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Statue of Bitcoin founder honors mysterious 'god' of cryptocurrency

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(BUDAPEST, Hungary) -- Cryptocurrency enthusiasts unveiled what they say is the world's first statue of mystery-shrouded Bitcoin creator Satoshi Nakamoto, at a park in Budapest, Hungary.

The expressionless, ultra-shiny bust is meant to represent "a general human figure, since we do not know the gender, race, age [or] height of the mysterious developer," the creators of the project wrote on a website set up for the statue's debut.

The creation of the monument to the digital currency legend was led by Andras Gyofi, the editor of a Hungarian cryptocurrency news site, as well as other key players in the Central European nation's digital currency space.

The statue features a hoodie-clad figure constructed of bronze, but the face features a special bronze-aluminum composite so "every visitor can see their own face when looking at Satoshi," the project organizers wrote. The art was the work of two Hungarian sculptors, Gergely Reka and Tamas Gilly, who decided to make the reflective face to represent a concept of "We are all Satoshi."

A global debate has ensued for years as to who the actual person or persons behind the iconic pseudonym is. Despite many people claiming to be Satoshi Nakamoto -- and a handful of others being called him by investigative reporters -- the actual original author of the whitepaper that launched Bitcoin in 2008 has not been identified.

Given Bitcoin's meteoric rise over the past decade or so -- a single bitcoin worth about $600 five years ago now is worth more than $47,000 -- Satoshi Nakamoto may have become a billionaire as cryptocurrency became more mainstream. Earlier this month, El Salvador became the first nation in the world to adopt Bitcoin as legal tender.

The mythic nature of the Bitcoin creator only seems to lend to his revered status among crypto evangelists.

A large crowd turned out to view the unveiling of the statue on Thursday in Graphisoft Park, a business park in Hungary's capital city. The statue is available for public viewing, free of charge.

The sculpture's creators look at Bitcoin as "much more" than just a cryptocurrency, and said they sought to honor the "very important legacy" of its creator.

"The underlying technology, blockchain that Satoshi Nakamoto introduced to the world, can truly make our life better," they wrote on their website. "Transparency, fairness, several other values in numerous fields, this is what blockchain truly means."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


SpaceX successfully launches first all-civilian flight into Earth's orbit

Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg via Getty Images

(MERRITT ISLAND, Fla.) -- The first all-civilian flight to Earth's orbit successfully launched Wednesday.

The Falcon 9 rocket took off as scheduled at the start of the five-hour window for launch at 8:02 p.m. ET. It reached orbit about 12 minutes later.

The crew said goodbye to their families, suited up and were driven in Teslas to Kennedy Space Center's historic pad 39A Wednesday afternoon.

SpaceX's Inspiration4 mission is the third recent billionaire-backed space launch, but it's gone where neither Richard Branson nor Jeff Bezos could -- into orbit.

SpaceX tweeted at just before 11 p.m. that the crew had reached an orbit of 535 km, or about 363 miles, the farthest any civilian has traveled from Earth.

That is even further than the International Space Station, which orbits at 240 miles.

Commanding the mission is 38-year-old billionaire Jared Isaacman, an experienced pilot. He founded a payment process company called Shift4 Payments and purchased all four seats on the flight for an estimated $220 million.

Isaacman wants this launch to benefit St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. He has already donated $100 million to the cause.

One seat was reserved for 29-year-old St. Jude ambassador Hayley Arceneaux. Arceneaux is a bone cancer survivor and will be the youngest American to go to space as well as the first pediatric cancer survivor.

The third occupant will be Dr. Sian Proctor, 51, who said she has dreamed of going to space since she was a child. She burst into tears when she heard she was chosen as a member of the Inspiration4 mission.

She will become the fourth Black female American astronaut to travel into space.

The final crew member is Chris Sembroski, 41, an Iraq War veteran and engineer with Lockheed Martin, who won the final seat through a lottery that required a St. Jude donation to enter.

The four will orbit the Earth for three days with no set destination. They said they will conduct some science experiments while on board and auction off items in space for St. Jude.

There is always risk launching into space and coming home. While these passengers have been trained by SpaceX, they are not professional astronauts.

The SpaceX Crew Dragon will also be tested for the first time at this distance.

They cannot go much longer than three days without running low on fuel, food and water. And while past missions could make changes on the return because of bad weather on Earth due to astronauts on board, this ship won’t have quite as much flexibility.

After three days of orbiting Earth, they will prepare to splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida late Saturday or early Sunday.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Walmart partnering with Ford, Argo AI to test self-driving delivery vehicles

Ford Motor Company

(NEW YORK) — Walmart on Wednesday announced plans to launch a new delivery service using self-driving vehicles in three U.S. cities, with autonomous test vehicles expected to hit the streets later this year.

The world's largest retailer is partnering with Ford and Argo AI, an autonomous vehicle tech firm headquartered in Pittsburgh, to launch the driverless delivery services in Miami, Washington, D.C., and Austin, Texas. The group said it expects to expand to other markets over time, and initial integration testing of the vehicles to begin within months.

The partnership comes as demand for delivery goods has been accelerated by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and as Americans' intrigue in self-driving technology continues to make headlines and propel forward the emerging technology.

"This collaboration will further our mission to get products to the homes of our customers with unparalleled speed and ease, and in turn, will continue to pave the way for autonomous delivery," Tom Ward, senior vice president of last-mile delivery at Walmart U.S., said in a statement.

By working directly with Ford, Argo AI and Walmart will be able to implement the technology with vehicles at scale. As customer demand for next-day and same-day delivery in urban areas rises, both for groceries and other goods, the collaboration also will help the companies collect data on how customers respond to autonomous technology.

"Argo and Ford are aggressively preparing for large-scale autonomous vehicle operations across a broad footprint of U.S. cities," Scott Griffith, CEO of Ford Autonomous Vehicles & Mobility Businesses, added in a statement. "Pairing Walmart’s retail and e-commerce leadership with Argo and Ford’s self-driving operations across these multiple cities marks a significant step toward scaling a commercial goods delivery service."

As e-commerce booms in the U.S., many retailers are facing increased pressure to speed up delivery times in order to compete with behemoths like Amazon that offer same-day delivery in many urban areas. Meanwhile, firms like Tesla and its eccentric CEO Elon Musk have pushed self-driving technology mainstream in recent years, but controversies and investigations have delayed the large-scale adoption of autonomous vehicles despite Musk's past timelines for it.

Earlier this year, pizza delivery giant Domino's announced it was partnering with autonomous driving firm Nuro to launch driverless pizza delivery out of a store in Houston. Late last year, Alphabet Inc.'s Waymo launched self-driving ride-hailing services in parts of Phoenix to the public after some two years of testing.

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Citing human rights risks, UN calls for ban on certain AI tech until safeguards are set up

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(NEW YORK) — The United Nations Human Rights chief on Wednesday called for a moratorium on the sale of and use of artificial intelligence technology that poses human rights risks -- including the state use of facial recognition software -- until adequate safeguards are put in place.

The plea comes as artificial intelligence develops at a rapid clip, despite myriad concerns ranging from privacy to racial bias plaguing the emerging technology.

"Artificial intelligence can be a force for good, helping societies overcome some of the great challenges of our times. But AI technologies can have negative, even catastrophic, effects if they are used without sufficient regard to how they affect people’s human rights," U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said in a statement Wednesday.

Bachelet's warnings accompany a report released by the U.N. Human Rights Office analyzing how artificial intelligence systems affect people's right to privacy -- as well as rights to health, education, freedom of movement and more.

"Artificial intelligence now reaches into almost every corner of our physical and mental lives and even emotional states," Bachelet added. "AI systems are used to determine who gets public services, decide who has a chance to be recruited for a job, and of course they affect what information people see and can share online."

The report warns of the dangers of implementing the technology without due diligence, citing cases of people being wrongly arrested because of flawed facial recognition tech or being denied social security benefits because of the mistakes made by these tools.

While the report did not cite specific software, it called for countries to ban any AI applications that "cannot be operated in compliance with international human rights law." More specifically, the report called for a moratorium on the use of remote biometric recognition technologies in public spaces -- at least until authorities can demonstrate compliance with privacy and data protection standards and the absence of discriminatory or accuracy issues.

The report also slammed the lack of transparency around the implementation of many AI systems, and how their reliance on large data sets can result in people's data being collected and analyzed in opaque ways as well as result in faulty or discriminatory decisions. The long-term storage of data and how it could be used in the future is also unknown and a cause for concern, according to the report.

"Given the rapid and continuous growth of AI, filling the immense accountability gap in how data is collected, stored, shared and used is one of the most urgent human rights questions we face," Bachelet said.

"We cannot afford to continue playing catch-up regarding AI -- allowing its use with limited or no boundaries or oversight, and dealing with the almost inevitable human rights consequences after the fact," Bachelet said, calling for immediate action to put "human rights guardrails on the use of AI."

Digital rights advocacy groups welcomed the recommendations from the international body, especially as many nations lag in implementing federal laws surrounding artificial intelligence.

Evan Greer, the director of the nonprofit advocacy group Fight for the Future, told ABC News that the report further proves the "existential threat" posed by this emerging technology.

"This report echoes the growing consensus among technology and human rights experts around the world: artificial intelligence powered surveillance systems like facial recognition pose an existential threat to the future [of] human liberty," Greer told ABC News. "Like nuclear or biological weapons, technology like this has such an enormous potential for harm that it cannot be effectively regulated, it must be banned."

"Facial recognition and other discriminatory uses of artificial intelligence can do immense harm whether they're deployed by governments or private entities like corporations," Greer added. "We agree with the UN report's conclusion: there should be an immediate, worldwide moratorium on the sale of facial recognition surveillance technology and other harmful AI systems."

Multiple studies have indicated that facial recognition technologies powered by artificial intelligence have the potential of racial bias and false negatives. Just last summer, a Black man in Michigan was wrongfully arrested and detained after facial recognition technology incorrectly identified him as a shoplifting suspect.

A sweeping 2019 study from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology found a majority of facial recognition software on the market had higher rates of false positive matches for Asian and Black faces compared to white faces. A separate 2019 study from the U.K. found that 81% of suspects flagged by the facial recognition technology used by London's Metropolitan Police force were innocent.

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As New Orleans jazz community weathers crisis upon crisis, music uplifts

Courtesy of Robin Barnes Casey

(NEW ORLEANS) — As Hurricane Ida wreaked havoc in New Orleans, it swept away a historic jazz landmark that Louis Armstrong once considered a second home.

"The message that boosting might soon be needed, if not justified by robust data and analysis, could adversely affect confidence in vaccines and undermine messaging about the value of primary vaccination," the officials wrote, backed by other worldwide organizations.

For their part, the Biden administration has emphasized that science will lead and federal regulators will have the final say -- and that their call to push out booster shots is motivated by wanting to "stay ahead" of the virus.

"You don't want to find yourself behind playing catch up," Dr. Anthony Fauci said when announcing the plan. "Better stay ahead of it than chasing after it.”

The Karnofsky Tailor Shop and Residence, which was built in 1913, collapsed after water pooled on its roof. According to the National Park Service, a young Armstrong worked for the family who owned the shop and loaned the future jazz legend money to buy his first cornet -- a brass instrument that resembles a small trumpet.

"That is another devastating blow to the community, so much history there [that] once again, a hurricane has come in and just kind of washed away," Kia Robinson, the director of programs and marketing at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation, told ABC News.

Ida destroyed homes and businesses, knocked out power to more than 1 million residents and left at least 82 people dead. It hit Louisiana as a Category 4 hurricane on Aug. 29 -- almost exactly 16 years after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the city that is known as the birthplace of jazz.

'Insult to injury'

Before Ida, the jazz community was already reeling from the ongoing pandemic, which has shut down music venues, canceled shows and left many in the music community without an income or a lifeline.

"New Orleans is very much so a gig town, you know, people work performance to performance, gig to gig, so a lot of our musicians don't have a safety net," Robinson said.

When the pandemic hit in March 2020, Robin Barnes Casey, known as the Songbird of New Orleans, lost all of her bookings, and all of her international tours as a cultural ambassador to the city were canceled.

At the time, she and her husband, musician Pat Casey, who perform as the duo LoveBirds, had just become new parents to baby Riley.

"All of a sudden, everything we could do financially [to support our family] was just stopped," Barnes Casey said.

"It was definitely mentally, emotionally an exhausting time and then also being brand new parents, we had a challenge and a blessing," she added.

As COVID-19 vaccines became widely available this spring, some musicians were able to book some gigs again. But amid a surge in cases in Louisiana and the emergence of the delta variant, the city again had to take a step back.

Gov. John Bel Edwards reinstated the mask mandate in August, and large gatherings like the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, which was scheduled to run in October, were canceled again this year.

For New Orleans saxophonist Derek Douget, Ida has added “insult to injury.”

"COVID took away all the gigs, [and] then the hurricane comes in, not only taking the gigs or prospects of gigs away, but it's destroyed your property," Douget told ABC News as he helped his parents deal with hurricane damage to their home.

The Jazz Foundation of America deployed teams of volunteers to assess needs and provided financial assistance to thousands of musicians -- from direct payments to fulfilling need-based requests, most recently providing those who lost power during Ida with generators and fuel tanks.

"We have a long history, a long and painful one, of working with musicians in Louisiana and throughout the South during these natural disasters,”"Jazz Foundation of America executive director Joseph Petrucelli told ABC News.

The Jazz Foundation of America raised over $2 million for its COVID-19 relief fund, while the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation supported more than 2,500 in the Louisiana jazz community through grants.

"During 2020 we assisted more musicians and more families across the country than we did in any year previous," Petrucelli said. "This was because we're dealing with such widespread deprivation and devastation and loss of work that the need was really universal."

'We celebrate life'

When Katrina struck New Orleans in 2005, Barnes Casey was 17, and as she left her home in New Orleans amid the destruction, she found hope in music.

"Music has always been my salvation and my therapy and my happiness," she said. "I survived mentally through Katrina because I listened to music all the time.”

This is why, despite all of the roadblocks before them, the Caseys -- along with thousands of other musicians -- were determined to keep the music going, despite the pandemic and despite Ida, through uplifting virtual performances.

And according to Petrucelli, many were able to raise relief funds to support the music community through their efforts. "There's just been so much, so much goodwill and kindness," he said.

"It was such a blessing for us, because we were able to still do what we loved, we were able to still perform and make people happy," Barnes Casey said. "[Music] can make people mentally check out and think about the beauty of the world and forget the sorrows of the world.”

And the sorrows for the jazz community amid the pandemic have been immense. The human toll of the virus touched every corner of the jazz world as dozens of jazz musicians and producers died of COVID-19, including New Orleans jazz legend Ellis Marsalis.

For Douget, Marsalis' death in April 2020 was particularly painful.

Douget was a member of the Ellis Marsalis Quintet for 25 years and first met Marsalis when he was 17. He considered him a mentor and a friend.

"He was a true intellectual, just intellectually curious all the way to the end of his life. Losing him was devastating," Douget said. "He was like a father figure to me and to a lot of the musicians, particularly the ones that played in his band.”

Just last week, prominent New Orleans musician Bennie Pete, a founding member of the Hot 8 Brass Band, became the latest member of the city’s jazz community to die of COVID-19.

Even amid great loss, Barnes Casey said the resilient spirit of New Orleans and its music community continues to uplift.

"Despite that's all going on, [New Orleans] is such a unique place, because we celebrate life so much. We even, you know, we celebrate funerals, but it's more about celebrating the life that we're sending off," she said.

And in that spirit, Douget continues to teach the next generation of musicians, carrying on the legacy of greats like Marsalis who dedicated their lives to jazz education.

"They had a profound influence on my life," Douget said. "They showed me that, of course, learning your instrument and learning the craft, all that is important, but it's just as important to pass it along to the next generation of young people. And that's what their lives were about. That's what they did. And I tried to basically model my life on theirs."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Remote workers spur housing boom in smaller US cities, drive up prices

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(NEW YORK) -- Travis and Emily Elwood never imagined that they would call Billings, Montana, home.

The couple moved here from Portland, Oregon, last year when the pandemic forced them to reevaluate their priorities.

“I think humans just… are creatures of habit,” Travis Elwood told “Nightline.” “The pandemic coming in and forcing a change, versus one that you volunteer for, really just shook things up and everybody's day-to-day lives and just kind of opened their eyes. [The massive change] broke off those chains and shackles [that] kind of held them in place.”

He and his wife are part of a great reshuffling taking place in the U.S. According to American real estate company Zillow, more than one in ten Americans have moved in the past year.

“For a long time, people have thought to move closer to cities because that's where jobs are and if you wanted to minimize your commute, you wanted to get as close as possible. Now, as a result of the pandemic, a lot of workers have been untethered from their offices. And so that means they can broaden their search horizons for real estate,” Danielle Hale, chief economist at realtor.com, told ABC News.

“They're looking for good value further away from those downtown cores. And that's led to home price increases,” she added.

The Elwoods had long talked about leaving Portland for a more affordable city.

“Rent for like a small apartment is quite astronomical. I mean, you're looking $1,700 to $1,900 a month for a two-bedroom apartment,” Travis Elwood said.

When his wife began working remotely, the change gave the couple financial security -- and they decided to take the plunge.

“We never in Portland would have been able to afford a house there, at least nothing like what we have now,” Emily Elwood said. “We were making pretty good money, but we just realized we were never going to buy there.”

Billings happened to have almost everything they were looking for.

“We wanted to change, so we wanted to make sure it wasn't just a side step from where we were and something that was different, provided us new or different opportunities than-than we originally had,” Travis Elwood said.

The Montana city is #1 on the Wall Street Journal and Realtor.com emerging housing markets index

“I think people are kind of waking up to what many of us here have known,” Bill Cole, the mayor of the city, told “Nightline.” “Covid reminded us that life is not all about jobs and money. It's about relationships, quality of life, and being part of a community. And Billings has those intangibles.”

Hale explained the Wall Street Journal /Realtor.com Emerging Housing Markets Index is designed to track real estate markets that are going to be attractive for investment.

“[It’s] looking at a lot of different data indicators on things like amenities and quality of life, like low commute times, things like decent wages and low unemployment rate,” Hale said. “That makes these areas well rounded places where you'd actually want to live. And if you invest in real estate in these markets, you can expect a good return.”

Rounding out the emerging markets index list is Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, and Fort Wayne, Indiana. These locales show that smaller, more affordable cities are becoming some of the most popular places to live in the country.

The Elwoods traded in their two-bedroom apartment for a four-bedroom house with a backyard for their two dogs.

“Our mortgage here is actually less than what we're paying and rents in Portland,” Emily Elwood said.

Her husband found a local job almost immediately. Billings has a population of less than 200,000 people, but its unemployment rate hovers around 3% -- lower than the national average of 5.2%.

“I had a handful of offers in my first week here, so within my second week of being in Montana, I had a job,” he said.

Husband and wife realtors Megan and Jason Wood sold the Elwoods their home.

“Living in Billings and living in south central Montana is all about being close to the mountains and having the access to the river and the desert and some of the other nice outdoor activities,” Jason Wood told “Nightline.”

Like many mid-sized cities, Billings is experiencing a pandemic real estate boom.

“Pre-pandemic in 2019, there was about three-and-a-half months worth of inventory sitting on the market. Today, we have about three weeks worth of inventory,” Megan Wood said.

Houses are flying off the market.

“Houses are moving very quickly here. So you have three, four or five days to get an offer in and get an offer accepted,” her husband said.

While still less expensive than many cities, prices are going up. The average single-family home price in Billings and the surrounding area was $376,248 in June, up almost 28% from a year earlier.

“Homes in Billings are definitely going above asking price at the moment,” Megan Wood told “Nightline.” “The median for the month of July, the median amount over the asking price was about 6% sales price versus the list price.”

It seems new homes can’t be built quickly enough to keep up with demand. Almost all the homes in the subdivision, which range from $350,000 to $700,000 are already sold.

“The demand for houses is very, very high this year. We're selling houses as soon as they're done or even before they're done,” Chad Wagenhals, Builder/Realtor at CDW Construction said. “We probably get a house framed and within the first two weeks, the house is sold. So if the house goes on the market, it's usually sold in two or three days, if not two or three hours.”

With remote work freeing many people from their daily commute, families looking to stretch their dollar and their square footage are being up the suburbs, too.

“It's crazy. It's absolutely crazy,” real estate agent Pat Davis said. She’s been selling homes in the New Jersey suburbs of New York City for 30 years. “We have a lot of young people coming in with children that are looking for these types of homes, starter homes, three bedrooms, looking for it to entertain their families and have them come out.”

Davis just listed a house in Montclair, New Jersey, for $639,000. The town has become a magnet for families who want to live in the suburbs but still have easy access to New York City. With its direct trains, highly rated schools and quaint downtown area, it has much of what home buyers are willing to pay top dollar for.“What we're seeing is a lot of families with young children, two and younger,” Pat Davis said.

Davis says the house went into contract for more than asking price, after just 13 days on the market.“We did a weekend open house on Saturday, Sunday. We had over 50 people come through,” Davis said.

Not everyone can afford this. The boom has locked out many first time buyers across the country, who are losing their dream homes to all-cash, above-ask offers.

“It's really tough to compete in a market like this,” Davis said. “If you're a first time home buyer and you don't have the down payment money, if you're using one of the products that's available for people that are first time home buyers, that don't have a lot of down payment money… They're just not able to compete in this marketplace.”

“On the flip side, the one thing that is a positive for first time buyers is that they tend to take out larger loans,” Hale said. “They're borrowing more money. And so low mortgage rates really help to benefit first time home buyers. But in today's competitive market, the biggest challenge for many is finding a home that's right for them and then winning the offer.

The Elwoods had to pay over asking price to close the deal on their house.

“We ended up having to put, you know, about $30,000 more or above the asking price. And even with that, we are one of 10 offers that came in,” Travis Elwood said. “So [that] really shows how crazy the house market has gotten over the last few months and so forth.”

But the couple says their new life in Billings makes it all worth it.

“I’d do it a hundred times over,” he added. “Thankfully, we've been blessed that it has come out in the best case.”

“It feels like home here,” Emily Elwood said.

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Fauci says he 'would support' mandating COVID-19 vaccine for air travel

Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

(WASHINGTON) -- The nation's top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said he would support mandating the COVID-19 vaccine for air travel.

"I would support that," Dr. Fauci told The Skimm podcast on Friday. "If you want to get on a plane and travel with other people ... you should be vaccinated."

He did not specify in the podcast interview whether the vaccine mandate he supports would just be for travelers over the age of 12 or all travelers.

The U.S. Travel Association responded that while they support people getting vaccinated, they have "long maintained that there should be no mandatory vaccination requirement for domestic travel."

"Such a policy would have an unfair, negative impact on families with young children who are not yet eligible to get the vaccine," the statement continued.

They believe the mask mandate, which has been extended through January 2022, is enough to keep passengers safe -- pointing to a study conducted by the Department of Defense in partnership with United Airlines.

The study found that the risk of COVID-19 exposure onboard an aircraft is "virtually non-existent" and when masks are worn there is only a 0.003% chance particles from a passenger can enter the breathing space of a passenger sitting beside them.

"Proper tools are already in place to enable safe air travel for Americans," the association emphasized.

White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeff Zients was also asked about the possibility of vaccine mandates for domestic flights Monday.

"We're pulling available levers to require vaccinations and we're not taking any measures off the table," he said.

Last week, the Biden administration proposed employers with more than 100 workers mandate the COVID-19 vaccine or offer weekly testing.

Some major U.S. airlines, like United, have already announced they will require all employees to be fully vaccinated and grant little room for exceptions.

But U.S. airline CEOs have been skeptical about the feasibility of mandating vaccines for passengers.

United CEO Scott Kirby has called the suggestion "logistically impractical."

"I think it would require government response and government tracking to make that practical and make it work," he told MSNBC last month, "and so it's probably unlikely to happen domestically."

Delta CEO Ed Bastian told CBS it would be a "logistical dilemma" to try and implement the requirement in the U.S. and threaten to "bottleneck the domestic travel system."

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Price increases expected on these grocery products through end of year

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(NEW YORK) -- With the cost of meat and other grocery products in the U.S. steadily increasing since the onset of the pandemic, grocery retailers and the Biden administration have weighed in on the increases, which are expected to continue through the end of the year.

The spike on certain "food-at-home" categories has stores -- already slammed by inflation and demand -- setting sights on higher product prices through the end of the year.

On an earnings call Friday, Kroger CFO and senior vice president Gary Millerchip said the retailer will be "passing along higher cost to the customer where it makes sense to do so."

The nation's largest retail operator reported a year-over-year increase in produce, floral, deli and bakery sales, but Millerchip acknowledged they are juggling pressures such as higher supply chain costs coupled with the increase in theft that could drive prices in the second half of the year.

Last week, White House statistics revealed that meat constitutes half of food-at-home price increases and that, since December 2020, prices have surged on three main products -- beef, which is up 14%, pork by 12% and poultry by 6.6%.

The data, supported by the latest Consumer Price Index Summary from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, found that the cost of meats, poultry, fish and eggs increased for the seventh straight month. The newest CPI statistics for August are expected to be released this week.

As many Americans buy groceries to cut costs on eating out and others cook at home to avoid contact with in-person dining, the demand for food from retailers has continued to grow.

The Biden-Harris administration noted in a release that it's not just consumer habits driving the higher prices.

"Price increases are also driven by a lack of competition at a key bottleneck point in the meat supply chain: meat-processing," the memo stated.

According to the White House, the four large conglomerates that control the majority of the market for these products "have been raising prices while generating record profits during the pandemic."

The administration said it is "taking bold action to enforce the antitrust laws, boost competition in meat-processing, and push back on pandemic profiteering that is hurting consumers, farmers and ranchers across the country."

Americans are preparing for fall, back to school, upcoming holidays and other food-related plans where retail prices will be an important index to keep an eye on.

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Buy your holiday airline tickets now or face price hikes, experts say

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(NEW YORK) -- If you want to find the best deals for holiday flights, experts say you will find the lowest prices of the season this week.

Airlines are being forced to drop fares this fall as business travelers that used to fill the skies are opting to work from home.

Nationwide domestic fares are projected to plummet 10% this month, with tickets expected to average $260 round trip, according to travel-booking app Hopper.

The cheapest destination this fall is Fort Lauderdale at $169 roundtrip -- the only destination in the country that is still under $200.

Outdoor destinations are still overwhelming popular, Hopper says, with flights to Colorado Springs averaging $243.

International fares are also hitting record lows.

Flights from Washington D.C. to Dublin are a mere $281, and a ticket from Los Angeles to Paris will only cost you $305.

“We are seeing great prices to Europe, historically low in fact," Hopper Economist Adit Damodaran told ABC News. "And as we approach Thanksgiving, we're expecting prices for European travel to not only be lower than pre-pandemic 2019 airfares but also lower than 2020 airfares.”

If you are monitoring flights for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Hanukkah, analysts say these low prices won't last long.

“We found that the absolute cheapest prices are going to start appearing around mid-September or this week," Damodaran said. "Make sure you're booking at least four weeks in advance, at least three weeks in advance for Thanksgiving as well."

Hopper predicts fliers will face an 11% increase in fares by November, making Halloween the cut-off for finding any potential deals.

"We expect that prices will remain relatively low until about Halloween, so that's kind of the day where if you know you get to Halloween, that's when you should definitely book if you haven't booked yet," Damodaran said. "Because after Halloween, we're expecting prices for Thanksgiving to start rising about 40% for domestic and international flights for Christmas."

Scott Keyes, founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights and author of "Take More Vacations," recommends at the very least starting to monitor flights you are thinking of taking in November or December.

"Right now we are in that sort of Goldilocks window when cheap flights are most likely to pop up," Keyes said, "And so now is when you should be monitoring and pulling the trigger when you see a flight price that you really like that's attractive to you for the particular route that you're hoping to fly."

He said you could wind up paying double the price if you wait another few weeks.

"Be one of those folks planning ahead, getting the better deals that we're seeing pop up now," he recommended, "and don't be one of the folks who put it off and procrastinate and wind up paying double the price for their flights than folks who booked ahead."

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First female-led food hall offers new opportunity for entrepreneurs and delicious, affordable food

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(SAN FRANCISCO) -- La Cocina Municipal Marketplace, which started as a non-profit kitchen incubator, has become the nation's first women-run, immigrant-owned food hall.

"It's a dream come true. I feel so proud especially as a Muslim woman immigrant -- La Cocina gave me the key to open the golden door for my dream," chef Wafa Bahloul told "Good Morning America" about how it feels to finally bring Kayma, her first brick-and-mortar business, to life.

The 7,000-square foot food hall in the heart of San Francisco has a commercial kitchen space and is the workplace of seven talented women of color who have cultivated their culinary craft within the incubator program.

Each entrepreneur serves up authentic global cuisine with nourishing and affordable meals that reflect the diversity of the Tenderloin neighborhood, thanks to La Cocina's partnership with the Office of the Mayor and Tenderloin Housing Clinic and local food security programs and donors.

"It's really unique, we're all in one place and it's like you're traveling in the same day you can go to Algeria and Mexico and Nepal -- it's an amazing thing," Bahloul said.

When she moved to the U.S. nearly six years ago from Algeria, where she grew up and attended culinary school, Bahloul found it difficult to find her footing in the Bay Area food scene.

"I always had a passion for food, and and my mom is a chef, so I grew up being in the kitchen and of course [she] pushed me to take classes and culinary school. But when I came I here I didn't know where to start," she said.

While working across the bay at an Indian restaurant in Emeryville, the chef and owner suggested Bahloul check out the La Cocina program.

"They help you learn how to run every side of the business. I love to cook and have a passion for that and all the capacity, but that doesn't mean you know how to run a business. La Cocina gave me that push and support," Bahloul said.

Two years later, Bahloul runs her own place with her husband and serves halal North African food. A bestseller is her tasty chicken bowl with couscous, veggies and sauce.

"It's exciting for me to wake up and realize I have this place," she said. "We are all women and each of us is special. I'm so proud. I feel strong and happy to share our force all together. There is just something so special and we support each other."

Other businesses in the marketplace are: Boug Cali, a Creole bodega by chef Tiffany Carter, Estrellita's Snacks from Salvadoran chef Estrella Gonzalez, Los Cilantros a Mexican restaurant by chef Dilsa Lugo, Mi Morena by Mexican chef Guadalupe Moreno, Terenga, a Senegalese/Pan-African concept by chef Nafy Flatley and chef Bini Pradhan's Nepalese joint, Bini's Kitchen.

"We serve healthy food and all the businesses have to have a $5 meal to help the community around us," Bahloul said of the accessible options that are available for EBT transactions via the California Restaurant Meals Program. "I use Algerian olive oil and harissa, but I do my best to provide good, fresh food and yes, it's expensive but it doesn't mean I can't provide it. I have to give it my Algerian touch."

Local restaurant owner, chef and entrepreneur Jay Foster acts as the municipal marketplace manager, while Naomi Maisel helms the community partnerships and food justice advocacy. Together they work with Tenderloin organizations and residents to engage with the community and oversee the space.

"This is La Cocina's most ambitious project yet, and we're opening after a tumultuous year that has rocked our community," Foster said. "We're moving forward with optimism and excitement to activate this space in a way that safely enables these talented entrepreneurs to build their businesses and feed the Tenderloin community at a critical time."

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SpaceX to send 1st all-civilian crew into orbit for 3 days

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(NEW YORK) -- SpaceX's Inspiration4 mission may sound familiar, as another billionaire-backed space launch, but it's going where neither Richard Branson nor Jeff Bezos could -- into orbit.

Branson's Virgin Galactic and Bezos' Blue Origin sent civilians into space on brief, suborbital flights that lasted only for a few minutes.

But Elon Musk's SpaceX is just days away from sending its first all-civilian crew on a three-day mission around the Earth multiple times.

Inspiration4 will orbit 360 miles above Earth, higher than the International Space Station, with no professional astronaut on board. It will be the first orbital space tourism flight that doesn't have an astronaut to guide the passengers through launch and landing.

Commanding the mission is 38-year-old billionaire Jared Isaacman, an experienced pilot. He founded a payment process company called Shift4 Payments and purchased all four seats on the flight for roughly $200 million.

Isaacman wants this launch to benefit St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. He has already donated $100 million to the cause, and raised an additional $13 million through a lottery to win a seat.

One seat was reserved for a St. Jude ambassador -- 29-year-old Hayley Arceneaux.

Arceneaux is a bone cancer survivor who was treated at St. Jude's as a child and now works there as a physician assistant. She will be the youngest American to go to space as well as the first person with a prosthesis.

Joining Arceneaux and Isaacman on their journey is Chris Sembroski, 41, and Dr. Sian Proctor, 51.

Proctor said she has dreamed of going to space since she was a child. She once applied to become a NASA astronaut and made it to the final 47 out of 3,500 applicants, but was cut from the final round. She burst into tears when she heard she was chosen as a member of the Inspiration4 mission.

Sembroski is an Iraq War veteran and engineer with Lockheed Martin, who won the final seat through the lottery that required a St. Jude donation to enter.

The crew has gone through partial- and full-mission simulations and has been trained by SpaceX on "the Falcon 9 launch vehicle and Dragon spacecraft, including a specific focus on orbital mechanics, operating in microgravity, zero gravity, and other forms of stress testing," according to an Inspiration4 release.

They will launch from Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida -- the same launch pad that Apollo 11 blasted off from -- sending man to the moon for the first time.

Joining Arceneaux and Isaacman on their journey is Chris Sembroski, 41, and Dr. Sian Proctor, 51.

Proctor said she has dreamed of going to space since she was a child. She once applied to become a NASA astronaut and made it to the final 47 out of 3,500 applicants, but was cut from the final round. She burst into tears when she heard she was chosen as a member of the Inspiration4 mission.

Sembroski is an Iraq War veteran and engineer with Lockheed Martin, who won the final seat through the lottery that required a St. Jude donation to enter.

The crew has gone through partial- and full-mission simulations and has been trained by SpaceX on "the Falcon 9 launch vehicle and Dragon spacecraft, including a specific focus on orbital mechanics, operating in microgravity, zero gravity, and other forms of stress testing," according to an Inspiration4 release.

They will launch from Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida -- the same launch pad that Apollo 11 blasted off from -- sending man to the moon for the first time.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Jennifer Aniston introduces LolaVie hair care brand 'made without all the bad stuff'

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(NEW YORK) -- Jennifer Aniston is known for many things, and one happens to be her iconic hair.

Known to wear her classic "Rachel" haircut during her years on the hit '90s Friends sitcom, the actress is now introducing her very own hair care brand, LolaVie.

The Morning Show actress shared a behind-the-scenes look at a campaign shoot for the brand on Instagram, which included several models wearing all black while Aniston grabs a shot of them with her smartphone.

"This project has been in the works for a long time and I'm so excited to finally be able to introduce it to you," said Aniston. "So much hard work from our incredible team went into making this line -- and we're really proud to say it's been made without all the bad stuff."

Aniston said LovlaVie products are vegan as well as free of parabens, silicone, sulfate, phthalates, gluten and cruelty.

The first product to launch is the line's Glossing Detangler.

LolaVie's detangling spray is infused with plant-based ingredients such as chia to protect strands from future damage, bamboo, which works as a thermal shield, lemon extract for shine and a superfruit complex that includes vegetable ceramides to aid with conditioning.

"Think of this spray as the best friend you call everyday (who always supports you and wants to see you become stronger over time)," the company captioned in a video of the spray.

LolaVie is Aniston's first venture as a founder as well as creator. She played a role in overseeing product development, marketing and creative direction.

The brand name was inspired by many of Aniston's friends that affectionately refer to her as "Lola" in which she feels represents confidence, fearlessness and empowerment.

Aniston joins the list of celebrities such as Tracee Ellis Ross as well as Gabrielle Union-Wade who have also previously released hair care brands.

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New federal rule to require businesses with 100+ employees mandate vaccinations

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(WASHINGTON) -- President Joe Biden announced on Thursday that federal government employees and contractors will now be required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration will create a rule for private businesses with 100 or more employees to require their employees to be vaccinated or undergo weekly testing.

The requirements are part of Biden's sweeping new six-part strategy to combat the delta variant, which was rolled out in remarks from Biden at the White House.

A senior administration official estimated that this new OSHA requirement will cover about 80 million workers and businesses that do not comply with the agency's rule can face substantial fees -- up to $14,000. OSHA will require these employers to offer paid time off for vaccination.

"My job as president is to protect all Americans," Biden said before announcing the broad mandates.

As part of his effort to vaccinate the federal executive branch, the Department of Defense, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Indian Health Service and the National Institutes of Health will complete implementation of their previously announced vaccination requirements that cover 2.5 million people.

This is an escalation of the president's action in July calling for federal workers to attest to their vaccination status and submit to mitigation efforts if they are not vaccinated, such as mask usage and regular testing.

"We're in the tough stretch and it could last for a while," Biden said Thursday.

He also took aim at Republican officials who have worked to outlaw public health mandates in their states, like Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

"To make matters worse, there are elected officials actively working to undermine the fight against COVID-19," he continued. "Instead of encouraging people to get vaccinated and mask up, they're ordering mobile morgues for the unvaccinated dying from COVID in their communities. This is totally unacceptable."

The president also announced that the Transportation Security Administration's interstate travel mask mandate will be extended through Jan. 18, the fine for noncompliance will double and health care facilities that receive Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement must require their employees to be vaccinated. This will cover about 17 million health care workers across the country.

Biden also appealed directly to unvaccinated Americans to do their part.

"My message to unvaccinated Americans is this: What more is there to wait for? What more do you need to see? We've made vaccinations free, safe, and convenient. The vaccine has FDA approval. Over 200 million Americans have gotten at least one shot. We've been patient, but our patience is wearing thin. And your refusal has cost all of us. So, please, do the right thing," Biden said.

The largest federal law enforcement union FLEOA, pushed back on the president's vaccine mandate, in a statement released Thursday.

"A mandate at this time only undermines these voluntary vaccination efforts and reduces public comfort in getting vaccinated," President Larry Cosme said.

Speaking at her daily briefing Wednesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Biden would "outline the next phase in the fight against the virus and what that looks like, including measures to work with the public and private sector."

She said he would be "building on the steps that we've already announced, the steps we've taken over the last few months, requiring more vaccinations, boosting important testing measures and more, making it safer for kids to go to school, all at a time when the American people are listening. Again, this will be six steps that we'll work to be implementing over the months ahead."

Biden's plan also increases testing availability and lowers the cost of at-home tests, extends masking requirements for interstate travel and on federal property, and provides additional aid to struggling small businesses.

But besides ordering the nation's 2.1 million federal employees and 1.3 million active duty service members get vaccinated, Biden has limited legal authority to institute a broad vaccine mandate for most Americans.

About 75% of the adult U.S. population has received at least one vaccine dose and 64.4% of the adult U.S. population is fully vaccinated as of Wednesday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll showed Americans in August souring on Biden's handling of the pandemic, with his approval rating for his handling or the response dropping 10 points from June, down to 52%

Biden's remarks are scheduled for just 11 days before the administration is set to begin widely rolling out booster shots of Pfizer on Sept. 20, a process mired by confusion as some public health experts say the data doesn't yet support the need for boosters.

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Facebook and Ray-Ban team up on new smart glasses

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(NEW YORK) -- You can now wear Facebook on your face - kind of.

The Ray Ban "Stories” are the result of a collaboration between the famous sunglasses company and social media giant Facebook. The new shades have tiny, forward-facing cameras that can take photos and videos, as well as speakers built into the arms that allow wearers to listen to music, podcasts - and even take phone calls - without the need for headphones. 

Facebook isn't the first to show off smart glasses. Google Glass was met with enthusiasm - and derision - in the early 2010s. Snap, meanwhile, is on it's fourth generation of Spectacles, which are currently being tested by developers and select Snapchat creators. Engadget Senior Editor Karissa Bell says, while the design of those devices stands out - Facebook is taking a subtler approach.

"What makes these a little different is obviously Facebook partnered with Ray Ban, so they look and feel like Ray Bans, which, you know, are very popular sunglasses. So that's probably a good thing for Facebook," says Bell.

What's more, Google Glass and the latest generation of Snap Spectacles make use of augmented reality technology - projecting information onto the inside of the glasses' lenses. Ray Ban Stories are limited to snapping pictures or capturing 30-second videos through dual 5-megapixel cameras. Users can review what they've recorded through the accompanying smartphone app, "View." Naturally, the app can also post that content to Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp. 

Ray Ban Stories start at $299 - but Bell says Facebook has aspirations beyond simply selling units.

"They're more concerned with trying to get this out there, trying to encourage adoption, get[ting] people excited about this technology and where it's going more than they are about actually just trying to make money off the hardware itself," says Bell.

Facebook could have a tough road ahead of it. The familiar Ray Ban design allows the shades to more easily blend in with conventional sunglasses - a potential privacy concern when recording devices are involved. 

"Being able to take photos out in public in this kind of new format - it looks like sunglasses, it doesn't look like a camera to people - I think that just kind of on it's own raises some privacy issues," says Bell.

Facebook, for it's part, has integrated some security features into the Ray Ban Stories, such as a small white light that illuminates when the cameras are activated. Additionally, the company says all photos and videos are encrypted. But the glasses do collect some data on wearers, though only to "make your glasses work and function," according to a blog post from the company. That data could include users' Facebook login information, battery status, and WiFi connectivity.

What's more, the company also continues to face criticism for it's past breaches of user privacy, most notably the Cambridge Analytica scandal in 2018

"There's a lot about Facebook's track record that makes you uncomfortable when you hear, 'hey, Facebook made a pair of camera sunglasses,'" says Bell. 

Hear ABC News Radio's Michelle Franzen report on the Ray Ban Stories:

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Job openings hit record high as pandemic-battered Americans reassess work

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(WASHINGTON) -- The number of job openings hit a record high of 10.9 million on the last day of July, the Department of Labor said Wednesday, as businesses struggle to lure back workers in the wake of COVID-19's shock to the economy.

The latest figure on job openings beats the record high of 10.1 million that was just set the previous month in June, but may not yet reflect the impact of the delta variant's spread on the labor market. Still, the fresh data paints a complicated picture of economic recovery as job openings soar despite unemployment levels remaining elevated.

Job openings increased across the economy, with major increases in health care and social assistance, finance and insurance, as well as accommodation and food services, the DOL said.

In addition to job openings reaching a high, the number of people leaving their jobs is also at record high levels. The quits rate in July was 2.7%, the BLS said Wednesday, tying with June and April of 2021 for the highest on record.

Economists have attributed the recent labor crunch to lingering health concerns over the virus that may have some workers not wanting to return to the workplace, a child care crisis that has disproportionately impacted working women, as well as harder-to-quantify factors as many Americans reassess what they want from a job after living through a once-in-a-century pandemic that has left more than 600,000 Americans dead.

The unemployment rate in August was 5.2%, a reflection of major improvements in the labor market compared to before the vaccine rollout, but still above the pre-pandemic 3.5% seen in February 2020. Broken down further, employment has risen by some 17 million jobs since April 2020, but the economy is still down some 5.3 million jobs compared to February 2020.

Despite the unemployment rate remaining elevated, many firms have reported struggles hiring staff -- which has resulted in average wages rising, especially among service industries or jobs requiring face-to-face contact. The average hourly earnings for workers in August was some $30.73.

The latest data from the DOL also comes as enhanced pandemic-era unemployment benefits expired this week for millions of Americans. Despite the rhetoric from many Republican lawmakers, however, data indicates that yanking pandemic unemployment benefits -- as a handful of states have already done -- did not contribute to job growth. Researchers at JPMorgan found "zero correlation" between job growth and state decisions to drop the federal unemployment aid, the Associated Press reported.

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