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Weekly News Roundup: Trade War Gets Dirty, Potential Auto Merger, Uber Bans Rude Riders

Rare earth materials could bring trade war to new heights

In its ongoing trade war with the United States, China is considering of using rare earth minerals as a potential bargaining chip to get the US government to end economic hostilities. Natural elements, such as cerium, promethium, and scandium can be used for a variety of uses — from making magnets, batteries, and lights, to glass production and nuclear rod cooling.

In addition, the US military depends on these materials for the construction of equipment used in satellites, lasers, jet engines, and other sophisticated machinery. From the 1960s to the 1980s, the United States dominated the market in rare earth mineral production, based out of a mine in California, but China emerged in the 1990s as a chief competitor, and is now home to more than 30 percent of the world’s reserves.

It’s still uncertain what a ban on these materials might mean for major US companies like Apple or Lockheed Martin. However, there is concern it could disrupt production and affect prices, which could then spill over to other sectors of the market.

Promise and perils in major auto merger

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is highlighting its proposed merger with Renault as an opportunity to form a European-American carmaker, with the financial and industrial strength capable of surviving a turbulent era. Some of the changes that would occur include rapid shifts to electric and autonomous vehicles, and threats to car ownership posed by car-sharing services like Uber and Lyft.

The potential marriage could help fix each other’s shortcomings, like marketing Renault’s smaller electric models in the SUV-obsessed United States. This merger could also dominate the world’s auto industry, as the Renault-Nissan alliance is already a powerful global fixture.

However, that partnership has been tenuous since Japanese authorities arrested former Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn on suspicion of financial wrongdoing. Adding to that strain, car mergers typically flop, so there’s no guarantee that this alliance would succeed.

Uber to ban passengers with low ratings

Uber announced this week that riders with ratings “significantly below average” may lose access to the popular app. The ride-hailing service stated that riders will receive several notifications to improve their rating before getting the boot, and provided basic tips for users such as being polite, not leaving trash in the vehicle, and not asking their driver to exceed the speed limit.

The app already allows passengers to rate their drivers on a variety of factors, so they want to level the playing field. “Respect is a two-way street, and so is accountability,” said Kate Parker, Uber’s head of safety brand and initiatives. Disobedient passengers would be banned for life.

New Hampshire sues companies over contamination

New Hampshire went after eight companies, including 3M, and DuPont Co. for damage it claimed had been caused statewide by toxic chemicals found in pizza boxes, fast-food wrappers, and drinking water.

The chemical, perfluoroalkyl, has been used in coatings meant to protect consumers, and are commonplace in household products. In addition, firefighting foam contains the substance, which has seeped into groundwater and waterways surrounding military bases, airports, and fire stations.

The plaintiff claims the companies were aware of the dangers, but does not seek a specific dollar amount in damages. Rather, New Hampshire expects the companies to shoulder the cost of investigating, clean-up, and remediating contamination.

Mental health rising as key corporate interest

Stephen Pereira, a mental health specialist, has been working with chief executives to help reduce their stress levels. Pereira said there is growing acceptance that mental illness is on par with physical ailments, and he has seen various CEOs with stress-related issues. “By the time you get to be a CEO,” he says, “one can develop blind spots. And then not being aware of those blind spots…can then become an impediment.”

Managing mental health is especially concerning for legal departments, as anxiety, substance abuse, and suicide rates are high amongst lawyers. For help on dealing with stress, read the article "A Lawyer’s Guide to Managing Mental Health".

About the Author

Scott Sharon is a freelance writer who has contributed to Conducive Chronicle and World Policy Journal.

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