Posts made in November 2020

Matzoball to launch ‘largest Jewish virtual speed dating event in the world’ on Christmas Eve

December 1, 2020

The original Matzoball—founded by Andrew Rudnick in 1987 as a Christmas Eve party for single Jewish Americans—has reinvented itself for the pandemic: Although the company usually throws as many 20 parties in cities nationwide and worldwide, this year, the fun will go virtual.

In a press release, Rudnick explains, “This year we needed to think outside the box. Every year we give tens of thousands of single Jews the opportunity to meet in person at the hottest nightclubs all over the country. This year, we are inviting partygoers to attend online—and it will be a much bigger and better event than anyone can imagine. We are beyond thrilled to announce the launch of Matzoball Online!”

The parties start on Christmas Eve at 9 p.m. and will be broken down by region and age range. Each event will guarantee a minimum of 20 to 30, five-minute dates, and the participants will then have the opportunity to anonymously choose whom they felt they had a connection with. If the connection is mutual, they will be notified via email of their mutual connections 15 minutes after the event and will be given the opportunity to connect again.

The Matzoball Online is set to go online in the following regions/countries, but also anticipates adding more: Atlanta, Boca, Delray Beach, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angelese, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, San Diego, San Francisco, Washington, DC, Montreal, Toronto, London, Sydney, and Tel Aviv.

Tickets can be purchased by visiting www.matzoball.org and cost $35, which includes entry into the 1st Matzoball Online event, and also will offer ticket purchasers exclusive discounts to the monthly speed dating events that will be hosted by Matzoball in 2021.

According to Guinness World Records, the largest known speed dating event, which drew 964 people, occurred on February 14, 2019, Valentine’s Day, in Dublin, Ireland. Matzoball anticipates five times as many people will participate in their event.

The Matzoball claims to have been responsible for thousands of marriages over the past 34 years—and having been named the #1 Holiday Party by USA Today..

Research contact: @MatzoBall24M

GM walks away from stake in Nikola after EV maker is accused of ‘intricate fraud’

December 1, 2020

General Motors has backed away from taking an initial stake in the Phoenix-based electric vehicle (EV) company Nikola—which, as a result, announced on November 30 that it would scuttle one of its marquee vehicles, an electric- and hydrogen-powered pickup that was to be called the Badger, The Chicago Tribune reports.

GM intends to be a major player in the EV market, pledging on its website:  “GM is on its way to an all-electric future, with a commitment to 30 new global electric vehicles by 2025 …. GM is positioned to design, engineer, and produce EVs for every style and price point, and we are rapidly building a competitive advantage in batteries, software, vehicle integration, manufacturing and customer experience.”

However, the decision to step away from the deal came after Nikola founder and Chairman Trevor Milton resigned abruptly from the company in September amid accusations of “intricate fraud” and “an Ocean of Lies” by Hindenburg Research. At that time, Nikola denied the allegations and called them “misleading.”

According to the Tribune’s report, Hindenburg said Nikola’s success amount to a hoax—including a video showing a truck rolling downhill to give the impression it was cruising on a highway, and stenciling the words “hydrogen electric” on the side of a vehicle that was actually powered by natural gas.

At that point, the seeds of distrust had been sown at GM. Indeed, the deal appeared to be in jeopardy as early as late September—when the Detroit-based major U.S. automaker evinced ambiguity about whether the $2 billion partnership would close as scheduled, saying that the deal had not closed and discussions with Nikola were continuing.

For its part, Nikola on Monday, November 30, released updated terms between the companies for a supply agreement related to GM’s fuel-cell system , replacing an agreement signed in September. That deal would have given GM an 11% stake in Nikola.

The early agreement would also have allowed Nikola to use GM’s new battery electric truck underpinnings for the Badger, and its fuel cell and battery technology as well. That is no longer part of the agreement, essentially gutting Nikola’s plans for the Badger. Nikola said Monday that it will begin refunding deposits made by customers who wanted first dibs on that pickup.

GM still will be part of a global supply agreement that would integrate GM’s Hydrotec fuel-cell system into Nikola’s commercial semi-trucks.

Nikola said Monday that its work on heavy trucks will continue. “Heavy trucks remain our core business and we are 100% focused on hitting our development milestones to bring clean hydrogen and battery-electric commercial trucks to market,” said Nikola.

The Securities and Exchange Commission and the Justice Department are reportedly investigating Hindenburg’s allegations. GM has said it did proper due diligence before entering the partnership.

Research contact: @chicagotribune

Biden to face test over access to sensitive information as he inherits Trump’s secret server

December 1, 2020

President-elect Joe Biden soon will have to decide whether to share transcripts of calls to and from foreign leaders with a broad, security clearance-holding audience—or to maintain a lockdown on official transcripts of the calls and other highly sensitive information imposed by the Trump Administration over concerns they might be leaked, CNN reports.

A person close to the Biden transition team told CNN that no decisions have been made about how these sensitive materials will be handled when the President-elect takes office on January 20, and that it’s likely they will maintain the Trump Administration’s close hold on such information, at least at first, until they are settled in and Jake Sullivan, Biden’s pick for national security adviser, can assess their information security needs.

A senior US official said that the Biden team will be given access to a secret server containing sensitive information related to President Donald Trump’s more controversial conversations with foreign leaders on a need-to-know basis and the Trump Administration is prepared to share any information that they deem to be relevant to their future decision-making process.

While Biden’s team will likely aim to be more transparent, much has changed since many of his senior appointees were in government and the politically charged atmosphere in Washington on the heels of the election has some officials urging caution in the early months—to prevent leaks, and assess the needs and boundaries of sharing sensitive information.

Back-to-back leaks of controversial remarks made by Trump during calls with leaders of Mexico and Australia in the early days of the Trump White House resulted from an unusually loose record-distribution policy, several officials tell CNN, prompting them eventually to resort to the use of a secret server to store records of calls involving leaders of Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Ukraine.

When H.R. McMaster took over as Trump’s second national security adviser, a month into the presidency in February 2017, the distribution lists grew smaller, officials told CNN—although a few individuals could still access records from the National Security Council’s traditional computer portal, which handled everything except CIA operational information, one official explained.

White House officials also moved to significantly limit the number of individuals who could listen in on many of Trump’s calls, or who could access the records after those calls were concluded, the people said.

The disclosure last year of a complaint by an unidentified whistleblower revealed concerns among White House officials over all—including the President’s July 2019 discussion with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, which triggered the hearings that led to Trump’s impeachment by the House of Representatives.

“The fact is too many people probably had access when Trump came into office: In some ways it was good, but in some ways it can also be bad,” one former administration official close to the transition team said. “Given the politically charged environment we’re in right now, it’s probably wise to maintain some control over it, although maybe not in the form of a secret server.”

The official said that basic details pertaining to Trump’s conversations with foreign leaders like Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, only will be shared if they are relevant to a pending policy or national security matter.

“There’s a lot to cover,” the senior US official said. “We are going to share anything that’s relevant for them to come to grips with reality when the keys are theirs. If there was something like that that’s actually of note… things on the covert side, for example, we will highlight them very quickly.”

Research contact: @CNN

Grandparents send cardboard cutouts to grandkids to take their place at Thanksgiving

November 26, 2020

A set of grandparents from Texas have found a safe solution to sharing the holidays with their family amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Good Morning America reports.

Missy and Barry Buchanan, lovingly known as Ama and Poppi, still wanted to be “present” for Thanksgiving dinner—but in a safe way. So, Missy Buchanan ordered two six-foot cardboard cutouts of her and her husband and mailed them to their four grandchildren.

“My daughter got hers first. She texted, ‘Omg!’ and called and said, ‘This is the funniest thing we’ve ever seen,'” Buchanan told Good Morning America, adding that the kids propped up the cutouts and took pictures.

“They were moving us to the chicken coop to the kitchen to the fireplace,” she said.

Siblings Quintin, 12, Oliver, 10, and Clara, 6, received cutouts of Ama and Poppi at their home in Texas; and so did their cousin, Noah, 3, in California.

“My mom had told me that she was sending a large package for the Thanksgiving table,” Noah’s mom, Mindy Whittington, told “GMA.” “I didn’t think twice about it. I just assumed it was going to be a holiday decoration. We were just in stitches, we could not stop laughing. We were not expecting 6-foot cutouts of my parents.”

Buchanan said the cutouts have relieved some pandemic stress for her and her loved ones. “Family love is not going to change whether we’re there or not,” she added. “It’s a reminder that there’s still something to laugh about.”

Buchanan said her cutouts will also be celebrating Christmas with her grandkids this year.

Research contact: @GMA

J. Crew promotes the head of Madewell to take over the company, as CEO exits after ‘brutal’ year

November 26, 2020

J. Crew Group has named Libby Wadle—the head of its popular casual-wear division, Madewell—as its next CEO, the company announced in a press release  on November 24. Wadle will replace outgoing CEO Jan Singer , who took over the struggling retailer last January— after short stints as CEO of Victoria’s Secret and Spanx.

The private-equity-backed J. Crew, which emerged from bankruptcy in September. has seen extensive turnover at the top level, with Wadle becoming its fourth CEO in under four years, Business Insider reports.

Longtime CEO Mickey Drexler stepped down in 2017 as J.Crew fell out of favor with consumers ;and he was succeeded by Jim Brett, who lasted just 17 months before stepping down in November 2018 amid a clash over the company’s direction. After Brett’s departure,  the retailer went more than a year without a CEO until Singer’s appointment in January.

“Moving forward as a company under unified leadership, we will harness the power of our collective platforms and talented teams to ensure our brands can continue to inspire and grow,” said Wadle, who has spent the last 16 years in senior leadership roles at various J.Crew brands.

Wadle takes over as economic fallout from COVID-19 has ravaged brick-and-mortar retailers, but J.Crew’s sales had been declining even before the pandemic hit. In May, J.Crew became the first major retailer to file for bankruptcy as a result of the pandemic, reaching a deal with its lenders to convert about $1.65 billion of its debt into equity, according to Business Insider.

“The continued executive turnover at J.Crew adds to the turbulence of an already brutal year for the retailer. The brand’s turnaround, which was in process during 2019, is now more challenging given the ongoing disruption in apparel spending, as the pandemic continues to radically alter US consumers’ shopping habits,” Moody’s VP Raya Sokolyanska told Business Insider in a statement.

Research covntact: @businessinsider

Mnuchin puts $455 billion in unspent COVID-19 relief funds beyond Yelin’s reach

November 26, 2020

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has moved $455 billion in unspent COVID-19 relief capital from the Federal Reserve back into the Treasury’s General Fund—making it much more difficult for his chosen successor, Janet Yellen, to access the emergency funding, The Hill reports.

Indeed, the political news outlet notes, it may require another act of Congress for Mnuchin’s designed successor to deploy COVID relief patyments.

Mnuchin said last week that he was shuttering a handful of the Fed’s emergency lending facilities, a move the central bank opposed in a rare critical statement. While those facilities were little-used during the pandemic, they were seen as confidence boosters for capital markets.

Mnuchin at the time requested the Fed return the funding, which Congress appropriated to cover potential pandemic-related losses, saying the CARES Act from March set a legal deadline for the facilities to expire by year’s end.

CARES Act watchdog, Bharat Ramamurti—appointed by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) last April to oversee the funds—told The Hill that Mnuchin’s move was unlawful. “This is Treasury’s latest ham-handed effort to undermine the Biden Administration,” he said on Twitter. The good news is that it’s illegal and can be reversed next year. For its part, the Fed should not go along with this attempted sabotage and should retain the CARES Act funds it already has.

Neither the Treasury Department nor the Biden transition team immediately responded to a request for comment.

Research contact: @thehill

Helicopter pilot finds mysterious monolith in remote part of Utah

November 25, 2020

He swears he wasn’t “woolgathering” when he first spotted it: A state employee assigned to count sheep from a helicopter has discovered a mysterious monolith in a remote part of Utah, The Guardian reports.

The structure, estimated at between 10 feet and 12 feet high, appeared to be planted in the ground. It was made from some sort of metal—its shine in sharp contrast to the enormous red rocks that surrounded it.

Utah’s highway patrol shared images of both the sheep and the monolith.

The helicopter pilot, Bret Hutchings, told local news channel KSLTV: “That’s been about the strangest thing that I’ve come across out there in all my years of flying.”

Hutchings was flying for the Utah Department of Public Safety, which was helping wildlife resource officers count bighorn sheep in the south of the state.

“One of the biologists is the one who spotted it and we just happened to fly directly over the top of it,” Hutchings said. “He was like, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, turn around, turn around!’ And I was like, ‘What?’ And he’s like, ‘There’s this thing back there. We’ve got to go look at it!’”

Hutchings said the object looked manmade and appeared to have been firmly planted in the ground, not dropped from the sky.

“I’m assuming it’s some new wave artist or something or, you know, somebody that was a big 2001: A Space Odyssey fan,” Hutchings said.

The monolith and its setting resembled a famous scene from Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film, in which a group of apes encounter a giant slab.

The somewhat monkey-like behavior of two crew members, dressed in sci-fi costume-like overalls, who found themselves compelled to climbed onto each other’s shoulders in an apparent effort to see over the top of the rectangular cuboid, only added to the impression, The Guardian notes.

“We were kind of joking around that if one of us suddenly disappears, then the rest of us make a run for it,” Hutchings said.

Bighorn sheep live in some of Utah’s most rugged and remote areas and survive in hostile climate conditions. Fearing amateur explorers might get stuck in the wilderness while seeking out the monolith, the flight crew have not revealed its exact location.

Research contact: @guardian

FreshDirect CEO says customers only will see benefits after Dutch grocer buys majority stake

November 25, 2020

FreshDirect’s online grocery customers have nothing to fear, now that the company has been acquired by the Dutch owner of Stop & Shop and Food Lion, the grocery delivery service’s CEO David McInerney said on Tuesday, November 24.

The Dutch-Belgian grocery retail company Ahold Delhaize and New York City-based Centerbridge Partners, a private equity firm, are involved in the transaction. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Ahold Delhaize will acquire the majority stake and Centerbridge Partners will have a minority investment of 20%.

“Hopefully the only differences that customers see are the benefits,” McInerney said on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.”

The Dutch grocer already has a foothold in U.S. grocery e-commerce through Peapod, which was the first company to deliver groceries in the country. But FreshDirect’s specialty is fresh food, which represents about 60% of its total sales, and it has a higher market share than Peapod in the New York tri-state area.

McInerney said that he appreciated how Ahold Delhaize plans to preserve the e-commerce company’s brand. FreshDirect will keep its name and will still independently operate in its New York City facility.

“I think combining the knowledge of both companies, we can make it even more competitive and compelling,” Ahold Delhaize CEO Frans Muller said.

Stockpiling during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic made online grocery sales soar, and the trend seems to be sticking. Muller said that the pandemic accelerated Ahold Delhaize’s e-commerce business by several years.

“Being that we’re on top of our game right now … strong double digit-growth, we were naturally attractive, given where the world is in terms of adoption of online food,” McInerey told CNBC’s Becky Quick.

The deal is expected to close in the first quarter of 2021.

Research contact: @CNBC

As Trump vows to ‘never concede,’ his administration officially authorizes Biden transition

November 25, 2020

After weeks of delay, the head of the General Services Administration informed President-elect Joe Biden on Monday, November 23, that the official governmental transition process has been approved, NBC News reports.

GSA Administrator Emily Murphy said in a letter that Biden, whom she referred to as “the apparent president-elect,” is now able to get access to millions of dollars in federal funds and other resources to begin his transition to power. In her letter, Murphy also denied that she had been under pressure from the White House to delay the process.

“I have dedicated much of my adult life to public service, and I have always strived to do what is right,” she said. “Please know that I came to my decision independently, based on the law and available facts. I was never directly or indirectly pressured by any Executive Branch official—including those who work at the White House or GSA—with regard to the substance or timing of my decision.”

Trump vowed to continue his legal fight to contest the election results in a pair of tweets but said, “I am recommending that Emily and her team do what needs to be done with regard to initial protocols, and have told my team to do the same.”

Hours later, the president tweeted that he would “never concede to fake ballots and ‘Dominion,’” referring to a conspiracy theory that baselessly alleges a company that makes voting machines deleted millions of Trump votes.

The transition process had been stalled for weeks as Trump’s team waged a sputtering legal battle across the country to contest the results, leaving Biden out of the loop on the COVID-19 vaccine and other key issues, NBC News notes.

However, Trump and the GSA faced increasing pressure as a growing number of Republican lawmakers began to publicly call for Biden to be granted access, citing national security concerns. Democratic lawmakers had also begun calling for Murphy to testify before Congress.

Biden, on the other hand, began filling out his Cabinet and announcing personnel for other senior roles during the delay. He also held briefings with former top government officials and formed his own COVID-19 task force.

In a statement, Biden transition adviser Yohannes Abraham called the news “a needed step to begin tackling the challenges facing our nation, including getting the pandemic under control and our economy back on track.”

“This final decision is a definitive administrative action to formally begin the transition process with federal agencies,” he said. “In the days ahead, transition officials will begin meeting with federal officials to discuss the pandemic response, have a full accounting of our national security interests, and gain complete understanding of the Trump administration’s efforts to hollow out government agencies.”

In a statement later Monday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) called the GSA letter “probably the closest thing to a concession that President Trump could issue.”

“Let us all now — Democrats and Republicans, the Trump Administration and the incoming Biden Administration—unite together for a smooth and peaceful transition that will benefit America,” he said. “The nation faces multiple crises that demand an orderly transition, and I look forward to working with President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris to get things done to help the American people.”

Research contact: @NBCNews

The ‘eyes’ have it: How to read facial expressions when they are obscured by a mask

November 24, 2020

In a recent study, commissioned by York, England-based Vision Direct, fully 76 % of Brits struggled to read the moods of others who were wearing protective face coverings—with more than half misinterpreting their conversational partner’s expressions and feelings completely.

Indeed, the survey of 2,000 Brits—conducted on behalf of Vision Direct by OnePoll—found that:

  • More than two-thirds of adults struggle to see how someone is feeling when they have a mask on;
  • More than 60% of adults admit to misunderstanding what someone was saying when they had a mask on, with 42% putting this down to not being able to see their lips.
  • About 70% now are consciously trying to look at people’s eyes to guess what expression they are hiding behind the mask.

Now, UK-based body language expert and TV personality Judi James has revealed her top tips—and not surprisingly, it is all in the eyes, SWNS Digital reports.

James says, “The human animal has always depended on facial expression as a way of social and workplace communication and, over the years, the key focus has been the mouth. We have come to depend on this widening of the lips as a rapport-building social shorthand, which is why the wearing of face masks has caused worries in terms of closing down our ability to communicate.

“The good news,” she notes, “is that our eyes are more than capable of taking over the job of transmitting and reading non-verbal signals, in fact one of the reasons we tend to direct attention to our mouths is that our eyes are such strong (and more honest) conveyors of moods and emotions.”

She indicates a genuine-looking eye-smile should involve some wrinkling at the corners and the rounding of the cheeks.

An “eye-flash”—during which the eyes narrow in the eye-smile but the brows pop up and down again in one rapid movement—can signify that someone is flirting and “likes what they see.”

While a rounding of the eyes suggests shared excitement and those who are in love will have dilated pupils—giving true meaning to the ‘look of love’.

But not all eye-signs are indicators of happy: As James points out, there are tell-tale signs of someone feeling disgusted or angry. To recognize disgust on the face of someone wearing a mask, you should look out for a puckered frown, narrowed eye shape, and a wrinkling of the skin at the bridge of the nose.

Similarly, anger is typically displayed with knitted brows that come as low as possible over the eyes, plus a hard eye-stare with the eyes slightly rounded. The head would be tilted slightly forward too.

What’s more, James cautions that reading other’s eye expressions is important but we also need to be aware of our own. “Our ‘resting’ faces can make us look miserable and unapproachable and without all those mouth shrugs or grins in our repertoire we need to make an active effort to use our eyes to transmit friendly smiles and expressions of empathy.”

Following the findings, Vision Direct has created a quiz to test the nation on its ability to recognize key everyday expressions—via the eyes.

To take the quiz visit www.visiondirect.co.uk/facial-expressions-under-the-face-mask

Research contact: @SWNS