Court Blocks Trump Business Health Care Change That Might Not Have Helped You Anyway

It might also sound like a slap across the face of all the small businesses that were supposed to benefit. However, the touted payoffs probably weren’t anywhere near as large as advertised and the biggest potential one was already in hand.

The legal wrangle

The administration’s move in theory was a way to appeal to business owners, who–as all of us who fall under the label know–end up paying through the nose for health insurance. The idea, on its face, was to let small business owners band together under associations so they could more easily buy insurance together and, hopefully, save money. According to the administration’s 2019 economic report, the combination of these plans as well as “short-term, limited-duration health plans” was supposed to create $249 billion in “value” over the next ten years, whatever that is supposed to mean.

But much of the money was going to be saved by avoiding requirements of the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare. In fact, the move was another attempt to undermine the ACA, as the judge said directly, and also did “violence” to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, which is what made possible employer-sponsored healthcare insurance.

Realities of coverage

Few in business that I know like the way health insurance works. But to go for cheap plans that undercut coverage by getting out from under requirements can kill your business faster than anything. You save money on the front side–until something goes wrong. And then you find limited coverage and high deductibles that can leave you racing to bring in cash to cover an emergency.

Maybe you’re in good health and will never have an accident or unexpected illness, keeping more money in your pocket. It could also be true that someone will give you the winning numbers for a major lottery, removing your need to worry about covering costs for the rest of your life. That’s not smart business planning or risk management. Unless you’ve modeled the possibility of something going wrong, all the accumulated costs that would happen if you didn’t have adequate insurance, and the percentage that it could happen, you’re just crossing your fingers and hoping.

Separately, let’s talk about association health plans. I used to belong to one. The savings were…moderate. Companies weren’t really pulled together as one entity. The insurance was aggravating, causing me to fight for coverage, even on such things as getting a normal office visit paid for because the insurer repeated kept losing an update of my family’s primary physician, even after multiple attempts. (It finally worked.)

Then there’s the fake enticement that I found in such plans. You think, “I’m getting insurance through a bigger organization and so should have better rates.” But that requires having the insurance company treat everyone as part of a single pool, although, instead of 10 businesses with 8 employees each, there was one with 80.

Going for single bigger pools, assuming a normal distribution of health across the participants, can lower your rates. But that advantage was already available through the ACA, which requires that insurers use single pools when setting prices. If people in better health aren’t required to buy insurance, as with the end of the individual mandate, then the costs are distributed across the smaller group of less healthy people, who end up paying more.

To put it differently, you and I already had the potential biggest advantage of association insurance: a larger risk pool. The additional savings would probably be cutting back on the value you could get from insurance. Not necessarily a smart trade-off in my experience.

Ericsson says 5G security discussions leading to worry among customers

FILE PHOTO: The Ericsson logo is seen at the Ericsson’s headquarters in Stockholm, Sweden June 14, 2018. Picture taken June 14, 2018. REUTERS/Olof Swahnberg/File Photo

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Ericsson says current 5G network security discussions is leading to worry among its customers, but the mobile network equipment maker has still not seen an increase in contracts due to that, its top chief said on Wednesday.

The company counts Chinese market leader Huawei and Finland’s Nokia as its main rivals and some analysts think it could benefit from Western suspicions of Huawei, after Washington alleged its gear could be used by Beijing for spying.

Huawei has strongly rejected the allegations and launched a lawsuit against the U.S. government.

“What we see is that customers are worried,” Chief Executive Borje Ekholm told reporters ahead of the firm’s annual general meeting at a venue close to its north Stockholm headquarters.

“And that of course leads to more discussions with customers for us, but we can’t see that contracts are being allocated. That has not happened yet.”

Reporting by Johannes Hellstrom and Helena Soderpalm

Auto1 may consider IPO in future but no need for cash now: CEO

BERLIN (Reuters) – German used-car dealing platform Auto1 said it could seek a public offering in future but a 2018 cash infusion from Japan’s Softbank means it has no immediate need for extra funding of its European growth plans.

FILE PHOTO: A worker loads a second hand car on a car transporter truck at the Auto1.com company grounds in Zoerbig, Germany January 28, 2017.REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch /File Photo

Last year’s Softbank’s deal valued Berlin-based Auto1 at 2.9 billion euros ($3.27 billion), making it one of Germany’s top so-called tech unicorns.

It is virtually unknown to consumers except through its used car buying arm Wir Kaufen dein Auto (We Buy Your Car) in Germany and similar names elsewhere. It operates from Finland to Romania to Portugal, 30 countries in all.

Revenues rose by 32 percent to 2.9 billion euros last year, and although it is profitable in Germany, investments in other markets have led to a loss on group level.

“Currently, an initial public offering is not a topic for us,” Auto1 co-founder Christian Bertermann told Reuters, adding this could change in future.

Auto1 buys cars using its vehicle pricing database to calculate an offer within minutes and then sells the vehicles on to one of its roughly 35,000 dealerships for a commission.

Its platforms helped 540,000 vehicles change hands in 2018.

The company will now also start a retail platform to compete with Scout24’s Autoscout unit or Ebay’s Mobile.de offering, Bertermann said.

He confirmed a Reuters report about Auto1’s talks with Scout24 about an acquisition of Autoscout, adding that these would not lead to a takeover.

Scout24 in February agreed to be acquired by buyout groups Hellman & Friedman and Blackstone.

Auto1 was set up in Berlin by entrepreneur Christian Bertermann after having trouble selling two old cars owned by his grandmother, along with Koc, who previously worked at Rocket Internet-backed firms Zalando and Home24.

Reporting by Nadine Schimroszik,; Writing by Arno Schuetze; Editing by Alexandra Hudson

Bahrain to use Huawei in 5G rollout despite U.S. warnings

DUBAI (Reuters) – Bahrain, headquarters of the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, plans to roll out a commercial 5G mobile network by June, partly using Huawei technology despite the United States’ concerns the Chinese telecom giant’s equipment could be used for spying.

FILE PHOTO: Logos of Huawei are pictured outside its shop in Beijing, China, February 28, 2019. REUTERS/Jason Lee/File Photo

Washington has warned countries against using Chinese technology, saying Huawei could be used by Beijing to spy on the West. China has rejected the accusations.

VIVA Bahrain, a subsidiary of Saudi Arabian state-controlled telecom STC, last month signed an agreement to use Huawei products in its 5G network, one of several Gulf telecoms firms working with the Chinese company.

“We have no concern at this stage as long as this technology is meeting our standards,” Bahrain’s Telecommunications Minister Kamal bin Ahmed Mohammed told Reuters on Tuesday when asked about U.S. concerns over Huawei technology.

The U.S. embassy in Bahrain did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The U.S. Fifth Fleet uses its base in Bahrain, a Western-allied island state off the Saudi coast, to patrol several important shipping lanes, including near Iran.

Bahrain expects to be one of the first countries to make 5G available nationwide, Mohammed said, although he cautioned it would depend on handset and equipment availability.

Early movers like the United States, China, Japan and South Korea are just starting to roll out their 5G networks, but other regions, such as Europe, still years away and the first 5G phones are only likely to be released in the second half of this year.

Bahrain’s state controlled operator Batelco is working with Sweden’s Ericsson on its 5G network, while the country’s third telecom Zain Bahrain is yet to announce a technology provider.

No foreign company is restricted by the government from providing equipment for Bahrain’s 5G network, Mohammed said, adding that the mobile operators chose who they worked with.

Australia and New Zealand have stopped operators using Huawei equipment in their networks but the European Union is expected to ignore U.S. calls to ban the Chinese company, instead urging countries to share more data to tackle cybersecurity risks related to 5G networks.

Mohammed said the rollout of the 5G network was an “important milestone” for Bahrain, which is hoping investments in technology will help spur the economy which was hit hard by the drop in oil prices.

“It is something we are proud to have,” he said.

Reporting by Alexander Cornwell; Editing by Kirsten Donovan

Amnesty faults electric vehicle batteries as carbon intensive

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Amnesty International is seen next to director of Mujeres En Linea Luisa Kislinger, during a news conference to announce the results of an investigation into humans rights abuses committed in Venezuela during protests against President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela February 20, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Jass

LONDON (Reuters) – Amnesty International attacked the electric vehicle (EV) industry on Thursday for selling itself as environmentally friendly while producing many of its batteries using polluting fossil fuels and unethically sourced minerals.

Manufacturing batteries can be carbon intensive, while the extraction of minerals used in them has been linked to human rights violations such as child labor, a statement from the rights group said.

“Electric vehicles are key to shifting the motor industry away from fossil fuels, but they are currently not as ethical as some retailers would like us to believe,” it said, announcing the initiative at the Nordic Electric Vehicle Summit in Oslo.

Production of lithium-ion batteries for EVs is power intensive, and factories are concentrated in China, South Korea and Japan, where power generation is largely dependent on coal or other fossil fuels, Amnesty said.

Global automakers are investing billions of dollars to ramp up electric vehicle production. German giant Volkswagen for one plans to raise annual production of electric cars to 3 million by 2025, from 40,000 in 2018.

Amnesty demanded the EV industry come up with an ethical and clean battery within five years and in the meantime that carbon footprints be disclosed and supply chains of key minerals identified.

Last month, a letter seen by Reuters showed that 14 non-governmental organizations including Amnesty and Global Witness had opposed plans by the London Metal Exchange to ban cobalt tainted by human rights abuses.

Instead of banning the cobalt brands, the LME should work with firms that produce them to ensure responsible souring, they said.

Reporting by Eric Onstad; Editing by Jan Harvey

A Cab’s-Eye View of How Peloton’s Trucks ‘Talk’ to Each Other

Techno-optimist prognosticators will tell you that driverless trucks are just around the corner. They will also gently tell you—always gently—that yes, truck driving, a job that nearly 3.7 million Americans perform today is perhaps on the brink of extinction. At the very least, on the brink of uncomfortable change.

A startup called Peloton Technology sees the future a bit differently. Based in Mountain View, California, the eight-year-old company has a plan to broadly commercialize a partially automated truck technology called platooning. It would still depend on drivers sitting in front of a steering wheel but it would be more fuel efficient and, hopefully, safer than truck-based transportation today.

The company employs ten professional truck drivers to help refine its tech, and I’m about to meet two of them out on Peloton’s test track in California’s Central Valley. Michael Perkins is tall, thin, and has been driving very big trucks for about 20 years. Jake Gregory is shorter and picked up truck driving in college, before taking a detour to the FBI.

We hit the highway first, because the rain has suddenly cleared. (Here’s an unfortunate reality about Peloton’s driver assistance tech: It doesn’t work great in the rain. Or snow. It’s a safety issue. More on that later.) Out on Interstate-5, Perkins’ long, white semitrailer cruises along in front of me. I’m on board the second, identical truck behind it, with Gregory behind the wheel. A small screen mounted on Gregory’s dashboard shows a camera view of what’s happening in front of Perkins’ rig. It’s like their trucks are connected. Which, in fact, they are about to be.

Peloton

Perkins radios in that he’s ready to go; Gregory says he is too. Inside the two truck cabs, each driver hits a button. Three ascending tones—la, la, la—means Peloton’s automated system has authorized the trucks to platoon on this stretch of highway. A dedicated short range communications (DSRC) connection is now established between the two vehicles. It’s like WiFi but faster and easier to secure. Now, whatever the front truck does, the back truck in will near-simultaneously “know”—and react accordingly.

Then Gregory speeds up, pulling his truck up so it’s tailgating about 70 feet from the leader. Sounds risky! But right now, the two trucks are platooning. Ours is on a kind of hopped-up cruise control, which means Gregory’s feet aren’t actually controlling the brakes or accelerator. At the same time, Gregory maintains control of his steering wheel. If Perkins were to brake, hard, Gregory’s truck would, too, faster than a human could. The robots have taken over. Kind of? Not really? More like, they’re collaborating, with some human oversight.

Peloton’s name, a reference to bicycle racing, helps explain how this platooning works. Just as the riders in the peloton, or main group of racing cyclists, preserve energy by drafting off of those around them, the following trucks in the truck platoon reduce their aerodynamic drag by drafting off the ones in front of it. The lead truck, meanwhile, get a little push. This saves fuel, according to Pelton—up to 10 percent for the following car and 4.5 percent for the first one, depending on the road and weather conditions and the following distance. It might also prevent crashes, since this tech has much faster reaction times (about 30 milliseconds) than puny humans (about 1 to 1.5 seconds).

Other companies in Europe, China, Japan, and Singapore are seriously experimenting with truck platooning. The American military has hosted platooning demonstrations. Just this week, the US Department of Transportation gave out $1.5 million in grants to universities studying the tech. And Peloton has tested in a bunch of US states: Arizona, California, Michigan, Florida, and Texas, where Peloton has immediate plans to run the majority of its routes.

Right now, the company says it does have paying customers, though it won’t reveal their names until later this year. According to Josh Switkes, the company’s CEO, some pair of US truck drivers are running a route while platooning on a Peloton-enabled truck every day.

And testing continues, on the software in its office, on its test track, and on actual highways, where it confirms the technology’s reliability. “The highway or field is not for testing,” Switkes says. “The goal of testing is to find failures, and you don’t want those failures to be on public roads.” In a report released today, the company lays out this approach to safety for regulators and interested industry parties alike. It borrow from automotive processes more than Silicon Valley-style software ones, amounting to something like, easy does it.

It turns out, the linking-up move Perkins and Gregory just performed on I-5 is one of the most safety-critical parts of truck platooning, says Switkes. The moment when the following truck has to move faster than the one in front of it is the most dangerous part.

To make sure drivers like Perkins and Gregory don’t crash into each other, or anyone else, Peloton needs to make sure that the platooning drivers know how the tech works. (Right now, the company’s driver training process takes about a half a day.) It also needs to understand exactly how heavy the trucks are when they start platooning, how their brakes are working, and how their tires function. For this reason, the company says, it has carved out partnerships with its suppliers, which means its trucks are built from the ground up with platooning in mind.

This is also why Peloton doesn’t platoon in the rain right now, or in the snow: The company can’t yet gauge exactly how tires deteriorate over time, which means it can’t quite predict how they’ll react in a hard-braking situation. Worn tires might slide in the moisture, leading to a domino chain of truck crashes. So no platooning in the Midwest in the winter, or anywhere during a rainy spring. “On certain routes, it’s a significant limitation,” says Switkes. “But we’re erring on the side of safety.”

And if that seems a little dull, Switkes would tell you that’s the point. His favorite word is “pragmatic,” and he doesn’t believe driverless trucks will prowl the highways any time soon. The technology is too complicated, he argues, and developers will have to go through years of safety testing before they’re ready for the roads—and before the public feels safe riding in their own bitty cars around 50,000-pound robot trucks. So Peloton is going all in on making human-based driving both safer and more efficient. With a bit of tech boost.

Not all manufacturers agree: In January, Daimler announced it would stop its platooning development to focus on autonomous trucking. Tests showed that “fuel savings, even in perfect platooning conditions, are less than expected,” the German company wrote in a press release. “At least for U.S. long-distance applications, analysis currently shows no business case for customers driving platoons with new, highly aerodynamic trucks.”

Platooning advocates disagree, but even the most supportive believe finding a market for this trucker assistance isn’t simple. Steven Shladover is researcher with the California Partners for Advanced Transportation Technology program at UC Berkeley. He has studied platooning for two decades, and points out that the truck industry would need to execute a fair bit of choreography to pull off platooning. Fleet operators would have to coordinate deliveries, matching up trucks heading in the same direction at the same time. “Does the truck industry see enough of a benefit in platooning to fit it into their operational strategies?” he says.

While everyone in trucking waits to find out, Perkins and Gregory head back to Peloton’s test track and proceed to show off a few, freakier moves: some hard braking, some driving side-by-side to prove that the trucks can still “talk” to each other in that position. At one point, another company employee in a white Toyota Tundra cuts into the 55-foot space between the two trucks, and they smoothly part to make room for him. Maybe platooning will improve life for truckers—too bad it can’t fix the problem of everyday reckless drivers, too.


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Facebook says it removed 1.5 million videos of the New Zealand mosque attack

People take pictures on a pedestrian bridge, illuminated with colors of New Zealand’s national flag as a tribute to victims of the mosque shootings in Christchurch, in Jakarta, Indonesia, March 17, 2019. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan

(Reuters) – Facebook Inc said it removed 1.5 million videos globally of the New Zealand mosque attack in the first 24 hours after the attack.

“In the first 24 hours we removed 1.5 million videos of the attack globally, of which over 1.2 million were blocked at upload…,” Facebook said in a tweet bit.ly/2HDJtPM late Saturday.

The company said it is also removing all edited versions of the video that do not show graphic content out of respect for the people affected by the mosque shooting and the concerns of local authorities.

The death toll in the New Zealand mosque shootings rose to 50 on Sunday. The gunman who attacked two mosques on Friday live-streamed the attacks on Facebook for 17 minutes using an app designed for extreme sports enthusiasts, with copies still being shared on social media hours later.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said she wants to discuss live streaming with Facebook.

Reporting by Bhanu Pratap in Bengaluru; Editing by Richard Borsuk

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