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North American Edition
27th September 2021
Amazon’s plan for a regional base in Cape Town ignites protest
Amazon’s plan for a regional base in Cape Town as part of project has precipitated protest from local groups who say the chosen site for the development  is sacred. Some South African indigenous groups say the project plan for the nearly $350m mixed-use development, called The River Club, and where Amazon is slated to be the anchor tenant, is on land that is sacred and should be declared a World Heritage site. Tauriq Jenkins, the high commissioner for the Goringhaicona Khoi-Khoin Indigenous Traditional Council, which opposes the development, observed that the site was one of the first places where Roman-Dutch law was applied to parcel out land to settlers. “This is where the colonial bomb hit,” he said. Dan Plato, executive mayor of Cape Town, said: “[The development] will transform the property from an isolated site with minimal foot traffic to a publicly accessible precinct . . . Cape Town’s ability to attract and host employers and wealth-generators of Amazon’s caliber not only leads to direct employment and economic opportunities, but also improves the city’s profile as a destination for international investment.”
The race to fight off multiple ‘Black Swan’ events
Britain's fuel and food shortage crises, alongside flooding in Germany and wildfires in places such as the U.S., have compelled officials to reassess risk preparation strategies, reports the Telegraph. These Black Swan events, or what disaster planners call “long-tail” risks, are not supposed to come all at once, and Professor Bent Flyvbjerg, a fellow of St Anne’s College at Oxford in the U.K., says we are all prone to “Black Swan blindness . . . Our brains are not well suited for detecting extreme risks.” Prof Flyvbjerg and other experts say Black Swans are becoming more frequent as the world becomes more complex: “the walls are coming down between natural and human systems, with humans impacting nature at a global scale for the first time in history.” Planners are fooling themselves that they have everything covered in their risk registers, and also commonly make the mistake of “letting down one’s guard because a risk has not materialized for a while,” observes Prof Flyvbjerg.
China declares cryptocurrency transactions illegal
China’s central bank has declared that cryptocurrency-related transactions are illegal, reinforcing the country’s tough stance against digital rivals to government issued money. In a statement posted on its website on Friday afternoon, the People’s Bank of China said the latest notice was to further prevent the risks surrounding crypto trading and to maintain national security and social stability. Naming Bitcoin, Ether and Tether as examples, the central bank said cryptocurrencies are issued by nonmonetary authorities, use encryption technologies and exist in digital form and shouldn’t be circulated and used in the market as currencies. It also said it is illegal for overseas exchanges to provide services for residents in China through the internet. The clampdown comes as China’s central bank has been testing its own digital currency, the electronic Chinese yuan. The notice posted by the central bank explicitly called out Bitcoin and Ether, the two most popular cryptocurrencies, for being issued by “non-monetary authorities,” suggesting that the electronic Chinese yuan, or eCNY, would not be affected by the latest announcements.
U.S. ports remain clogged
The Wall Street Journal reports that U.S. shipping operations remain clogged as ports, truckers and warehouses struggle to find enough workers or agree on 24/7 operations. Tens of thousands of containers are stuck at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, California, the two ports that move more than a quarter of all American imports. More than 60 ships are lined up to dock, with waiting times stretching to three weeks. However, participants in each link in the U.S. chain - shipping lines, port workers, truckers, warehouse operators, railways and retailers - blame others for the imbalances and disagree on whether 24/7 operations will help them catch up. The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are managed separately and operate 13 private container terminals. Long Beach officials said last week they would try operating 24 hours a day from Monday to Thursday. Executive director of the larger Port of Los Angeles Gene Seroka said his port will step more cautiously, keeping existing hours while waiting for truckers and warehouse operators to extend their hours. Mr. Seroka said: "It has been nearly impossible to get everyone on the same page towards 24/7 operations." The International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which represents the dockworkers, said its members would work a third shift or on weekends, but the pile-up of containers must first be fetched out of the port, so there is space to unload more from ships. “Congestion won’t be fixed until everyone steps up and does their part,” said Frank Ponce De Leon, a coast committeeman at the ILWU. “The terminal operators have been underutilizing their option to hire us for the third shift,” he said.
California becomes first state to limit warehouse productivity quotas
California has become the first state to curtail the use of productivity quotas in warehouses by companies such as Amazon, over concerns that they drive up workplace injuries and indignities. The new law, which takes effect at the beginning of next year, will make it illegal for companies to punish warehouse workers for failing to meet quotas because they were taking lunch or restroom breaks. It would also make clear to those workers what their quotas are. “The hardworking warehouse employees who have helped sustain us during these unprecedented times should not have to risk injury or face punishment as a result of exploitative quotas that violate basic health and safety,” California Governor Gavin Newsom said in a statement. Democratic Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who authored the bill, cited reports from several labor advocacy groups including the Warehouse Worker Resource Center and the Strategic Organizing Center to assert that Amazon employees are far more likely to suffer serious injuries than those working in other warehouses.
Federal investigators identify $9.2bn in questionable Medicare payments
Medicare insurers drew $9.2bn in federal payments in one year through controversial billing practices, with 20 companies benefiting disproportionately and together accounting for more than half of the total, according to federal health investigators. The findings by the Office of Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services are the latest sign of growing scrutiny of Medicare Advantage (MA) insurers, which offer private plans under the federal benefit program. Among the 20 companies flagged in the report, the investigators found that one received approximately 40% of the questionable payments, or $3.7bn, while enrolling only 22% of Medicare Advantage customers. The report didn’t name the company. At the heart of the investigation were the ways insurers in the Medicare Advantage program document diagnoses for enrollees. The payments the companies receive from the federal government are tied to the health status of their customers. Patients with more, and more serious, diagnoses generally draw higher payments for the health plans. The HHS inspector general’s investigation focused on two controversial strategies used by Medicare Advantage companies to tally diagnoses. In one, the insurers or their contractors review patients’ charts for evidence of diagnoses that doctors didn’t specifically flag. The other involves health-risk assessments, or HRAs, that are often conducted by the vendors in patients’ homes. Both strategies are allowed under Medicare rules, but “our findings raise concerns about the extent to which certain MA companies may have inappropriately leveraged both chart reviews and HRAs to maximize risk-adjusted payments,” the report said.
NYC sues 'New York Cannabis' designer over trademarks
New York City is suing a clothing designer, alleging that his use of the brand name "New York Cannabis" and logos similar to the city's on merchandise including shirts, hats and cannabis pouches infringes the city's trademarks and amounts to counterfeiting. Robert Lopez is accused of making "slavish" copies of the city's logos for his line of cannabis-related products. The complaint said the logos on Mr Lopez's New York Cannabis merchandise, which he sells through his website and retail store in the city, ape the city's logos for Central Park, Prospect Park, and its departments of sanitation, transportation, and parks and recreation. According to the complaint, Mr Lopez has recently expanded his use of the marks, has started offering trademark-licensing and cannabis-consulting services, and has obtained New York state registrations and applied for federal registrations for the marks, "thereby markedly ratcheting up the threat of irreparable injury and damage to the City."
Shift to electric cars hits fuel taxes
Officials in countries including Norway and the UK are rethinking electric vehicle (EV) incentives and studying road-pricing systems as they foresee diminishing income from fuel taxes. Lawmakers in Norway have scrapped tax breaks on electric cars as they try to plug a hole in tax revenue, and UK lawmakers are weighing a possible new levy based on how much people drive. The Wall Street Journal says that how such early-adopter countries cope with the green transition will likely be closely watched in places like the US, where lawmakers hope to boost EV sales, partly through tax credits. “I would definitely advise other countries to look at what's happening in Norway with quite rapidly falling revenue and to be aware that there might be a consequence of tax incentives,” said Magnus Thue, state secretary in Norway's finance ministry.
Big Four lawyers take government gigs to shape tax rules
Tax lawyers from U.S. accounting and consulting giants do short stints at the Treasury Department to craft favorable tax policy for their former corporate clients, then return to their firms to receive promotions and pay increases, according to a recent report from the New York Times. The publication says that, in the last four presidential administrations, there were at least 35 instances of round trips from the big accountancies to the Treasury Department’s tax policy office, as well as the IRS and the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, and then back to the original firm. In at least 16 of those instances, the professionals were promoted to partner.
Job seekers need more information about the hiring process and decisions
Writing for the Wall Street Journal, Dr. Julia Stoyanovich, institute associate professor of computer science and engineering at the Tandon School of Engineering and associate professor of data science at the Center for Data Science and director of New York University’s Center for Responsible AI, says job seekers need more information about the hiring process as artificial intelligence tools become more broadly used. She notes that “we rarely understand how these tools select candidates, and whether the candidates they select are, in fact, better qualified than those who are rejected," and proposes a standardized method akin to nutritional labels that employers could use to inform job candidates when artificial intelligence programs will play a role in their evaluations.
Ida storm damage expected to cost insurers at least $32bn
Ida is poised to join Katrina, Sandy, Harvey and Irma on the list of the top five costliest hurricanes as measured by insured losses. Estimates of Ida’s damage have continued to climb as insurers disclose their costs. In one of the newest revisions, Risk Management Solutions, a major catastrophe-risk modeling firm, has estimated Ida’s U.S. insured losses at between $31bn-$44bn since its August 29th landing in Louisiana. Risk modelers say disruptions to construction- and automotive-industry supply chains, as well as labor shortages, are driving up claims costs. In addition, protracted power outages have stretched out repair times. Policyholders’ claims for Ida’s damage “will take a big chunk out of” coming third-quarter earnings, said David Motemaden, an analyst with Evercore ISI.
More CFOs add sustainability targets to corporate loans
An increasing number of companies are tying the interest rates on their corporate loans to environmental and other sustainability targets as they face pressure from investors and regulators to go green. Sustainability-linked loans carry interest rates that adjust based on whether a company meets a predetermined environmental, social or governance goal, such as reducing carbon emissions
U.N. chief takes aim at billionaires in space
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has told the 76th Session of the U.N. General Assembly at United Nations headquarters in New York that the three billionaires who journeyed  into space this summer have helped spread “a malady of mistrust” and underscored the gap between the rich and poor. In July, billionaires Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos flew into space on private rockets that their companies built, and billionaire Jared Isaacman led the first all-private orbital mission that splashed down Saturday after three days in orbit. Guterres invoked an image of “billionaires joyriding to space while millions go hungry on Earth” and at a time “when parents see a future for their children that looks even bleaker than the struggles of today.”

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