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Entries in ABC News (8)

Monday
Sep102012

Bob Woodward on What Went Wrong with Failed Debt Deal

ABC/ Ida Mae Astute(NEW YORK) -- "Gaps" in President Obama's leadership contributed to the collapse of a "grand bargain" on spending and debt last year, with the president failing to cultivate congressional relationships that may have helped him break through Republican opposition, author Bob Woodward told ABC News' Diane Sawyer.

Woodward's reporting in his new book, The Price of Politics, reveals a president whom he said lacked the "stamina" in turning personal relationships with congressional leaders into action the way some of his predecessors have done.

"President Clinton, President Reagan. And if you look at them, you can criticize them for lots of things. They by and large worked their will," Woodward told Sawyer. "On this, President Obama did not."

"Now, some people are going to say he was fighting a brick wall, the Republicans in the House and the Republicans in Congress. Others will say it's the president's job to figure out how to tear down that brick wall. In this case, he did not."

Asked if Obama simply wasn't ready for the job of being president, Woodward responded:

"I am not ducking this. I am weighing evidence, and there's evidence that he got on top of a lot of things, he did a lot of things. And there's evidence that there are gaps," he said. "He did not fix this."

Woodward places particular blame for the failure to reach a deal with Obama, writing that the seeds of discord were planted early in his administration. He displayed "two sides" of his personality in early meetings with congressional leaders, Woodward said.

"There's this divided-man quality to President Obama always. Initially he meets with the congressional leaders, he says you know, 'We're going to be accommodating, we're going to listen, we're going to talk, we're going to compromise," Woodward said.

"But then they -- Republicans ask some questions and challenge him a little bit and he says, 'Look I won. I'm in charge here,'" Woodward continued. "And the Republicans feel totally isolated and ostracized. And this was the beginning of a war."

Last summer's debate over the debt ceiling was an intense period for the Obama presidency -- and a perilous one for the nation. One White House aide described it as the economic equivalent of the Cuban Missile Crisis; in an interview with Woodward, Obama himself compared the tension during this timeframe with his decision to strike Osama bin Laden's compound.

Tune in to ABC’s World News with Diane Sawyer and Nightline on Monday, Sept. 10, 2012 to see Diane Sawyer's exclusive interview with Bob Woodward.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
May072012

ABC News, Univision Announce Multiplatform News, Lifestyle Service

ABC News/Univision(NEW YORK) -- ABC News announced Monday morning that it plans to join forces with Univision News to create a multiplatform news, lifestyle and information programming service aimed at U.S. Hispanics.

Both organizations promised in a statement to provide "uncompromising coverage of current events with a unique perspective" with the around-the-clock, English-language television network and digital platform.  Both will cater to the country's more than 50 million Hispanics with programming focused on news, lifestyle and culture.  The television network will be staffed by journalists from ABC News and Univision News.

A website, mobile and social media content are expected to debut this summer.  The unnamed television channel is expected to launch in 2013.  Editorial coverage will focus on the issues most relevant for U.S. Hispanics, including the economy, jobs, health care, immigration, education, politics, entertainment, health and wellness and more.

"This exciting joint venture represents the latest example of our long-term strategy to broaden the reach of ABC," Anne Sweeney, president of the Disney-ABC Television Group, said in a statement.  "Our powerful premier news brand, combined with the world's leading Hispanic media company, will create the nation's first news and lifestyle channel targeted to this quickly expanding and important community."

Cesar Conde, president of Univision Networks, said in a statement, "For more than five decades Univision has been the leader in serving Hispanics in the U.S. and this joint venture is an extension of our vision to deliver the most relevant news and information, regardless of language, to all Hispanics."

ABC News president Ben Sherwood said in a statement, "All of us at ABC News are thrilled to work with Univision.  Our mission is clear: To offer culturally relevant news, information and lifestyle programming to the large and thriving Latino audience in the United States.  In these times of rapid change, we are very excited about this opportunity."

Isaac Lee, president of Univision News, called the combined effort "an important moment for journalism in the U.S. and for the U.S. Hispanic community" that will "provide all audiences with a multiplatform current events perspective on the issues that matter most to Latinos."

A management team is expected to be announced this summer.  The network will have anchors and correspondents in major cities across the United States.  Additionally, ABC News and Univision News will share newsgathering and production resources. 

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
May012012

Zuckerberg Explains Life-Saving Facebook Tool, Stays Mum on IPO

Rick Rowell/ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Conversations over the dinner table with his med-student girlfriend helped Mark Zuckerberg formulate his latest big idea — harnessing the power of Facebook to help eliminate the critical shortage of organs for patients desperately in need of life-saving transplants.

And it was his friendship with Apple founder Steve Jobs, whose life was extended by years following a liver transplant, in part, that spurred the 27-year-old Facebook founder and CEO to help put that idea into practice.

“Facebook is really about communicating and telling stories… We think that people can really help spread awareness of organ donation and that they want to participate in this to their friends. And that can be a big part of helping solve the crisis that’s out there,” Zuckerberg told ABC’s Robin Roberts in an exclusive interview at Facebook’s headquarters.

Starting Tuesday, users in the United States and U.K. will be able to add that they’re organ donors to their Timelines, and if they’re not organ donors, they can find links to official organ donation registries and instantly enroll.

“We want to make it simple,” said Zuckerberg. “You just put in the state or country that you’re from, so that we can help link you to the official registries.”

In the “health and wellness” section of users’ timelines, users can list their status as organ donors and explain the decision to their friends, in an effort to raise awareness about the need for donors.

More than 112,000 Americans are awaiting organs, and 18 people die every day from the lack of available organs, according to Donate Life America, a nonprofit alliance that is partnering with Facebook.

Zuckerberg, 27, has made a fortune on the idea that people want to share everything – from photos, to the intimate details of their romantic lives. Yet, Zuckerberg himself is famously private, keeping details of his personal life – not to mention a much-anticipated Facebook IPO — under tight wraps.

In conversation with Roberts, Zuckerberg kept the door on the IPO tightly shut – citing the government-mandated quiet period before the IPO — and saying only “we try to keep very focused on the long term… We’ll be judged by how good the things are that we build and whether people like them.”

But he revealed some small details of his personal life, lighting up when talking about the dinnertime chats he had with girlfriend Priscilla Chan that helped lead to the donation initiative.

“She’s in medical school now,” Zuckerberg said of Chan. “She’s going to be a pediatrician, so our dinner conversations are often about Facebook and the kids that she’s meeting.”

Chan told him stories about patients she meets “getting sicker as they don’t have the organ that they need.” But there were other stories too, of children who ultimately received transplants. Stories, Zuckerberg called, “unbelievable.”

From Chan he learned of one boy in need of a heart transplant. His skin had turned blue from lack of oxygen, but within weeks of receiving a transplant he was out again playing sports.

“How can that not make you happy?” he asked.

Chan inspired Zuckerberg to try to learn Mandarin Chinese in one year. That venture, he admitted, was unsuccessful, but he picked up enough to natter with Chan’s elderly grandmother.

Zuckerberg said he was further prompted make Facebook an important tool to encourage donors to register following the death of Steve Jobs, whom he called a “friend.” Though Zuckerberg never talked with Jobs specifically about a Facebook donation tool, he said many of the people involved in the project were inspired after Jobs’ death.

“That definitely, I think, was something that we all had in mind as we were building this out… His story is just one of many, of people who both were able to have an organ transplant that made his life longer and he was extremely thankful for that,” Zuckerberg said.

Facebook was initially developed by Zuckerberg while still an undergraduate at Harvard. The site was initially conceived as place for college students to socialize. Recently, however, Zuckerberg said he’s been surprised by the power of the network and the way users use its tools creatively in times of crisis, like finding loved-ones following tornadoes in the Midwest or the tsunami in Japan.

“People are using the same social tools that they’re using just to keep in touch with people on a day-to-day basis to solve these important issues,” he said.

The technology behind the donation application, Zuckerberg said, is a “pretty simple thing.” But the ability to link people across hundreds of miles and save their lives? That, he called, “amazing.”

Both the company and organ donation advocates are hopeful the new tool could change the landscape of the organ donation process.

“I think it’s possible that we will see an impact over the next couple of years, where we would imagine eliminating the transplant waiting list,” said Dr. Andrew Cameron, Transplant Surgeon at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
Mar192012

TaxMasters Inc. Files for Bankruptcy

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- The well-known and controversial tax advisory firm, TaxMasters Inc., filed for bankruptcy Monday morning, just as it was preparing to head to court to defend itself from charges of deceptive practices leveled by the Texas attorney general.

The Houston-based company, best known for a national advertising campaign that made the company's bearded, red-haired founder Patrick Cox a recognizable figure, was the subject of an ABC News investigation in April, in which customers had alleged that the company persuaded them to pay large upfront fees, but never delivered on promises of helping them resolve their tax problems. The commercials boast that the company's staff of former IRS agents and tax professionals "have helped many good people just like you."

But Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said the ads have been misleading. He filed a multi-count civil case against TaxMasters, accusing it of deceiving its customers and violating the state's debt collection laws.

"In the midst of a national economic downturn, TaxMasters used a nationwide marketing campaign to offer services for distressed taxpayers who needed help dealing with the IRS," Abbott said. "A state investigation and nearly 1,000 customer complaints indicate that the defendants routinely misled customers about the nature of their tax resolution service agreements – and worse, attempted to enforce those improper agreements through unlawful debt collection tactics."

ABC News made repeated attempts to contact the company and its founder last week, as word began circulating that it was in financial distress. TaxMasters' customers had reported to KTRK, the owned-and-operated ABC News station in Houston, that they were not able to get responses when calling about their tax filings, and one described visiting the company's office, only to find the doors locked. A telephone sales agent told an ABC News reporter that the company "was not taking any new sales," but would not discuss the company's dire finances any further.

Within the past month, the landlord that owns the building where the company is headquartered sued alleging that Taxmasters failed to pay its January rent. A contracting firm handling construction work at the office also sued the company alleging it had not been paying its bills. Videos on the company's website displaying the well known TaxMasters advertisements featuring Cox were no longer working. Recent filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission carry a warning that the company's earlier financial statements are being amended and should no longer be relied upon.

A spokesman for the Texas Attorney General told ABC News the state was preparing to head to court Monday morning in its civil case, but had not heard anything specific about TaxMasters' financial status. Court papers filed Monday morning indicate that TaxMasters has filed for bankruptcy with between $1 million and $10 million in liabilities.

The TaxMasters ad blitz has been a driving force in the company's soaring corporate revenues. The company, which went public in 2010, brought in $45.7 million, a three-fold increase in two years, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The company linked "an increase in advertising expense" to "increased sales volume" in its year-end filing.

The Minnesota attorney general's office, which has also been investigating the firm, told ABC News that many of the company's employees are skilled telemarketers who have little knowledge of the complicated tax issues faced by people who have fallen behind in filing their returns or making tax payments.

"This is a company [that] is taking advantage of people, and unfortunately when people see it on TV, they do believe in it," Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson told ABC News. "When you call, you think you're talking to a tax professional. You're really talking to just a salesperson who's trying to get you to sign up."

Cox declined to be interviewed by ABC News, and in a written statement he did not address the specific allegations in the two states' lawsuits. TaxMasters has denied the allegations in the lawsuits and Cox said the company "prides itself on honest customer service, a transparent process with our customer, and seeking fair treatment from the IRS."

At the heart of the problem, says Attorney General Swanson, is a requirement that customers pay an upfront fee ranging between $2000 and $8000.

"When you pay these upfront, advanced fees, now you're signed up, you're stuck, and the promised help doesn't materialize," she told ABC News.

Audio tapes of some sales calls, turned over to the attorney general by TaxMasters, prove the point, she says.

Salespeople tell potential customers TaxMasters is 97 or 98 percent successful in reducing the amount of taxes owed.

"You're owing $19,000," the TaxMasters salesman tells a customer on a recording provided to ABC News by the attorney general.

"I mean we can get you down to basically next to nothing," he continues. "I think we are the most successful tax resolution company. We're 97 percent successful," the salesman says.

"Not true," said Attorney General Swanson. "It's another falsehood of this company. These salesmen tell people that to sign them up, but they don't deliver on those promises."

The IRS says only a small number of taxpayers ever qualify for such a substantial reduction in taxes owed.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Nov232011

Egg Producer Vows Improvement After ABC News Investigation

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Sparboe Farms, the embattled Iowa egg producer at the center of an ABC News investigation, has created a task force to investigate the company's operations, it was announced this week.

Calling it a "Sustainability Task Force," charged with "reviewing all current company practices in the areas of food safety, animal care and sustainability," Sparboe's president and owner, Beth Sparboe Schnell, announced the step in her first public statement since an ABC News report that exposed alleged animal abuse and unsanitary conditions at the nation's fifth-largest egg producer.

Sparboe Schnell says she decided to create the task force "so that we can make our company better." The members of the new task force will be made up of three Sparboe employees and three outside advisors. Sparboe Schnell says the company recently passed four third-party animal welfare audits, confirming the company is in compliance with policies.

Animal rights groups remain unconvinced that this step will be enough. Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the U.S., told ABC News, "Passing 'third-party audits' means little when the standards of that audit are anemic at best. Sparboe doesn't need a task force to understand what it needs to do."

Pacelle pointed out that Sparboe remains the sole major egg producer in the nation that has lobbied against a joint push by the egg industry's main trade group and the Humane Society to improve the welfare of egg-laying hens. The United Egg Producers and the Humane Society worked together on a bill to be introduced in Congress that would increase the amount of space allotted to each hen. Sparboe is not a member of UEP and opposes the new standard.

Sparboe Schnell, whose company was started in 1954 by her late father, says she was "shocked and deeply disturbed" when seeing hidden-camera video shot by an undercover operative for the animal rights group Mercy for Animals that exposed conditions inside Sparboe facilities. The video first aired on ABC News. Sparboe Schnell maintained that it was the "wrongful acts of a handful of bad actors" and that all employees involved have been fired. McDonald's, Target and other retailers announced that they would stop buying eggs from Sparboe after learning the results of the ABC News investigation.

"At Sparboe Farms, we expect our employees to provide the best care possible and follow our animal care code of conduct," Schnell said. "Acts depicted in the footage are totally unacceptable, inconsistent with our values as farmers, and violate our animal care policies and procedures."

Nathan Runkle of Mercy for Animals said that Sparboe is ignoring the bigger issue of keeping hens in so-called "barren" battery cages, which he says prevent the birds from engaging in basic animal behavior. "This isn't a case of a few rotten employees, this is a matter of Sparboe subjecting every hen in its care to a lifetime of intensive confinement and deprivation. Sparboe's true actions on animal care issues don't line up with their PR rhetoric."

Sparboe Schnell also addressed an FDA warning letter sent to the company last week that detailed serious concerns after inspection of Sparboe's facilities. "Our team will continue to work with the FDA to successfully address the remaining concerns," Sparboe said, adding that the company has never had a single egg test positive for salmonella.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
Oct032011

ABC News, Yahoo! News Announce Online Partnership

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Yahoo!, the premier digital media company, and ABC News on Monday announced they will join forces to launch a strategic online news alliance that will deliver content to more than 100 million U.S. users each month.

This new venture blends ABC News' global newsgathering operation and lineup of anchors and reporters with Yahoo! News' audience, depth and breadth of content. Beginning Monday, GoodMorningAmerica.com launches on Yahoo! along with three new online-first video series hosted by the award-winning anchors of ABC News.

Under the agreement, ABC News becomes the premier news provider on Yahoo! News, with editorial teams from both organizations collaborating on original coverage to appear on both the Yahoo! News and ABC News sites. Teams will co-produce coverage for major news events and will have integrated bureaus in New York, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles.

ABC News content will be integrated throughout the Yahoo! News network, including the Yahoo! front page. ABC News will maintain editorial control over ABCNews.com and GoodMorningAmerica.com, and Yahoo! News will maintain editorial control of all its sites.

The new GoodMorningAmerica.com site, powered by Yahoo!'s global technology platform, will feature an influx of original text and video content generated by ABC News.

The video series launched Monday include "Newsmakers," which features ABC News anchors like Diane Sawyer, George Stephanopoulos, Barbara Walters, Katie Couric, Robin Roberts, and others interviewing global leaders and celebrities, starting with Stephanopoulos' sitdown with President Barack Obama on Monday. The other two debuting video series are "Around the World with Christiane Amanpour," in which the reporter and This Week anchor offers analysis and context on the international news headlines of the day, and "This Could Be Big," anchored by Bill Weir, which spotlights new technology products and explores the future of innovation.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Aug112011

Gold Rush Is Also a Boon for the Refinery Biz

Norm Betts/Bloomberg via Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Investors aren't the only ones rushing to profit from the booming value of gold. Refiners, who buy scrap gold from dealers and private owners, say they are also seeing an upsurge in activity.

"It is great for business," says Terry Hanlon, director of the metals division of Dillon Gage, which operates a gold refinery in Texas. He says revenue from the gold refinery business has increased 200 percent in the last year, while silver is up 300 percent.

With gold worth $1,775 an ounce, "it comes out of the woodwork," he said, with individuals bringing their items to dealers, who in turn sell it to refineries where it is melted down to its purest form.

More people are selling gold because they have become aware of its high value in the current economy -- and because they have to. "People of course need money," says Candy Frankel of Midwest Refineries in Michigan. "Most people are very pleased with their settlement."

Individuals who want to cash in on their gold jewelry or coins usually sell them to dealers, who in turn bring scrap gold to a refinery, where it's melted down. A sample is sent for a process called assay, where the purity of the gold is determined. The higher the karat, the greater the value: 18 karat gold is 75 percent pure gold, for example, while 12 karat is 50 percent gold.

Dealers are also bringing in silver, now selling for $39 an ounce, says Hanlon—flatware, serving trays, tea sets. "Many people who have silver look at it and say, 'We never use this, we tuck it away,'" he says. They don't always realize that not all their flatware is sterling silver—knives, he says, have stainless steel blades and only the outside of the handles are sterling.

He says business is booming, and Dillon Gage moved last month to a much larger space. Frankel also described the refinery business as "extremely" good right now.

Steven Polinksy, owner of Dvir and Stoler in New York City's diamond district, has a gloomier outlook. "At this point the scrap business has slowed down," he says, because people who want to sell their jewelry have already done so, while wealthier people will hold onto their gold despite the soaring price.

Polinsky says the gold boom has dealt a knockout blow to the jewelry business because pieces cost too much. Even couples who are getting married have cut back, he says."They're buying thinner wedding rings, 12 karat instead of 18 karat."

He warns that people who are selling gold to be careful. "A lot of these people that are selling jewelry are being taken advantage of," with some buyers offering only 70 percent of value, he said.

But Polinsky thinks the gold rush is far from over. "Gold makes the world go round," he said. "Gold will always have a value. You may one day have to pay for your groceries with gold."

"I absolutely don't think it's a bubble," says Hanlon.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Jul142011

3 Things You Should Never Carry in Your Wallet

Brand X Pictures/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- More than eight million Americans were the victims of identity theft last year. What the personal information thieves are looking for can often be found right in your wallet -- which is why it's so important to know what's in there. Mellody Hobson, president of Ariel Investments, talks about what you should and should not have in your wallet.

1. Your wallet can contain your life, which is not always a good thing. Let's start with what we should keep in our wallets. Credit cards? Yes, you should carry a credit card. But just one credit card. The good news is that most people now have two credit cards, which is down from three cards just a year ago. The more cards you carry, the more likely you are to over-extend yourself. Also remember even if you have a credit card in your wallet but never use it, it adds to your available credit, which affects your credit rating.

2. So you should carry some cash? It is important to carry some cash. Studies show that when people use plastic versus cash they spend 12-18 percent more. Also, you don't want to use your credit card or debit card to buy things like gum and other small purchases. If you're just paying your minimum balance, you could end up paying interest on those small purchases.

3. Should we save all our receipts, and is our wallet the right place to keep them? Receipts not only clutter your wallet, but they could contain information about you that identity thieves could use. So you should take any receipts out of your wallet every night. Either reconcile them at the end of the week online against your bank account or credit card website, or save them until the end of the month and reconcile them against your monthly statements. But don't store them in your wallet.

4. What else should you not have in your wallet? The number one thing you should not carry in your wallet is your social security card. If it gets into the wrong hands, it can be used for everything from buying a car to opening a credit card. You should also never carry your passport in your wallet. Even if you are traveling in a foreign country, leave your passport in your hotel and just carry a photocopy of the picture page. And of course do not keep a list of your PINs and passwords in your wallet. That would be a gold mine to a thief. Keep those passwords at home.

5. What else should we take out of our wallets? Don't keep anything in your wallet that has expired. This includes old credit cards or membership cards. Just because they've expired doesn't mean thieves will not try to use them. Also remember most of them have at least your name on it, and probably your address and other personal information. The more information you can keep out of the hands of others, the better. Many people carry old hotel key cards in their wallet. Although almost all U.S. hotels do not put personally identifiable information on their key cards, the cards can often be used to make purchases at the hotel spa or gift shop. My best advice is destroy them after you have checked out, you don't need to return them to the hotel.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio