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Monday
Feb182019

US airlines plan to add gender options for non-binary passengers

Robert Alexander/Getty Images(NEW YORK ) -- Major airlines will soon offer passengers who don't identify as "male" or "female" more options when booking tickets to travel.

The announcement came after an industry trade group, Airlines for America (A4A), and International Air Transport Association members recently approved a new standard to account for non-binary IDs.

"U.S. airlines value a culture of diversity and inclusion, both in the workplace and for our passengers, and we work hard each day to accommodate the needs of all travelers while delivering a safe, secure and enjoyable flight experience," Airline for America spokesperson Vaughn Jennings said.

Passengers flying with airline giants such as United, American and Southwest have announced that they will be making changes to their online booking process to reflect the standard. United Airlines stated that "in the coming weeks their passengers will be able to identify themselves, as M(ale), F(emale), U(undisclosed), or X(unspecified," and that", customers who do not identify with a gender will have the option of selecting “Mx.” as a title."

Delta Airlines was already undergoing a similar process on its own.

"As part of our commitment to inclusion, we want to ensure all of our customers feel comfortable and welcome no matter how they self-identify, which is why we will begin offering our customers the ability to select the gender with which they most closely identify during the booking process," United Airlines released in a statement.


The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) began requiring passengers to enter their gender and date of birth when booking flights in 2009. This requirement was a direct result of 9/11 when TSA created the Secure Flight vetting program, which is a behind the scenes watch list matching process that happens before passengers arrive at the airport.

"By providing the additional data elements of gender and date of birth, Secure Flight will more effectively help prevent misidentification of passengers who have similar names to individuals on a watch list and better identify individuals that may pose a threat to aviation," TSA stated in a press release.

The National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) has expressed concerns for what they call "intrusive security screening procedures" by TSA. NCTE State Policy Director Arli Christian, who goes by the pronoun "they", applauds these new gender options.

"Non-binary people face unnecessary, invasive, and discriminatory scrutiny by airlines, airports, and security services alike," Arli Christian said. "A4A’s work is in line with other states who offer gender-neutral designations on IDs and is an important step toward ensuring safe and smooth travel for all passengers regardless of their gender."

These new options for travels will begin on June 1, however, according to International Air Transport Association spokesperson Perry Flint that the decision of when or if to apply the new standard up to individual airlines.

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Monday
Feb182019

Payless to close all 2,100 stores in US, Puerto Rico

tupungato/iStock(NEW YORK) -- Payless Shoe Source will soon be closing the doors to all of its stores in the U.S. and Puerto Rico.

After filing for Chapter 11 protection less than two years ago, the discount shoe store chain is filing for bankruptcy again. In all, 2,100 stores will close and 18,000 employees will be out of a job.

The retailer has been affected by competition not only from online retailers like Amazon and Zappos, but also discount stores like DSW, Walmart, Kohl's and Marshall's.

Payless has already halted its online sales and begun its liquidation sale. Stores are expected to begin closing by the end of next month.

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Monday
Feb182019

British lawmakers call Facebook 'digital gangsters' in new report

bombuscreative/iStock(NEW YORK) -- A new report by British lawmakers accuses Facebook of intentionally violating data privacy and competition laws, and likens the social media giant to "digital gangsters."

"Companies like Facebook should not be allowed to behave like ‘digital gangsters’ in the online world, considering themselves to be ahead of and beyond the law," the 108-page report by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee reads.

In its report on disinformation and ‘fake news,’ the committee says Facebook has failed to answer its questions and calls for regulation on social media platforms.

“We need a radical shift in the balance of power between the platforms and the people," says Damian Collins, the committee’s chairman. "The age of inadequate self regulation must come to an end."

"The rights of the citizen need to be established in statute, by requiring the tech companies to adhere to a code of conduct written into law by Parliament, and overseen by an independent regulator," Collins adds.

The chairman says companies like Facebook are "failing in the duty of care they owe to their users to act against harmful content, and to respect their data privacy rights."

In response to the report, Facebook said it is "open to meaningful regulation," The Guardian reports.

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Saturday
Feb162019

Richard Branson eyes Apollo 11 anniversary for his first trip to space

@richardbranson/Twitter(NEW YORK) -- Before Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson accomplishes his dream of sending paying customers to space, he'll try it out himself. In an interview with ABC News, the billionaire entrepreneur said his birthday this summer coincides with the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11's historic moon landing, a moment he said inspired him to set up what he calls a "space line."

"I realized that governments were not really interested in you and me going to space," he said.

"We could make it possible hopefully to put thousands of people in the years to come. So yeah, July the 18th is my birthday so why not? We'll go for that."

So who, besides Branson, is lining up for a round-trip flight to space? Apparently, quite a few, although the exact number has not been released.

"The amount of people who want to go into space is ridiculously large and we've just got to make sure that we can make it affordable for a lot of them."

The plan at Virgin Galactic is to carry six passengers at a time into space for four minutes of weightlessness. The price tag right now is about $250,000.

"We're a business and we're not making money by not taking customers yet," said Mark "Forger" Stucky, one of the pilots at Virgin Galactic.

"So we need to get through the flight test program and get on with taking customers."

In December 2018, Stucky and Frederick “C.J.” Sturckow piloted the latest test flight of their spaceplane VSS Unity to 51.4 miles over the California desert, just crossing the Federal Aviation Administration's definition of space for the first time.

Two months later, Sturckow and Stucky were awarded their commercial space flight wings in a joyous ceremony at FAA headquarters. Branson spoke at the event and took the opportunity to reflect on the company's journey.

"It's taken 14 years. We expected it to take seven," he told ABC News. "We've had tears, we've had joy, we've got a fantastic dedicated group of engineers who've made it all possible and the brave test pilots."

A tragic setback occurred in October 2014 when a Virgin Galactic test flight ended catastrophically with the death of pilot Michael Alsbury. Pilot Peter Siebold survived the incident, parachuting to the ground after the aircraft broke up mid-flight at an altitude of about 50,000 feet.

So why the risk? Why are these pilots so determined to get normal citizens into space?

"The more people that see our planet from space the more that we'll appreciate this place where we're living and hopefully take better care of it," said Sturckow.

"I think it's good for all humanity that we get the most people up there we can."

Branson echoed the sentiment. He's heard from many astronauts who have seen the Earth from space and said they come back with a different perspective.

"They view the Earth very differently having been to space and they come back determined to protect this beautiful planet we live on and we are hoping that we can inspire thousands of people in that way."

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Friday
Feb152019

After a month-long fast, church pays off $100,000 in debt for 34 college students

subjug/iStock(ALEXANDRIA, Va.) -- A group of 34 college seniors set to graduate in May had their student debts paid off thanks to a local church that raised more than $100,000 during a month-long fast.

Mya Thompson, a senior at Howard University, was one of the 34 students at the Washington, D.C., college who had their debts erased thanks to Alfred Street Baptist Church in nearby Alexandria, Va.

"I was overwhelmed and excited," Thompson, 25, said about the surprise. "I’ve always applied for a scholarship but I’d never received one and it was kind of like, 'Wow, I finally got chosen.'"

Thompson is a single mother of a 6-year-old son and works an overnight shift as a call taker for 911 emergency services, in addition to her college classes. She received $2,500, the amount she needed to pay off to Howard in order to graduate.

"Of course it’s stressful to know that you have to have $2,500 to come out of your pocket," she said. "However, no matter what, I would have paid that by any means, so it’s the fact that I don’t have to worry about paying that on top of my bills and other stuff."

Thompson, a first-generation college student, and the other 33 seniors learned that their debts were being paid earlier this month when they were called to the university's financial office. Instead of meeting with a school official, they met with Rev. Dr. Howard-John Wesley, the pastor of Alfred Street Baptist Church.

Wesley led his 8,000-member congregation in a period of prayer and fasting during the month of January. Congregants were asked to fast not only with their diets but also with social media and their finances.

Wesley, for example, cut his $4 per day coffee purchase and donated that money as part of his offering.

"We said we would pray as a church to what the Lord was telling us to do [with the money] and that we would donate it 100 percent outside of the church," he said.

The financial donations from the fasting, which took place during the government shutdown, far surpassed church leaders' expectations. Instead of the $25,000 they expected, the church members had donated $150,000 by the end of the month, according to Wesley.

Wesley credits his assistants, Mark Lavarin and Elijah McDavid, with coming up with the idea to donate $100,000 to Howard University and another $50,000 to Bennett College, a historically-black women's college in Greensboro, N.C.

Around 75 percent of the church's congregants attended historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), according to Wesley.

"It's very easy to see the impact in communities that these schools have," said Wesley, who worked with Howard officials to identify students who overcame financial hardships, had good GPAs and only had debt holding them back from graduating.

Wayne A. I. Frederick, the president of Howard University, said he expects the church's donation to have a ripple effect that will reach far beyond the 34 seniors who received the money.

 

 

"It will have a massive impact," he said. "I tell the students all the time when they come to Howard that they’re not here for a degree, they’re here for an education."

"What is equally important are the experiences they have outside of the classroom and this is another experience," Frederick said. "It will teach them about paying forward and teach them about the responsibility to the community around them."

Thompson, a public relations major who hopes to work for a record label, said she is already planning how she can pay the donation forward.

"What Alfred Street did for me, I feel like next semester or next year as an alumna of the university I can come back and do something nice, maybe pay for their books or pay for their graduation fee," she said. "I feel like it’s my duty to do that for students of my university."

Thompson said she also plans to attend service at Alfred Street Baptist church this weekend. Wesley said the church has received thank you letters from some of the Howard students, as well as some of their parents and even grandparents.

Making the $150,000 raised by Alfred Street Baptist Church even more remarkable is that congregants did not know ahead of time where their money would be donated. They found out a few days after the students were told, when the church played a video of the surprise.

"The entire congregation was just moved to tears," said Wesley. "In this time ... we feel it is important as a body of faith that we exemplify what it means to take care of strangers."

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Friday
Feb152019

Tips to save on rising grocery costs 

Kwangmoozaa/iStock(NEW YORK) -- If you’ve taken a trip to the supermarket lately, you may have been hit with a higher grocery bill at checkout.

The United States Department of Agriculture is forecasting food prices to increase up to 2 percent overall, with even bigger jumps expected in categories like dairy, fresh vegetables, fruits and cereals.

The hike in prices is affecting all grocery stores, including Whole Foods, which had been touting drops. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Amazon is raising prices at the supermarket chain.

So how can you save money the next time you shop for groceries? ABC News’ Becky Worley shares her tips in the video below:

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Feb152019

The ultimate Presidents Day deals and what to buy now

NiroDesign/iStock(NEW YORK) -- Presidents Day is just around the corner and the sales are already starting to heat up.

ABC News' Good Morning America teamed up with Lori Bergamotto, style director of Good Housekeeping magazine, to find the biggest can't-miss deals for the upcoming holiday weekend and help breakdown which items to buy now for the biggest savings.

Compared to bigger retail holidays, such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Presidents Day deals can sometimes be overlooked, but it is a key time to shop, according to Bergamotto.

On some of the bigger retail holidays, many products will go on a flash sale for a limited time. When Presidents Day rolls around, a lot of items are already on sale and companies will start offering even steeper discounts.

Here, Bergamotto breaks down some of the biggest Presidents Day sales to look out for this weekend by category:

Fashion

Presidents Day is actually a great time to invest in a good winter coat. Some of the biggest deals to look out for this weekend will be on Nordstrom (up to 40 percent off), Old Navy (up to 50 percent off) and BooHoo (up to 80 percent off).

Tech

Presidents Day weekend is the ideal time to buy a new laptop, according to Bergamotto. Best Buy and Dell are offering discounts of up to $400 off. Also be sure to check out Lenovo, which is slashing prices up to 45 percent.

Home decor

If you're looking to refresh your space, be sure to check out West Elm and Pottery Barn, which are both slashing prices up 70 percent off this weekend. Ashley Furniture is also having a sale this weekend of up to 30 percent off.

Appliances

This weekend is a great time to invest in big indoor home appliances, such as fridges. Lowes and Home Depot are offering discounts of up to 35 percent on select home appliances, while Sears is offering up to 40 percent.

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Thursday
Feb142019

Long Island City realtors still hopeful after Amazon pulls New York campus deal

Spinel_S/iStock(NEW YORK) -- Real estate agents in the New York City neighborhood where Amazon was set to build one of its newest campuses are lamenting the retail giant's announcement to pull the deal after the industry saw an uptick as a result of the plans.

Amazon canceled its plan Thursday to build a headquarters in the Queens neighborhood of Long Island City — a plan that would have brought 25,000 jobs to the area. The retail giant wrote in a statement on its blog that it did not receive an entirely "positive" collaborative effort with some state and local officials who opposed the deal.

The real estate market in Long Island City, which sits across the East River from Manhattan, experienced an uptick in prices and sales as a result of Amazon's November announcement to open a campus there, even when the industry in hot markets like Brooklyn and Manhattan dwindled, experts told ABC News.

Still, even with the headquarters no longer being built in the waterfront neighborhood, real estate experts are still confident in the future of the industry, they told ABC News.

Danielle Hale, chief economist for Realtor.com, told ABC News that she expects an immediate slowdown in housing prices and sales in the short run, but believes that the real estate market in Long Island City will continue "flowing in activity."

January data shows that prices in Queens as a whole — both units for renting and buying — are up 8.3 percent from last year, Hale said.

But, Hale believes that the lifestyle amenities in Long Island City, such as waterfront parks, universities and transportation, are enough to keep the market booming.

"I think the residents in that area show that it's a great place to live," she said. "That's something that makes an area a good investment in real estate in the long run."

Lauren Bennett, a real estate broker for the Corcoran Group, specializing in Long Island City, told ABC News that while she is "disappointed" in the canceled plan, which she believed would "be a great benefit for the neighborhood," Amazon's November announcement put Long Island City on the map, making it a household name for the first time ever.

The plan inspired buyers to move a little more quickly with their decisions, slicing the inventory of available units by four or five times, she said.

Listings practically "disappeared" after Amazon made the announcement, Bennett said.

"I couldn't keep it online fast enough," she said. "It certainly made my job easier."

Silvette Julian, a real estate agent specializing in Long Island City and Manhattan, described the latest announcement as "crazy," adding that she was surprised because she was convinced it would push through.

"I just feel that it was announced way too premature — too early," Julian said. "But, it's worked to some agents' advantage. We got to close on some deals that were priced a bit higher thanks to Amazon. There's still some good things that happened from it."

The first few weeks after the November announcement Julian's open houses were "fully booked," she said.

"All of a sudden, just really, really, busy, and people were coming out of the woodwork to look at the properties — investors, buyers," she said. "All of a sudden they were taking it seriously, and they did not want to be outbidded by other buyers coming in from elsewhere."

Eric Benaim, CEO and founder of Modern Spaces, told ABC in a statement that he believes the decision to pull the Amazon campus from Long Island City is "a mistake" due to the tens of thousands of lost jobs.

While the neighborhood will operate as "business as usual," he believes the real estate market will continue to "stay hot."

"LIC was named the fastest growing city in the country and it will only continue to grow in the years to come," Benaim said.

Opposition against the decision was rampant, with politicians such as U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, New York state Senator Michael Gianaris of Queens and City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, as well as neighborhood advocates, speaking out against it. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio supported the new campus.

On its website, public advocate group Long Island City Coalition wrote that the move represented Amazon representing itself, not the neighborhood.

Those who opposed the campus admonished the plan for the state to give Amazon $3 billion in tax dollars as an incentive to build in Queens, adding that the land could instead be used for schools and sports and community centers.

LIC Coalition also said that Amazon's presence would cause rents and costs of living to skyrocket and accused Amazon of bringing thousands of workers to the neighborhood rather than hiring from within.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Feb142019

'They just took their ball and went home in a pout': New York City bookstores respond to Amazon headquarters announcement

Andrei Stanescu/iStock(NEW YORK) -- Amazon announced Thursday morning it was canceling its plans to build a massive new headquarters in Long Island City, a waterfront section of New York City's borough of Queens.

One group that's not sad to see the online retailer go? New York City's independent bookstores, some of which took to social media to celebrate Amazon's retreat in no uncertain terms:

 "After much thought and deliberation, we’ve decided not to move forward with our plans to build a headquarters for Amazon in Long Island City, Queens," an Amazon spokesperson said this morning. The move followed pushback from advocacy groups, and some elected city officials and representatives over tax incentives, workers' rights and more.

Dennis Johnson -- publisher of Melville House Books, which has a brick-and-mortar store in Brooklyn, told ABC News that today's decision was "really the first time that there's been that kind of opposition mounted, that also involved some elected officials, that worked."

Johnson, a longtime Amazon critic, said he was less worried about the new campus' potential impact on other booksellers in the city as he was its impact on New York City's workers and the community at large.

"They’re not a good employer, they’re union busting, they have a terrible history of the way they treat their employees," Johnson said, adding that "we were worried about the impact that this would have had about the community it was moving into...That was not a rich neighborhood and it was going to force a lot of people out."

"It's very revealing of Amazon that they didn’t want to interact with the community at all. They just took their ball and went home in a pout."

Greenlight Bookstore, which has two locations in Brooklyn, agreed.

"It might seem as though bookstores in particular have the most to celebrate about Amazon's retreat from Queens, but the victory is larger than that: it belongs to advocates for workers, immigrants, residents, and small businesses throughout our city," Greenlight Bookstore co-owner Jessica Stockton Bagnulo said in a statement to ABC News.

"I think it's important to realize that it is possible to say 'no' to even the largest economic players," Stockton Bagnulo continued. "I hope this is a clear message to the leadership of our city and our state about what matters to New Yorkers: sustainable jobs, affordable housing, and our city's unique culture that can never be replaced or replicated online."

Amazon's announcement produced disparate reactions among top New York politicians who heralded Amazon's initial decision to build its campus in Queens.

"We gave Amazon the opportunity to be a good neighbor and do business in the greatest city in the world," New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement Thursday afternoon. "Instead of working with the community, Amazon threw away that opportunity."

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's reaction was starkly different.

"A small group politicians put their own narrow political interests above their community -- which poll after poll showed overwhelmingly supported bringing Amazon to Long Island City -- the state's economic future and the best interests of the people of this state," Cuomo said in a statement. "The New York State Senate has done tremendous damage. They should be held accountable for this lost economic opportunity."

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Thursday
Feb142019

Amazon pulls out of New York headquarters plan

jetcityimage/iStock(NEW YORK) -- Amazon has canceled its plans to build a headquarters in New York City, according to a company spokesperson.

"After much thought and deliberation, we’ve decided not to move forward with our plans to build a headquarters for Amazon in Long Island City, Queens," Amazon spokesperson Jodi Seth told ABC News.

The company wrote in a statement on its blog that the commitment to build a new headquarters requires "positive, collaborative relationships with state and local elected officials," but added that a number of politicians "have made it clear that they oppose our presence."

Amazon thanked New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio for "enthusiastically and graciously" inviting the company to build in New York City.

Among the politicians who were outspoken against the plans were newly elected U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, New York state Senator Michael Gianaris of Queens and City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer.

"We are disappointed to have reached this conclusion -- we love New York, its incomparable dynamism, people, and culture -- and particularly the community of Long Island City, where we have gotten to know so many optimistic, forward-leaning community leaders, small business owners, and residents," the statement reads.

Last week, The Washington Post, which is owned by Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, reported that Amazon was re-considering its decision to split its headquarters between New York and Virginia after mounting local opposition in New York City.

The retailer was set to bring 25,000 jobs to its New York campus, located in the Queens neighborhood of Long Island City.

Currently, there are more than 5,000 Amazon employees in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Staten Island, and Amazon plans on growing those teams, according to the statement.

Amazon does not plan to reopen its search for a new headquarters at this time, but will proceed with plans to build in northern Virginia and Nashville, it said.

As of last week, Amazon had not leased or purchased office space for the project, and final approval from New York state was not expected until 2020, according to The Post.

Almost as soon as Amazon made the announcement that it would build two separate second headquarters in November, politicians on the New York City Council and New York State Legislature, as well as residents and unions, voiced opposition to plans to offer a $3 billion incentive to the company.

"Rather than addressing the legitimate concerns that have been raised by many New Yorkers Amazon says you do it our way or not at all, we will not even consider the concerns of New Yorkers -- that’s not what a responsible business would do," said Chelsea Connor, director of communications for the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, in a statement on Thursday.

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