Trump Hits a Wall on North Korea

When he took office, Donald Trump, like most presidents, inherited a slew of geopolitical headaches from his predecessor. Now one of those headaches, North Korea, is turning into a migraine.

Trump has done his best to keep Pyongyang—and everyone else—guessing on how he plans to address the growing crisis over North Korea’s nuclear program. Continue reading “Trump Hits a Wall on North Korea”

Health Care Bill Faces Uncertainty in the Senate

House Republicans today rushed through passage of legislation that calls for repealing and replacing key parts of Obamacare, with the 217-213 vote coming largely along party lines. But the issue is far from resolved.

Expect the bill to undergo major changes in the Senate, where some Republicans believe it’s too harsh. One provision likely to be stripped out is a ban on federal payments to Planned Parenthood, which was pushed for by anti-abortion House Republicans. Continue reading “Health Care Bill Faces Uncertainty in the Senate”

Three Forecasts After Taking Virtual Reality for a Test Flight

Recently I soared between towering buildings in Manhattan. I saw 3D holograms of downtown Seattle and New York City appear on a barren table in front of me. I rose above the clouds and was greeted by mystical floating people doing yoga-like poses. I walked around a rooftop in a digital world that merged a virtual scene with my real surroundings.

Virtual and augmented reality are already impressive. That’s my clear takeaway from a cable industry event I attended in Washington, D.C., last week, where I got to try out some of the latest and greatest VR and AR technology. (For background, see my previous Alert on the industry.) The cable industry wanted to tout what’s on tap and why their customers will want to upgrade their internet service. Many virtual reality uses, such as live sports games, will require super-fast web connections. Continue reading “Three Forecasts After Taking Virtual Reality for a Test Flight”

How Employers Are Trying to Rein in Health Care Costs

While Congress continues to debate changes to the Affordable Care Act, employers are faced with making decisions about their 2018 health care plans this summer. Regardless of what Congress may or may not do later, the ACA is still the law of the land for now. That law includes the so-called Cadillac tax on high-cost plans: a 40% excise tax on plans costing $10,200 for single coverage and $27,500 for family coverage. While the tax is not slated to go into effect until 2020, it will drive decisions on health plan designs in 2018, as employers take steps to avoid incurring the levy down the road.

For the past few years, the most popular way of holding down costs has been to move employees into CDHPs, or consumer-directed health plans. These plans pair tax-advantaged health savings accounts with high-deductible health insurance policies. Many employers seed the HSAs with half of the deductible…say, $1,000 of a $2,000 deductible…to encourage employees to sign up. Continue reading “How Employers Are Trying to Rein in Health Care Costs”

Previewing France’s Presidential Election

A wave of euphoria greeted Emmanuel Macron’s narrow victory in the first round of France’s presidential election last week. Markets and pundits alike cheered, taking the outcome as yet another sign that Europe’s populist threat – which only a few months ago looked as if it might swallow the continent whole – was nothing more than a paper tiger. Talk of France possibly departing the European Union has died down and European stock markets have rallied.

Macron, a one-time Socialist cabinet minister who broke with his party to run for president as an independent, will now face Marine Le Pen of the right-wing National Front in a runoff election on May 7.
Continue reading “Previewing France’s Presidential Election”

Trump’s Tax Reform Plan Faces Tough Challenges

Capitol Hill Republicans have greeted President Trump’s tax reform outline with a mix of lukewarm praise and restrained concern, suggesting that one of the administration’s signature agenda items is no slam dunk.

The tepid response doesn’t necessarily doom the proposal, which is extremely light on details. But it does mean that the White House has plenty of work ahead selling – and likely rewriting – the plan in order to win over enough Republican votes. Continue reading “Trump’s Tax Reform Plan Faces Tough Challenges”

Government Shutdown Will Be Averted

Congress will approve a must-pass spending bill in time to avoid a government shutdown next week, but not before some last-minute histrionics spurred on by the White House.

Federal agencies will run out of operating funds next Friday at midnight, so the massive spending bill is needed to keep them open through September, when the fiscal year ends. But President Trump wants to tack on several of his agenda items, such as money for the proposed Mexican border wall, a ban on federal grants to so-called sanctuary cities, which shield illegal immigrants from deportation, and possibly a defunding of Planned Parenthood. Continue reading “Government Shutdown Will Be Averted”

Can Cable Companies Compete in the Wireless Business?

A new wireless service from cable and internet giant Comcast will shake up the cellular industry. Comcast is launching a mobile wireless plan that will compete head-to-head with AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint and regional cell carriers. Industry competition is already heating up, with carriers being forced to offer unlimited data plans, lower prices, free video services, rebates and more. “Promotions such as T-Mobile offering free MLB.TV for a year and AT&T offering a free HBO trial are manifestations of growing competition,” says Mark Stodden, senior vice president at Moody’s Investors Service. Now, Comcast will add fuel to the fire.

Better wireless deals are in the cards as carriers respond to new competition. Look for wireless companies to offer more goodies such as free pay TV channels to keep customers from defecting to Comcast. Charter, the second largest U.S. cable provider, is also planning a wireless service in 2018. Continue reading “Can Cable Companies Compete in the Wireless Business?”

How Will Political Gridlock Affect the Economy?

Consumer and business confidence soared after the presidential election because of the belief that President Trump’s policies on spending, tax cuts, health care and regulatory reform would give the economy a boost. So, what will be the impact on the economy if political gridlock prevents or delays Trump from delivering what he promised?

For starters, let’s assume a government shutdown is avoided. Congress will need to pass a bill known as a continuing resolution by April 28 in order to keep federal agencies funded and operating. If they fail, the reduction in federal spending would ding second-quarter growth and inhibit the economy’s ability to recover from a weak first quarter. Continue reading “How Will Political Gridlock Affect the Economy?”

How Small Merchants Can Fend Off Costly Cyberattacks

Cyber crooks are increasingly launching attacks at the cash register. The payment terminals and company computer systems used by small businesses are a window into customer credit card data and other sensitive info.

“The bad guys are moving to an easy target: The small- and medium-sized business community,” says Stephen Orfei, the general manager of the Payment Card Industry (PCI) Security Standards Council, a group formed in 2006 by the major credit card companies to create payment security standards. A digital attack can be devastating for a small business that lacks the deep pockets and technical prowess of a big company. Continue reading “How Small Merchants Can Fend Off Costly Cyberattacks”