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Corporate America buckles down for culture war on Roe v Wade | Roe v Wade

After a supreme court decision that overturns Roe v Wade was leaked and signaled the impending end of federal constitutional protection for abortions, a trickle of companies have slowly started to announce policies that provide abortion access for their employees. But while the protections may keep employees and consumers happy, the threat of retaliation from conservative lawmakers looms.

Citigroup, one of the biggest banks in the US, quietly started covering the travel expenses of employees who want to get an abortion but are banned from getting one in their home state.

The benefit was not announced publicly. Instead, the company mentioned the change in benefits in a March filing for shareholders. Once news outlets began to report on the new benefit, the Republican ire began.

Conservatives in Congress asked House and Senate administrators to cancel its contract with the company, which issues credit cards to lawmakers to use for work-related flights, office supplies and other goods. A state lawmaker in Texas, infuriated by Citigroup, introduced a bill that would prevent companies from doing business with local governments in Texas if they provide abortion-related benefits to their employees.

“Citigroup decided to pander to the woke ideologues in its C-suite instead of obeying the laws of Texas,” said Briscoe Cain, the Texas state representative who introduced the bill, in a statement. “We will enact laws necessary to prevent this misuse of shareholder money and hold Citigroup accountable for its violation of our state’s abortion laws”.

Citigroup has now been joined by Amazon, Apple, Yelp, Match Group, Tesla and Levi Strauss & Company, all which have said they will offer travel assistance to employees who are in states that restrict abortions. Insiders at JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs have told news outlets they too are considering similar policies.

“I expect there will be a significant shift and the most leading companies are going to recognize that they need to protect the healthcare of their employees,” said Shelley Alpern, director of shareholder advocacy at Rhia Ventures. “Most companies would like to avoid taking a public stance on this issue because it’s so controversial, but there are higher risks for companies when they don’t protect their employees’ healthcare access.”

In today’s heated political climate – and with midterm elections looming – corporate America can expect a fiery response to any stance it takes on Roe’s fall. But given the widespread impact the end of Roe v Wade will have on much of the country – 26 states will restrict abortion access if the decision is overturned – it is unlikely that companies can get away with not responding to the issue once the supreme court makes its final decision.

Neeru Paharia, an associate professor at Georgetown University McDonough School of Business, said that people expect more out of companies as trust in government has fallen.

“People are enacting their political will in the marketplace,” she said. For consumers, a purchase from a company can be a symbolic sign of support. For employees, their identities can be tied to the ethical positions of the company they work for.

Over the last few years, corporate America has started to become more vocal on various issues that have gotten the attention of conservative lawmakers, including voting rights and LGBTQ+ issues. But conservative politicians have gotten bolder at fighting back against what they consider to be “woke capitalism”.

While the GOP has historically positioned itself as the business-friendly, tax-cutting political party, conservative lawmakers have been emboldened to threaten and punish companies who speak out on controversial issues.

Last month, Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, revoked special land use privileges the state gave to Disney for its Disney World theme park in Orlando after the company – responding to backlash from employees and consumers – spoke out against the state’s “don’t say gay” law. The move appeared to catch people by surprise. Lloyd Blankfein, former Goldman Sachs CEO, tweeted that the move “smacks of government retaliation for exercising free speech. Bad look for a conservative.”

“That was really shocking,” Paharia said. “Now you have a situation where consumers and employees want companies to take a political stance, but then you have governments that are possibly retaliating against them.”

When it comes to abortion, “even though it might not be [explicitly] taking a side … [companies] are taking a position based on the kind of benefits they are going to offer their employees”.

The threats lawmakers have made have so far not come to fruition, but the party seems serious on trying to penalize companies in some way. The Republican senator Marco Rubio introduced a bill this week that would not allow companies to deduct abortion-related travel benefits as regular employee benefits when a company files its taxes.

“Our tax code should be pro-family and promote a culture of life,” he said in a statement.

With these warnings, companies may try to keep the introduction of abortion-related quiet or downplay their significance. When Citigroup’s CEO, Jane Fraser – the first woman to lead a major American bank – was asked in a shareholders meeting about the company’s new abortion travel benefit, she said the benefit “isn’t intended to be a statement about a very sensitive issue”.

“What we did here was follow our past practices,” she said, adding that the company had “covered reproductive healthcare benefits for over 20 years. And our practice has also been to make sure our employees have the same health coverage, no matter where in the US they live.”

Jen Stark, senior director of corporate strategy at Tara Health Foundation, who helped coordinate the signatures of over 180 executives in a statement against abortion bans in 2019, said the potential backlash from conservative lawmakers proves that companies need to act on abortion restrictions beyond mitigating effects for their employees.

“They can buy all the plane tickets their workers need, and that addresses the immediate harm, but the structural deficiency is the collateral damage,” she said. “The supreme court case didn’t happen in a bubble … you’re kind of walking over the rubble.”

Beyond benefits for employees, Stark has been advocating for companies to use their lobbying powers and scrutinize political donations as state lawmakers prepare to restrict abortions.

“We are at the moment everyone’s cried wolf about. It’s here, but there was also a lot of headwind,” she said. “What companies can do with a stroke of a pen to mitigate some of the harm is important, but the larger issue is getting out of this structural whirlpool that we’re in.”



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European Startup Ecosystems Awash With Gulf Investment – Here Are Some Of The Top Investors

European Startup Ecosystem Getting Flooded With Gulf Investments

The Voice Of EU | In recent years, European entrepreneurs seeking capital infusion have widened their horizons beyond the traditional American investors, increasingly turning their gaze towards the lucrative investment landscape of the Gulf region. With substantial capital reservoirs nestled within sovereign wealth funds and corporate venture capital entities, Gulf nations have emerged as compelling investors for European startups and scaleups.

According to comprehensive data from Dealroom, the influx of investment from Gulf countries into European startups soared to a staggering $3 billion in 2023, marking a remarkable 5x surge from the $627 million recorded in 2018.

This substantial injection of capital, accounting for approximately 5% of the total funding raised in the region, underscores the growing prominence of Gulf investors in European markets.

Particularly noteworthy is the significant support extended to growth-stage companies, with over two-thirds of Gulf investments in 2023 being directed towards funding rounds exceeding $100 million. This influx of capital provides a welcome boost to European companies grappling with the challenge of securing well-capitalized investors locally.

Delving deeper into the landscape, Sifted has identified the most active Gulf investors in European startups over the past two years.

Leading the pack is Aramco Ventures, headquartered in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. Bolstered by a substantial commitment, Aramco Ventures boasts a $1.5 billion sustainability fund, alongside an additional $4 billion allocated to its venture capital arm, positioning it as a formidable player with a total investment capacity of $7 billion by 2027. With a notable presence in 17 funding rounds, Aramco Ventures has strategically invested in ventures such as Carbon Clean Solutions and ANYbotics, aligning with its focus on businesses that offer strategic value.

Following closely is Mubadala Capital, headquartered in Abu Dhabi, UAE, with an impressive tally of 13 investments in European startups over the past two years. Backed by the sovereign wealth fund Mubadala Investment Company, Mubadala Capital’s diverse investment portfolio spans private equity, venture capital, and alternative solutions. Notable investments include Klarna, TIER, and Juni, reflecting its global investment strategy across various sectors.

Ventura Capital, based in Dubai, UAE, secured its position as a key player with nine investments in European startups. With a presence in Dubai, London, and Tokyo, Ventura Capital boasts an international network of limited partners and a sector-agnostic investment approach, contributing to its noteworthy investments in companies such as Coursera and Spotify.

Qatar Investment Authority, headquartered in Doha, Qatar, has made significant inroads into the European startup ecosystem with six notable investments. As the sovereign wealth fund of Qatar, QIA’s diversified portfolio spans private and public equity, infrastructure, and real estate, with strategic investments in tech startups across healthcare, consumer, and industrial sectors.

MetaVision Dubai, a newcomer to the scene, has swiftly garnered attention with six investments in European startups. Focusing on seed to Series A startups in the metaverse and Web3 space, MetaVision raised an undisclosed fund in 2022, affirming its commitment to emerging technologies and innovative ventures.

Investcorp, headquartered in Manama, Bahrain, has solidified its presence with six investments in European startups. With a focus on mid-sized B2B businesses, Investcorp’s diverse investment strategies encompass private equity, real estate, infrastructure, and credit management, contributing to its notable investments in companies such as Terra Quantum and TruKKer.

Chimera Capital, based in Abu Dhabi, UAE, rounds off the list with four strategic investments in European startups. As part of a prominent business conglomerate, Chimera Capital leverages its global reach and sector-agnostic approach to drive investments in ventures such as CMR Surgical and Neat Burger.

In conclusion, the burgeoning influx of capital from Gulf investors into European startups underscores the region’s growing appeal as a vibrant hub for innovation and entrepreneurship. With key players such as Aramco Ventures, Mubadala Capital, and Ventura Capital leading the charge, European startups are poised to benefit from the strategic investments and partnerships forged with Gulf investors, propelling them towards sustained growth and success in the global market landscape.


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China Reveals Lunar Mission: Sending ‘Taikonauts’ To The Moon From 2030 Onwards

China Reveals Lunar Mission

The Voice Of EU | In a bold stride towards lunar exploration, the Chinese Space Agency has unveiled its ambitious plans for a moon landing set to unfold in the 2030s. While exact timelines remain uncertain, this endeavor signals a potential resurgence of the historic space race reminiscent of the 1960s rivalry between the United States and the USSR.

China’s recent strides in lunar exploration include the deployment of three devices on the moon’s surface, coupled with the successful launch of the Queqiao-2 satellite. This satellite serves as a crucial communication link, bolstering connectivity between Earth and forthcoming missions to the moon’s far side and south pole.

Unlike the secretive approach of the Soviet Union in the past, China’s strategy leans towards transparency, albeit with a hint of mystery surrounding the finer details. Recent revelations showcase the naming and models of lunar spacecraft, steeped in cultural significance. The Mengzhou, translating to “dream ship,” will ferry three astronauts to and from the moon, while the Lanyue, meaning “embrace the moon,” will descend to the lunar surface.

Drawing inspiration from both Russian and American precedents, China’s lunar endeavor presents a novel approach. Unlike its predecessors, China will employ separate launches for the manned module and lunar lander due to the absence of colossal space shuttles. This modular approach bears semblance to SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, reflecting a contemporary adaptation of past achievements.

Upon reaching lunar orbit, astronauts, known as “taikonauts” in Chinese, will rendezvous with the lunar lander, reminiscent of the Apollo program’s maneuvers. However, distinct engineering choices mark China’s departure from traditional lunar landing methods.

The Chinese lunar lander, while reminiscent of the Apollo Lunar Module, introduces novel features such as a single set of engines and potential reusability and advance technology. Unlike past missions where lunar modules were discarded, China’s design hints at the possibility of refueling and reuse, opening avenues for sustained lunar exploration.

China Reveals Lunar Mission: Sending 'Taikonauts' To The Moon From 2030 Onwards
A re-creation of the two Chinese spacecraft that will put ‘taikonauts’ on the moon.CSM

Despite these advancements, experts have flagged potential weaknesses, particularly regarding engine protection during landing. Nevertheless, China’s lunar aspirations remain steadfast, with plans for extensive testing and site selection underway.

Beyond planting flags and collecting rocks, China envisions establishing a permanent lunar base, the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS), ushering in a new era of international collaboration in space exploration.

While the Artemis agreements spearheaded by NASA have garnered global support, China’s lunar ambitions stand as a formidable contender in shaping the future of space exploration. In conclusion, China’s unveiling of its lunar ambitions not only marks a significant milestone in space exploration but also sets the stage for a new chapter in the ongoing saga of humanity’s quest for the cosmos. As nations vie for supremacy in space, collaboration and innovation emerge as the cornerstones of future lunar endeavors.


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Aviation and Telecom Industries Reach Compromise on 5G Deployment

The Voice Of EU | In a significant development, AT&T and Verizon, the two largest mobile network operators in the United States, have agreed to delay the deployment of 5G services following requests from the aviation industry and the Biden administration. This decision marks a crucial compromise in the long-standing dispute between the two industries, which had raised concerns over the potential interference of 5G with flight signals.
The aviation industry, led by United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby, had been vocal about the risks of 5G deployment, citing concerns over the safety of flight operations. Kirby had urged AT&T and Verizon to delay their plans, warning that proceeding with the deployment would be a “catastrophic failure of government.” The US Senate Commerce Committee hearing on the issue further highlighted the need for a solution.
In response, US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) head Steve Dickson sent a letter to the mobile networks, requesting a two-week delay to reassess the potential risks. Initially, AT&T and Verizon were hesitant, citing the aviation industry’s two-year preparation window. However, they eventually agreed to the short delay, pushing the deployment to January 19.
The crux of the issue lies in the potential interference between 5G signals and flight equipment, particularly radar altimeters. The C-Band spectrum used by 5G networks is close to the frequencies employed by these critical safety devices. The FAA requires accurate and reliable radar altimeters to ensure safe flight operations.

Airlines in the US have been at loggerheads with mobile networks over the deployment of 5G and its potential impact on flight safety.

Despite the concerns, both the FAA and the telecoms industry agree that 5G mobile networks and airline travel can coexist safely. In fact, they already do in nearly 40 countries where US airlines operate regularly. The key lies in reducing power levels around airports and fostering cross-industry collaboration prior to deployment.
The FAA has been working to find a solution in the United States, and the additional two-week delay will allow for further assessment and preparation. AT&T and Verizon have also agreed to not operate 5G base stations along runways for six months, similar to restrictions imposed in France.
President Joe Biden hailed the decision to delay as “a significant step in the right direction.” The European Union Aviation Safety Agency and South Korea have also reported no unsafe interference with radio waves since the deployment of 5G in their regions.
As the aviation and telecom industries continue to work together, it is clear that safe coexistence is possible. The delay in 5G deployment is a crucial step towards finding a solution that prioritizes both safety and innovation. With ongoing collaboration and technical assessments, the United States can join the growing list of countries where 5G and airlines coexist without issue.

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