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Friday
May182018

Poor day for banking stocks drags Wall Street down slightly

JaysonPhotography/iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A mixed finish on Wall Street Friday as banking stocks fell enough to negate gains in other fields.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 1.11 points to close at 24,715.09.

The Nasdaq dipped 28.13 from its open, finishing the day at 7,354.34, while the S&P 500 dropped 7.16 to end the session at 2,712.97.

Citigroup lost 2.2 percent, and J.P. Morgan Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo all finished lower as well. Also down Friday were chip makers like Intel, which fell 2.4, and Applied Materials. Those losses outweighed gains by industrial companies. Deere gained 5.7 percent after forecasting strong equipment sales for the current quarter.

The price of oil dipped slightly, with a barrel selling for $71.35 at the close.

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Friday
May182018

How the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is creating natural beauty products with Herbal Essences

ABC News(LONDON) -- Nestled halfway between Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace, the world-famous Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is the "leading global institution for plant science and plant research," according to Sandra Botterell, a spokesperson for gardens.

The garden has 2 million visitors a year and is home base for 300 scientists working in over 100 countries. The sprawling park along the River Thames is also home to 19,000 different species of plants.

Its Millennium Seed Bank preserves vegetation from all over the world in case of catastrophe or climate change.

The ties between the garden and the royal family run deep: In the 18th century, the Kew Palace was a summer cottage for plants enthusiast King George, Queen Charlotte and their 15 children.

Modern royals are no stranger to the gardens either.

"I can remember when Diana came and opened the Princess of Wales Conservatory here," Monique Simmonds, a Kew scientist, said. "It was really one of the big events we had. And she was also interested in plants."

Prince Charles is also a frequent royal patron of Kew.

"Prince of Wales has actually been into this laboratory," Simmonds said. "He’s walked around ... talked to the scientists."

The research done by Kew scientists has a wide-reaching impact.

"Our research on amino sugars led to drugs that have developed for cancer, for HIV and for treating diabetes," Simmonds said.

In addition to their research in the medical field, Kew scientists are also incorporating their expertise in developing beauty products rooted in plant science.

"Good Morning America" sponsor Herbal Essences is now the first global hair care brand to be endorsed by Kew.

"There are pure plant extracts in the shampoos and they’ve been authenticated by Kew scientists," Botterell said.

Simmonds added that the work they do is "contributing to the natural ingredients from plants that are in Herbal Essences shampoos."

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Thursday
May172018

Company seeks to give discarded plastic bottles a new purpose and Flint a clearer future

ABC News(FLINT, Mich.) -- Two former college students are hoping their glasses idea not only takes off but jump-starts a new vision for the city of Flint, Michigan.

In 2016, Ali Rose VanOverBeke, a Detroit-area native, was back home, volunteering with the Red Cross in Flint, where a water crisis has affected residents for nearly four years.

VanOverBeke told ABC News that while home, she'd noticed bags of empty water bottles, all thrown out and piling up outside of houses.

She said one day she turned to friend and longtime collaborator Jack Burns. The two had been classmates at the New School's Parsons School of Design and had worked on a project together in 2014.

She and Burns came up with an idea to address the excess of single-use, discarded water bottles being dumped in Flint. They decided to turn the plastic into eyeglasses that would be created in Flint.

"They're not just facing a manmade water crisis," VanOverBeke told ABC News recently about the city. "Now, there's like this localized, environmental stress because of the surplus of plastic that they've been forced to use."

About a year ago, she and Burns, a professor at Parsons, came up with Genusee, glasses made from the recycled water bottles in Flint. The name of the company is a play on the name of Flint's county, Genesee.

They designed a style of glasses that, they said, could fit everyone and named them after VanOverBeke's high school, the Roeper School. The glasses come in classic black and crystal fog.

"Our focus is on reducing plastic waste," VanOverBeke said.

They launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for production.

VanOverBeke said the company was a "for Flint, by Flint" effort. VanOverBeke said she and Burns were already setting up a manufacturing facility. In total, 15 water bottles are used for every pair of glasses.

The duo hope to raise enough through Kickstarter to hire 17 new workers.

"Jobs are a key issue in what we're trying to develop here," Burns said.

She and Burns said that they hoped the company would reinvigorate the economy, bring back local manufacturing and create living-wage jobs that Flint residents can be trained to do as well.

The glasses' polish bags are currently being sewn in Flint at a center that provides women with training. And, the glasses case is actually a multi-use canister.

"That we are able to take the water bottles that are just trash, to have them processed into new material, is so amazing to me," said Marty Calhoun, one of the workers who sew the clothes.

"We are working toward really being a part of not just like the immediate solution in Flint but being a part of the long-term solution," VanOverBeke said.

Click here for more information about Genusee.

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Thursday
May172018

Hobby Lobby employees called cops on black customer who apparently looked like a crime suspect 

iStock/Thinkstock(BIRMINGHAM, Ala.) -- An African-American man went to a Hobby Lobby store in Alabama to return some merchandise this week when employees called the police because he vaguely resembled a suspect in a check-cashing scheme, he told ABC Birmingham affiliate WBMA-TV.

Brian Spurlock, telling the station he was racially profiled, said he was needlessly embarrassed Tuesday when police confronted him and asked for his identification in front of other customers at the Hobby Lobby store in nearby Trussville.

The Birmingham man was with his girlfriend and her children when the incident occurred at the national arts-and-crafts retailer, he told WBMA-TV.

"These folks look at me like, 'Oh, he stole something. Oh, he did something wrong.' Y'all embarrassed me and [that] hurt,'" Spurlock said of the incident in the interview with WBMA-TV. "That made me feel like I don't need to go in no stores no more because I look like somebody and [police] might arrest me."

ABC News has been unable to reach Spurlock.

Hobby Lobby's corporate headquarters in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, did not respond to ABC News’ multiple telephone calls and emails seeking comment.

The Trussville Police Department confirmed in a statement to ABC News that officers were called to the store Tuesday when an employee reported that Spurlock looked like a suspect who "had written bad checks and made fraudulent returns to their store."

"Hobby Lobby did have a picture of the person that was writing bad checks and making fraudulent returns and it looked somewhat like the person in the store but it did not appear to be him," police Lt. Phil Dillon said in the statement.

He said an officer asked to see Spurlock's identification before letting him go.

Spurlock said he had receipts for the items he was returning to the store and showed them to an employee before police arrived.

"She was looking at the receipt that I had and scratching the item off on the receipt. And she said, 'Hey, let me get my manager to see if we [can] return this," Spurlock told WBMA-TV.

When he spoke to a manager, Spurlock said, she told him he couldn't return one of the items because the box was open and that he needed to contact the manufacturer.

"I said, 'Is there somebody else I can talk to that can assist me with this?' She said, 'Yeah, wait,'" Spurlock told WBMA-TV.

The manager asked for his ID and told him they were calling their corporate headquarters, he told the station. As he waited for an answer, a police officer showed up and confronted him.

Spurlock's girlfriend, Ashley Maddox, who witnessed the incident, posted a cellphone video on Facebook of Spurlock’s speaking with the store employee apparently after he was questioned by police.

"I'll be glad to talk to you ... we apologize for the situation," a store employee tells Spurlock in the video. "We were just following directions from our upper management."

In an interview with WBMA-TV, Maddox referred to the outspoken Christian beliefs of the owners of Hobby Lobby, who successfully argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2014 that it shouldn't be required to supply birth control to employees under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

"This is supposed to be a Christian store, so why not support the Christian," Maddox said. "But, unfortunately, they're the wrong kind of Christians."

Spurlock's ordeal is the latest in a string of recent incidents in which businesses have come under fire after employees called police on black patrons in incidents that appeared not to warrant police intervention.

In April, top officials of Starbucks apologized to two black men who were arrested after a manager at a Philadelphia Starbucks called police because they occupied a table without making a purchase and refused requests to leave. Trespassing charges against the men were later dropped and the city's police chief also issued an apology for the arrests.

Earlier this month, the president of Nordstrom Rack flew to St. Louis to personally apologize to three African-American teenagers whom employees called the police on and wrongfully accused of shoplifting.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
May172018

Bumble Bee Foods CEO indicted for price fixing

iStock/Thinkstock(SAN FRANCISCO) -- The chief executive officer of Bumble Bee Foods has been indicted on one count of price fixing as part of an ongoing investigation that includes at least three other current or former executives at packaged-seafood producers.

A San Francisco grand jury has charged that Christopher Lischewski conspired with others in his industry from November 2010 to December 2013 to eliminate competition and set prices for canned tuna, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a statement Wednesday.

The government began investigating Bumble Bee Foods, Starkist and Chicken of the Sea more than two years ago, according to the Associated Press. Stephen Hodge, a former executive at StarKist, pleaded guilty to price fixing last year. Two other Bumble Bee executives also have pleaded guilty.

"The Antitrust Division is committed to prosecuting senior executives who unjustly profit at the expense of their customers," Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim of the Justice Department's Antitrust Division said in the statement. "American consumers deserve free enterprise, not fixed prices, so the Department will not tolerate crimes like the one charged in today’s indictment."

John Keker, Lischewski's attorney, told the AP his client is innocent and that he will be vindicated.

Bumble Bee, according to the DOJ, already has pleaded guilty and agreed to pay a fine of $25 million.

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Wednesday
May162018

Toys 'R' Us to auction iconic mascot Geoffrey the Giraffe

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Toys "R" Us is planning to auction its iconic mascot Geoffrey the Giraffe next month, according to Reuters.

The toy giant is planning to sell its intellectual property, which includes its Babies "R" Us brand, in an effort to raise money to pay back its creditors, Reuters reported.

Toys "R" Us is also auctioning off hundreds of website addresses it owns, including sex-toys-r-us.com, ihatetoysrus.com, toysrussucks.com, kinkytoysrus.com and adult-toys-r-us.com, according to Reuters. The company owns those domains as a protective measure.

Toys "R" Us announced in March that it would shutter its stores after more than seven decades as one of the country's most popular toy stores. The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2017 but announced that it would close all stores following poor holiday sales that year.

Geoffrey the Giraffe first appeared as the company's mascot in 1965, and the first television ad featuring Geoffrey aired in 1973, The Associated Press reported. At the time, Toys "R" Us would sell figurines in Geoffrey's likeness, as well as Lego sets and stuffed animals, according to the AP.

Toys "R" Us did not respond to ABC News' request for comment.

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Wednesday
May162018

Uber says nixing forced arbitration for assault, harassment victims won't apply to class-action suits

Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The rideshare company Uber announced Tuesday that it is doing away with a rule that forced arbitration on passengers and drivers who come forward claiming they've been sexually harassed or assaulted. But the move is drawing some criticism for applying only to individuals and not class-action suits.

The policy shift was detailed in a letter titled "Turning the lights on" published on the company's site.

Uber's Chief Legal Officer Tony West wrote that the company "will no longer require mandatory arbitration for individual claims of sexual assault or sexual harassment by Uber riders, drivers or employees."

This update, he continued, will "give riders, drivers and employees options to continue taking accusations of harassment or assaults into arbitration, but also allow for a confidential forum such as mediation or let the case play out in open court," according to the statement.

"Whatever they decide, they will be free to tell their story wherever and however they see fit," West wrote.

But as the company announced its reforms to adjudicating its claims process, New York-based attorney Jeanne Christensen, of the law firm Wigdor LLP, said she was unimpressed.

Christensen said she filed her first sexual assault against Uber in 2015. The case has since expanded, with nine women making up a class-action lawsuit, she said.

Christensen criticized Uber's rebooted policy for not applying to class-action cases.

The company had not responded to the claims made by the nine alleged victims, Christensen said, and rather than provide an answer or file a motion to dismiss, Christensen said Uber filed a third option "saying, 'We can't proceed because it's the wrong venue.'"

"They're saying this case and these claims belong in private arbitration because on the app and embedded deep in the terms of services is a requirement for people to agree to private arbitration," she said.

Uber's motion filed on Tuesday states that "Uber seeks enforcement of its arbitration agreement with Plaintiffs" and that the nine riders who created their accounts between December 2012 and October 2016 "agreed to be bound by Uber's Terms and Conditions."

Those details, the motion states, "including a clear and conspicuous arbitration provision." The motion goes on to state that the nine accusers essentially "waived 'the right ... to participate as a plaintiff or class' in 'any purported class action.'"

In a statement to ABC News, West admitted that while the updated effort "won't apply to class-action suits," it "impacts the vast majority of assault claims we see on our platform."

"So while these changes may not please everybody, we believe they represent big, bold steps forward that will ultimately help us all prevent sexual assault more effectively," West said in the statement.

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Tuesday
May152018

Amazon customer says she was charged over $7K to ship toilet paper

iStock/Thinkstock(ATLANTA) -- Two Amazon customers are complaining that they were charged outrageous prices to ship everyday household paper products.

Georgia resident Barabara Carroll told ABC Atlanta affiliate WSB-TV that she was charged $7,000 after placing an order for toilet paper in March.

Carroll is a building manager who takes care of janitorial needs, and she placed an order for three boxes of toilet paper to be delivered to her home, she told WSB-TV. When she checked her bank statement days later, she noticed a charged for more than $7,500, she said.

Carroll then checked her order history on the site, which stated that the three cases of toilet paper cost $88.17, but the shipping was a whopping $7,455, she told WSB-TV.

Though she was shocked, Carroll figured Amazon's customer service would take care of the mix-up.

"After I screamed, I thought, 'Oh this is not a problem, this is Amazon, and Amazon will take care of it,'" she said.

However, Amazon did not refund her the money because Carroll purchased the toilet paper from a third-party seller, Carroll told WSB-TV.

"The hardest part is that Amazon doesn’t stand behind their third-party sellers," she said.

A Tennessee couple told CBS Nashville affiliate WTVF that they bought paper plates just before Christmas for $24 and didn't notice until months later that they were charged more than $1,000 for expedited shipping.

Lorie Galloway said she is an Amazon Prime member and doesn't "order anything unless it's free shipping."

Galloway was charged $1,080 to ship one package of paper plates, she said.

When Galloway called Amazon, the customer service representative was floored at the high charge for the plates, which were shipped to Tennessee from Atlanta.

Amazon opened an investigation into the case, but later told Galloway that she was not overcharged for the transaction, WFTV reported.

"If it would have said a thousand and something dollars, I would have noticed that," Galloway told the station.

Amazon told Galloway that the seller was dismissed after similarly charging other customers, according to WFTV. Galloway disputed the charge with her credit card company but said she recently received word that she would be refunded.

Galloway said she's disappointed in the service she received from Amazon and will re-think whether to order from there again.

"If they are not going to take care of their customers, why should I order from them again?" she told WFTV.

In a statement, Amazon said it "is constantly innovating and improving our customer experience. If customers have concerns or feedback, we encourage them to contact our Customer Service."

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Tuesday
May152018

'Ludicrous' that artists aren't paid for music made before 1972: Smokey Robinson

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Celebrity Fight Night(WASHINGTON) -- Smokey Robinson and the Miracles recorded hits like Shop Around, I Second That Emotion, and Tears of a Clown. But those classic tunes don't enjoy the same copyright protections as songs recorded after 1972 and digital streaming services and stations aren't required pay royalties for playing the music.

"Those happen to be some of the biggest records I’ve ever been associated with and to not be paid because they were prior to 1972 is ludicrous as far as I’m concerned," Robinson told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. "A lot of work went into making those songs, not just from the artists, but from the musicians, the writers, the producers and people who were involved in making them and they deserve to be compensated."

He said musicians that recorded before February 15, 1972, which is when federal copyright protections kick in, deserve the same compensation as those that recorded after that date.

The 78-year-old Robinson was on Capitol Hill testifying in favor of the Music Modernization Act, a bill that would change music licensing rules to fit with the digital era.

The bill would create a new system for digital music that would change how digital music companies obtain a license for songs and ensure songwriters are paid royalties, add copyright protection for recordings made prior to 1972, and establish a way for producers, mixers, and engineers who worked on recordings to apply for a share of the royalties. The House passed a similar measure last month.

“I know a lot of musicians and producers and writers who are, who have fallen on hard times, and who could really use that money," Robinson told the committee.

Legendary artists Dionne Warwick, Mary Wilson and Darlene Love were also in the audience for the hearing.

Senators on both sides of the aisle gushed over Robinson’s appearance – posting photos of themselves with him on social media.

“Those Motown hits were literally the soundtrack of my life and they inspired me and lifted me up,” Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said. “The day we get to say I love you back and forth to Smokey Robinson in a Judiciary Committee hearing is a very good day.”

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Tuesday
May152018

Royal wedding may bring big economic boost for UK

iStock/Thinkstock(LONDON) -- The thrill of the impending royal wedding extends far beyond the United Kingdom, as travelers are eager to join in on the pomp and circumstance.

From themed flights and royal walking tours, the masses of tourists who are expected to make the trek to London and then Windsor Castle ahead of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's wedding this weekend will give a boost to the British economy.

According to British-based strategic consulting company Brand Finance, the upcoming royal wedding could lead to a £300 million (roughly $405 million) increase in tourism.

The company also estimates that there would be hundreds of millions of pounds accrued through spending in restaurants, in fashion based on the clothes Markle wears to public events both before and after the wedding, as well as merchandise and overall public relations value for the country as a whole.

British Airways announced Tuesday that the airline’s regularly scheduled flight between London and Toronto (which, the airline points out, is “the city where their relationship took off” because Markle lived there while she worked on a television show at the time) on the wedding day will be staffed by a crew made up of two people named Harry, seven people named Megan and one person named Meghan.

The name-checking honors are not limited to staff, as any customer flying out of their main terminal hub in London’s Heathrow Airport on that day who is named Harry or Meghan will get to use the first-class lounge for free ahead of their flight.

And for those looking for a keepsake, famed British ceramics manufacturer Emma Bridgewater has a commemorative mug for sale, which extolls the betrothed as “game changers, free spirits, big hearts & well suited.”

While the whimsy of a royal wedding may seem like lighthearted fun, tourism is big business in the United Kingdom, which includes England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

VisitBritain, the U.K.'s tourism board, reports that tourism accounts for £127 billion annually, or approximately $171.5 billion.

More than 100,000 people are expected to flock to Windsor for the wedding, according to the Thames Valley Police.

Airbnb, the home-share company, said that its hosts will be taking in an estimated 42,000 guests in London between Friday, May 18 and Sunday, May 20.

While the company did not provide the exact number of properties that will be taking in guests, the total host income from that period is expected to be more than $16.9 million.

Americans are the biggest population using the company to find their British digs, followed by visitors from France, Germany and Australia.

London isn't the only beneficiary of the increased tourist traffic, however. Airbnb reports that the town of Slough, which is just a 10-minute drive from Windsor Castle, is seeing a 1,438 percent spike in guest arrivals over the wedding weekend, as are nearby Maidenhead, with a 362 percent increase, and Windsor itself, with 194 percent increase, as compared to the same time last year.

VisitBritain reports that their overall expectations for the year are up 4 percent as compared to 2017, which was a record-breaking year itself with 38.9 million visitors. The company expects 2018 to hit 41.7 million visitors.

While Harry and Meghan are the big draws this weekend, the monarchy always serves as a draw throughout the year. There were more than 10 million visits to a castle historic house in the U.K. in 2016 and those visits added up to more than roughly $10.8 billion, VisitBritain reports.

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