Numlock News: May 6, 2022 • Rocket Motor, Durians, Snacks
By Walt Hickey
Have a great weekend! Last week’s Sunday edition with Dave Infante of the newsletter Fingers is unlocked. Fingers is one of my favorite reads, it’s all about the beer and alcohol industry and it never fails to be fascinating; check it out.
This year federal lobbyists have passed $1 billion in gross in the first quarter of the year, a first for the influence business. The lobbying industry made over $1.02 billion in Q1, tens of millions more than the same quarter of 2021, at which point the figure was just $929 million across all industries, so this is a significant pop in spending from the industry to get in the good graces of Washington. The biggest spender on lobbyists was the healthcare sector, which dropped $187 million to coerce Congress, followed by the financial, insurance and real estate industry with $148 million, and then the communications and electronics industry with $133 million spent on lobbying. I was going to rail against the obvious corruption, the pay-to-play clearly on display here, the intersection of greed and power, but trust me you do not want to mess with the Lobby Lobby, the Lobby that lobbies for lobbyists, lobbying and lobbies, the Lobby Lobby globbed onto gobs of wads to mob any sop that wants to swap their job. You may not like the system, but it works.
Shutdowns in China have sent reverberations throughout neighbor Thailand, which is a major exporter of fruit to China. This year, in order to keep up with the rising Chinese demand that accounts for half of the country’s durian exports, Thailand is on track to produce 1.4 million tons of durian this year, up 17 percent over last year. But China’s temporarily shut down checkpoints that bring Thai fruit in through Laos so the country is sitting on a glut. The price of a Thai durian has fallen from around 200 baht per kilogram a year ago to 100 baht, or about $2.90. Thai mangoes, many of which are also exported to China, are also stuck in port, and millions of tons are piling up in Thailand sending the price crashing from 30 to 70 baht per kilogram to as low as 2 baht per kilogram. That’s pushed the Ministry of Commerce to buy up 14,000 kilograms from farmers for school lunches in a desperate attempt to push prices up.
Swiss police seized 500 kilograms of cocaine in a shipment of coffee that was delivered to a Nespresso plant in the city of Romont in the canton of Fribourg. Workers became alarmed when they found a mysterious white powder in the sacks of coffee beans from a freshly delivered container of beans, powder which police quickly identified as cocaine. The shipment originated in Brazil and had an estimated street value of 50 million Swiss francs. Underscoring Nespresso’s dedication to only sourcing the freshest and highest-quality ingredients in all parts of their business to maximize customer satisfaction, police did remark that the coke was over 80 percent pure.
Earth-orbiting object #32398 blew up on April 15, producing at least 16 new Earth-orbiting objects. The object in question was a Russian upper-stage rocket motor, specifically one that installed three satellites of Russia’s GPS equivalent called GLONASS. That type of rocket motor, a SOZ motor, doesn’t use all its propellant when it takes off, which is an issue because they then tend to explode years or decades later. So far at least 54 of the SOZ motors have blown up in orbit, and there are another 64 of them in orbit right now.
In the week ending April 24, 40 percent of the bestselling baby formula products were out of stock in 11,000 stores tracked around the country. In the month of April, the out-of-stock level jumped from 31 percent to 40 percent. Walgreens, Target and CVS Health are capping the number that can be purchased per visit. The shortage has also sent prices up 18 percent over the past 12 months. Some of the ingredients are harder to come by — remember when the massive exporter of palm oil announced they were stopping exports of palm oil? — in addition to your standard-issue logistical snarls.
One victim of the pandemic — and the tax code — is the humble office snack, which is going out of style amid the shift of many workers to a hybrid work structure. Snacks are actually a somewhat recent phenomenon: In 1977, just 11 percent of Americans were having three snacks or more per day, a figure that leapt to 42 percent in 2002, and by 2019 a study from the snack industrial giant Mondelez found 59 percent of adults liked snacks more than actual meals. And while the pandemic definitely shook up the snack status quo, the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act may actually be the real dagger for office snacking: That law made office snacks that were once 100 percent deductible expenses down to just 50 percent deductible.
Dammed If We Do, Damned If We Don’t
A new analysis from the Associated Press found 2,200 high-hazard dams that were in poor or unsatisfactory condition, dams that are likely to cause deaths if they were to fail. Yes, in a prescient article nearly destined to get an enormous amount of post-tragedy traffic in a couple of years, the AP detailed how among the 92,000 dams listed on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers database, there are thousands that have cracks, erosion or spillways that are unable to actually relieve pressure on the dams. Last year’s infrastructure bill will spend $3 billion on dam-related projects, which sounds like a lot, but the 89,000 dams that need to be fixed will require an estimated $76 billion.
Last week in the (unlocked!) Sunday edition I spoke to Dave Infante, who writes the outstanding newsletter Fingers all about the alcohol industry. I love Dave’s work, it’s a brilliant look into a complicated and enormously powerful industry. We spoke about a lawsuit that revealed fascinating secrets about the beer industry, why the bill for a lot of craft breweries is about come due, and if Keystone Light is actually just cruddy Coors. Infante can be found at Fingers, which I highly recommend, and on Twitter.
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