Grocery delivery, with no human drivers, is underway
By CATHY BUSSEWITZ
AP Business Writer
Tuesday, December 18
The nation’s largest grocery chain is trying to leap into the driverless delivery market, announcing Tuesday that it is now ready to bring milk, eggs and apples to some customers’ homes in a vehicle with nobody at the wheel.
Although limited to delivering within about a mile (1.6 kilometers) of one Arizona supermarket, it represents the latest step for industries trying to lower delivery costs of everyday items as well as those trying to launch self-driving cars on public roads.
But Tuesday’s launch also highlighted some of the many challenges that are still ahead for autonomous vehicles: One of the compact cars didn’t drive as planned at a media demonstration and had to be pushed up a ramp and onto a truck by several men.
The delivery vehicle’s battery had died, but the company still planned to make driverless grocery deliveries later Tuesday, said Dave Ferguson, president and co-founder of Nuro, the company that developed the autonomous vehicle.
Kroger and Nuro, which is based in Mountain View, California, announced Tuesday they would begin delivering groceries in Scottsdale, Arizona, using an autonomous vehicle called the R1, which has no steering wheel and no seats for humans.
Nuro has been delivering groceries with larger, manned self-driving vehicles since August. It will be adding two of its completely unmanned R1 vehicles to that fleet, Ferguson said.
When summoned, the R1 will travel within a one-mile radius of the Fry’s Food grocery store just east of the Phoenix Zoo at speeds up to 25 miles per hour (40 kph) on residential roads, but stay clear of main roads or highways, according to Pam Giannonatti, corporate affairs manager at Cincinnati-based Kroger Co.’s Fry’s division.
Customers, after placing an order on their smartphone or laptop, will get a text message when the groceries are on their way. Another message will alert them when the grocery delivery is curbside. Once the vehicle arrives, the customer will receive a punch code to open the doors of the vehicle, Giannonatti said.
Customers will pay a flat fee of $5.95 and can request same-day or next-day delivery.
The unmanned delivery vehicles will be followed by a “shadow car,” which will be driven by a human with the ability to stop or control it. The “chase car” is being used in the early stages of the program out of an abundance of caution and will be eventually phased out, Ferguson said.
“This is not yet at the point where in any way it’s economically better than just sending someone out in a car to deliver your groceries,” said Bryant Walker Smith, a professor at the University of South Carolina, who teaches about emerging technologies. “It will probably cost much more, and the range is minimal, and there are lots of ways it would not be a true, commercial-scale, viable deployment, but it’s an important step on that path.”
Attempts to deploy fully autonomous vehicles on public streets have been limited by technological hurdles, as well as human apprehension.
Uber pulled its self-driving cars out of Arizona this year following the death in March of woman who was run over by one of the ride-hailing service’s robotic vehicles while she crossed a darkened street in a Phoenix suburb. It was the first death involving a fully autonomous vehicle.
That vehicle had a backup driver at the wheel.
Waymo, a self-driving car spinoff from a Google project, has been offering free rides in robotic vehicles with no human backup driver as part of a test program in the Phoenix area for the past year. Earlier this month, Waymo launched a ride-hailing service available to about 200 people that will have a human behind the wheel to take control in case something goes awry.
Giannonatti said safety is paramount in this next step of autonomous vehicle technology.
Because the R1 delivery vehicle is unmanned, it was designed to prioritize safety of other drivers or pedestrians without trading off the safety or comfort of a driver or passengers, Ferguson said.
The delivery vehicle’s size — half the width of a Toyota Corolla — also helps prevent collisions with pedestrians because there’s more buffer room, Ferguson said.
Kroger has been working hard to boost online sales in order to keep up with Walmart and Amazon, which bought grocer Whole Foods last year.
Tuesday’s announcement puts Kroger ahead of Walmart and Amazon in self-driving deliveries, says Jon Reily, vice president of commerce strategy at Publicis.Sapient.
“But ultimately,” he says, “there are so many challenges with autonomous vehicles” to make it a reality nationwide.
Among them: state laws and weather. Arizona’s laws have been friendlier to self-driving vehicles, and the weather in Scottsdale is more predictable than in other parts of the country.
Brian Skoloff in Scottsdale, Arizona, Joseph Pisani in New York and Michael Liedtke in San Francisco contributed to this story.
The Institute for New Economic Thinking
Toxic Philanthropy? The Spirit of Giving While Taking
By Lynn Parramore
Senior Research Analyst
Dec 10, 2018
America’s new “philanthrocapitalists” are enabling social problems rather than solving them
A new breed of wealthy do-gooders armed with apps and PowerPoints claim they want to change the world. But with their market-oriented values and often-shortsighted prescriptions, are really they going to change it for the better?
Or change it at all?
Anand Giridharadas, who has traveled first-class in the rarefied realm of 21st-century “philanthrocapitalists,” harbors serious doubts. In his acclaimed book, “Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World,” the business reporter and former McKinsey consultant exposes the willful blindness of bright-eyed social entrepreneurs and TED-talking executives who, having drunk their own late-stage capitalist Kool-Aid, are now ready to serve us all. Compliments of the house.
Doing Good, Masking Bad
British novelist Anthony Trollope once observed, “I have sometimes thought that there is no being so venomous, so bloodthirsty as a professed philanthropist.”
Legendary short seller Jim Chanos, who teaches business students to spot fraud, understands why: when he scrutinizes a company for signs of shady activity, one of the things he looks for is an uptick in philanthropy— a strategy business ethics professor Marianne Jennings has named as one of the “seven signs of ethical collapse” in organizations. Chanos refers to the ruse as “doing good to mask doing bad.”
Such cynical public relations gambits are familiar enough to New Yorkers using Citi Bike, the public-private bike share system funded by Citigroup, whose misdeeds helped spark the global financial crisis of 2007-8. Or visitors to the Sackler Gallery at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, named for the family whose members own Purdue, the pharmaceutical company that fueled America’s opioid crisis through deceptive marketing of the addictive painkiller OxyContin.
But another sort of deep-pocketed philanthropist is harder to pin down. The harm she causes seems less direct; her motives more lofty. This type is fond of touting “win-win” solutions to social problems and tossing out terms like “impactful” and “scalable” and “paradigm-shifting” —the kind of lingo fed to business school students in lieu of critical thinking. Members of this group nevertheless refer to themselves as “thought leaders.”
These would-be benefactors of humanity tend to like former president Bill Clinton, whose Clinton Global Initiative became the ultimate road show for eager converts to what Giridharadas calls the faith of “win-winnerism,” i.e. “I’m doing great in this racket, and so can you.” Inhabiting Silicon Valley start-ups, venture capital firms, think tanks, and consulting companies in large metropolitan areas, philanthrocapitalists speak reverently of global poverty, but rarely touch down in places like Appalachia or rural Mississippi.
They are people like John Mackey, the chief executive of Whole Foods Market, whose book “Conscious Capitalism” is the bible for those aspiring to the win-win faith. In his formulation, CEOs are not simply the heads of companies, but transcendent beings that find “great joy and beauty in their work, and in the opportunity to serve, lead, and help shape a better future.” Mackey’s philosophy is one in which the beneficiaries of commerce should dedicate themselves to social improvement because they are obviously the best equipped to do the job. The public is meant to humbly follow.
This last bit, as Giridharadas shrewdly points out, may be far more radical than the old trickle-down philosophy of yesterday’s winners, who lobbied the government to get out of their way so that the bounteous by-products of their cutthroat activities could descend unimpeded to the poor. The new winners want something even more audacious: to replace the role of government as guardian of the common good.
Giridharadas presents searching conversations with well-educated, often well-meaning people floating above and apart from the lives of ordinary Americans, wishing to ease their consciences but failing both to clearly see the problems of society and to notice, for more than a nagging moment, the ways in which their own lives are financed by the fruits of injustice. They end up embracing a warm-and-fuzzy vision of changing the world that leaves brutal underlying structures securely in place.
The author has said what few who have traveled in this world have said plainly, lest their passport be revoked: the efforts of philanthrocapitalists are largely disruptive, rather than beneficial, to public life.
You can see it in the kind of ideas they embrace. Lecture slots at Davos don’t get doled out for discussing the need to expand popular, time-tested programs like Social Security and Medicare that are proven to reduce poverty and economic inequality. Such sensible fare is not nearly “innovative” or exotic enough—and besides, it might require the wealthy to pay additional taxes. Better are schemes like universal basic income that tend to favor elite interests (such as continuing to pay workers inadequate wages) or creating technological solutions like the one offered in the book by a young win-winnerist: an app that charges workers to manage the unpredictable cash flow caused by erratic work schedules.
And what of campaigning to outlaw the exploitative business practice that causes the problem in the first place? Not so much.
Talking about victims plays well on the philanthrocapitalist circuit, but pointing out perpetrators is largely forbidden. You can wow the crowd by peddling for-profit schemes to help the poor, but you won’t get the same applause by calling to jail criminal executives. Yet, as Giridharadas makes clear, even the fanciest app will not erase the feeling among ordinary people that the system has been captured by a small group of the rich and powerful—a feeling that drives them away in disgust from establishment politics and makes them very angry indeed.
What the philanthrocapitalist has a hard time admitting is that meaningful structural change involves a lot more than an app and a PowerPoint. It means taking on financialized corporations that engage in stock market manipulation to enrich shareholders rather than investing in workers and products that are actually useful to human beings. It requires fixing a regressive tax system in which the wealthy pay less on their investments than working people pay on their earned income. It means empowering workers and taking on the coercive hierarchies of wealth and power that are locking into place a dual economy where the affluent become so removed from the struggles of the majority that they hardly speak the same language.
Antidemocratic and unaccountable, the new philanthropists emerge in Giridharadas’s cautionary book less as the solvers of social problems than the deluded enablers. The emperor may stand there in his organic underpants waving a pie chart, but in the court of public opinion, it is increasingly obvious that he’s not in the least interested in dismantling his own palace.
US life expectancy just dropped for the second year in a row. Let’s stop the trend now
January 16, 2018
Professor of Health Economics, Johns Hopkins University
David Bishai receives funding from Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and deBeaumont Foundation.
U.S. gross domestic product is at an all-time high. U.S. life expectancy is not.
Life expectancy has fallen for the second time in two years – from a high of 78.9 years in 2014 to 78.6 years in 2016. It fell for men and women, whites, blacks and Hispanics. Statistics show that thousands were preventable, premature deaths.
Life expectancy is not supposed to fall in countries that are this rich, spend this much on health and pride themselves on taking care of each other. As a demographer working in a school of public health, I am astounded by the complacency at the loss of so many Americans in the prime of life.
Where can we turn for leadership? What can each of us do about the crisis? Public health has answers. The modern practice of public health is about building community coalitions to support many simultaneous strategies across many different sectors. The public health problems of the 20th century were not solved by magic bullets; it took massive social change and political enlightenment. It will take nothing less in the 21st century.
Life expectancy through history
Between 1880 and 1945, U.S. life expectancy rose from 40 to 65 years old. This was no miracle of modern medicine. Rising life expectancy preceded the discovery of most antibiotics, vaccines and most modern treatments for cancer, heart disease and kidney failure.
And, until 2014, U.S. life expectancy continued to rise. In high-income countries in Western Europe and Asia – such as Korea, Singapore and France – life expectancy has advanced well above 80.
The latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that the death count for Americans under 65 rose by 20,566 between 2015 and 2016. Based on population growth alone, one would have expected only 6,131 additional deaths. The other 14,435 Americans died prematurely of causes that could have prevented.
The U.S. is not bumping up against natural limits to life expectancy. The extra American funerals were for American sisters, brothers, sons, daughters, neighbors and co-workers dying in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s. Their death certificates list mostly overdoses from opioids and other substances, cirrhosis, suicide and homicide.
Role of the public health profession
Public health is the profession devoted to identifying health threats, notifying the community and securing solutions from both private and public sectors. Cholera in the well? Bacteria in the milk supply? Unsafe vehicles? Insufficient vitamins? Public health professionals have sounded the alarm and spurred effective countermeasures. Their professional tools include epidemiology, communications, economics, law and, most importantly, political coalitions.
However, modern scourges like addiction, suicide and despair do not have easy single solutions. We know partial remedies include funding addiction treatment, more access to the overdose antidote naloxone, better prescribing patterns and drug enforcement. None is sufficient alone. No single measure addresses the long pipeline that generates addiction in the first place.
Community vulnerability to diseases of despair like suicide and addiction comes from a failure of social solidarity and inclusion. Sociologists regularly observe an inverse relationship between suicide rates and national markers for social trust. Public health can bring us together to tackle our current nemesis.
Public health 3.0
We’re already seeing how potential solutions to these problems can take shape.
In 2016, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services introduced a new strategic blueprint whereby our public health workforce could rise to the modern health threats. The Public Health 3.0 plan asks for the nation’s public health officials to gather citizens, local businesses, hospitals, schools and other government agencies to understand and respond to health threats. The core of the strategy has been asking for health officers to become conveners and facilitators of local solutions.
In Wilkes County, North Carolina, a Public Health 3.0-type approach to the opioid epidemic just finished its 10th year. Known as Project Lazarus, the community’s initiatives led to a 9 percent reduction in mortality. The county got pharmacists and health professionals to train health care providers on diversion, forgery, and better pain management. They were able to engage their hospital emergency departments to discuss new pain management policies. They expanded the availability of drug rehabilitation, promoted Naloxone rescue kits and mapped out all of the safe pill drop locations.
The critical foundation for all of this activity was an ongoing set of coalition meetings for citizens, health directors, school superintendents, sheriffs, hospital leaders and mental health professionals. Leadership and energy came from both the government and the private sector.
Public Health 3.0 has been hard to pull off, even though it doesn’t require a major federal initiative. The public health workforce has a comfort zone in crunching numbers and running programs to control one disease at a time. Health departments raise much of their funds by writing disease focused grants to state and federal agencies. There is scarce time or priority for the effort to convene communities. Few grants anywhere pay for the hard work of rallying citizens. Nevertheless, health officers do community organizing because there is no better way to prevent disease.
We already have public health professionals in every American state and county. It’s time for this profession to rise to the challenge of engaging not just the government, but all citizens in unifying communities to address the growing despair that has afflicted our minds and bodies.
Sen. Sherrod Brown in Your Hometown
Protecting Small Businesses from Shady Lenders – Wednesday, December 19, 2018
We hear a lot about the importance of protecting consumers from shady lenders, but many people may not realize small businesses often fall victim to these predators as well. That’s why last week, I joined my Republican colleague Senator Marco Rubio to crack down on one of the most common ways these lenders go after small businesses – a clause in loan contracts known as “confessions of judgment.”
These clauses require the business to give up its rights in court before obtaining a loan, and allow the lender to seize the business’s assets, without warning, in orderto pay back the debt. The practice is even used to go after some businesses who are current on their loans.
Business owners can lose everything, without a chance to defend themselves.
Many states have banned this practice for small business loans as well as for individuals, but borrowers are still exposed because the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) left open a loophole that has allowed predators to devastate small businesses across the country.
Last month, Bloomberg published an exposé on the company Yellowstone Capital that preyed on small businesses, including a small business owner from Central Ohio. The company would call up small family businesses like corner stores and pizzerias that were desperate for credit after the financial crisis, and pitch them loans at 400 percent interest or more.
And when borrowers couldn’t meet these outlandish terms, the company would come in and seize the small business’s assets, based on the confessions of judgment they signed.The lender then used that leverage to harass and abuse its victims.
By last year, the industry had grown to extending $15 billion in credit.
This has to stop – it’s cost thousands of families their livelihoods and their life savings, and it’s hurting the small businesses that are the engine behind economic growth.
That’s why last week, Senator Rubio and I introduced legislation to close this loophole once and for all.
Our bipartisan Small Business Lending Fairness Act would codify the FTC’s 1985 ban on confessions of judgment in law in consumer loan contracts, and also expand the ban to protect to small business borrowers.
When we let financial predators scam workers and entrepreneurs out of their hard-earned money, we undermine the dignity of work that makes this country great.
We have more work to do to protect small business borrowers, but this is an important opportunity to put partisanship aside, and pass commonsense legislation to support our small businesses.