University of Michigan survey has shown sentiment faltering as prices have risen, and the Conference Board’s index ticked down in January.

“You have very high inflation, so people are seeing an erosion of their purchasing power,” said Dana M. Peterson, chief economist at The Conference Board, noting that the resurgent virus is also to blame. “People will have higher confidence once we’re beyond Omicron.”

For now, it is a moment of pronounced economic uncertainty.

Ashley Fahr, the owner of the culinary company and event space La Cuisine in Venice, Calif., said rising grocery costs began to bite at a difficult moment — just before Omicron began to surge, causing people to pull back from activities like the cooking classes and catering events she offers.

She noticed in December that her food bill had gone up by about 15 percent, chipping away at her margins, and passed about 5 percent of that on to customers while absorbing the rest of the increase.

“I didn’t want to quote a number people would balk at,” she said.

Ms. Fahr said she pays her workers — most of whom are independent contractors — competitive wages and that it’s hard to keep up with rising prices and still turn a profit. She is watching to see what other local caterers and cooking classes do with their pricing — and whether they begin to pass on the full increase to customers.

“If everyone else does it, I’ll do it too,” Ms. Fahr said.

That sort of logic is what economic officials worry about. If businesses and consumers begin to expect prices to steadily rise, they may begin to accept instead of resisting them — and when inflation gets baked into expectations, it might spiral upward year after year, economists worry.

“What we’re trying to do is get inflation, keep inflation expectations well anchored at 2 percent,” Mr. Powell, the Fed chair, said at his news conference this week. “That’s always the ultimate goal.”

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On Patrol: 12 Days With a Taliban Police Unit in Kabul

KABUL, Afghanistan — A young Taliban fighter with a pair of handcuffs dangling from his finger warily watched the stream of approaching cars as he stood in front of a set of steel barricades.

Friday prayers would begin soon at the Sakhi Shah-e Mardan shrine and mosque, a holy Shiite site in central Kabul that he was guarding.

There had been two bombings of Shiite mosques in Afghanistan by the Islamic State in recent months, killing dozens, and this 18-year-old Taliban fighter, Mohammad Khalid Omer, wasn’t taking any chances.

He and his police unit of five other fighters, colloquially known as the Sakhi unit after the shrine they defend, represents the Taliban’s vanguard in their newest struggle after the group’s stunning takeover of the country in August: They won the war, but can they secure the peace in a multiethnic country racked by more than 40 years of violence?

economic hardships gripping their countrymen, with the same threat of Islamic State attacks and with the raucous, puzzling, winding streets and back alleys of Kabul, a city of about 4.5 million people that they are practically strangers to.

The Sakhi unit lives full time next to the shrine in a small concrete room painted bright green with a single electric heater. Steel bunk beds line the walls. The only decoration is a single poster of the sacred Kaaba in Mecca.

the Taliban’s interim government, composed almost entirely of Pashtun hard-liners who are emblematic of the movement’s harsh rule in the 1990s, and who are perceived as anti-Hazara.

As he spoke in the unit’s cramped barracks, a small speaker often played “taranas,” the spoken prayer songs, without musical accompaniment, popular with the Talibs.

One of the group’s favorites was a song about losing one’s comrades, and the tragedy of youth lost. In a high thin voice, the singer intones, “O death, you break and kill our hearts.”

On a fall day last year as the Sakhi unit looked on, families gathered on the tiled terraces around the shrine, drinking tea and sharing food.

Some cautiously eyed the Talibs patrolling the site, and one group of young men rushed to put out their cigarettes as they approached. The Taliban generally frown on smoking, and the unit has at times physically punished smokers.

Another day, two teenage boys came to the shrine, brazenly strolling with their two girlfriends. They were confronted by the Sakhi unit, who asked what they were doing. Unsatisfied with their answers, the Talibs dragged the boys into their bunk room to answer for the transgression. In conservative Afghanistan, such public consorting is taboo, doubly so in a holy site under Taliban guard.

Inside their room, there was an argument among the Sakhi unit about how to handle the two boys: good cop versus bad cop. Hekmatullah Sahel, one of the more experienced members of the unit, disagreed with his comrades. He pushed for a verbal lashing rather than a physical one. He was overruled.

When the teenagers were finally allowed to leave, shaken by the beating they had just received, Mr. Sahel called out to the boys, telling them to come back again — but without their girlfriends.

The episode was a reminder to the shrine’s visitors that the Taliban fighters, while generally friendly, could still revert to the tactics that defined their religious hard-line rule in the 1990s.

For the group of six fighters, contending with flirting teenagers was just another indicator that their days of fighting a guerrilla war were over. Now they spend their time preoccupied by more quotidian policing considerations, like spotting possible bootleggers (alcohol in Afghanistan is banned), finding fuel for their unit’s pickup and wondering whether their commander will grant them leave for the weekend.

Mr. Omer had joined the unit only months before. “I joined the Islamic Emirate because I had a great desire to serve my religion and country,” he said.

But to some Talibs, Mr. Omer is what is derisively called a “21-er” — a fighter who only joined the movement in 2021, as victory loomed. This new generation of Talibs bring new expectations with them, chief among them the desire for a salary.

They and most other rank-and-file fighters have never received a salary from the movement. Despite seizing billions in American-supplied weapons and matériel, the Taliban are still far from being well equipped. Fighters are dependent on their commanders for basic supplies, and they have to scrounge for anything extra.

Mr. Sahel, at 28, is older than most of his comrades, slower to excite and more restrained. He spent four years studying at a university, working the whole time as a clandestine operative for the movement. “None of my classmates knew that I was in the Taliban,” he said. He graduated with a degree in physics and math education, but returned to the fight.

Relieved the war is over, he and his comrades still miss the sense of purpose it provided. “We are happy that our country was liberated and we are currently living in peace,” he said, but added, “we are very sad for our friends who were martyred.”

Every few weeks, the men are allowed to visit their families back in Wardak for two days. On a crisp morning in November, Mr. Inqayad sat in his home in the Masjid Gardena valley, a beautiful collection of orchards and fields hemmed in by mountain peaks.

He explained that many families in the area had lost sons to the fighting, and estimated that 80 percent of the families in the area were Taliban supporters.

Mr. Inqayad attended school until the seventh grade, but had to drop out. Religious studies filled in some gaps. He joined the Taliban at 15.

Recently married, he faces new challenges now that the movement is in power. The only potential breadwinner in his family, he needs a salary to support his wife, mother and sisters, but so far he has not been drawing one.

Back in Kabul, the Sakhi unit loaded up for a night patrol, bundling up to combat the cold wind that blows incessantly from the mountains ringing the city.

Mr. Omer rode in the bed of the unit’s truck, a machine gun resting on his lap and bands of ammunition wrapped around his neck like party beads.

But there was little to warrant the heavy weaponry meant for suppressing enemy troops. Their area of responsibility was quiet, and the men seemed bored as they spun around the city as packs of street dogs chased and snapped at the tires of passing cars.

Sami Sahak contributed reporting.

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TikTok and Instagram Influencers are Rediscovering Budget D.I.Y.

In the spring of 2020, Emily Shaw was a recent college graduate and, like many pandemic graduates, she was living at home with no job and nothing to do. So she decided to put her degree in interior architecture to use and fix up her parents’ house in New Hampshire, chronicling the process on TikTok.

Within a month, she had 1 million followers to her account, @emilyrayna, who watched her pull up carpets, replace countertops and restore old furniture. “It was pretty scary,” said Ms. Shaw, 23, who moved out of her parents’ house and now has a TikTok following of 5.2 million. “I was never someone who was into social media before that.”

Ms. Shaw had unexpectedly landed on an audience with an appetite for the drudgery of do-it-yourself home improvement, packaged in the itty-bitty nuggets that make TikTok so delectable. Her early videos, narrated in a soothing yet perky voice-over, focus on the grit of renovation. In one clip, she talks about the tools she uses to remove wallpaper. In another, she recommends the best tape for painting (spoiler alert, it’s not blue.)

Ms. Shaw is among a cadre of young influencers who offer an alternative to the glossy image of home makeover shows popularized by networks like HGTV. In this world of home improvement, there is no professional duo like Chip and Joanna Gaines to swoop in and hold a hapless homeowner’s hand as they tear down walls and slap up shiplap. Instead, these influencers on TikTok, Instagram and YouTube are luring a younger generation eager to figure out how to fix up their homes on their own, on an extremely tight budget.

YouTube video. Since she finished her parents’ project, she has decorated her own apartment and offered design advice to followers who send her photos of their frustrating spaces.

At Lone Fox, a YouTube channel with 1.3 million subscribers, Drew Scott recently gave his mother’s drab bathroom a renter-friendly makeover for less than $300, covering the beige tile floors with peel-and-stick hexagon tiles and covering the walls in peel-and-stick subway tile wallpaper. In another video, about Ikea hacks, he turns a basket into a hanging lamp and upgrades a plain pine cabinet into a glammy black one.

make a flower pot out of an old paint can and wood dowels, or how to build a headboard out of cane and pine. “You don’t need a full design team,” he said. “There are little things you can do on a budget that make such a transformation.”

For the more ambitious DIY crowd with a larger budget, there’s Smashing DIY, an Instagram account that Ashley Basnight started in 2016 after she successfully built a kitchen table for herself and got hooked on woodworking.

In her Instagram stories, Ms. Basnight, 30, chronicles the renovation of her home near Oklahoma City. She shows followers how to lay tile, install board and batten siding, and build a pantry. On her website, Handmade Haven, she sells design plans for her furniture and offers woodworking and renovation tutorials, offering followers step-by-step guides for how to replicate her projects.

Ms. Basnight found that once she focused her videos on the process and not simply the results, her following grew. She no longer has to limit her projects to trendy farmhouse décor, a style she doesn’t like but attracts a wide audience. Instead, she can showcase her personal style, which she describes as “modern boho glam.” She now has 224,000 followers, and earned $267,000 as an influencer in 2021, according to a recent post. Two months ago, she quit her job as a software engineer to focus on her social media presence.

The Sorry Girls, in 2010, when they were in college in Toronto and saw a market for students looking to spruce up their dorm rooms. “Being college students, we didn’t have much of a budget,” Ms. Wright said. “How do you make your dorm room look like a place you want to live?”

one recent video, the duo rescue an employee’s green bathroom. In another, they make a different employee’s tiny living room more livable, building a sofa console and shelves to add more storage space. A short window appears taller with a clever shade placement, and viewers are shown how to make a collapsible table that attaches to the wall. In other videos, they figure out how to make Anthropologie knockoffs using thrift-store finds, like making a decorative tray out of a wicker basket and a plastic plate.

All this enthusiasm makes the case that with enough spray paint, hot glue and fruitful thrift-store runs, almost any space can look like it belongs on the internet.

For weekly email updates on residential real estate news, sign up here. Follow us on Twitter: @nytrealestate.

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Lori Lightfoot Promised to Change Chicago. Crises Keep Piling Up.

CHICAGO — Days into a dispute between Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the Chicago Teachers Union, labor leaders outlined what they described as a grand compromise. Students, who had been receiving no instruction after teachers voted to stop reporting to classrooms amid a coronavirus surge, would attend a few days of online school, followed by a full, in-person return.

Ms. Lightfoot was having none of it.

Within minutes, she and the head of the school district released a statement that accused union leadership of not listening. “We will not relent,” they said, calling instead for a swift return to in-person classes. Days later, it was the union that largely relented: Students returned to school buildings earlier than teachers had wanted, with some additional Covid safeguards in place.

The highly public, acerbic dispute with the teachers this month was characteristic of Ms. Lightfoot’s stewardship of Chicago. In nearly three years marked by a pandemic, soaring rates of violence and frequent labor battles, Ms. Lightfoot has shown herself to be a blunt orator and an unflinching negotiator. But her lofty campaign promises to “bring in the light,” reduce violence and overhaul governance in America’s third-largest city have repeatedly run up against an overwhelming news cycle, decades of inertia and her uncanny ability to make political enemies.

“Her style is a top-bottom approach, very different from what she campaigned on,” said Alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez, whom Ms. Lightfoot once referred to as a “jackass” in hundreds of pages of her frank text messages that were obtained by The Chicago Tribune.

told Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a fellow Democrat, that his administration was being “petty.”

As a gay, Black woman who grew up in Ohio and had never before held elective office, Ms. Lightfoot stood apart from previous mayors, and her inauguration in 2019 was seen by some as a potential moment of change for the city. She won all 50 City Council wards in the runoff election while decrying corruption and the infamous Chicago political machine. She also vowed to address the racial and economic disparities that have long defined Chicago, where the downtown and North Side have often prospered while disinvestment and violence have plagued many neighborhoods on the South and West Sides.

most in a generation. Downtown has struggled to bounce back from the pandemic. And clashes with the unions representing police officers and teachers have proved destabilizing.

Ms. Lightfoot, a former federal prosecutor who worked in the administration of Mayor Richard M. Daley, and who led a police disciplinary board under Mayor Rahm Emanuel, has defended her record. At the time of her election, she said this month, “Nobody had in their mind’s eye that we would be shortly thereafter laboring under a massive global pandemic and all of the consequences.”

Mayor Richard J. Daley — once the city’s longest-serving mayor until his son Richard M. Daley came along.

a Seurat painting on display at the Art Institute — silently warning residents to stay in their homes. And even as crises have piled up, some have noted the scale of the challenges she inherited and the uncertainty wrought by the pandemic.

“The compassion part of it speaks to me — you can see that it’s genuine,” said Joseph Gilmore, whose 33-year-old son, Travell, was among the hundreds killed in Chicago last year.

Mr. Gilmore said he and his son, a bartender with an outgoing personality who doted on his young daughter, talked regularly about the city’s seemingly inescapable violence. But despite the tragedy in his own family, Mr. Gilmore said that he remained an enthusiastic supporter of Ms. Lightfoot, and that it was not fair to expect her to single-handedly fix the violence.

“The stuff she is saying to you, it doesn’t sound like a whole bunch of smoke,” Mr. Gilmore said. “She comes off like the authority she is.”

an initiative to develop pockets of the South and West Sides that have languished for decades. Last summer, the minimum wage in Chicago was raised to $15 for most workers, an effort Ms. Lightfoot championed.

said this month that officials in Ms. Lightfoot’s office had made false or unfounded statements about the incident, which occurred not long before her administration took office, and that city agencies had “prioritized communications and public relations concerns over the higher mission of city government.”

The fatal shooting of a 13-year-old boy, Adam Toledo, by a Chicago police officer last year generated nationwide outrage. Miles from the scene of the shooting, protesters marched in Ms. Lightfoot’s neighborhood on the Northwest Side.

Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, a Chicago alderman, described Ms. Lightfoot’s tenure as “chaotic.”

“One of the hallmarks of her approach has been to take things very personal,” he said, “and to engage in combat when, in fact, there is a path toward collaboration.”

She has seen high turnover among key advisers at City Hall, and aides have grumbled about a difficult work environment and a testy mayor who is known to berate subordinates. Despite the city’s mounting problems, Ms. Lightfoot has left crucial administrative positions vacant, including her deputy mayor of public safety, a job that was left unfilled for months until last May.

And last fall, the head of Chicago’s largest police union openly defied Ms. Lightfoot on her order that all city employees report their vaccination status — a conflict that laid bare the tensions between the mayor and rank-and-file officers.

Violence in Chicago is a pressing concern, as carjackings, shootings and homicides all spiked in 2020 and 2021.

On Wednesday night, a police officer on patrol downtown shot a man. The authorities said that the man was inside a vehicle taken in a carjacking, and that someone in the car had fired at the police. Days earlier, an 8-year-old girl was shot and killed while crossing a street with her mother in the Little Village neighborhood; a 16-year-old was later charged with murder.

Donovan Price, a pastor who goes to shooting scenes to assist victims’ families, said his work felt particularly bleak in the past year.

“The amount of children shot in general, the amount of mass shootings, just the feel that things were out of control,” said Mr. Price, who lives on the South Side.

Mr. Price said that trust between the police and residents had not improved, and that Ms. Lightfoot had not placed enough of a priority on reducing violence and restoring order.

“It’s a wild scene,” he said. “And when it’s this wild and people are getting shot at this frequency, of all ages, then you have to look and say, ‘Well, what is being done about it?’”

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Elon Musk’s SpaceX plans for record year of launches at rate of one per week

A Falcon 9 rocket launches the GPS III SV05 satellite on a mission for the U.S. Space Force on June 17, 2021.

SpaceX

Elon Musk’s SpaceX broke its own annual orbital launch record last year, and it’s looking to pick up the blistering pace further in 2022 to an average rate of one per week.

During a meeting of a key NASA agency oversight committee on Thursday, panel member Sandra Magnus revealed that the private company is targeting “an ambitious 52 launch manifest” for 2022.

“That’s an incredible pace,” Magnus, an astronaut and former executive director of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, said during the meeting of NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP).

SpaceX successfully completed 31 launches in 2021, which beat its previous record of 26 launches in 2020. For context, SpaceX represented about a fifth of the world’s successful orbital rocket launches last year – with the company roughly keeping pace with China.

The company is already on a weekly average pace to begin the year, with three successful Falcon 9 launches so far and two more expected before the end of the month. In addition to its Falcon 9 launches, SpaceX also has several Falcon Heavy rockets scheduled for liftoff in 2022.

Magnus did not specify whether SpaceX’s 52 scheduled launches includes test flights of its Starship prototype rockets. Neither ASAP nor SpaceX responded to CNBC’s requests for clarification.

A Falcon 9 rocket booster lands after launching the company’s Transporter-2 rideshare mission on June 30, 2021.

SpaceX

A key piece of SpaceX’s rapid launch rate has been its ability to partially reuse its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy vehicles, by landing its rocket boosters and recovering each half of the nosecone after launches.

In addition to cost savings – the company’s leadership has said reusing rockets can bring launches down to below $30 million each, from a typical $60 million to $90 million price tag – SpaceX reuses rockets as a way to increase its launch rate without significantly increasing production. For example, the Falcon 9 booster that SpaceX launched the Transporter-3 mission with earlier this month was reused – for a 10th time in under 20 months since its debut.

SpaceX’s schedule of missions for 2022 includes multiple crewed spaceflight as well, including for NASA. Even as Magnus applauded the company for its pace, she also urged caution and safety.

“Both NASA and SpaceX will have to ensure the appropriate attention and priority are focused on NASA missions, and the right resources are brought to bear to maintain that pace at a safe measure,” Magnus said.

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