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Google Street View removes freedom of speech posters in censorship row

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Another huge poster “appeared” on Broadway, right by Times Square in New York City, stating “Russia won the White House for you, Donald Trump,” taken from a statement on Twitter from writer Rebecca Buckwalter-Poza, who was blocked by the president after she tweeted a message at him. She was then part of a group that filed a lawsuit against the president for the block.

The posters were intended to combat censorship, Reporters Without Borders said. “By altering billboards in Google Street View we gained access to locations where people could never say certain things in real life without facing consequences, far beyond both borders and censorship,” the organization stated on its Billboards Beyond Borders website.

“To fight government censorship, we put silenced words on the map again,” it stated in an online video.

Another poster, in Istanbul, called Turkey’s President Erdogan “a megalomaniac dictator.” It had the subhead: “Wrote Ebru Umar and got arrested and blocked from leaving Turkey.” Umar was arrested in 2016 after she criticized the president in a newspaper column. The poster, along with the others, has been removed from Google Street View.

Reporters Without Borders Sweden said it downloaded 360 spheres in Google Street View, altered them in Photoshop and re-uploaded them.

But creating such content goes against Google Maps’ policy, which states: “Contributions must be based on real experiences and information. Deliberately fake content, copied or stolen photos, off-topic reviews, defamatory language, personal attacks, and unnecessary or incorrect content are all in violation of our policy. If you see this behavior, please report it.”

Google confirmed the billboards were removed from Street View when contacted by CNBC but did not comment on accusations of censorship.



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Callaway, Dick’s Sporting Goods score with growth of golf

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Buckets of golf balls at the driving range at the 2021 TOUR Championship on September 03, 2021 at the East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, Georgia.

Icon Sportswire | Getty Images

Golf surged in popularity in 2020 by nearly every metric, as people sought out the socially distanced outdoor activity amid the pandemic.

More than 24.8 million people played golf in the U.S. in 2020, up more than 2% year-over-year and the largest net increase in 17 years, according to the National Golf Foundation. The sport also saw the largest percentage increase in beginner golfers and youth golfers since 1997 — the year a then-21-year-old Tiger Woods won his first major championship at the Masters.

Now almost two years since the pandemic first hit the U.S., and even as other activities have opened back up, golf has continued to grow in 2021, providing long-standing golf brands like Callaway and Titleist a boost. It has also elevated companies looking to capitalize on the changing demographics and trends within the sport.

Golfers continue to flock to courses

For many in the golf industry, it was unclear if the growth seen in 2020 was a function of the pandemic or a new inflection point for the sport.

Through the end of July — the peak of golf season in the U.S. — the number of rounds played in 2021 was up 16.1% compared to 2020, according to data from the NGF. While the July-specific figures were down 3.1% compared to 2020, a month in which nearly all golf courses had been reopened following pandemic closures in certain states, the 2021 numbers are significantly higher than previous year averages.

While those increases are being mainly driven by older, already passionate golfers — the average number of rounds played by golfers grew to 20.2 in 2020, an all-time high since NGF started tracking that statistic in 1998 — younger golfers, and especially female players, saw significant upticks.

“New participants are increasingly younger; they’re hooked on the game and they want to get better,” David Maher, CEO of golf conglomerate Acushnet Holdings, said on the company’s second-quarter earnings call with analysts in August. “A lot of the energy is coming from avid dedicated players who are simply playing more and consistently; more juniors, more women, more younger [players], and more families.”

The number of female golfers grew 8% in 2020, the largest uptick in five years, according to NGF data. Forty-four percent of people who played a round of golf on a course in 2020 were under the age of 40, and nearly the same amount of people in their 30s played golf as those in their 60s, according to NGF data.

Golf equipment companies seeing growth in sales

That increase in new golfers has been a boon for Acushnet, which owns golf brands like Titleist and FootJoy.

Acushnet’s second-quarter net sales in the U.S. grew 117.1%, fueled by a 98.1% increase in Titleist golf ball sales and a 111% increase in Titleist golf club sales. Over the first half of its fiscal 2021, sales in the U.S. have been up 75.2%.

Callaway, which owns several golf equipment and apparel brands including its eponymous line of balls, clubs, and other equipment, has also seen growth.

Earlier this month, the company raised its financial outlook for its third quarter as well as for the entirety of 2021, citing overperformance of its brands as well as mitigation of some supply chain disruptions.

“More people are joining golf courses, [there are] more entrants into the game, more consumers and we think the long-term trends are going to be quite attractive,” Callaway CEO Chip Brewer said on CNBC in June. “The market is going to be larger coming out the pandemic than coming in.”

Dick’s Sporting Goods, which sells golf products in its stores as well as golf-specialty retailer Golf Galaxy, has pointed to the sport as one of its growth drivers in recent quarters.

“We’ve continued to see consistent growth in the golf business,” Dick’s Sporting Goods CFO Lee Belitsky said on the company’s 2022 second-quarter earnings call with analysts on August 25. “The golf business has remained very strong for us.”

While the company does not break out the performance of Golf Galaxy stores in its earnings report, CEO Lauren Hobart said that the “golf business has been tremendous at both Dick’s and Golf Galaxy.”

The company has “invested in talent and elevated the in-store service model to become trusted advisers for golf enthusiasts of all levels,” Hobart said, and it recently opened its first next-generation Golf Galaxy prototype store outside of Boston. At that location, the Golf Galaxy Performance Center, golfers can not only buy golf products, but take lessons, practice in hitting bays, and have custom club fittings.

In May, South Korean private equity firm Centroid Investment Partners acquired TaylorMade Golf for $1.7 billion, the largest acquisition in the golf goods industry to date. TaylorMade, which produces clubs, balls, and apparel, was sold to KPS Capital Partners by Adidas in 2017 for $425 million.

“The industry is currently experiencing high demand, increased participation with strong long-term opportunities around the world,” Jinhyeok Jeong, founder and CEO of Centroid Investment Partners, said in a press release at the time of the transaction. South Korea is the third-largest market for golf in the world behind the U.S. and Japan.

Overall, golf equipment sales have slowed in recent months, according to NPD data — sales across June, July and August 2021 are down 2% compared to 2020 after the first half of 2021 doubled what was seen in 2020. However, the June, July and August 2021 sales numbers are up 50% compared to those months in 2019.

NPD Group senior industry advisor Matt Powell said more consumers are expected to embrace healthier living post-pandemic, and that will include an increase in outdoor and sporting activities, which should benefit golf.

However, it is still unclear how the supply chain issues plaguing other industries will impact golf equipment, which could limit growth.

Executives from both Acushnet and Callaway cited the ongoing supply chain issues in Vietnam as potential road bumps ahead. Acushnet and Callaway both declined to comment for this article.

“There are inventory issues but when we look at most of the categories that we track we’ve seen business start to plateau,” Powell said. “But, [golf sales] are resetting at a new higher level and while we’re not getting massive growth, it’s a much bigger business than it was two years ago.”

Golf expanding beyond the course

The rise of interactive golf experiences that go beyond the typical 18-hole course has also helped golf grow, especially to new audiences.

The growing popularity of TopGolf, which now has 70 locations across six countries after launching in China earlier this month, has been one of the main drivers. While the actual golf experience mirrors what can be found at a driving round, TopGolf aims for a more social and gamified experience along with drinks and food.

Callaway, which previously owned 14% of TopGolf, merged with the company in March, paying $2.66 billion to acquire the remaining portion.

TopGolf reported that it had $1.1 billion in revenue in 2019 and that it had a 30% growth rate since 2017. Callaway said that TopGolf generated $325 million in revenue in the second quarter, while same venue sales were in the 90th percentiles compared to 2019 levels.

Virtual trainers, both used for entertainment purposes as well as high-level golf training, have grown as well.

Full Swing, which produces golf simulators for commercial, residential, and entertainment venues, was acquired by investment company Bruin Capital for a reported $160 million in July. While the simulators can be used for other sports as well, the golf functionality is used by PGA Tour pros like Woods and Jon Rahm, who is currently ranked No. 2 in the world and is starring for the European team in the Ryder Cup.

“In the early advent of the off-course gamification of golf, I think there was a misinterpretation of what the impact would be on the actual game of golf and participation,” said David Abrutyn, a partner at Bruin Capital. “It’s been proven that it’s an entry point for golf and the more people you get swinging a golf club or experiencing the sport at an entertainment venue, the greater ability it has to drive participation in the sport.”

In addition to the 24.8 million people who played a round of golf on a course in 2020, another 12.1 million participated in an “off-course golf activity,” which includes driving ranges, venues like TopGolf, or indoor simulators like the ones Full Swing produces.

The increasing blend of the traditional sport of golf with technology and other forms of entertainment is a good harbinger for the sport moving forward, Abrutyn said.

 Golf’s biggest events have had more viewers tune in this year. In April, the final round of The Masters averaged 9.45 million viewers on CBS, up 69% from 2020. In May, the last day of the PGA Championship averaged 6.58 million viewers, a 29% year-over-year increase. And in June, the final round of the U.S. Open averaged 5.7 million viewers on NBC, up 76% from 2020.

The sport is also seeing coverage expand in new ways. The PGA Tour is working with Netflix to create an episodic documentary series, which will likely be modeled on “Drive to Survive,” the popular Formula 1-focused series that has driven new fans to the motorsport. NBA star and passionate golfer Stephen Curry recently signed a deal with Comcast NBCUniversal to work on a host of projects, one element of which will include creating content around the Ryder Cup for NBC Sports’ Golf Channel.

“A lot of people have tried golf and realize it’s perhaps not as hard as they maybe thought, and that’s creating an entirely new generation of golf fans, especially in the younger demographics, that will now be fans and engaged in the sport,” he said. “That’s particularly exciting for anyone involved in the business of golf.”

Disclaimer: CNBC parent company NBCUniversal is the broadcast partner of the Ryder Cup.

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How to discuss climate change productively

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Renée Lertzman, climate psychologist

Communicating about climate change effectively is critical to get people to engage with it productively, according to climate psychologist Renée Lertzman. And right now, communications about climate change are not helping.

People are scared.

Almost three in four people (72%) worldwide are worried that global climate change will harm them personally at some point in their lifetime, according to survey data from the nonpartisan Pew Research Center.

Almost half of young people (45%) say their feelings about climate change negatively impact their daily lives, while 77% say the future is frightening with regard to climate change, according to a survey of 10,000 young people across 10 countries released this month by academics.

That fear needs to be acknowledged and worked through individually in the companies we work for, in local communities, in government and in organizations, says Lertzman. Only after that can we productively discuss how to prepare, adapt and fight.

The following are excerpts of Lertzman’s comments in a video interview with CNBC. They have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Getting from ‘me’ to ‘we’

There’s some truth in there. In actuality, no one — and I don’t care if you’re the biggest multinational company on the planet — no one actor right now is able to do it all. No one on its own is going to be enough.

What I think this crisis is actually inviting us to step into is a fundamentally different lens, which is really moving from that “me” to “we.” And it’s really stretching our cognitive capacity to think and experience and see ourselves as part of a system and as embedded in the system.

We are all protagonists in this story of meeting climate crisis and engaging with climate crisis.

Renée Lertzman

Climate psychologist

That’s a really significant shift for a lot of us to make. And it’s not something that just happens intellectually. And it’s not something that just happens if you snap your fingers say, “Okay, you know, what, I’m going to now start thinking and feeling and behaving like I’m in a system.” It doesn’t really work that way. It’s a process of continually reminding ourselves and each other that we are in fact joined up and part of a much bigger picture and a much bigger story.

Each one of us is actually — I don’t care who you are — a vital character in that story. We are all protagonists in this story of meeting climate crisis and engaging with climate crisis.

And that reframe is one that we need to just keep coming back to, over and over and over again. This is not just about me. It’s about me in this bigger story.

Have deep compassion for what you feel

It’s absolutely essential that we start from a place of really having deep compassion for that feeling of, “nothing I can do will matter.”

So it’s not like we shouldn’t be feeling that or there’s something wrong with us for feeling that our individual actions are not sufficient. Actually, I’m just going to really connect with myself here and say, “You know what, yeah, it’s really painful. It’s really hard.”

Having that feeling is an expression of how deeply I am connected and how deeply I really care about what is happening on the planet.

It is really, really important that we meet our experience — no matter what that experience is, overwhelmed, feeling insignificant, feeling frustrated, feeling angry, feeling numb, feeling checked out — that we meet that experience with, with total compassion.

It’s only from that point that we’re able to move into any kind of meaningful, impactful, creative response, where we’re able to take stock of questions like, “Who am I, where am I? What do I, how do I want to channel this energy, this concern, this care that I have, that’s coming up inside of me, that’s expressing itself?” We have to start from that place.

Be authentic

It’s really important that we don’t try to be “hope police” on ourselves, forcing ourselves to feel more hopeful or more upbeat or positive.

And that’s a trend that I find really concerning and troubling because, if you look at just the psychological lens, it’s not how it works. We don’t force ourselves to suddenly feel and behave in certain ways.

A solution-ier focuses exclusively on solutions and has no tolerance and no space for any kind of expression of feelings or uncertainty or ambivalence. It’s almost a zealous focus on the solutions. And it can really shut people down. And it can really alienate a lot of people who are not there yet. They still are processing and asking questions like, “What does this mean for us? Why are we in this situation in the first plate?”

The solution-ier mode is that you have to just solve, solve, solve. And, frankly, that problem-solution binary isn’t totally appropriate for the situation we’re in. This is a state of being that is going to be continuing for the unforeseeable future.

The doom-and-gloom-versus-hope dichotomy or binary is false. And it’s one that we really need as communicators, journalists, the media needs to be actively dismantling.

In actuality, the path forward is a middle path. And that middle path is one of authenticity.

It’s really about authentic experience and authentic engagement with this crisis. There is enormous hopefulness and enormous positivity and deep inspiration and power with recognizing and facing directly the scale and the impact and the loss.

The doom-and-gloom-versus-hope dichotomy or binary is false. … In actuality, the path forward is a middle path. And that middle path is one of authenticity.

Renée Lertzman

climate psychologist

What companies can do to engage employees

There needs to be a level of endorsement at the leadership level. So that’s one.

But what’s equally as important is that people within the organization are actively empowered to take initiative, to propose pilots, to run experiments, to try things out.

The old model is a company deciding to be advocates of climate change and appointing a green team. That’s kind of an older model. That’s kind of what I see as a 1.0 model.

The new model is one that is really exciting to me and is more human centered. It’s more authentic. It is about coming together. And looking at these issues together. And talking about what to do about this. It’s more inclusive. People feel that they’re really part of this conversation.

There have to be more people at different levels in the organization, in different parts of the organization, who are given the platform and the ability to initiate, to mobilize, to move things forward. It doesn’t only live at the C-Suite.

And ideally, if it’s done well, each person, no matter what part of the company you’re in, feels that they have a stake in this climate change response. Nobody is exempting themselves because they don’t know enough about climate. An effective response is one where everyone has something to add here and is a part of the response. It means creating an atmosphere where everyone all has a vital role.

Because, what really drives change is when people feel invited, they feel heard, understood, included.

One example of how to start this is hosting circles. I train people to facilitate climate circles or conversations, which are small groups where people meet over a duration of time, and they just simply come together and talk about what they’re feeling and thinking about the issues.

And before long, it becomes about action. It really does.

People don’t stay that long in the feeling, but you need to at least have the space to go there before getting into action planning. And if we jump right into actions and bypass discussing how people feel, then we shortchange and we short circuit the the potential to really do some amazing work.

A resource for those interested in further reading: Lertzman recommends Project Inside Out, an online resource she was commissioned to put together by the climate organization, the KR Foundation, based in Denmark. The online tool which provides guiding psychological principles for effectively working in climate change.

Also in this series:

Climate change is radicalizing young people — here’s what that means and how to combat despair

Grief and anxiety over climate change drove this 30-year-old to write a letter to his future child

18-year-old climate activist shares how she finds courage to face a ‘ticking time bomb’



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SPD tied with conservative alliance

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People cast their votes for Germany’s Parliamentary (Bundestag) election at a poll station in Berlin, Germany on September 26, 2021.

Abdulhamid Hosbas | Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

German election exit polls indicate that the Social Democratic Party and the Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union bloc are tied after one of the country’s most significant votes in recent years.

Voting took place all day Sunday, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. local time, in polling stations around the country although a large proportion of voters opted for postal ballots this election, given the coronavirus pandemic.

The election is significant because it heralds the departure of Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is preparing to leave office after 16 years in power.

Recent German elections had failed to throw up any real surprises with Merkel’s re-election relatively assured. But this election race has differed by being wide open and too close to call, even up to the last days before the vote.

The Green Party enjoyed a bounce in popularity and took the lead in the polls at one point in April to then be overtaken by the Social Democratic Party, which has managed to hang on to a slight lead in recent weeks.

Merkel’s ruling conservative alliance of the Christian Democratic Union and Christian Social Union had failed to galvanize Germans, and around 40% of voters were reported to be undecided as to who to vote for in the week ahead of the election.

What’s certain is that the next government will be a coalition, given that no party has won a majority of seats on its own.

Experts have spent months speculating on what form a coalition government could take and negotiations, which could begin on Monday, are likely to take weeks and potentially months.

The CDU, and its Bavarian sister party, the CSU, have dominated German politics since 1949, when the parties formed a parliamentary group and ran in the first federal election following World War II.

In recent years the party has fallen out of favor with younger German voters who are prioritizing green policies and want to see Germany invest in and modernize its creaking industries and infrastructure.

This is a breaking news story, please check back later for more.

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