Three Ways to Travel Free This Summer

Posted on: May 29th, 2016 by ABC News No Comments

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — When people think about free travel, they mostly think about redeeming miles or points for free flights. But the truth is, the average person doesn’t fly often enough or spend enough to earn free flights.

So what’s a traveler with a light wallet to do?

Focus your efforts on other aspects of the trip, like accommodations. And the tips below can help you cut down on summer travel costs.

HomeExchange.com

It started out primarily as a way for teachers on sabbatical to trade homes with each other and travel on the cheap, but the company now boasts 65,000 listings — including primary homes and members’ second homes. Here’s how it works: You list your home, including photos, but with no exact address, plus details about yourself and what you’re looking for in a renter. You can sit back and wait for people to contact you or be more proactive and reach out to people whose homes are located in places you’re interested in visiting to see if there’s a match.

Is it weird to have someone you don’t know stay in your home?

“By the time the exchange actually takes place, they’re not a stranger anymore,” said Ed Kushins, founder of HomeExchange. “There’s been multiple email exchanges and Skype conversations. Many people become friends and swap with the same people year after year.”

There is no cost to exchange homes, but there is a $150 yearly subscription fee for the site.

TrustedHouseSitter.com

Popular in Europe and gaining traction in the U.S., TrustedHouseSitter.com gives pet lovers the opportunity to pet- and house-sit while pet owners travel. The pet owner knows the pet will be happier at home instead of at a boarding facility and gets the service free of charge. The sitter gets to travel to a new place and have free accommodations for the duration of the trip.

A home with a swimming pool in Amed, Bali, needs a dog- and house-sitter for two weeks in August. Two kitties in Portland, Oregon, need someone to sit and stay for a month starting in mid-June. Or how about a stay in Tuscany, where you’ll care for dogs, cats and an Alpaca?

Rental Cars

Great for domestic road trips and for people who can travel somewhat last-minute, Transfer Car offers free — or almost free — one-way car and RV rentals. The vehicles, the site explains, need to get back to their home cities, and this is a cheap way for rental car companies to make that happen (otherwise, the cars have to go on a truck). In some cases, gas and insurance is included.

Transfer Car’s chief marketing officer Pascal Languillon told ABC News there’s often a lot of inventory between Las Vegas, San Francisco and Los Angeles, and between Florida and New York/New Jersey in both directions. The site is updated daily and “we usually don’t know too far in advance exactly what we will have. So it’s best for customers to register, subscribe to an email alert for their particular route of interest, and come back to check the website regularly.”

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Low Prices at the Pump Fuel Record Travel This Holiday Weekend

Posted on: May 28th, 2016 by ABC News No Comments

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Millions are hitting the road to travel for the first big weekend of the summer, fueled by gas prices that are 42 cents lower than last year.

A possible record-breaking 34 million Americans are expected to drive this holiday weekend, while the average gallon of gas is just $2.32.

“The cost of traveling was just too high in recent years,” Turner Batten, a holiday traveler, told ABC News. “But this year, thankfully, gas prices have dropped and we’re able to make a trip like this.”

Although gas prices have been rising within the past month, they’re expected to stay low for the weekend, which is good news for businesses.

“The crowds are good, and they’re spending money,” Dan Dinnebeil of Shake Shoppe Arcade in Orlando told ABC News.

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US Stocks Close Higher After Yellen Talks Summer Rate Hike

Posted on: May 27th, 2016 by ABC News No Comments

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Investors are starting to accept an impending interest rate increase ahead of the holiday weekend after comments from Fed Chair Janet Yellen helped Wall Street close slightly higher.

The Dow jumped 44.93 (+0.25 percent) to close at 17,873.22.

The Nasdaq gained 31.74 (+0.65 percent) to finish at 4,933.50, while the S&P pushed up 8.96 (+0.43 percent) to close at 2,099.06.

There was little change for crude oil with prices remaining at about $49 a barrel.

Federal Reserve: Speaking at Harvard University on Friday where she received the Radcliffe Medal, Yellen hinted there could be an interest rate hike sometime this summer as long as the economy and the jobs market continued to grow.

“It’s appropriate, and I have said this in the past, I think for the Fed to gradually and cautiously increase our overnight interest rate over time, and probably in the coming months such a move would be appropriate,” she said.

U.S. Economy: Also fueling a key interest rate raise, a revised report from the Commerce Department that showed there was stronger economic growth in the first-quarter compared to earlier predictions. The agency said the GDP grew 0.8 percent in Q1, above the previous estimate of 0.5 percent. Although consumer spending increased 1.9 percent, it was much lower than the fourth-quarter’s 2.4 percent increase.

Verizon: After 13 days of negotiations, Verizon Communications Inc. reached a deal on Friday with two unions for a four-year labor agreement. According to U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez, the workers will be back on the job next week.

“Today, I am pleased to announce that the parties have reached an agreement in principle on a four-year contract, resolving the open issues in the ongoing labor dispute between Verizon’s workers, unions, and management,” Perez said in a statement Friday. “The parties are now working to reduce the agreement to writing, after which the proposal will be submitted to CWA and IBEW union members for ratification.”

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Expect Interest Rate Increase ‘Probably in the Coming Months,’ Janet Yellen Says

Posted on: May 27th, 2016 by ABC News No Comments

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(CAMBRIDGE, Mass.) — Another interest rate increase after December’s hike may be coming sooner than investors think.

Speaking at Harvard University on Friday where she received the Radcliffe Medal, Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen hinted there could be an interest rate hike sometime this summer as long as the economy and the jobs market continued to grow.

“It’s appropriate, and I have said this in the past, I think for the Fed to gradually and cautiously increase our overnight interest rate over time, and probably in the coming months such a move would be appropriate,” she said.

Despite signaling a possible rate hike, Yellen still remains cautious.

“One of the reasons I believe it’s important to be cautious in raising interest rates is precisely because if we were to raise interest rates too steeply and we were to trigger a downturn or contribute to a downturn we have limited scope for responding and it is an important reason for caution,” Yellen said.

Yellen’s words echo recent comments made by other Fed officials the past week that have talked about a rate hike happening sometime this summer. Some have even suggested more than one interest rate increase before the end of the year, despite Wall Street expectations that the central bank would hold off.

The Fed will meet on June 14-15 and Yellen is scheduled to hold another speech in Philadelphia on June 6.

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Verizon Strikes 4-Year Deal with Labor Unions

Posted on: May 27th, 2016 by ABC News No Comments

Spencer Platt/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — Verizon Communications Inc. has struck a deal in principle with two unions for a four-year labor agreement, U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez said Friday.

The workers will be back on the job next week, Perez said.

“Today, I am pleased to announce that the parties have reached an agreement in principle on a four-year contract, resolving the open issues in the ongoing labor dispute between Verizon’s workers, unions, and management,” Perez said in a statement Friday. “The parties are now working to reduce the agreement to writing, after which the proposal will be submitted to CWA and IBEW union members for ratification.”

The deal was struck through 13 days of negotiations at the Department of Labor, Perez said, adding he has observed the parties’ “good faith commitment to narrowing differences and forging and agreement.”

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Memorial Day Deals 2016: The Biggest Bargains of the Weekend

Posted on: May 27th, 2016 by ABC News No Comments

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Memorial Day has become the unofficial start of summer. The entire weekend is also a big one for sales.

ABC News’ Becky Worley has a roundup of the best bargains of the weekend:

AIR CONDITIONERS, GRILLS, CAMPING GEAR

Walmart: $76 off a Frigidaire window unit.

Home Depot: Get 25 percent off select grills and patio furniture. You can also get this 7-piece patio furniture set for just $99.

Lowe’s: A 4-burner grill is marked down to $169 — that’s 15 percent lower than the lowest price Worley could find online.

Cabela’s: Get camping gear, back packs and sleeping bags for 20 percent off.

MATTRESSES

Memorial Day is considered the best time to buy a mattress. Deals can be had at department stores and specialty mattress retailers, but here’s a tip: There are slew of online mattress companies in business now and they are putting pressure on traditional mattress companies, forcing even more competitive prices.

VACUUM CLEANERS

There are vacuum cleaner sales everywhere. You can get them 25 to 35 percent off at Best Buy, Sears and Target.

CLOTHES

Check with your local store to see if the below deals are available in-store or only online.

The Children’s Place: 50 percent off children’s clothing sitewide at The Children’s Place, Carter’s and OshKosh B’gosh.

Reebok: 20 percent off sitewide using coupon code MEMDAY

Banana Republic: 40 percent off entire purchase online using code BRTAKE40

J. Crew: Extra 30 percent off with code WEEKEND

Land’s End: 50 percent off select swimwear using coupon code STARS

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Facebook and Microsoft’s Atlantic Ocean Cable Boasts Highest Capacity Ever

Posted on: May 27th, 2016 by ABC News No Comments

the-lightwriter/iStock/Thinkstock(SAN FRANCISCO) — Facebook and Microsoft are teaming up to lay an undersea cable system across the Atlantic Ocean that will deliver faster connections to online and cloud services from both companies.

Construction of the cable, called MAREA, will begin in August, according to a statement from both companies, and is expected to be completed in October 2017. MAREA, which is the Spanish word for “tide,” will span 4,100 miles from Virginia Beach, Virginia, to Bilbao on the northern coast of Spain.

MAREA will take a southern route away from most existing transatlantic cables, which begin in New York and New Jersey. Being separate from other cables will ensure the super high-speed cable is “more resilient and reliable,” according to a blog post from Microsoft.

The cable will have the ability to transmit as much as 160 terabytes per second, making it the highest capacity cable of its kind to be laid under the ocean, according to both companies. By comparison, in 2014 Google joined forces with five other companies to build an approximately 5,600-mile undersea cable system spanning the Pacific Ocean, with an initial capacity targeted at 60 terabytes per second.

While the project is built on a collaboration between Facebook and Microsoft, the cable will be operated by Telxius, a unit of Telefónica, a Spanish telecommunications company. Under the agreement, Telxius will also sell capacity to other companies.

Microsoft representatives said in a blog post the company is seeing increased demand for “high speed, reliable connections” for the company’s cloud services, along with Bing, Skype, Xbox Live and other products.

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Microsoft, Facebook to Lay Massive Undersea Cable Across Atlantic

Posted on: May 26th, 2016 by ABC News No Comments

the-lightwriter/iStock/Thinkstock(SAN FRANCISCO) – Microsoft and Facebook announced plans on Thursday to lay a 4,000 mile cable underneath the Atlantic Ocean.

The cable will be used to transmit data from Virginia Beach, Va. to a hub in Bilbao, Spain.

Microsoft says the companies are teaming up to bolster Internet infrastructure and satisfy their customer’s increased demand for data capacity.

The cable, which will be as wide as a common garden hose, will be able to transmit data at 160 terabytes per second.

This is Microsoft’s fourth publicly announced undersea cable, and the second for Facebook.

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Stocks Finish Mixed on Thursday

Posted on: May 26th, 2016 by ABC News No Comments

Songquan Deng/iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Following two days of big rallies, stocks were mixed on Thursday as many Americans start to think about the holiday weekend.

The Dow lost 23.22 (+0.13%) to finish the session at 17,828.29.

The NASDAQ picked up 6.88 (+0.14%) to close at 4,901.77, while the S&P 500 dropped 0.44 (+0.02%) to finish at 2,090.10.

Crude oil dropped 0.48%, lowering the price of a barrel to $49.32

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Consumer Group Live Streams Reading of Terms and Conditions

Posted on: May 26th, 2016 by ABC News No Comments

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — The Norwegian Consumer Council live streamed a whopping almost 32 hours of various people reading the terms and conditions for a number of popular apps this week.

The marathon broadcast began on Tuesday and extended into Wednesday. The purpose was to raise awareness about the contracts to which people agree through terms and conditions, though they often choose not to read the full disclaimers due to their length and heavy legal jargon.

“We hope this can help put the spotlight on a failing contract regime. Few, if anyone, have the time and opportunity to familiarize themselves with what they actually click ‘OK’ to,” Finn Myrstad, head of digital services at the Norwegian Consumer Council, said in a statement.

“When we also know that apps often take away our rights by granting themselves the power to unilaterally amend the contract and licensing themselves to track, store and sell on user content, it is self-evident that consumers are put at a disadvantage,” he said.

The issue is universal, though the group is from Norway. They said the average Norwegian has 33 apps on their smartphone, so they selected the same number of popular apps for the terms and conditions reading.

The council estimates the average number of words used in the terms, conditions and privacy policies of many apps easily exceed 250,000. When the marathon live stream was completed, the group signed off after a staggering 31 hours and 49 minutes.

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WATCH: Inside Genius Headquarters

Posted on: May 26th, 2016 by ABC News No Comments

ABC News(NEW YORK) — Tom Lehman and Ilan Zechory co-founded Genius (formerly Rap Genius) in 2009 after a discussion about song lyrics and music led them to the idea of a music annotation website.

The two friends — who describe each other as “BFFLs” (best friends for life) — met during freshmen year at Yale University. Now, the co-founders attend couples therapy once a week to help keep their friendship — and their business — strong.

Genius has become the web’s largest collection of song lyrics and crowdsourced musical knowledge, where anyone from Selena Gomez to your next-door neighbor can contribute and annotate musical lyrics as well as literature, politics, sports and any page on the internet.

Genius contributors are ranked by their “Genius IQ score,” which represents their knowledge of a topic.

Lehman and Zechory recently joined Rebecca Jarvis on “Real Biz With Rebecca Jarvis” for a conversation about the inspiration behind Genius, growing a successful start-up with your BFFL and choosing company values. Watch the interview below:

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Man’s Letter Convinces American Airlines to Drop $200 Cancellation Fee

Posted on: May 26th, 2016 by ABC News No Comments

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — A New York man was able to convince American Airlines to waive a $200 fee this month, after writing them a letter that was too amusing to ignore.

“It was a complete surprise,” Alex Hamberger, 30, of Buffalo told ABC News. “I didn’t think I would hear from them at all. I was really taken aback and really overwhelmed by the fact that someone on the other end read it and enjoyed it. So, it was so much more of a personal experience than I anticipated.”

Hamberger was booked on a flight to Kansas City, Missouri on March 7 to visit his sister, brother-in-law and niece, but fell ill days before.

After his doctor advised him not to travel, Hamberger called to cancel his flight. American Airlines informed him he would be charged a $200 fee.

Later, on April 4, Hamberger called the airline to change his flight to a different date.

“When I spoke with the representative I said, ‘I had to cancel that trip because I was sick. Is there anyway I can get that fee waived?'” he explained.

But, as it turned out, he would have to send in an explanation by mail.

“I was just going to write a letter and send in the doctor’s note. That’s when I had the idea to take it a little further and get a little creative with it,” he said.

On April 24, Hamberger sent his doctor’s note to American Airlines, along with a witty letter. It read, in part:

“Dear Most Kind and Benevolent American Airlines Customer Service Staff Member, I write to you with the hopes that you may take mercy on me and afford a little sympathy for this flyer who was taken quite ill and had to postpone his trip to see his beloved niece.”

Hamberger described how he began to feel sick before his trip: “It was a Monday night and I was getting so excited for my upcoming trip to visit my sister, brother-in-law, and niece who was about to turn 6 months old that Thursday! I started to feel a little sinus pressure that night, nothing major but enough to give me pause.”

He went on to explain in the letter that, when he subsequently visited the doctor, he was surprised by the news that what he thought were mild symptoms were actually much more serious:

“It was just two days later on March 4th, that I learned this infectious disease was not a household cold or flu: it ws a Haemophilus Influenzae bacterial infection. Yes, the same infection that can cause conditions such as epiglottitis (a fatal respiratory disease), pneumonia, and notably, meningitis in children under 5. Remember when I mentioned I was going to visit my 6 month old niece?! Thank heavens I didn’t!”

He was glad for the diagnosis and explained that, “canceling my trip to visit my infant niece was the best thing that could have happened; had I visited her and she gotten sick, it literally could have killed her.”

“Now, I don’t know if this will be problematic or not, but I just recently rebooked my trip and I’ve already paid the $200 change fee,” he continued in the letter. “So I now realize there may be 356 reasons you can’t refund this to me, but I figure it’s always worth a shot! If it’s possible in any way to recoup this $200 I’d be forever grateful.”

He went on to assure the person who would read the letter that he was not on of the “testy and ornery travelers” they must deal with and thanked the airline for “all you do to make the travel dreams of flyers such as myself a reality.”

He signed off:

Alex Hamberger
-Frequent Flyer
-Brother
-Uncle
-Formerly sick person
-Currently healthy person
-Grateful flyer

On May 6, Hamberger received a response from American Airlines, informing him that they’d be waving the $200 fee.

“Thank you for your letter to Customer Relations, I enjoyed reading it,” an airline representative wrote to Hamberger in an email. “I’m glad you are ‘formerly sick’ and ‘currently healthy’ to make plans to see your precious niece. She sure is a lucky little girl to have such a loving Uncle Al! I have authorized a waiver of the $200.00 change charge.”

Hamberger said the gesture restored his faith in humanity.

“It’s nice to get the $200 back, but it was really more about taking a chance and hoping to make a nice connection with them,” he said. “I truly thought, if someone at the office at American opens up and it puts a smile on their face, that to me was really special.”

Hamberger will be flying out to Kansas City Thursday, to spend five days of quality time with his family.

“We are proud to provide excellent customer service to all American Airlines customers,” a spokesperson for American Airlines wrote to ABC News. “Our customer relations team found his note very compelling, and we were happy to assist Mr. Hamberger.”

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AT&T Announces Changes to Prepaid GoPhone Plans

Posted on: May 26th, 2016 by ABC News No Comments

Wavebreak Media/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — AT&T has good news for its prepaid customers. The company announced Wednesday that GoPhone users are about to receive an extra gigabyte of high-speed data.

Under the new changes, the $45 option will be good for 3 gigabytes of data, while the $60 option will give customers 6 gigabytes. The wireless carrier says the extra data will come at no extra charge to new and existing prepaid customers.

The changes take effect Friday.

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Copies of Emancipation Proclamation, 13th Amendment Signed by Lincoln Sell for Millions

Posted on: May 26th, 2016 by ABC News No Comments

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Some of the most historical and consequential anti-slavery documents in U.S. history — signed by President Abraham Lincoln — fetched millions at auction.

Copies of both the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment sold for a total of more than $4 million by auction house Sotheby’s on Wednesday.

Our 'Two Centuries of American History' totaled $6.2 million, led by two documents signed by President Lincoln pic.twitter.com/KD2QafcgiX

— Sotheby's (@Sothebys) May 25, 2016

Sotheby’s initially hoped the documents signed by the 16th president would fetch $5 million at auction.

The 13th Amendment, which sold for $2.4 million, was one of the 14 copies signed by Lincoln Feb. 1, 1865, according to Sotheby’s. It’s also one of three “Senate copies” that are signed by the vice president and 36 senators.

The amendment abolished slavery, stating that “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist with the United States.”

Our 'Two Centuries of American History' totaled $6.2 million, led by two documents signed by President Lincoln pic.twitter.com/KD2QafcgiX

— Sotheby's (@Sothebys) May 25, 2016

The amendment was ratified in December 1865, roughly six months after the Civil War ended. But Lincoln was assassinated in April and didn’t live long enough to actually see the enacted into law.

Sotheby’s copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, a limited edition print, sold for $2.17 million by a telephone bidder. It was not an original, even though it was signed by Lincoln and Secretary of State William Seward.

#AuctionUpdate One of three ‘Senate’ copies, the 13th Amendment signed by President Lincoln achieves $2.4 million pic.twitter.com/jlhi9yVqXd

— Sotheby's (@Sothebys) May 25, 2016

The document is one of 27 surviving copies of the original 48, according to Sotheby’s.

Lincoln signed the original Emancipation Proclamation Jan. 1, 1863, the third year of the Civil War, declaring “that all persons held as slaves” within the Confederacy “are, and henceforward shall be free.”

The proclamation allowed liberated slaves to serve in the Union Army and Navy.

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Employees File Religious Discrimination Complaint Against Company

Posted on: May 25th, 2016 by ABC News No Comments

iStock/Thinkstock(BRILLION, Wis.) — An Islamic advocacy group representing former Muslim employees at a Wisconsin equipment company filed a discrimination complaint against the firm Tuesday because employees can no longer take prayer breaks at times that are in accordance with their religion. A letter accompanying the complaint claims employees were discriminated and retaliated against on the basis of their religion, national origin and race.

According to the letter, Ariens Co., which manufactures snowblowers and lawn tractors in Brillion, Wisconsin, used to allow Muslim employees to take prayer breaks one at a time after notifying and receiving permission from a supervisor. Employees say they had been able to take those breaks at the traditional times for Muslims. However, the employees claim the company began enforcing a new policy beginning on Jan. 25 that permitted only two pre-determined 10-minute breaks per work shift with no additional accommodations for prayer outside of those break times. Dozens of Somali Muslim employees at the company have protested the new break policy, and 15 of them are now represented by attorneys at the Council on American Islamic Relations, or CAIR, which submitted the charges of discrimination with the Milwaukee office of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Dozens of Somali Muslim employees at the company have protested the new break policy, and 15 of them are now represented by attorneys at the Council on American Islamic Relations, or CAIR, which submitted the charges of discrimination with the Milwaukee office of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

“These individuals had direct and personal conversations with management in which they stated that they wanted to continue their employment with Ariens, but felt that they were no longer welcome and being forced out because of the company’s new policy,” CAIR wrote in a letter that accompanied its religious discrimination complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on religion and requires employers to accommodate religious beliefs. In keeping with their Islamic faith, practicing Muslims pray five times each day. But Ariens management allegedly threatened to fire those employees who continued to pray beyond the scheduled breaks or who had requested an accommodation to pray. Seven Muslim employees were let go earlier this year, while 14 others resigned over the dispute.

“The outright refusal to entertain, discuss, or offer any reasonable religious accommodation options that would resolve the alleged workplace conflict is unacceptable and inconsistent with prevailing Title VII law and EEOC guidelines,” CAIR said in the letter.

Maha Sayed, an attorney for the Washington, D.C., based organization, said it could take several months for federal officials to investigate the employees’ claims. The EEOC could also offer to mediate the dispute during the investigation, or the two parties could voluntarily settle it the claim.

“If the EEOC concludes that there is reasonable cause to believe that discrimination occurred, it may decide to litigate the case itself in federal court or issue the charging party a Notice of Right to Sue letter, which allows the party to file a federal lawsuit within 90 days,” Sayed told ABC News in an email Wednesday.

Ariens Co. spokesperson Ann Stilp said the complaint was “disappointing news.”

“We have had Muslim employees working for the company for nine years. We currently have more than 27 Muslim employees who continue to work here and we continue to accommodate them with prayer rooms,” Stilp told ABC News in a statement.

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U.S. Stocks Have Second Positive Day in a Row, Thanks to Oil Gains

Posted on: May 25th, 2016 by ABC News No Comments

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — U.S. stocks closed higher for the second day in a row Wednesday following a jump in oil prices on a crude inventories decline.

The Dow soared 145.46 (+0.82 percent) to close at 17,851.51.

The Nasdaq increased 33.84 (+0.70 percent) to finish at 4,894.89, while the S&P gained 14.48 (+0.70 percent) to close at 2,090.54.

Crude oil climbed 2.12 percent, with prices reaching $49.65 a barrel.

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Rebel Group Threatens One of World’s Largest Oil Supplies

Posted on: May 25th, 2016 by ABC News No Comments

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — While Nigerian soldiers battle Boko Haram militants in the north, a new, radical group of vigilantes has emerged from the southern swamplands threatening to wage war one of the world’s largest oil supplies.

The group calls itself the “Niger Delta Avengers” and it has claimed responsibility for a spate of recent attacks and bombings on oil pipelines and terminals in Nigeria’s southern region, the Niger Delta — a top oil-producing region in sub-Saharan Africa and the world.

They have successfully targeted major platforms belonging to Shell and Chevron in the past few weeks, and their attacks have driven the country’s oil output to a near 22-year low.

Not much is known about who is behind the Niger Delta Avengers. But the militants are making their mark on Nigeria’s southern infrastructure, and there are calls for President Muhammadu Buhari to take steps to prevent the militant group from growing.

“The Niger Delta Avengers have obviously proven themselves to be very effective in this one area of Niger Delta,” said Matthew Bey, an Africa energy analyst at Stratfor, a geopolitical intelligence firm based in Austin, Texas. “It seems to be a new generation of militant groups.”

WHERE DID THEY COME FROM

The Niger Delta Avengers first emerged in February, after claiming responsibility for the attack on an underwater pipeline run by Shell, forcing the oil giant to halt its 250,000 barrels-per-day Forcados terminal for weeks. The militant group has since taken responsibility for several other attacks in the southern Delta state, including one earlier this month at a an offshore oil platform run by Chevron, which produces tens of thousands of barrels a day.

The attacks showed a level of sophistication and technical expertise, raising speculation that the new group is actually comprised of ex-militants from a long-running and powerful rebel group that was called the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND).

“It’s hard to say whether these guys are former militants, but they’re definitely tapping into the established knowledge base,” Bey told ABC News.

MEND wreaked havoc on the six states that make up the Niger Delta from 2006 to 2009, costing the nation roughly one-third of its oil production, until then-President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua offered a multi-million dollar amnesty program that had thousands of rebels agree to lay down their arms in exchange for an unconditional pardon and stipend.

WHAT DO THEY WANT

Like MEND, the Niger Delta Avengers demand greater ownership of lucrative oil resources for residents in crude-producing areas. The group also seeks environmental restoration, compensation for damages caused by oil producers and sustained government funding for the amnesty program. The group has threatened to completely shut down the West African nation’s production of oil and gas if its demands are not met.

The Niger Delta Avengers’ attacks on the region have led to Nigeria’s oil output plummeting by nearly 40 percent, the country’s oil minister Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu said while addressing parliament last week, according to Reuters. The loss dethroned Nigeria as Africa’s top oil producer.

Another group called the Red Egbesu Water Lions that emerged last Wednesday has vowed to join the Niger Delta Avengers if their demands were not met within the next seven days, local media reported.

MEND, on the other hand, has distanced itself from the Niger Delta Avengers and the recent attacks on the region’s oil installations. In a statement reportedly signed by its spokesperson and published by local media, the group said Sunday it “wishes to condemn and dissociate itself from the recent activities carried out by the group known as the ‘Niger Delta Avengers.’”

“Their sudden emergence has absolutely nothing to do with the Niger Delta struggle but is rather a tool by certain elements to destabilize the current government,” MEND continued.

MEND’s condemnation of the Niger Delta Avengers came as no surprise to Akin Iwilade, a research student at Oxford University who studies youth, violence and the politics of amnesty in Nigeria’s oil-producing region. The newly formed group threatens to disrupt the profitable amnesty deal the former militants currently enjoy.

“The top leadership of MEND benefited from the patronage that came with the amnesty,” said Iwilade, who has spoken with a number of ex-oil militants in recent years. “It is very logical and, frankly, expected, that they would condemn a group they obviously have little control over.”

WHAT IS THE THREAT

Buhari, who took office in May last year, extended the amnesty program for another two years in February, shortly before the Niger Delta Avengers announced themselves. But the former military ruler, who hails from the north, angered former oil rebels by ending generous pipeline security contracts and reducing the monthly stipends. Now, Buhari is faced with the possibility of a revived rebel insurgency in the south while fighting Islamic militant group Boko Haram, which has killed and displaced millions in the past seven years, in the north.

“It is difficult to imagine that ex-militants have no hand whatsoever in this,” Iwilade told ABC News. “There are very clear similarities in the way the Niger Delta Avengers operates with what we knew of groups like MEND.”

While there are parallels between the two groups, such as language and style of attacks, there are several differences. The Niger Delta Avengers has criticized MEND and other older groups for killing Nigerian troops, taking foreigners hostage and allegedly enriching themselves through the amnesty payments.

The newly formed Niger Delta Avengers have not yet shown whether they will wield the same political influence that helped MEND become the most powerful militant group in its time.

“If we see start to see that link then, yes, we could definitely see this insurgency rise,” Bey of Stratfor said.

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Netflix, Other Streaming Services Face European Content Quotas

Posted on: May 25th, 2016 by ABC News No Comments

Netflix(BRUSSELS) — Netflix and other on-demand video services could be subject to a quota requiring them to ensure at least 20 percent of their content is European and is prominently featured, according to a new proposal posted online Wednesday by the European Commission.

The proposal was made to address the “ever-increasing convergence between television and services distributed via the internet,” according to a document posted online.

“The way we watch TV or videos may have changed, but our values don’t,” Günther H. Oettinger, commissioner for the Digital Economy and Society, said in a statement. “We also want to ensure a level-playing field, responsible behavior, trust and fairness in the online platforms environment.”

If the proposed changes are enacted, member countries could be allowed to ask on-demand providers to invest in European productions.

“Our members around the world love European programming, that’s why our investment in European programming, including Netflix original titles created in Europe, is growing,” a Netflix representative told ABC News in an email Wednesday. “We appreciate the Commission’s objective to have European production flourish, however the proposed measures won’t actually achieve that.”

A survey conducted last year by the European Audiovisual Observatory — a public service group created in 1992 to collect and distribute information about the audiovisual industries in Europe — found that Netflix and iTunes already meet the proposed quota, with 21 percent of European content in their respective catalogs. The European Commission is also proposing providers give more visibility to European content by indicating the country where a film was made or providing the ability to search for European content.

Netflix expanded from 60 countries to 130 more countries at the start of this year. By widening its global footprint, Netflix now offers its content in nearly every country on Earth, with China being one of the notable exceptions.
 
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Microsoft’s Gutting of Its Mobile Business Will Impact 1,850 More Jobs

Posted on: May 25th, 2016 by ABC News No Comments

Microsoft(NEW YORK) — Microsoft announced Wednesday it is slashing 1,850 jobs in its mobile division as the company seeks to streamline operations following an announcement earlier this month it was selling the Nokia brand.

As many as 1,350 of the jobs being cut are in Microsoft’s mobile division in Finland, according to a statement from the company. An additional 500 positions are expected to be cut globally.

“We are focusing our phone efforts where we have differentiation — with enterprises that value security, manageability and our Continuum capability, and consumers who value the same,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in a statement. “We will continue to innovate across devices and on our cloud services across all mobile platforms.”

Microsoft closed its more than $7 billion acquisition of Finnish mobile company Nokia in 2014 and has since produced low-end handsets geared toward emerging markets. However, the deal never seemed to provide the much-needed fuel for Microsoft to catch Apple and Google, who both lead the market with their iOS and Android devices.

Microsoft announced earlier this month that it is selling a part of its phone business, which includes licensing of the Nokia brand, for $350 million, positioning the Finnish mobile company for a potential comeback.

The sale includes Microsoft’s “entry-level feature phone assets,” including brands, software and services, customer contracts and supply agreements to FIH Mobile, a subsidiary of Chinese manufacturer Foxconn, and HMD Global, a company based in Finland, according to an announcement on the company’s website.

“Feature phones” are basic phones that focus on text and voice calling as opposed to smartphones that have expanded capabilities.

The deal is expected to close in the second half of 2016 and will include the transfer of as many as 4,500 employees to both companies, the announcement said.

It’s been widely speculated Microsoft could build on the success of its convertible Surface tablets and leverage that product line to create a high-end Surface phone in the next year.

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Ford Recalls 271,000 F-150 Pickups over Brake Issue

Posted on: May 25th, 2016 by ABC News No Comments

Ford Motor Company(DEARBORN, Mich.) — Ford is recalling approximately 271,000 F-150 pickup trucks in North America to address a brake issue.

The recall affects vehicles from model years 2013 to 2014 that are equipped with 3.5-liter GTDI engines. The automaker says the brake effectiveness in these pickups “could be reduced due to brake fluid leaking from the brake master cylinder into the brake booster, increasing the risk of a crash.”

Ford says it is aware of nine alleged crashes involving the issue, none of which have resulted in any injuries.

Affected customers will be notified and will be able to get their brake master cylinder replaced for free at their local dealer.

“Additionally, dealers will replace the brake booster if they find leaks from the brake master cylinder,” Ford said in a press release.

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At McDonald’s HQ, Fight for 15 to Rally for Higher Fast Food Wages

Posted on: May 25th, 2016 by ABC News No Comments

McDonald’s(CHICAGO) — Fight for 15 is staging another round of massive demonstrations Wednesday.

The group calling for a minimum wage increase to $15 will super-size their protests at McDonald’s. Fight for 15 protesters will start at the flagship restaurant in Chicago, then head to a massive demonstration at the McDonald’s headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois.

The group says as many as 10,000 fast food workers and union backers will rally at the McDonald’s campus Wednesday evening, with another demonstration Thursday morning to take place ahead of the fast food giant’s shareholders meeting.

More than 130 demonstrators were arrested during a similar protest in 2014.

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Sports Authority Is Going Out of Business: What Shoppers Need to Know

Posted on: May 24th, 2016 by ABC News No Comments

Joe Raedle/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — Sports Authority is set to begin its liquidation sale, after the sporting goods retailer detailed in court documents its plan to shutter all 463 of its stores after a failed attempt last month to find a bidder.

The 29-year-old sports retailer, which is headquartered in Englewood, Colorado, had hoped to reorganize under bankruptcy protection and close about 140 of its stores. Instead, the company will work with liquidators who will oversee the company’s going-out-of-business sales.

“The sporting goods industry is a hypercompetitive industry, and we’re never happy when someone goes out of business,” said Katie Nemec, the director of marketing and communications for the National Sporting Goods Association.

If you’re a Sports Authority shopper — or just looking for a good deal — here’s a quick rundown of what you need to know.

Sales

Sports Authority will kick off its going-out-of-business sales “on or about” this Wednesday, according to court documents. The sales are expected to end around Aug. 31, 2016. As part of the agreement, Sports Authority’s liquidation consultants will be able to post signs with phrases such as “store closing,” “sale on everything” and “everything must go.”

“You have to think ‘buyer beware’ because a lot of times when companies have a going-out-of-business sale, they will do it over a set period of time, so the initial markdowns aren’t always the best deals,” Howard Schaffer, the general manager at Offers.com, told ABC News.

He recommended that shoppers look for products that have been marked down several times to ensure they’re getting a deal. He also recommended purchasing items such as sports equipment instead of technology, since after an item is purchased, it’s often a final sale.

Gift Cards

Tuesday is the last day for purchasing gift cards, according to Sports Authority’s website. The company said gift cards will be honored online and in stores through June 28.

“Double-check that top drawer of the kitchen where you keep coupons and gift cards and make sure you use those up as soon as possible,” Schaffer said.

Exchanges and Returns

Sports Authority will continue to allow exchanges and returns in stores through June 25, 2016, according to its website.

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Dow Closes with Triple Digit Gains, Investors Relax on Interest Rates

Posted on: May 24th, 2016 by ABC News No Comments

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Wall Street rallied Tuesday after investors appeared to settle on rumors of a possible rate hike this summer.

The Dow soared 213.12 (+1.22 percent) to close at 17,706.05 for its biggest one-day gain in weeks.

The Nasdaq jumped 95.27 (+2.00 percent) to finish at 4,861.06, while the S&P gained 28.02 (+1.37 percent) to close at 2,076.06.

Crude oil jumped nearly 2 percent, with prices hitting about $49 a barrel.

Federal Reserve: More rumblings from Fed officials about an interest rate hike this summer. Late Monday, Philadelphia Fed President Patrick Harker echoed previous comments about the Federal Reserve raising rates more than once in 2016, saying he could “easily” see it happen. John Williams, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, also said Monday that “the economy could withstand a rate hike.”

Home Sales: Good news for home sales as they climbed about 17 percent last month, the fastest gain in more than eight years. According to the Commerce Department, the median price for a new home also rose to a record $321,100 in April, up nearly 10 percent from 2015. The higher prices could mean more trouble for first-time buyers, since according to a new report from the Pew Institute, nearly one-third of all millenials (ages 18-34) still live with their parents.

Winners and Losers: Under Armour’s stock was up nearly 3 percent after the athletic-wear company announced an endorsement deal with the University of California, Los Angeles. The $280 million agreement will have UCLA’s athletes wearing Under Armour for 15 years.

DSW Inc. tumbled nearly 12 percent after the discount shoe retailer missed Wall Street expectations for profit and revenue in its first-quarter financial results, and cut its full year guidance.

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Domino’s Pizza Exploited Outdated Computer System to Cheat Workers, Lawsuit Alleges

Posted on: May 24th, 2016 by ABC News No Comments

Joe Raedle/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — Domino’s Pizza, the nation’s largest pizza delivery chain, is being accused of exploiting an outdated computer system to commit “rampant wage violations” in a $565,000 lawsuit filed by the New York State Attorney General.

The move expands upon the New York State government’s aggressive efforts recently to reclaim wages for allegedly unpaid or underpaid workers, which was highlighted by an order to pay nail salon workers $2 million in unpaid wages earlier this month.

This is also the second time that Domino’s Pizza has been targeted by New York State for allegedly violating labor laws. In April of 2015, four franchise owners agreed to pay out $970,000 to settle claims they broke multiple labor laws, including allegedly breaking the minimum wage and failing to pay overtime, according to the New York Daily News.

A multi-year investigation by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office alleges that Domino’s had urged franchisees to use payroll reports from the company’s computer system, known as PULSE, even though the corporation knew for years that it under-calculated gross wages, according to the lawsuit.

“At some point, a company has to take responsibility for its actions and for its workers’ well-being. We’ve found rampant wage violations at Domino’s franchise stores. And, as our suit alleges, we’ve discovered that Domino’s headquarters was intensely involved in store operations, and even caused many of these violations,” Schneiderman said during a news conference Tuesday.

Our @dominos suit marks the first time a corporation is alleged to be liable for wage theft at its stores: https://t.co/L4nlVf1HqA

— Eric Schneiderman (@AGSchneiderman) May 24, 2016

The company typically made multiple updates to the PULSE system each year, according to Schneiderman’s office. But the lawsuit, filed Monday in state Supreme Court, alleges that the company deliberately made no effort fix the flaws, including testimony by a Domino’s vice president that he was told by Domino’s that it was a “low priority.”

The lawsuit also claims that Domino’s is a “joint employer” because the company inserted itself directly into employee affairs at its franchises. When two businesses hire and control the same employee, they are considered joint employers. In this case, the joint employer would be the corporation Domino’s Pizza as well as the individual franchises. The lawsuit alleges that the company monitored workers, played a role in their hiring, firing and discipline, and promoted an “anti-union” agenda.

Domino’s pushed back on the claims Tuesday, insisting that franchisees are solely responsible for employment and pay decisions, and noting that company had been working with the Attorney General’s office for “more than three years” to rectify potential issues of wage discrepancy.

“It’s unfortunate that these steps were not enough, and that the Attorney General now wants the company to take steps that would not only deprive our independent business owners of the opportunity to make their own employment decisions, but could impact the viability of the franchise model,” company representative Jenny Fouracre-Petko told ABC News in an email.

But the Attorney General places the responsibility on Domino’s, and accuses the corporation of using the franchise model to take advantage of low-level workers.

“Under these circumstances, New York law — as well as basic human decency — holds Domino’s responsible for the alleged mistreatment of the workers who make and deliver the company’s pizzas,” Schneiderman said. “Domino’s can, and must, fix this problem.”

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Threat of Zika Virus Forces Many to Shift Summer Travel Plans

Posted on: May 24th, 2016 by ABC News No Comments

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — A popular parenting Facebook page is populated these days primarily with posts about the Zika virus and travel safety.

One woman by the name of Dana writes that she originally planned a family trip to Aruba in August, but is now looking for alternate destinations to “avoid any Zika areas.” She wondered if South Carolina would be a good August destination.

Dana is not alone. A Travelzoo survey conducted in February 2016 — prime time for summer vacation planning — found that for 30 percent of respondents said Zika impacted their decision to travel to warm weather destinations where the disease could be found. Of those, 30 percent said they changed their vacation plans to other destinations that have not been impacted.

With many popular vacation destinations — including Mexico and some Caribbean islands — being on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Travel Health Notices list, some travelers are reconsidering their summer vacation plans. These destinations primarily fall into the “yellow / alert level 2” category, which advises enhanced precautions. A “red / warning level 3” advises to avoid all non-essential travel.

But while the Zika virus — or at least, a fear of the Zika virus — is a problem for tourism for some destinations, other places will benefit from those fears. Travelzoo’s search data found Fort Lauderdale, Florida and Arizona searches are up 40 percent or more and Miami has seen a 35 percent increase, according to Travelzoo.

Also poised to benefit is Canada, where interest from U.S. travelers is up double digits. Deals, Travelzoo senior editor Gabe Saglie said, are ripe in popular places like Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto. A favorable exchange rate for Americans makes Canada a particularly attractive destination this summer.

Some airlines offered reimbursements to fliers who purchased tickets to Zika-affected areas.

American Airlines’ policy covers pregnant women and companions who are traveling to a destination in Latin America or the Caribbean affected by the Zika virus, as long as the tickets were purchased before March 31, 2016. A doctor’s note confirming your pregnancy when you request a refund is required.

JetBlue’s policy for customers traveling to/from destinations reported by the CDC to be affected by the Zika virus may qualify for a refund or the option to make changes to their current travel plans to alternate destinations or travel dates. Original travel must have been booked on or before May 1, 2016.

United and Delta have similar policies with a purchase date of Feb. 29 and March 1, respectively.

Dr. Mia Taormina, an osteopathic infectious disease and travel medicine specialist, and the chair of the Department of Infectious Diseases at DuPage Medical Group, told ABC News that pregnant women and their partners should consider destinations that are not prone to Zika this year.

In her travel medicine practice, she partners with patients to help them evaluate their personal risk. She advised traveling to mountain areas where the Aedes mosquito can’t thrive (the CDC recommends an altitude of at least 6,500 feet) and scheduling deep-water activities during peak bite times (daytime hours), as the mosquito is a poor flier, according to Taormina.

Travel insurance may be helpful.

“Customers who become pregnant after they purchase their policy may be covered for trip cancellation and interruption if they are traveling to an area impacted by Zika,” Dan Durazo, director of communications for Allianz Travel Insurance, told ABC News. The company also suggested customers contact their travel provider prior to canceling their travel arrangements.

“Some airlines and other travel suppliers are allowing customers to cancel their trip and receive a refund or change their dates of travel without change fees when traveling to countries affected by Zika,” Durazo said. “If the customer’s travel supplier allows them to change the dates of their trip, they may also change the dates on their travel insurance policy.”

In all cases, the most comprehensive — and expensive — travel insurance is a policy that allows for cancellations anytime for any reason.

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IIHS Tests Safety of Muscle Cars

Posted on: May 24th, 2016 by ABC News No Comments

moodboard/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — They may be fast, but how safe are muscle cars in a crash?

For the first time, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety put iconic muscle cars through their paces to see if they’re as safe as more traditional cars. The IIHS tested the 2016 Chevy Camaro, Dodge Challenger and Ford Mustang.

While none of the vehicles earned “Top Safety Pick” status, the Mustang was singled out for its collision avoidance technology.

“It has an available forward collision warning system to help keep you out of crashes in the first place,” IIHS president Adrian Lund said in a video provided by the institute.

The Camaro came in second place, scoring lower on its roof strength, followed by the Challenger.

“The Challenger needs the most improvement and isn’t offering buyers state of the art safety,” Lund said.

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French Tax Authorities Raid Google Offices in Paris

Posted on: May 24th, 2016 by ABC News No Comments

Google(PARIS) — French authorities Tuesday raided the Paris offices of Google as part of a tax fraud investigation.

Accused of owing the French state some $1.8 billion in unpaid taxes, Google’s offices were searched Monday by dozens of tax officials accompanied by 25 computer experts, a statement from the prosecutor confirmed to ABC News.

According to officials, the searches were conducted in the context of a preliminary investigation opened on June 16, 2015, regarding suspicion of tax evasion and money laundering, following a complaint from French tax authorities. This investigation seeks to verify whether Google Ireland LTD has stable operations in France, and whether it has failed in its fiscal obligations in France.

The tax arrangements of international companies have come under close scrutiny recently. Europe’s competition authorities have been examining whether some deals stuck by big companies with national tax authorities amount to illegal state aid.

Last month, Paris officials unveiled plans to force large companies to disclose more about their tax affairs.

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Twitter Makes It Easier to Squeeze in More Than 140 Characters

Posted on: May 24th, 2016 by ABC News No Comments

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Twitter’s 140-character limit, which has long been the foundation of the site, is being relaxed in a move the social network hopes will make it easier for users to tweet more media-rich content without worrying about running out of characters.

The new changes, which have long been rumored, were announced Tuesday morning in a blog post and are expected to be rolled out to users in the coming months. Twitter plans to “simplify” tweets by no longer counting usernames in replies and media attachments, including polls, photos, videos and GIFs, as part of a user’s 140-character expenditure.

The retweet button will also be enabled for users to click on their own tweets, allowing them to retweet themselves or share an additional note alongside a previous tweet.

Another change sure to shake up the service for long-time Twitter users is the death of the .@ convention, which is used when someone wants to reply to another user but wants to make sure all of their followers see the tweet.

Previously, beginning a tweet with just a person’s username would mean the message would only surface in the streams of mutual followers a user has with the person they’re replying to. When the new changes are implemented, users will be able to broadcast a reply more widely with the retweet button.

Todd Sherman, a senior product manager at Twitter, said in a blog post that the social network was announcing the changes today to ensure developer partners have time to make updates to products built on Twitter’s application program interface.

“We’re notifying you and our developers, so that everything works as it should when we roll these changes out,” he wrote. “The updates have a significant impact on Tweets.”

It’s been a year of metamorphosis for Twitter. Among the changes were a new “home timeline” feature debuted in February, shaking up the traditional reverse chronological timeline by first showing the top tweets a user is most likely to care about since they were last on the site.

Twitter dropped its longtime star icon that signified a favorite tweet last November and replaced it with a heart, which is meant to signify a like.

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Behind the Wheel of Acura’s Latest Incarnation of the $156K NSX ‘Supercar’

Posted on: May 24th, 2016 by ABC News No Comments

Acura(NEW YORK) — Jon Akeda is the man at Acura most responsible for making the latest incarnation of the NSX “supercar” a reality, and the fact that he likes the word “fun” should be a big tip-off about how this iconic sports car handles.

Akeda, Acura’s vice president and general manager, and I are eating dinner together at Bagatelle, a trendy French bistro in New York City’s Meatpacking District. Akeda, a veteran designer with Honda, Acura’s parent company, used the word “fun” at least a dozen times during that dinner conversation to describe his pet project.

“Did you have fun? We want you to have fun,” he asked enthusiastically as he debriefed me on my test drive.

Acura handpicked a small group of journalists to get behind the wheel of the Japanese automaker’s latest generation of the NSX — a sports car that became a benchmark for the brand and developed a rabid fan base when it was released in 1991. Its popularity and stamp of approval by auto editors quickly propelled it to the higher echelons of the automotive world, earning it a spot next to the European exotics that oozed power, luxury and exclusivity. Acura has certainly amped up its efforts to make sure the 2017 all-wheel drive, nine-speed automatic hybrid NSX rejoins the supercar conversation and attracts the attention of those was can actually afford the $156,000 sports car (with options the car tops out at $206,000).

A racing neophyte, I wanted to prepare myself mentally for the test-driving experience by speaking to someone who is one of the most passionate and widely known car collectors in the world. I called up Jay Leno (yes, that Jay Leno) at his office in California. Leno took the NSX for a spin earlier this year on his show “Jay Leno’s Garage.”

Leno told me that the NSX was not an “aggressive” drive yet he was quite “pleased” with it. He prefers a real-wheel drive to an all-wheel drive and missed the manual gear option. He reminded me that when the NSX was first introduced to American drivers a quarter of a century ago, it was a reasonable success, though widely considered “a very expensive Honda.” It was a beautifully engineered piece of machinery, he noted, but would a car enthusiast be willing to pay Ferrari’s price tag for a Honda? That said, Leno credits Acura for designing a “good-looking car” in the latest iteration of the NSX and deems it a “value for the money” when sized next to the competition.

“I liked what I saw,” Leno affirmed. “The NSX is a fascinating story.”

I wholeheartedly agree that the NSX is fun to drive. I may have been the slowest and most conservative driver at the historic Lime Rock Park racetrack in Connecticut compared to the other journalists zooming past my vehicle (the smell of burnt tires was overpowering at times), yet it became immediately obvious the NSX was designed for performance. Its 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6 engine with 573 horsepower and 476 pound-feet of torque will impress those who are accustomed to driving an Audi R8 or Porsche 911 Turbo — maybe even a Ferrari 458.

When I stomped on the gas, the NSX proved its racing car specs, thrusting me back into the seat at an intense acceleration.

What I liked most about the NSX was its proficiency and dexterity off the track. For over an hour, the NSX and I traversed the bucolic Connecticut countryside, whipping past horses, sheep, cows and locals in their pickup trucks. I even caught one fellow driver braking to get a better look at my red NSX (his tongue hanging out of his mouth like a thirsty dog) as my driving partner, Roman Mica, and I pulled over to review the assigned driving route. Did I mention that Acura neglected, for some reason, to install GPS navigation as part of the base model?

Roman and I were able to navigate northwest Connecticut’s hilly and curvy roads with little trouble, searching for checkpoints based on miles driven, but how could such an expensive sports car not come equipped with such a basic amenity?

“More and more consumers are using their phones for navigation,” Akeda told me later when I brought up my GPS concern, and the technology in the NSX can be found in supercars double the price, he assured me. “It’s all relative,” he said.

True, an NSX driver can plug in his (or her) iPhone as part of the Apple CarPlay function, allowing access to the driver’s iPhone screen and apps, but I was still caught off guard by the response. (For $2,800 a driver can purchase GPS as part of the ELS Studio Audio Tech Package, the upgrade from the standard premium audio system).

GPS was not the only workaday amenity that was notably missing from the vehicle: Acura omitted a vanity mirror on both the driver and passenger visor (you can’t always depend on your smartphone as a mirror). For the 99 percent of drivers who are accustomed to changing gears by physically moving a gearshift, that task has been simplified to pressing a button (how quotidian).

Moreover, what I craved most in the NSX was greater visibility and natural light. I could see the rolling hills and church steeples clearly when staring forward on the road but I found operating in daily traffic challenging. I either had to swivel my neck a good 90 degrees to see oncoming cars at an intersection or depend on my driving partner to give me the green light to make a turn (visibility and perception are vital roles in keeping a driver safe on the race track, too). For this reason I would think twice before heading out to my nearby Whole Foods or maneuvering past speeding cars on the New Jersey Parkway in the NSX without a second pair of eyes to guide me. The NSX may be built for speed and power but Acura also wants it to be a part of one’s everyday routine, as its predecessor was.

“There’s nothing about this car that’s intimidating,” Akeda declared. “It’s flexible. It’s more than just for show. It adapts to what your needs are.”

The NSX may not necessarily meet my day-to-day driving demands but then again, I am not the target audience. With a price tag that exceeds an Aston Martin V8 Vantage and a Maserati Quattroporte, only a sliver of the driving population will be able to own this car.

And that’s completely true for the foreseeable future: Acura plans to produce just 800 NSX cars per year in North America. The automaker began taking deposits at the end of February and the company has received enough orders to keep its staff in Marysville, Ohio, busy for the next two years, an Acura spokesman told me. Deliveries start this week and spotting one on the road may be a rarity.

“It is an expensive purchase, but it’s unique. It will stick out among the Ferraris,” Akeda told me. “It’s for a different type of person.”

He hopes to ramp up production of the NSX soon — once the company figures out how many it can make per day.

“We want to do more and 800 is conservative,” Akeda acknowledged. “The goal is to produce eight to 10 a day.”

The NSX will be entirely assembled by hand at its Ohio manufacturing facility and Acura has proudly crowed that it’s “the only supercar designed, developed and manufactured in the U.S.”

Akeda said Acura’s commitment to the success of this vehicle was unequivocal; the automaker built its Performance Manufacturing Center and engine plant especially for the NSX because “there was no factory in Japan or North America that could do this.” (Acura declined to reveal how much it cost to build the plant).

“We want to raise the bar with this car,” he explained. “NSX was known for its innovation and it’s still innovative.”

Interested buyers will have to depend on reviews and word-of-mouth to get a better handle on the car’s capabilities. There are no plans to keep an NSX in Acura dealerships. As of now, potential customers are directed to customize their NSX on the Acura website.

An Acura spokesman, however, told me he believes some of the orders the company received for the sports car may actually be from dealers who want a model on their showroom floor. Acura understands that its customer base cannot afford an NSX so the carmaker is also depending on the NSX to be a “halo” — a driver comes into a dealership to learn more about it and end ups signing paperwork for an Acura MDX crossover or RLX sedan.

The NSX will surely draw stares and second looks at the racetrack and around town. It’s stunning, sexy and confident — the same qualities an NSX driver will feel when driving the supercar.

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Facebook Makes Changes to Trending Topics Process But Says No Evidence of Systemic Bias

Posted on: May 23rd, 2016 by ABC News No Comments

LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — After backlash over a report that said its Trending Topics section was biased, Facebook has made some new changes.

In a letter to Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R., S.D.), Facebook said it found no evidence of systematic bias, but it could not rule out isolated incidents.

“Our investigation has revealed no evidence of systematic political bias in the selection or prominence of stories included in the Trending Topics feature… as you would expect with an inquiry of this nature, our investigation could not exclude the possibility of isolated improper actions or unintentional bias in the implementation of our guidelines or policies,” the letter said.

Facebook said it would be instituting several reforms, including discontinuing the use of external websites and a “top ten” list of outlets to help pick trending topics. The letter also said the social media site would institute “additional controls and oversight” around the human review team, without going into detail.

A report from Gizmodo earlier this month said that Facebook “news curators” were instructed to artificially “inject” selected stories into Facebook’s “Trending Topics” list and exclude some conservative news sites. That list appears in the top right corner of each user’s Facebook homepage.

In the letter, Facebook said it would be discontinuing the process of using 10 media outlets to help “boost” stories. The review team had “historically” referred to a list of ten outlets to “boost” topics to better reflect the prominence of widely-reported topics. The list included BBC News, CNN, Fox News, The Guardian, NBC News, The New York Times, USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and BuzzFeed News.

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