Toyota, SoftBank setting up mobility services joint venture
By YURI KAGEYAMA
AP Business Writer
Thursday, October 4
TOKYO (AP) — Japan’s No. 1 automaker Toyota Motor and technology giant SoftBank Group are setting up a joint venture to create mobility services in what they called a “united Japan” effort to face global competition.
The 2 billion yen ($20 million) venture, Monet Technologies Corp. is meant to be running by the end of March.
It will work on on-demand vehicle services, food deliveries, data analysis and hospital shuttles with onboard medical exams, the companies said Thursday in a news conference at a Tokyo hotel.
“Many of you here may be asking why Toyota and SoftBank?” Toyota Chief Executive Akio Toyoda said of the odd-couple union of an old-style manufacturer with a relative newcomer like SoftBank.
The energy and telecoms company’s past tie-ups have tended to be with overseas startups. But Softbank has also invested in leading car-sharing companies like Uber, Didi and Grab, and has acquired Arm, a leader in the Internet of Things, or IoT.
Toyoda stressed the auto industry was changing in an era of connected cars, autonomous driving, car-sharing and electric vehicles.
“We want to change,” said Toyoda.
SoftBank Chairman Masayoshi Son said he was thrilled to be partnering with a top automaker on mobility and artificial intelligence, his company’s expertise.
“I’m so excited just thinking about it,” he said, appearing with Toyoda. The two executives praised each other profusely after the news conference.
The joint venture’s services will roll out in Japan first, but a global expansion is in the works, the companies said. It’s 50.25 percent owned by SoftBank, 49.75 percent by Toyota.
Toyota is developing autonomous vehicles in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Monet plans to roll out a business featuring autonomous vehicle services by the second half of 2020, they said.
Automakers around the world are forming tie-ups in the race to develop the next-generation of transportation, such as self-driving cars.
Earlier this week, Toyota’s Japanese rival Honda Motor Co. said it was investing $2.75 billion in GM Cruise, an autonomous-vehicle unit run by General Motors Co. of the U.S.
Softbank is also an investor in GM Cruise. Uber has announced a partnership with Toyota.
Other autonomous-drive partnerships include BMW with Fiat Chrysler, chipmaker Intel and visual recognition software maker Mobileye; and German automaker Daimler AG with supplier Bosch to develop autonomous taxis.
Google’s Waymo in the U.S. plans to put autonomous vehicles on the road in a ride-sharing service in the Phoenix area before the end of this year. U.S. electric-car maker Tesla is also developing autonomous vehicles.
“This may look like an unusual combination,” said SoftBank’s executive in charge of technology, Junichi Miyakawa. “But Japan must compete with the rest of the world. That is why we are shaking hands today.”
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October is Energy Efficiency Month
COLUMBUS, OH (Oct. 3, 2018) – The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) and the Ohio Development Services Agency are partnering during Energy Efficiency Month to educate Ohioans on how to better manage their energy use. Throughout October, the agencies will provide ways to increase energy efficiency, as well as information on programs to help Ohioans having trouble paying their energy bills.
“As we head into cooler temperatures, it’s important for Ohioans to remember the benefits of energy efficiency.” said Chairman Asim Z. Haque. “Improved efficiency not only reduces a consumer’s monthly bills, but also contributes to a safe and reliable energy future for Ohio.”
During October, Ohioans are encouraged to learn about energy efficiency measures and implement them at home. Turning off the lights when you leave a room, washing only full loads of dishes and clothes, are some of the ways to increase your energy efficiency. Ohioans needing assistance in managing their energy costs can visit the ODSA website to learn more about programs that are available.
The Ohio Development Services Agency can help Ohio businesses and communities implement energy efficiency measures. By lowering energy usage, businesses and communities can save money too. Program information can be found at development.ohio.gov.
More information on energy conservation also can be found on the PUCO website.
PUCO adopts agreement to implement reduced AEP Ohio rates as result of TCJA
AEP Ohio reduces rates by $607 million
COLUMBUS, OHIO (Oct. 3, 2018) – The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) today adopted a settlement agreement to reflect the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) of 2017 into AEP Ohio’s rates. With today’s approval, AEP Ohio’s rates will reflect approximately $607 million in rate reductions.
“The Commission is pleased to approve an agreement that credits AEP Ohio’s customers with the utility’s reduced tax obligation,” stated PUCO Asim Z. Haque. “AEP Ohio’s rates now credit customers with hundreds of millions of dollars to accurately reflect the utility’s reduced tax obligation to the federal government.”
Specifically, AEP Ohio will return to customers normalized accumulated deferred income tax (ADIT) balance of approximately $278 million over a federally prescribed time period of approximately 25 years.
AEP Ohio will credit customers non-normalized excess deferred income tax (EDIT), estimated by the utility to be approximately $177.6 million, over approximately a six year period.
Additionally, AEP Ohio will also make annualized credits of $20.4 million until new base distribution rates become effective as a result of the rate case expected to be filed in June 2020.
The Commission has previously approved $66 million in rate reductions of various AEP Ohio riders.
AEP Ohio estimates the average residential customer using 1,000 kWh a month will see a $3.65 reduction in their monthly bill.
On Sept. 26, 2018, AEP Ohio, PUCO staff, and seven other parties filed a settlement agreement outlining how AEP Ohio will reconcile its rates to reflect changes in the federal tax code.
On April 25, 2018, the Commission denied legal arguments jointly filed by Ohio’s electric distribution utilities challenging the PUCO’s January order directing utilities to set aside money in excess of the reduced corporate tax rate during the pendency of the Commission’s investigation.
On Jan. 10, 2018, the Commission ordered an investigation to study the impacts of the TCJA on PUCO-regulated utilities and how best to pass on the benefits to customers, and directed utilities to set aside money in excess of the reduced tax rate to later be returned to customers.
The TCJA was signed into law on Dec. 22, 2017, which among other things, reduced the federal corporate income tax rate from 35 to 21 percent, effective Jan. 1, 2018.
A copies of today’s decision is available on the PUCO website www.PUCO.ohio.gov. Click on the link to Docketing Information System and enter the case number in the search box.
The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) is the sole agency charged with regulating public utility service. The role of the PUCO is to assure all residential, business and industrial consumers have access to adequate, safe and reliable utility services at fair prices while facilitating an environment that provides competitive choices. Consumers with utility-related questions or concerns can call the PUCO Call Center at (800) 686-PUCO (7826) and speak with a representative.
OtherWords: It’s Your Post Office. Keep It.
Take it from a postal worker: If the U.S. sells its public mail service, consumers will lose big time.
By Julie Bates | October 1, 2018
This summer, the White House proposed selling off the United States Postal Service to private corporations.
As a 22-year postal worker, I’ll be joining my coworkers, our families, and neighbors across the country on October 8, rallying in support of our public Postal Service. Our message to those who want to sell off our national treasure to the highest bidder: U.S. mail is not for sale.
Many may think that in the internet age, the Postal Service has outlived its usefulness, and that the decline of letter mail is the cause of the Postal Service’s financial troubles. But the Postal Service actually turns a profit on its deliveries.
The truth is that the USPS’s problems were largely created by Congress.
A bipartisan 2006 law, the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, law mandated that the USPS pre-fund future retiree health benefits 75 years into the future. That means we have to fund retirement benefits for postal employees who haven’t even been born yet.
It’s a crushing burden that no other agency or company — public or private — is required to meet, or could even survive.
The mandate drained $5.5 billion a year out of Postal Service funds and accounts for more than 90 percent of its losses. In fact, if it weren’t for this manufactured pre-funding crisis, the USPS would have reported profits in four of the last five years — all without receiving a dime of taxpayer money.
While it’s true that the way people use the mail is changing, the Postal Service is still a vital part of the country’s infrastructure.
Package volumes have exploded with the e-commerce boom. Companies as large as Amazon and as small as a one-room Etsy vendor rely on the Postal Service. USPS delivers 30 percent of FedEx Ground packages and 40 percent of all of Amazon’s many shipments. Vitally, the USPS is at the heart of a $1.7 trillion mailing industry that employs more than 7.5 million people.
The people of this country love the Postal Service. A recent Pew Survey showed 88 percent of Americans view the USPS favorably.
One reason for this success is our commitment to serve 157 million homes and businesses six — and sometimes seven — days per week at affordable, uniform prices. Our public Postal Service reaches everyone, everywhere, no matter one’s health, wealth, age, or race. We should never lose sight that it’s veterans, seniors, and people in rural areas who rely most on the Postal Service for essential goods and life-saving medications.
What could the public expect if the Postal Service were sold to off to private interests? Higher prices, slower delivery, and an end to universal, uniform, and affordable service to every corner of the country.
And who would pay the price? All of us.
Postal services that have been privatized abroad provide a cautionary tale: In the UK, postage is up nearly 80 percent since 2007. The privatized Portuguese post has closed nearly a third of their post offices.
Our postal system is older than the country itself. It was a vital component of our country’s public good then. It still is today. And along the way, one fundamental fact has always been true: Our postal system has never belonged to any president, any political party, or any company. It’s belonged to the people of this country.
Postal workers are rallying to urge lawmakers to stop the selling off of the public postal service for private profit — and to remind everyone the Postal Service is yours. Keep it.
Julie Bates is a 22-year postal worker at the Des Moines, Iowa post office. Distributed by OtherWords.org.
The Conversation: Academic rigor, journalistic flair
A proposed tax break for the masses designed to spur giving
October 4, 2018
Alyssa A. DiRusso
Professor of Law, Samford University
Alyssa A. DiRusso does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
More than half of Americans give money to charity.
But the number of donors who donate has declined in recent years and could fall further because millions of U.S. taxpayers who make donations are now losing a built-in incentive for charitable giving. The tax code overhaul that went into effect in 2018 may cut the proportion of people who itemize their tax returns, thereby getting the ability to claim the charitable deduction, from about 1 in 3 to as few as 1 in 20, experts predict.
As a law professor who researches trusts and estates and charitable giving, I have long argued that more Americans should get tax incentives to give to charitable causes that matter to them. A new bill that would do just that has bipartisan support in the House of Representatives.
Flexible giving accounts
Rep. Erik Paulsen, a Minnesota Republican, introduced the Everyday Philanthropist Act in August 2018, with the initial backing of three Democrats and two other Republicans. This legislation, if it becomes law, would create a new tax incentive.
Instead of allowing a deduction – reducing taxable income by the same amount as people who itemize give to charity – it would establish a new employee benefit: flexible giving accounts.
Here’s how it would work. Americans whose employers provide this benefit would be able to set aside up to a maximum of US$5,000 from their paychecks. That money would flow into an account from which the employee could donate to charities like churches or other religious organizations, universities or food pantries.
Like the flexible spending accounts that Americans already use to reduce some of their child care and health care expenses, this money would come from pretax pay.
To understand this proposed system, consider how the preexisting ones operate.
Say a loan officer earning $50,000 a year – who is single and subject to the new 22 percent tax bracket – puts $2,000 into a medical flexible spending account. Based on my calculations, as long as she submits her paperwork on time, she can save $142.90 in payroll taxes and $440.00 in federal income taxes this way for a total of $586.90.
The loan officer’s employer would also save $142.90 in Social Security and Medicare taxes, plus a small amount in unemployment insurance.
Roughly 44 percent of U.S. workers have access to at least one kind of flexible spending account, although data from 2015 show that only 22 percent of employees with access to a health care FSA used it, with dependent care accounts being even less popular.
FSAs might be more attractive if they weren’t a use-it-or-lose-it proposition. Any money left over after a brief grace period at the end of the year reverts to employers by default. This arrangement forces employees to guess during their annual open enrollment periods how much they might spend in the next year on health and dependent care.
How they would work and who would benefit
There are two main differences between how flexible spending accounts work today and the flexible giving accounts in the proposed bill.
Employees with flexible giving accounts would direct specific amounts to be paid from those funds to charities when they see fit. Employees with flexible spending accounts, in contrast, usually get reimbursed for money they have already spent on their own.
The other notable difference is that flexible giving accounts would not have any use-it-or-lose-it problem. That’s because employees would be able to simply name a charity to receive any balance remaining in their accounts by the end of the calendar year.
Flexible giving accounts would benefit employees and their employers by reducing their tax bills in exchange for charitable donations. I expect they would probably also help increase the amount of money Americans give to charities.
That would help stave off a decline in donations that charities and philanthropy experts anticipate due to several changes in the tax code.
Flexible giving accounts may therefore benefit a wide range of people, from the donors who will give to the charities that receive, and the causes the charities serve.
Fishing forecasts can predict marine creature movements
October 3, 2018
Researcher in Ecosystem Dynamics, University of California, Santa Cruz
Elliott Lee Hazen
Research Ecologist, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Project Scientist, University of California, Santa Cruz
Heather Welch has received funding from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the National Aeronautic and Space Administration.
Elliott Hazen has received funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Aeronautic and Space Administration, and California Seagrant for this work.
Stephanie Brodie has received funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Aeronautic and Space Administration, and California Seagrant for this work.
University of California provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
Do you check the weather forecast before getting dressed in the morning?
If you do, then you’re making a decision in real time, based on dynamic processes that can vary greatly over space and time. Marine animals can be similarly dynamic. They might move in response to constantly shifting ocean conditions, like currents and fronts.
That led us to wonder: Can we predict marine wildlife like meteorologists predict the weather, so fisherman can make real-time decisions on the water? Our team has been studying established tools like those used for weather forecasts, so we can develop a new program that estimates where marine species are likely to be each day. Unlike a weather forecast, our tool can’t help you decide if you need an umbrella or sunglasses, but it can help fishermen decide where to fish.
Our new application, called EcoCast, launched late in 2017. It was created specifically for swordfish fisherman on the U.S. West Coast, so they can avoid protected species like leatherback turtles and California sea lions, often referred to as “bycatch.” These predictions are designed to help fishermen figure out where they are most likely to find the species they want to catch and least likely to find the species they want to avoid.
To create the EcoCast tool, we studied examples of established tools that make real-time predictions, such as weather forecasts, hurricane outlooks and wildfire incident alerts.
We found that these tools all follow a similar workflow. First, they acquire data on current environmental conditions. For example, the National Hurricane Center flies airplanes through storm systems to acquire data on hurricane characteristics. The U.S. Forest Service accesses new imagery from satellite-borne sensors to observe fires from space.
Then, these tools predict their target features based on this new data. For example, the National Hurricane Center predicts hurricane location, intensity and movement. These predictions are then distributed to the public – perhaps through RSS feeds, texts or radio alerts. Finally, these predictions are automated. For example, the National Hurricane Center and the U.S. Forest Service create new hurricane and wildfire predictions every six hours. The National Weather Service creates daily forecasts.
We designed EcoCast to follow the same workflow. Each day, current satellite data such as sea surface temperature, chlorophyll concentration and sea surface height are acquired from online repositories. This data helps us understand current oceanic conditions.
Then, we use mathematical models to predict the distributions of swordfish, turtles, sea lions and sharks. The models are tuned to each species’ environmental preferences. When we combine these models with data on current oceanic conditions, we can predict where species are most likely to be in real time. When we tested the models, we found they performed well in distinguishing between where species were or were not located.
Next, we overlay the predicted species distributions to determine the ratio of swordfish, the target species, to the bycatch species – turtles, sea lions and sharks – in roughly 25 by 25 kilometer blocks. This map, available online, helps fishermen locate areas that are optimal for finding swordfish while avoiding bycatch species. For consistency, we scale each day’s map between 1 and negative 1, where areas valued closer to 1 are better to fish and negative 1 are poorer to fish. We automated the EcoCast tool to run every morning in order to produce a new map each day.
Thanks to increasing technological capacity and data availability, there are many predictive tools under development to help guide marine decisions.
For example, an international group of researchers is currently developing FORE-C, a coral disease outbreak forecasting tool for the western tropical Pacific Ocean. A tool called WhaleWatch is being updated and expanded to help commercial vessels slow down or alter their shipping routes to avoid blue whale strikes offshore California. Another tool was recently launched to address the bycatch of Atlantic sturgeon in the Delaware Bay.
Predictive tools can be applied in situations with limited data, too. For example, another tool is under development by NOAA and an interdisciplinary group of researchers to guide the timing of a fishery closure in Southern California, designed to avoid bycatch of loggerhead turtles.
These tools reflect how digital technologies can improve marine management and conservation by integrating existing data. That’s crucial for helping stakeholders to make decisions about an ever-changing world.