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Tuesday
Jul312018

Alaska Airlines accused of separating a gay couple so heterosexual couple could sit together

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Alaska Airlines is apologizing on Tuesday after a customer says a flight attendant discriminated against him and his partner.

David Cooley, an owner of the popular Los Angeles bar, The Abbey, said he was seated in his assigned seat ahead of a Sunday departure from New York to LA alongside his companion when a flight attendant asked his partner to move "so a couple could sit together." Cooley wrote on Facebook that despite explaining that they too are a couple, the flight attendant ordered him to move seats or get off the flight.

"We could not bear the feeling of humiliation for an entire cross-country flight and left the plane," he wrote. Cooley and his partner arranged another flight to Los Angeles.

Alaska Airlines provided a statement to ABC News, claiming the incident was "caused by a seating mix-up."

"It's our policy to keep all families seated together whenever possible," the statement read. "That didn’t happen here. We are deeply sorry for the situation and did not intend to make Mr. Cooley and his partner feel uncomfortable in any way."

"All of us at Alaska value inclusion for our guests and each other. Full LGBTQ equality is part of the fabric of Alaska Airlines. We are an airline for everyone and reflect these values through our work with dozens of nonprofit LGBTQ organizations, and our efforts toward achieving a perfect score in HRC’s Equality Index. We’ll keep building on this commitment with our LGBTQ employee group, GLOBE.”

Alaska Airlines spokesperson Ann Johnson would not answer questions from ABC News, including if the flight attendant understood that Cooley and his partner are a couple.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Jul272018

Ford starts initiative to save honeybee populations

Ford(DEARBORN, Michigan) -- Cormac Wright didn’t know anything about honeybees two years ago.

Now he’s the de facto spokesperson for a new Ford Motor initiative to help save the nation’s dwindling population of honeybees. Six hives containing 360,000 bees were erected this week at the automaker’s global headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan.

Ford’s move reflects a growing trend of private companies joining efforts to raise awareness and, if possible, reverse a decline in honeybee colonies.

Wright, a 32-year member of Ford’s IT department, got the idea after stumbling upon an article about bee apiaries at Fairmont hotels.

“It was a light bulb moment for me,” he told ABC News. “Why can’t Ford do the same thing? It’s the right thing to do.”

He added, “My coworkers thought I was crazy. They said to me, ‘Why would you do that?’ I am not an environmentalist. But I am a project manager.”

Honeybees are critical to the food supply through their pollination of grains, fruits and other crops. Scientists first noticed a drop-off in their population in 1987 when a parasitic mite was inadvertently introduced into the country, said Marla Spivak, a professor of entomology at the University of Minnesota and a former commercial beekeeper. Major colony losses, however, were not reported until 2006.

The Bee Informed Partnership estimates that 30.7 percent of U.S. honeybee colonies died between October 2017 and April 2018, an increase of 9.5 percentage points from the previous year. The nonprofit conducts an annual survey of 4,794 beekeepers.

Attempts by beekeepers to split and "requeen" surviving colonies has helped boost colony numbers, according to Spivak. But the threats from climate change, pesticides and parasites persist.

“Honeybees are still dying at unprecedented rates from multiple causes,” she said. “Buying hives won't help them. Only highly experienced beekeepers have success keeping bee colonies alive.”

Wright said Ford’s project seeks to educate the community about the dire situation facing honeybees.

“Be aware of pesticides being used, look at labels,” he said. “Honeybees are around you most of the time but you may not notice them.”

Wright dedicated his free time to researching colony collapse disorder. He sent a detailed business proposal for a beekeeping program to Kim Pittel, Ford’s group vice president of sustainability, environment and safety engineering.

“I just tossed the idea out there,” he said.

Once Pittel signed off on Wright’s proposal, he and a small team got buzzing on the program.

Turns out, there were already a handful of Ford employees who were experienced beekeepers. An “underground cult,” Wright quipped.

They solicited hive designs from Ford engineers and employees and thirteen sketches were submitted in a company-wide contest. Wright then reached out to Meghan Milbrath, a research associate in the department of entomology at Michigan State University, for help with setting up the hives. She supplied Ford with the 360,000 bees that will make the Dearborn campus their home.

The six hives were placed along a walking path this week. Their protective shells, which resemble large spherical honeycombs, are “aesthetically pleasing and functional” for the bees, according to the company.

 Ford has also partnered with the nonprofit Pollinator Partnership, which was established 23 years ago to promote the health of pollinators.

Val Dolcini, the organization’s president and CEO and administrator of the USDA Farm Service Agency under President Obama, said his group frequently works with corporate America to help devise ways to repurpose fallow or undeveloped land and make it more hospitable to the environment.

Honeybees aren’t the only pollinators of crops; bats, birds, moths, beetles, wasps and moths play an equally important part in pollinating fruits and vegetables, Dolcini said.

“The honeybee is a charismatic ambassador of pollinating animals and it has increased awareness about pollinator issues in general,” he told ABC News.

The Fairmont in Washington, D.C., started a nationwide trend of hosting bee apiaries in 2008. At least three other Washington hotels are now following in Fairmont’s footsteps, according to Diana Bulger, a public relations director for Fairmont.

“We are known for our bees,” she told ABC News. “We have three beekeepers at the hotel and they’re all staff.”

The honey produced from the three hives on Fairmont DC’s rooftop find their way into cocktails and restaurant dishes. Fairmont, however, has received global recognition for its efforts to help boost honeybee populations. It cultivates bee colonies at 22 locations worldwide and has expanded its North American program into Europe, Asia and Africa.

Toni Burnham, president of the DC Beekeepers Alliance, said it’s now become “cool” for private companies to get involved in honeybee campaigns. Even as people rally around the honeybee, more needs to be done to save them, she cautioned.

“We are still losing bees,” she said. “We need answers.”

Spivak, the entomologist, said the public can help.

“The best way to help bees – all 4,000 species of native bees – is to plant flowers they can collect nectar and pollen from for food and keep those flowers free of pesticide contamination,” she said.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Jul272018

U.S. economy grows 4.1 percent in 2nd quarter, marking largest spike in years

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- President Trump took a victory lap Friday after the U.S. economy surged more than 4 percent in the second quarter -- the largest quarterly jump in four years.

The economic bump, at 4.1 percent, was the best quarter the country has seen since 2014, according to the Commerce Department.

"We are on track to reach the highest annualized growth rate in 13 years," Trump said on the South Lawn in a news conference Friday morning. "As the trade deals come in one by one, we're going to go a lot higher than these numbers."

Trump boasted the biggest takeaway is that the U.S. deficit dropped by more than $50 billion.

"We haven't had a drop like that in a long time," Trump said.

The president also said there was a total of 3.7 million jobs created since he's taken office -- adding that there have been 400,000 new manufacturing jobs.

He also touted the unemployment rate among African American unemployment, saying the country has "achieved the lowest level in history."

Trump also touched on "something we haven't seen in decades," -- 3.5 million people lifted off food stamps.

"That's because they're able to go out and get jobs," Trump said.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities backs this claim, proving the majority of recipients that utilize Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program’s (SNAP) "who can work do so."

CBPP also states the number of SNAP households that have earnings while participating in SNAP has been rising for more than a decade, and has more than tripled -- from about 2 million in 2000 to about 6.4 million in 2011.

The jump marks a sharp increase from the first part of the year, when the GDP growth was 2.2 percent.

Economists say the biggest factor behind the spike is an explosion of exports, particularly soybeans, as countries scrambled to snatch up supplies at lower prices before tariffs hit.

Because of that, there seems to be a consensus that this is a "blip" -- driven by one-time factors, and that later this year growth will slow down because of the tariffs.

The economy bump comes at a good time for the president and his fellow Republicans. Heading into the midterm elections, they can point to the best economic growth in four years, coupled with the lowest unemployment numbers in 20 years.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Jul262018

IRS losing money on targeting debts of low-income earners 

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The IRS spent $20 million on private debt collectors who ultimately collected just $6.7 million, according to a report from the Taxpayer Advocate, the agency’s in-house watchdog.

The report deems the Internal Revenue Service’s work with private debt collection to be one of the agency’s most serious problems because the debts assigned to private collectors largely targeted lower-income earners who owe federal taxes.

“It does not appear that [private collection agencies] are particularly effective in collecting the debts assigned to them,” the report reads in part, before noting that the program’s cost “far exceeds the revenue it generates.”

An evaluation of about 4,100 taxpayers who made payments to the IRS showed that half of all those who had to pay their debt back made $41,000 or less annually and that nearly one in every five were living below the poverty line.

The report also found that the debts assigned to private collectors included a number of people receiving Social Security Disability Insurance, despite the IRS’ previously agreeing to exclude disability recipients’ debts from private collection.

The IRS had assigned over $900 million in debt to private collection agencies but ultimately collected less than 1 percent of the total debt assigned, which was not enough to even cover the cost of the program.

The problem is one that the IRS took on despite criticizing it before implementation. Congress passed legislation in 2015 requiring the IRS to hire private collectors for certain kinds of debts, including those belonging to low-income earners.

The same IRS agency that authored the report had warned, however, that the program would be inconsistent with the law and disproportionately target people who already suffered economic hardship.

In practice, this translated to the IRS’ spending money to chase the debt of people who could not afford to pay back their debts. Taxpayer returns showed that nearly half of all those surveyed did not make enough to cover the payments assigned by collection agencies.

Congress has been working on a legislative remedy, with the House unanimously passing legislation in April that included a provision banning the IRS from turning over low-income people’s debts to private firms. A similar Senate bill introduced this month does not change the rule banning low-income earners’ debts from being turned over to private collectors.

Testifying before the Senate Thursday, the IRS' National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson said the IRS does not want to do this but only does so because of Congress' mandate.

"If you are levying on someone with an economic hardship, you have to stop levying on them," Olson said. "What I’ve said to the IRS is try to proactively screen out these taxpayers … certainly in private debt collectors, they shouldn’t even go over there."

The IRS did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Jul262018

Two Harvard grads created makeup line, Mented, for women of color

Mented Cosmetics(NEW YORK) -- What started off as a friendship between two musical theater lovers has turned into a cosmetics business worth millions.

Mented Cosmetics co-founders KJ Miller and Amanda Johnson became fast friends after meeting while performing a student-run musical at Harvard Business School.

Miller was an actor in the show, while Johnson was "running costumes backstage," Miller, 31, told Good Morning America while taking a break from the panels at Blavity's Summit 21 conference, which is dedicated to empowering women entrepreneurs and was held in Atlanta.

The 2014 Harvard graduates' first project together was a class assignment where they were tasked to use a social media network to create. They chose to launch a YouTube talk show.

"Don't look for it. Don't Google it," Miller said with a laugh.

But after realizing the two could work and succeed together -- "We both got good grades in the class," Miller said -- the two kept in touch after graduation, even while they secured full-time jobs in retail consulting and digital retail business development.

"We'd get together every couple of weeks over wine and talk about business ideas," Johnson said.

The two knew that any successful business is one that solves a problem, and they soon discovered that they had a unique beauty issue. Johnson called it their "lightbulb moment."

"I've been trying to find the perfect nude lipstick for, like, three years," Johnson, 32, said, adding that she'd often have to mix several colors to create the perfect warm, non-ashy shade. "And KJ was like, 'Oh my God, me too! I don’t really love anything out there. I can't really find anything.'"

"We think every woman of color has experienced seeing a shade of lipstick, trying to put it on -- and it kind of blends into her brown lips because it was never tested on her brown lips," Miller said, noting that Mented stands for "pigmented."

From there, the two searched videos on YouTube to learn how to create lipsticks. After ordering everything they'd need to create nude shades for women with brown skin, the two started hand-making samples inside their apartments in Harlem. They'd test out their vegan, non-toxic shades on friends of all ethnicities. The two friends, who had gathered $10,000 in savings to invest in their burgeoning business, knew they'd created a hit product after sending it to influencers on Instagram and YouTube.

"We weren't asking them to create content," Johnson said. "But they loved it and they just started putting them on their models and making videos and really amplifying it to their audience. That's when we knew we had something."

After their launch in March 2017, Miller and Johnson became the 15th and 16th African-American women to raise more than $1 million in venture capital for their business. The two announced last month that they had raised an additional $3 million to continue to expand their cosmetics line, which now includes lip glosses, eye shadow palettes and nail polishes.

"There was an issue bigger and greater than nude lipstick," Miller said. "It was broader in beauty because women of color really couldn’t find products truly made for them -- nor did they feel like they had a real home and community within the existing world of beauty."

The two host pop-up shops in different cities each month, and Summit 21 attendees could grab one of their sleek tubes of lipstick in the conference gifting suite.

Blavity CEO Morgan DeBaun invited the co-founders to speak at her conference, along with TV personality Angela Rye, author Sarah Jakes Roberts and entrepreneur Myleik Teele. Summit 21 attracted more than 1,200 women to the Atlanta Convention Center.

It's part of DeBaun's plan to dismantle barriers to information for women entrepreneurs, launching business of all kinds.

DeBaun said she created Summit 21 to bring people together to "increase unity and also increase access to resources, because a lot of times we have silos of information."

"When they see examples of other women who are doing what they're trying to do, and they're just one or two steps ahead, they say, 'Oh, I can do that!'"

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Jul252018

Trump announces an agreement with European Union on some tariffs

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump announced an agreement with the European Union on tariffs – an effort to dial back what had been an escalating trade feud.

"We agreed today, first of all, to work together toward zero tariffs, zero nontariff barriers and zero subsidies on non-auto industrial goods," Trump said during his remarks in the Rose Garden as he stood next European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. "We will also work to reduce barriers and increase trade and services, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, medical products as well as soybeans. Soybeans is a big deal. And the European Union is going to start almost immediately to buy a lot of soybeans."

Trump also indicated that the U.S. will enable the European Union to import more liquefied natural gas from the United States and the creation of a dialogue on standards meant to reduce barriers to trade. As part of the agreement, the U.S. will move to end some of the retaliatory tariffs relating to steel and aluminum.

"We also will resolve the steel and aluminum tariff issues and we will resolve retaliatory tariffs. We have some tariffs that are retaliatory and that will get resolved as part of what we are doing," Trump said.

Juncker echoed Trump's description of their meeting and said that the EU would hold off on further tariffs as they work with America.

"We also agreed to work together on the reform of the WTO. This, of course, is on the understanding that as long as we are negotiating, unless one party would stop the negotiations, we hold off further tariffs and reassess existing tariffs on steel and aluminum. This was a good, constructive meeting," Juncker said.

The agreement comes amid backlash, both domestic and abroad, to multiple issues caused by the impact of tariffs on steel, aluminum and $34 billion in Chinese imports.

Many of the retaliatory tariffs other countries have implemented have impacted President Trump's political base.

China, Canada and the European Union have hit back with tariffs on a range of agricultural and industrial products – including some that have caused companies like Harley-Davidson to move production overseas.

The president urged patience in his remarks at the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention on Tuesday.

"Just be a little patient. They are all aiming for anybody who likes me," Trump said.

President Trump also announced Tuesday that the White House would offer $12 billion in "temporary relief aid" from the Department of Agriculture to farmers affected by Chinese tariffs on soybeans.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Trump announces an agreement with European Union on some tariffs

Wednesday
Jul252018

Lady bandits hit Lululemon stores in California 4 times in a month: Police

KGO-TV(SAN FRANCISCO) -- A gang of brazen female burglars have returned at least four times to the same Lululemon location in Fig Garden, California to rob it, making off with thousands of dollars in merchandise over the course of the month of July, authorities said.

Surveillance videos show three women in good shape walking into the high-end athleticwear shop Lululemon in Fig Garden swiftly and brazenly grabbing as much clothing as they could and tossing it into their bags until they were full.

In a video, the three walked in and took clothes from a wardrobe in front of a lady holding a boy’s hand, while another child sitting in the shop watched. The other video shows the trio turned back to the same spot and repeated their action.

Lululemon did not immediately response for comment requested by ABC News.

Fresno police are also searching for this group of women who bolted from the Lululemon store at Fig Garden Village in Northwest Fresno last weekend with more than a hundred pairs of yoga pants, according to local ABC News affiliate, KGO-TV.

The burglars’ M.O. is to walk into stores together, stuff their bags with merchandise, and walk out, Berkeley Police Department spokesman Byron White told ABC News over the phone.

“They walked in with bags and they proceeded to go to the shelves and started putting several pair of pants into their bags and then they walked out of the store,” he said.

The crimes were committed within a minute, according to White.

“The majorities of these crimes are happening in about one minute," he said. "They were walking in with bags already in hands and they just grab a bunch of stuff off the shelf and then they walked out.”

White could not give the total amount of price that the merchandises were worth, but said each merchandise costs around a thousand dollars.

“I know that it’s over a thousand dollar worth a merchandise,” he said.

“The crime usually involves two or three people, women,” he said.

“They bring their own bags, and they just loaded up everything they could fit into their bags and they walked out,” he said, adding that all the crimes took place between 1 and 4 pm at at Lululemon at 1901 Fourth Street.

“We are looking for all three,” he said, adding the three get into a waiting vehicle after their mission.

The crimes took place on June 1, July 2, July 9, and July 11 and the last one with the video happened on July 18.

“We can’t say that all of these cases are related, but we do know that the majority of them are related,” he said.

“It happens in Berkeley in July four times, but it also happened in other Lululemon stores in other cities."

Though White said he never shops for himself at Lululemon, he learned from others that expensive merchandise at Lululemon makes the store a prime target for criminals.

“There is more of reward than there is a risk of getting punishment then that’s the decision that they made.”

“They are bold,” he said, adding that the police released the video yesterday, and are working with the business owner to arrest the criminals.

“If anyone have information, give us a call so we can arrest them.”

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Jul252018

Airlines crack down on emotional support animals in plane cabins

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Many see them on flights -- animals such as cats and dogs riding alongside passengers, providing emotional support to their owner.

For some, these emotional support animals (ESAs) have become a valuable solution for those with psychological disabilities. But, according to recent reports, this type of companionship has gotten out of hand.

Airlines for America, an airline trade association, estimated that, from 2016 to 2017, the number of emotional support animals aboard U.S. commercial flights grew from 481,000 to 751,000. This breaks down to a 57 percent increase in the number of ESAs carried in jet cabins per day.

“There has been a rise in the availability of false emotional support animal credentials online, enabling people who are not truly in need of animal assistance to abuse the rules and evade airline policies on animals in the cabin,” Airlines for America said in a statement to ABC News. “We forecast that based on the current trend, the compound annual growth rate in ESAs could exceed 150 percent over the next five years.”

The steady increase and potential chance to persist has caused many airlines to make a change to their animal travel policies.

This year, United Airlines has taken steps toward reducing the number of ESAs onboard, after facing a 75 percent increase of ESAs in one year. The update now requires customers to provide confirmation that the animal can properly behave in public, and provide a health and vaccination form signed by the animal’s veterinarian.

Delta Airlines has gone as far as banning pit bulls onboard after a reported attack from a 70-pound dog earlier this summer.

Similarly, JetBlue released an updated policy earlier this year requiring customers to submit advanced notification and documentation when traveling with an emotional support or psychiatric service animal.

Aside from the typical service dog, flyers have attempted taking animals as vast as peacocks on board. What seems to be the biggest hurdle in this fight for animal flying freedom is defining what qualifies as this type of “service animal.”

“We turn to animals when we have difficult times, we turn to animals when we feel stressed, we feel anxious, we feel lonely,” psychologist Aubrey Fine told ABC News.

But now, even some of the animals seem to face these difficult times.

“Somebody brought an emotional support animal for their emotional support animal,” said United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz.

While airlines will continue to update their policies regarding travel with these emotional support animals, an alternative solution may be to get rid of them altogether.

“Eliminating the emotional support animal category will greatly reduce the number of untrained animals -- and service animal incidents -- onboard,” Airlines for America said.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Jul252018

Winning ticket for $522M jackpot sold in California

Purestock/Thinkstock(SAN JOSE, Calif.) -- A winning ticket to the 11th-largest U.S. lottery prize ever was sold at a liquor store in San Jose, California.

An individual winner has not yet been identified.

The jackpot was the fifth-largest for the Mega Millions game, a lottery official told ABC News.

The winning numbers in Tuesday night's drawing were 1, 2, 4, 19, 29. The Mega Ball was 20.

The jackpot amount has been climbing since May 8, and it took 22 draws to reach this amount, said Tracey Cohen, CEO of D.C. Lottery.

"It's really exciting," Cohen said. "It's wonderful to see the jackpot climbing and to see people involved and engaged in the drawing and the possibility of winning."

The prize amount surged by $10 million -- from $512 million to $522 million -- within just a few hours on Tuesday morning.

If taken in a lump sum, a single winner would receive about $308 million before taxes.

Earlier this year, two other Mega Millions winners made history, with a $451 million jackpot awarded in January and a $533 million jackpot awarded in April.

The next drawing will be July 27, when the jackpot resets to $40 million -- a $23.6 million lump sum.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Jul242018

Ivanka Trump's fashion brand closes shop

Drew Angerer/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Ivanka Trump is closing shop on her eponymous fashion brand.

The first daughter and White House adviser cited her current role in Washington as a factor in her decision to end the business venture now.

"After 17 months in Washington, I do not know when or if I will ever return to the business, but I do know that my focus for the foreseeable future will be the work I am doing here in Washington, so making this decision now is the only fair outcome for my team and partners," Trump said in a statement.

Trump took a leave from actively leading the women's clothing and accessories line, which she launched back in 2014 when she came to the White House to serve in her father's administration last year.

While company president Abigail Klem insisted in a statement that the company has seen strong sales even though the last year, Trump's business had become a lightning rod for critics of her father's administration. The company came under media scrutiny over labor practices employed by the company, with reports that workers in foreign factories where the Ivanka line was produced struggled to make a living wage.

"We are incredibly proud of the brand we have built and the content and product we’ve developed for our customers. Our platform has become an indispensable resource for our loyal community of women. We’ve seen strong sales since the brand’s inception, which continued through this year with the successful launch of our rapidly growing e-commerce business," Klem said in a statement, adding that she knew it was a "very difficult decision for Ivanka" to end the venture.

Last year, major department stores Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus said they would no longer carry Trump's collection, citing the brand's performance in their stores.

After Nordstrom dropped the brand, President Trump took to Twitter to blast the company for the decision, saying his daughter had been treated unfairly.

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