Why hurricanes are getting more expensive


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CNN
 — 

After it made landfall in Cuba early Tuesday, Hurricane Ian is bearing down on Florida, with more than 1.75 million people under mandatory evacuation orders across the state.

Follow the latest developments here.

If the storm, which has been gaining in intensity, strikes Florida as a major hurricane, it’s likely to cause serious damage.

To see why hurricanes are getting more destructive, check out this in-depth interactive from CNN’s climate team.

Hurricanes are getting more expensive. CNN wrote earlier this year about the growing cost of natural disasters – there were 20 disasters in 2021 alone that each cost $1 billion or more. The total for the year was $145 billion, according to a report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

About half of that total came from one disaster: Hurricane Ida, the slow-moving monster that caused damage from the Gulf Coast up to the Northeast. It was among the most expensive US hurricanes since 1980.

While hurricanes are getting more expensive, they’re not necessarily getting more frequent. I talked to Philip Klotzbach, a senior research scientist in the atmospheric science department at Colorado State University, about what we know about the frequency and intensity of hurricanes and why they are getting more expensive. Our conversation, lightly edited for length and flow, is below.

WHAT MATTERS: What do you find most interesting about this current storm, Ian?

KLOTZBACH: It’s certainly going to be a very impactful storm. It’s very quickly intensifying after its interaction with Cuba, and it looks poised to continue to intensify this afternoon, in the evening – so it’s gonna be a very serious storm for the west coast of Florida, or somewhere between Tampa all the way down to Fort Myers, Naples.

The hard part with this storm is because it’s going to be approaching at an oblique angle, very subtle changes in how the storm is steered are going to make huge differences on who gets the storm surge.

The west coast of Florida is extremely storm surge prone. But because it’s going kind of parallel to the coast, where it decides to actually come ashore makes a huge difference for how bad it is in Tampa Bay versus further south down the coast. You look at it now on satellite, and it looks like a buzzsaw. It is not looking good.

A vintage car passes by debris caused by Hurricane Ian as it passed in Pinar del Rio, Cuba, on September 27.

WHAT MATTERS: Your report from March says that there has actually been an overall decrease in worldwide storms in recent decades. Explain.

KLOTZBACH: We wrote a paper looking at global cyclone data over the last 30 years. The reason we use 30 years is because in the Atlantic you could go back further in time than other basins.

In the Atlantic, we fly planes in hurricanes. There are three in the hurricane right now. But in other basins, it’s all based on satellite data.

And if you go back prior to about 1990, the satellites just weren’t that great. And if you look over the last 30 years, the overall number of storms has actually gone down. And the number of hurricanes has actually gone down significantly – hurricanes being the catchall for hurricanes in the Atlantic and the eastern Pacific, typhoons in the western Pacific. In other places, they are called tropical cyclones or cyclones.

We attributed that decrease primarily to a trend globally toward La Nina conditions. La Nina is colder than normal water in the eastern and central Pacific. And typically what that does is it increases your Atlantic storms, but decreases your Pacific storms. Because the Pacific has a much larger ocean basin, that means overall you end up with fewer storms when you suppress Pacific activity versus Atlantic activity.

WHAT MATTERS: So while the Earth is seeing fewer storms, how come to those of us on the East Coast of the United States it feels like there are more?

KLOTZBACH: If you look at landfall specifically, we don’t see any long-term trend in the number of landfalling hurricanes.

Florida, for example – it’s hard to remember this now, but from 2006 to 2015, we had 10 years in a row with not one landfalling hurricane in the state of Florida. Which was impressive given those seasons were actually pretty busy. But Florida just was really, really lucky.

And then obviously 2017 was very impactful for Florida. Obviously 2018 with Michael. The last few years, despite them being very busy, Florida has generally dodged any significant impact, even in 2020 with all the storms that were out there.

WHAT MATTERS: When storms do hit, they’re more destructive than they used to be, at least in terms of dollar figures. You had some interesting stuff in your report about that. Why are storms more expensive?

KLOTZBACH: It’s mostly due to growth and exposure along the coastline. Basically, more people and more stuff in harm’s way. That’s the primary reason for the increase in the damage.

Now, in the paper we didn’t say that climate change can’t cause storms to be more damaging in the future. Obviously with sea level rise – that in and of itself means the storm surge is going to move farther inland. Warmer atmosphere means more rain. More rain causes more flooding, which causes more damage, and then obviously, potentially, storms getting stronger in the future as well.

We were just saying overall so far most of the increase in damage is growth and exposure along the coastline. … Since the number of storms and the strength of the storms making landfall hasn’t gone up, we wouldn’t necessarily expect to see the damage going up for anything other than demographic changes and shifts which have occurred.

People stand outside a flooded warehouse in Batabano, Cuba, on September 27, during the passage of Hurricane Ian.

WHAT MATTERS: But we do have a story on CNN that because ocean temperatures have risen, the intensification of storms has risen. How does that compare with what you’ve found?

KLOTZBACH: That was one of the many metrics we looked at in the paper. The garden variety, generic definition of rapid intensification is a storm intensifying by 35 miles per hour or more in 24 hours. If we use that definition, we haven’t seen an increasing trend in those storms.

However, if you use a really rapid intensification definition of 60 miles per hour over 24 hours, we did see an increasing trend in that statistic globally. We attributed some of that is due to climate change. The challenge is when you’re looking at these thresholds, 30 years of data is not a ton.

What you expect with climate change is when you talk about global temperature going up one degree. It’s like, well, who really cares if it’s 84 or 85? But it’s how that changes the extremes.

And that’s what we saw in our study as well. The overall number of storms hasn’t necessarily changed. Hurricanes have actually gone down. But we are finding an increase in the percentage of hurricanes at these high intensities, or the storms that intensify quickly – really, really fast. It’s really high intensity thresholds that are going up, not just the general definition.

WHAT MATTERS: You’re very careful in your report to say you’re not predicting what’s going to happen in the future. So I’d like to do that right now and ask what you are looking for in the future. Given the trends that you’ve seen, and given what we know about climate change, what are you anticipating?

KLOTZBACH: Sea level rise, in and of itself – we’re very confident that is occurring, and it’s likely to continue to occur.

Even if storms don’t change at all in intensity, just the fact that the sea level is higher means that when you have that storm surge, it’s going to penetrate farther inland, which obviously increases damage.

Warmer atmosphere holds more moisture, more rain. That obviously causes increases in damage. There’s a lot of debate about whether storms are moving slower, kind of like we’re seeing with Hurricane Ian. It’s going to be moving slowly with really, really heavy rain.

WHAT MATTERS: Is there evidence that storms will get stronger?

KLOTZBACH: The general public always asks if storms are going to get stronger. I think that, unfortunately, from a scientific perspective, is a harder one to answer. Hurricane intensity is a function of water temperatures, which we know are going up, but it’s also a function of temperatures higher up in the atmosphere, which climate change will also increase. That tends to stabilize the atmosphere.

When we said overall storms and hurricanes are actually coming down, a lot of that trend was due to overall the environment trending more toward La Nina, which is colder than normal water in the eastern and central tropical Pacific. Normally that bumps up your Atlantic storms, knocks down your Pacific storms. … The million-dollar question that we don’t know: Is that trend toward La Nina going to continue? Because if that continues, we won’t necessarily see more really strong hurricanes, typhoons – just because overall, the number of storms is going to go down.

But if we trend more toward El Nino, the Atlantic may go down while the Pacific’s can go way, way up. And so you’re gonna see a lot more damage there and a lot more really strong storms.

That is, to me, one of the biggest scientific questions we need to address, because most climate models say that we should be trending more toward El Nino, whereas the real world says we’re trending more toward La Nina.

That is a huge scientific question that we need to get a handle on if we’re going to make any good assessments of how hurricane activity is going to change in the future.

WHAT MATTERS: If sea levels are higher and the storms are slower moving and they’re dropping more rain, does that suggest that it will get even more expensive in the future?

KLOTZBACH: What we’re finding is that a lot of the damage is from water, whether it be from storm surge or from rainfall.

Not that wind isn’t a problem. If you didn’t have the wind, you wouldn’t have the surge to begin with. Just the background sea level being higher is going to exacerbate the surge, and then the warmer atmosphere is going to increase the rainfall – and then, if the storms do indeed move slower, that’s kind of a double rainfall whammy.

Another factor that has nothing to do with climate change but can also exacerbate flooding is land-use changes. We saw that a lot in Harvey, where people built in bayous, they built in swamps. These areas where normally the water would have runoff are now concrete. You have exacerbated the runoff.

We can modify the built environment to basically increase the damage from storms or decrease if we do things better. That has nothing to do with climate change but also due to a human cause.

There are certainly ways we can mitigate the damage in the future. Building better and building smarter is going to become even more important with climate change potentially amping these things up even more.



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Putin’s draft could upend the deal that kept him in power




CNN
 — 

Russian President Vladimir Putin has managed the unexpected in just under a week: upending the social contract that has kept him in power for over two decades.

Putin’s deal with the Russian electorate has long been that they would stay out of politics and he would guarantee a modicum of stability – which seemed to be the bargain on offer when Putin launched his full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.

At the time, Putin was careful to emphasize that the military assault – euphemistically referred to as a “special military operation” – would only be fought by military professionals. That was a fiction, and one that allowed many Russians to be lulled into a sense of normalcy, going about their lives in Moscow or St. Petersburg indifferent to the horrific carnage in Ukraine.

The “partial mobilization” declared last week by the Kremlin leader has abruptly ended that and fear is now convulsing Russia’s body politic. The long lineups of cars queuing at Russia’s borders with Finland, Georgia and Mongolia show that thousands of Russian men eligible for military service are voting with their feet. Protests are erupting in ethnic minority regions. And military enlistment offices are being set on fire – and a recruitment officer has been shot.

Travellers from Russia cross the border to Georgia at the Zemo Larsi/Verkhny Lars station on Sept. 26.

Rumors are now swirling that the Russian government may be preparing to close its borders, prevent military-age men from leaving the country altogether, or announce some form of martial law.

The Kremlin’s denials have not been reassuring.

“I don’t know anything about it,” Kremlin press spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters when asked about possible border closures. “There are no decisions regarding this yet.”

Putin built his power in Russia by positioning himself as the opposite of former leader Boris Yeltsin, who presided over Russia’s chaotic post-Soviet transition in the 1990s. But today, scenes of angry crowds confronting officials and brawling with local police over the conscription of husbands and sons look very much like a flashback to that decade.

The same goes for the scenes emerging on Russian Telegram channels and other social media. Some appear to show Russian draftees receiving news that they will be sent to the front with scant training. One widely shared video shows a woman in military uniform telling new inductees that they need to provide their own essential kit, from sleeping bags to tourniquets.

“Ask girlfriends, wives, mothers for sanitary pads, the cheapest sanitary pads plus the cheapest tampons,” she says in the unverified video. “Do you know what the tampons are for? Gunshot wound, you plug it in, it starts to swell and it supports the walls. Men, I know this from Chechnya.”

The first war in Chechnya from 1994 to 1996 ended with a humiliating defeat for the Russian Federation. It laid bare both corruption in the ranks and the collapse of Russia’s military might.

Putin rode to power on the second Chechen war that began in 1999. In that war, the Kremlin was much more careful about controlling the media, helping Putin create an aura of competence and toughness.

But the images of dead and captured Russian soldiers and destroyed hardware in Ukraine today offer strong visual parallels with the disastrous first Chechen War, when photographers captured images of frightened and poorly-equipped conscripts in Chechen captivity.

Watch: They decided to get married the day he was sent to war

Putin presided over a professionalization of the Russian military that was supposed to reduce the use of conscripts in favor of contract service. There’s a reason for this: Treatment of draftees in the Russian military is traditionally brutal, and activist groups such as the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers mobilized during the Chechen wars to help provide legal advice to conscripts. Russian mothers famously organized to retrieve their sons who had been taken prisoner by the Chechens and often challenged the authorities over their treatment of soldiers.

Recent protests against Putin’s partial mobilization are a reminder that the draft remains a third rail in Russian political life. In heated protests against the mobilization Sunday in Makhachkala, the regional capital of the north Caucasus region of Dagestan, women were captured in social media videos confronting police, saying, “Why are you taking our children? Who attacked who? It’s Russia that attacked Ukraine!”

That explains why Putin’s most ardent propagandists are also channeling some of the public rage over what appears to be a dragnet by local officials, with officials issuing call-up papers to medically disqualified men and banging on doors to meet apparent quotas.

Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of state TV channel RT (formerly Russia Today) posted a series of complaints about heavy-handedness by officials on social media, including one case involving an employee going on vacation with return ticket in hand who was turned back at the border.

Still, such criticism of officials overzealously or incompetently carrying out orders is not directed at Putin. It’s reminiscent of an old trope from Russian history of the “good tsar” and “bad boyars.” The tsar – in this case, Putin – is seen popularly as a wise, munificent (albeit distant) ruler, while his conniving local subordinates and lower-level functionaries are to blame for undermining his good intentions. They, not the ruler, are the targets of popular anger.

There’s also an implied threat here. It’s not just the bad local officials who can be punished for failing to meet their quotas properly. The call-up is also a tool meant to instil fear and passivity. In another social-media post, Simonyan with satisfaction noted that draft summons had been issued to men who took part in an anti-mobilization protest on the Arbat, a central thoroughfare in Moscow.

“All the men who were attended the rally against mobilization on the Arbat were issued over 200 draft notices. Another shipment prepared,” she wrote. “Better them than the Teacher of the Year from Pskov, in my view.”

Competently carried out or not, the partial mobilization may be on of Putin’s riskiest moves to date. And while his grip on power remains strong, he is pulling on a foundation block of Russia’s Jenga puzzle.





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‘The violence was you’: January 6 rioter who assaulted Michael Fanone sentenced to over 7 years in prison





CNN
 — 

Kyle Young, one of several rioters who attacked Washington, DC, police officer Michael Fanone during the January 6, 2021, insurrection at the US Capitol was sentenced to 86 months in prison on Tuesday.

“On January 6, the violence was you,” Judge Amy Berman Jackson told Young before handing down the sentence, adding that he was a “one man wrecking ball” that day who attacked Fanone “under the whirling banner of a ‘Blue Lives Matter’ flag.”

In May, Young pleaded guilty to assaulting Fanone, holding his wrist and pulling his arm while the officer was dragged into the mob by other rioters.

Fanone has since left the Metropolitan Police and is now a CNN contributor.

After being pulled from the line of officers, Fanone was then beaten by rioters during one of the most brutal assaults on police protecting the Capitol that day. He was tased in the neck and eventually lost consciousness during the attack, where he had begged rioters for his life and told them he had children.

Young, Jackson said, was the individual who handed another rioter the stun gun used to electrocute Fanone. Young then showed the individual how to operate the device.

“You had to teach him how to turn it on,” Jackson said, “you armed someone.”

The individual, Daniel Rodriguez, is charged with electrocuting Fanone several times in his neck and has pleaded not guilty.

“I hope someday you’ll forgive me,” Young, who brought his 16-year-old son with him to the Capitol, said to Fanone during the sentencing hearing. “I know you hate me.”

Young told the judge that “whatever you give me as punishment I accept and I probably deserve.”

During the sentencing, prosecutors played video of Fanone being swallowed into the mass of attackers. “You can hear screams on the video. Screams,” Jackson said of Fanone’s calls for the rioters to stop.

Fanone, who spoke during Tuesday’s hearing, asked Jackson to sentence Young to 10 years behind bars and spoke of how he was “violently beaten.” The former officer said he was prevented by Young from grabbing his firearm or radio, which he called his “lifeline.”

“I would have lost my life,” Fanone said, were it not for others in the mob who dragged him out.

“The assault on me by Mr. Young cost me my career,” Fanone added, before turning to Young and telling him hoped he suffered in his time in prison.

As Fanone walked back to his seat in the courtroom, one man sitting in the audience called Fanone a “piece of s**t” and was quickly removed from the courtroom by a deputy US Marshal.

One of Young’s co-defendants, Albuquerque Head, also pleaded guilty to the assault and will be sentenced in late October.



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12 civilians killed by US military operations in 2021, Pentagon report says





CNN
 — 

Twelve civilians were killed and five civilians were injured because of US military operations in 2021, according to a congressionally mandated Pentagon report released Tuesday.

Ten of the civilians killed in 2021 were killed during a botched drone strike the US military conducted in Kabul on Aug.29, one day before the end of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, the report stated. Seven of the ten civilians killed in that incident were children.

The botched drone strike triggered a US Air Force investigation and an apology from then-head of US Central Command Gen. Frank McKenzie, acknowledging it was a “mistake.” Ultimately, no US military leaders or troops were penalized for the strike.

Two other civilians were killed in two separate air strikes in Afghanistan in 2021, one conducted on Jan. 8 in Herat, Afghanistan and one conducted on Aug. 11 in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Two civilians were injured during a US airstrike conducted in Kandahar, Afghanistan on Jan. 18, 2021, the report stated.

Three civilians were also injured when the US conducted an airstrike in Qunyo Barrow, Somalia on Jan. 1, 2021, the report said. US troops in East Africa support the African Union’s “mission in Somalia,” and the “multi-national effort to combat” violent extremist organizations like al-Shabaab, a terrorist organization affiliated with al-Qaeda, the report stated.

The Defense Department made one ex gratia payment in 2021 “for the incident in Afghanistan on Jan. 8” that killed a civilian, the report stated. The Defense Department has said they would work with surviving family members of those killed in the Aug. 29 drone strike to make ex gratia payments to them, but no payments have been made to the family at this point, the report confirmed.

From US military operations in Iraq and Syria during 2021, there were six reports of potential civilian casualties, but three of them are still being assessed and the other three were deemed not credible, the report stated.

The latest numbers of civilian casualties from the Defense Department are a significant decline from the previous year. In the 2020 report, DoD assessed that approximately 23 civilians were killed as a result of US military operations and another 10 were injured.

The Defense Department has been working to combat increased scrutiny over civilian casualty deaths from US airstrikes. In August, the Pentagon announced a new plan of action which it says will help reduce the number of civilians killed and injured by US military operations, particularly drone strikes, and better deal with the aftermath of such incidents.

The report, mandated by the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, only listed assessments of civilian casualties attributed to “the use of US-operated weapons.” The numbers and incidents included in the report are “based on reports of civilian casualties that DoD has been able to assess as credible,” the report noted.

“DoD components conducting assessments deem a report ‘credible’ if, based on the available information, it is assessed to be more likely than not that civilian casualties occurred,” the report states.

A RAND Corporation report released earlier this year about the Department’s handling of civilian casualties said reports from external sources and other nongovernmental organizations on civilian casualties are often much higher than the Department’s estimates, which is a “challenge” to DoD’s credibility. That report recommended DoD engage more with these organizations, as well as be more transparent and cooperative with them.



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Seniors to get a break on Medicare Part B premiums in 2023





CNN
 — 

Medicare beneficiaries will see their Part B premiums decrease in 2023, the first time in more than a decade that the tab will be lower than the year before, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced Tuesday.

The standard monthly premiums will be $164.90 in 2023, a decrease of $5.20 from 2022.The reduction, which was signaled earlier this year by Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, comes after a large spike in 2022 premiums. Medicare beneficiaries had to contend with a 14.5% increase in Part B premiums for 2022, which raised the monthly payments for those in the lowest income bracket to $170.10, up from $148.50 in 2021.

President Joe Biden highlighted the drop in premiums at an afternoon event in the Rose Garden on Tuesday, using the announcement to tout Democrats as the party that will protect Social Security and Medicare.

That message – targeted toward the key demographic of older voters – comes six weeks before the midterm elections.

Biden criticized the plan laid out last week by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Republicans, calling their agenda a “thin set of policy rules, with little or no detail.” The President also slammed Republican Sens. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Rick Scott of Florida for their plans that suggest Social Security and Medicare should be discretionary spending rather than mandatory programs.

“What do you think they’re gonna do when the House Budget Committee started talking about cost of Medicare and Social Security and why we can’t afford it?” Biden asked the audience in the garden.

A key driver of the 2022 hike was a projected jump in spending due to a costly new drug for Alzheimer’s disease, Aduhelm. However, since then, Aduhelm’s manufacturer has cut the price and CMS limited coverage of the drug. The agency said it would factor the lower-than-forecast spending into the 2023 premium.

Also, spending was lower than projected on other Part B items and services, which resulted in much larger reserves in the Part B trust fund, allowing the agency to limit future premium increases.

The annual deductible for Medicare Part B beneficiaries will be $226 next year, a decrease of $7 from 2022.

Medicare Part B covers physician services, outpatient hospital services, certain home health services, durable medical equipment and certain other medical and health services not covered by Medicare Part A.

One of the benefits of the Inflation Reduction Act, which Congress passed in August, will also kick in next year for Medicare beneficiaries. Starting July 1, cost-sharing will be capped at $35 for a one-month supply of covered insulin. Also, people with Medicare who take insulin through a pump won’t have to pay a deductible. This benefit will be available to people with pumps supplied through the durable medical equipment benefit under Part B.

The Medicare Part B premiums comes as seniors are also expecting a larger-than-usual increase in their Social Security payments. The annual cost of living adjustment, which will be announced next month, is being fueled by high inflation.

For 2022, seniors received a 5.9% increase, the largest in decades, but it was quickly overrun by soaring price increases.

The Senior Citizens League projects that the 2023 increase could be 8.7%, which would bump up the average retiree benefit by $144.10 to $1,656.



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Hugh Jackman to reprise Wolverine role in next ‘Deadpool’ film





CNN
 — 

Ryan Reynolds just broke some Hugh-ge news in the movie world.

The actor announced on Tuesday that Hugh Jackman will be reprising his role as Wolverine in the next “Deadpool” film, slated for September 6, 2024.

“Hey everyone, we’re extremely sad to have missed D23, but we’ve been working very hard on the next ‘Deadpool’ film for a good long while now,” Reynolds says in a video posted to Instagram, referencing the news-making Disney convention that took place earlier this month.

Adding that he wanted to make Deadpool’s first appearance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (as this is the first “Deadpool” film to be produced following Disney’s purchase of 20th Century Fox) “special,” Reynolds said he sought out to “stay true to the character, find new depth, motivation, meaning.”

“Every ‘Deadpool’ needs to stand out and stand apart. It’s been an incredible challenge that has forced me to reach down deep inside. And I… have nothing,” he deadpanned. “Yeah, just completely empty up here. And terrifying. But we did have one idea.”

Enter Jackman – or a great body double – who Reynolds speaks to as the he walks in the background.

“Hey, Hugh, you want to play Wolverine one more time?” Reynolds asks.

“Yeah, sure, Ryan,” Jackman replies nonchalantly.

Deadpool was introduced in “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” in 2009, but totally different than the smart-alecky take of the stand-alone movies. Wolverine was killed in the film “Logan,” so Jackman’s appearance will require some “We’re going to ignore lots of history” footwork, but they’re likely to have fun with it – just as they clearly did making the closing logo at the end of Reynold’s video.

Jackman and Reynolds have had a longstanding bromance that has included playfully teasing each other on social media.

The duo’s team up will mark the third film in the wildly successful “Deadpool” franchise, which included two films released in 2016 and 2018.



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Kia, once the ‘value’ brand, now has the biggest price markups




CNN Business
 — 

Reversing a century of tradition, most cars now sell for over the manufacturer’s sticker price. This is thanks to high demand paired with hobbled production due to global parts supply problems. But the brand with the highest average percentage markups might be the biggest surprise.

It isn’t some luxury or performance brand; it’s Kia, the South Korean car brand usually thought of as a value purchase. On average, Kia cars and SUVs are selling for about 6% over their sticker price, according to data from Edmunds.com. Roughly tied for second, at 4% above sticker price on average, are Honda, Hyundai and the luxury SUV brand Land Rover.

In dollar terms, Land Rover has the highest dealer markups, with customers paying an average of $3,686 over the sticker price, according to Edmunds.com. But the average purchase price for a Land Rover SUV in the US is over $94,000. Even on a straight dollar amount basis, Kia still ranks second of all car brands in America, with customers paying, on average, $2,183 over sticker. That’s especially remarkable since the average Kia purchase price was about $36,000.

There are three main reasons for Kia’s top ranking in dealer price markups. First, it’s a testament to what customers have long found in Kia’s cars and SUVs — a good value for the dollar. With today’s tight car market, dealers are able to cash in on some of that perceived value.

“You’re getting a lot, still, for the money even if you’re paying more now or more than for the competitor,” said Ivan Drury, an auto industry sales analyst with Edmunds.com.

Kia has also been deliberately working to get away from its image as a brand people buy for the low price, Russell Wager, Kia America’s vice president for marketing, said in a recent interview with CNN Business.

“It’s not a question of that Kia might not be a good value because I still think we are,” he said. “We’re not marketing ourselves that way.”

Instead, he said Kia now markets the design and attributes of the vehicles themselves, such as sportiness and, in the case of electric and hybrid vehicles, technology.

As with other car brands, Kia dealers are independent businesses that can set their own prices. But their pricing power has clearly benefited from Kia America’s marketing and product line-up decisions.

Even before supply chain problems started slowing vehicle production, some Kia models, like the Telluride SUV, were already regularly selling for over sticker price. The new Kia Carnival minivan has also been popular, especially since it’s one of only a few such models on the market today. Both the Telluride and Carnival sell, on average, for about 7% over sticker price, according to Edmunds.

“You get one of those with Premium Package on it, absolutely, people will fight over that car.” Ben Burton, managing partner of Jackson Kia in Cocoa, Florida, said of the Carnival minivan.

The Carnival minivan has among the highest dealer mark-ups of all Kia models.

Adding to the pressure is that, while manufacturing slowdowns have hit the whole industry, Kia models are especially hard to find. Kia’s “days’ supply” — a measure of dealerships’ inventory levels balanced against how quickly the vehicles sell — is down to single digits, said Zack Krelle, an industry analyst with TrueCar. The average, he said, is around 28 days.

Even models that aren’t the hottest things are getting marked up. John Grui of Shelby Township, Michigan, said he paid $1,000 over the sticker price in July for his base model Kia Soul.

“It actually could have been more,” he said, but the car had a few hundred miles on it despite being sold as new.

The third factor in why Kia vehicles are selling for so much over sticker price is that Kia sells a relatively large number of hybrid, plug-in hybrid and fully electric car models. With concern growing about fuel prices, after recent spikes, these sorts of vehicles have much higher dealer markups, on average, than gas vehicles, according to Edmunds data. With customers expecting to save money on gas, they’re willing to pay more to purchase the vehicle. Models such as the Sportage Hybrid, Sportage Plug-in Hybrid and Sorento Hybrid sell for more than 8% above sticker price. The Kia EV6 all-electric car sells for 6.4% above sticker price, according to Edmunds.

Given their generally low starting prices compared to competing models, Kia customers may not feel too awful about paying a little more, said Chris Sutton, vice president for automotive retail at the consulting firm J.D. Power. And since prices have risen for used cars, too, a customer’s trade-in vehicle will also be worth more, he pointed out. So the price bump on the new vehicle may be easier to swallow in the end.

Ultimately, he said, it comes down to how the dealership communicates with the customer about the markup. A smart dealer, he said, will think about their long term reputation and not just the easy cash.

Burton, of Jackson Kia in Florida, said his customers are generally aware that paying over sticker has become the norm before they come in to buy a car. His dealership also adds extras like added warranty coverage to help justify higher prices. Higher interest rates are actually more of a shock for customers, he said. But he realizes these prices and high sales profits won’t last forever. He expects the market will return to normal around the end of the year, he said, and it will be back to selling cars based on the sticker price.



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Blinken: US will ‘look for ways to facilitate technology services’ to Iranians to maintain access to internet amid blackouts





CNN
 — 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday that the Biden administration “will certainly look for ways to facilitate technology services being made accessible to people in Iran” amid widespread internet outages during the nationwide unrest.

Anti-government protests have raged across Iran after 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in the custody of the nation’s morality police in mid-September.

Last week, the US Treasury Department issued a general license meant to allow companies to provide services for internet access to Iranians without fear of sanctions.

At a press conference Tuesday, Blinken noted that the new general license “authorizes companies to provide things like cloud services, privacy technology, security technology, hardware and software to enable the Iranians to better communicate among themselves and also with the rest of the world.”

“Individual companies can come to us, to OFAC in this case, to determine whether their technology fits under the license,” he added, referencing the Office of Foreign Assets Control.

However, technological hurdles remain, as certain services require hardware to function. Blinken declined to say if the US would work with companies to physically get such hardware into Iran. The US and Iran do not have diplomatic relations and the US government does not have a presence there.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Monday it was up to private companies to “take steps that they deem appropriate” to broaden internet access in Iran, and did not offer details about whether the newly issued US general license has made a tangible difference in expanding that access.

“The Treasury Department, through the general license, has taken steps that, through its self-executing capacity, authorizes additional companies to provide software in some cases, hardware, that would be operational in Iran,” he said at a press briefing Monday.

“Of course, we’re not going to speak to what would be required for any such hardware to get into Iran. It is our charge, it is our responsibility to see to it that there are no restrictions, US government restrictions, that would prevent relevant software, in some cases, hardware from being operational inside of Iran,” he said.

In addition to issuing the general license, the Biden administration also imposed sanctions on the morality police last week “for abuse and violence against Iranian women and the violation of the rights of peaceful Iranian protestors.”

“Mahsa should be alive today,” Blinken said Tuesday. “The only reason she’s not is because a brutal regime took her life and took her life because of decisions she should be making about what she would wear or not wear.”

“Women in Iran have the right to wear what they want, they have the right to be free from violence, they have the right to be free from harassment. That’s true in Iran, it’s true, should be true everywhere,” he said.



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Northampton County, a bellwether in Pennsylvania, will be place to watch on Election Night



Walnutport, Pennsylvania
CNN
 — 

It is dusk on a crisp, perfect fall evening, and at the end of the long gravel driveway, Cindy Deppe is waiting with a smile and a choice: Screen One or Screen Two.

She’s running the ticket booth at Becky’s Drive-In, a Lehigh Valley treasure. The family-owned business for 76 years now, is a throwback and a survivor in a slice of America that is a very different place than it was when William Beck first fired up the projector on this site in 1946.

Bethlehem Steel anchored the Lehigh Valley economy then, along with the Atlas Cement Company. Democrats dominated local politics.

But nowadays in Northampton County, the home of Walnutport, times – and politics – have changed.

“This area,” Cindy’s son, Christopher Deppe, put it, is the battleground within the battleground.

Walnutport is a borough in Northampton County. It is a mostly rural county dotted with farms and small towns – 377 square miles in all – but also home to the small and smaller cities Bethlehem and Easton.

Barack Obama carried Northampton County twice. Donald Trump won it in 2016, and Joe Biden narrowly flipped Northampton County back to blue in 2020. Only 25 counties in America share that voting pattern.

This year, Northampton County will be a place to watch on Election Night, first because of its history as a Pennsylvania bellwether, but also because the 8 p.m. ET poll closing time means it will be among the first swing counties to report results.

As Deppe runs the digital projectors on this Friday night, he breaks an unwritten family rule, half grimacing, half grinning.

“I have made my choices: I’m rooting for Shapiro and John Fetterman,” he says, referring to Josh Shapiro, the Democratic candidate for Pennsylvania governor, and Fetterman the Democratic Senate nominee. “If you drive around this area you are likely to see more Mastriano and Dr. Oz signs, but I really do think those people are in the vocal minority.”

Only three times in the last century has the Northampton County winner in a presidential race not also carried the commonwealth and won the White House.

Competitive of late is an understatement: Trump carried the county by 3.4 percent in 2016. Four years later, Biden eked out a 1,233 vote county win —a margin of less than one percentage point.

That explains that unwritten family rule of not talking politics at Becky’s Drive In.

“People are pretty heated,” Dean Deppe, Christopher’s father and Cindy’s husband, says as he fills orders at the refreshment stand. “We try to minimize it because, you know, we don’t want to disengage half our customer base.”

Casual conversations with movie goers Friday night ranged from liberal college students to a Trump-voting grandfather who ended talk of politics politely but quickly “because it just riles me up.”

The leaves are beginning to change colors, which means the screens will soon go dark until spring.

And it means Northampton County will soon help answer several pressing midterm questions.

The Pennsylvania governor appoints the Secretary of State, and Republican Doug Mastriano is an election denier who tried to help Trump overturn the state’s 2020 count here.

Plus, the Fetterman-Oz race could settle which party controls the Senate come January.

And all of Northampton County is in Pennsylvania’s 7th Congressional District, an early, Eastern time zone test of whether vulnerable Democrats are able to hang on in a midterm climate that historically is unkind to members of the incumbent President’s party.

Rep. Susan Wild is the Democratic incumbent here. She won with 52% in 2020 and faces the same Republican opponent in 2022.

The district lines were redrawn a bit after the last census, and the new territory leans heavily red.

“I know what history says,” Wild, who was first elected in the last midterm cycle in 2018, tells CNN. “This is a different kind of year.. … I don’t think the old rules apply anymore.”

One old rule is that turnout drops in midterm years, and the party out of power usually benefits from higher enthusiasm.

Wild’s Saturday visit to the Easton Farmers’ Market was part of an effort to make sure that dropoff doesn’t happen this year.

“Don’t forget to vote. November 8” is her refrain as she wanders from vendor to vendor to say hello and make her case.

One stand is selling indigenous Latin American bags and art.

“Nice to see you. You live here in Easton?’” Wild asks.

“I do,” is the response.

“It’s such a great place,” Wild says.

And it’s critical to Democratic math.

Easton is one of just two reliably Democratic pieces of this complicated county. Bethlehem is the other.

In a county that is 86% White, according to the Census Bureau – and with race and education among the most telling divides in American politics – Easton is 67% White and by far the most diverse slice of the county. Biden won every Easton voting ward handily; his smallest margin of victory was 24 points.

Bethlehem, too, is a deep blue piece of Northampton County. It has more than 75,000 residents – nearly 25% of the county total population – and it is 79% White. Further, 42% of Bethlehem residents have a least a bachelor’s degree; the county average is 32%.

Much of Bethlehem has a suburban feel, and at a rally on Saturday, Wild turned to the issue Democrats believe just might help them defy midterm history.

“My opponent has said that she is open to national ban on abortion,” Wild told the crowd at Northampton Community College.

In the gym, the line was well received.

Across the street from campus, Chad Horton held a sign making clear inflation is more important to him. Covid-19 restrictions backed by Democrats also shape his midterm mood.

“Susan Wild has definitely not earned the privilege of being reelected,” Horton said. “They put people out of work. I’m going to put them out of work.”

Businesswoman Lisa Scheller is Wild’s opponent – and very much hopes the old midterm rules do apply.

One Scheller TV ad opens with grainy images of Wild, President Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“The Biden Democrats are hurting Pennsylvania families with their radical agenda,” the narrator says.

A second ad strikes a similar theme: “Biden and Pelosi’s economic polices are hurting us. Susan Wild is with them.”

Wild’s counter, in a TV ad and every time she can when talking to voters, is to call herself a bipartisan moderate.

“I grew up in a household with a dad who was a conservative Republican and a mom who was a liberal Democrat,” she tells a man who recalled seeing the TV ad. “So I guess I was born to be bipartisan.”

Wild knows the stakes here come Election Night.

Republicans are sending in late money, and in the neighboring 8th Congressional District, where Democrat Matt Cartwright is also in a 2020 rematch and also in a race rated as a tossup.

“If you see on election night that Matt Cartwright and I have held our seats, then you are going to see that the Democrats hold on to their majority in the House,” she said in an interview. “These are truly two of the most pivotal races in the entire country.”

Mount Bethel is an 18-mile drive from Easton, following PA 611 up the banks of the Delaware River. It gets more rural by the mile, and by the time the highway bends away from the river, it is clear where Trump got many of the votes to almost overcome the big Biden edges in Easton and Bethlehem.

Trump ran it up in tiny Mount Bethel, which is 92% White, winning one of its voting districts by 45 points.

Like Becky’s Drive-In, the Mt. Bethel Diner is a throwback.

A counter with vinyl stools, the walls lined with vintage booths. A menu of hearty breakfast staples, and a waitress quick to bring coffee and a warm welcome. But there is a modern-day exception to the throwback theme: When we ask if we can talk to patrons about their midterm votes, the owner says no – that CNN isn’t welcome here. She says Trump won, and we don’t tell the truth.

Pen Argyl is just shy of 10 miles away, PA 611 to PA 512.

Biden lost big here, too. And you are far more likely to see Republican lawn signs.

“We’re just a little hick town,” local barber John Cuono says. “There’s about 3,000 people here.”

Cuono has cut hair in this same spot since his discharge from the Navy 59 years ago, first working with his father, then taking over the small shop on West Main Street.

“They are not into it like the used to be,” he said of talking politics with customers. “All they are is a downer.”

Cuono is a registered Democrat but voted for Trump twice. “Well, he did as heck of a job,” the 86-year-old says. “I liked what he was doing.”

John Cuono, who has been a barber in Northampton County for decades, says he's still undecided on his votes in Pennsylvania's gubernatorial and House races.

Cuono reads the newspapers and watches the news. He knows about all the Trump investigations and does not dispute that Trump tried to stay in power after the election was certified for Biden. “I look at it this way: he got caught,” Cuono said. “But how many other presidents did the same thing and didn’t get caught. You know. We don’t know.”

Would he vote Trump again?

“I’m really not sure. I’d have to hear what he has to say and who is running against him.”

Local newspapers are sprinkled around the barber shop, and Cuono says he is debating his 2022 choices. He is still undecided in the governor’s race and says likely to decide in the voting booth.

“I think I am going to go with Dr. Oz,” is his take on the Senate race. “He knows a little bit about life. …I don’t know about Fetterman. I don’t know much about the man.”

Of Wild, his Democratic congresswoman, Cuono says: “She is a whirlwind. … Sometime she is alright. Sometimes she’s bad. …I’m not sure on her.”

The drive in this part of the county is telling.

There are still some Trump-Pence 2020 signs hanging, plus flags and placards deriding Biden, some by full name, some by the initials “FJB” and some by his favorite MAGA nickname.

One homemade sign along the roadside in Bangor suggested, in red spray paint, this antidote to inflation:

“Make Everything 1/2 Price Again Trump 2024.”

First, complicated but critical Northampton County gets to deliver its 2022 verdict.



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