.

Morgan Stanley’s not alone in raising recession odds this week. In a note to clients Monday, Goldman Sachs’ chief economist, Jan Hatzius, said the firm now sees “recession risk as higher and more front-loaded,” given the Fed’s more aggressive rate hike, putting the odds of a recession over the next two years at 48%, up from 35% previously. The investment bank estimates tighter financial conditions could drag down GDP as much as 2 percentage points over the next year.

Restaurants are most at risk of a pullback in spending, according to a Morgan Stanley survey of some 2,000 consumers. Roughly 75% of respondents said they’ll cut back on dining out over the next six months, while 60% said they’d do so on deliveries and takeout from restaurants. Though driving much of the inflationary gains, essential items like gas and groceries should see more resilient spending, with roughly 40% of consumers saying they’d cut back on either.

Major stock indexes plunged into bear market territory last week ahead of the Fed’s largest interest rate hike in 28 years, and the gloomy sentiment has ushered in waves of layoffs among recently booming technology and real estate companies. “We don’t believe the Fed can stop the issues that are causing inflation on the supply side without absolutely wrecking the economy, but at this point, it looks like they are resigned to the fact that it must be done,” says Brett Ewing, chief market strategist of First Franklin Financial Services. Goldman Sachs has warned clients it expects another 75-basis-point hike in July.

I’m a senior reporter at Forbes focusing on markets and finance. I graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Source: Stock Market Could Crash Another 20% If U.S. Plunges Into Recession—These Industries Are Most At Risk

The best hope for stocks right now is a recession that crushes inflation and allows the Fed to slow, stop or even reverse rate hikes.

Why it matters: Down 20.5% so far in 2022, it’s the ugliest year for the S&P since 1962. The drop vaporized $9 trillion in paper wealth, delivering a psychological shock to millions whose retirement is mostly in stocks.

Driving the news: Facing persistent inflation, the Fed delivered its largest rate hike since 1994 on Wednesday.

  • The increase is the monetary-policy equivalent of stomping on the country’s economic brakes — sharply increasing the risk that growth contracts.
  • Despite the recent beating shares have taken, the Fed’s announcement was greeted with open arms by investors. The S&P 500 rose 1.5%. The Nasdaq rose 2.5%. Interestingly, the Russell 2000 — which is more closely tied to short-term ups and downs of the economy — rose less, at just 1.4%.

The big picture: A huge rate hike that raises the risk of recession may sound like a bad thing for stocks — but with inflation still rising, it isn’t.

  • Essentially, investors are saying they prefer a big, sharp Fed-induced economic shock now if it quickly gets inflation under control. In theory, that could allow lower rates to return after inflation is vanquished.
  • Low interest rates have been crucial to the performance of stocks over the last decade.

Context: While Americans have a habit of looking at the stock market as an economic indicator, the linkage between economic growth and stock market performance is surprisingly weak, and, some academics say, nonexistent. The most extreme example of this reality arose during the bleakest moments of the COVID-related recession.

  • In April 2020, the U.S. economy was essentially on life support. Unemployment that month was 14.7%. There were, quite literally, bread lines miles long.
  • That month the S&P 500 posted its best month in 33 years, rising nearly 13%.

What gives? Well, in late March 2020, the Federal Reserve had to cut interest rates to zero and restart money-printing programs do deal with the COVID crisis. (The Federal government also began dumping what would ultimately be trillions of dollars into the economy to keep people afloat.)

The intrigue: But don’t recessions hurt corporate earnings? Wouldn’t that make stocks fall?

  • Earnings are one ingredient in stock prices, and they can definitely fall during recessions. But recently, interest rates — essentially the yield on the 10-year Treasury note — have played a more important role in establishing stock prices than earnings.
  • That’s because those interest rates largely determine the valuation multiple — otherwise known as a price-to-earnings ratio — investors use to determine the price they’re willing to pay for those future earnings (effectively, the price of a stock).
  • TL;DR: Higher rates = lower valuations, and vice versa.
  • So, even if earnings are expected to fall, stock prices can still rise, if valuations rise enough. Those valuations are largely determined by interest rates — and those rates are largely determined by Fed decisions.

The Federal Reserve made an aggressive new move in its campaign to bring down inflation Wednesday, raising its target interest rate by three-quarters of a percentage point, the steepest rate hike since 1994 — and indicated another similar move could be coming next month.

Driving the news: In addition to increasing their target for short-term interest rates to a range of between 1.5% and 1.75% Fed officials projected that their target rate will reach 3.4% late this year, far higher than the 1.9% they envisioned in March. Mortgages, car loans and credit card debt are all about to get more expensive.

Yields on U.S. government bonds — known as Treasuries — rocketed in recent days, as Friday’s inflation report convinced many that a combination of persistently high inflation and aggressive Federal Reserve interest hikes, is on the way. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note surged to nearly 3.50% in recent days, a level not seen since 2011……

  Matt Phillips

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Nobody Wants To Pay For Ultra Fast Food Delivery

Ultra-fast delivery startups are either folding up or leaving markets, exiting the scene just as quickly as they arrived.

Another sign of potential turmoil for these unprofitable companies? Those that stick around continue to rely on giving users freebies. So far, they haven’t been able to convince customers to pay the full cost of delivery in 15 minutes or less. And while more established delivery players like Uber have been able to rely less on discounts in a pivot toward profitability, the ultra-fast delivery startups are trying to grow amid a volatile market in which both investors and customers are growing more wary of opening their wallets.

Nearly 30% of delivery orders from GoPuff, which is the biggest ultra-fast delivery player in the US, were discounted as of April, according to data from YipitData, a research firm. The share of orders discounted is greater outside of the US. For instance, Getir, a Turkish ultra-fast delivery startup, has over 80% of its orders discounted in countries like Germany and France, according to YipitData.

Tech stocks have plummeted over the past three months, and that has pushed investors to prioritize profits. In response, companies are changing how they do business. For instance, Uber rides and restaurant deliveries have become more expensive. (Unlike the newer ultrafast deliver startups, established delivery players like Uber have been able to pull back on discounts to show investors a clearer path toward profitability.)

Attracting customers with cheap Uber rides and food delivery

Discounting is a way for delivery companies, which depend on scale, to quickly attract and retain customers. Over time, as more of the orders come from customers who have been with the firms for some time, the discounting percentage should go down, said Daniel McCarthy, an assistant professor of marketing at Emory University. For rapid-delivery companies, the fact that discounting share remains high implies a less clear path to profitability.

“There is way too much money that went into this sector,” said Mathias Schilling, a founding partner at Headlines, a venture capital firm that invests in GoPuff. “Six months ago, this is the best thing and incredible… and now everything is negative. This extreme exuberance by the people is like ridiculous.”

The rapid growth of ultra-fast delivery companies

In the past couple of years, as the demand for delivery skyrocketed, ultrafast delivery services with abstract-sounding names—Buyk, Getir, Jokr—came onto the scene. Venture capitalists invested $28 billion into rapid delivery globally, more than double the amount in 2019, according to data from PitchBook, a research firm.

Like Uber’s playbook, these companies, flush with venture capital funding, burned cash fast to move into new markets and attract and retain customers with cheap services. The biggest services like GoPuff, Gorillas, and Getir relied on high order volumes and a shift in consumer shopping habits to achieve profitability, said Alex Frederick, a PitchBook analyst. But the model works best when markets are stable and VC funding is plentiful, he added.

It’s hard to make money in food delivery, as the money is split among retailer or restaurant, food delivery company, and worker. It’s even harder for faster delivery, as it requires hiring workers as employees and often comes with no minimum order. That allows a customer to order a pint of ice cream to be delivered in 15 minutes, a costly loss for ultra-fast delivery companies.

The question now is whether these companies will be able to sustain such losses, at a moment when funding is harder to come by, or will they follow in the footsteps of past rapid delivery companies that sprung up in the dot-com boom before going out of business.

Global downloads of the top 10 ultra fast delivery apps have grown 127%, year-over-year in Q1. With a more granular, monthly breakdown we can see a lot of this growth taking place in Q4 of 2021. As you can see in the chart below, this is a faster growth rate than that of the top 10 meal delivery apps (ex: Uber Eats) or top 10 grocery delivery apps (ex: Instacart). Meal delivery still takes the cake when it comes to absolute numbers.

It is reported to be acquiring French startup, Cajoo, which launched in early 2021 and struggled to gain ground in the country ever since Getir formally launched there in June 2021. This will help Flink compete with Getir in France. Flink says its reach in the country will now be greater than Getir’s but Apptopia estimates have Getir’s app usage comfortably ahead of Flink and Cajoo combined.

Ultra fast delivery companies do not just have each other to worry about. Traditional, or meal, delivery apps have massive brand power, user bases and deep pockets. Apps like Uber Eats are starting to enter the market of fast grocery delivery. Apptopia reported in January that meal delivery apps extending into grocery delivery, a faster growing segment of the delivery market.

Traditional grocery delivery apps are not standing still either. Instacart started offering 30 minute meal deliveries (sushi, salads, sandwiches) from supermarkets like Kroger and Publix. It will also begin offering 15 minute grocery delivery in the near-future.

When will supply chains go back to normal?

Supply chains should slowly recover in 2022, assuming overstuffed ports and warehouses finally get a chance to clear out the glut of containers piling up in shipyards and surrounding neighborhoods. But that will only happen if there aren’t any major new disruptions, like another mega-ship blocking the Suez Canal, future covid variants that shutter factories and ports, or other disasters that gum up the mechanisms of global trade.

Source: Nobody wants to pay for food delivery — Quartz

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Why Expensive Social Media Monitoring Has Failed To Protect Schools

There’s a set of questions that comes up with grim hindsight after a shooting like the one in Uvalde, Texas: Were there signs? Did we miss them? Could we have caught this? An entire industry has sprung up claiming that it has the answer: software that scans social media for threats.

Ari Sen, a computational journalist for the Dallas Morning News, has reported that the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District purchased one of these social media monitoring services, called Social Sentinel, a few years ago. Right now, Ari says it’s hard to know if the software was active in Uvalde at the time of the shooting—the school district hasn’t answered that yet.

But the bigger question is whether the posts on the gunman’s now-removed Instagram page—including lots of photos of AR-15-style rifles and weapons—would even have been flagged by the software. Why then are schools spending millions of dollars on this software, and why does the industry claim it helps protect students?

On Friday’s episode of What Next: TBD, I spoke with Ari Sen about what threat surveillance software promises and how it falls short. Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Lizzie O’Leary: Can you explain what Social Sentinel is and who uses it?

Ari Sen: Social Sentinel is a social media monitoring technology. It’s used by dozens of colleges and hundreds of school districts all around the country. What they claim to do is to scan billions of social media posts with really sophisticated AI to identify threats of potential violence or self-harm. Now, some of the reporting that I’ve done suggests that these models may not be very sophisticated or that this might be a really hard problem to solve even if the models are very sophisticated.

In your reporting, you found that several school districts that bought this software, spending between $1 and $2 per student, weren’t getting all that much for their money.

Most of the school districts that we talked to that had used Social Sentinel did not find the service to be useful. I contacted every school that we could find that had used Social Sentinel and the three other social media monitoring services that we studied in the state of Texas. Over 200 school districts had used one of these four services since 2015. Most of them did not respond to my questions, but there were a handful, maybe five or six, who did actually respond. I would say four or five of those said that “We canceled the service after a year. We didn’t find it to be useful. Or we found something, an anonymous reporting tool, a team of humans to monitor this stuff. We found that to be as good or better than the Social Sentinel service.”

One thing that I’ve heard a lot, not only from school districts but from colleges, is that 90 percent, 99 percent of the stuff that they were getting from the Social Sentinel service was false alerts. I’ve seen stuff like song lyrics, Bible verses, obvious jokes. If you just think about the way that people talk on social media, it’s a lot of sarcasm. It’s a lot of irony. It’s a lot of hyperbole. That can be really difficult for machine learning models to catch in general and particularly the less sophisticated stuff.

Do you have any examples of posts that got flagged where you thought, “Oh, come on. That’s someone tweeting lyrics”?

There is a college in Florida that I was able to get some flagged tweets from. Somebody tweeted the lyrics to the 2010 B.o.B song “Airplanes.” I think it picked up on the phrase “shooting stars.” Obviously, we’ve seen people tweeting about their favorite characters on TV shows: “If X character doesn’t get together with Y character, I’m literally going to die,” things like that. There’s a really funny tweet from one of these Florida colleges about Hamburger Helper and how Hamburger Helper needs to accept that it needs help.

They thought that was a mental health problem?

Evidently. Like I said, it’s hard to inspect these machine learning models. We don’t know for sure what exactly is going on behind the scenes there. But I am able to look at some of the things that they have flagged, and they don’t seem to be threatening at all. What we’ve heard anecdotally from schools and colleges is like, “Yeah, most of what we were getting is just not actionable.”

Is the algorithm searching for keywords? Does it look for shoot, kill, stab?

If you looked at Social Sentinel, the way they talked about the service early on, it very much sounds like a keyword-based service. They talk about how they have thousands of terms that they’re able to flag to school districts. The company now says that they have very sophisticated machine learning models. They have these eight different machine learning models that are able to classify text appropriately.

It’s also unclear exactly how these models work because the companies treat their algorithms as proprietary. They also say it would defeat the purpose of their work to disclose too much.

We don’t know what sorts of training data they have to go into the models, whether that training data has been audited for racial bias. All of that stuff is opaque to us. It really raises questions about, if schools are going to use this for such a serious and important purpose, should there be some transparency about the models, the training data, and how effective they are?

Moreover, machine learning models often struggle with slang and the way kids talk. That can mean posts from students of color are disproportionately flagged by the algorithms.

There was a really interesting paper by some UMass Amherst researchers a couple years ago where they took African American Vernacular English and they plugged it into language identification machine learning models. Obviously, what it should spit out is that this is English. In actuality, one of these models flagged that language as Dutch with 99 percent confidence. So these models do poorly on non-Anglicized English text in general and may exhibit the biases from the training data which they were trained on. If you look at Social Sentinel’s claims, for example, on their website, they say, “We don’t perpetuate any biases.” The experts that I’ve talked to have said that’s very difficult to do if the underlying models you’re using behind the scenes have these sorts of biases built in.

While Social Sentinel claims it covers almost all of social media, your reporting and work from BuzzFeed News suggests it mostly just monitors Twitter. Do you think these services can even keep up with how students use social media as they jump from platform to platform?

Obviously, you have the problem with young people hopping between different services. The big thing now is TikTok, for example. Maybe 10 years ago, it was Facebook. It’s hard for these platforms to keep up. Then you also have the ways in which language changes naturally over time. Then, as we were just talking about, language differs very widely across groups and geographies. The way people talk in California is not the same way that people talk in North Carolina.

I saw that the Uvalde shooter was using a service called Yubo, which I suspect these companies are not monitoring.

I hadn’t even heard of Yubo. One of the things I’ve seen in my reporting on Social Sentinel is that police chiefs going back to 2015 were constantly bugging Social Sentinel: Can you add this platform? Can you add this platform? Sometimes they did, and sometimes they didn’t. But it’s very, very difficult to keep up with the fast-paced nature of how young people are acting online.

Listening to you, there seems to be a pretty substantial body of evidence that these services are largely ineffective. Do you think that’s a fair assessment? And if it is, why are they still being touted as a solution?

We haven’t really been able to identify a clear case of this service working. We have heard some anecdotes about maybe some of the other services preventing kids from harming themselves. But I think the question we have to ask is, is it worth the privacy invasion? I found in my reporting last year that most of the time students and parents weren’t told at all that these services were in place and had no way to opt in or opt out. What needs to happen is a more open conversation about, “This is the service that we’re using, this is why we’re using it, and this is the things that it looks for.”

If these schools and universities are under such pressure to do something, but the debate around guns is either a nonstarter where they are or completely out of their hands, maybe this software feels like a reed they can grasp.

We’re obviously having a larger political conversation about what gun restrictions we do and we don’t want. But I think for schools, they’re desperate to do something to protect their kids, whether that’s school safety drills, monitoring services, like the ones we’ve been talking about here, whether it’s physical security, like metal detectors or other sorts of physical security measures. But I think one of the things that the Uvalde shooting shows us is that even school districts that have all of those things in place and have all of the training and all the officers, these things can fail and do fail. So there needs to be a different conversation that’s happening about what measures are effective and whether new approaches are needed to tackle this problem.

These kinds of programs ingest a tremendous amount of information and data. To work best, they need to do that. It does make me wonder for what other reasons a school or a school district or university might want to have this information or might utilize this information?

Some of the things that I’ve been seeing in my reporting, particularly at the college level, is that colleges are adopting these services to monitor protests and activism. Obviously, that’s very chilling. In 2016, there was a company called Geofeedia that got caught monitoring Black Lives Matter protesters. But Geofeedia is not the only player out there obviously. My reporting has suggested that these other services, particularly Social Sentinel, at the college level may be used to monitor protests and activism.

What did the schools say when you asked them about this?

I have contacted every college that we know of that’s used Social Sentinel and asked about this question specifically. A lot of them don’t want to talk about this. We haven’t really heard a full-throated defense of, “We’re monitoring this protest to keep students safe.” A lot of them are very tight-lipped, so we have to rely on documents and whistleblowers inside of the company to give us information.

Does the company say, “Yeah, we know our stuff is being used to monitor protesters”?

The company fervently denies any ability or use of the service to monitor protesters in any way, and they have since the beginning. But that claim is very dubious.

It’s worth remembering that most of these services are being paid for with public money. An investigation by BuzzFeed News examined contracts from 130 schools and found that they collectively spent $2.5 million on social media monitoring over five years. If you are listening to this and you’re a parent or a teenager or a college student, what other kinds of questions you think you should be asking your educators, your administration about these services?

Well, first of all, I think it’s just important to know whether the service is in place or not. For example, when I was reporting on these four social media monitoring companies last year, I discovered that my high school had used Gaggle, one of the monitoring services. I knew from previous reporting that my undergraduate institution, UNC Chapel Hill, used Social Sentinel. First of all, we should just ask the campus police department, the school administrators, “What service are you using? What does it monitor for, and why are you using it?”

The next questions are, is it effective? Is it doing what it’s set out to do, what they claimed it could do when they were marketing the service to you? If it’s not, then I think people really have to raise questions about, why are we still using this thing if it doesn’t work for the thing that they said it works for?

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Why Are Gas, Groceries, and Used Cars Prices Going Up? Things Seem More Expensive Because They Are

You’re not imagining it — many items are more expensive than they used to be. Some by a little, others by a lot. The United States isn’t in runaway inflation territory right now, but we’re definitely seeing some unusually pricey consumer goods.

If you haven’t noticed it in your day-to-day life, you’ve at least seen it in the headlines: From flights to lumber to chicken wings, prices are higher for many goods and services across the economy. Some people are pointing to these and other price increases as signs that worrisome inflation is on the horizon, arguing that the situation could soon rival what happened in the United States in the 1970s — a period of “stagflation” when the US saw high inflation coupled with slow economic growth and high unemployment.

But many economists and policymakers, including the chair of the Federal Reserve, think it’s likely transitory and that the economy might just be running a little hot right now. They say it will likely cool down as some of the post-pandemic bottlenecks and imbalances work themselves out. It looks like it’s already starting to happen in lumber. It’s also worth noting that last year we saw deflation in some areas of the economy, meaning prices went down, and so it makes sense that they would rebound.

Still, the inflation debate isn’t going to resolve itself anytime soon.

So what’s happening right now? Consumer prices were up 5 percent from the previous year in May, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index, which looks at prices for goods across the economy to get an idea of inflation. It’s a level of increase we haven’t seen since 2008, and one that we’ve only seen a handful of times since the early 1980s. Typically, the Fed targets a 2 percent inflation rate over the long term, though inflation has actually been running below that in recent years.

Prices went up by 0.6 percent in May alone. It’s quite a break from recent history: In the years following the Great Recession, the question many economists have been asking themselves is why inflation was so low.

What’s perhaps more interesting than the topline number, though, is what’s underneath it. Sometimes, major price increases or decreases in one specific area can sort of throw the overall picture out of whack. (That’s why you hear people talk about “core” inflation, meaning prices excluding food and energy, which can be volatile because of factors like weather and oil supply.) Recently, one area is causing a stir: used cars, whose price went up 7.3 percent in May, after going up 10 percent in April. Used car prices are now up nearly 30 percent since last year. If you take them out of the equation, the situation can look a little bit different.

To be sure, used cars aren’t the only story. The prices of plenty of items have crept up over the past year. Gas prices are up significantly over the past year due to a variety of factors including higher oil prices, a shortage of truck drivers, and a big increase in demand as people start driving and flying again. Gas prices fell significantly at the start of the pandemic, too, which is part of what makes the current increase seem so eye-popping.

Your overall life might be a little more expensive right now

The price of the stuff we buy changes all the time for a variety of factors, from supply chain issues to our changing habits.

The pandemic, of course, meant a disruption in supply chains and habits. All of a sudden, millions of Americans were stuck at home, hoarding toilet paper and clearing grocery store shelves. Items we might have once purchased at restaurants, we tried to recreate at home with ingredients from the supermarket.

And it became increasingly important to give our homes, where we spent a disproportionate amount of our time, an update to make them more livable. Our demand led to shortages in everything from pasta to couches. Covid-19 wreaked havoc on the supply side as well, as the virus spread among employees at meat plants and garment factories alike.

To look at what’s happened to prices for a number of goods, we assembled our own little shopping basket. For the most part, prices went up, according to consumer price data from NielsenIQ, which tracks US checkout prices at a wide variety of retailers, as well as supplementary data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

After toilet paper became readily available and people stopped stockpiling it as much, its price only rose about 3 percent from last year. Staples like milk and bread rose just slightly, 1.6 percent and 1.3 percent, respectively.

Meanwhile, some prices rose dramatically. As mentioned, used car prices are up nearly 30 percent, due to supply chain disruptions in the new car market, including a global shortage of semiconductor computer chips. Prices for some fruits, like strawberries and blueberries, are up 27 and 16 percent, respectively, as demand for the fruits surged during the pandemic and outpaced supply. Produce prices are always subject to high volatility since there are so many variables with planting and harvesting.

The cost of kitchen and living room furniture, due to a mix of supply chain bottlenecks and demand to fix up our personal spaces during the pandemic, is up about 10 percent since last year. Dog treat prices are up 5 percent, perhaps as a result of increased demand from the large number of pet adoptions during lockdown. Takeout prices were up 6 percent.

While the price changes of cheese varied widely by type (Brie down 6 percent, cheddar up 0.4 percent), overall the average unit price of cheese rose about 4 percent in the past year. That growth reflects the fact that many people bought more premium cheeses at home since they couldn’t get them out, according to NielsenIQ.

There were a few notable exceptions where prices actually declined since last year. The average cost per unit of flour and yeast, the ingredients to make last year’s ubiquitous homemade bread, fell 1 percent and 4 percent respectively. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re getting less expensive, but rather that people are more likely to wait for sales than they were in spring 2020, when, if people could find staples in stock, they’d buy them regardless of price. Similarly, the price of eggs went down 4 percent. Prices for hard seltzer, the unofficial summer drink of 2019, declined nearly 6 percent, perhaps reflecting the increased selection available, with everyone from Budweiser to Topo Chico getting in on the action.

The price of many consumer goods grew substantially in the last year Rani Molla

Lumber mania: An update

One of the biggest price surge stories of the year thus far has been lumber. (Vox has a full explainer on it here.) The lumber industry struggled in the years following the Great Recession, and production slowed accordingly. When Covid-19 hit, many in the industry assumed that the situation was only about to get worse, so they dialed back production even more. In the case of many mills and yards, economic shutdowns wouldn’t let them work anyway.

“They really dialed back, thinking that demand would fall, and the reality is that demand never slowed,” Dustin Jalbert, senior economist and lumber industry specialist at Fastmarkets RISI, told Vox in the spring.

It turns out lots of people stuck at home had the same idea to undertake home renovation and remodeling projects. They built out decks and garages and offices and found ways to make the houses they were stuck in 24/7 more pleasant. Others went looking for new homes, snapping up preexisting ones and starting to build.

The supply-demand imbalance threw much of the industry out of whack, and lumber prices soared. In the summer of 2019, 1,000 board feet of lumber (one board foot is 12x12x1 inches) out of a sawmill would have run somewhere in the $300 range, according to data from Fastmarket Random Lengths. In May, the same amount of wood was going for more than $1,500 at some points.

Now prices have begun to come down, falling back below $1,000. It could be a sign that the supply chain is starting to balance itself out and that the demand side, in the face of high prices, has taken a breath that’s allowed some of the supply side to catch up.

This is what some economists say is likely to happen across the economy as some of the post-pandemic kinks get worked out. The supply side will catch up with the demand side as supply chains normalize, and in some cases, pent-up demand will ease, too. “The prices that are driving that higher inflation are from categories that are being directly affected by the recovery from the pandemic and the reopening of the economy,” Federal Reserve Chair Jay Powell said at a press conference in June.

He specifically invoked lumber: “The thought is that prices like that have moved up really quickly because of the shortages and bottlenecks and the like. They should stop going up and at some point, in some cases should actually go down. And we did see that in the case of lumber.”

The big question mark right now is how long this will last

There is no denying that some prices are rising at a quicker clip than they have in recent years; the big unknown right now is how long this will go on. The Fed and the White House are betting that the current level of inflation is transitory, meaning this is a temporary bump as the economy rebounds from the pandemic, and soon things will settle back down.

In testimony before Congress in June, Powell laid out the factors contributing to recent inflation increases, including falling prices at the start of the pandemic, supply bottlenecks, the pass-through of oil and energy prices, and increased consumer spending accompanying reopening. “I will say that these effects have been larger than we expected, and they may turn out to be more persistent than we’ve expected, but the incoming data are very much consistent with the view that these are factors that will wane over time and then inflation will then move down toward our goals,” he said.

The personal consumption expenditure (PCE) price index, which the Fed uses as its main gauge of inflation, ticked up slightly less in May than economists expected, which could be a signal that the pace of price increases is slowing. However, it’s too early to tell.

The big fear among some economists is that the US will see a repeat of the 1970s, when the country saw a sustained period of high inflation that was only brought to an end when the Fed took harsh measures and pushed the economy into a recession in the early 1980s. If inflation takes off and jobs and wages don’t go with it, then everyday items can become prohibitively expensive for many people. In the ’70s, for example, beef became super pricey. Sustained inflation can also reduce the value of savings.

Some more extreme corners even warn that the US could see runaway hyperinflation like what’s happened in places such as Argentina and Venezuela, where the value of their currencies has declined rapidly and it’s nearly impossible for people’s paychecks to keep up with skyrocketing prices.

Amid those concerns, it’s important to remember that the Fed is paying attention to inflation. If the economy really doesn’t settle down, the Fed has tools to fight it, such as raising interest rates. Fed officials have already moved up their expected timeline for increasing interest rates to 2023 from 2024, though forecasts can always change.

It’s understandable to worry about inflation — a scenario where prices go up and paychecks don’t isn’t one the country wants to see. But is it time to start hoarding gold under your mattress? Probably not. That post-pandemic vacation you wanted to take is probably going to run you a little more than you thought it would, at least for now. The good news is, compared to a year ago, it’s much safer in the US to take a vacation at all.

Rani Molla

Emily Stewart

Source: Why are gas, groceries, and used cars prices going up? Things seem more expensive because they are. – Vox

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