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Business Digest: Military official cancels SXSW visit


SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST

Military official cancels SXSW visit

South by Southwest saw another high-profile speaker cancel, as Gen. Paul J. Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Wednesday he will no longer be attending due to “scheduling conflicts.”

FBI director James Comey on Monday also cancelled his SXSW appearance.

Selva was to be interviewed by CNN’s Jake Tapper in a talk on “Defense Innovation.” Tapper will now be speaking with MTV News / Wonkette writer Ana Marie Cox in a session called: “Unprecedented: The Election That Changed Everything” at 3:30 p.m. Friday in Ballroom D of the Austin Convention Center.

ECONOMY

U.S. worker productivity slumped in 4th quarter

WASHINGTON — The productivity of American workers grew at a slower pace in fourth quarter and last year recorded the smallest annual gain in five years.

The Labor Department said Wednesday that productivity grew at a 1.3 percent annual pace from October through December, down from 3.3 percent in the third quarter. For 2016, productivity eked out a 0.2 percent increase, the smallest since a 0.1 percent gain in 2011.

Labor costs, which account for changes in productivity, rose at a 1.7 percent annual pace in the fourth quarter. That’s up from a 0.7 percent increase from July through September.

Productivity measures output per hour worked. Increases are crucial for economic prosperity. When their workers are more productive, employers can afford to pay them more. And productivity gains, along with growth in the number of people working, determine how fast the economy grows.

TECHNOLOGY

Uber self-driving cars back in California

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Uber’s self-driving cars will return to California’s streets, though the ride-hailing company doesn’t immediately plan to pick up passengers.

Uber received a permit Wednesday to test two Volvo SUVs on public roads, the California Department of Motor Vehicles said. Regulators also approved 48 people as backup drivers who must sit behind the wheel in case the prototype cars malfunction, according to agency spokeswoman Jessica Gonzalez.

The permit resolves a conflict dating to December. That’s when Uber rolled out a pilot program of more than a dozen cars in San Francisco, its hometown.

Uber knew about the DMV’s requirement to receive permission before testing in public, but argued that its cars do not meet the state’s definition of an “autonomous vehicle” because they need a person to monitor them and intervene if needed. That argument raised eyebrows both among regulators and other companies with similar technology that did get permits.

The pilot program caught the state — and San Francisco city officials — off guard. Amid a several-days showdown, during which a few self-driving Uber SUVs did not stop for red lights, state prosecutors threatened to haul Uber before a judge if the service was not suspended immediately.

Uber responded by packing up its cars for Arizona, where it began picking up passengers last month.

AUTOMAKERS

Merkel: No prior knowledge of VW scandal

BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel says she only found out about Volkswagen’s use of software to cheat on emissions through the media.

Appearing as a witness Wednesday before a German parliamentary panel on the Volkswagen emissions scandal, German news agency dpa says Merkel said she was only aware of the cheating when it emerged in the United States in September 2015.

Volkswagen is recovering from a scandal that damaged its reputation. The company has admitted and paid out billions for installing software on diesel engines that activated pollution controls during tests and switched them off in real-world driving.

The German parliamentary inquiry was set up last July. It is tasked with looking into whether the German government knew about vehicles’ emissions on the road diverging from their emissions in testing.



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