Major retailers are offering summer deals to entice inflation-weary shoppers

NEW YORK — Americans who spend Memorial Day scouting sales online and in stores may find more reasons to celebrate the return of warmer weather. Major retailers are stepping up discounts heading into the summer months, hoping to entice inflation-weary shoppers into opening their wallets.

Target, Walmart and other chains have rolled out price cuts — some permanent, others temporary — with the stated aim of giving their customers some relief. The reductions, which mostly involve groceries, are getting introduced as inflation showed its first sign of easing this year but not enough for consumers who are struggling to pay for basic necessities as well as rent and car insurance.

The latest quarterly earnings reported by Walmart, Macy’s and Ralph Lauren underscored that consumers have not stopped spending. But multiple CE0s, including the heads of McDonald’s, Starbucks and home improvement retailer Home Depot, have observed that people are becoming more price-conscious and choosy. They’re delaying purchases, focusing on store brands compared to typically more expensive national brands, and looking for deals.

“Retailers recognize that unless they pull out some stops on pricing, they are going to have difficulty holding on to the customers they got,” Neil Saunders, managing director of consulting and data analysis firm GlobalData, said. “The consumer really has had enough of inflation, and they’re starting to take action in terms of where they shop, how they shop, the amount they buy.”

While discounts are an everyday tool in retail, Saunders said these aggressive price cuts that cover thousands of items announced by a number of retailers represent a “major shift” in recent strategy. He noted most companies talked about price increases in the past two or three years, and the cut mark the first big “price war” since before inflation started taking hold.

Where can shoppers find lower prices?

Higher-income shoppers looking to save money have helped Walmart maintain strong sales in recent quarters. But earlier this month, the nation’s largest retailer expanded its price rollbacks — temporary discounts that can last a few months — to nearly 7,000 grocery items, a 45% increase. Items include a 28-ounce can of Bush’s baked beans marked down to $2.22, from $2.48, and a 24-pack of 12-ounce Diet Coke priced at $12.78 from $14.28.

Company executives said the Bentonville, Arkansas-based retailer is seeing more people eating at home versus eating out. Walmart believes its discounts will help the business over the remainder of the year.

“We’re going to lead on price, and we’re going to manage our (profit) margins, and we’re going to be the Walmart that we’ve always been,” CEO Doug McMillon told analysts earlier this month.

Not to be outdone by its closest competitor, Target last week cut prices on 1,500 items and said it planned to make price cuts on another 3,500 this summer. The initiative primarily applies to food, beverage and essential household items. For example, Clorox scented wipes that previously cost $5.79 are on shelves for $4.99. Huggies Baby Wipes, which were priced at $1.19, now cost 99 cents.

Low-cost supermarket chain Aldi said earlier this month that it was cutting prices on 250 products, including favorites for barbecues and picnics, as part of a promotion set to last through Labor Day.

McDonald’s plans to introduce a limited-time $5 meal deal in the U.S. next month to counter slowing sales and customers’ frustration with high prices.

Arko Corp., a large operator of convenience stores in rural areas and small towns, is launching its most aggressive deals in terms of their depth in roughly 20 years for both members of its free loyalty program and other customers, according to Arie Kotler, the company’s chairman, president and CEO. For example, members of Arko’s free loyalty program who buy two 12-packs of Pepsi beverages get a free pizza. The promotions kicked off May 15 and are due to end Sept. 3.

Kotler said he focused on essential items that people use to feed their families after observing that the cumulative effects of higher gas prices and inflation in other areas had customers hold back compared to a year ago.

“Over the past two quarters, we have seen the trend of consumers cutting back, consumers coming less often, and consumers reducing their purchases,” he said.

In the non-food category, crafts chain Michaels last month reduced prices of frequently purchased items like paint, markers and artist canvases. The price reductions ranged from 15% to up to 40%. Michaels said the cuts are intended to be permanent.

Do these cuts bring prices back to pre-pandemic levels?

Many retailers said their goal was to offer some relief for shoppers. But Michaels said its new discounts brought prices for some things down to where they were in 2019.

“Our intention with these cuts is to ensure we’re delivering value to the customer,” The Michaels Companies said. ”We see it as an investment in customer loyalty more than anything else.”

Target said it was difficult to compare what its price-reduced products cost now to a specific time frame since inflation levels are different for each item and the reductions varied by item.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics, which tracks consumer prices, said the average price of a two-liter bottle of soda in April was $2.27. That compares with $1.53 in the same month five years ago. A pound of white bread cost an average of $2 last month but $1.29 in April 2019. One pound of ground chuck that averaged $5.28 in April cost $3.91 five years ago.

Why are companies cutting prices on some items?

U.S. consumer confidence deteriorated for the third straight month in April as Americans continued to fret about their short-term financial futures, according to the latest report released late last month from the Conference Board, a business research group.

With shoppers focusing more on bargains, particularly online, retailers are trying to get customers back to their stores. Target this month posted its fourth consecutive quarterly decline in comparable sales — those from stores or digital channels operating at least 12 months.

In fact, the share of online sales for the cheapest items across many categories, including clothing, groceries, personal care and appliances, increased from April 2019 to the same month this year, according to Adobe Analytics, which covers more than 1 trillion visits to U.S. retail sites.

For example, the market share for the cheapest groceries went from 38% in April 2019 to 48% last month, while the share for the most expensive groceries went down from 22% to 9% over the same time period, according to Adobe.

How are retailers funding price cuts?

GlobalData’s Saunders said he thinks companies are subsidizing price cuts with a variety of methods — at the expense of profits, at the cost of suppliers and vendors, or by reducing expenses. Some retailers may be using a combination of all three, he said.

Saunders doesn’t think retailers are raising prices on other items to make up for the ones they lowered since doing that would bring a backlash from customers.

Target declined to disclose details but said its summer price promotion was incorporated into the company’s projected profit range, which falls below analysts’ expectations at the low end.

GPM Investments, LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of ARKO Corp. said its suppliers are funding the convenience store promotions.

У Міноборони розповіли, скільки українців за кордоном оновили свої дані у застосунку «Резерв+»

За даними Міноборони, лідерами серед країн стали Польща, Німеччина, Канада, Чехія, США, Велика Британія, Іспанія, Литва, Нідерланди і Словаччина

U.S. lawmakers vow to help Taiwan strengthen defense against growing Chinese aggression

Taipei, Taiwan — A bipartisan congressional delegation from the United States met Taiwan’s new president in Taipei Monday, and reiterated Washington’s strong support for the democratic island. 

During the meeting with the U.S. delegation Lai Ching-te, who took office on May 20, promised to keep pushing for defense reform in Taiwan and show the world that “Taiwanese people are determined to defend their homeland.” 

He hopes that “the U.S. Congress will continue to help strengthen Taiwan’s self-defense capabilities and increase exchanges and cooperation between Taiwan and the U.S. through a variety of legislative actions.” 

At a news briefing following the meeting with Lai, Michael McCaul, the Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the U.S. remains committed to supporting Taiwan’s efforts to strengthen its defense capabilities as China increases military pressure on the island. 

“We will support you, and we will get the weapons you purchased to you as soon as possible,” he told dozens of journalists, adding that strength and deterrence are key to ensuring the Taiwan Strait remains peaceful and prosperous. 

The visit comes three days after the Chinese military staged a two-day, large-scale military exercise encircling Taiwan. Describing the Chinese war game around Taiwan as “an intimidation tactic to punish democracy,” McCaul said there is more urgency to ensure Taiwan receives the weapons that it has bought from the United States. 

“We are moving forward on [the delivery] of these weapons systems, but I’d like to see it faster,” he said during the news conference, noting that the $95 billion foreign aid package that the U.S. passed last month, which includes a $8 billion package for the Indo-Pacific region and Taiwan, is a sign of Washington’s support for Taiwan. 

While he promises to help accelerate the pace of weapons delivery to Taiwan, McCaul admitted that the backlog of U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, which is about $19 billion, is partially caused by the limited military industrial capacity in the U.S. 

“We have to wait a period of two to five years for the weapons to go into the country and that is way too long,” he said, vowing to push U.S. defense contractors and the Biden administration to address the issue. 

Since China focused on simulating a maritime blockade around Taiwan through its latest military exercise, McCaul said Taipei and Washington should focus on helping the island acquire more maritime assets to deal with a potential Chinese attack. 

“What they did the last couple of days was essentially a preview of what a blockade would look like [and] by looking at what type of military assets would likely help deter Beijing from [imposing] a blockade around Taiwan, my view is that maritime assets are key here,” he told journalists. 

Bipartisan support for Taiwan 

Some analysts say the U.S. Congressional delegation’s visit shows that the support for Taiwan in Washington is consistent and bipartisan. “There have been many U.S. congressional delegations in Taiwan over the last few years and one feature to highlight is that all these delegations are bipartisan,” Chen Fang-yu, a political scientist at Soochow University in Taiwan, told VOA by phone. 

Despite the stern warning from Beijing, other experts say the visit shows both Taipei and Beijing that the U.S. is committed to deepening ties with Taiwan. “The delegation sends a message that the United States is not afraid of angering China by maintaining its engagement with Taiwan,” said Li Da-Jung, director of the Graduate Institute of International Affairs and Strategic Studies at Taiwan’s Tamkang University. 

Since the delegation will spend four days in Taiwan, Li thinks it could give U.S. lawmakers more opportunities to meet more Taiwanese officials and visit specific places of their interests. “I believe the delegation will meet Taiwanese officials in charge of national security and cross-strait relations,” he told VOA by phone. 

In addition to military sales and weapons delivery, Chen said the U.S. delegation will likely discuss topics related to bilateral trade relations and Taiwan’s divided legislature. 

“I believe the U.S. lawmakers will try to talk about the ongoing trade negotiation between Taipei and Washington and the potential impact of Taiwan’s divided legislature on Taiwan’s defense and foreign policies when they meet Lai and other Taiwanese officials,” he told VOA. 

Earlier this month, Taiwan and the U.S. held a new round of trade negotiations focusing on potential cooperation in areas such as labor, environmental protection, and agriculture. Taiwan’s deputy trade representative Yang Jen-ni said Taipei hopes to increase the volume of Taiwanese agricultural exports to the U.S. through the trade talks. 

As Taiwan’s new government looks to deepen ties with the U.S., the Chinese government has repeatedly warned Washington not to use the democratic island, which Beijing views as its territory, to contain China. 

“China firmly opposes official interaction in any form between Taiwan and the United States and opposes U.S. interference in Taiwan affairs in any form or under any pretext,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said during the daily news conference on May 21. 

Since relations between Taiwan and China are unlikely to improve in the short term, Li at Tamkang University said the Lai administration may try to double down on Taipei’s relations with like-minded democracies around the world, especially the U.S. 

“At a time when there is very little room to improve cross-strait relations, Lai may consider putting the focus of his foreign policy agenda on the U.S. and rely more on Washington’s support for Taipei,” he told VOA. 

Josef Newgarden repeats as Indy 500 winner

INDIANAPOLIS — Josef Newgarden put his cheating scandal behind him to become the first back-to-back winner of the Indianapolis 500 since Helio Castroneves 22 years ago and give Roger Penske a record-extending 20th win in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

The Tennessean passed Pato O’Ward on the final lap of Sunday’s rain-delayed race to become the first driver to win consecutive 500s since Castroneves did it for Penske in 2001 and 2002. And just like last year, Newgarden stopped his Chevrolet-powered car on the track and climbed through a hole in the fence to celebrate with fans in the grandstands.

“I love this crowd. I’ve got to always go in the crowd if we win here, I am always doing that,” Newgarden said.

O’Ward slumped his head over his steering wheel in bitter disappointment. He was trying to become the first Mexican in 108 runnings to win the Indy 500.

It looked as if he had been crying when he finally removed his helmet. He finished sixth in his Indy 500 debut, then fourth and then second in 2022 when he was accused of not being aggressive enough to race Marcus Ericsson for the win.

He refused to back down last year and wound up crashing as he raced for the win. As O’Ward bided his time in the closing laps — he and Newgarden traded the lead several times — he waited to make the winning pass on the final lap.

Newgarden got it right back two turns later.

“It is hard to put it into words — we went back, we went forward, we went back, some people were driving like maniacs,” O’Ward said. “We had so many near-race enders. Just so close again. … I put that car through things I never thought it was going to be able to do. It is always a heartbreak when you’re so close, especially when it’s not the first time and you don’t know how many opportunities you have.”

The win was an incredible bounceback for Newgarden, who last month had his March season-opening victory disqualified because Team Penske had illegal push-to-pass software on its cars. Newgarden used the additional horsepower three times in the win and it took IndyCar nearly six weeks to discover the Penske manipulation.

Roger Penske, who owns the race team, IndyCar, the Indy 500 and the speedway, suspended four crew members, including Team President Tim Cindric. The Cindric suspension was a massive blow for Newgarden as Cindric is considered the best strategist in the series.

Newgarden was thrilled to have the win and put the push-to-pass scandal behind him.

“Absolutely, they can say what they want, I don’t even care anymore,” he said.

The start of the race was delayed four hours by rain and it ruined NASCAR star Kyle Larson’s chance to run “The Double.” The delay in Indy made him miss the start of the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Although Larson was decent most of the day, two rookie mistakes led to an 18th-place finish. He was on a helicopter headed to a plane for North Carolina within minutes of the race ending.

“I’m proud to have finished but disappointed in myself,” said Larson, who has a two-year deal with Arrow McLaren and Hendrick Motorsports for Indy and could return in 2025.

Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing finished third as the highest-finishing Honda driver and was followed by Alexander Rossi, O’Ward’s teammate at Arrow McLaren Racing. Chevrolet took three of the top four spots.

Викрадені нагороди. Радіо Свобода знайшло військових РФ, які, ймовірно, закатували полковника СБУ в Бучі

Для створення розслідування автор опитав близько 200 очевидців окупації Бучі і віднайшов досі не опубліковані фото, відео та унікальні російські документи

At least 5 dead in Texas after severe weather sweeps across Texas and Oklahoma

OKLAHOMA CITY — Powerful storms across Texas and Oklahoma obliterated homes and struck a highway travel center where drivers had rushed to take shelter, leaving thousands of people without power and a wide trail of damage Sunday. A sheriff said at least five people were dead in one rural community in Texas and many more were injured. 

The destructive storms began Saturday night and included a tornado that overturned heavy recreational vehicles and shut down an interstate near Dallas. Officials said multiple people were transported to hospitals by ambulance and helicopter in the Texas county of Denton but did not immediately know the full extent of injuries. 

In neighboring Cooke County, Sheriff Ray Sappington told The Associated Press that the five dead included three family members who were found in one home near Valley View, a rural community near the border with Oklahoma. 

“We do have five confirmed [dead], but sadly, we think that that number is probably going to go up,” Sappington said. “There’s nothing left of this house. It’s just a trail of debris left. The devastation is pretty severe.” 

Forecasters had issued tornado and severe thunderstorm warnings for parts of both states, as some heat records were broken during the day in South Texas and residents received triple-digit temperature warnings over the long holiday weekend. 

A tornado crossed into northern Denton County in Texas late Saturday and overturned tractor-trailer trucks, stopping traffic on Interstate 35, Denton County Community Relations Director Dawn Cobb said in a statement. 

The tornado was confirmed near Valley View, moving east at 64 kph, prompting the National Weather Service to issue a tornado warning for northern Denton County, Cobb said. 

The storm damaged homes, overturned motorhomes and knocked down power lines and trees throughout the area including points in Sanger, Pilot Point, Ray Roberts Lake and Isle du Bois State Park, Cobb said. 

People who suffered injuries in the storm were transported to area hospitals by ground and air ambulances, but the number of injuries in the county was not immediately known, Cobb said, while a shelter was opened in Sanger. 

The fire department in the city of Denton, about 59.5 kilometers north of Forth Worth, Texas, posted on X that emergency personnel were responding to a marina “for multiple victims, some reported trapped.” 

The Claremore, Oklahoma, police announced on social media that the city about 28 miles (45 kilometers) east of Tulsa was “shut down” as a result of storm damage including downed power lines and trees and inaccessible roads. 

Earlier Saturday night, the National Weather Service’s office in Norman, Oklahoma, said via the social platform X that the warning was for northern Noble and far southern Kay counties, an area located to the north of Oklahoma City. “If you are in the path of this storm take cover now!” it said. 

A following post at 10:05 p.m. said storms had exited the area but warned of a storm moving across north Texas that could affect portions of south central Oklahoma. 

At 10:24 p.m., the weather service office in Fort Worth posted a message warning residents in Era and Valley View they were in the direct path of a possible tornado and to immediately seek shelter. The Forth Worth office continued to post notices and shelter warnings tracking the movement of the storm through midnight and separately issued a severe thunderstorm warning with “golf ball sized hail” possible. 

The weather service office in Tulsa, Oklahoma, warned on X of a dangerous storm moving across the northeast part of the state through 2 a.m. and issued severe thunderstorm notices for communities including Hugo, Boswell, Fort Towson, Grainola, Foraker and Herd. 

Excessive heat, especially for May, was the danger in South Texas, where the heat index was forecast to approach 49 degrees Celsius in some spots during the weekend. Actual temperatures will be lower, although still in triple-digit territory, but the humidity will make it feel that much hotter. 

The region is on the north end of a heat dome stretching from Mexico to South America, National Weather Service meteorologist Zack Taylor said. 

Sunday looks like the hottest day with record highs for late May forecast for Austin, Brownsville, Dallas and San Antonio, Taylor said. 

Brownsville and Harlingen near the Texas-Mexico border already set new records Saturday for the May 25 calendar date — 99 degrees Fahrenheit (37 degrees Celsius) and 38 degrees Celsius, respectively — according to the weather service. 

April and May have been a busy month for tornadoes, especially in the Midwest. Climate change is heightening the severity of storms around the world. 

April saw the United States’ second-highest number of tornadoes on record. So far for 2024, the country is already 25% ahead of the average number of twisters, according to the Storm Prediction Center in Norman. 

Iowa was hit hard last week, when a deadly twister devastated Greenfield. And other storms brought flooding and wind damage elsewhere in the state. 

The storm system causing the severe weather was expected to move east as the Memorial Day weekend continues, bringing rain that could delay the Indianapolis 500 auto race Sunday in Indiana and more severe storms in Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and Kentucky. 

The risk of severe weather moves into North Carolina and Virginia on Monday, forecasters said. 

Average US vehicle age hits record of 12.6 years 

detroit — Cars, trucks and SUVs in the U.S. keep getting older, hitting a record average age of 12.6 years in 2024 as people hang on to their vehicles largely because new ones cost so much. 

S&P Global Mobility, which tracks state vehicle registration data nationwide, said Wednesday that the average vehicle age grew about two months from last year’s record. 

But the growth in average age is starting to slow as new vehicle sales start to recover from pandemic-related shortages of parts, including computer chips. The average increased by three months in 2023. 

Still, with an average U.S. new-vehicle selling price of just over $45,000 last month, many can’t afford to buy new — even though prices are down more than $2,000 from the peak in December of 2022, according to J.D. Power. 

“It’s prohibitively high for a lot of households now,” said Todd Campau, aftermarket leader for S&P Global Mobility. “So I think consumers are being painted into the corner of having to keep the vehicle on the road longer.” 

Other factors include people waiting to see if they want to buy an electric vehicle or go with a gas-electric hybrid or a gasoline vehicle. Many, he said, are worried about the charging network being built up so they can travel without worrying about running out of battery power. Also, he said, vehicles are made better these days and simply are lasting a long time. 

New vehicle sales in the U.S. are starting to return to pre-pandemic levels, with prices and interest rates the big influencing factors rather than illness and supply-chain problems, Campau said. He said he expects sales to hit around 16 million this year, up from 15.6 million last year and 13.9 million in 2022. 

As more new vehicles are sold and replace aging vehicles in the nation’s fleet of 286 million passenger vehicles, the average age should stop growing and stabilize, Campau said. And unlike immediately after the pandemic, more lower-cost vehicles are being sold, which likely will bring down the average price, he said. 

People keeping vehicles longer is good news for the local auto repair shop. About 70% of vehicles on the road are six or more years old, he said, beyond manufacturer warranties. 

Those who are able to keep their rides for multiple years usually get the oil changed regularly and follow manufacturer maintenance schedules, Campau noted.

US independent booksellers continued to expand in 2023

NEW YORK — Three years ago, Erin Decker was a middle school librarian in Kissimmee, Florida, increasingly frustrated by the state’s book bans and worried that she couldn’t make a difference remaining in her job.

So, she and fellow librarian Tania Galiñanes thought of a way to fight back.

“We just put our heads together and decided a bookstore would help make sure students could get to books that were being pulled from shelves,” says Decker, whose White Rose Books & More opened last fall in Kissimmee. The store is named for a resistance group in Nazi Germany and features a section — ringed by yellow “caution” tape — dedicated to such banned works as Maia Kabobe’s Gender Queer, Jonathan Evison’s Lawn Boy and John Green’s Looking for Alaska.

White Rose Books is part of the ever-expanding and diversifying world of independent bookstores. Even as industry sales were slow in 2023, membership in the American Booksellers Association continued its years-long revival. It now stands at 2,433, more than 200 over the previous year and nearly double since 2016. Around 190 more stores are in the process of opening over the next two years, according to the ABA.

“Our numbers are really strong, and we have a solid, diverse pipeline of new stores to come,” says Allison Hill, the book association’s CEO. She cites a range of reasons for people opening stores, from opposing bans to championing diversity to pursuing new careers after the pandemic.

“Some are opening to give back to their community. And some still just love books,” she said during a phone interview this week.

Recent members include everyone from the romance-oriented That’s What She Read in Mount Ayr, Iowa; to Seven Stories in Shawnee, Kansas, managed by 15-year-old Halley Vincent; to more than 20 Black-owned shops.

In Pasadena, California, Octavia’s Bookshelf is named for the late Black science fiction author Octavia Butler and bills itself as “a space to find community, enjoy a cup of coffee, read, relax, find unique and specially curated products from artisans from around the world and in our neighborhood.” Leah Johnson, author of the prize-winning young adult novel You Should See Me In a Crown, was troubled by the surge in book bans and by what she saw as a shortage of outlets for diverse voices. Last year, she founded Loudmouth Books, one of several independent sellers to open in Indianapolis.

“I’m not a person who dreamed of opening a bookstore. I didn’t want to be anybody’s boss,” Johnson says. “But I saw a need and I had to fill it.”

Most of the new businesses are traditional “brick and mortar” retailers. But a “bookstore” can also mean a “pop-up” business like Loc’d & Lit, which has a mission to bring “the joy of reading to the Bronx,” the New York City borough that had been viewed by the industry as a “desert” for its scarcity of bookstores. Other new stores are online only, among them the Be More Literature Children’s Bookshop and the used books seller Liberation Is Lit. Nick Pavlidis, a publisher, ghost writer and trainer of ghost writers, launched the online Beantown Books in 2023 and has since opened a small physical store in suburban Boston.

“My goal is to move into a larger space and create a friendly place for authors to host events,” he says, adding that he’d like to eventually own several stores.

Independent bookselling has never been dependably profitable, and Hill notes various concerns — rising costs, dwindling aid from the pandemic and the ongoing force of Amazon.com, which remains the industry’s dominate retailer even after the e-book market stalled a decade ago. Last month, the booksellers association filed a motion with the Federal Trade Commission, seeking to join the antitrust suit against Amazon that the FTC announced in 2023. The motion states in part that Amazon is able to offer prices “that ABA members cannot match except by forgoing a sustainable margin, or incurring a loss.”

Just opening a store requires initiative and a willingness to take risks. Decker says that she and Galiñanes had to use retirement money because lenders wouldn’t provide credit until they were actually in business. The owner of Octavia’s Bookshelf, Nikki High, is a former communications director for Trader Joe’s who relied on crowdfunding and her own savings to get her store started.

“Even with tons of planning, and asking questions and running numbers, it’s been very difficult,” High says. “I don’t know that I could have prepared myself for what a shrewd business person you have to be to making a living out of this.”

High cites a variety of challenges and adjustments — convincing customers they don’t have to order items from Amazon.com, supplementing sales by offering tote bags and journals and other non-book items. Knowing which books to stock has also proved an education.

“I would read a book and think it’s the best thing ever and order a bunch of copies, and everybody else is like, ‘No, I don’t want that book,'” she explains. “And when we started, I wanted to be everything for everybody. We had a ton of different categories. But I found out that short stories and poetry almost never sell for us. People want general fiction, bestsellers, children’s books. Classics sell very well, books by James Baldwin and Toni Morrison and bell hooks and June Jordan.”

“It’s incredibly important to listen to your customers.”

Louisiana law classifies abortion drugs as controlled, dangerous substances

NEW ORLEANS — First-of-its-kind legislation that classifies two abortion-inducing drugs as controlled and dangerous substances was signed into law Friday by Louisiana Gov. Jeff Landry. 

The Republican governor announced his signing of the bill in Baton Rouge a day after it gained final legislative passage in the state Senate. 

The measure affects the drugs mifepristone and misoprostol, which are used in medication abortions, the most common method of abortion in the U.S. 

Opponents of the bill included many physicians who said the drugs have other critical reproductive health care uses, and that changing the classification could make it harder to prescribe the medications. 

Supporters of the bill said it would protect expectant mothers from coerced abortions, though they cited only one example of that happening, in the state of Texas. 

The bill passed as abortion opponents await a final decision from the U.S. Supreme Court on an effort to restrict access to mifepristone. 

The new law will take effect October 1. 

The bill began as a measure to create the crime of “coerced criminal abortion by means of fraud.” An amendment adding the abortion drugs to the Schedule IV classification of Louisiana’s Uniform Controlled Dangerous Substances Law was pushed by Sen. Thomas Pressly, a Republican from Shreveport and the main sponsor of the bill. 

“Requiring an abortion inducing drug to be obtained with a prescription and criminalizing the use of an abortion drug on an unsuspecting mother is nothing short of common-sense,” Landry said in a statement. 

Current Louisiana law already requires a prescription for both drugs and makes it a crime to use them to induce an abortion, in most cases. The bill would make it harder to obtain the pills. Other Schedule IV drugs include the opioid tramadol and a group of depressants known as benzodiazepines. 

Knowingly possessing the drugs without a valid prescription would carry a punishment including hefty fines and jail time. Language in the bill appears to carve out protections for pregnant women who obtain the drug without a prescription for their own consumption. 

The classification would require doctors to have a specific license to prescribe the drugs, and the drugs would have to be stored in certain facilities that in some cases could end up being located far from rural clinics. 

In addition to inducing abortions, mifepristone and misoprostol have other common uses, such as treating miscarriages, inducing labor and stopping hemorrhaging. 

More than 200 doctors in the state signed a letter to lawmakers warning that the measure could produce a “barrier to physicians’ ease of prescribing appropriate treatment” and cause unnecessary fear and confusion among both patients and doctors. The physicians warn that any delay to obtaining the drugs could lead to worsening outcomes in a state that has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the country. 

Pressly said he pushed the legislation because of what happened to his sister Catherine Herring, of Texas. In 2022, Herring’s husband slipped her seven misoprostol pills in an effort to induce an abortion without her knowledge or consent. 

Richard Sherman, who with his brother penned classic Disney tunes, dies

NEW YORK — Richard M. Sherman, one half of the prolific, award-winning pair of brothers who helped form millions of childhoods by penning the instantly memorable songs for Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang — as well as the most-played tune on Earth, It’s a Small World (After All) — has died. He was 95.

Sherman, together with his late brother Robert, won two Academy Awards for Walt Disney’s 1964 smash Mary Poppins — best score and best song, Chim Chim Cher-ee. They also picked up a Grammy for best movie or TV score. Robert Sherman died in London at age 86 in 2012.

The Walt Disney Co. announced that Sherman died Saturday in a Los Angeles hospital of an age-related illness.

“Generations of moviegoers and theme park guests have been introduced to the world of Disney through the Sherman brothers’ magnificent and timeless songs. Even today, the duo’s work remains the quintessential lyrical voice of Walt Disney,” the company said in a remembrance posted on its website.

Their hundreds of credits as joint lyricist and composer also include the films Winnie the Pooh, The Slipper and the Rose, Snoopy Come Home, Charlotte’s Web and The Magic of Lassie. Their Broadway musicals included 1974’s Over Here! and stagings of Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in the mid-2000s.

“Something good happens when we sit down together and work,” Richard Sherman told The Associated Press in a 2005 joint interview. “We’ve been doing it all our lives. Practically since college we’ve been working together.”

Their awards include 23 gold and platinum albums and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. They became the only Americans ever to win first prize at the Moscow Film Festival for Tom Sawyer in 1973 and were inducted into the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame in 2005.

President George W. Bush awarded them the National Medal of Arts in 2008, commended for music that “has helped bring joy to millions.”

Most of the songs the Shermans wrote — in addition to being catchy and playful — work on multiple levels for different ages, something they learned from Disney.

“He once told us, early on in our career, ‘Don’t insult the kid — don’t write down to the kid. And don’t write just for the adult.’ So we write for Grandpa and the 4-year-old — and everyone in between — and all see it on a different level,” Richard Sherman said.

The Shermans began a decade-long partnership with Disney during the 1960s after having written hit pop songs like Tall Paul for ex-Mouseketeer Annette Funicello and You’re Sixteen, later recorded by Ringo Starr.

They wrote more than 150 songs at Disney, including the soundtracks for such films as The Sword and the Stone, The Parent Trap, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, The Jungle Book, The Aristocrats and The Tigger Movie.

It’s a Small World — which accompanies visitors to Disney theme parks’ boat ride sung by animatronic dolls representing world cultures — is believed to be the most performed composition in the world. It first debuted at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair pavilion ride.

The two brothers credited their father, composer Al Sherman, with challenging them to write songs and for their love of wordsmithing.

The Shermans teased songs out of each other, brainstorming titles and then trying to top each other with improvements. “Being brothers, we sort of short-cut each other,” Richard Sherman said. “We can almost look at each other and know, ‘Hey, you’re onto something, kiddo.'”

Away from the piano, the two raised families and pursued their own interests, yet still lived close to each other in Beverly Hills and continued working well into their 70s.

Richard Sherman is survived by his wife, Elizabeth, and their two children: Gregory and Victoria. He also is survived by a daughter, Lynda, from a previous marriage.

US rapper Nicki Minaj freed after Netherlands arrest

The Hague, Netherlands — U.S. rapper Nicki Minaj was detained at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport on suspicion of possessing soft drugs before being released with a fine, Dutch media reported Saturday.

The singer was to perform a show in Britain later Saturday and posted images on social media of her being questioned by officials.

Police confirmed to AFP that they had detained a 41-year-old American woman but declined to confirm that it was Minaj, as per their usual policy.

“We never confirm the identity of a person in custody, but I can confirm we have arrested a 41-year-old woman suspected of trying to export soft drugs to another country,” Robert Kapel, a military police spokesman, told AFP.

Kapel later told AFP the suspect had been released after the payment of a “reasonable” fine.

“There’s no reason for us to keep her in custody any longer. We have all the information for our file. Case closed,” he told AFP.

The rapper posted on X that authorities told her they had found cannabis in her luggage, which she said belonged to her security personnel.

A common misconception outside the Netherlands is that marijuana is legal in the country, home to world-famous coffee shops (which actually sell pot) that are a huge draw for cannabis smokers.

The consumption of small quantities of cannabis is technically illegal but police choose not to enforce the law as part of a tolerance policy in place since the 1970s.

Transporting the drugs to another country is illegal.

Minaj was due to perform in Manchester on her Pink Friday 2 World Tour, and the hashtag #FREENICKI was trending on X.

The Manchester concert originally scheduled for Saturday night has now been postponed.

Promoter Live Nation said the performance will be rescheduled and tickets will be honored.

“Despite Nicki’s best efforts to explore every possible avenue to make tonight’s show happen, the events of today have made it impossible,” the promoter said in a statement. “We are deeply disappointed by the inconvenience this has caused.”