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Faraday Future hindered by furloughs, lawsuits

HANFORD — While the New Year started on a positive note, electric car startup Faraday Future continues to struggle financially.

While company officials said in December that they hoped to have funding issues solved within two or three months, it looks like that will not happen.

According to technology news website The Verge, 11 new lawsuits have been filed against Faraday by suppliers and contractors who say the company has not paid them for contracted services.

“In total, the companies are seeking nearly $80 million in owed payments, damages, and fees from Faraday Future,” The Verge reported.

The lawsuits — ranging from tens of thousands of dollars to millions of dollars — come from companies that provided a gamut of services to Faraday, including various staffing needs, basic office and technical work, vending machines, construction and equipment, marketing and computers and other electronics, among other services.

Total Western Inc., a California contractor that The Verge said provided construction and maintenance services to Faraday last year at both its Los Angeles headquarters and Hanford factory, is asking for around $1 million.

Reached by email Monday, Faraday spokesperson John Schilling said he could not comment on any pending lawsuits at this time.

Faraday seemed to be making some headway in December when the company and its main investor, Chinese real estate group Evergrande, came to a restructuring agreement that allowed Faraday to seek other investors.

Both sides had accused the other of failing to live up to the end of their respective bargains and the dispute led to arbitration in Hong Kong courts.

The cash-flow difficulties that arose resulted in layoffs, salary cuts, furloughs and executive departures at the company. The Verge reported on Feb. 26 that Faraday is extending the furlough, with no determinable end in sight.

Schilling told the Sentinel that the company initially placed the anticipated date of return for furloughed employees as March 1. He said Faraday has been “diligently pursuing a solution to the serious financial situation” and has been engaged in discussions with potential investors to raise both asset-based debt financing and equity funding.

“These funding efforts have taken longer than the company initially anticipated and therefore, FF must extend the furlough period for employees currently on furlough,” he said. “Employees will be contacted by HR during the month of March to discuss their individual situation and possible return dates.”

According to The Verge, Faraday needs hundreds of millions of dollars — possibly up to $500 million — in order to start production on its flagship vehicle, the luxury FF 91.

Amidst the alleged financial turmoil, Faraday Future has continued to post on several of its social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter.

The most recent of the posts on Feb. 27 includes a video of cold-weather testing on the FF 91 in Baudette, Minnesota.


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Local gamers 'Pokemon Go' to the museum

HANFORD — Local video game players have learned that whether it comes to rare Pokemon or stories about Kings County’s past, you can “catch ‘em all” at the Hanford Carnegie Museum.

The museum has been hosting tournaments for the astoundingly popular cellphone game, “Pokemon Go,” which brings in fans of all ages and backgrounds, museum general manager Patricia Dickerson said.

The tournaments, held weekly on alternating Thursday and Friday evenings, draw Pokemon fans from as far out as Lemoore, Visalia, Fresno and McFarland.

“We all actually talk to each other. If it hadn’t been for this, none of us would have ever met,” Dickerson said.

The museum manager said that it’s been beneficial for the museum and for fans of the game, as it gives fans a central -- and safe -- meeting place for players and in between “battles,” visitors will browse the museum’s displays and take in local history.

Dickerson said that the game tournaments attract people of all ages, mostly young adults, that may not have otherwise been interested in the museum or even knew about its existence. The tournaments usually draw in about a dozen people per week to enjoy pizza, soda, snacks, each other’s company and each other’s Pokemon.

“We’re slowly building and we’re getting new people in all the time,” she said. “That’s the big thing — getting new people in.”

The game also promotes exercise, as a vital component to gameplay is walking around, phone-in-hand, searching for Pokemon — video game characters — in real-world locations.

The game uses real-life landmarks as in-game attractions. Players may find a rare prize if they can make it to the Hanford Fox in time, for example, or they can restock in-game supplies by visiting “Pokestops,” located at places like the museum, the Civic Auditorium or China Alley.

China Alley serves as a Pokemon gym, in the game, which took the LT Sue Co.’s Arianne Wing and Steve Banister by surprise. 

“The first time I heard about it, we were waiting on customers and they said, ‘I don’t know if you know this, but this place is a gym,’” Banister said.

“We thought they said, ‘gem,’” Wing said, laughing.

There are over 500 active members in the Hanford Pokemon Discord group, a communication and messaging app for gamers. Locals who play weekly at the museum range in backgrounds and ages. The regulars include hospital workers, teachers and volleyball coaches, among others.

Koreena Henderson, 23, has been playing the game since 2016 and said the appeal of the game, aside from catching all the “shiny” rare Pokemon is getting out of the house and meeting new people.

Local teacher Paul Hyer, 43, has been playing for almost 3 years and said the game was beneficial for him after having recently moved to the area.  Playing the game helped him explore his new neighborhood in Lemoore, as he would walk around town playing the game as a way to learn about notable spots downtown and beyond.

“I could point out historical spots to my kids, so it made walking around with them more interesting,” Hyer said. “I’d rather walk around while playing a game than while doing nothing,” he said.

Information about the tournaments can be found at https://thesilphroad.com/map#8.76/36.0679/-119.1067 or www.facebook.com/HanfordMuseum.


International
AP
Boeing jet under scrutiny

HEJERE, Ethiopia — Airlines in Ethiopia, China, Indonesia and elsewhere grounded the Boeing 737 Max 8 jetliner Monday after the second devastating crash of one of the planes in five months. But Boeing said it had no reason to pull the popular aircraft from the skies.

As the East African country mourned the 157 victims of the Ethiopian Airlines plane that went down in clear weather shortly after takeoff Sunday, investigators found the jetliner's two flight recorders at the crash site outside the capital of Addis Ababa.

An airline official, however, said one of the recorders was partially damaged and "we will see what we can retrieve from it." The official spoke on condition of anonymity.

A witness to the crash said smoke was coming from the rear of the plane before it hit the ground.

"Before falling down, the plane rotated two times in the air, and it had some smoke coming from the back then, it hit the ground and exploded," Tamrat Abera said. "When the villagers and I arrived at the site, there was nothing except some burning and flesh."

Ethiopian authorities are leading the investigation into the crash, assisted by the U.S., Kenya and others.

The crash was similar to that of a Lion Air jet of the same model in Indonesian seas last year, killing 189 people. The crash was likely to renew questions about the 737 Max 8, the newest version of Boeing's single-aisle airliner, which was first introduced in 1967 and has become the world's most common passenger jet.

Safety experts cautioned against drawing too many comparisons between the two crashes until more is known. Besides the groundings by airlines in Ethiopia, China and Indonesia, Caribbean carrier Cayman Airways, Comair in South Africa and Royal Air Maroc in Morocco temporarily grounded their Max 8s.

Ethiopian Airlines decided to ground its remaining four 737 Max 8s until further notice as "an extra safety precaution," spokesman Asrat Begashaw said. The carrier had been using five of the planes and awaiting delivery of 25 more.

But Chicago-based Boeing said it did not intend to issue any new recommendations about the aircraft to its customers. It plans to send a technical team to the crash site to help investigators and issued a statement saying it was "deeply saddened to learn of the passing of the passengers and crew" on the jetliner.

Among the airlines still using the plane are Southwest, American and Air Canada.

In Washington, Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao said passenger safety was the first priority for the administration.

"I want travelers to be assured and that we are taking this seriously and monitoring latest developments," she said.

It's unusual for authorities to take the step of grounding planes, and it's up to each country to set standards on which planes can fly and how those planes are maintained, said Todd Curtis, an aviation safety analyst who directs the Airsafe.com Foundation.

"If there is a suspicion ... that there's not only something inherently wrong with 737 Max 8 aircraft, but there are no procedures in place to cure the problem, then yes, they should either ground the plane, or there are several levels of things they could do," Curtis said.

People from 35 countries died in the crash six minutes after takeoff from Ethiopia's capital for Nairobi. Ethiopian Airlines said the senior pilot issued a distress call and was told to return but all contact was lost shortly afterward. The plane plowed into the ground at Hejere near Bishoftu, scattering debris.

"I heard this big noise," resident Tsegaye Reta said. "The villagers said that it was a plane crash, and we rushed to the site. There was a huge smoke that we couldn't even see the plane. The parts of the plane were falling apart."

The crash shattered more than two years of relative calm in Africa, where travel had long been chaotic. It also was a serious blow to Ethiopian Airlines, which expanded to become the continent's largest and best-managed carrier and turned Addis Ababa into the gateway to Africa.

The state-owned carrier has a good reputation and the company's CEO told reporters no problems were seen before Sunday's fight. But investigators also will look into the plane's maintenance, which may have been an issue in the Lion Air crash.

The plane was delivered to Ethiopian Airlines in November. The jet's last maintenance was on Feb. 4, and it had flown just 1,200 hours.


Washington
AP
Trump's record $4.7 trillion budget banks on strong growth

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump proposed a record $4.7 trillion federal budget for 2020 on Monday, relying on optimistic 3.1 percent economic growth projections alongside accounting shuffles and steep domestic cuts to bring future spending into promised balance in 15 years.

The deficit is projected to hit $1.1 trillion in the 2020 fiscal year, the highest in a decade. The administration is counting on robust growth, including from the Republican tax cuts — which Trump wants to make permanent — to push down the red ink. Some economists, though, say the bump from the tax cuts is waning, and they project slower growth in coming years. The national debt is $22 trillion.

Even with his own projections, Trump's budget would not come into balance for a decade and a half, rather than the traditional hope of balancing in 10.

Still, Trump contended the nation is experiencing "an economic miracle." He said in a letter to Congress accompanying the plan that the country's next step must be "turbocharging the industries of the future and establishing a new standard of living for the 21st century."

Presidential budgets tend to be seen as aspirational blueprints, rarely becoming enacted policy, and Trump's proposal for the new fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, sets up a showdown with Congress over priorities, including his push for $8.6 billion to build the U.S-Mexico border wall.

Titled "A Budget for a Better America: Promises Kept. Taxpayers First," Trump's proposal "embodies fiscal responsibility," said Russ Vought, the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Despite the large projected deficits, Vought said the administration "prioritized reining in reckless Washington spending" and shows "we can return to fiscal sanity."

The budget calls the approach "MAGAnomics," after the president's "Make America Great Again" campaign slogan.

Some fiscal watchdogs, though, panned the effort as more piling on of debt by Trump with no course correction in sight.

Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, said Trump "relies on far too many accounting gimmicks and fantasy assumptions and puts forward far too few actual solutions." She warned the debt load will lead to slower income growth and stalled opportunities for Americans.

Perhaps most notably among spending proposals, Trump is reviving his border wall fight. Fresh off the longest government shutdown in history, his 2020 plan shows he is eager to confront Congress again over the wall.

Trump's budget proposes increasing defense spending to $750 billion — and building the new Space Force as a military branch — while reducing nondefense accounts by 5 percent, with cuts recommended to economic safety-net programs used by many Americans. The $2.7 trillion in proposed spending cuts over the decade is higher than any administration in history, they say.

The budget imposes work requirements for those receiving food stamps and other government aid as part of the cutbacks. The Department of Housing and Urban Development faces a 16 percent cut and for Education, a 12 percent reduction.

Trump's budget would re-open two health care battles he lost in his first year in office: repealing "Obamacare" and limiting future federal spending on Medicaid for low-income people. Under the budget, both programs would be turned over to the states starting in 2021.

The top Democrat on the Appropriation Committee, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, said the budget is "not a serious proposal."

By refusing to raise the budget caps, Trump is signaling a fight ahead. The president has resisted big, bipartisan budget deals that break the caps — threatening to veto one last year — but Congress will need to find agreement on spending levels to avoid another federal shutdown in the fall.

The Democratic chairman of the House Budget Committee, Rep. John Yarmuth of Kentucky, called the proposed cuts to essential services "dangerous." He said Trump added almost $2 trillion to deficits with the GOP's "tax cuts for the wealthy and large corporations, and now it appears his budget asks the American people to pay the price," the Democrat said.

In seeking $8.6 billion for more than 300 miles of new border wall, the budget request would more than double the $8.1 billion already potentially available to the president for the wall after he declared a national emergency at the border last month in order to circumvent Congress — though there's no guarantee he'll be able to use that money if he faces a legal challenge, as is expected.

The budget arrives as the Senate readies to vote this week to terminate Trump's national emergency declaration. The Democratic-led House already did so, and a handful of Republican senators, uneasy over what they see as an overreach of executive power, are expected to join Senate Democrats in following suit. Congress appears to have enough votes to reject Trump's declaration but not enough to overturn a veto.

The wall with Mexico played a big part in Trump's campaign for the White House, and it's expected to again be featured in his 2020 re-election effort. He used to say Mexico would pay for it, but Mexico refused to do so.