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52 Black former McDonald’s franchise owners are suing over discriminatory practices

52 Black former McDonald’s franchise owners are suing over discriminatory practices
[Photo: Joiarib Morales Uc/Unsplash]

Fifty-two Black former McDonald’s franchise owners have launched a lawsuit against the company alleging it was engaged in a swath of discriminatory behavior against them, reports Associated Press. The list of alleged discriminatory practices is a long one. According to court documents seen by AP and other outlets, the lawsuit alleges those practices included:

  • Steering Black franchise owners toward stores located in inner-city neighborhoods, which are less profitable and have higher insurance and security costs.
  • Providing Black franchise owners with misleading financial information about stores and locations.
  • Pushing prospective Black franchise owners to decide quickly when a store became available.
  • Asking Black franchise owners to remodel their stores within a shorter period than white-owned stores.
  • Excluding rent relief or other financial support to Black franchise owners during these remodels—relief and support white franchise owners would get.
  • Denying Black franchise owners the opportunity to buy stores in better neighborhoods, which are more financially successful.

In the lawsuit, the 52 Black franchise owners are seeking $4 million to $5 million in compensation per store. The 52 plaintiffs in the case owned around 200 stores in total “before being forced to sell them over the last decade.” The report does not say why the Black franchise owners were forced to sell the stores.

Yet, while owning the stores, because of the alleged discriminatory practices by McDonald’s, the Black franchise owners say they averaged sales of $2 million per store, while the average McDonald’s store brought in $2.7 million annually between 2011 and 2016.

McDonald’s issued a statement saying it “categorically” denied the allegations, and said it was “confident that the facts will show how committed we are to the diversity and equal opportunity of the McDonald’s System, including across our franchisees, suppliers and employees.”

This post has been updated to correctly attribute the original report to Associated Press, not ABC News.

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Delta and American join United Airlines in scrapping change fees on domestic flights

Delta and American join United Airlines in scrapping change fees on domestic flights
[Photo: Ryan Johns/Unsplash; NeONBRAND/Unsplash]

Air travel is down in the United States. How far? If you look at TSA data for the month of August, the number of people moving through security is between a quarter and a half of what it was last year at this time on any given day.

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Fears of coronavirus and widespread quarantines on travelers from hot-spot states are surely a factor. This despite recent research revealing that air travel is actually safer than you might think.

With the embattled airline industry hemorrhaging money, the three largest U.S. carriers have all announced that they are making a major bid to entice travelers to book flights with them—by getting rid of change fees on domestic flights for good. You know, those fees that can ding you between $75 and $200 per ticket if something comes up and you can’t travel on the days you originally booked? Gone.

United Airlines announced the move yesterday, and Delta Air Lines and American Airlines followed suit this afternoon.

Most airlines had waived change fees in the wake of the first wave of the pandemic, as travelers canceled flights and travel companies posted major losses. Delta logged a second-quarter loss of $5.7 billion while United took a $1.6 billion hit.

The gambit comes as airlines scramble to slow their cash burns.

According to Delta, there will be no change fees on tickets already purchased within the domestic U.S., Puerto Rico, and U.S. Virgin Islands for any seat except Basic Economy. American, meanwhile, said it was doing away with “all change fees for First Class, Business Class, Premium Economy and Main Cabin tickets for all domestic and short-haul international flying.”

Their announcements follow a similar one from United, which said yesterday it was “permanently getting rid of change fees on all standard Economy and Premium cabin tickets for travel within the U.S., effective immediately.”

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Robinhood crashed again just as demand for newly split Apple and Tesla stock was heating up

Robinhood crashed again just as demand for newly split Apple and Tesla stock was heating up
[Photo: Ishant Mishra/Unsplash; Agê Barros/Unsplash]

Many people trading commission-free stocks via Robinhood were unable to access the app today because of an outage that lasted several hours. At the peak around 9:30 a.m., Downdetector had logged over 2,400 incidences, with the majority listed as server issues. The company reports that issues have now been resolved.

Normally, this might not have been such a huge deal in August, which can be a slow month for stock trading. But traders were revving their engines for the morning of August 31, as there were two factors set to impact portfolios. Both Apple’s and Tesla’s previously announced stock splits were effective as of the opening bell, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average was set to rebalance stocks making up the 30-firm index of major U.S. companies. The three-hour outage impacted some user’s portfolios as much as 25%.

This isn’t the first time Robinhood’s app has experienced issues during high-volume volatile trading. The month of March had 21 days of outages—one lasting more than a day—according to Downdetector, which coincided with an early period during the coronavirus pandemic when the market was reeling. Each month since then, the app has logged multiple issues.

Complaints about Robinhood to U.S. consumer protection agencies have far exceeded those of its competitors, according to Bloomberg. Among those cited: “This company’s negligence cost me $6,000,” and “I can’t make trades, can’t take my own money and can’t leave their service.”

Robinhood’s management of its March outage is said to be under investigation by both the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, according to the same Bloomberg report. Robinhood’s spokesperson said the company is addressing the issues by hiring more customer service reps and improving the platform. Some customers were given compensation, the company’s spokesperson confirmed.

Robinhood wasn’t the only app down today. TD Ameritrade also experienced an outage, which was resolved before noon.

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Amazon is now one step closer to drone delivery

Amazon is now one step closer to drone delivery
[Photo: courtesy of Amazon]

Amazon is taking to the skies.

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The Federal Aviation Administration has issued the e-tailer what’s called a Part 135 Air Carrier Certificate for unmanned aircraft systems, bringing Amazon one step closer to its dream of 30-minute delivery with drones.

The process included submitting information about safety protocols, operating and training rules, and Amazon’s drone technology. The company now will work on testing and scaling up.

“This certification is an important step forward for Prime Air and indicates the FAA’s confidence in Amazon’s operating and safety procedures for an autonomous drone delivery service that will one day deliver packages to our customers around the world,” David Carbon, vice president of Prime Air, said in a written statement.

Amazon Prime Air aims to deliver packages up to five pounds or fewer. The Seattle-based e-commerce company first started considering drones as a delivery device in 2013.

Prime Air’s first delivery, fully autonomous with no human pilot, was in December 2016, according to the Amazon Prime Air website. From click to delivery took 13 minutes.

The companies that secured this FAA approval for commercial delivery over long distances before Amazon are UPS Flight Forward and Alphabet subsidiary Wing.

“The FAA’s role is to ensure that any unmanned aircraft systems operation is performed safely. The FAA supports innovation that is beneficial to the public, especially during a health or weather-related crisis,” the agency said in a written statement.
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Indoor vs. outdoor dining in the COVID era: What restaurant patrons say they’re comfortable with

Indoor vs. outdoor dining in the COVID era: What restaurant patrons say they’re comfortable with
[Photo: Flickr user Eden, Janine and Jim]

New Jersey just became the latest state to allow bars and restaurants to reopen their indoor dining sections, but that doesn’t mean patrons will actually show up. As fall approaches, the weather gets cooler, and states face potential new outbreaks in their fight against COVID-19, a big question for restaurant owners is whether diners will feel safe enough to venture indoors for a bit to eat.

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A new survey from SevenRooms, a reservation and booking service, offers a bit of insight. The company teamed up with YouGov for a poll of U.S. adults and found that 25% would not feel comfortable dining out at all until a vaccine becomes available. A slightly smaller number, 23%, said they’ll stick with pickup or delivery for the rest of the year, while only 38% of those polled said they are “looking forward” to dining out again over the next three months.

[Screenshot: SevenRooms]
But dig into the details, and the results are even more revealing. Of the respondents who said they are interested in dining out again, only 29% said they were comfortable with indoor seating. That’s significantly lower than the 42% who said they’d be comfortable with outdoor seating.

Interestingly, customers seem to take comfort in the familiar: 37% said they’d feel comfortable eating at restaurants they’ve been to before, compared to only 25% who said they’d feel comfortable eating at a restaurant they’ve never been to before.

The survey of 1,237 individuals was conducted in late July and early August.

Research on how the coronavirus spreads is constantly evolving, but experts believe that outdoor environments are generally safer, and many so-called superspreading events have been linked to crowded indoor environments. It’s no wonder why sidewalks and streets in crowded cities like New York have been transformed into makeshift dining rooms.

For cities that aren’t exactly known for mild winters, the question is what will happen when the temperature drops in a few weeks.

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Here’s why Nestlé is buying a peanut-allergy company for $2.6B

Here’s why Nestlé is buying a peanut-allergy company for $2.6B
[Photo: inma · lesielle/Unsplash]

Nestlé is shelling out an estimated $2.6 billion to buy a biopharmaceutical company best known for its peanut-allergy treatment.

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Aimmune Therapeutics’ Palforzia is the first and only Food and Drug Administration-approved “treatment to help reduce the frequency and severity of allergic reaction to peanuts, including anaphylaxis, in children aged 4 through 17.”

The deal, announced Monday morning, marks Nestlé Health Science’s deeper foray into that industry. That division of the Swiss food and drink giant was founded in 2011 and today has more than 5,000 employees in 66 countries.

To date, Nestlé has invested $473 million in Aimmune, giving the Swiss company an equity ownership stake of approximately 25.6%. The first investment in the pharma firm was $145 million in November 2016.

Peanuts are one of the most common causes of severe allergy attacks, according to the Mayo Clinic. Nestlé puts the number of peanut-allergy sufferers at 240 million worldwide.

“This transaction brings together Nestlé’s nutritional science leadership with one of the most innovative companies in food allergy treatment,” Nestlé Health Science CEO Greg Behar said in a written statement. “Together we will be able to offer a wide range of solutions that can transform the lives of people suffering from food allergies around the world.”

Aimmune’s stock was $34.23, up $21.63 or 171.67%, in early-morning trading, while Nestlé’s was $120.98, up 53 cents or 0.44%.

Nestlé’s portfolio includes of Nescafé, Gerber, KitKat, Poland Spring, Smarties, Toll House, Hot Pockets, Lean Cuisine, Coffee-Mate, Häagen-Dazs, Alpo, Fancy Feast, and Purina. Among its nutritional-science brands are Boost, Optifast, Resource ThickenUp, and Modulen.

Nestlé sold its U.S. candy division—known for Butterfinger, Baby Ruth, Nestlé Crunch, SweeTarts, and Nerds—to Luxembourg’s Ferrero in 2018 for an estimated $2.8 billion.

Brisbane, California-based Aimmune was founded in 2011 as Allergen Research Corp. In 2015, the company changed its name.

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Not a Netflix subscriber? Here’s how you can still watch a bunch of originals for free

Not a Netflix subscriber? Here’s how you can still watch a bunch of originals for free
[Photo: courtesy of Netflix]

Looking for some original content to watch, but don’t have the cash to splash out for a subscription service? We have some good news for you: Netflix has made 10 films and TV episodes available to watch for free–no subscription, or even account, needed.

The bonanza of free Netflix content was first noticed by Gadgets360 and Netflix confirmed the promotion to the site, saying “We’re looking at different marketing promotions to attract new members and give them a great Netflix experience.”

Here’s the list of the free original content you can access:

  • Stranger Things
  • Grace and Frankie
  • Murder Mystery
  • Elite
  • The Boss Baby: Back in Business
  • When they See Us
  • Love is Blind
  • Bird Box
  • The Two Popes
  • Our Planet

As you can see, Netflix is including some of its most popular original content, including Bird Box, starring Sandra Bulock, and the Oscar-nominated Two Popes. As noted, no Netflix account is needed to watch the free content, which is available globally, so anyone anywhere can watch it. However, there are some restrictions on where you can watch the content. Here are the deets:

  • The free content must be watched in a browser on a computer or Android device. Computers include both Macs and PCs.
  • Though you can watch the free content on an Android phone in a browser, the Safari browser on iOS devices is not supported.
  • Other devices that are unsupported include smart TVs and Fire TV sticks.
  • Browsers in incognito modes are also not supported.
  • The movies available for free can be watched in full, however, the TV episodes are limited to the first episode of the series–not the full series.

You can check out the free content by going to this website: https://www.netflix.com/us/watch-free.

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How to watch the 2020 MTV Video Music Awards live without cable

How to watch the 2020 MTV Video Music Awards live without cable
[Video: courtesy of MTV]

Strap yourself in, because MTV’s 2020 Video Music Awards are about to happen, and this year they’re going to look a little different.

We know, everything looks different in the era of COVID-19, but the VMAs might actually be a good kind of different. MTV’s annual celebration of popular music will feature “epic performances from various iconic locations” across all five boroughs of New York City. (Translation: This is not just another glorified Zoom meeting.)

Keke Palmer will host the event, which will include performances from Lady Gaga, Ariana Grande, BTS, Miley Cyrus, The Weeknd, Black Eyed Peas, and others. You can see the full list of performers on the VMAs website. And while you’re there, vote for your favorite.

Where and when to watch

The 2020 VMAs take place tonight (Sunday, August 30) at 8 p.m. ET and will air on MTV in addition to several other networks owned by ViacomCBS. (The pre-show at 6:30 p.m. ET will air on MTV only.) Networks airing the VMAs include:

  • BET
  • BET Her
  • CMT
  • Comedy Central
  • Logo
  • MTV
  • MTV2
  • Nick at Nite
  • Paramount Network
  • Pop
  • TV Land
  • VH1

The ceremony and performances will also air on the CW broadcast network—a first for the VMAs. If you’re a cable cord-cutter who wants to stream the awards show on your phone, computer, or smart TV app, we’ve rounded up some choices below:

Streaming services with ViacomCBS

  • Philo: This low-cost streaming service has ViacomCBS networks. Find it here.
  • FuboTV: This service has ViacomCBS networks and the CW in some markets. Find it here.
  • YouTube TV: This service has ViacomCBS networks. Find it here.
  • Sling TV: This service has ViacomCBS networks. Find it here.
  • AT&T TV Now: This service has ViacomCBS networks and the CW. Find it here.

Streaming services with the CW

  • CW apps: These apps are free and available in most areas. Find them here.
  • Locast: This free nonprofit streaming service offers the CW in some markets. Find it here.
  • Hulu With Live TV: Hulu’s paid live service has the CW in some markets. Find it here.

OTA antennas

If you have an over-the-air antenna with good reception, you might be able to watch the CW for free that way. Good luck and enjoy the show!

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Apple has terminated Epic Games’ App Store account, slaying ‘Fortnite’ (for now)

Apple has terminated Epic Games’ App Store account, slaying ‘Fortnite’ (for now)
[Source Photo: Joshua Hoehne/Unsplash]

After removing Fortnite from its App Store over an alternate billing system that violated its policies, Apple has officially terminated the Epic Games account.

Two weeks ago, Epic Games, the maker of Fortnite and Infinity Blade, uploaded an updated version of Fortnite to the Apple App Store and Google Play. That version featured an alternate billing system that circumnavigated the app stores, allowing for in-app purchases directly through Epic’s payment system.

Apple responded to that rule violation by pulling the game, and Epic then sued Apple, alleging antitrust law violations.

Following that lawsuit, Apple said it would terminate Epic’s account, and on Friday, it did. “The court recommended that Epic comply with the App Store guidelines while their case moves forward, guidelines they’ve followed for the past decade until they created this situation. Epic has refused,” Apple said in a statement, according to The Verge. “Instead they repeatedly submit Fortnite updates designed to violate the guidelines of the App Store. This is not fair to all other developers on the App Store and is putting customers in the middle of their fight. We hope that we can work together again in the future, but unfortunately that is not possible today.”

This means Epic won’t be allowed to submit any apps or even updates to the Apple App Store through its Epic Games developer account, and App Store users won’t be able to download (or re-download, if they previously purchased and then deleted) any of those games.

But the battle between the two isn’t quite over. Although Apple won the right to boot Epic Games in the most recent hearing, the next one, according to Gizmodo, is scheduled for September 29, 2020.

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$300-400 extra unemployment update: These states are sending out payments this week

$300-400 extra unemployment update: These states are sending out payments this week
[Photo: Louis Velazquez/Unsplash; Sharon McCutcheon/Unsplash; GDJ/Pixabay]

Residents of four states are already receiving an extra $300 in weekly unemployment benefits, which was authorized by President Trump’s August 8 memorandum. Here’s the latest update:

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What states are already paying out?

Arizona, Texas, Tennessee, and Louisiana. Arizona sent out checks last week, while Texas, Louisiana, and Tennessee began paying this week. Missouri is right behind them, planning to send out payments ASAP.

Phew. So if I live in one of those states, I’m saved?

No. Though the president’s memorandum authorizes weekly payments through the end of the year, he repurposed $44 billion from FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund to do it. FEMA is only guaranteeing states’ funding for the first three weeks of payments. After that, FEMA will disperse funds to states on a week-by-week basis. Key detail: The $44 billion could run out in as little as six weeks, depending how many people receive it.

Has my state applied?

Most have. These are the states that have not yet applied: Wisconsin, North Dakota, Minnesota, New Jersey, Kansas, Florida, and Nebraska. And South Dakota is declining the program. All other states have either applied or been approved.

7 reasons to sign up for the sixth Fast Company Innovation Festival

Is there any hope that I’ll receive another stimulus check?

Not before October. Talks resumed yesterday between Democrats and the White House on a coronavirus stimulus bill, following the implosion of negotiations earlier this month. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters that she again offered to meet Republicans halfway with a $2.2 trillion package (Republicans want smaller; Dems want bigger), and the White House has not yet responded. Congress is on recess until after Labor Day.

Why is it only $300 a week in my state? Wasn’t it supposed to be $400?

Yes, good for you for noticing: $100 per week has disappeared! The president’s August 8 memorandum provides $400 per week, but “called on” states to fund $100 per week. Most states responded to this calling with a big fat no, due to not having billions budgeted for the payouts, on top of already-dire financial outlooks due to the pandemic.

What’s happening with my state?

Delaware, Wyoming, West Virginia, and Ohio are awaiting approval from FEMA.

Many remaining states have received approval, but are facing logistical challenges. For example, Colorado and Alaska say to expect a respective four-week and  six- to eight-week delay before payments start.

Meanwhile, these states have received approval: Ohio, Virginia, Maine, Arkansas, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Washington, New Hampshire, New York, Alaska, Georgia, Vermont, Mississippi, Tennessee, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Alabama, California, Indiana, North Carolina, Texas, Kentucky, Michigan, Maryland, Idaho, Oklahoma, Montana, Utah, Colorado.

For further details about your search, do a Google News search of  “$300 unemployment [your state].” You can also check the FEMA website, which posts announcements about the approved states.

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It’s not vodka! The FDA warns of hand sanitizer in booze bottles

It’s not vodka! The FDA warns of hand sanitizer in booze bottles
[Photo: Kelly Sikkema/Unsplash]

You’d better take a second look at that bottle of vodka.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is warning that hand sanitizer is now being sold in packaging that makes it look like drinks and foods.

The product, widely used in the response to COVID-19, is also masquerading in beer cans, water bottles, and children’s food pouches and sometimes contains food flavors, such as chocolate or raspberry.

Manufacturers have to be on top of their product packaging and marketing to ensure people don’t mistakenly think their products are consumable, the FDA says. Hand sanitizer can be toxic if a person ingests it, and it’s potentially lethal for a child.

The FDA says that it “continues to see an increasing number of adverse events with hand sanitizer ingestion, including cardiac effects, effects on the central nervous system, hospitalizations, and death, primarily reported to poison control centers and state departments of health.”

The best way to keep hands clean is to wash them with soap and water, but when that option isn’t available, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says to use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.

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87% of people with past or current eating disorders say their symptoms are worse during COVID

87% of people with past or current eating disorders say their symptoms are worse during COVID
[Photo: Matt Popovich/Unsplash; Pexels/Pixabay]

The coronavirus pandemic has not been kind to people with tendencies toward disordered eating. A new study from Northumbria University finds that 87% of people with past or current eating disorders say that their symptoms are “worse,” and one-third say “much worse.”

The study traces 129 people in recovery or treatment, providing a detailed look at a common scenario, and it joins growing indications that those with eating disorders are struggling. Beat, the UK charity, reports roughly double the crisis hotline calls and online group attendance since the pandemic began. And a similar recent study of over 1,000 people in the UK and the Netherlands, published last month, reported that the pandemic is having “strong and wide-ranging effects” on eating disorder behaviors. That study found that anorexics were were eating less, bulimics were binging more, and nearly all reported increased anxiety—which is relevant given that eating disorders are partially an unhealthy coping mechanism for stress and anxiety.

The study participants reported feelings of being out of control, upended routines, low socialization and social support, and an increased preoccupation with food. Some also described concerning changes in access to healthcare, ranging from early discharge from inpatient programs to suspended treatment plans.

At least 13% of women experience an eating disorder during their lives. Experts expect this year’s eating disorder spinouts to have long-lasting effects.

“We must not underestimate the longevity of the impact of the pandemic. Individuals with experience of eating disorders will likely experience a long-term effect on their symptoms and recovery,” says lead author Dawn Branley-Bell, a psychology research fellow at Northumbria University.

Branley-Bell calls for increased awareness and support services on an ongoing basis.

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7 reasons to sign up for the sixth Fast Company Innovation Festival

7 reasons to sign up for the sixth Fast Company Innovation Festival

The Fast Company Innovation Festival is going online—and going global.

The annual festival, “Innovation for Good,” will highlight companies and individuals applying their creativity to solving some of the world’s most pressing societal and business challenges.  The editors and organizers of this year’s event, which takes place Oct. 5-9,  are making a virtue of it being virtual, highlighting speakers and cool workplaces and venues from around world.

Here are just seven reasons you won’t want to miss the festival:

  1. Interviews with cultural game-changers such as Robert Downey Jr. and Susan Downey, cofounders of Team Downey; Michelle Pfeiffer, actress and founder of Henry Rose, a clean fragrance company; and writer, producer, and actress Lena Waithe.
  2. Sessions with Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg, Nasdaq CEO Adena Friedman, Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan, and Intel CEO Bob Swan—executives who are leading the conversation on the role of the corporation in the world.
  3. A panel on how the music industry will support artists post-pandemic, featuring Scooter Braun, singer/songwriter Jessie Reyez, and Shara Senderoff, president of music investment firm Raised in Space.
  4. NEW! One-on-one mentoring with executives from companies such as digital agency Work & Co. and brand studio Mythology.
  5. Workshops for attendees at every stage of their careers, from people just starting out to senior leaders, all with an eye toward thriving in a teleconferencing world.
  6. Virtual visits to cool companies and organizations all over the U.S. and beyond. Go behind the scenes at London’s Abbey Road Studios and designer Nate Berkus’s home.
  7. Opportunities to meet fellow attendees inside the festival’s unique platform. Think of it as purposeful networking, 2020 style.

The Fast Company Innovation Festival is sponsored by presenting partner Booz Allen Hamilton and Boston Scientific, Facebook, Honeywell, Lenovo, PepsiCo, and Verizon.

Visit the Innovation Festival website for ticket purchase information, a list of speakers, and more details on sessions and virtual visits. Additional speakers and sessions will be announced in the coming weeks.

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What computer scientists learned about 2020 politics from 138 years of Congressional speeches

What computer scientists learned about 2020 politics from 138 years of Congressional speeches
[Photo: Shealah Craighead/The White House/Flickr]

If you want to truly understand what’s happening in your country, plug its political speeches into text analysis algorithms. Researchers from Kansas State University did just that with nearly two million Congressional speeches dating back to 1873, and found that today’s speeches are really different than the speeches of yore.

Modern speeches:

  • use smaller vocabulary and simpler language
  • express more positivity overall (because everything is great!)
  • are less neutral, expressing more negative and positive sentiments
  • include wider chasms between Democrats and Republicans
  • are shorter (the Democrats underwent an intensive verbosity peak in 1900-1909)

Women were not a priority of either party until the 1980s, as indicated by the low overall use of words like she/hers/woman from 1873 through 1980. Lady words have been on the rise ever since, timing that correlates with more women-related bills and more Congresswomen. Today, Congresspeople use words like she/hers/woman five times more than in the 1950s. They are much more often spoken by Democrats, but still far below usage of he/his/man.

Mean frequency of words that identify women (left) and words that identify men (right) in congressional speeches in different years. View image larger here. [Image: L. Shamir, E. Tucker, C. Capps]
Reading level was mostly on the upswing from 1870 until late 1976, peaking at nearly 10th grade reading level; it has since fallen to 8-9th, and is heading south. The 1970s downturn correlates with Congressional legislators beginning to address the public directly, via media, through their speeches.

Fun fact: Congresspeople’s speeches become more negative when the sitting president is not from their party. Because, you know, everything is awful.

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March on Washington 2020: What to know about today’s MLK anniversary march and protest

March on Washington 2020: What to know about today’s MLK anniversary march and protest
[Photo: Cooper Baumgartner/Unsplash]

Today, thousands of protesters will converge in the nation’s capital to march for police reform and racial justice. The 2020 March on Washington comes 57 years after the original 1963 March on Washington that demanded racial justice and civil rights for Black Americans. Here’s what you need to know about the event:

  • The 2020 March on Washington was originally announced by Rev. Al Sharpton at George Floyd’s funeral in June. As CNN reports, at the time, Sharpton said, “On August 28, the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington, we’re going back to Washington. We’re going back this August 28 to restore and recommit that dream [of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.] . . . We need to go back to Washington and stand up, Black, white, Latino, Arab, in the shadows of Lincoln and tell them this is the time to stop this.”
  • The march is being held on the 57th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech. It’s organized in conjunction with Sharpton’s National Action Network and the NAACP.
  • The 2020 march is dubbed the “Get Your Knee Off Our Necks” Commitment March. The original 1963 march it is based on was officially called the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.”
  • The march will be led by the families of George Floyd, Eric Garner, and others who “know the pain” of police brutality and racial injustice.
  • Marchers will be called upon to do more than just show up. Besides marching to let their voices be heard, attendees will also be encouraged to register to vote, fill out the 2020 US Census, and sign up to be poll monitors and poll workers for the upcoming November elections, reports CNN.
  • The march’s permit allows for 100,000 people, which is the number event organizers are planning for.
  • Coronavirus safety precautions will be in full effect. Holding mass gatherings in the time of COVID-19 is always a challenge, but the march’s organizers have gone to great lengths to make sure marchers can maintain a safe social distance and that the march complies with all local public health regulations. Face masks for marchers will be required and hand sanitizer, gloves, and masks will also be provided on-site. People will only be granted entry to the site once they have had their temperature checked and are wearing a face mask.
  • The march will be live-streamed. You can watch it on Nation Action Network’s Vimeo page.

The March on Washington 2020 kicks off at the Lincoln Memorial today, August 28, 2020, at 7 a.m. ET. A preprogram will run from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. At 11 a.m. is when the majority of speeches will begin. Speakers will include civil rights leaders and members of families impacted by racial injustice. The march itself officially begins at 1 p.m. It runs from the Lincoln Memorial to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. The march is scheduled to conclude around 3 p.m. (all times local).

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Xpeng IPO: Another Tesla rival from China is climbing the American stock market

Xpeng IPO: Another Tesla rival from China is climbing the American stock market
[Photo: courtesy of Xpeng]

The Chinese electric-vehicle manufacturer Xpeng has raised $1.5 billion in its initial public offering today.

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Shares were priced at $15 each, but opened at $23.10. The stock climbed to close to $25 and closed at $21.39.

The Alibaba-backed company joins white-hot EV stocks, such as China-based Li Auto, which raised an estimated $1.1 billion in its July 30 IPO, and Phoenix’s Nikola, which boasted a $12 billion IPO on June 4.

Xpeng’s ticker on the New York Stock Exchange is XPEV.

Founded in 2015, the company makes an SUV, called the G3, and a four-door sports sedan, the P7, with a price range of RMB150,000 to RMB300,000 (about $21,771 to $43,541), according to documents filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Xpeng had just under 3,700 employees in China and the United States, as of June 30.

“In order to optimize our customers’ mobility experience, we have strategically chosen to focus on developing full-stack autonomous driving technology and in-car intelligent operating system, as well as core vehicle systems, including powertrain and the electrical and electronic architecture, or the [electrical/electronic] architecture, in-house,” the company wrote.

The stock debut comes as U.S.-listed Chinese firms face additional scrutiny from Congress. In the wake of an accounting scandal earlier this year that decimated shares of Luckin Coffee, lawmakers have called for the delisting of China-based companies that fail to meet more stringent audit requirements.

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Abbott’s rapid COVID-19 test: Here’s how it’s different from the rest

Abbott’s rapid COVID-19 test: Here’s how it’s different from the rest
[Photo: courtesy of Abbott]

Abbott Laboratories has just been granted emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration for its pocket-sized, $5, 15-minute COVID-19 antigen test.

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The test, called the BinaxNOW COVID-19 Ag Card, has already been dubbed a “game changer” by the likes of Assistant Secretary for Health Dr. Brett Giroir. Here’s what you need to know:

How does it work?

To use BinaxNOW, you stick a nasal swab into the device, and a colored line will show up if results are positive for the coronavirus. The swab, by the way, is shorter than the nasopharyngeal Q-tip you may have heard of.

The test is linked to a free mobile app, which lets users whose results are negative for the coronavirus display a “digital health pass.”

What’s different about it?

BinaxNOW is an antigen test, meaning it detects proteins that are present on the surface of the coronavirus. This differs from the standard polymerase chain reaction test, which detects the genetic sequence of the virus itself. While antigen tests are considered less accurate than PCR tests, they’re much faster—PCR tests typically take days to return results, stymieing healthcare providers across the country, but BinaxNOW has a turnaround time of just 15 minutes.

Also, BinaxNOW is cheap, costing just $5 compared to $15-$50 for other rapid tests on the market.

This all matters because public health officials say rapid, widespread testing is critical to stopping COVID-19 and would be key to letting citizens safely go back to schools and offices. Abbott’s rapid testing quickly identifies infectious patients for containment, and its low-cost, mass-production capabilities ensure those who need tests get them.

Furthermore, BinaxNOW can be used theoretically anywhere since it requires no lab equipment, as opposed to lab-based PCR tests. This means it could be employed in places that lack medical resources, which could “democratize testing,” according to former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb.

How accurate is it?

According to Abbott, BinaxNOW has a correct positive diagnosis rate of 97.1% and a correct negative diagnosis rate of 98.5%, when used within the first seven days of symptoms.

When will I be able to get one?

Abbott said it plans to start shipping tens of millions of test kits in September and will ramp up to 50 million test kits per month in October. The tests will be conducted by medical professionals at their facilities—such as doctors, school nurses, and pharmacists—and will not be sold to consumers.

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Lord & Taylor will close all stores with steep liquidation sales, starting today

Lord & Taylor will close all stores with steep liquidation sales, starting today
[Photo: Flickr user JJBers]

Lord & Taylor is going out of business.

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The iconic luxury retailer, which became the country’s first department store in 1826, announced it will close all of its remaining stores with liquidation sales kicking off today.

The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on August 2, initially planning to keep 19 of its 38 locations open, but cutting that number to 14 just a few weeks later. Now, it’s deciding that everything must go.

And indeed, everything must go. “Deep discounts plus departmental promotions will be effective throughout the sale process in store and online,” the company said in a statement. “Discounts apply to existing inventory, new store arrivals and on new categories not previously sold at these stores. The historic event will also feature the sale of in store fixtures, furniture, and equipment.”

Lord & Taylor, which was sold to clothing rental upstart Le Tote in 2019, has a long history of trailblazing: As America’s first department store, it pioneered the idea of the personal shopper, and following World War II, it was the first major retailer to be led by a woman.

It’s now the latest in a line of retail bankruptcies during the coronavirus pandemic. Fellow department stores J.C. Penney, Neiman Marcus, and Stein Mart all filed for bankruptcy in recent months, with J.C. Penney and Neiman Marcus staying in business while Stein Mart is liquidating.

And as department stores fall, the retail apocalypse marches on: Coresight Research estimates that roughly 25% of America’s 1,000 malls will shut down within five years as the pandemic devastates apparel vendors, experiential shopping, and movie theaters, which make up roughly 90% of all mall tenants.

It’s a gloomy forecast—but perhaps you can make the best of it by getting to your local mall today, to snag 40%-off tags at Lord & Taylor.

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What’s the deal with those mysterious ‘FCM Messages’ notifications in Microsoft Teams?

What’s the deal with those mysterious ‘FCM Messages’ notifications in Microsoft Teams?
[Photo: courtesy of Microsoft]

Users of Microsoft Teams recently took to social media to complain that they were getting mysterious notifications from the app with captions like “FCM Messages.” Microsoft said in response that it was aware of the problem, which appears to be linked to testing related to a recently disclosed issue with Google’s Firebase Cloud Messaging (FCM) cross platform notification tool.

Security researchers had uncovered a flaw in FCM that could have let them send bogus notifications to users of apps that rely on the tool for messaging, potentially enabling phishing or spam attacks.

In recent days, users of both Teams and Google Hangouts have reported receiving apparent test notifications mentioning FCM through the app. Both Google and Microsoft have indicated that they’re looking into the issue, which has sent confused users to Twitter and other platforms and to their IT departments looking for answers. Duke University’s Office of Information Technology, for example, issued a blog post telling users that while there doesn’t seem to be a security risk, they might continue to receive the notifications.

Neither Google nor Microsoft immediately responded to inquiries from Fast Company. We’ll update this post if we hear back.

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Amazon steps up its grocery ambitions with an Alexa-powered Fresh supermarket in Los Angeles

Amazon is venturing even further into the grocery game today with the debut of its first-ever Amazon Fresh store. The 35,000-square-foot supermarket in the Woodland Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles embraces technology for what it calls a “seamless grocery shopping experience.”

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Don’t expect “Alexa, clean up in aisle five” announcements over the loudspeaker, though.

  • Customers can use the new Amazon Dash Cart, activated using a Fresh QR code and charged to their selected payment method on the way out of the store. “A combination of computer vision algorithms and sensor fusion” notes what’s in the cart, explains Amazon vice president Jeff Helbling.
  • Shoppers access their Alexa shopping lists to figure out where the items they want are located in the store and to check off what they need as they wind their way through the store.
  • Amazon Echo Shows are placed throughout the store, inviting customers to help them locate what they’re looking for by asking, “Alexa, where can I find cereal?”

Supermarkets and grocery stores are a $682 billion industry in the United States, according to the market research firm IBISWorld.

The main players in the retail food space are Walmart and Kroger. Other national heavies include Albertsons, Costco, and Target, while companies, like Publix, Ahold Delhaize, Meijer, H-E-B, and Wegmans are regional players. Also noteworthy are national dollar-store chains serving as grocery purveyors and the growing popularity of the German discount food chains Lidl and Aldi.

The Amazon Fresh store features the sort of products you’d expect at a local supermarket, such as well-known national and local brands (Coca-Cola, Kraft Mac & Cheese, and Groundworks Coffee); fresh meat, seafood, and produce; and in-store prepared foods and bakery items.

Hold the “prime” beef jokes, because this isn’t the Seattle-based e-commerce behemoth’s first foray into grocery. It bought Whole Foods in June 2017 for $13.7 billion.

Nor is it Amazon’s brick-and-mortar debut. That came in 2018 with the public launch of the Amazon Go convenience store.

Amazon’s Fresh grocery delivery service has been around since 2007.

The new Amazon Fresh store is open by invitation only right now, but the public will be allowed in in a few weeks. There’s also same-day delivery and pickup during store hours, 7 a.m.-10 p.m.

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