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Russian Ships Could Cause ‘Catastrophe’ for West by Cutting Transatlantic Internet Cables

Russian warships in the Atlantic could become a serious threat to NATO without even firing a shot, by cutting underwater cables vital for international trade and communications, a top British defense official has said.

Severing those links could paralyze everything from trade to internet connection, according to the U.K.’s Chief of the Defence Staff Sir Stuart Peach, who is also an air chief marshal and chairs the NATO military committee as of September.

“There is a new risk to our prosperity and way of life, to the cables that crisscross our seabeds, disruption to which through cable cuts or destruction would immediately—and catastrophically—fracture both international trade and the internet,” Peach said at London’s Royal United Services Institute on Thursday, according to The Guardian.

Although few individual members of the alliance can match Russia soldier for soldier or gun for gun, the organization has long seen its strength in faster communication and response.

Read more: Russia is delving into chilly waters for two submarines mysteriously missing since WWII

Only two weeks ago, the Policy Exchange think tank warned in a report that 97 percent of global communication and around $10 trillion in daily transactions relied precisely on such cables. When Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, one of its first moves was to sever the cable connecting the peninsula to the rest of the world.

Cables are typically considered targets for tapping rather than destruction. At the height of the Cold War, the practice of tapping those cables was an established area of operation for intelligence agencies.

61058_1215russiannavy Russian Ships Could Cause 'Catastrophe' for West by Cutting Transatlantic Internet Cables Russian President Vladimir Putin (center), Defence Minister Sergei Shoygu (right) and Commander in Chief of the Russian Navy Vladimir Korolev visit the Admiralty building in St. Petersburg, Russia, on July 30. Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin/Reuters

As relations between Russia and the West have deteriorated significantly since Moscow’s annexation of Crimea, U.S. military officials have sounded the alarm on Russian naval activity near known underwater communication lines. In 2015, officials told The New York Times they had noticed an increase in Russian ships sailing along some of those routes in waters from the North Sea to Southeast Asia.

Sea traffic often inadvertently clips a cable, cutting the line with its anchor or a ship’s body, but such mishaps happen in shallow depths, nearer to shore, and repairs can be made relatively quickly. What is a much greater concern, according to Michael Sechrist, an expert on undersea cable vulnerabilities who managed a Defense Department–funded project for Harvard-MIT, is when a deliberate cut is made in the open ocean. Finding the rupture and fixing it becomes a very challenging task.

The routes of the cables, however, are not hard to find.

“Undersea cables tend to follow the similar path since they were laid in the 1860s,” Sechrist told the Times.

According to the Kremlin’s new naval policy strategy, announced by Russian President Vladimir Putin this year, sea forces are “one of the most effective tools of strategic [nuclear and nonnuclear] containment” for Russia. He primed naval forces to resist what he said was an attempt to “limit Russia’s access to resources at sea and its access to vitally important naval transport communications.”

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New Jersey eyes cutting in horse tracks on internet gambling

TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey lawmakers want to give the state’s horse racing tracks a piece of the action on internet gambling.

The state Assembly on Thursday passed a bill that would authorize tracks to offer internet gambling on their premises if they reach a partnership agreement with an Atlantic City casino or an online affiliate of a casino.

Democratic Assemblyman Ralph Caputo says it’s a way to help the struggling racing industry with new revenue.

“It would bring more traffic into the racetracks, and they need it desperately,” said Caputo, a former casino executive.

With NJ unfunded pension liability at $90B, panel advises cutting health benefits

New Jersey’s Pension and Health Benefit Study Commission has issued its final report on reforms it has said are needed to prevent public employee benefits costs from overtaking other budget priorities.

Despite unprecedented levels of funding and the dedication of state lottery revenue to the pension plans, the state’s estimated unfunded liability is now $90 billion, $10 billion more than in 2014, said commission member Tom Healey.

“While some progress has been made, it has not been enough,” Healey said. “The new governor, the legislature, public employees, and the citizens as a whole need to act to effect the comprehensive reform the commission suggests to make these benefits both affordable and secure.”

The commission has recommended that public employee health benefits be reduced and the savings be dedicated to pension payments.

Without more reforms, commission member Tom Byrne said, required pension payments won’t leave much money in the state budget for other priorities.

“We need to do it before the pension system becomes the Pac-Man that ate both the rest of the state budget — in terms of discretionary spending at least — and ate the retirement security of 800,000 New Jerseyans that depend on the pension system,” he said.

The pension funds will run dry in 12 to 14 years without additional reforms, Byrne said.

“There were certain people who wanted a stalemate until now, thinking that they would get a better deal in a new administration,” he said. “The fiscal constraints that exist aren’t going to change, and I think the sooner reality sets in about that the better off we’ll all be.”

The commission’s report is a blueprint for the next administration to consider, said Gov. Chris Christie.

“I hope this is a ‘Nixon goes to China’ situation,” he said. “I hope it’s that a Democratic administration and a Democratic legislature can speak truth to these unions and make them realize there’s no place else for them to go.”

New Jersey eyes cutting horse tracks in on internet gambling

New Jersey lawmakers want to give the state’s horse racing tracks a piece of the action on internet gambling.

The state Assembly is due to vote Thursday on a bill that would authorize tracks to offer internet gambling on their premises if they reach a partnership agreement with an Atlantic City casino or an online affiliate of a casino.

Democratic Assemblyman Ralph Caputo says it’s a way to help the struggling racing industry with new revenue.

“It would bring more traffic into the racetracks, and they need it desperately,” said Caputo, a former casino executive.

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Gamblers with internet betting accounts can already place bets from anywhere within New Jersey’s borders, and don’t need to go to a track to do so.

“The casinos should realize that absolutely nothing will happen unless they agree to allow it through an agreement with a track,” said Dennis Drazin, chairman and CEO of the Monmouth Park racetrack in Oceanport. “Nobody is forcing anything on them. This is really a win-win for the racing industry and the casino industry.”

Supporters envision track patrons placing online casino bets between races. The track would be compensated by the casino for drumming up new online business; the exact amount each track would get from a casino would have to be negotiated individually.

Drazin said tracks would set aside an area for customers to place casino bets over the internet. The tracks would be specifically exempted from state law banning so-called “internet cafes” that offer real-money gambling.

The Casino Association of New Jersey did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the bill.

Internet gambling has been a bright spot in New Jersey’s gambling market. On pace to win $250 million online this year, New Jersey has the largest market of the three states that currently offer internet gambling (Pennsylvania recently approved it but has not started offering it yet).

The state Senate has not yet scheduled a vote on the measure, which is being considered in a committee.

Health bosses say “the best bed is your own bed” after cutting more than 200 hospital beds across Devon

Health bosses have said “the best bed is your own bed” after cutting more than 200 hospital beds across Devon.

Dr Tim Burke, North Devon GP and Chair of Northern, Eastern and Western (NEW) Devon Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), and Dr Sonja Manton and Lorna Collingwood-Burke, joint director of strategy and chief nursing officer respectively at South Devon and Torbay CCG and NEW Devon CCG, were invited to attend North Devon Council’s full meeting on Wednesday, November 22.

Dr Manton gave a presentation to members about the CCG’s commissioning intentions, summarising what had been achieved so far, which has included reducing acute and community hospital beds have been reduced by 213 over the past two years, from 2,761 to 2,548. Dr Manton called this “the best bed is your own bed” service model.

Dr Tim Burke

Councillor Dick Jones questioned this system and stated the necessary domiciliary care packages for patients in their homes are not yet in place satisfactorily, calling the CCG’s plans “just an aspiration”.

Dr Burke said: “The Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust has taken on a role as something to fall back on if the domiciliary care package is not in place. The care package is there but not universally. We need to make the system flow better and we are ever learning.”

Dr Manton also mentioned the Proud to Care campaign, which aims to recruit more people to the care profession by making it a more attractive career. Devon County Council launched the campaign in 2015 in association with adult social care providers, health partners, employment specialists Skills for Care, volunteers and the Department of Work and Pensions.

Lorna Collingwood-Burke

Councillor John Patrinos asked whether North Devon should still expect “bad news” in the future, after the Acute Services Review determined to keep stroke, AE and maternity services at North Devon District Hospital (NDDH).

Dr Burke explained: “For some services you may have to travel. The workforce is just not there. In recent years we have not trained enough of the right skills across our workforce.

“We are trying to do something about it but it will take time. I cannot say we are going to protect everything but I can say we recognise and understand the need for services to be available locally.”

North Devon District Hospital

In Dr Manton’s presentation, she said the NHS and social care were facing huge challenges because the demand has risen by 50% in a decade, an ageing population, new medicines and treatments increase costs, the annual funding has not increased, they are struggling to recruit staff members, and because of widening health inequalities with “stark differences” across the county.

The CCG has had to set an “ambitious” plan to address these issues, which resulted in the Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP) and seven priority areas: prevention and promoting health, integrated models of care, primary care, mental health and learning disabilities, acute hospital and specialist services, productivity, and children and families.

Part of the plan was to save £169 million this year, in order to get back to “living within our means”. The triple aim includes improving health and wellbeing, delivering safe and high quality care, and providing cost-effective care.

Read More

More health stories from around Devon

Over the next two years, the team aims to improve the CCG’s rating from Requires Improvement to Good or higher, break even on the funding gap, and move into the upper quartile service performance for population.

Councillor Brian Greenslade, who has requested the CCG representatives attended the meeting, said after the presentation he understood they are “between a rock and a hard place”.

He said: “The CCG were not prepared to confirm that the financial and human resources needed to sustain these services in Barnstaple would be available. They admitted that they were still under pressure from NHS England to reduce their spending and therefore other services provided at the NDDH would be reviewed.

“The CCG representatives were refreshingly honest but I am afraid what they had to say should say to all of us in Northern Devon we have to be very alive to the threat of losing vital acute services from the NDDH.

“In his recent budget The Chancellor announced £3 billion for his Brexit Disaster Fund but only an extra £2.85 billion for the NHS. This shows the health needs of our community receive a low priority. The eight Conservative MPs who represent the Devon CCG area have the voting power to defeat the Government if they were willing to use it. It is time they stepped up to the challenge.”

Cutting SALT Is Good For America’s Health

https://pixabay.com/

taxes are complicated

Americans consume a lot of sodium, and many doctors believe it would do us good to cut back on the salt. The recent debate over federal tax reform has highlighted a different kind of salt that we should also cut: the state and local tax (SALT) deduction.

Many politicians from both sides of the aisle are against cutting SALT, but its elimination will make the tax code more progressive, simpler, and help fund cuts in tax rates , which in turn will help economic growth.

Under current law, taxpayers who itemize their deductions can deduct their state and local income or sales taxes—but not both—and their property taxes from their federal taxable income. The Senate bill would eliminate this SALT deduction altogether, while the House bill would save the property tax portion but cap it at $10,000.

Supporters of SALT argue that taxpayers shouldn’t pay federal taxes on the money used to pay state and local taxes. This isn’t a bad argument, but most people don’t use SALT for that purpose. Instead, they rely on the standard deduction to lower their federal taxable income. In 2014, only 28% of all federal income tax filers itemized and claimed the SALT deduction. The other 72% used the standard deduction.

So despite what SALT supporters say, eliminating it won’t mean that most people will begin paying federal taxes on money used to pay state and local taxes. This is especially true if the standard deduction is doubled, as is the case with the current House bill.

Politicians and voters making the largest uproar about the elimination of SALT tend to be from high-income, high-tax states such as Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, and California. And understandably so; according to the Tax Policy Center, the average deduction in each of those states was over $17,000 in 2014, more than double the roughly $7,000 average in Florida and other southern and western states. Without the SALT deduction, taxes may rise considerably for many people in high-tax states.

But if we want the tax code to be more progressive, this isn’t a bad thing. In general the SALT deduction favors the high-income people of these high-tax states. In 2014, only about 10% of tax filers making less than $50,000 claimed the SALT deduction, while about 81% of filers making over $100,000 claimed it.

Will Cutting the Health Mandate Pay for Tax Cuts? Not Necessarily …

Even the budget office is revising its estimates and has predicted the new numbers would be smaller.

In a survey this fall, the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation found that just 7 percent of people who buy insurance on the individual market said they would go without coverage if the mandate were no longer enforced. A majority said the mandate was not a reason they bought insurance. Only about one in five said it was a major reason.

“It’s consistent with other work we’ve done showing people want and value health insurance,” said Liz Hamel, Kaiser’s director of public opinion and survey research. “Especially in the marketplace, where so many are getting government help to pay for that coverage, I think that’s a bigger motivating factor for them to get it than the mandate.”

The mandate, in other words, may not be much of a stick, but the subsidies are a tempting carrot.

A new analysis from SP Global Ratings projected the 10-year savings at $60 billion to $80 billion, saying that the number of uninsured would drop by only five million at most by 2027. Most people buying insurance are doing so not because they fear the mandate, the agency said, but because they get a subsidy that “meaningfully offsets” the cost.

Nearly 60 percent of people who buy their own insurance receive subsidies, SP Global estimated, including 84 percent of people who use the Affordable Care Act marketplaces.

Photo

89817_20MANDATE2-master675 Will Cutting the Health Mandate Pay for Tax Cuts? Not Necessarily ...

Anneliese Kittrell, who manages a veterinary practice in Detroit, qualifies for a minimal insurance subsidy. She said she would continue to buy coverage with or without a mandate.

Credit
Brittany Greeson for The New York Times

Repealing the mandate was not a part of the tax legislation that passed in the House last week, but Senate leaders added it to their bill, both as a step toward making good on their promise to dismantle Obamacare and as a way to generate a big pot of revenue. If the Senate passes its bill, differences between the two would be worked out in conference committee.

On Sunday, Mick Mulvaney, President Trump’s budget director, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that the administration supports repealing the mandate. Most people who owe the penalty earn less than $100,000 a year, he said, arguing that “there’s actually a benefit to folks” if the mandate goes away. But he added, “If it becomes an impediment to getting the best tax bill we can, then we’re O.K. with taking it out.”

Georgia DiBenedetto, 56, who manages a financial planning office remotely from her home in Eugene, Ore., said that it was initially the threat of a penalty that made her buy health insurance. But she came to appreciate the need for coverage when she ended up in the hospital with swelling on her brain earlier this year.

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She calls the subsidies she received to buy insurance “a lifesaver” — she earns about $40,000 a year and received about $250 a month in subsidies last year, she said. And she’ll keep her coverage with or without a mandate.

“If I had been thinking, ‘How am I going to pay a hospital bill?’ I know me, I wouldn’t have gone to the hospital,” she said. “I don’t know what would have happened.”

Anneliese Kittrell, 30, manages a veterinary practice in Detroit, earning between $30,000 and $40,000 a year, which she said qualifies her for a minimal subsidy — “it’s nothing that helps, that’s for sure,” she said. Yet she was among those who told the Kaiser poll that she would continue to buy insurance, regardless of the mandate.

“I don’t get sick, which is the funny part,” she said. She identifies with the so-called young invincibles who don’t buy health insurance because they think they won’t need it. Still, “it’s not how I want to live my life, going through problem after problem,” she said. “I’d rather have my insurance in place if I need it.”

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The penalty for not carrying insurance is $695 per adult and $347.50 per child, up to a maximum of $2,085 or 2.5 percent of household adjusted gross income, whichever is higher. (If the mandate goes away, the government would not get the penalty revenues either.) There are a number of ways to qualify for an exemption, including if the cost of coverage would eat up too much of someone’s annual income; far more sought exemptions in 2015 than owed the fine.

Authors of the Affordable Care Act considered the mandate to be essential to its success, because it is supposed to prod younger and healthier people to buy insurance. With them in the risk pool, the cost of health insurance becomes lower for everyone.

Repealing the mandate would push premiums up 10 percent each year over what is currently projected, the Congressional Budget Office estimates. That could further destabilize the law’s already fragile marketplaces if it compels healthy, unsubsidized customers to leave. Higher premiums would also push the subsidies higher, increasing the government’s financial obligation to those who qualify for them.

Graphic

Obamacare, Reliant on Insurance Requirement, Would Crumble Under Senate Tax Bill

Without the mandate, more people would be uninsured and premiums would rise.

89817_20MANDATE2-master675 Will Cutting the Health Mandate Pay for Tax Cuts? Not Necessarily ...


The mandate continues to be unpopular, in the abstract. In a Kaiser poll released last week, 55 percent of respondents supported getting rid of it.

But about one-third of those people changed their minds when they were told that repealing the mandate would increase premiums and might result in 13 million more people without health insurance — and that most Americans automatically satisfy the requirement to carry health insurance because their employers provide it.

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Continue reading the main story

Over all, about 60 percent of those polled opposed eliminating the requirement once they were told those points.

In 2015, the last year for which data is available, about 6.5 million taxpayers reported penalty payments for not having health insurance, totaling about $3 billion, down from 8.1 million tax filers who paid a total of $1.7 billion in 2014, the first year the mandate was in effect. (The 2014 amount was lower despite the larger number of people penalized because the penalty itself was lower that year.) Jason Levitis, who was the Affordable Care Act lead at the Treasury Department during the Obama administration, said the number had dropped as “more people understood how the mandate and the exemptions and the subsidies worked.”

Christy Reppeto, who is 53 and lives outside Dallas, understands all that by now — and has decided the law doesn’t work for her. She and her husband, who own an online travel company, earn too much to qualify for a subsidy. They canceled their coverage this year and resorted to a much cheaper short-term plan that does not meet the coverage requirements of the Affordable Care Act, subjecting themselves to the tax penalty.

“The middle class, like us, are getting slammed,” said Ms. Reppeto, who said she had been paying more than $2,000 a month for a plan that covered her family of four.

But the exit of the Reppetos and other healthy people at their income level does not save the government any money because they did not qualify for federal subsidies.

Tracy Pate, who works for a nonprofit group in northeastern Tennessee that helps people sign up for insurance, said the power of the subsidies has helped many people she deals with come to appreciate the law.

Many in the poor, largely rural and conservative region hated the Affordable Care Act at first, she said. But now, for many, “it’s too beneficial.” She has been busier than expected since open enrollment began on Nov. 1, surpassing her group’s weekly goals.

Ms. Pate recently met with a man who was “all in a tizzy,” she said, because he had heard premiums were rising sharply for next year. But she informed him that in fact, his subsidy would grow and his personal costs would drop, a common occurrence in some parts of the country this year.

“He said, ‘I don’t agree with Obama and I like Trump, but you know what? I do have to say this has helped me,’ ” Ms. Pate said. “I think that people are appreciative of it. Even though they don’t like to admit it, they see the benefits of it now.”


Continue reading the main story

Will Cutting the Health Mandate Pay for Tax Cuts? Not Necessarily

Even the budget office is revising its estimates and has predicted the new numbers would be smaller.

In a survey this fall, the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation found that just 7 percent of people who buy insurance on the individual market said they would go without coverage if the mandate were no longer enforced. A majority said the mandate was not a reason they bought insurance. Only about one in five said it was a major reason.

“It’s consistent with other work we’ve done showing people want and value health insurance,” said Liz Hamel, Kaiser’s director of public opinion and survey research. “Especially in the marketplace, where so many are getting government help to pay for that coverage, I think that’s a bigger motivating factor for them to get it than the mandate.”

The mandate, in other words, may not be much of a stick, but the subsidies are a tempting carrot.

A new analysis from SP Global Ratings projected the 10-year savings at $60 billion to $80 billion, saying that the number of uninsured would drop by only five million at most by 2027. Most people buying insurance are doing so not because they fear the mandate, the agency said, but because they get a subsidy that “meaningfully offsets” the cost.

Nearly 60 percent of people who buy their own insurance receive subsidies, SP Global estimated, including 84 percent of people who use the Affordable Care Act marketplaces.

Repealing the mandate was not a part of the tax legislation that passed in the House last week, but Senate leaders added it to their bill, both as a step toward making good on their promise to dismantle Obamacare and as a way to generate a big pot of revenue. If the Senate passes its bill, differences between the two would be worked out in conference committee.

On Sunday, Mick Mulvaney, President Trump’s budget director, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that the administration supports repealing the mandate. Most people who owe the penalty earn less than $100,000 a year, he said, arguing that “there’s actually a benefit to folks” if the mandate goes away. But he added, “If it becomes an impediment to getting the best tax bill we can, then we’re O.K. with taking it out.”

Georgia DiBenedetto, 56, who manages a financial planning office remotely from her home in Eugene, Ore., said that it was initially the threat of a penalty that made her buy health insurance. But she came to appreciate the need for coverage when she ended up in the hospital with swelling on her brain earlier this year.

Advertisement

Continue reading the main story

She calls the subsidies she received to buy insurance “a lifesaver” — she earns about $40,000 a year and received about $250 a month in subsidies last year, she said. And she’ll keep her coverage with or without a mandate.

“If I had been thinking, ‘How am I going to pay a hospital bill?’ I know me, I wouldn’t have gone to the hospital,” she said. “I don’t know what would have happened.”

Photo

a7c3e_20MANDATE2-master675 Will Cutting the Health Mandate Pay for Tax Cuts? Not Necessarily

Anneliese Kittrell, who manages a veterinary practice in Detroit, qualifies for a minimal insurance subsidy. She said she would continue to buy coverage with or without a mandate.

Credit
Brittany Greeson for The New York Times

Anneliese Kittrell, 30, manages a veterinary practice in Detroit, earning between $30,000 and $40,000 a year, which she said qualifies her for a minimal subsidy — “it’s nothing that helps, that’s for sure,” she said. Yet she was among those who told the Kaiser poll that she would continue to buy insurance, regardless of the mandate.

“I don’t get sick, which is the funny part,” she said. She identifies with the so-called young invincibles who don’t buy health insurance because they think they won’t need it. Still, “it’s not how I want to live my life, going through problem after problem,” she said. “I’d rather have my insurance in place if I need it.”

The penalty for not carrying insurance is $695 per adult and $347.50 per child, up to a maximum of $2,085 or 2.5 percent of household adjusted gross income, whichever is higher. (If the mandate goes away, the government would not get the penalty revenues either.) There are a number of ways to qualify for an exemption, including if the cost of coverage would eat up too much of someone’s annual income; far more sought exemptions in 2015 than owed the fine.

Newsletter Sign Up

Continue reading the main story

Authors of the Affordable Care Act considered the mandate to be essential to its success, because it is supposed to prod younger and healthier people to buy insurance. With them in the risk pool, the cost of health insurance becomes lower for everyone.

Repealing the mandate would push premiums up 10 percent each year over what is currently projected, the Congressional Budget Office estimates. That could further destabilize the law’s already fragile marketplaces if it compels healthy, unsubsidized customers to leave. Higher premiums would also push the subsidies higher, increasing the government’s financial obligation to those who qualify for them.

The mandate continues to be unpopular, in the abstract. In a Kaiser poll released last week, 55 percent of respondents supported getting rid of it.

But about one-third of those people changed their minds when they were told that repealing the mandate would increase premiums and might result in 13 million more people without health insurance — and that most Americans automatically satisfy the requirement to carry health insurance because their employers provide it.

Advertisement

Continue reading the main story

Over all, about 60 percent of those polled opposed eliminating the requirement once they were told those points.

In 2015, the last year for which data is available, about 6.5 million taxpayers reported penalty payments for not having health insurance, totaling about $3 billion, down from 8.1 million tax filers who paid a total of $1.7 billion in 2014, the first year the mandate was in effect. (The 2014 amount was lower despite the larger number of people penalized because the penalty itself was lower that year.) Jason Levitis, who was the Affordable Care Act lead at the Treasury Department during the Obama administration, said the number had dropped as “more people understood how the mandate and the exemptions and the subsidies worked.”

Christy Reppeto, who is 53 and lives outside Dallas, understands all that by now — and has decided the law doesn’t work for her. She and her husband, who own an online travel company, earn too much to qualify for a subsidy. They canceled their coverage this year and resorted to a much cheaper short-term plan that does not meet the coverage requirements of the Affordable Care Act, subjecting themselves to the tax penalty.

“The middle class, like us, are getting slammed,” said Ms. Reppeto, who said she had been paying more than $2,000 a month for a plan that covered her family of four.

But the exit of the Reppetos and other healthy people at their income level does not save the government any money because they did not qualify for federal subsidies.

Tracy Pate, who works for a nonprofit group in northeastern Tennessee that helps people sign up for insurance, said the power of the subsidies has helped many people she deals with come to appreciate the law.

Many in the poor, largely rural and conservative region hated the Affordable Care Act at first, she said. But now, for many, “it’s too beneficial.” She has been busier than expected since open enrollment began on Nov. 1, surpassing her group’s weekly goals.

Ms. Pate recently met with a man who was “all in a tizzy,” she said, because he had heard premiums were rising sharply for next year. But she informed him that in fact, his subsidy would grow and his personal costs would drop, a common occurrence in some parts of the country this year.

“He said, ‘I don’t agree with Obama and I like Trump, but you know what? I do have to say this has helped me,’ ” Ms. Pate said. “I think that people are appreciative of it. Even though they don’t like to admit it, they see the benefits of it now.”


Continue reading the main story

Dispatches from the cutting edge of computer vision

The International Conference on Computer Vision just wrapped up, and at it the finest minds in CV and machine learning compared notes, gave presentations, and probably just marveled at how far we’ve come in the last few years. The world of assistive AI and self-driving cars requires computer vision to advance by leaps and bounds, and the researchers of the world are happy to oblige.

Here are a handful of the most interesting projects, along with some extremely simplified explanations of why they’re so cool.

IBM’s New, Cutting Edge Tech Could Make Computers 200 Times Faster

An All-in-One Approach to Computing

Regular desktop computers, as well as laptops and smartphones, have processing units dedicated to computing and memory. They’re called von Neumann systems and are named after physicist and computer scientist John von Neumann who, among other things, was a pioneer in modern digital computing. They work by moving data back and forth between the memory and computing unit; a process that can, and often does, end up being slow and not very efficient.

At least, not as fast or efficient as what we could achieve using “computational memory.” Also known as “in-memory computing,” computational memory allows for storing and processing information using just the physical properties of a computer system’s memory.

A team from IBM Research claims to have made a breakthrough in computational memory by successfully using one million phase change memory (PCM) devices to run an unsupervised machine learning algorithm. Details of the research have been published in the journal Nature Communications.

The IBM team’s PCM device was made from a germanium antimony telluride alloy stacked and sandwiched between two electrodes. “[T]his prototype technology is expected to yield 200x improvements in both speed and energy efficiency, making it highly suitable for enabling ultra-dense, low-power, and massively-parallel computing systems for applications in AI,” according to a post on IBM Research’s blog.

Fit for AI

The new PCM devices can perform computation in place through crystallization dynamics. Essentially, this involves an electrical current being applied to the PCM’s material, which changes its state from one of a disordered atomic arrangement to an ordered configuration — i.e. crystalline. The IBM team demonstrated their PCM technology using two time-based examples, which they then compared to traditional machine-learning methods.

The ability to perform computations faster will, obviously, benefit over all computer performance. For IBM, that means better computing power for AI applications. “This is an important step forward in our research of the physics of AI, which explores new hardware materials, devices and architectures,” IBM Fellow and co-author of the study Evangelos Eleftheriou said in a statement quoted in the blog.

“As the [Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor or CMOS] scaling laws break down because of technological limits, a radical departure from the processor-memory dichotomy is needed to circumvent the limitations of today’s computers. Given the simplicity, high speed and low energy of our in-memory computing approach, it’s remarkable that our results are so similar to our benchmark classical approach run on a von Neumann computer.”

Computational memory presents an opportunity for a more “real-time” processing of information; a much-needed improvement in today’s world, where more companies are putting a premium on data analytics. At the same time, as industry giants like Amazon and Google place AI at the center of their business, faster computing for AI applications is indeed a welcomed development.

For IBM, in-memory computing is key. “Memory has so far been viewed as a place where we merely store information. But in this work, we conclusively show how we can exploit the physics of these memory devices to also perform a rather high-level computational primitive,” lead author Abu Sebastian said. “The result of the computation is also stored in the memory devices, and in this sense the concept is loosely inspired by how the brain computes.”

Cost-cutting could stunt the health care jobs expansion

Former President George H. W. Bush’s office said he “apologizes most sincerely” to any women he has offended after actress Heather Lind accused Bush in a now-deleted Instagram of touching her “from behind” and telling “a dirty joke” when she met him.

“At age 93, President Bush has been confined to a wheelchair for roughly five years, so his arm falls on the lower waist of people with whom he takes pictures. To try to put people at ease, the president routinely tells the same joke — and on occasion, he has patted women’s rears in what he intended to be a good-natured manner. Some have seen it as innocent; others clearly view it as inappropriate. To anyone he has offended, President Bush apologizes most sincerely.”

Update: A second woman has now made an accusation against Bush. Read more via Deadspin.

Cord Cutting: How to Get High-Speed Internet Without Cable, 2017 Edition


0e0a4_wroush-49 Cord Cutting: How to Get High-Speed Internet Without Cable, 2017 Edition

Xconomy

National — 

Hey folks. If you’re thinking about breaking away from the cable monopolies and getting your data, music, and video in other ways, congratulations, I’m with you. I cut the cord back in 2009, and now millions of people are doing the same every year.

With the growing interest in cord-cutting, you’d think it would be getting easier to find alternative sources for broadband Internet service. But no, it’s actually a bit more complicated than it used to be, because there are more options to choose from.

Back in 2014, I wrote a column intended to help consumers walk away from their expensive cable/phone/Internet bundles at Comcast, Time Warner, Charter, Cox and their ilk. Things move fast in the telecom world, and that 2014 article is already pretty out of date. Some of the providers I listed then have gone away, and the remaining providers are offering a wider range of services and, often, making the services harder to unbundle and evaluate.

Except for the WISPs, the wireless Internet service providers. They’re one-trick ponies—but they’re very good at their trick.

When I wrote the 2014 piece I was still living in a loft in San Francisco. I bragged a little about the building’s blazing-fast Internet service from Webpass. The San Francisco-based company was one of the country’s first major WISPs—companies that set up line-of-sight microwave networks, usually in dense urban environments, to beam data from a central tower to buildings around that tower. (Now it’s a division of Google Fiber.)

In San Francisco I was paying Webpass about $42 per month for 100 megabits per second (Mbps) for both downloads and uploads. That was it—I didn’t have a separate cable or land-line phone plan. But I moved out of that building in mid-2014 and found an apartment in a complex in Cambridge, MA, where—much to my chagrin—the only option for Internet service was Comcast. That meant I had to pay more money for slower service. I chose Internet-only service and forked over $55 per month for about 25 Mbps down, and much slower up.

I immediately started bugging the condo association managers here in Cambridge about bringing Webpass or another WISP to the building. In the end, two newer Boston-based WISPs, Netblazr and Starry, beat Webpass to the punch. I’m now a happy customer of Netblazr, paying $60 per month. That’s a bit more than I was paying Comcast, but the service is much faster, about 95 Mbps up and down.

(Geeky aside: The Netblazr installers told me that the connection from their tower to the antenna on my building is actually much faster—300 Mbps. But it’s a circa-1998 building and the Cat3 wiring can’t handle those speeds, so by the time the signal gets to my unit it’s only about a third as fast. The only way to fix that would be to retrofit the building with fiber optic cables, and that’s an expense the HOA isn’t willing to consider.)

The best way to game out your data-related expenses is to look at the bill for your existing TV/phone/Internet/mobile bundle and ask whether you’d be better off switching to an Internet-only service, then paying for premium content through a streaming box such as Apple TV or Roku.

That’s what I do. My total monthly bill for Internet plus video services is $96. The math: $60 for Netblazr, $10 for Netflix, $11 for Showtime, and $15 for HBO Now. I’m not counting the occasional movie rental on iTunes. That’s more than I was paying back in 2014, but it’s still less than the average cable bundle bill in the U.S., which is $103 per month.

I’ll bet you can achieve similar savings, which (while not huge) represent a night or two on the town—plus you’ll have the satisfaction of sticking it to Big Cable. You can still get live or nearly live news thanks to an app for streaming boxes from CBS News. And these days, even fans of live televised sports—who’ve long been trapped in their cable bundles thanks to the exclusive deals sports leagues strike with TV and cable networks—have more cord-cutting options. The streaming service Hulu, for example, now offers access to top sports networks carrying live football, baseball, basketball, and soccer games, both college and pro. You can get “Hulu with Live TV” on your Amazon, Apple, Chromecast, Roku, and Xbox device for $40 per month. Fubo.tv offers a similar service for $15 per month, with an emphasis on soccer.

So, on to the data. My 2014 article included a table listing the major non-cable providers of Internet service, including DSL, satellite, and fiber optic networks, along with their current monthly fees. I’ve updated that information below.

The major changes since 2014: WISPs are proliferating around the country and are now a viable category, at least in a few big cities; Boston, in particular, has a bunch of options. The number of satellite Internet providers has dwindled (Dish got out of the business) but the surviving services have gotten a bit faster, and are now priced mainly by download volume rather than speed. Fiber optic service is available in more cities now, and at speeds approaching a gigabit per second. And unsurprisingly, it’s getting harder to find old-fashioned DSL service.

A technical note: where available, I’ve included data for both download speeds (“down”) and upload speeds (“up”). Upload speeds are usually slower because Internet service providers dedicate more bandwidth to downloads—which makes sense when so many people want to use their home Internet connections to stream movies and music. A slow upload speed shouldn’t affect you much unless you have a home business that requires lots of videoconferencing or file sharing.

DSL

Verizon
0.5 to 1 Mbps $25
1.1 to 15 Mbps $35

Earthlink DSL
Up to 15 Mbps $15*
*Introductory offer for the first 3 months. Standard rate not published.

CenturyLink*
20-40 Mbps $45
60 Mbps $55
*Available in Colorado, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Wyoming, Montana, Nevada, Washington, Idaho, Oregon, Iowa, South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, North Caroline, Missouri, Arkansas, Florida, Wisconsin, Alabama, and Ohio.

Satellite

HughesNet Satellite
All plans offer 25 Mbps down / 3 Mbps up
10 GB/month $50*
20 GB/month $60*
30 GB/month $80*
50 GB/month $100*
*Introductory rates for the first 24 months; long-term rates not published

Exede Internet (by Viasat)
12 Mbps down, 12 GB of “priority data”* $50
12 Mbps down, 25 GB of “priority data”* $75
12 Mbps down, 50 GB of “priority data”* $100
25 Mbps down, unlimited data $150
* Speeds drop after priority data is used up

Fiber Optic

ATT Fiber
100 Mbps, 1TB data cap $50*
1000 Mbps, unlimited data $70*
*Prices only available when customers bundle their Internet service with another ATT service such as TV, telephone, or wireless. ATT Fiber is available only in select cities in Alabama Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin; coverage map here.

Verizon Fios*
50 Mbps down and up $40*
940 Mbps down / 880 Mbps up $80*
*Two-year promotional prices. Additional plans are available as part of Internet/TV/phone bundles. FiOS is available in 20 cities: Albany, NY, Baltimore, MD, Boston, MA, Buffalo, NY, Harrisburg, PA, Norfolk, VA, Philadelphia, PA, Pittsburgh, PA, Providence, RI, Richmond, VA, Syracuse, NY, Washington, DC, and all of Delaware and New Jersey.

Google Fiber*
100 Mbps up and down $50
1,000 Mbps up and down $70
* Bundled TV and phone services are also available. Google Fiber is available in Atlanta, GA, Austin, TX, Charlotte, NC, Huntsville, AL, Kansas City, MO/KS, Louisville, KY, Nashville, TN, Orange County, CA, Provo, UT, Raleigh-Durham, NC, and Salt Lake City, UT. It’s planned for San Antonio, TX.

Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs)

Note: Most WISPs are small and locally owned; there are too many to list here. To search for a WISP in your area go to the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association Find a WISP page.

Starry*
200 Mbps up and down $50
*No coverage map available; limited mainly to Boston and suburbs

Netblazr*
500 Mbps up and down $60
*Coverage limited to Boston, Cambridge, Brookline, Somerville, and Arlington, MA

Webpass*
100 Mbps to 1,000 Mbps (speeds vary) $60**
*Webpass, now a subsidiary of Google Fiber, is available in Boston, MA, Chicago, IL, Denver, CO, Miami, FL, Oakland, CA, San Francisco, CA, and Seattle, WA.
**$550 when paid annually

 

No doubt I’ll need to come back and update all of this again before long. Starting around 2020, the existing 4G LTE data networks that connect to our smartphones, tablets, and watches will be upgraded to 5G. The new 5G networks are expected to be way, way, way faster than 4G—potentially as fast as 10 gigabits per second, or 100 times faster than my current Netblazr connection.

That’s so much faster than every previous wireless technology that 5G could replace cable, fiber optic, and microwave connections to homes and even make your home WiFi network obsolete. 5G is sure to rock the whole Internet and device ecosystem, further tilting the balance of power away from cable companies and toward ATT, Verizon, Sprint, and the makers of 5G-compatible phones and other gadgets. So keep your seat belt on!

Photo by Frank Okay on Unsplash.

Wade Roush is the producer and host of the podcast Soonish and a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @soonishpodcast

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Internet TV platforms expected to soften cord-cutting blows for media in third quarter

Cord-cutting is expected to remain in the spotlight as media companies prepare to open their books for third-quarter earnings, which begin reporting next week.

The media sector underperformed the SP 500 index

SPX, +0.03%

 in the quarter, as investor sentiment continues to be soured by fears of cord-cutting and worry about the health of the TV advertising market.

Check out: Do viewers care what networks air their favorite TV show?

Evercore analyst Vijay Jayant expects subscriber losses in the traditional pay-TV industry to total roughly 850,000, according to a recent note. The third quarter is often the second-weakest quarter for subscribers behind the second quarter.

Losses in the traditional TV sector, however, should be offset by an estimated 480,000 subscribers being added to the industry via what are called virtual multichannel video programming distributors (vMVPD), or internet TV services.

Last quarter, when the pay TV was expected to lose around 1 million subscribers, a roughly 360,000 subscriber addition contribution from new internet TV services cut overall industry losses to 610,000.

Read: Pay TV avoids losing more than a million subscribers with advent of new streaming services

“With DirecTV Now seeing some uptake since its launch and with Sling TV, PlayStation Vue and new services from YouTube and Hulu — both launched during the second quarter — adding customers, we expect this young space could have added 480,000 in the quarter,” Jayant wrote. “As TV network owners continue to form deals with new vMVPD platforms, a key industry theme moving forward will center on the economics underlying these arrangements.”

Ratings declines hurt investor sentiment too. The National Football League, for example, has seen a nearly 8% decline in viewership so far this season, compared with the same period last year, according to Nielsen numbers.

According to Jayant, cable network ratings declined modestly during the summer quarter, averaging mid-single-digit declines.

Don’t miss: Disney to cut staff at ABC TV Group by as many as 200 people

See: Broadcast stocks could outperform market and media sector in 2018

“On the broadcast side, live viewership was down substantially in the quarter, as viewership continued to shift somewhat to time-shifted media and as last year’s Rio Olympics on NBC caused an extremely difficult comparison,” he wrote.

As for the advertising worries, Jayant expects that excluding political and Olympic comparisons, cable network advertising should be up about half a percent compared with last year. Broadcast advertising is expected to be up nearly 2% and advertising for local TV stations is expected to be up close to 3%.

An encouraging upfront season should set the fourth quarter up well for continued advertising revenue growth through the end of the year.

Check out: Can ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ help make CBS’s stand-alone streaming pursuit successful

“Third quarter media underperformance is not a new trend, and fourth quarter outperformance has often followed weak September quarters over the last 10 years,” Jayant wrote of the overall market heading into earnings.

“In fact, a group of large cap U.S. media conglomerates has underperformed the market in six of the last eight September quarters but has outperformed in six of the last eight fourth quarters.”