vendredi 21 juillet 2017

Senate Parliamentarian Says GOP Obamacare Replacement Goes Too Far, Rules Against Planned Parenthood Defunding

As you may be aware, the Republican effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act is being pushed through Congress as a budget resolution, meaning it only needs a simple majority in the Senate (as opposed to 60 votes) to pass. However, budget resolutions are also very limited in what they can do, and today the Senate Parliamentarian issued her opinion that several key measures of the Senate replacement bill go beyond the scope of what’s allowed.

Budget resolutions must abide by the so-called Byrd Rule, which restricts the scope of such legislation to matters directly related to the budget. Efforts to enact policy or make statutory changes that don’t involve spending or revenue are more likely to trigger the 60-vote standard.

Today, the nonpartisan Senate Parliamentarian sent her findings to lawmakers. According to the brief on those findings, released by Democrats on the Senate Budget Committee, several aspects of the Better Care Reconciliation Act run afoul of the Byrd Rule, including the controversial clause that bars Planned Parenthood from receiving Medicaid funds. Similarly, the proposal to block tax credits for insurance policies that cover abortion (whether or not the recipient ever seeks such a procedure) would need to meet the 60-vote threshold to be enacted as law.

Also included in the list of troublesome parts of the bill is the GOP plan to let states opt out of requiring that their Medicaid alternative plans cover the “Essential Health Benefits” established by Obamacare. Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough is still reviewing the proposal to allow states to seek waivers to eliminate the Essential Health Benefit requirement for all insurance plans within a state.

The GOP had also planned to hand over control of the Medical Loss Ratio (MLR) to the states. The MLR is the percentage of an insurance company’s premium revenue that must be used to cover medical claims by policy holders. The Affordable Care Act established a nationwide MLR of 80% for insurers in the individual market and 85% for providers selling large-group plans.

So, say you run an insurance company and that brings in $1 million a year in premiums from customers in the individual market. You can spend no more than 20% of that money on administrative costs and other non-medical expenses. Beyond that, if you don’t spend that full $800,000 on qualifying payments, then you have to issue refunds to your customers.

The BCRA seeks to let states determine how each would set the MLR for insurers in their state. That means states could — as several did in the pre-Obamacare era — set 0% MLRs, allowing insurance companies to spend as much of their customers’ premiums on whatever they want.

However, since this proposal has nothing to do with the budget, the Parliamentarian has flagged it as violating the Byrd Rule.

The question is whether or not the GOP leadership, which is still planning to move forward with some sort of vote next week, will heed the Parliamentarian’s guidance and strike the problematic sections of the BCRA. Doing so, particularly the Planned Parenthood and abortion tax credit clauses, could cause some hardline conservative Republicans to back away from supporting the bill.

For now, the GOP is playing it coy.

“The Parliamentarian has provided guidance on an earlier draft of the bill, which will help inform action on the legislation going forward,” a rep for the Budget Committee’s Republican members said in a statement on Friday.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Ranking Member of the Budget Committee, applauded the Parliamentarian’s ruling, saying that it proves “once again that the process Republicans have undertaken to repeal the ACA is a disaster.”

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is still planning for a procedural vote next week to open up debate on the Republican repeal plan, though it’s still unclear what exactly will be debated if the GOP gets the 50 votes necessary to move forward. Neither the BCRA nor the alternative, straightforward repeal-only plan have sufficient support at the moment.

Go Update Your iPhone Or iPad Right Now

If you use WiFi on your iPhone or iPad, and you probably do, you’ll want to head to the Updates section as soon as you can to update its software before you start your weekend. There are a number of security patches, the most important of which fixes a flaw in the WiFi chip that can let someone standing near you execute code on your phone.

Since most of us prefer not to have our phones taken over by hackers, it’s a good idea to install Apple’s latest security update as soon as you’re on a fast, reliable, and private WiFi connection. If you won’t be home for a while, a stopgap fix would be to turn off your device’s WiFi when you’re out in public.

Updating the software, if you’ve never done it, isn’t scary. (Make sure to back your phone or tablet up to a computer or to iCloud before doing this.)

• Go to the “Settings” app on your phone’s home screen, and tap on that.

• Scroll down to “General,” and tap on that.

• Finally, tap on the “Software Update” option.

Google patched the same flaw, which the discoverer calls Broadpwn, for affected Android devices at the beginning of July, so Android users can feel suitably smug.

Winkel Colorburst Toys Recalled Because They May Crumble, Seem Edible To Babies

The Winkel Colorburst is an adorable and colorful teething toy. “Colorful loops made from soft, pliable plastic are easy to grasp and hold,” its manufacturer, Manhattan Toy, says on its website. Yet on some of the colorbursts, the plastic loops may become brittle and break, and the infant may try to eat these pieces, because that’s how infants roll.

There were around 14,400 of the toys sold in the United States and 1,000 in Canada, and they’ve all been recalled. The company asks that customers stop using the toys immediately and either return them to the store where they were purchased, or call Manhattan Toy at 800-541-1345. They retail for around $15, and owners will receive a refund.

Lot codes that have been recalled are:

206880 DH
206880 EH
206880 HH
206871 EH

You can find the lot code on the stripey cube in the middle of the toy, and also on the hang tag and the box if it hasn’t been opened yet.

You Still Can’t Fire Up An E-Cigarette On Your Flight

If you were hoping to fire up that electronic cigarette on your next flight, you better think again: The use of e-cigarettes is still prohibited on commercial flights, an appeals court ruled Friday. 

A Washington, D.C. appeals court ruled [PDF] 2-1 to uphold the Department of Transportation’s 2016 rule banning the use of electronic cigarettes on all commercial and charter flights to, from, or within the United States.

The Ban

The DOT finalized rules that prohibit e-cigarette use on flights in March 2016. While the agency believed that its previous regulations banning smoking on flights were sufficiently broad to include e-cigarettes, it revised the rules to explicitly define “smoking.”

“The Department took this action to eliminate any confusion over whether its ban includes electronic cigarettes,” the agency said in a statement at the time.

The finalized rule treats electronic cigarettes, pipes, cigars, and other devices the same as tobacco cigarettes, which are also banned from use on U.S. flights.

“This final rule is important because it protects airline passengers from unwanted exposure to aerosol fumes that occur when electronic cigarettes are used onboard airplanes,” then Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement. “The Department took a practical approach to eliminate any confusion between tobacco cigarettes and e-cigarettes by applying the same restrictions to both.”

Fighting The Ban

The DOT’s rule quickly came under fire, as the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-Free Alternatives filed a lawsuit challenging it, alleging that the agency had no authority to issue such a ban.

The organizations, along with an e-cigarette user, argued that the DOT improperly banned the use of e-cigarettes under a decades-old the anti-smoking statute because “e-cigarettes do not burn (or even contain) tobacco, much less produce smoke.”

In 1987, Congress declared it unlawful “to smoke” on scheduled passenger flights under two hours, and since 2000, the statutory smoking prohibition has extended to all scheduled passenger flights for travel within, to, and from the United States.

According to the suit, the DOT’s ban on e-cigarettes was a violation of the plain language in the statute, with the groups contending that e-cigarettes create a vapor, not smoke.

The Ruling

Today, United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled against a lawsuit, upholding the DOT’s bank.

In a 2-1 ruling, the appeals court ruled that the term smoking, as defined by decades-old statutes, does indeed cover more modern electronic devices.

While the organizations argued that “smoking” requires lighting or burning and does not encompass the heating that occurs with e-cigarettes, the court found that statutory text does not support that position.

The judges found that nowhere in the state is “smoke” or “smoking” defined.

Judge Douglas Ginsberg disagreed with the majority ruling, noting that the other judges were taking a broad interpretation of the term “smoking,” noting that when the statue was created the term was unambiguous.

“I cannot accept the Court’s ahistorical reinterpretation of a purportedly ambiguous statutory term that was well-understood when enacted in 1987,” Ginsberg wrote in his dissent.

Not Over Yet

Sam Kazman, CEI general counsel, said in a statement Friday that the organization is considering whether to appeal the ruling.

“Today’s court ruling creates a dangerous new rule for interpreting the law. It allows the commonly-understood language of Congress’s 30-year old no-smoking statute to be stretched into a ban on e-cigarettes—even though e-cigarettes involve no combustion and produce no smoke,” Kazman said.

Consumerist has reached out to the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-Free Alternatives and the DOT for comment on the ruling. We’ll update this post if we hear back.

U.S. Banning All Travel To North Korea Because Getting Arrested There Can Be Very Dangerous

If you were planning to visit North Korea sometime in the near future, you’ll probably need to cancel that hotel reservation in Pyongyang: The U.S. State Department has issued a ban on travel to the country, citing concerns that American could be in danger while there.

Safety Concerns

On Friday, the Department announced that Secretary Rex Tillerson has authorized a “Geographical Travel Restriction” regarding North Korea.

“Due to mounting concerns over the serious risk of arrest and long-term detention under North Korea’s system of law enforcement, the Secretary has authorized a Geographical Travel Restriction on all U.S. citizen nationals’ use of a passport to travel in, through, or to North Korea,” the department said in its full statement.

Previously, the state department had warned U.S. citizens against visiting North Korea, noting a “serious risk of arrest and long-term detention under North Korea’s system of law enforcement.”

And because the U.S. doesn’t maintain any diplomatic or consular relations with North Korea, if you were to get into trouble, the government doesn’t have any way to provide help like it would through the normal consular channels available to U.S. citizens.

The department intends to publish an official notice in the Federal Register next week, with the restriction going into effect 30 days afterward.

The news follows the death of an American college student who was medically evacuated in a coma from North Korea last month. He was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in March 2016, after being accused of stealing a propaganda poster while he was touring the country. It’s unclear how he was injured.

Some Travel Exceptions

Once the ban is in place, most passports will be invalid for travling to North Korea. However, there are some people who will still be able to get a special validation in order to travel in the country, including for “humanitarian or other purposes.”

It’s unclear what those other purposes may be; we’ve reached out to the Department for details and will update this post if we hear back.

Lyft Wants To End Car Ownership — This Is How They Want To Do It

It’s no secret that Lyft has its sights set on a country without individual car ownership — with the company’s co-founder calling it a “$9,000 ball and chain” that people have to drag along in their daily lives — but now the ride-hailing service is elaborating further on how exactly it can accomplish that goal.

Luc Vincent, Lyft’s VP of engineering, writes in a Medium post that in order for Lyft to usher in a “transportation revolution” — one that he says will improve our communities and quality of life — the company has to build an “ecosystem of trust” that offers rides both with drivers as well as rides from self-driving vehicles.

Humans will surely stick around, but it’s worth noting that Lyft co-founder and president John Zimmer has said in the past that the company expects that the majority of its rides will be in self-driving cars within five years.

The next step

To that end, Lyft is opening its own self-driving division called the Level 5 Engineering Center in a new facility in Palo Alto.

The new group will work on developing a new, open self-driving system in order to build on its already-existin open self-driving platform.

“Lyft’s self-driving vehicles will operate on that network, alongside vehicles introduced by Lyft partners,” Vincent writes. “In the years ahead, we will continue to bring the world’s leading automotive and technology companies onto this single platform to serve a nationwide passenger network.”

The company already has 10 percent of its engineers working on developing self-driving technology, and will be adding more to the new team.

Wh Lyft thinks it can make all its dreams come true

So what sets Lyft apart from all the other self-driving efforts out there? Vincent says the company believes Lyft is in the best position to build technology in collaboration with partners “in a way that makes it possible to roll out self-driving cars at scale in the fastest, safest, most efficient way.”

Here are some of his reasons:

Lyft has “significant scale,” allowing to rapidly train its self-driving system. With more than a million rides completed on the network every day, adding up to tens of millions of miles daily, Lyft can use the data it collects to understand the world better, thus helping it deliver “a better experience for our passengers and drivers alike.”

Everything is on an open platform, which won’t just work in Lyft’s favor, but will accelerate its partners’ efforts as well.

“They’ll be able to tap into our wealth of data and experience to create the best self-driving experience, Vincent writes. “All of this can happen much more quickly because we’re working together to create the transportation ecosystem that will define our future.”

Why get rid of individual car ownership in the first place?

You might be thinking, “But I like having my own car. What’s your beef, Lyft?”

Safety: Echoing past statements on a future without individual car ownership, Vincent cites a study that says widespread adoption of self-driving cars will lead to a 90 percent reduction in accidents.

Pollution: Fewer cars on the road comes down to less pollution and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, Vincent notes.

Quality of life: Lyft also wants future where we have less traffic clogging our streets, allowing us to “devote less of our space to roads, concrete, and parking lots — and more to parks, playgrounds, homes and local businesses.”

“It’s a future, in short, where we build our communities and our world around people, not cars,” Vincent says.

Okay, but will people really stop buying cars?

Lyft isn’t alone in trying to replace your car with a service: Waymo started offering self-driving car rides to the public in April, with CEO John Krafcik saying the company expects a lot of demand.

“We want as many people as possible to experience our technology, and we want to bring self-driving cars to more communities sooner,” he said at the time.

In June, he told The Wall Street Journal that the company would love to replace the family car with such a service.

“We’re really experimenting here with how far our users can go in terms of using a service like this one to replace their own personal transportation,” he said.

Others also believe that individual ownership will fall by the wayside eventually.

“By 2022, 2023, the majority of transportation in urban cities with temperate weather will be on demand, shared and likely autonomous,” Aarjav Trivedi, chief executive of Ridecell, a San Francisco company that provides the back-end software for car sharing, told the WSJ.

But while various reports in the press claim that car ownership will soon be a thing of the past, partly because millennials just aren’t interested in buying new vehicles anymore, The Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System looked into the demographics of new vehicle purchases and found that that might not be the whole story.

The fed’s analysis concluded that despite a downturn in interest during the Great Recession, younger people do not have less of an appetite for car ownership.

“While part of the rise in average age does reflect a decline since 2007 in the rate at which young buyers purchase new vehicles, the aging of the Baby Boomers and a drop in the purchasing rate among 35 to 50 year olds appear to be the most important factors,” the fed noted.

However, that analysis didn’t take into account what effect autonomous fleets of vehicles might have.

AB InBev Jumps Into Energy Drink, Juice Market With Purchase Of Hiball

In recent years, Anheuser-Busch InBev has been padding its portfolio by purchasing craft brewer after craft brewer, but the beverage giant’s latest merger is a bit different — it doesn’t include alcohol. 

AB InBev announced this week that it would purchase California-based energy drink company Hiball, carving out yet another notch in its non-alcoholic belt.

The deal, for which financial terms were not released, will bring Hiball’s line of organic energy drinks, and sparkling energy waters, as well as Alta Palla drinks under the AB InBev umbrella.

Hiball’s beverages, which use organic ingredients, could help AB InBev appeal to the health-conscious consumers.

Likewise, with AB InBev’s wholesale network, HiBalll and Alta Palla will be able to expand the drinks’ availability.

This isn’t the first time AB InBev has branched out from its alcohol background. The company previously partnered with Starbucks on bottled Teavana tea drinks.