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‘Time To Act’ Podcast Ep. 4: Why It’s Important To Have Diversity Roles In Leadership

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Conversations around diversity and inclusion can be uncomfortable — particularly in the workplace. In this new podcast, host Y-Vonne Hutchinson — CEO and founder of ReadySet, a diversity and inclusion consulting and strategy firm — speaks with business leaders who are driving discussions within their organizations and taking bold action to advance and accelerate change.

Working with CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion — the largest coalition of CEOs who’ve pledged to advance diversity and inclusion in the workplace — Hutchinson discusses topics such as allyship, intersectional divides and mental health inclusion with C-suite leaders who are showing their organizations and their industries that now is the time to act on diversity and inclusion.

Interviewer: How important is it to have diversity in roles of leadership?

Woman on Street #1: It’s absolutely essential. Not only do we know that it leads to healthier and more financially successful — and successful in every way — organizations, but it also provides role models for people as they move up the corporate ladder, who can actually visualize themselves in those leadership positions.

Woman on Street #2: You know, I think having diverse groups in leadership is what sets the tone for the entire organization and to be able to have diverse perspectives and a broad point of view, and you need all different voices at the table.

Man on Street #3: I think a lot of it is just creating a workplace and environment where people feel comfortable being themselves, talking about uncomfortable things.

Y-Vonne Hutchinson, Host: This is “Time to Act.” I’m your host, Y-Vonne Hutchinson. I am a diversity and inclusion expert. And through my company ReadySet, I work with organizations to help them foster a corporate culture that helps provide a sense of belonging to employees. On this podcast, I’m working with CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion, the largest coalition of CEOs who have pledged to advance diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Throughout this series we’ll explore and highlight the recent steps companies are taking to tackle D&I. I’ll be talking to leaders of industry and diving into why they act as ambassadors for change.

Today, I’m sitting down with John Rogers. He’s the co-CEO, chief investment officer and chairman of Ariel investments, one of the largest minority-owned mutual funds in the U.S. He’s also a pioneer for diversity and inclusion in the financial services sector. John has woven D&I into the fabric of Ariel Investments since its inception. He sees diverse workforces as not only a nice-to-have, but as a competitive advantage that bolsters the bottom line. He’s created numerous initiatives and educational programs that aim to increase representation across all areas of business. We spoke about the importance of supporting minority entrepreneurs and giving them a place in the boardroom and beyond.

John, it is a pleasure to meet you. I’m super excited about the conversation we’re going to have today, and I just really appreciate you taking the time to talk.

John Rogers: Sure.

Hutchinson: I want to start off by getting to know you a little bit and what brought you to Ariel Investments. So, would you mind telling me a little bit about your background?

Rogers: No. I grew up in Hyde Park, Chicago, and I was very fortunate and I had two parents who were lawyers, and they got divorced when I was three. My mom stayed in Hyde Park and my dad moved to Brownsville and they were both pioneers in different ways. My mom was the first African American woman to graduate from the University of Chicago Law School. And my dad was an original Tuskegee Airmen and talked his way into law school and had the G.I. Bill pay for him to go to the University of Chicago, where he met my mom. When I was 12-years-old, my father decided, instead of buying me more toys and gifts, he was only going to buy me stock certificates and get me exposed to the stock market at an early age. And so after 12, I just sort of fell in love with the markets, played the stock market game.

I read my dad’s newsletters and the quarterly reports and the annual reports of the stocks that he had bought for me. And one of the things that he did that really smart was he let me keep the dividend checks that came in. They were quite modest. You know, my father wasn’t wealthy, but just getting a check in the mail that’s $20 or $25 when you’re a kid that age, that time in history, it was really refreshing and exciting and inspirational for me. I went off to Princeton, played basketball there for the legendary coach, Hall of Famer Pete Carril. And at the same time, while I had that extraordinary experience I was still playing the stock market. And so I had these two passions: the stock market and basketball. After I graduated from Princeton, I went to work at a firm called William Blair and Company, which was the largest regional brokerage firm in Chicago. Princeton alum Ned Jannotta got me into the interviewing process and it was a great experience.

I stayed there for two years, learned an awful lot about the investment world and decided I wanted to start the first African American-owned money management firm in the country, in 1983. I think one of the things I talked about, my father exposing me to the stock market, my mom exposed me to the fact that anything was possible. If you work really, really hard and you had an imagination, there was no limit to what you could achieve. And so I think that actually was the right mindset to have as an entrepreneur, when you’re 24 years old and you’re trying to do something that’s never been done before and trying to start the money management and mutual fund company without any performance history in an industry that had never had African Americans have a chance to really participate in was a daunting, daunting challenge.

Hutchinson: Wall Street has traditionally thrived on valuing the bottom line above all, often at the cost of social good. From the beginning though, John has emphasized social impact investing at Ariel. So, I wanted to ask him how he bucked the norm so long ago and how that mission has grown and evolved today.

Rogers: You know, being the first African American money management firm in the country, we felt a responsibility to talk about civil rights and economic justice as we developed our business. We knew that a lot of people sacrifice an awful lot to get doors open for us and to create the opportunities to, sort of, build a money management firm here in the United States, to be on some wonderful corporate boards. Again, so many people — civil rights leaders, the prior generations — had done so much to get these doors opened, it just seemed right for us as we were building our businesses to try to pay it forward and try to be open to get, hopefully, get doors open for others and opportunity for others. I kind of felt like it was sort of too young to really fully engage in the civil rights movement and so this was a way for us to make a difference at Ariel, by doing what we could as pioneers in the money management and mutual fund industry to try to get doors open for other African American entrepreneurs, as well as African American executives with board members.

So, we’ll talk to our management teams and say, you know, we’re disappointed that you don’t have diverse leadership on your team. We’re disappointed that you don’t have diverse board members. It’s hard for us to invest in you as a 21st-century company if you look like a 1940s company. So, having those kinds of conversations constructively with management teams and the companies we’ve invested in, we’ve been able to identify over 45 times where we’ve got a company to have what we call a “Jackie Robinson moment,” to have their first diverse board member because we challenged them, push them and convinced them it’s the right thing to do and how it would enhance the profitability and growth of their business to have diverse leaders on their board and in their management teams. So that’s something we’re really quite, quite proud of.

The other thing we do when we talk to our management teams — we were on the call today with the head of diversity of a large publicly traded company today saying, “We want to talk to you about are you doing business with minority-owned companies and making sure you’re doing business in all aspects of our economy — professional services, financial services, technology — along with the supply chain decisions?“

And that’s kind of a different conversation. People were just so used to the term “supplier diversity,” and don’t realize that that means that minority entrepreneurs are being locked out of the parts of the economy where the wealth and jobs are created today. So I keep reminding people that’s kind of a modern day Jim Crow with the Black and brown people doing the construction and the catering and the white men get to do the financial services, the technology and the professional services. That continues to be a challenge of today’s society. And, as we all know in watching our polarized politics of today, you know, there’s a lot of resentment around affirmative action. And some folks, you know, as much as again, the CEO is a believer and the board members are believers, but those decision makers often in the bowels of the organization really don’t want to be told they have to think about this issue. And they often think that Black and brown people got to where they are based upon, you know, unfair edge that they have because of their color; they got into a great school because of their race, they got a promotion because of their race, now you want to manage some of the money, too. That can be a challenge for us as we’re trying to build our business against the big guys we compete with.

Hutchinson: Something John is very vocal about is the need for more capital to flow into the hands of minority-owned businesses, in order to improve the local communities that they serve. Recently, John testified in front of the U.S. House Committee on Financial Services about the Heroes Act, a $3 trillion stimulus package that was passed in response to COVID-19. In his testimony, he commended the act but also shed light on the ways in which it fails to address racial inequality.

Rogers [testimony from U.S. House Committee on Financial Services]: The pandemic has made these disparities worse. According to research by Robert Fairlie, the number of black businesses sank by 41% between February and April, more than double the 17% decline of white business. Most of these are low margin, service sector areas that survive on foot traffic. They’re also far less likely to have significant savings or quick access to capital to stay afloat. These disparities are linked directly to the wealth gap, size, scale, and speed of the federal response to the model. I commend you all for acting quickly to try and prevent great depression. However, systemic inequality has limited the impact of the recovery effort.

Hutchinson: I was struck by John’s assessment of the widening wealth gap as it pertains to recovery efforts. So, I wanted to ask him more about what’s driving the economic disparity and what actionable change is needed to reverse the course.

How are you seeing the wealth gap? What are some solutions that you think can solve it? I would love if you could speak to that.

Rogers: Well, it’s a, it’s a big, big, big, big, big question. I think one of the key things I start with, though, is one that you sort of touched on, is that making people understand the wealth gap has gotten fundamentally greater over this last generation. You know, a couple of data points that I often mention: the Federal Reserve of St. Louis are under a project that Ray Bashara has been very engaged with, with his team, showed that between 1992 and 2016, college-educated Blacks saw their wealth decrease 10%, while college-educated white Southern wealth increased 96%. So up 96% for college-educated whites, down 10% for college-educated Blacks. That’s extraordinary. And then Kerwin Charles, who was the Dean of Yale’s business school, has all this data — he’s an extraordinary economist — that shows that relative to white Americans, we are worse off than our grandparents were. In getting people to really understand that even though the civil rights movement created all kinds of opportunities for us — to be able to vote and sit at the lunchroom counter and sit in the front of the bus — we’re not getting economic opportunities. And that’s part of it. That’s part of the what’s really, I think, gets left out.

Dr. King talked a lot about many progressive whites will deplore prejudice, but tolerate or accept economic injustice. And so, as white Americans are making decisions on who they do business with, that’s the first thing that’s helped create the wealth gap. If you only do business with companies that are majority-owned — people you’ve done business with for 40 or 50, 60 years, when African Americans weren’t allowed to compete in those sectors — the wealth gap’s going to get larger if you make economic decisions to only work with majority-owned businesses.

It’s just understanding, making people understand the challenges that we have faced coming to this country. You know, “The 1619 Project” that the New York Times featured — I think last year — was an extraordinary piece of literature in helping us to understand how tough it’s been from the days that we came here as slaves, as we started to make progress during Reconstruction and how that was taken away from us — even our 40 acres and a mule was taken away. The stories of Tulsa and the race riots there — where my great-grandfather owned a hotel — to many, many other kinds of violent confrontations that happened. Whenever we got a step ahead and started to make progress, African American business leaders were destroyed or lynched to pull back the opportunities that we thought were going our way.

All these things have conspired to create this enormous wealth gap that’s just continued to build, and build, and build over time. It helps explain why we don’t have multi-generational wealth that we can pass on from one generation to the next. We start behind. We ended up with more debt when we have to pay for college for our children. It’s an extraordinary spiral, it’s such a complicated and tough issue. The one way to not answer it is to continue to only do business with people that look like you in the majority community and not build strong dynamic minority leadership within your institutions.

Hutchinson: One way John is working to build a more diverse pipeline of talent for the workplace of the future is through education. Over 20 years ago, he founded Ariel Community Academy to educate underserved children on the Southside of Chicago about financial literacy and entrepreneurship.

Rogers: It’s been a terrific success. We have 500 African American students there now or more, and we’re teaching the kids about the stock market. We’re giving them real money to invest in real stocks. We go down and talk to them about how do you analyze companies, how you do the research, how you decide what stocks to buy, and when the kids graduate, they get a portion of the profits that they can utilize themselves. They put it into a 529 program, we match it with $500 to teach the kids the importance of matching. But if you think about it, not only are they learning about the stock market and learning about investing, they’re also learning about financial services careers and they’re learning about entrepreneurship.

The second way that we create pipeline, which I think is often lost, is that at a firm like Ariel — you know, you try not to talk about yourself, but you know — we’ve been around 37 years, and if we look at many of the financial services leaders in Chicago, we have been the pipeline for that talent. So, a firm like ours doesn’t exist. Maybe you don’t have a Mellody Hobson. Maybe you don’t have some of these other dynamic financial services leaders that are out there, making a difference in our country and throughout the world. So it’s a little bit of an argument and self-serving argument to say that you need to have successful African American firms that can often be pipelines for talent and next-generation entrepreneurs and business leaders.

Hutchinson: In the news lately, there’ve been a lot of conversations around board diversity. It strikes me you’re on several boards. So, I want to go there for a second and kind of ask you just what has your experience been, serving on these boards? What advice would you give companies looking to diversify their boards? And for entrepreneurs and emerging business leaders who want to position themselves to serve on boards, who might not have that mentorship, what would you tell them?

Rogers: That’s a lot there. I think it was about three questions or four questions there.

Hutchinson: I wanted to get it all in.

Rogers: I will try to get to it. You know, first of all, my experience on corporate boards has been truly a blessing. When it comes to what I would tell corporate leaders today when it comes to recruiting minority board members; that one, when you search far and wide for talent, you’re going to end up with a better team. As Reverend Jackson often says, baseball clearly became a better sport once Jackie Robinson started to play and people got exposed to then Willie Mays and Ernie Banks and Hank Aaron and all these extraordinary leaders. There was no doubt that once people started searching for talent everywhere, baseball became, again, a better sport. So it’s definitely the right thing to do for management to do this. It’s going to make their company stronger and it’s going to help them live up to the values they say they care about.

But, also, at the same time, I tell them if you’re going to go out and recruit your first minority director, make sure it’s someone that is committed to the civil rights agenda. Just don’t pick someone of color and not think about it. And when you hire your executive recruiter, tell them that you want to make sure that the person that’s going to come on that board and be that first person, that it’s going to be someone maybe who is going to have that spirit of a John Lewis; who’s going to understand sometimes you’ve got to make trouble, make good trouble, ask tough questions, challenge authority. You know, as John Lewis often said, if you see something that’s not right, that’s not fair, you have a moral responsibility to speak up and try to make change. Those are the kinds of diverse directors that you want on your board.

Hutchinson: That’s great. And I’m wondering if we could take some time and dig in a little bit more to some of your internal and external initiatives related to ESG [environmental, social and corporate governance impact measurement criteria] yes, but also to diversity and inclusion. Obviously you’re a part of CEO Action, so I’m just wondering if you want to speak to any of those initiatives or if there are other initiatives that you all are working on in that space that you’d like to talk about.

Rogers: Well, it’s been great to work with Tim Ryan and CEO Action. His leadership is unique. He’s making an enormous impact so we feel truly blessed to be a part of it, that he’s included us in his efforts and he’s building a great team of people — and of course, a lot of colleagues and organizations around the country. So that’s been a real positive.

I played basketball in college. You know, if you can search for basketball players all over the world when you’re building your team, you’re going to have a better team than if you just pick your favorite friends from the neighborhood. It’s this obvious, you know, and I think that I have to just remind people that and I tell them often. I tell people in boardrooms that my father always taught me the most important thing to do was to the live up to the commitments that you make to others. If this organization has a commitment to diversity and inclusion, and it’s on the website, it’s in the annual report and the CEO is talking about it, I’m not doing my job as a fiduciary if I’m not helping you to achieve the goals that you’ve said are top priority for you and your organization. So I’m here to help you achieve those goals, and I think people see that as a constructive way to engage around these key issues that are confronting our country today.

Hutchinson: Thank you for taking the time to talk to me, John. I really, really enjoyed this conversation so, thank you so much.

Rogers: Well you’re welcome. I appreciate you guys inviting me on and hopefully I have a little bit of a different perspective and point of view, and hopefully push people to think about these problems in a little bit different way.

Hutchinson: So, one thing that stuck out to me about the conversation with John that I thought was really powerful is the way that he thinks about underestimated entrepreneurs, right? And so often our underestimated entrepreneurs are underrepresented and they’re under-capitalized. And really thinking about, what does it mean to give minority entrepreneurs access to your networks and access to a seat at the table, right? And, and his experience, a seat at the boardroom table. I think that there’s a lot to be said about, you know, not just striving for economic participation, but also thinking about creating spaces for folks from underrepresented backgrounds to leave the wealth gap. That’s what this is all about. The wealth gap is a big problem. And you know, ultimately this conversation, what it highlights to me and what it has me thinking about, and I hope what it has you thinking about, is questions of economic justice. What does it mean to get uncomfortable with it? And how should we be thinking about closing that wealth gap?

So, what did you learn today from John Rogers about creating robust local economies through diverse workforces? Let us know in the comments section. We want to hear from you. We also want to know what you think of the show, so leave us a review. Subscribe to “Time To Act” for free on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcast. You won’t want to miss upcoming conversations with groundbreakers, who are leading the charge to improve diversity and inclusion in their companies and industries. I’m Y-Vonne Hutchinson. Let’s keep the conversation going.

To hear more episodes of “Time To Act,” click here:

“Time To Act: A Podcast About Diversity And Inclusion,” presented by PwC and CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion™, features CEOs and C-suite leaders from multinational brands and regional businesses discussing why diversity and inclusion are defining factors in a company’s growth and success at scale. It’s more than checking the boxes — together, business leaders are listening, understanding and taking action for real change. 

This article was paid for by PwC and co-created by RYOT Studio. HuffPost editorial staff did not participate in the creation of this content.

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Bitcoin

Bitcoin mining has been under a microscope lately. We talked to a crypto expert to understand why blockchain is getting a bad rap.

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If you’ve even casually followed Bitcoin news lately, you may have seen headlines such as these:

“Bill Gates Sounds Alarm On Bitcoin’s Energy Consumption”

“Bitcoin’s wild ride renews worries about its massive carbon footprint“

“Why does Bitcoin need more energy than whole countries?”

These captions are meant to drive clicks and perhaps even plant a seed of doubt in the public’s mind about trending cryptocurrencies. But is crypto trading the energy vampire that the media has made it out to be? 

We spoke with podcast producer and blockchain expert Matthew Diemer, a longtime player in the crypto industry, to get a more balanced view of this issue. Diemer manages The Decrypt Daily podcast, which discusses all aspects of crypto news and information. 

Popular digital currencies

Before we dive into the conversation, let’s start with a quick rewind on some basic cryptocurrency facts. Currently, there are dozens of virtual currencies, also known as tokens, available to purchase and trade. However, the most well-known currency by far is Bitcoin, having been around now for over a decade. 

Other rising stars in the crypto space include Ethereum, dogecoin, and Litecoin. And recently, a wave of interest in NFTs is fueling public demand (however, NFTs, or “non-fungible tokens,” are a type of virtual product that exists primarily within the Ethereum blockchain.) 

To understand how energy use and blockchain (i.e., the technology that allows cryptocurrencies to exist) are intertwined, one has to dig a little deeper into the processes of creating and trading cryptocurrencies.

Proof of Work makes crypto function

Blockchain technology involves a method of tracking every single transaction called Proof of Work (PoW). Essentially, PoW is a publicly documented record, also called a ledger, organized by a group called miners. Miners, predictably, are the ones that mine to create new tokens by recording every transaction for the blockchain. 

As Diemer explains, miners take each “transaction in the data and put it into the decentralized database. Once it’s put in that decentralized database, that one person wins and gets the block reward because they are the first person to do that. Basically, that transaction is now locked within the blockchain. And we call it a blockchain because you can see the chain of transactions all the way back to the beginning, or the genesis, block of Bitcoin.”

Miners repeat these tasks continually as more crypto is bought and sold. So, because this process involves performing extremely complex algorithms repeatedly, mining uses energy, and lots of it. Now that the connection between energy use and blockchain is clear, let’s dive deeper into the energy and mining relationship at the crux of this controversy.

Energy use and Bitcoin mining

Though Diemer is the first to admit that Bitcoin mining “takes a lot of energy, around 170 Terawatts per block,” he also says we should be careful about how we frame up the idea of energy use when it comes to blockchain management. 

Diemer states, “I don’t like the term energy usage because I think that’s disingenuous. We should be thinking about the word carbon emissions, or CO2 footprint.” But, Diemer said, we should “be concerned about the CO2 footprint of any kind of energy consumption.”

To his point, the laser focus on Bitcoin in relation to energy is leaving out a lot of factors. For example, Diemer says, Bitcoin obtains “74% of electricity from renewable sources,” a stat backed up by a 2019 CoinShares report

Based on this data, the topic of crypto energy consumption requires a reframing of sorts. In other words, Diemer states, “do we care about how much energy is consumed, if it’s renewable? No, because it’s renewable.”

Bitcoin as a business

Diemer proposes that when it comes to energy management, crypto miners might be more concerned than most people because it affects their bottom line. “Bitcoin mining is a business proposition. You want to get the cheapest energy to do this business because it takes a lot of energy to mine Bitcoin. Therefore, anything that is not the cheapest possible is a negative against your business.”

“Bitcoin miners purposely set up next to renewable power sources and use their excess energy.” In other words, Diemer suggests mining is using energy that would otherwise be wasted. Indeed, recent reports show as much as 72% of the energy produced globally is lost.

Bitcoin mining unlikely to drive Texas energy prices

The bulk of Bitcoin mining is located overseas, with the vast majority (65%) of that taking place in China, according to Statista. Although China is heavily dependent on coal energy, savvy miners have found a way to harness unused power. 

Diemer explained, miners “actively search out the cheapest, most efficient ways to conduct this business. I had somebody on the show that had a Bitcoin mining firm in Sichuan, and that’s exactly what they did. They flew to Sichuan and found one of the many dams that are there and nestled up next to it and started a partnership with them.”

Currently, less than 8% of mining is U.S.-based. However, that stat is likely to change as crypto continues to grow in popularity, causing miners stateside to look for the best places to expand their pursuits. And one location set to skyrocket in popularity is Texas. 

Crypto mining in Texas

Texas is an attractive hub for would-be miners. The Lone Star State is already ripe for solar energy generation. Texas currently leads the U.S. in solar generation, lagging only behind California. Texas is also a leader in other types of renewable energy, such as wind power, which could be essential to low-cost and efficient mining operations. 

But with Texas struggling through an energy crisis for the first part of 2021, how much more pressure can the southern power grid stand? Will prices skyrocket even more than during the February winter storm, And how much of that cost will be passed onto the consumer? 

Like the situation in China, Texas miners can use energy that would otherwise go to waste. And it is precisely this type of symbiotic relationship that could be a boon for energy production in the south-central region of the U.S. 

A mining facility already exists in west Texas was able to “sell its contracted power supplies back into the grid for a profit,” according to Bloomberg. So, “when power prices in Texas topped $200 a megawatt-hour, Layer1 reaped returns of more than 700%.”

The good news is that if other facilities follow suit, mining may help the Texas power grid retain more of its renewable energy. However, whether or not the excess energy will translate into savings for Texas electricity customers remains to be seen.

Why mining gets blamed for energy consumption

The question still remains that if miners are so strategic about optimizing energy, why has bitcoin mining been getting the brunt of the blame for energy consumption? 

Traditional monetary transactions involving fiat (i.e., government-issued) currency involve significant energy output as well. Consider the number of debit and credit card swipes that take place every second, which totaled over 174 billion transactions globally in 2018, according to the Federal Reserve. With that figure in mind, is the blockchain industry liable for energy gluttony, or are they being scapegoated by the “old guard” in the finance space? 

Diemer states, “I think that it’s an easy narrative, and I think that narrative always trumps research and due diligence. It’s easy to run with a narrative instead of actually digging down on the conversation and trying to understand what’s happening.” 

But Diemer is confident that the same avant-garde thinkers that facilitated the early days of crypto may be the same innovative minds that come up with our next big energy solution. “The interesting thing about the free market is that sometimes they find solutions to problems…that aren’t thought of by the public or the government.”

Perhaps he sums it up best by saying, “The minds in this space are just brilliant individuals that are thinking literally like Sci-Fi novels. And not only thinking like Sci-Fi novels, but they’re also writing the Sci-Fi novel as we speak and then putting it into everyday action. And if that’s not inspiring to you, then I don’t know what is.”

Energy Expert

Lisa Iscrupe is a writer with over 15 years of experience working in the energy and telecom space. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts focused in English Language and Literature from UNC Charlotte.

[SlavkoSereda]/Getty Images

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Falcons coach tight-lipped about Julio Jones’ future

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The Atlanta Falcons began their offseason training program Tuesday without longtime star receiver Julio Jones, who apparently has no intention of returning to a rebuilding team that is still struggling to get under the salary cap.

Rookie coach Arthur Smith was tight-lipped about the Falcons’ options, but insisted that he doesn’t begrudge Jones for speaking his mind.

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“We encourage our players to speak for themselves,” Smith said during an interview session dominated by questions about Jones’ future. “That doesn’t change anything for us. We understand our plan going forward. We’ve had multiple private conversations with our players. Those conversations will remain private on my end.”

After plenty of questions about the seven-time Pro Bowler who, along with Matt Ryan, has been the face of the franchise for the past decade, Jones brought the situation to a head in a brief interview Monday with former NFL star Shannon Sharpe.

“I’m outta there,” Jones told the host of the “Undisputed” on FS1. When asked where he wants to play, the 32-year-old replied, “Right now, I wanna win.”

That seems unlikely with the Falcons, who are coming off their third straight losing season. Atlanta fired coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff after an 0-5 start to a year that ended at 4-12.

Smith and new general manager Terry Fontenot have made it clear that all options are on the table as they attempt to rebuild the roster and deal with several salary cap limitations, which could be eased greatly by trading Jones.

After months of silence from both sides, Jones appears to be pushing for a resolution. In addition to his interview with Sharpe, a photo surfaced on social media of the receiver posing with the fan while wearing a Dallas Cowboys sweatshirt.

Asked about Jones’ choice of attire, Smith called it “irrelevant.”

“You can wear whatever you want,” the coach said. “I don’t care.”

While the Cowboys would not seem to be in the market for another top receiver, there are teams that would surely benefit from having a dynamic player who had six straight seasons with more than 1,300 yards receiving until he was limited to nine games in 2020 by injuries.

Among the teams that might interested in Jones: the San Francisco 49ers, coached by former Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan; the New England Patriots, who have already made a big splash in free agency; and the Jacksonville Jaguars, buoyed by a new franchise quarterback (Trevor Lawrence) and more cap space than any team in the league.

Jones’ status has certainly become a hot topic around the league, with Arizona receiver DeAndre Hopkins even sending a tweet — since deleted — implying he’d to restructure his contract if that’s what it took for Cardinals to deal for Jones.

Hopkins was at it again on Monday, posting a picture on Instagram of himself with Jones, receiver A.J. Green and former NFL star Michael Irvin at the 2016 Pro Bowl. He included the message, “Julio u remember what we talked about.”

Smith repeatedly refused to discuss any aspects of the Jones drama, from reports that the receiver privately requested a trade before the NFL draft to whether there’s any chance of a reconciliation with one of the team’s most popular players. The coach did say that every player on the roster has received a playbook and all information related to the voluntary OTAs (organized team activities).

“We’ve got so much respect and appreciation for what Julio Jones has done here with this franchise and what he’s meant to this city,” Smith said “But we have conversations about our roster all the time. We have to have contingency plans.”

Jones’ $15.3 million base salary is guaranteed and he’s set to cost the Falcons slightly more than $23 million against the salary cap next season. If he’s traded after June 1, they would be able to split the dead money over two seasons, which would greatly ease their grim financial situation.

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As it stands, the Falcons still must clear several million dollars just to sign a draft class led by the No. 4 overall pick, tight end Kyle Pitts.

While trading Jones makes sense financially, especially given the emergence of receivers Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage, the situation has cast a pall over a franchise that has never seemed to recover from blowing a 28-3 lead in the 2017 Super Bowl.

Ryan made it clear last week how much Jones has meant to the team’s success.

“I love Julio. I’ve been so lucky to play with him for the past decade,” Ryan said. “He’s an incredible competitor and one of the best to ever do it at his position.”

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Amazon’s Profit More Than Triples As Pandemic Boom Continues

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NEW YORK (AP) — Amazon’s pandemic boom isn’t showing signs of slowing down.

The company said Thursday that its first-quarter profit more than tripled from a year ago, fueled by the growth of online shopping. It also posted revenue of more than $100 billion, the second quarter in a row that the company has passed that milestone.

Amazon is one of the few retailers that has benefited during the pandemic. As physical stores temporarily closed, people stuck at home turned to Amazon to buy groceries, cleaning supplies and more. That doesn’t seem to be dying down.

In the first three months of this year, the company reported profit of $8.1 billion, compared to $2.5 billion the year before. Earnings per share came to $15.79, about $6 more per share than what Wall Street analysts expected, according to FactSet.

Revenue jumped 44% to $108.5 billion. Seattle-based Amazon is one of four American companies that have reported quarterly revenue above $100 billion. The others are iPhone maker Apple, oil and gas company Exxon Mobil and retailer Walmart.

Amazon said revenue will remain at that level in the second quarter, expecting between $110 billion and $116 billion. Part of the reason why: It plans to hold Prime Day, its popular sales event, during the quarter. Amazon didn’t specify a date for Prime Day, but said it would happen before the end of June.

Besides online shopping, Amazon’s other businesses grew, too. Sales at its cloud-computing business, which helps power the online operations of Netflix, McDonald’s and other companies, grew 32% in the quarter. And at its unit that includes its advertising business, where brands pay to get their products to show up first when shoppers search on the site, sales rose 77%.

Amazon’s growth comes as it faces activism from within its workforce. Workers at a warehouse in Alabama tried to unionize, saying they wanted better pay and more break time. But a majority of voters batted down that effort.

This week, Amazon announced it was giving more than 500,000 workers a raise of between 50 cents and $3 an hour starting next month to attract new workers. The company already pays at least $15 an hour.

The online shopping giant has been on a hiring spree to keep up with a surge in orders. It had 1.27 million employees at the end of March, adding more than 430,000 people in the last year.

Shares of Amazon.com Inc., which are up 40% in the last year, rose 2.6% in after-hours trading Thursday.



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Watch Consumer Reports Trick A Tesla Into Driving Without A Driver

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Consumer Reports has released a video revealing how a vehicle operator tricked a Tesla into driving in autopilot mode without a person in the driver’s seat to take over in case of trouble.

The demonstration was broadcast just days after two friends died in a fiery crash in Texas in a 2019 Tesla Model S that authorities said had no driver — which Tesla CEO Elon Musk has denied.

Rigging the car to run on its own appeared relatively easy (check out the video above). A small weight was attached to the steering wheel to mimic the touch of a driver’s hand, but the person in the car actually touched nothing and sat in the front passenger seat. The car traveled down the road and emitted no warning that no one was in charge.

Tesla’s Autopilot website warns that its cars are not “autonomous.” Autopilot is “intended for use with a fully attentive driver, who has their hands on the wheel and is prepared to take over at any time,” the website states.

The site, however, gives mixed messages. In a featured video on the Autopilot site, a car is shown traveling all over town while the driver does nothing and has his hands in his lap. A message at the start of the video notes that the “person in the driver’s seat is only there for legal reasons. He is not doing anything. The car is driving itself.

Musk has largely shrugged off concerns about the autopilot feature and has insisted it makes the cars safer by helping drivers. Drivers have been known to fall asleep at the wheel, read or text while driving, or simply stop paying attention to the road when using the feature.

The friends in Texas, ages 59 and 69, were killed last Saturday night when the Tesla missed a curve and crashed into a tree, causing a fiery explosion in a residential neighborhood in suburban Houston. Their wives had heard them discussing trying out the car’s autopilot function as they left, according to law enforcement authorities. There was no one in the driver’s seat when firefighters extinguished the car blaze, according to Harris County Precinct 4 Constable Mark Herman. One man was in the front passenger seat; the other was in the back seat, according to Herman.

It took four hours and 32,000 gallons of water to put out the fire because the car’s lithium battery cells kept reigniting.

After Tesla stock dropped 3.4% Monday after the accident was widely reported, Musk denied the car was driverless. He insisted in a tweet that “data logs recovered so far” showed that the autopilot was “not enabled” in the crash.  He also said the owner had not purchased an “FSD” ― a Full Self-Driving package.

Herman told Reuters that Musk’s tweet Monday was the first officials had heard from Tesla. He said authorities would serve search warrants on the company to obtain any data it had recovered from the vehicle.

“If he is tweeting that out, if he has already pulled the data, he hasn’t told us that,” Herman said. “We will eagerly wait for that data.”

Tesla officials did apologize on Thursday — but not for the Texas crash. Tesla promised to cooperative fully in an investigation into a February multi-car crash in China. One of the drivers in that crash had climbed atop a Tesla at a car show in a protest blaming her Tesla’s brakes for the crash.

“We will work with regulators to conduct a deep-dive investigation with no reservations, and accept society’s supervision with sincerity and openness,” the company said on the Chinese microblogging site Weibo, Vice reported.

Tesla offered a “deep apology” for failing to solve the problem, pledged to win back consumers’ support “with genuine sincerity” and promised to cover all the costs of a third-party examination of the protester’s vehicle.

The Communist Party’s powerful corruption watchdog had criticized Tesla as “spoiled and arrogant,” and warned it against “making Chinese people’s money while taking Chinese people’s lives,” Vice reported.





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Union Claims Amazon Tainted Election, Wants Vote Overturned

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The union that lost an election at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama this month has accused the company of breaking labor laws during the campaign and asked federal officials to throw out the results.

The Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU) filed 23 charges at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on Friday alleging Amazon created an atmosphere of fear and confusion surrounding the vote. The union said in a statement that its claims “constitute grounds to set the election aside” and order a new one.

Among other charges, the union alleges that Amazon threatened workers with layoffs or the closure of the warehouse if they unionized, as well as cuts to their pay and benefits. It is illegal for employers to make such threats.

An Amazon spokesperson said the company denies the allegations.

“Rather than accepting these employees’ choice, the union seems determined to continue misrepresenting the facts in order to drive its own agenda,” the company said in a statement. “We look forward to the next steps in the legal process.”

Workers voted 1,798 to 738 against unionizing in a preliminary tally, although the labor board has not yet certified those results. It’s likely that NLRB officials will hold a hearing on the union’s allegations, offering the union a chance to present its evidence. 

The election results could ultimately be overturned, although such a case could last months or years due to appeals.

Stuart Appelbaum, the RWDSU’s president, told HuffPost after the election that he believed Amazon acted illegally and the results should not be certified.

“We think there needs to be a new election,” he said.

Even if the results are thrown out, the union would have to win a new election at a warehouse where it just lost. Regardless, the hearings could provide the union with a way to air its case against Amazon, which carried out an aggressive and so far successful anti-union campaign.



Amazon urged workers to cast their ballots as quickly as possible, even having a billboard put up on the interstate.

In their filing with the board, the union says Amazon broke the law by having a U.S. Postal Service box placed at the warehouse for the election. An NLRB official had told the company it could not have drop boxes onsite for the mail-in election, but the company asked the Postal Service to install a temporary mailbox.

The union accuses Amazon of surveilling the mailbox and pressuring workers to bring their ballots to work to drop them in the box. Amazon says that it did not surveil the mailbox and that only the Postal Service had access to it.

“It created the impression … that Amazon was conducting the election,” Appelbaum said.

In the filing, the union also accuses Amazon of carrying out “an extensive campaign” of polling and “interrogating” workers about their union support, and holding mandatory meetings in which the company told workers “that the union will go on strike and that employees will lose money.”

That appears to be a reference to the so-called “captive audience” meetings in which consultants delivered talking points against the union. These meetings are a standard feature of anti-union campaigns, and Amazon workers told HuffPost they took place every week in the run-up to the vote.



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CEO Hits Back At Fox News After They Derided Him For Offering $70,000 Minimum Salaries

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The last six years have been a long strange trip for CEO Dan Price.

Back in 2015, the tech entrepreneur shocked the business world by slashing his own $1.1 million pay package to help fund a minimum “living wage” of $70,000 for all workers at his credit card processing company Gravity Payments.

Price’s decision led to him being heavily criticized as a “socialist” on Fox News and Fox Business. In addition, some clients dropped Gravity for reasons that included fears the salary hike would cause their rates to rise.

But in the years since, Price has been hailed as a success by Harvard Business School and Inc. magazine, which noted the number of employees at Gravity has doubled while the value of payments that the company processes has gone from $3.8 billion a year to $10.2 billion.

On Tuesday, Price referenced this success in a viral Twitter thread and video that took aim at his conservative critics, particularly Fox.

It hasn’t all been a smooth ride, Price admitted.

He also explained what inspired his decision to cut his own salary to $70,000 a year and raise pay for workers, saying the discovery that an employee was secretly working a second job at McDonald’s made him realize he was an “awful CEO.”

Although he took a drastic pay cut, Price said he doesn’t miss the “millionaire lifestyle” one bit.





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Why Pause The J&J Vaccine? An Expert Explains The Decision

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The decision by two key federal regulatory agencies to recommend a “pause” in using the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine got everybody’s attention on Tuesday, especially since the progress had been so encouraging lately.

The impetus for the recommendation was six reports of medical incidents among the more than 6 million people who have gotten the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. In a joint statement, the two agencies, the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said they were acting out of an “abundance of caution” in order to see whether these incidents were side effects of the vaccine and, if so, what that means for future use of the one-dose shot.  

Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine is one of three now available in the U.S. under emergency authorization orders. The other two are from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech. 

All three vaccines induce human cells to produce the now-familiar COVID-19 protein spikes so that the body’s immune system learns to recognize the virus. But the Johnson & Johnson vaccine operates in a slightly different way than Moderna’s or Pfizer’s, neither of which have generated reports of such incidents.

Biden administration officials said Tuesday that the pause will not meaningfully affect vaccine distribution in the U.S. ― noting, among other things, that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine accounts for less than 5% of the shots that have gone into arms. 

The U.S. is already averaging more than 3 million vaccinations a day, and there are already small pockets of the country where supply is reaching or outstripping demand, with more likely to follow soon. 

Still, officials were hoping the J&J vaccine would boost the supply and provide a version that was easier to administer, because it requires just one dose rather than the two spaced-apart vaccinations that both Moderna and Pfizer require.

These reports are serious, but they are also very rare.
Joshua Sharfstein, Johns Hopkins professor and former FDA official

So what exactly did the FDA and CDC say today? Was that the right decision?What does it mean for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and the vaccination campaign more generally, going forward?

Joshua Sharfstein has thought a lot about these issues. He served as principal deputy FDA commissioner during the Obama administration. Before that term, he was health commissioner for the city of Baltimore. Afterward, he served as secretary of health for Maryland. Now he is a public health professor at Johns Hopkins University. (He’s also a friend I’ve known for many years.)

HuffPost asked for his take on these questions. Here is a lightly edited version of our conversation, which took place over email.

Cohn: First thing: Can you translate for the public what the FDA and CDC actually have said and what it means? 

Sharfstein: FDA and CDC are reporting that six people developed an unusual type of blood clots within two weeks of vaccination with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. All six are women, between the ages of 18 and 48. One died, and a second is in intensive care. These reports are serious, but they are also very rare. More than 6 million people have been vaccinated with this vaccine so far. 

The concern, for FDA and CDC and, of course, the rest of us, is that the vaccine may be the cause of this disorder ― that it’s not just a coincidence. To investigate and respond to this potential risk, the agencies have asked for a pause in the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

We should hear more soon, including at an advisory committee meeting scheduled for tomorrow, about what this means for the vaccination program. Today’s announcement reflects that the national vaccine program is working to identify and assess even remote risks quickly.

Cohn: A “pause.” So how long are we likely taking here?

Sharfstein: I would anticipate we’ll know more in days to several weeks. 

Cohn: People want to know if these reports means the vaccine is unsafe. Can you put this into context for us, relative to other vaccines or drugs? 

Sharfstein: When thinking about the safety of a drug or vaccine, I consider three questions.

First, how do the risks compare with the benefits? In this case, the benefits are impressive. Studies have shown that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is quite effective at preventing illness from COVID-19. The vaccine appears to be even more effective at preventing serious illness and death. 

FDA and CDC scientists are working now, first, to assess the likelihood that this unusual clotting problem is actually related to vaccination. And then, if they find it is likely to be related, they will have to weigh the very considerable benefits of avoiding COVID-19 against the potential harms of this unusual clotting problem for different groups of people. With this complication so rare, my expectation is that for all groups, they will find that the benefits far exceed the risks. The chance of a problem appears to be less, for example, than the risk of a severe allergic reaction to any of the COVID vaccines.



Principal Deputy Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Joshua Sharfstein (left) and Acting Associate FDA Commissioner for Regulatory Affairs Michael Chappell testify May 27, 2010, before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on a voluntary recall of over-the-counter medications.

Second, how do the risks compare with the risks of other medical products that serve the same purpose? Two alternative COVID vaccines ― from Pfizer and Moderna ― have not been associated with this unusual clotting problem. So one question is whether, for people at the highest risk of this complication, it might make sense to recommend alternative vaccines where they are readily available. The agencies and their advisory committees may consider this option. 

Third, how well can the safety challenges be managed? With every vaccine, even the ones that have been around for many years, there’s a risk of a major allergic reaction. It’s very rare, but we prepare for it by having epinephrine handy at all times. Leaders at the FDA and CDC have said that one of the reasons for the pause is to make sure clinicians know about this unusual clotting problem, so they can be prepared to recognize it and provide effective treatment.  

Cohn: So let me press you here. As you say, the side effect has been very rare ― six reported incidents out of more than 6 million doses already in people’s arms. Why pause at all, given the vaccine’s potential to prevent large numbers of death? Why not just say, hey, we’re watching this but don’t see any reason to hold back on the shot?

Sharfstein: I respect that FDA and CDC are asking for a little time to assess the risks and to develop clinical recommendations for managing this unusual condition.

In addition, in public health, as in life, you only get one chance to make a first impression. Here, the public health agencies are showing how seriously they take the safety of these vaccines. They’re going to investigate these cases and then make a responsible decision on how to proceed. 

Continuing to vaccinate could have led people to worry that safety is a secondary consideration, undermining their desire to be vaccinated. Trust and confidence are the most important elements of a successful vaccination program. A loss of credibility now could damage efforts to encourage the use of all COVID vaccines this year and set back the nation’s recovery.

Cohn: OK, let’s talk about people who are reluctant to be vaccinated. Could this pause undermine their confidence further?

Sharfstein: Confidence comes both from the perception of risk and from trust in the vaccination program overall. These rare and unusual cases of clotting were going to be a big news story, no matter how FDA and CDC responded.

The logic of a pause is, in part, that someone concerned about the remote possibility of a clotting problem will hear from the start that public health agencies are taking the concern seriously. They’ll then be more open to the evidence and conclusions. 

Cohn: It sounds like you’re saying the risk of too little caution is bigger than the risk of a little too much caution. For example, if the FDA comes off as in any way cavalier about safety ― or, worse, if it fails to act on something that become a bigger problem ― then the damage to its credibility and ultimately public faith in vaccines could be enormous and long-lasting, and that risk more than outweighs whatever we lose by going through this pause. Do I have that right? 

Sharfstein: Yes. This is the world of “making decisions in the setting of uncertainty.” We do not know at this moment everything that the virus and the vaccines have in store for us. What we do know is that a loss of credibility among those who are on the fence about vaccination could be an enormous setback. Taking a moment to assess the situation is a responsible step. It’s now important for the agencies to move expeditiously, share information transparently and explain their next set of decisions well.  

Cohn: Let’s shift focus and talk science. We’re not hearing about these side effects with Moderna or Pfizer. But European regulators reported similarly rare but serious side effects with AstraZeneca. Is that a clue about what’s actually happening, because both J&J and AstraZeneca use similar delivery methods?

Sharfstein: Both the AstraZeneca vaccine and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are derived from a common cold virus called the adenovirus. An important question is whether this unusual clotting problem might be linked to the adenovirus component of the vaccines. 

Cohn: So why wasn’t this picked up in clinical trials?

Sharfstein: Clinical trials for vaccines are unable to detect very rare adverse events. That’s because the trials involve tens of thousands of subjects, but rare side effects may happen at a rate of 1 in 100,000, or even 1 in 1 million people.

To catch these problems, FDA and CDC set up a number of programs to monitor safety as the products gain wide use. This very monitoring identified the clotting cases, and now the agencies are responding. In other words, this recent finding and pause reflect the vigilance of our oversight system. 

Cohn: One reason everybody has been excited about Johnson & Johnson is that it’s just one dose and doesn’t have unusual storage requirements. That makes it a lot easier to deliver in under-served areas here ― and, especially, around the world. What are the global implications for this?

Sharfstein: The global dimension of the issue should not be overlooked. Both the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are very important for global immunization efforts, so getting to the bottom of this unusual clotting problem is a high priority. FDA, CDC and other global regulators should be clear about the implications of different policy actions for the use of these vaccines around the world.

A HuffPost Guide To Coronavirus





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