New York Makes Uber and Lyft Pay a $17.22 an Hour Minimum Plus Expenses to Their Drivers

Uber, Lyft, Via, and Gett/Juno must pay on-demand drivers of their services a minimum of $17.22 an hour after expenses starting in mid-January 2019, the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) announced Dec. 4. The commission claimed this will result in an average nearly $10,000 rise in earnings for 96% of drivers. About 80,000 people regularly drive for ride-sharing firms.

The commission set a formula that will result in a gross hourly rate of up to $28 an hour to cover the average per-mile expenses drivers incur so that a driver’s effective freelance wage should net out to $17.22 an hour. It also factors in trips that lead outside of New York City and lack a passenger on the return leg.

The formula gets calculated per trip, and involves a “utilization” factor, which measures how many times per hour a driver has a passenger. The TLC said its utilization factor is designed to provide incentives to not have as many idle drivers on the road, which in turn reduces congestion. The formula also adds a bonus for shared rides to make sure drivers who accept those trips aren’t shortchanged.

The TLC noted that wage matches the $15-an-hour minimum wage in New York City plus the extra costs incurred by freelancers in taxes and to compensate for contractors not receiving paid time off. A TLC study found that 85% of drivers currently don’t earn an effective $15-an-hour wage, with expenses factored in.

Drivers who make more keep the additional earnings, and the rules also require more detailed statements from operators about deductions and payments.

Lyft said in statement that “the TLC’s proposed pay rules will undermine competition by allowing certain companies to pay drivers lower wages, and disincentives drivers from giving rides to and from areas outside Manhattan.” The company said the formula will provide the opposite effect from that stated and intended by the TLC, and lead to more congestion as drivers prioritizing shorter trips and congregate in denser areas.

Uber also critiqued the rules in a statement, claiming that they would lead to “higher than necessary costs for riders” without addressing issues of congestion in Manhattan. The company’s public affairs director, Jason Post, said in the statement that the TLC rules ignore incentives and bonuses that keep a supply of drivers in less-served areas of the city.

The TLC also offered a boon to cab drivers, who have been struck hard by the entry of ride-hailing companies. Taxi fleet operators have been able to charge as much as $11 per shift for credit-card processing. The commission dropped that to $7, which equates to about $1,000 a year for the average fleet driver, based on TLC data.

A freeze on adding new vehicles for ride hailing implemented in August remains in place. That number is fixed at about 80,000 vehicles, and is tied to cars, rather than drivers.

SoftBank's Vision Fund to hire China team, set up mainland office: sources

HONG KONG (Reuters) – The SoftBank-led Vision Fund is hiring an investment team to be based in China as the $100 billion investment giant expands in one of the world’s most vibrant tech markets, two people with direct knowledge of the move told Reuters.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of SoftBank Group Corp is displayed at SoftBank World 2017 conference in Tokyo, Japan, July 20, 2017. REUTERS/Issei Kato/File Photo

The Vision Fund plans to open its first China office in Shanghai next year, followed by Beijing and Hong Kong. Altogether it hopes to hire about 20 people, said the people, who declined to be named as the information was confidential.

The Vision Fund raised more than $93 billion at its first close last May with investors including the sovereign wealth funds of Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi, Apple Inc and Hon Hai Precision Industry Co Ltd (Foxconn).

In a statement at the time, SoftBank said the fund was targeting a total of $100 billion within six months.

Earlier this year, the fund hired Eric Chen, who last worked as a Hong Kong-based managing director at private equity firm Silver Lake before setting up his own venture, to head its upcoming China team, the people added.

Chen joined SoftBank Investment Advisers, which oversees Vision Fund, as a partner in March and is based in San Francisco, according to his LinkedIn profile and confirmation from the people. He could not be reached for comment.

A SoftBank spokesman declined to comment.

Already this year the Vision Fund has moved to open offices in India, where it has spent $5 billion betting on the future of technology, and Saudi Arabia, home to its biggest backer – sovereign wealth fund PIF.

The openings come as the fund must manage its sprawling web of portfolio companies covering everything from shared working space to insurance and healthcare.

SoftBank is no stranger in China. Founder Masayoshi Son was an early backer of e-commerce giant Alibaba Group in 2000. Since 2013, SoftBank has invested over $13 billion in Chinese companies such as ride-hailing champion Didi Chuxing. The Vision Fund has made five investments in China, according to Refinitiv data.

Since its first close on May 17 last year, the Vision Fund has invested in truck-hailing company Man Bang Group, Ping An Healthcare and Technology Co, a one-stop healthcare platform backed by Ping An Insurance Group, and most recently Beijing Bytedance Technology Co, China’s largest media start-up managing news aggregator Toutiao and online short-video streaming app TikTok, the data showed.

Bytedance is valued at $75 billion in its latest fundraising, Reuters has reported.

The fund has also invested $500 million in the Chinese unit of U.S.-based shared working space provider WeWork Cos in July, as part of its support for WeWork’s global push.

Reporting by Kane Wu in Hong Kong, adiditonal reporting by Sam Nussey in Tokyo; Editing by Jennifer Hughes and Stephen Coates

Qualcomm says China comment will not revive NXP deal

(Reuters) – U.S. chipmaker Qualcomm Inc (QCOM.O) said on Monday it was not looking to revive its abandoned $44 billion acquisition of Dutch peer NXP Semiconductors NV (NXPI.O), a day after the White House said China would reconsider clearing a deal if it was attempted again.

Qualcomm, the world’s biggest smartphone-chip maker, walked away from its agreement to buy NXP in July, after failing to secure Chinese regulatory approval. The planned deal was first agreed between the two companies in October 2016.

Qualcomm, headquartered in San Diego, California, and NXP, based in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, needed China’s blessing for their deal because of their presence in that country.

After high-stakes talks on Saturday between U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Argentina, the White House said in a statement that China was “open to approving the previously unapproved” deal for Qualcomm to acquire NXP “should it again be presented”.

But Qualcomm said there was no prospect for the acquisition to be revived.

“While we were grateful to learn of President Trump and President Xi’s comments about Qualcomm’s previously proposed acquisition of NXP, the deadline for that transaction has expired, which terminated the contemplated deal,” a Qualcomm representative said via email.

“Qualcomm considers the matter closed.”

NXP declined to comment.

On Monday, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told reporters that President Trump put the issue of the acquisition on the table in the talks with the Chinese president.

Kudlow added that the Chinese president’s openness to the deal was a sign of further cooperation on multiple issues, including corporate mergers. Xi’s reported comment could embolden some potential acquirers in the semiconductor space to explore transactions, corporate dealmakers said.

“Although that acquisition cannot be resuscitated, Xi’s comment reveals in plain sight that Chinese antitrust policy is inherently politicized,” said Scott Kennedy, a China expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in a blog post.

FILE PHOTO: A sign on the Qualcomm campus is seen, as chip maker Broadcom Ltd announced an unsolicited bid to buy peer Qualcomm Inc for $103 billion, in San Diego, California, U.S. November 6, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake

Qualcomm shares closed up 1.5 percent at $59.14 in New York on Monday, while NXP shares ended up 2.75 percent at $85.67.

Qualcomm and NXP did not lobby for the Trump administration to bring up the abandoned deal in its meeting with Xi and other Chinese officials on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Buenos Aires on Saturday, which was dominated by negotiations over trade tariffs, according to sources close to the companies.

The two companies were surprised to see that the terminated deal resurfaced as an issue, the sources added, requesting anonymity to discuss confidential deliberations. Qualcomm was given just an hour’s notice by the Trump administration about Xi’s comment on the NXP deal, and its inclusion in the White House statement, according to two of the sources.

The Trump administration had unsuccessfully lobbied the Chinese government earlier this year to give its blessing to the deal.

China’s foreign ministry declined to comment on Qualcomm during a regular media briefing on Monday.

Qualcomm had sought to purchase NXP because of its market position as a dominant supplier to the automotive market, as car makers add more chips to vehicles each year. Qualcomm is now focused on developing its own chips for the automotive market, according to one of the sources.

Qualcomm had to pay NXP a $2 billion fee to terminate the deal. To appease its shareholders, Qualcomm has also embarked on a $30 billion stock repurchase plan to return to them most of the money that would have been used for the NXP deal. It has spent more than $20 billion in share buybacks in the last 12 months. NXP has also announced its own $5 billion share buyback program.

DEALS ABANDONED

Several deals by semiconductor companies were put on ice after the Qualcomm/NXP deal fell through, simply because they had a footprint in China and required regulatory approval there. Now, chip companies may be more optimistic about their regulatory chances in China.

One example could be Xilinx Inc (XLNX.O), a U.S. provider of chips used in communications network gear and consumer electronics that has a big presence in China. Xilinx is currently vying to acquire Israeli chip maker Mellanox Technologies Ltd (MLNX.O) after it decided to run an auction to sell itself, according to people familiar with the matter. A successful acquisition of Mellanox could prove an important test of China’s appetite to approve such deals. A representative for Xilinx declined to comment. Mellanox did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

A more near-term test being watched by dealmakers is KLA-Tencor Corp (KLAC.O) pending acquisition of fellow semiconductor equipment maker, Israel’s Orbotech Ltd (ORBK.O). The $3.4 billion deal, announced in March, is still awaiting Chinese regulatory approval. KLA-Tencor’s CEO said on the company’s last earnings call that he expects the deal to close by year end.

Thus far, other high-profile mergers and acquisitions involving U.S. companies in other sectors have received Chinese approval. Last month, China approved United Technologies Corp’s (UTX.N) $30 billion purchase of aircraft parts maker Rockwell Collins Inc and Walt Disney Co’s (DIS.N) $71.3 billion deal to buy most of Twenty-First Century Fox’s (FOXA.O) entertainment assets.

Acquisitions of U.S. companies by Chinese companies, on the other hand, have been few and far between in the last year, after the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), a government panel that scrutinizes deals for potential national security risks, shot down more of these deals, such as Ant Financial’s plan to acquire U.S. money transfer company MoneyGram International Inc (MGI.O). U.S. lawmakers also passed reforms earlier this year that increased CFIUS’ scrutiny of deals.

Reporting by Liana B. Baker in New York and Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Aditional reporting by Greg Roumeliotis in New York, Michael Martina in Beijing and Jeff Mason in Washington, D.C.; editing by Diane Craft

You Can't Build a Multi-Million Dollar Brand Without an Unbiased Focus Group. Here's Why

I recently spent a Saturday binge listening to podcasts on iTunes, and came across a presentation featuring Bethenny Frankel. She said, “everyone today has a brand,” in a humorous tone. With the host laughing uncontrollably, it became quite clear that there was a bit of truth to her joke. 

Although Frankel has created a multi-million dollar brand as the founder of Skinny Girl, it was more than a “stroke of luck.” Frankel was on a quest to fill a void in the market by creating low-calorie margarita’s that targeted women, without compromising taste. She strategically tapped into the right target market and focus group to launch one of the most successful spirit brands, with multiple, successful brand extensions.

Connecting your vision to the right audience, while filling a need or void in the market requires a strategic connection with your target market. However, hopeful and ambitious entrepreneurs, who would like to have the Bethenny Frankel level of success, skip the most important step in the process – creating focus group. 

I understand that you have a great idea and believe you are about to disrupt the market with your product or service, however, there is a high price to pay for high-performing leaders who ignore the importance of connecting with their ideal audience prior to launching. More importantly, it is important to see if all of the brand extensions and upsells connect with your target market as well. 

I participated in my first focus group in 2010 after experiencing a plateau in client acquisition in my private consultancy. The 11 person group, led by a leading brand expert, immediately provided valuable feedback about the top two reasons my team reached a level of stagnation that was difficult to forecast without their unbiased insight. We made immediate changes and sales doubled within a year. 

Before you debate it, here are three questions you must ask yourself as a founder before taking your product to market. 

Why a focus group?

Your friends, family and followers are not your customers. They cannot help you leverage profitable, sustainable opportunities and partnerships that will grow your company. 

A focus group is a collective of opinions from your ideal target market, who will provide valuable insights about your products and services, while allowing you to understand how the brand mission for your company connects with their needs. 

During the process of creating and building a multi-million dollar brand, you must create a focus group for all of your brand and product extensions to learn about necessity, utility and ways to create upsells that work.

When should you host a focus group?

At the moment you are ready to take your idea to market. Do not miss this step! It will become especially important if you decide to onboard investors, VC’s and/or co-founders. The feedback is invaluable to ensure that you will launch directly to your intended customer and avoid the “one size fits all” model of ambitious creatives and entrepreneurs. 

How can you create a focus group?

Remember, these are the unbiased opinions of your end-user. As much as you may want to ask your tribe on social media for their input, it will not work. It is time for you to partner with a qualitative research and marketing company to moderate your group and collect all of the data about your product/services.

Once you make the necessary improvements, the research group will reconnect with the prospects for further follow up. You want a focus group to provide feedback about the business model itself, pricing, utility, as well as the brand. Avoid generic questions such as, “would you buy this product?” Be very specific about the objective(s) of the incubator. 

Exclusive: U.S. senators ask White House to probe ZTE work in Venezuela

CARACAS (Reuters) – Two U.S. senators on Wednesday will ask the Trump administration to investigate whether ZTE Corp, the Chinese telecommunications company, violated U.S. sanctions by helping Venezuela set up a database that monitors the behavior of its citizens.

China’s ZTE Corp logo is seen at its offices in Caracas, Venezuela October 4, 2018. Picture taken October 4, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Bello

In a letter, Senators Chris Van Hollen and Marco Rubio will ask the U.S. secretaries of state, treasury and commerce to determine whether ZTE worked with individuals cited by U.S. sanctions, used U.S. components unlawfully or helped Venezuela’s government flout democratic processes or human rights.

The letter, following a Reuters investigation of the database and an associated Venezuelan identity card program published Nov. 14, will go to the cabinet officials on Wednesday, according to aides to the two senators.

ZTE (000063.SZ), which this year paid $1 billion to the U.S. government in relation to sanctioned business in Iran and North Korea, didn’t respond to a request for comment for this story.

Venezuela’s Information Ministry didn’t respond to a request for comment. President Nicolas Maduro, grappling with hyperinflation and an economy in freefall, has long argued that U.S. sanctions are part of an “economic war” by Washington to topple his leftist government.

Officials at the U.S. State, Commerce and Treasury departments didn’t respond to requests for comment early Wednesday.

Van Hollen, a Democrat, and Rubio, a Republican, have been vocal backers of previous U.S. measures against ZTE.

The company, of which a Chinese state firm is the largest shareholder, is accused by many Western officials of helping China export surveillance tactics and equipment to authoritarian governments around the world.

ZTE has increasingly worked with Venezuela’s government in various projects there, mostly in ventures with Compania Anonima Nacional Telefonos de Venezuela, or Cantv, the state telecommunications company.

Many senior Venezuelan officials, including Maduro and Cantv President Manuel Fernandez, have been sanctioned by Washington because of what successive U.S. administrations have deemed authoritative behavior and human rights violations by the government of the Andean country.

Neither Fernandez nor a Cantv spokeswoman responded to requests for comment.

In its investigation, Reuters found that ZTE helped Caracas build a database that can track citizens’ behavior through a national identity card. The ID, the “fatherland card,” can compile data including financial and medical histories, usage of social media, political affiliation and whether a person voted.

One area of concern for the senators is whether ZTE installed components made by Dell Technologies Inc (DVMT.N) in the database. One document reviewed by Reuters indicated that ZTE used storage units built by the U.S-based company in equipment it installed for Cantv.

In their letter Wednesday, the senators ask “whether ZTE violated U.S. export controls with respect to the installation of data storage units built by Dell.” A spokeswoman for Dell told Reuters it had no record of a sale for that purpose.

The senators also ask the U.S. administration to determine whether ZTE’s work in Venezuela breaks the terms of the $1 billion agreement it came to earlier this year with the Commerce Department related to previous sanctions violations.

Additional reporting by Karen Freifeld in Washington and Anne Marie Roantree in Hong Kong. Editing by Paulo Prada.

Range Rover's New Evoque Is Made to Conquer the Parking Lot

The Range Rover Evoque is a funny sort of car. The sort of off-roader that self-appointed car lovers love to dismiss as a cute ute that spends more time rolling through mall parking lots than cavorting through streams and over felled trees. Its maker, though, can handle the grumblings—Jaguar Land Rover has sold 772,000 Evoques since introducing the luxury compact SUV in 2010.

As it pushes for the million mark, it makes sense that JLR has upped the “utility” with those civilized, civilian customers in mind: The newly unveiled latest generation of the Evoque is built to conquer the mall parking lot.

Naturally, the 2020 Evoque comes stuffed with coddling goodies. The infotainment system supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. You can adjust the seats in 16 ways. The cabin “ionization” systems treats your nostrils like the royal groomer treats the queen’s corgis. The longer wheelbase means more room for your luggage and your knees, and the 48-volt “mild hybrid” system runs the car on electric power below 11 mph, saving fuel.

“ClearSight Ground View” pipes the feed from cameras in the grille and side-view mirrors to show the driver what they’d see if the hood were transparent.

Jaguar Land Rover

Of course, the baby of the everexpanding Range Rover lineup can handle itself when the going gets tough. Riding on optional 21-inch tires, it can handle nearly 2 feet of water, with ultrasonic sensors on the side-view mirrors monitoring the depth. JLR hasn’t announced pricing yet, but the outgoing Evoque starts at $41,800.

The coolest features, though, aren’t meant for taking the Evoque for a romp in some rural paradise. They’re for taking it through the parking lots America has paved over such places. The marquee bit is “ClearSight Ground View,” which pipes the feed from cameras in the grille and side-view mirrors to show (in the central touchscreen) the driver what they’d see if the hood were transparent. It’s the production version of the “transparent bonnet” concept Land Rover showed in 2014.

Back then, JLR pitched it as a handy tool for off-roading. Now the automaker is acknowledging a more likely use case: The press release says the feature will “help the driver maintain visibility when negotiating extreme terrains as well as high city curbs.” And that’s a good thing: If you’re paying more than $40,000 for a car, you don’t want to shred the fender on a concrete bumper block.

Thanks to a camera feed piped into the rearview mirror, you can find your way out of that spot no matter how many boxes you’ve piled into the trunk.

Jaguar Land Rover

When the shopping’s done and it’s time to escape, the “ClearSight Rear View Mirror” uses a camera on the back of the car to turn the rearview mirror into an HD feed of what’s happening back there. (GM pioneered this clever tech in the Cadillac CT6 and Chevy Bolt EV.) So no matter how many boxes you’ve piled up in the trunk, you can find your way out of the spot and home again, ready to rest up for the next adventure.


More Great WIRED Stories

What Tesla did for luxury cars, Rivian wants to do for pickups

PLYMOUTH, Mich. (Reuters) – Rivian Automotive plans to debut its all-electric pickup truck at the Los Angeles auto show on Monday, and its founder and chief executive exudes optimism about his desire to do for the U.S. auto industry’s most lucrative segment what Tesla did for luxury cars.

The R1T, the all-electric pickup by Rivian, an American electric-car company, is seen in this image released by Rivian in Plymouth, Michigan, U.S., on November 20, 2018. Courtesy Ben Moon/Rivian/Handout via REUTERS

Not everyone is so sanguine.

R.J. Scaringe, Rivian’s 35-year-old CEO, said he and his financial backers believe that demand for electric pickups is “massively underserved.”

Rivian intends to begin selling its R1T, the pickup it will debut in Los Angeles, in the fall of 2020.

That would not make Rivian the first to the U.S. market with an electric pickup. Cincinnati-based truck maker Workhorse Group Inc is developing an electric pickup that is slated for production in 2019.

But while Workhorse is aiming to sell its pickup to utilities and municipalities for use on limited routes, Rivian said its pickup is aimed at consumers. Rivian’s truck will have a range of up to about 400 miles, which would be the longest among its three different battery packs.

Scaringe sees the U.S. pickup market, which accounts for the bulk of global profits for the Detroit Three automakers, as ripe for change.

“What we’re talking about here are cars that don’t drive particularly well, don’t handle particularly well, have fuel economy that’s really quite bad,” he told reporters at Rivian’s headquarters in Plymouth, Michigan, before the L.A. show.

Rivian has not disclosed prices for its truck, but Scaringe said it will start at just under $70,000 before federal tax credits for the entry-level model. A stripped-down version with the most powerful battery pack will sell for less than $90,000. Current large, luxury pickup trucks can sell at that price or higher.

SOME DOUBTS ABOUT DEMAND

Many auto industry officials and analysts are skeptical that electric pickups can sell in large numbers unless battery technology vastly improves in driving range and cost.

Buzz about electric pickups vastly outweighs their near-term significance to the U.S. market, because making a pickup electric can compromise other key attributes of such vehicles, such as load-hauling capability.

Rivian’s truck will offer a payload of 1,760 pounds and a towing capacity of 11,000 pounds – attributes more comparable to the Detroit Three’s mid-sized trucks than to best-selling large trucks such as the Ford F-150 or GMC Sierra. That will put Rivian’s truck in a tough place as it lacks the power and payload of the larger models, but will cost more than the mid-sized trucks.

“A hybrid makes more sense,” said Sam Fiorani, vice president of global vehicle forecasting at Auto Forecast Solutions.

The Detroit Three automakers have not jumped into the market for electric pickups. Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk, told investors in August that an electric pickup is “probably my personal favorite for the next product” from the company, though he has spoken only in general about a potential launch, saying that it would happen “right after” Tesla’s Model Y, which the company has targeted to start production in 2020.

Ford Motor Co has promised a hybrid F-150 pickup by 2020 and hinted at a fully electric model some day. General Motors Co’s CEO, Mary Barra, has said the U.S. automaker has given a “tiny bit” of thought to developing all-electric pickups.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV has a hybrid electric-gasoline version of its Ram pickup. Japan’s Toyota Motor Corp said it hopes to make electric options on all models available by 2025.

For the most part, the U.S. pickup market leaders are doubling down on petroleum-fueled models such as Fiat Chrysler’s new Jeep Gladiator mid-sized pickup that will be officially unveiled in Los Angeles. The Gladiator is aimed at consumers who want a “lifestyle” truck that has car-like amenities in the cab, and can haul recreational “toys” such as jet-skis, campers or dirt bikes.

Rivian, which last year bought the former Mitsubishi plant in Normal, Illinois, for $16 million to build its truck, will also likely face financial challenges and the need to raise more money as it moves into production, if Tesla’s experience is any guide. Tesla has raised billions of dollars in financing — including secondary share offerings and bond sales — as it has struggled to ramp up production.

Rivian’s financial backers include Saudi auto distributor Abdul Latif Jameel Co (ALJ), Sumitomo Corp of America and Standard Chartered Bank [STANB.UL]. ALJ has agreed to provide almost $500 million in funding, Sumitomo invested an undisclosed amount, and Standard Chartered provided debt financing of $200 million.

Like the new Jeep Gladiator, Rivian is targeting recreational customers.

Autotrader analyst Michelle Krebs said those types of customers tend to prefer the mid-sized trucks like the Toyota Tacoma and Chevrolet Colorado, but they are much less brand loyal than owners of the full-sized trucks.

Slideshow (3 Images)

But Scaringe said that Rivian sees an advantage in its truck’s foundation, a “skateboard” that packages the vehicle drive units, battery pack, suspension system, brakes and cooling system all below wheel height to allow for more storage space and greater stability due to a lower center of gravity.

The skateboard could be used for other models including an SUV. Scaringe said Rivian’s goal is to reach about 50,000 sales a year by 2025. Rivian also plans to sell the skateboard to other automakers, he said.

And Scaringe said Rivian has another business strategy: Most of its revenue will not come from selling vehicles, but eventually selling experiences like renting vehicles for a weekend trip.

Reporting by Ben Klayman; Additional reporting by Joseph White in Detroit; Editing by Leslie Adler

Want a Happy Marriage? This Is the Most Important Lesson You Need to Learn

It first came out–of course–on Page Six. Robert De Niro and his wife Grace Hightower have split up. No big surprise, you might think–celebrity marriages fail all the time. But this one had lasted more than 20 years. In fact, it’s survived so much that you might have assumed they were together for life. But that’s the lesson here: No matter how long you’ve been together, no matter how fine you think things are, a marriage or partnership is never, ever a done deal.

De Niro and Hightower certainly didn’t rush into things. The two met when Hightower, a former flight attendant, was working as a hostess at the high-end restaurant Mr. Chow, popular with Hollywood celebrities.

They dated for a decade before tying the knot. “It was an ease-in. It wasn’t a whirlwind,” Hightower told The New York Times. Almost exactly nine months after they wed, their son Elliot was born. Then, in 1999, they split up, De Niro filed for divorce, and there was a custody battle for Elliot. But instead of going through with their divorce, the couple reconciled and even renewed their vows at a star-studded ceremony in 2004. In the meantime, Elliot was diagnosed with autism, a heartbreaking event for both parents. The couple had their second child, Helen Grace, by surrogate, in 2012. 

In other words, theirs is a 30-year relationship that has survived a lot of bad times. He’s 75. She’s 63. You would think they’d have figured out by now how to make a marriage work. And, according to one account, Hightower thought they had. “She was blindsided. As of a few weeks ago, everything seemed fine,” an anonymous inside source told celebrity gossip site Radar Online. That inside source went on to say that Hightower, known as a socialite and philanthropist, had angered De Niro with her spendthrift ways. 

The famously press-shy couple has not commented on the reason for the split, or even publicly confirmed that they have split, although at least one source close to them says they’ve been living apart for some time, and De Niro appeared solo at the Friars Club roast for Billy Crystal. But whatever the true reason for the breakup, the important lesson for every couple who wants to stay together long-term is very clear: Do not ever let yourself think that your marriage or partnership is settled for good. It’s never one less thing to worry about. You have to worry about it always.

I’ve seen it happen more than once, and so have you. When I was in high school, my boyfriend’s parents had what seemed like an ideal relationship. They’d paired up while broke students in Paris, married six days after he proposed. They raised five kids and seven Siamese cats in a rambling apartment in New York’s Upper West Side, back when it was affordable rather than tony. They had a small house in Connecticut that they had constructed themselves. They took fun trips to exotic places with the whole family in tow. But then the youngest of the kids went off to college, and she announced that she was leaving, that she had been unhappy for years. From what I heard, her husband was blindsided too.

Another couple I know married when she was only 17 and he was 25, mainly because she wanted to get away from her father’s home. They knew they might be too young for marriage, so the pair agreed that they were only committing to it for six months, at which point they would reconsider their options. After six months, they decided to go on for another six months, and then again, and then again, as the years piled up. They were still at it, and still happily married, when he died 64 years later.

I think they were on to something. If you want to make a partnership last, especially through the tough times, the overloaded schedules, the 2 am feedings, the preschool years that strain so many relationships, and everything else life throws at you, then you can never put it on the back burner. You have to choose your partner every single day, and he or she must choose you. If something’s wrong, you have to find out what it is, and fix it, or talk it out. You might make a fuss over birthdays, anniversaries, and Valentine’s Day, or you might not. But you do have to find the occasions for fun and romance, for gift-giving, and going on adventures. You have to find goals you both care about and work toward them together. You have to share each other’s secrets, and triumphs, and disappointments, and it has to happen every day.

It takes all that, and more, to keep a relationship alive over time. So it’s a simple choice. Either you put in the work, or you risk winding up like my old boyfriend’s father, and maybe like Grace Hightower, wondering how things went so wrong while your attention was focused elsewhere.

How much for that app? U.S. top court hears Apple antitrust dispute

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – When iPhone users want to edit blemishes out of their selfies, identify stars and constellations or simply join the latest video game craze, they turn to Apple Inc’s App Store, where any software application they buy also includes a 30 percent cut for Apple.

FILE PHOTO: Customers walk past an Apple logo inside of an Apple store at Grand Central Station in New York, U.S., August 1, 2018. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/File Photo

That commission is a key issue in a closely watched antitrust case that will reach the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday. The nine justices will hear arguments in Apple’s bid to escape damages in a lawsuit accusing it of breaking federal antitrust laws by monopolizing the market for iPhone apps and causing consumers to pay more than they should.

The justices will ultimately decide a broader question: Can consumers even sue for damages in an antitrust case like this one?

Apple, which is appealing a lower court decision that revived the proposed consumer class-action lawsuit, says no, citing a decades-old Supreme Court precedent. The Cupertino, California-based technology company said that siding with the iPhone users who filed the lawsuit would threaten the burgeoning field of e-commerce, which generates hundreds of billions of dollars annually in U.S. retail sales.

The plaintiffs, as well as antitrust watchdog groups, said that if the justices close courthouse doors to those who buy consumer products, monopolistic conduct could expand unchecked.

“A lot of tech platforms will start making the argument that consumers don’t have standing to bring antitrust suits against us,” said Sandeep Vaheesan, legal director for the Open Markets Institute, a Washington-based antitrust advocacy group.

“Uber could say, we’re just providing communication services to ride-sharing drivers,” Vaheesan said, referring to the popular ride-sharing company. “If there’s an antitrust issue, the drivers can bring a claim but passengers do not have standing.”

The iPhone users accused Apple of violating federal antitrust law by monopolizing the sale of paid apps, leading to inflated prices compared to if apps were available from other sources.

Though developers set the prices of their apps, Apple collects the payments from iPhone users, keeping a 30 percent commission on each purchase. One area of dispute in the case is whether app developers recoup the cost of that commission by passing it on to consumers. Developers earned more than $26 billion in 2017, a 30 percent increase over 2016, according to Apple.

The company sought to have the antitrust claims dismissed, saying the plaintiffs lacked the required legal standing to bring the lawsuit.

Apple has seized upon a 1977 Supreme Court ruling that limited damages for anti-competitive conduct to those directly overcharged instead of indirect victims who paid an overcharge passed on by others. Part of the concern, the court said in that case, was to free judges from having to make complex calculations of damages.

Apple said it is acting only as the agent for app developers who sell the apps to consumers through the App Store.

The company said allowing the lawsuit to proceed would be dangerous for the e-commerce industry, which increasingly relies on agent-based sales models. Apple cited companies like ticket site StubHub, Amazon’s Marketplace and eBay.

Lawsuits against companies like these would multiply “and lead to the quagmire this court sought to avoid,” Apple told the justices in a legal brief.

E-commerce reached $452 billion in U.S. retail sales in 2017, according to U.S. government estimates.

Apple is supported by President Donald Trump’s administration. The plaintiffs are backed by the attorneys general of 30 states including California, Texas, Florida and New York.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce business group, backing Apple, said in a brief to the justices, “The increased risk and cost of litigation will chill innovation, discourage commerce, and hurt developers, retailers and consumers alike.”

The plaintiffs and some anti-monopoly groups disagree. They said that app developers would be unlikely to sue because they would not want to bite the hand that feeds them, leaving no one to challenge anti-competitive conduct.

Developers “cannot risk the possibility of Apple removing them from the App Store if they bring suit,” the American Antitrust Institute advocacy group said in a brief.

Apple is “trying to make it harder for injured parties to assert their rights under federal antitrust law,” said Mark Rifkin, an attorney for the plaintiffs.

The claims against Apple date to 2011 when several iPhone buyers including lead plaintiff Robert Pepper of Chicago filed a class action lawsuit against Apple in federal court in Oakland, California. A judge initially threw out the suit, ruling that the consumers were not direct purchasers because the higher fees they paid were passed on to them by the developers.

The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year revived the lawsuit, deciding that Apple was a distributor that sold iPhone apps directly to consumers.

Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham

A Driver Returned to His Car to Find a Note and An Incredible Lesson on Doing the Right Thing. The Note Was From a 6th Grader

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

A grasp of ethics is becoming slightly more popular in business these days.

Well, we can thank the Valley’s abject disregard for ethics, one that’s finally caught up with many of its companies. Why, even Stanford has begun to discover the concept.

Still, when you run a business you don’t always — often? ever? — expect people to do the right thing.

Which is, perhaps, why the story of Andrew Sipowicz and his car has moved so many this week.

He returned to his car last Monday, parked in Buffalo, New York, to experience a sinking feeling. 

He also experienced something he never expected.

His car, you see, had endured a substantial dent in its front left side. It seemed as if there had been a hit and a run. 

Yet perched inside his windshield wiper was a note. A very detailed note, as it happened, from a 6th grader.

The spelling wasn’t perfect. The sentiment certainly was.

It read: 

If your wondering what happen to your car.

Bus: 449 hit your car It stops here everyday to drop me off.

At 5:00pm.

What happened? She was trying to pull off and hit the car. She hit and run. She tried to vear over and squeeze threw but couldn’t. She actually squeezed threw. She made a dent and I saw what happened.

-Sorry

-Driver seat left door

-A lady in the bus driver seat 499.

-Buffalo Public School bus

-A 6th grader at Houghten Academy

It sets a good example for a lot of students. Not just students, but just people in general.

What resulted is that the bus company is covering the cost of repairs and giving Sipowicz a loaner car. The bus driver, reports CNN, will be fired.

We get wrapped up in the bad deeds of companies because they appear to have such large consequences.

At heart, though, the bad deeds of companies are merely the bad deeds of individuals, written in capital letters and involving large amounts of capital.

Yet simple stories of goodwill also spread around the web, as this one has. 

It’s almost as if people want to be reassured that, in the midst of a world that seems to bathe delightedly in corruption, there still are good people. 

That story led to unexpected consequences and national attention. 

These days, we watch as so many who could say something, end up saying nothing.

We’re told that kids don’t bother with anything but themselves, buried as they are in their phones. 

Here, though, is a simple lesson of a 6th-grader who stopped, looked around and did the right thing. A generous thing.

Perhaps we should all do that a little more often.