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Friday
Jan182019

Peeps debuting limited-edition marshmallow-flavored cereal

Kellogg’s(NEW YORK) -- Kellogg’s has created a limited-edition Peeps marshmallow-flavored cereal that will be rolling onto shelves nationwide before Easter.

The cereal is inspired by the popular chick and bunny-shaped Easter treat.

The sweet whole grain cereal will mimic Peep’s traditional springtime colors, while marshmallows that look like mini-versions of Peeps themselves will be sprinkled throughout.

The cereal will only be offered until supplies last.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Jan172019

How Russia used Facebook to expand the Kremlin's messaging

CASEZY/iStock(NEW YORK) -- Facebook removed more than 250 pages on Thursday for “coordinated inauthentic behavior" masquerading as special interest groups when they were actually meant to expand the reach of the Kremlin’s media agency, Rossiya Segodnya, according to the digital investigators that led a parallel investigation.

The campaign focused on amplifying Rossiya Segodnya's online outlet Sputnik, and to a lesser extent, its video service, Tok. The pulled pages were investigated through their open-source code by the Digital Forensics Lab (DFR Lab), which is part of The Atlantic Council, an American think tank. DFR Lab has a partnership with Facebook.

Although the content was occasionally political, like anti-NATO posts, or support for the President of Tajikistan, the majority were lifestyle oriented — weather, travel, beautiful women. That infrastructure was by design, the researchers said.

"Kremlin influence campaigns begin by building an audience. That way they have an oven-ready readership when they need to spread disinformation. This Sputnik operation was building the audience. If it had succeeded, it would have created a bigger potential market for pro-Kremlin messaging," Ben Nimmo, DFR Lab's senior fellow for information defense, told ABC News. "This was a numbers game. These pages existed to boost Sputnik's engagement figures."

"We are constantly working to detect and stop this type of activity because we don’t want our services to be used to manipulate people. We’re taking down these Pages and accounts based on their behavior, not the content they post. In these cases, the people behind this activity coordinated with one another and used fake accounts to misrepresent themselves, and that was the basis for our action," Facebook wrote in a blog post on Thursday.

Facebook identified 266 pages focused on 13 countries: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Romania, Belarus, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

"Most of the pages posed as special-interest groups covering a wide range of issues. These included tourism and weather (the most popular topics), food, fashion, beautiful women (but not beautiful men), pets, sport, culture, and various politicians,” the DFR Lab researchers wrote in a post on Medium on Thursday.

As Facebook noted, the content itself was not considered inappropriate behavior. For example, a page focused on Georgian fashion primarily posted articles about fashion...from Sputnik. Accounts also cross-posted content — again, from Sputnik — which can only be done with permissions from both accounts, proving a relationship.

"A Sputnik video about a Christmas market in Moscow was cross-posted on Sputnik Tajikistan, Sputnik Kazakhstan, Sputnik Estonia, and Sputnik Latvia, plus seven inauthentic pages about Tajikistan," the DFR Lab researchers wrote.

Policial pages were also misleading about their origins. A fan page for the president of Tajikistan, Emomali Sharipovich Rahmon, said "the founder of peace and national unity, the leader of the nation. Created by the people of Tajikistan for the people of Tajikistan" when it was actually managed from Russia.

Similarly, a mirror fan page for Uzbekistan President "Shavkat Miromonovich [Mirziyoyev], as the spiritual and national leader,” was created three weeks after the Tajikistan presidential one — also managed from Russia.

Some central Asian experts familiar with Soviet tactics agree.

Rafael Sattarov, a Carnegie Moscow Center expert on Central Asia who works with the Bilig Brains analytical project, said this is par for the course with Russia.

"Russia tries to control everything and everyone in central Asia. Russia tries to come back to central Asia like Bolshevik or [the] Red Army," Sattarov, who is originally from Uzbekistan, told ABC News. "Facebook is the most popular social media network in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kurdistan, and Russia uses it to promote its interests and agenda."

"There are lots of clones of Russian Sputnik," Attarov added. "A lot of young people stop watching television. [The] Russian government understands [that from] 2016 to 2018, television worked only for elderly people with Soviet backgrounds, but not for us, not for young people."

The pulled pages registered 853,413 followers, or 170 percent more than the total number of followers (495,947) of Sputnik’s official pages in the same countries.

Facebook removed 364 similar accounts one year ago for "inauthentic behavior." A similar move was also taken last August.

Sputnik criticized Facebook's actions, invoking "censorship."

"The decision is clearly political in its nature and, as a matter of fact, is practically censorship — seven [Facebook] pages belonging to our news hubs in neighbouring countries have been blocked. Sputnik editorial offices deal with news and they do it well," Sputnik's press service said.

"Russia-based media Sputnik and RT have repeatedly come under attack by Western officials, who blamed the news outlets for alleged attempts to sway public opinion worldwide. The leadership of the broadcasters, as well as the Russian authorities, dismissed the claims saying, that mainstream media were not interested in the presence of an alternative coverage of events and condemned the accusations as attacks on free media," according to a story on the Sputnik International site.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Jan172019

Amazon for Teens has arrived, but parents will still be picking up the tab

jetcityimage/iStock(NEW YORK) -- Amazon launched "Amazon for Teens" on Thursday, a program that gives teens their own profiles — even if the tab is picked up by their parents.

Teens will be able to "search, browse, read recommendations and place orders on their own," according to the company's announcement on its website. The program is for minors ages 13 to 17.

After a teenager places an order, parents receive the order details by text or email and can type "Y" to approve. Orders can also be declined.

Parents then receive all the order details by text or email.

If a blank check is the route parents choose to go, they "can also set spending limits to have orders approved automatically," the company said.

Teens also get access to their parents' Amazon Prime shipping accounts, the Prime video library of thousands of TV shows and movies, and "free in-game loot with Twitch Prime," on the retailer's streaming gaming platform.

Critics, however, see the program as further encroachment on user privacy.

"Amazon targeting teens with a program designed to get them to click the 'buy' button more and more often shows exactly why parents cannot trust the company. It’s a shameless data grab and a sneaky attempt to drive blind consumer loyalty from cradle to grave," said Bob Engel, spokesman for the Free & Fair Markets Initiative, a nonprofit coalition that advocates for small businesses and local communities, in an email to ABC News.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Jan172019

Bhad Bhabie turns viral status and 15.7 million followers into $900,000 beauty deal

Scott Dudelson/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- After her unforgettable Dr. Phil appearance and the birth of her famous line, "Cash me outside," Danielle Bregoli — who is better known as Bhad Bhabie — has kicked off 2019 with a major beauty deal.

Copycatbeauty.com, an online cosmetics store for beauty obsessives on a budget, officially announced Bregoli as the new face of the company this week.

“CopyCatBeauty.com is excited to be working with Bhad Bhabie," the brand wrote in an official statement. "We chose Danielle for our brand because she speaks to an entire generation, and doesn’t believe in hype and overpaying. Danielle is in it to be a visionary not just for the money."

“I’m excited to work with CopyCatBeauty.com," Bregoli said in a statement. "When I was sent the product to try, I started using it all the time, so working with them just makes sense."

On first glance at the site, you'll probably notice an array of eyeshadow palettes, makeup brushes, skincare and budget-friendly versions of staple brand name products, such as Too Faced, Urban Decay and Stila for up to 90 percent off.

The brand also released a video of the 15-year-old rap star showing off some of the products, which are available now.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Jan172019

Tens of thousands more federal employees called back to work

wildpixel/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- As the longest-ever government shutdown reached Day 27 Thursday, the number of federal employees working without pay is up to 450,000 and could top half a million in the coming days, as the Trump administration continues to recall tens of thousands of workers after almost four weeks of shuttered doors at vital agencies.

The negative impact on the U.S. economy, which the White House now says will be double its original projections, is already affecting places like Colorado, where craft breweries are awaiting government approval on beers. Private contractors, some of whom are now without work since they were on projects with government agencies, and unlike furloughed federal workers, aren't guaranteed any back-pay.

The effect on contractors, Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Kevin Hassett said Tuesday, was one reason the White House upped its new estimate of the shutdown's cost.

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump signed a bill requiring back-pay for furloughed federal workers and those called in during the shutdown.

The "Government Employee Fair Treatment Act of 2019," requires "the compensation of government employees for wages lost, work performed, or leave used during a lapse in appropriations that begins on or after December 22, 2018."

The bill also allows "excepted employees" to use leave during the shutdown.

There are no high-level talks between the president and Congressional leadership planned for Thursday. The impasse over the president's demand for billions for his proposed border wall, which Democrats reject, continues.

The latest numbers

Right now, 800,000 federal workers are going without pay during the shutdown. Some 450,000 are now required to report to work, and tens of thousands more will be returning after recent announcements from the Trump administration.

At the IRS, 36,000 employees were asked to return to deal with tax season, About 1,700 Federal Aviation Administration aviation safety inspectors were told to return after the agency ran preliminary safety tests, and about 2,500 employees at the Agriculture Department will briefly return to process farm loans.

Why don't they strike?

Federal employees are prohibited from doing so and can get fired if they don’t show up. What’s more, many federal employees like their jobs and think the work they do is important. But they can call in sick, which appears to be the tactic by many Transportation Security Administration workers. Agency officials there told ABC News they think the sickouts aren’t because of illness or politics, but dealing with financial hardship.

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Thursday
Jan172019

Facebook removes more accounts linked to 'coordinated inauthentic behavior' in Russia

Facebook(NEW YORK) -- Facebook has unfriended more fraudulent accounts tied to Russia.

The social media giant, in a blog post credited to Nathaniel Gleicher, head of cybersecurity policy, said Thursday that it's removed "multiple Pages, groups and accounts that engaged in coordinated inauthentic behavior on Facebook and Instagram."

The two operations discovered by Facebook originated in Russia. One was active in multiple countries, the other was specific to Ukraine and "we didn't find any links between these operations, but they used similar tactics by creating networks of accounts to mislead others about who they were and what they were doing," Facebook said.

"We're taking down these Pages and accounts based on their behavior, not the content they post," the Menlo Park, California-based company added. "In these cases, the people behind this activity coordinated with one another and used fake accounts to misrepresent themselves, and that was the basis for our action."

No additional details were provided in the blog post.

Exactly a year ago, Facebook, in a similar blog post attributed to Gleicher, announced it had removed 364 Pages and accounts for "inauthentic behavior." A similar announcement was made last August.

Fighting such misinformation, according to Facebook, is "an ongoing challenge because the people responsible are determined and well funded."

Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg is the seventh-richest person on Earth, with an estimated net worth of more than $58 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Jan172019

For unpaid Coast Guard families, some financial options emerge

shaunl/iStock(NEW YORK) -- Earlier this week, for the first time in U.S. history, active duty military members did not get paid.

That distinction falls to the 41,000 active duty Coast Guard who are currently working without pay while the federal government remains partially shut down, and President Donald Trump squares off against Democrats demanding funding for a border wall.

The Coast Guard falls under the Department of Homeland Security, and not the Department of Defense, which is not impacted by the shutdown.

Coast Guard members usually get paid on or around the first and the 15th of every month. The government was able to find funds for a one-time emergency payment for the Dec. 31 paycheck, but wasn't been able to do so since.

In the meantime, as the shutdown approaches its fourth week, there are some financial options for affected families.

Navy Federal


Navy Federal Credit Union, which says that 100,000 of its eight million members are affected by the shutdown, is offering an advance on direct deposit, basically extending a zero-interest loan to be repaid when paychecks resume, credit union spokesman Mike Rudin told ABC News.

The first of these payments for affected members from the Departments of Homeland Security, Agriculture, Interior and Transportation, were deposited on Monday, Rudin said.

Customers must enroll in the program, which does not require a new credit check, but does require an account that has direct deposit. Only about 14,000 of the 100,000 eligible credit union customers have done so, Rudin added.

"We encourage everyone who is eligible to enroll," he said.

The program covers paychecks ranging from $250 to $6,000. For members making up to $500, $250 is deposited. For members making $501 to $6,000 in each paycheck, the amount deposited is rounded down to the nearest $500, and maxes out at $6,000.

USAA/CGMA

San Antonio-based United Services Automobile Association (USAA) is one of the largest banks to serve the military. In the past, USAA, like other military lenders, offered similar zero-interest loans to service members during government shutdowns until paychecks resumed. But this year, USAA had declined to do so, instead offering low-interest loans which require a credit check for existing customers, drawing ire from its customers.

In addition, many customers said USAA denied many these loans, even for people with good credit scores.

However a spokesperson for USAA told ABC News that starting Jan. 16, "Coast Guard service members with dependents will be eligible for interest-free loans of up to $1,000, while service members without dependents will be eligible for up to $750." The loans will be distributed by Coast Guard Mutual Assistance (CGMA), a nonprofit.

"The CGMA loan assistance is designed to cover an estimated two weeks of shortfalls due to not being paid, such as housing, essential utilities, food, and child care and is available to all Coast Guard service members," USAA spokesperson Matthew Hartwig wrote in an email.

USAA is also offering: "60-day payment deferral on consumer loans (auto, personal, etc.), 90-day payment deferral on credit cards," Hartwig wrote, although "interest will continue to accrue." He added there may be special payment arrangements on auto and home insurance premiums.

Members had previously complained to ABC News that USAA was not offering any loan forgiveness or grace periods for late payments related to the shutdown.

Hartwig said the new initiatives were "not a reversal of policy, at all. As the shutdown continues, we are offering more ways to help our members affected by a disruption in pay. We have also sought ways to help the broader military community affected by the shutdown."

For its part, CGMA says it has budgeted for about 22,000 loans.

"We are focusing on the junior workforce,” CGMA CEO Cari B. Thomas told ABC News, “as they have the most financial need."

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Jan162019

TSA chief: Financial hardships from shutdown prompting absences at major airports

martince2/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The head of the Transportation Security Administration acknowledged to his staff on Wednesday that frontline officers are increasingly calling out of work due to financial hardship caused by the government shutdown, spokesperson Michael Bilello told ABC News.

The agency, tasked with securing the nation's aviation system, reported an unscheduled absence rate of 6.1 percent of the workforce for Tuesday, up from 3.7 percent on the same day last year. Call-outs peaked on Sunday at 7.7 percent compared to 3.2 percent the same day last year.

This week marks the first in which federally employed airport screeners are missing their regular paycheck due to a lapse in government funding. And with most positions paying roughly between $35,000 and $45,000 per year, TSA Administrator David Pekoske told his staff on Wednesday morning that financial hardships are to blame for the call-outs.

A stalemate between President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats over funding for Trump’s campaign promise of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border has created the longest federal government shutdown in history, and forced over 800,000 government employees to go without paychecks.

As call-outs have increased at the agency, long wait times have materialized sporadically across the country, but appeared to stabilize since Monday.

Nearly 100 percent of passengers on Tuesday waited less than 30 minutes and 97.3 percent of passengers, less than 15 minutes.

On Monday, queues at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport security extended more than an hour long, causing travelers to miss flights, according to ABC-affiliate WSB-TV.

An Atlanta airport spokesperson told ABC News several security lanes were closed Monday morning due to staffing shortages, leading to longer than usual lines.

The security checkpoint at Terminal B in Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport was also closed. Passengers are forced to go through a surrounding checkpoint and then walk or take the train to their gate in Terminal B on the secure side of the airport.

In an apparent effort to raise the spirits of those tasked with keep the country's airports safe, Pekoske announced last week that his uniformed screening officers would receive a one-time bonus of $500 "in recognition of their hard work during yet another busy holiday travel season, maintaining the highest of security standards during an extraordinary period."

Pekoske recognized the bonus wouldn't make up for a full missed paycheck, but tweeted "I hope these actions alleviate some of the financial hardship many of you are facing."

Despite the staffing shortages, TSA has strongly denied any affect on aviation safety. Agency leadership has stressed the country's airports and airlines would not be imperiled by any hit to security operations, citing strict standards and a program that sends screeners and managers from airports under less stressful circumstances to any airport needing backup.

Dubbed the "National Deployment Force," TSA has the ability to quickly dispatch more frontline screeners, canine teams and specially trained Homeland Security personnel. They are often used during major events like the Super Bowl or in the wake of natural disasters when hometown TSA employees are unable make it to work.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Jan162019

Chef Jose Andres opens restaurant to serve federal workers for free

Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The call to action for chef and activist Jose Andres' food relief organization to set up shop in the nation's capital is unlike the usual circumstances under which the group operates, dropping into towns ravaged by hurricanes or burnt to the ground by wildfires.

In those cases, modern technology is often stripped away and volunteers with Andres' organization, World Central Kitchen, have to make their pop-up kitchens and food supply stations work for disaster victims in spite of spotty cell phone service or a lack of electricity.

But in Washington, Tim Kilcoyne, a lead chef with the non-profit, set up a cafe and restaurant to feed federal workers that are fully furnished and already suited with a kitchen, not to mention surrounded by bustling businesses and busy streets. Here, the problem is not a fire or a flood -- they've arrived to help some of the 800,000 government employees who are still without a paycheck on day 26 of the longest-ever government shutdown.

“Whether its activation for a natural disaster or a human disaster — we’re here to support, here to help,” Kilcoyne said.

The pop-up, which opened on Wednesday, is called #ChefsForFeds and will be open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., seven days a week, to provide federal workers in the nation's capital with free meals at its location between Capitol Hill and the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Many of the volunteers working to cook for and serve the federal workers who come by are also federal workers themselves, some of whom are looking to fill the downtime they'd normally be spending at the office.

"It seemed like a really good opportunity to give back and do something with my time in a way that's going to be meaningful, and hopefully help some people who are struggling," said Annie Shah, a furloughed federal employee who works for the Food and Drug Administration.

Shah said the last 26 days have made her feel "stir crazy" sitting at home, unable to make travel plans because the government could open at any time. But she's also anxious and wants to keep up the work she was doing.

"I love the work that I do and the people that I work with, and we have a really great mission at the FDA that I love to be a part of," she said.

 On opening day, #ChefsForFeds was ready to feed up to 2,000 federal employees and had already filled its volunteer needs, aided by the help of Shah and others. Tomato fennel bisque, a kale, brussel sprouts and quinoa power bowl and a fried egg sandwich with ham and cheese were on the menu.

The pop-up is part of World Central Kitchen’s food-relief operation, which Andres started in 2010 after a devastating earthquake in Haiti. In the past year, WCK has served over 4.8 million meals to people in natural disasters zones around the world.

 On opening day, #ChefsForFeds was ready to feed up to 2,000 federal employees and had already filled its volunteer needs, aided by the help of Shah and others. Tomato fennel bisque, a kale, brussel sprouts and quinoa power bowl and a fried egg sandwich with ham and cheese were on the menu.

The pop-up is part of World Central Kitchen’s food-relief operation, which Andres started in 2010 after a devastating earthquake in Haiti. In the past year, WCK has served over 4.8 million meals to people in natural disasters zones around the world.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Jan162019

Ford, Volkswagen join forces on developing electric and self-driving technology

fredrocko/iStock(DETROIT) -- Ford Motor Company and Volkswagen AG are formally teaming up to develop and invest in electric vehicles, self-driving technology and mobility services, the automakers announced Tuesday from the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

As part of this global alliance, Ford and Volkswagen will manufacture commercial vans and medium-sized pickups for worldwide markets beginning as early as 2022. The larger commercial vans will be built by Ford for European customers of each brand. Volkswagen will focus on developing and assembling city vans. The automakers collectively sold nearly 1.2 million light commercial vehicles in 2018.

The alliance will "boost competitiveness and better allow us to serve our customers globally," Ford CEO Jim Hackett told reporters during a conference call. "We'll build strength and scale in new opportunities," he said, adding that the business models of each company will be leveraged.

The partnership will also yield significant savings, Herbert Diess, the CEO of Volkswagen, explained.

"It's no secret our industry is undergoing fundamental change," Diess said. "We are two strong players with a proud history. It makes sense to pool capabilities and share investments. We will both be able to shape the future of mobility. The partnership significantly improves market position for both brands."

According to Hackett, the alliance does not involve cross ownership and Ford and Volkswagen will continue to market and manufacture discernibly different products.

"We will continue to work as separate and competitive entities," he said.

Asked how the alliance would affect workers, Hackett said he did "not anticipate any work force reduction in our factories."

Hackett and Diess confirmed that their companies were fully committed to making this alliance a success.

"We have highly complimentary strengths," Diess said. "We have developed trust for each other and better understanding of our businesses."

Brian Moody, executive editor at Autotrader, said the alliance between Ford and VW underscored the need for American automakers to have a robust global strategy.

"As we’ve seen with other partnerships, leveraging two brands, complementary strengths can help close gaps in product offerings as the types of 'in-demand' vehicles continue to change both in America and abroad," he said.

Rebecca Lindland, an independent automotive analyst, told ABC News that more alliances between automakers will become common.

"The levels of investment required for successful execution in the [mobility and autonomous vehicle] space is so enormous, it only makes sense for manufacturers to collaborate with each other," she said.

Jessica Caldwell, Edmunds executive director of industry analysis, said the alliance could determine the long-term fate of Ford and Volkswagen -- two iconic automotive brands.

"Automakers aren’t just competing with each other anymore, they’re under intense pressure from well-funded tech companies who are eager to get in on the future of mobility," she said. "Cutting costs by sharing vehicle architectures and manufacturing facilities is just table stakes in this new world and is a nice place to start. However, the key to success will be if Ford and VW can help each other fend off the upstarts and become leading forces in electric and autonomous vehicle technology."

Volkswagen said Monday it would invest $800 million in its Chattanooga, Tennessee, plant and hire 1,000 new workers as it ramps up production of electric vehicles. Hackett said Ford and Volkswagen have an incentive to cooperate on this technology because of the large investments required.

President Donald Trump praised the announcement on Twitter, writing, "Volkswagen will be spending 800 million dollars in Chattanooga, Tennessee. They will be making Electric Cars. Congratulations to Chattanooga and Tennessee on a job well done. A big win!"

Hackett said more details on the global alliance will be announced in the coming weeks.

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