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Inflation is surging. Joe Biden is still optimistic.

Jacob Scott

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The price of consumer goods rose by 6.8 percent over the past year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on Friday, the biggest increase since the 1980s. “Essentially across the board,” as Vox’s Rani Molla and Emily Stewart write, everyday purchases from food to gas are costing more, and it’s going to be an expensive holiday season.

That part isn’t in debate. What is, however, is how worried everyone should be. In Washington, there’s sharp disagreement about what exactly is responsible for surging inflation and what the government can — or should — do about it.

Some of the causes are fairly self-evident: Entering the third year of the Covid-19 pandemic, the US — and much of the rest of the world — is grappling with a supply chain crisis. That means most goods, from game consoles to oranges, are more difficult to get to store shelves for one reason or another, whether it’s a lack of critical tech components or a backup at ports due to labor shortages. US consumers, however, simply haven’t stopped buying, and that demand-supply disjunction has caused record inflation.

Some economists, as well as President Joe Biden, take the view that the pandemic — and the pandemic-snarled supply chain — are the primary culprits, and inflation will ease as the US keeps combating the pandemic and implements supply-chain fixes. On Friday, according to CNN’s Kaitlan Collins, Biden told reporters that “the reason for inflation is that we have a supply chain problem that is really severe.”

Others, though, are concerned the problem is bigger than that. Former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, for example, has also pointed to government spending as a reason for increased inflation, and believes it’s far from a bump in the road.

The Biden administration is projecting optimism on inflation

The optimistic case for current inflation goes something like this: Though supply chain problems have led to a shortage in many consumer goods, Americans haven’t stopped buying — and with more money in their pockets, they have the capacity to do so.

Specifically, lockdowns and being stuck at home — unable to travel or go to restaurants, bars, and live events — have shifted what Americans are spending their money on. Less money spent on travel or experiences, combined with stimulus funds, has driven many Americans to buy more consumer goods. That, combined with supply chain problems decades in the making, has led to the current, precipitous rise in inflation.

As vaccines make a return to normal life more possible, however, American spending habits are likely to begin to return to normal, which could also have an impact on inflation. Biden painted a relatively optimistic picture Friday, telling reporters he believes inflation has reached its peak.

“I think you’ll see it change sooner, quicker, more rapidly than people think,” Biden said. “Every other aspect of the economy is racing ahead.”

President Biden takes a question from @kaitlancollins on whether we’re seeking the peak of inflation:

“I think you’ll see it change sooner, quicker, more rapidly than people think. Every other aspect of the economy is racing ahead.” pic.twitter.com/nIZEcOmlRX

— Joey Garrison (@joeygarrison) December 10, 2021

Surging inflation doesn’t mean bad economic news across the board, either. As Claudia Sahm, a former Federal Reserve economist and senior fellow at the Jain Family Institute, told Vox in November:

Both because jobs have been coming back and also because the federal government put out a lot of economic relief, people — especially those who are at the very top of the heap — have, on average, enough money to pay those extra prices in the majority of cases.

Still, while inflation numbers aren’t the only measure of economic health, the reality is that inflation is high after decades of hovering around 2 percent. That, as Sahm said, is a “pain point” as the economy recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic, and it’s one that people notice because they interact with every day at the gas pump and the grocery store. But while the current numbers are higher than Fed targets, it’s nowhere near the level seen during the so-called Great Inflation, when consumer prices shot up more than 14 percent.

Some worry Biden’s not doing enough to fight inflation

Nevertheless, some influential voices, including Summers, have raised the alarm about long-term inflation problems and pointed to government spending as a driver of inflationary woes.

In a February Washington Post op-ed, Summers wrote that “there is a chance that macroeconomic stimulus on a scale closer to World War II levels than normal recession levels will set off inflationary pressures of a kind we have not seen in a generation, with consequences for the value of the dollar and financial stability.”

In the same piece, Summers accused the administration of denying “even the possibility of inflation,” raising concerns that Biden wasn’t adequately prepared for the rise in prices that coincided with sweeping stimulus packages, and didn’t have the proper measures in place to act quickly to bring inflation down.

That concern — that the administration wouldn’t act quickly and that inflation would become a longer-term problem, rather than the transitory issue Biden predicted — is playing out, at least somewhat. So far, as November’s numbers show, inflation isn’t letting up.

While the US has spent trillions in pandemic relief, however, inflation is also occurring elsewhere in the world, where governments have taken different approaches to dealing with the fallout from the pandemic — suggesting that government spending doesn’t tell the whole story.

What is the government doing to contain inflation? What can it do?

While the Biden administration is doing what it can to fix supply chain issues and drive down rising gas prices, most of tools to address inflation are in the hands of the Federal Reserve.

“I don’t think [inflation] is changing very much any time soon,” Jason Furman, the former chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, told MSNBC Friday. “I don’t think there’s a whole lot the White House can do about it, but for the Federal Reserve, a better economy and higher inflation both tell them they need to continue to pivot to get this under control.”

One way the Fed plans to cool the economy is “tapering” — gradually decreasing the $120 billion it spends per month on government-backed bonds, which has injected money into the financial markets during the pandemic. In November, Fed Chair Jerome Powell announced the central bank would reduce that amount by $15 billion each month. The purchasing program is supposed to end halfway through 2022, but as the New York Times reported in early December, that program could finish more quickly as the Fed attempts to reduce inflation.

“At this point, the economy is very strong, and inflationary pressures are high,” Powell said in late November. “It is therefore appropriate in my view to consider wrapping up the taper of our asset purchases, which we actually announced at our November meeting, perhaps a few months sooner.”

Along with that could also come interest rate hikes, although the Fed has not announced specific plans to do so. Interest rate increases are a powerful tool in the Fed’s arsenal to slow down consumer spending, and thus inflation. And, as inflation continues to rise, that’s looking like a more likely tack for Powell to take, once the Fed’s satisfied that the economy has reached “maximum employment” — a signal that the economy is healthy enough to withstand the withdrawal of government support.

Summers, though, sounded the alarm to Bloomberg on Friday, saying that the Fed would also need to increase interest rates — the amount that a lender charges a borrower for a loan or credit — repeatedly next year to help keep inflation in check.

“We’ve put in motion, for the first time in 40 years, excessive inflation caused by overheating of the economy,” he said, warning that the government had driven up inflation “way above 2 percent — perhaps in the 4 percent or even higher range,” and that could be permanent.

Beyond monetary policy, though, the other massive piece of the puzzle is the supply chain — and that’s something politicians and policymakers have much less control over. Biden has attempted to ease supply chain woes by running the Port of Los Angeles 24 hours a day, clearing the docks so goods don’t wait for days on cargo ships stranded in the water. And the release of 50 million barrels of oil from the US Strategic Petroleum Reserve last month was geared toward reducing gas prices, which have already begun to fall.

Most likely, however, the supply chain will remain snarled for the foreseeable future — keeping inflation higher than we’re used to — and policymakers will have to react to that reality.

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‘Moon Knight’ Took Marvel in a Different Orbit, but It Didn’t Rise to the Occasion

Jacob Scott

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Before anyone writes that off as an anomaly, “Eternals” tackled a similar introduction of a dense mythology on the bigger screen, with equally mixed results. It’s a reminder that while film-goers have had more than a decade to get to know characters like Iron Man, Captain America and Thor, introducing some of these lesser-known heroes can pose a more formidable challenge beyond catering to the most ardent fans.
For Marvel, there are warning signs in that, since “Moon Knight” will be followed by several series based on second-tier characters, although the next two on the horizon, “Ms. Marvel” (which is due in June) and “She-Hulk,” at least have the benefit of sharing franchises and name recognition with existing Avengers.
Ultimately, “Moon Knight’s” murky storytelling appeared to squander its principal assets, which included the cool look of the character — a costume that was too seldom used — and the presence of Isaac, who possesses additional genre credentials via the “Star Wars” sequels.

Taking its time in peeling back the layers of the character’s complicated backstory, “Moon Knight” took a weird plunge into the Egyptian mythology behind it, in ways that became increasingly confounding and surreal.

By the time the protagonist’s two halves, Steven Grant and Marc Spector, wound up in a psychiatric hospital talking to an anthropomorphic hippo in the penultimate chapter, the question wasn’t so much being able to keep up with the story as whether bothering to do so was worth the effort.

The sixth and final episode brought the plot to a messy close, seeking to stop the goddess Ammit from proceeding to “purify the souls of Cairo, and then the world.” In the customary credit sequence, the producers capped that off by introducing a third personality, Jake Lockley, also rooted in the comics. While that seemingly spelled the end for the show’s villain (Ethan Hawke), the finish — giving the god Khonshu the protégé he sought — paved the way for further adventures should Marvel so choose.

That last twist might be cause for celebration in narrower confines of the Marvel fan universe, but “Moon Knight” too often felt like it was one long Easter-egg sequence, conspicuously preaching to that choir.

Granted, Marvel has made clear that Disney+ offers the chance to explore different kinds of stories, but “Moon Knight” feels at best like a quirky showcase for Isaac and at worst a failed experiment in terms of execution and tone.

That doesn’t mean this “Moon” won’t somehow rise again, if the closely held streaming data justifies it. But the promise that surrounded this property has faded, providing further evidence that even Marvel isn’t immune from setbacks as it moves into its next phase.

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Start-up Pony.ai says it’s the first self-driving company to get a taxi license in China

Jacob Scott

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Autonomous driving start-up Pony.ai can collect fares for robotaxi rides in parts of two major Chinese cities as of Sunday.

Pony.ai handout

BEIJING — Self-driving start-up Pony.ai announced Sunday it received a taxi license, the first of its kind in China.

The license allows Pony.ai to operate 100 self-driving cars as traditional taxis in the Nansha district of the southern city of Guangzhou, the company said.

The Chinese start-up, which is backed by Toyota, received approval from Beijing city late last year to charge fees to operate a commercial robotaxi business in a suburban district of the city. It is not the same as a taxi licence.

Baidu’s Apollo Go also received approval in the same Beijing district last year.

Pony.ai was valued at $8.5 billion in early March. The company said its Nansha taxi license required 24 months of autonomous driving testing in China and/or other countries, and no involvement in any active liability traffic accidents, among other factors.

The start-up said it plans to launch commercial robotaxi businesses in two other large Chinese cities next year. The company is already testing self-driving cars in those cities and in California. 

Robotaxis in China currently have a human driver present for safety.

— CNBC’s Arjun Kharpal contributed to this report.

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How to watch Timberwolves vs. Grizzlies: TV channel, NBA live stream info, start time

Jacob Scott

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Who’s Playing

Memphis @ Minnesota

Current Records: Memphis 2-1; Minnesota 1-2

What to Know

The Memphis Grizzlies’ road trip will continue as they head to Target Center at 10 p.m. ET this past Saturday to face off against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Memphis will be strutting in after a win while Minnesota will be stumbling in from a loss.

The Grizzlies are hoping for another victory. They beat the Timberwolves 104-95 this past Thursday. The victory came about thanks to a strong surge after the first quarter to overcome a 39-21 deficit. Memphis’ success was spearheaded by the efforts of power forward Brandon Clarke, who had 20 points in addition to eight rebounds, and shooting guard Desmond Bane, who shot 7-for-15 from beyond the arc and finished with 26 points and six boards.

Barring any buzzer beaters, Memphis is expected to win a tight contest. They might be worth taking a chance on against the spread as they are currently on a two-game streak of ATS wins.

Memphis’ win brought them up to 2-1 while the Timberwolves’ defeat pulled them down to a reciprocal 1-2. A couple offensive stats to keep in the back of your head while watching: The Grizzlies come into the game boasting the second most points per game in the league at 115.6. But Minnesota is even better: they rank first in the league when it comes to points per game, with 115.9 on average. Tune in for what’s sure to be a high-scoring contest.

How To Watch

When: Saturday at 10 p.m. ET Where: Target Center — Minneapolis, Minnesota TV: ESPN Online streaming: fuboTV (Try for free. Regional restrictions may apply.) Follow: CBS Sports App Ticket Cost: $76.96

Odds

The Grizzlies are a slight 2.5-point favorite against the Timberwolves, according to the latest NBA odds.

The oddsmakers had a good feel for the line for this one, as the game opened with the Grizzlies as a 3-point favorite.

Over/Under: -110

See NBA picks for every single game, including this one, from SportsLine’s advanced computer model. Get picks now.

Series History

Memphis have won 19 out of their last 28 games against Minnesota.

Apr 21, 2022 – Memphis 104 vs. Minnesota 95 Apr 19, 2022 – Memphis 124 vs. Minnesota 96 Apr 16, 2022 – Minnesota 130 vs. Memphis 117 Feb 24, 2022 – Minnesota 119 vs. Memphis 114 Jan 13, 2022 – Memphis 116 vs. Minnesota 108 Nov 20, 2021 – Minnesota 138 vs. Memphis 95 Nov 08, 2021 – Memphis 125 vs. Minnesota 118 May 05, 2021 – Memphis 139 vs. Minnesota 135 Apr 02, 2021 – Memphis 120 vs. Minnesota 108 Jan 13, 2021 – Memphis 118 vs. Minnesota 107 Jan 07, 2020 – Memphis 119 vs. Minnesota 112 Dec 01, 2019 – Memphis 115 vs. Minnesota 107 Nov 06, 2019 – Memphis 137 vs. Minnesota 121 Mar 23, 2019 – Minnesota 112 vs. Memphis 99 Feb 05, 2019 – Memphis 108 vs. Minnesota 106 Jan 30, 2019 – Minnesota 99 vs. Memphis 97 Nov 18, 2018 – Memphis 100 vs. Minnesota 87 Apr 09, 2018 – Minnesota 113 vs. Memphis 94 Mar 26, 2018 – Memphis 101 vs. Minnesota 93 Dec 04, 2017 – Memphis 95 vs. Minnesota 92 Feb 04, 2017 – Memphis 107 vs. Minnesota 99 Nov 19, 2016 – Memphis 93 vs. Minnesota 71 Nov 01, 2016 – Minnesota 116 vs. Memphis 80 Oct 26, 2016 – Memphis 102 vs. Minnesota 98 Mar 16, 2016 – Minnesota 114 vs. Memphis 108 Feb 19, 2016 – Memphis 109 vs. Minnesota 104 Jan 23, 2016 – Minnesota 106 vs. Memphis 101 Nov 15, 2015 – Memphis 114 vs. Minnesota 106

Injury Report for Minnesota

No Injury Information

Injury Report for Memphis

Dillon Brooks: Game-Time Decision (Foot) Santi Aldama: Out (Knee) Killian Tillie: Out (Knee)

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