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Thursday
Jun062019

FCC allows telecom companies to block illegal robocalls

iStock(NEW YORK) -- The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted on Thursday to allow telecom providers to block illegal and unwanted calls before they reach consumers, saying it will make an immediate difference for those plagued by scam calls.

The commission says the "Do Not Call" registry works for legal robocalls, but an estimated 47% of robocalls are illegal.

The vote means that, under existing rules, your phone company can block unwanted calls based on a computer's assessment of the call, similar to a service some companies allow customers to use on an opt-in basis or one that requires a separate app.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said the vote is a response to the thousands of complaints from consumers, and he expects phone companies to adopt the tool quickly and start blocking unwanted robocalls.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Jun062019

Sen. Bernie Sanders criticizes Walmart over worker wages at shareholder meeting

Wolterk/iStock(NEW YORK) -- Sen. Bernie Sanders took his criticism of American economic inequality to one of its alleged perpetrators on Wednesday, condemning leadership of the retail giant Walmart over low employee wages at its annual shareholder meeting in Arkansas, while lobbying for a resolution that would give hourly workers a seat on the company's board of directors.

"Despite the incredible wealth of its owner, Walmart pays many of its employees starvation wages – wages that are so low that many of these employees are forced to rely on government programs like food stamps, Medicaid, and public housing in order to survive," Sanders, I-Vt., said during brief remarks that were limited to three minutes. "Frankly, the American people are sick and tired of subsidizing the greed of some of the largest and most profitable corporations in this country."

The presidential candidate's speech came on behalf of North Carolina Walmart employee Carolyn Davis, a member of the workers' rights organization United for Respect, who filed the proposal for an hourly worker representative to be added to the company's board of directors position ahead of the shareholders' meeting.

Sanders, who has made economic inequality a centerpiece of his nearly four-decade-long political career, has regularly used Walmart, its founding Walton family and its treatment of its employees as examples of why he characterizes the nation's economy as "rigged," arguing that the company and the billionaire family have been able to avoid paying their "fair share" of taxes while simultaneously denying workers a living wage.

In recent days, he's further noted that the Waltons earn the same amount of money -- $25,000 in one minute -- compared to what the average Walmart employee makes in one year. He elaborated on Wednesday that the retailer's revenue could easily cover the cost of providing its low-wage workers with raises.

"Last year, Walmart made nearly $10 billion in profit. It paid its CEO over $20 million in compensation. And it has authorized $20 billion in stock buybacks, which will benefit its wealthiest stockholders," Sanders said Wednesday. "Surely, with all that, Walmart can afford to pay its employees a living wage of at least $15 an hour."

Because the Walton family holds a near majority of votes at the shareholders' meeting, the resolution was not expected to pass and did, in fact, ultimately fail. After Sanders had concluded, the company's Executive Vice President of Global Governance Rachel Brand also noted that the company did not support the proposal, but that "the importance of listening to and investing in our associates" was reflected in earlier remarks by its CEO Doug McMillon.

The senator's appearance came as workers' and union rights have emerged as a rallying point for nearly the entire Democratic presidential field in recent weeks. Already in 2019, candidates have demonstrated with striking Stop & Shop grocery store workers and McDonald's employees, as they argued for better benefits and higher pay, among other issues. On May 23, presidential candidates Julian Castro, Bill de Blasio and Jay Inslee all attended McDonald's events in-person, and Sanders -- who held a video town hall for the occasion last month -- will do so on Sunday in Iowa, his campaign announced shortly after his Walmart speech.

Sanders, in particular, has promoted the efforts as examples of his platform manifesting itself. In the 24 hours prior to his speech in Arkansas, the senator posted video testimonials from Walmart employees to his Instagram and Twitter accounts, where several of the workers lamented their low wages, inability to take time off and safety concerns.

The ability of the potential hourly workers' representative to advocate for a wage hike and other working condition improvements with the Walmart board was the rationale for the resolution proposed by Davis, who has worked at Walmart for 11 years. In a statement in late May, she said associates "should have the power to decide what happens at the company many of us have given our working lives to."

"This is fundamentally about hourly associates having the power to drive corporate change at the top, because C-suites and corporate boards are leaving us behind," Davis added.

In his remarks, Sanders said, "The concerns of workers, not just stockholders, should be part of board decisions."

"Today, with the passage of this resolution, Walmart can strike a blow against corporate greed and a grotesque level of income and wealth inequality that exists in our country," he added.

McMillon shifted some of that burden on the federal government, telling the meeting -- ahead of Sanders' remarks -- that "it's time for Congress to put a thoughtful plan in place to increase the minimum wage."

Last year, Sanders attempted to address the issue legislatively by proposing what he called the "Stop WALMART Act," a bill introduced in conjunction with Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif. -- who is now a co-chair of Sanders' campaign -- that would prohibit companies from engaging in stock buybacks unless it pay their employees at least a $15 per hour minimum wage, give workers the opportunity to earn at least seven days of paid sick leave and create a ceiling for CEO compensation at 150 times the median employee salary. McMillon's more than $20 million in compensation in 2018 was 1,000 times more than Walmart's average employee wage.

The act, built upon similar legislation targeting Amazon, also co-introduced by Sanders and Khanna, would tax corporations for each of their employees who receive government-funded health or food assistance, thereby incentivizing them to raise wages and expand coverage. Neither bill was taken up by the 115th Congress last year and each died when the body adjourned.

But Sanders cited Amazon in Arkansas on Wednesday as an industry leader in regard to wages, noting that it, along with Costco and Target, has already taken steps to guarantee its employees a $15 minimum wage.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Jun062019

YouTube sends mixed signals after gay Latino journalist reports harassment

TARIK KIZILKAYA/iStock(NEW YORK) -- A gay Latino journalist publicly reported years of harassment to YouTube this week, setting off yet another round of escalating criticism regarding how the video sharing platform polices content on its site.

On May 30, Vox's Carlos Maza tweeted that Steven Crowder, a self-styled right-wing shock jock and YouTube personality had allegedly harassed him for years.

"I've been called an anchor baby, a lispy queer, a Mexican, etc. These videos get millions of views on YouTube. Every time one gets posted, I wake up to a wall of homophobic/racist abuse on Instagram and Twitter," Maza tweeted.

"That being said, I'm not mad at Crowder. There will always be monsters in the world. I'm f------ pissed at @YouTube, which claims to support its LGBT creators, and has explicit policies against harassment and bullying," Maza continued.

On Tuesday, YouTube tweeted back that Crowder's videos did not violate its terms of service.

"I have spent two years getting targeted by racist and homophobic abuse from one of @YouTube's star creators," Maza tweeted in reaction to YouTube's response.

He accused YouTube of "pinkwashing" or promoting pro-LGBTQ content as a public relations move while allowing personalities who traffic in homophobia and racism to continue making money from YouTube.

"YouTube makes money off of anti-LGBT speech, allows bigots to develop massive, mobilized audiences, and then seduces corporate advertisers by claiming to [sic] queer people. Depraved," Maza tweeted.

Emails sent to Crowder's websites, which sell merchandise like "Socialism is for F---" T-shirts, directed ABC News to Crowder's social media profiles. He did not respond to tweets for comment.

The situation escalated on Wednesday when employees at Google, which owns YouTube, joined in on criticizing the company by tweeting from an account named Googlers Against Hate.

"Despite YouTube capitalizing on Pride as a marketing campaign, it's clear they have no issue making policy decisions that harm LGBTQ people like @gaywonk. We have #NoPrideInYT," the employee account tweeted.

Hours later, YouTube seemingly reversed its decision and tweeted, "Update on our continued review — we have suspended [Steven Crowder's] channel’s monetization. We came to this decision because a pattern of egregious actions has harmed the broader community and is against our YouTube Partner Program policies."

Suspending a channel’s monetization blocks it from making any money on videos uploaded to the site.

Then, within the hour, another tweet from YouTube caused more confusion.

"To clarify, in order to reinstate monetization on this channel, he will need to remove the link to his T-shirts," YouTube said, referring to the websites where Crowder sells the offensive T-shirts.

YouTube did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

The latest comment upset both Maza and Crowder, with Maza tweeting, "Oh my f---ing god."

Crowder subsequently posted a video that talked about the coming #adpocalypse, a term he uses to describe losses in revenue for influencers whose free speech he says is being assaulted as platforms pander to the left.

"A lot of the information you've been getting out there is wholly inaccurate. The adpocalypse is coming for a lot of you. It's coming hard. The ability for one to make a living online, on any social media platform, but particularly YouTube, is about to change drastically," Crowder said.

Experts today have been paying attention to how these ideological battles play out on social media.

"There is panic among YouTubers who traffic in shock jock style livestream shows,” Joan Donovan, the director of the Technology and Social Change Research Project at Harvard's Kennedy School, told ABC News.

She said some are moving to other messaging apps in an effort to retain contact with their audiences.

“But, it’s difficult to tell what action YouTube will take today or in the future to rid these influencers from their platform," she noted.

"For years, many people petitioned YouTube to develop and enforce their terms of service to mitigate harassment, but YouTube does not apply these policies evenly. This makes serial harassers increase their torment because it makes for new waves of attention," Donovan said.

YouTube has also come under attack from critics who claim the platform uses algorithms that reward controversy because it sparks engagement and keep viewers on the platform. YouTube has previously denied those claims.

In a statement to The Guardian regarding research by the newspaper that found that YouTube's algorithm favored videos about Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton leading up to the 2016 presidential election, the company denied that its system is biased.

“Our search and recommendation systems reflect what people search for, the number of videos available, and the videos people choose to watch on YouTube. That’s not a bias towards any particular candidate; that is a reflection of viewer interest," a spokesperson told The Guardian.

Another expert, Chad Loder, who monitors hate speech on social media, described creators who feed off controversy as "overwhelmingly young, white, male gamers who make their reputation as edgelords."

"This is YouTube’s core demographic. If they cracked down on abusive speech and hateful slurs, they’d drive away most of their independent creators," Loder said.

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Wednesday
Jun052019

Former exec sues Goldman Sachs after allegedly being fired for being 'too gay' 

Maria_Ermolova/iStock(NEW YORK) -- A former Goldman Sachs executive sued the bank for discrimination on Wednesday, saying he was fired after reporting repeated instances of homophobia and discrimination.

William Jarrad Littleton, a former vice president and eight-year employee of the bank, claims he was fired after complaining about multiple instances of what he described as discrimination because he is gay, according to the lawsuit filed in New York State Supreme Court.

In a statement to ABC News, Goldman Sachs officials described the lawsuit as "without merit."

In one example cited in the lawsuit, Littleton alleges that he was kept off a client call for because “he sounded too gay.”

In another, he alleges that he was asked by his supervisor, “What’s wrong with you? Do you act this way because you’re gay?”

Littleton's lawsuit claims he was "abruptly fired by those who he complained engaged in discriminatory conduct," right after complaining to the employee relations department at Goldman, despite several prior years of what he characterized as excellent performance reviews. He also claims his annual compensation then dropped around 20%, and that other vice presidents at his level out-earned him as a result, although he did not specify that amount.

The ousted executive also said he was an openly gay leader at the bank.

"Mr. Littleton’s experiences demonstrate that Goldman Sachs in particular has failed to embrace this important responsibility," David E. Gottlieb, a lawyer for Littleton said in a statement to ABC News. "We intend to send a message to all businesses in New York, and Goldman in particular, that this type of treatment towards LGBTQ+ employees will not be tolerated.”

A Goldman Sachs spokesperson called the claims "baseless."

"Goldman Sachs has a sustained and proven commitment to diversity, and we are proud of the vibrant and diverse LGBTQ community at the firm," officials for the Wall Street firm wrote in a statement to ABC News.

'"We strongly encourage all of our employees to bring their authentic selves to work, because it makes us a better firm. This suit is without merit and we plan to defend ourselves."

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Jun052019

Catholic Church lobbyists spent $10.6M to fight legal efforts to support victims of sex abuse: Report

mikyso/iStock(NEW YORK) -- Survivors of sexual abuse by Catholic priests have long sought justice in the courts but their opposition has benefited from the deep pockets of the Catholic Church itself, according to a new report.

Several states have considered or made efforts to pass laws that extend or reopen windows for statute of limitations laws so that victims of sexual abuse can sue their abusers, even if the alleged abuse took place decades earlier. But the new report, put together by a team of law firms, says that the Catholic Church has helped those who are accused by paying millions to fight states' efforts to pass the laws.

Since 2011, the Catholic Church spent more than $10.6 million lobbying against proposals in eight states, the report says.

The law firms involved with the study include Seeger Weiss LLP, Williams Cedar LLC, Abraham Watkins and the Simpson Tuegel Law Firm, which worked together to examine publicly available lobbying payment data in each of the northeastern states where statute of limitations laws have been considered.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment.

"We can’t say we're surprised but it confirms how bad it really is, and it confirms the depth and the real failure to change," Michelle Simpson Tuegel, an attorney who works with the team behind the report, told ABC News.

The church spent the most money lobbying in Pennsylvania, according to the report, which says that it spent more than $5.2 million fighting three different measures in the state.

In New York, where the Child Victims Act was signed into law in February, the church’s lobbying efforts cost over $2.9 million.

Six-figure sums were also spent in Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine, with the $10.6 million rounding out in Rhode Island, where lobbying efforts cost $61,961.

"It really lays out what we have known but it puts it in a really concrete form: that the Church and even the pope has continued to make broad statements that they stand in support of sexual abuse survivors but what we really see in this report is that their actions aren’t in line," Simpson Tuegel said.

Of the eight states detailed in the report, only two — New York and New Jersey — have officially passed laws that allow victims to bring civil claims against their alleged abusers. Five of the other states have undergone various efforts that are currently moving through the state legislature or waiting for gubernatorial approval.

The lawsuits, which are expected to increase as more states implement a so-called "revival window" — where victims can raise civil claims against alleged abusers after the criminal statute of limitations has expired — are not only a concern for the Catholic Church.

In April, Mike Surbaugh, the Boy Scouts of America's chief scouting executive, told reporters that "increasing lawsuits has put financial pressure on the Boy Scouts of America." He said that they are "very aware of the changes in the law" in states like New York, which could potentially result in more lawsuits for organizations like the Boy Scouts of America.

For her part, Simpson Tuegel said that she thinks the lawsuits will help "pull back the curtain" on the ways that the Catholic Church has been handling sexual assault claims.

"It forces the Church into the light," she said, "and it requires them to answer in a public court as to what they have done and what they failed to do for all of these people who have been harmed under their watch and by their priests."

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Jun052019

Amazon promises 'Prime Air' drone delivery 'within months'

MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images(LAS VEGAS) -- Amazon Inc. said it's taking deliveries to the next level -- quite literally -- within a few months by using drones.

The company made the announcement Wednesday at its re:MARS Conference in Las Vegas, with the company's CEO of Amazon Worldwide Consumer, Jeff Wilke sharing the news and design specs for the newest Prime Air drone.

"We've been hard at work building fully electric drones that can fly up to 15 miles and deliver packages under five pounds to customers in less than 30 minutes," Wilke said in a blog post.

According to Amazon, the new drones will be more efficient, stable and safe because they're designed to detect static and moving objects from any direction while in motion.

Detecting wires proved one of the most difficult challenges for low-altitude flights, Wilke said in the blog post, but Amazon accomplished it by using of proprietary computer-vision techniques.

"We know customers will only feel comfortable receiving drone deliveries if they know the system is incredibly safe," Wilke said. "So we're building a drone that isn't just safe, but independently safe, using the latest artificial intelligence technologies."

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos first revealed plans for Prime Air in 2013, and the company made its first fully autonomous Prime Air delivery Dec. 7, 2016, in Cambridge, England, where the company has a fulfillment center.

Wednesday's announcement is just the latest in a string of delivery innovations from the tech giant that's invested billions of dollars into its fulfillment network.

Earlier this week, Amazon announced one-day free shipping is now available to more than 100 million Prime subscribers. That service was announced in April along with Key For Garage, which debuted on "Good Morning America."

Amazon said using drones is just the next step in customer convenience.

"Can we deliver packages to customers even faster? We think the answer is yes, and one way we're pursuing that goal is by pioneering autonomous drone," Wilke said.

But Amazon isn't the only company expanding drone deliveries. Alphabet, the parent company of Google, also has been working on Wing Aviation, the first drone company to receive an Air Carrier Certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration, in April.

With the certificate, Wing Aviation, which became its own independent Alphabet company in July 2018, after graduating from company incubator Google X, can now turn its test flights into commercial deliveries in the U.S.

Wing Aviation conducted over 70,000 test flights with more than 3,000 deliveries to Australian doorsteps, driveways and backyards over several years in order to meet the FAA's safety requirements to qualify, according to a Medium post by the company.

The company plans to launch a delivery trial later this year in southwest Virginia and has recently announced it will be launching an early access air-delivery program in Finland this month. Residents of the Helsinki will be able to receive fresh Finnish pastries, meatballs and a range of other meals and snacks within minutes via Wing aircraft, according to a Medium post by the company.

But it's not just technology companies considering drones. Air Canada on Tuesday announced a sales agreement with Drone Delivery Canada to deliver cargo, and a San Francisco-based medical delivery company called Zipline uses drones to distribute vaccines, blood and lifesaving medication across Rwanda and Ghana.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Jun052019

ADP Report: 27,000 jobs added in May

wingedwolf/iStock(ROSELAND, N.J.) -- The number of jobs added by private employers in the U.S. grew minimally from April to May, the latest employment report from ADP shows.

According to the joint survey released by the payroll processor and Moody's Analytics on Wednesday, only 27,000 jobs were added last month. That’s a sharp decrease from the 263,000 jobs the Labor Department reported were added in April.

“Following an overly strong April, May marked the smallest gain since the expansion began,” Ahu Yildirmaz, vice president and co-head of the ADP Research Institute, said in a press release.

Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics, added: “Job growth is moderating. Labor shortages are impeding job growth, particularly at small companies, and layoffs at brick-and-mortar retailers are hurting.”

On Friday, Americans will get a better picture of the jobs market when the Labor Department releases its monthly jobs report for May.

The unemployment rate currently stands at 3.6 percent -- a 50-year low.

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Tuesday
Jun042019

RIP iTunes: Apple says your music is safe

Chesnot/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- When Apple announced that it would kill iTunes, music aficionados, who have perhaps already been burned by MySpace losing 12 years of music, worried.

What about non-Apple music?

For now, the answer seems to be relax: your songs are safe.

"Users will have access to their entire music library, whether they downloaded the songs, purchased them or ripped them from a CD," Apple said in a press release.

 When Apple releases its new operating system this fall, iTunes will split into three separate media streaming apps: Apple Music, Apple Podcasts, and Apple TV. (The new MacOS, Catalina, will be available this fall as a free software update).

Apple says the the new Music app for Mac is "lightning fast, fun and easy to use." It will have over 50 million songs, playlists and music videos. The iTunes Music Store is still there should you want to buy music.


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Tuesday
Jun042019

Trump administration restricts US travel to Cuba by banning group tours, cruise ship port calls

Eloi_Omella/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The Trump administration has announced new steps to further restrict Americans' travel to Cuba, including banning group tours and cruise ship stops to the island nation.

The changes are meant to tighten the economic pressure on the Cuban government, which Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross called "one of our historically most aggressive adversaries." The goal is to "restrict non-family travel to Cuba in order to hold the Cuban regime accountable for its repression of the Cuban people and its support of the Maduro regime in Venezuela," his agency said in a statement.

"Veiled tourism has served to line the pockets of the Cuban military, the very same people supporting Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela and repressing the Cuban people on the island," the State Department added in a statement.

Starting Wednesday, group "people-to-people" visits will now be barred. These cultural and educational tours allowed thousands of Americans to visit the island as part of a scheduled visit.

For Americans who have already booked a flight or hotel or made another "travel-related transaction," they will be "grandfathered" in, according to the Treasury Department. Eleven other categories of travel are still permitted, including other cultural exchanges, like by university groups, along with travel to see family members or for humanitarian projects, religious activities, public performances, journalism, or official U.S. government business.

This new ban is a step further than the restrictions that were in place before former President Barack Obama moved to repair relations with Cuba and made it easier for U.S. citizens to travel there.

"These actions will help to keep U.S. dollars out of the hands of Cuban military, intelligence, and security services," said Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin in a statement, calling Cuba "destabilizing ... in the Western Hemisphere, providing a communist foothold in the region and propping up U.S. adversaries in places like Venezuela and Nicaragua."

Effective Tuesday, private and corporate aircraft, cruise ships, private yachts, fishing boats, and other similar aircraft and vessels will also now be barred from traveling to Cuba, according to the Commerce Department. Exemptions will be made for vessels or aircraft that apply for and receive a license, which requires the application be related to medicine, telecommunications for the Cuban people, environmental protection, or aviation safety.

It's unclear if existing cruise reservations will have to be canceled. Neither Commerce Department nor cruise lines, including Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean Cruises, have responded yet to a request for comment.

"We are closely monitoring these recent developments and any resulting impact to cruise travel to Cuba. We will communicate to our guests and travel partners as additional information becomes available," Norwegian tweeted to one concerned customer.

Trump's National Security Adviser John Bolton previewed these changes in a speech in April, where he blasted Cuba as part of a "Troika of Tyranny," along with Venezuela and Cuba: "The United States looks forward to each corner of this sordid triangle falling, in Havana, in Caracas, and in Managua."

He celebrated the changes in a tweet Tuesday, saying it would meant "ending 'veiled tourism' to Cuba... We will continue to take actions to restrict the Cuban regime's access to U.S. dollars."

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez condemned the decision as "an attack on International Law and the sovereignty of all States. It is the main obstacle to our development and a flagrant violation of the human rights of all Cubans."

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Tuesday
Jun042019

Apple is saying goodbye to iTunes 

Chesnot/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- It's the end of iTunes -- at least as we know it.

At its Worldwide Developers Conference on Monday, Apple CEO Tim Cook announced that its iTunes app, a game-changer when it was introduced in 2001, will be replaced with three new entertainment apps aimed at simplifying and improving the way Mac users discover and enjoy their favorite music, TV shows, movies and podcasts.

With the release of macOS Catalina, Apple's newest operating system for Mac computers, iTunes will transition to dedicated apps for Apple Music, Apple TV and Apple Podcasts. Mac users can access the iTunes Music Store within the Music app, and buy movies and TV shows in the Apple TV app. Purchases and libraries, including those previously purchased, will be maintained in each app, respectively.

iPhone users can still access the iTunes Store to purchase and download music, and visit the iTunes Store app for iOS to buy or rent movies and TV shows, as well as in the Apple TV app.

If you're a Windows user, there won't be any changes to how you use iTunes.

A launch date for macOS Catalina, as well the Apple Music, Apple TV and Apple Podcast apps, has yet to be revealed.

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