Posts made in December 2020

New Yorkers converge on Times Square to say ‘Good Riddance’ to 2020

December 31, 2020

Dozens of people lined up (at a socially approved distance) in New York City’s Times Square on Monday, December 28, to write down, and then shred, the things that they have hated most about 2020—including but not limited to the deadly global pandemic.

They were participating in an annual “Good Riddance Day” event hosted by The Times Square Alliance since 2007—but needed more than ever

Above, in Times Square, a New Yorker shreds his 2020 disappointments. (Photo source: Reuters)

this December, Reuters reports.

Participants are encouraged to write down the year’s unpleasant memories, to be thrown into an oversized paper shredder. Among the submissions were COVID-19 and some of the work-from-home customs compelled by the spread of the coronavirus— not least, Zoom video conferencing calls.

Others posed for pictures next to a “Move On 2020!” sign, Reuters said.

“I think of all the New Year’s Eves I’ve ever experienced, this New Year’s Eve is special,” said Jonathan Bennett, who hosted this year’s scaled-down event. “The whole world really needs this new year to come in.”

Joey Faix, a 16-year-old high-school student who stopped to watch the event, said it was a tough year. “I think it was mentally straining for everybody,” he said. “But I think everybody is optimistic for the new year.”

Research contact: @Reuters

Apple and TikTok remove app used to arrange parties during COVID

December 31, 2020

Vybe Together —an app that enable people to arrange and attend parties that violated COVID-19 safety protocols—has been removed from Apple’s App Store, and its TikTok account has been shut down, CNN reports.

The app used its Instagram account, which remains online, to explain why it disappeared from iPhones and iPads.

“App Store took us down!!! We will be back!!,” the Instagram post said.

The Instagram account suggests using the app to “Find your vybe. Local wine nights, beer pong games, and dancing in an apartment near you.” The app’s slogan is “Get your rebel on. Get your party on.”

Vybe Together, Apple, and TikTok stayed mum when asked for comment.. The action against the app was first reported by The Verge.

Vybe Together had a now-removed FAQ page that suggested it was supporting small gatherings, not large ones, The Verge reported.

“We are aware that COVID is a major health problem to the country, our communities, our friends, and family,” said the FAQ page. “If we all could just be in isolation this could actually go away. Having large scale parties [are] very dangerous. That is why we don’t support that. But Vybe is a compromise, no big parties but small gatherings. We could be living, at least a little during these times with Vybe.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises against holding even small social gatherings that bring together people from different households due to the risk of COVID-19 spread.

“The more people an individual interacts with at a gathering and the longer that interaction lasts, the higher the potential risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 and COVID-19 spreading,” the CDC said in its guidelines. Many local governments also have issued directives banning gatherings, CNN said.

Vybe Together got some flak on social media on Tuesday,  December 29—even before Apple and TikTok took action. Taylor Lorenz, a tech and internet writer for  The New York Times, was among those who came out as critical of the Vybe Together app.

“Some terrible people built a whole app for finding and promoting COVID-unsafe large, indoor house parties and they’re using TikTok to market it to millions of ppl,” he tweeted. “They’re currently in the midst of promoting secret NYE ragers in nyc.”

Lorenz identified a co-founder of Vybe Together, and included the person’s LinkedIn profile page. That page was offline as of Wednesday morning.

Research contact: @CNN

Why Pence cannot ‘save’ Trump on January 6

January 31, 2020

Vice President Mike Pence has come under heavy pressure from President Donald Trump to back an unconstitutional scheme to overturn his Electoral College defeat (306-232) in a joint session of Congress on January 6. According to multiple reports, advisers have repeatedly had to explain to the president that the vice president’s role is merely ceremonial, Salon reports.

In addition to losing the general election by 7 million votes, Trump has lost every legal challenge after failing to show evidence of widespread fraud or irregularities and is now “laser-focused” on January 6, Igor Derysh of Salon notes.

Indeed, the outgoing president views the joint session of Congress as his “last stand for overturning the electoral outcome,” multiple administration officials told The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman. Trump has demanded that Pence “act” to stop the ratification of the Electoral College, according to CNN.

Trump has raged at Pence and top White House officials in recent days as they have pushed back on his doomed scheme and would view Pence carrying out his constitutional duty and validating the election result as “the ultimate betrayal,” according to Axios’ Jonathan Swan.

This pressure arguably puts Pence in a bind, since legally he cannot do anything to affect the result. The vice president reportedly plans to flee Washington for his first overseas trip since the coronavirus pandemic began right after the session.

“Pence’s constitutional role is to ‘open’ the certificates. That’s it,” said Harry Litman, a former Justice Department official and constitutional law expert at UCLA. “Not to certify. Not even technically to count. He has no way even to purport to change the count. It’d be like saying the Oscar presenters get to decide who wins best picture.”

Research contact: @Salon

Nostradamus’ predictions for 2021: Asteroids, zombies, coronavirus, and famine

December 30, 2020

And you thought it couldn’t get any worse?

World-ending asteroids, zombies and ruinous famine are on deck for 2021, according to the writings of French philosopher Michel de Nostradamus (1503-1566), whose track record for predicting the future has been freakishly accurate, The New York Post reports.

Indeed, he may have been dead for more than 450 years, but Nostradamus has famously prophesied calamitous events up through the present day in his “Les Prophéties,” a collection of quatrains.

Those who study his work say that the Renaissance-era seer alluded to such events as the French Revolution, the development of the atomic bomb, and the Sepember. 11 terrorist attacks.

Now, close readers of his work say that he foresaw a 2021 even more destructive than our current hellscape of a year.

In his writings, he mentions “Few young people: half-dead to give a start.” Hard as it is to believe, according to an analysis by the Yearly-Horoscope, this can only mean one thing: a zombie apocalypse. (This writer notes that, while viewers of The Walking Dead may anticipate such an event, others will look for different interpretations.)

“Fathers and mothers dead of infinite sorrows / Women in mourning, the pestilent she−monster: / The Great One to be no more, all the world to end,” the philosopher predicts ominously.

Nostradamus also appears to allude to the coronavirus pandemic of 2020—but writes that the following year will be even more destructive—perhaps bringing famine to the world. Already, the pandemic has resulted in millions of Americans heading to food banks for the first time. And the United Nations has warned that food insecurity will be an even bigger problem in 2021.

“After great trouble for humanity, a greater one is prepared,” Nostradamus wrote. “The Great Mover renews the ages: / Rain, blood, milk, famine, steel, and plague, / Is the heavens fire seen, a long spark running.”

Next up? An asteroid: “In the sky, one sees fire and a long trail of sparks.” Already, we’ve had a few close calls—on Christmas Day, a huge asteroid zipped right past Earth. In November, a pickup-size asteroid squeaked by our planet about 250 miles over the southern Pacific.

However, historians often point out that Nostradamus’ writings are incredibly vague—and that, while it’s fascinating to study his prophecies, nobody should make an estate plan based on his insights.

Research contact: @nypost

‘Wheels come off’ for bus companies, closing down travel options for lower-income Americans

December 30, 2020

The wheels on the nation’s buses aren’t going round and round very much these days. Indeed, demand for bus travel has fallen by more than 80% during the pandemic, NPR reports.

That is raising concerns about the potential long-term damage to an essential transport sector for millions of lower-income Americans—even as air travel has shown signs of picking up since the Thanksgiving holiday period.

Even now, getting a bus ticket is becoming more expensive—and routes are being cut nationwide.

Feeling the pinch most are people such as Andrew Sarkis, said NPR, which interviewed him as he tried to make his way home for the holidays. Sarkis said he paid $97 for a one-way bus ticket from Hampton, Virginia, to New York City—a 12-hour journey that required two transfers.

“It’s expensive, man,” said Sarkis, while stretching his legs after his bus took a brief stop at Union Station in Washington, D.C.

“I used to go on another bus, for $45 a trip, that goes straight to New York,” he added.

Sarkis was on his way to visit family for Christmas but ended up with a half-day travel option on a Greyhound bus after finding his usual options in competing services pared down. “The service is not bad,” he said. “It’s just long hours of traveling.”

For its part, Greyhound told NPR that it’s operating at less than half its normal bus routes during the pandemic, while revenues have fallen nearly 60%.

“Greyhound has been immensely impacted by the effects of COVID-19,” the company said in a statement. “From temporary and permanent closures of routes to sudden workforce reductions, our ability to provide critical service to communities—especially those that are underserved and/or rural—has been reduced.”

Industrywide, the service cuts are even deeper.

We see the industry operating at about 10% capacity,” said Peter Pantuso, president of the American Bus Association.

And it’s hard to estimate how soon demand will pick up. Not many people are interested in riding the bus these days, which means spending hours with strangers in an enclosed space.

Unlike airlines, which saw an uptick in travel over Thanksgiving, demand for bus tickets remains severely depressed, according to Wanderu, a travel website.

That raises concerns about the long-term health of a sector that generally operates on thinner margins and has less financial cushion.

Pantuso estimates that 85% of the 100,000 people who work in the bus industry have been laid off or furloughed—in most cases since March.

It’s not just long-haul services like Greyhound that are limping. Traffic on commuter lines that ordinarily ferry workers to and from the suburbs has also dried up, since many people are working from home.

Charter buses and specialty services are struggling as well.

The Nitetrain Coach Co. in Nashville offers tricked-out buses with bars and bunk beds for touring musicians. Since March, the company’s 120-bus fleet has gone silent.

“It’s been a hard time with concerts not happening,” said Nitetrain’s Angela Eicher. “No job. No income.” The company has idled more than 200 drivers as well as mechanics and office staff.

“We’re at the mercy of the venues,” Eicher said. “When the venues allow the concerts to start happening, that’s when our buses will start rolling again.”

But while Congress has offered billions of dollars in financial aid to airlines and Amtrak, bus companies have been overlooked.

Pantuso, the bus trade group president, told NPR that the lack of attention from Congress was a concern, calling his sector a critical piece of the nation’s transportation network. “If more members of Congress took the bus on a more regular basis,” he said, “we’d probably be at the top of the list for funding.”

Research contact: @NPR

Biden admonishes Trump Administration over ‘obstruction’

December 30, 2020

President-elect Joe Biden said on Monday that his transition team had faced “obstruction” from the Defense Department—raising more concerns about the Trump Administration’s distinct lack of cooperation with the new White House denizens with just over three weeks until Inauguration Day, The New York Times reports.

“Right now, we just aren’t getting all the information that we need from the outgoing administration in key national security areas,” Biden stated in Wilmington, Delaware, after he and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris were briefed about barricades put in place by agencies dealing with national security and foreign policy, like the Defense and State departments.

“It’s nothing short, in my view, of irresponsibility,” Biden said.

In his remarks, the president-elect said that his team had “encountered roadblocks” from political leaders at the Defense Department as well as at the Office of Management and Budget. Biden emphasized the importance of a smooth transition, saying, “Right now, as our nation is in a period of transition, we need to make sure that nothing is lost in the handoff between administrations.”

“My team needs a clear picture of our force posture around the world and our operations to deter our enemies,” he continued. “We need full visibility into the budget planning underway at the Defense Department and other agencies in order to avoid any window of confusion or catch-up that our adversaries may try to exploit.”

In a statement on Monday, Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller, defended the department’s level of cooperation with the Biden team. He said the department was continuing “to schedule additional meetings for the remainder of the transition and answer any and all requests for information in our purview.”

 “Our D.O.D. political and career officials have been working with the utmost professionalism to support transition activities in a compressed time schedule, and they will continue to do so in a transparent and collegial manner that upholds the finest traditions of the department,” Miller said. “The American people expect nothing less, and that is what I remain committed to.”

As the Times notes, the Biden transition was hamstrung at the outset by the Trump Administration’s delay in formally designating Biden as the apparent winner of the election. The head of the General Services Administration did not take that step until November 23.

More recently, Mr. Biden and his team have complained about their dealings with the Pentagon in particular.

A week before Christmas, Yohannes Abraham, the executive director of the Biden transition, said that the president-elect’s team had encountered “isolated resistance in some corners, including from political appointees within the Department of Defense.” He expressed concern about what he described as “an abrupt halt in the already limited cooperation there.”

Miller had cited a “mutually agreed-upon holiday pause,” but Mr. Abraham said that no such agreement had been made.

And last week, during an event at which Biden criticized President Trump for playing down the Russian hacking of the federal government and private companies, Biden said, “The Defense Department won’t even brief us on many things.

The department responded by calling that claim “patently false.”

Research contact: @nytimes

‘Among the stars’: Ashes of Scotty from ‘Star Trek’ hidden on International Space Station

December 29, 2020

“Beam me up, Scotty,” the characters on the wildly popular TV series, Star Trek (196601969) used to say—and now the favor has been returned: Actor James Doohan’s family is celebrating after keeping a major secret for the past 12 years, USA Today reports.

Doohan, who famously portrayed Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott on the series, always had dreamed of resting among the stars.

After he died in 2005 at the age of 85, his ashes were smuggled aboard the International Space Station—where they fittingly float in space to this very day. To date, the Starship Enterprise engineer’s cremains has travelled nearly 1.7 billion miles through space—orbiting Earth more than 70,000 times.

“I have been keeping a secret for over 12 years,” Chris Doohan, one of the actor’s sons, wrote on Twitter—adding a link to a December 25 article from the Times of London that revealed the secret.

“My dad had three passions: space, science and trains. He always wanted to go into space,” Chris Doohan told the Times.

What’s more, now the mystery has been solved: Richard Garriott, an entrepreneur and one of the first private citizens in space, says he smuggled James Doohan’s ashes onto the ISS in 2008 during a 12-day mission as a private astronaut in a plot concocted by Chris Doohan.

The caper entailed printing three cards with a Doohan photograph and laminating each with a sprinkling of ashes sealed inside hidden inside his flight data file. 

“Everything that officially goes on board is logged, inspected and bagged —there’s a process, but there was no time to put it through that process,” Garriott told the Times.

One of the three cards is framed on a wall in Doohan’s California home, which Doohan tweeted Saturday. Garriott floated another into space. The third is under the cladding on the floor of the space station’s Columbus module, where he hid it in 2008.

“As far as I know, no one has ever seen it there and no one has moved it,” Garriott said. “James Doohan got his resting place among the stars.”

Chris Doohan said he was told to “keep this hush-hush for a little while” and here we are 12 years later. What he did was touching — it meant so much to me, so much to my family and it would have meant so much to my dad.”

Research contact: @USATODAY

The great giveback: Retailers team up with FedEx, UPS, Whole Foods to make returns easier

December 29, 2020

Retailers and logistics companies have struggled to get shoppers’ holiday gifts delivered on time. Now, they’re gearing up for what’s expected to be a brutal season for unwanted, returnable goods headed back in their direction, The Chicago Tribune reports.

Following a coronavirus pandemic-fueled surge in online sales, up to $70.5 billion worth of online holiday purchases are expected to be returned—up from $42 billion last year—according to a forecast from commercial real estate brokerage CBRE.

Many retailers that encouraged people to start their holiday shopping early also have extended their return deadlines this holiday season—and have tried to make it easier, once you get in the vicinity of the store, to get your money back. Still, the Tribune reports, returns aren’t as seamless as clicking “buy” online—and most merchants don’t offer contact-free options that enable consumers to stay in the car during the return transaction.

It’s not just because people are buying more gifts online. It’s because there are more people shopping online, including some who typically prefer to shop in person and aren’t accustomed to buying online,  Steve Osburn, managing director of Retail Strategy at Accenture, told the Chicago-based news outlet.

.Shoppers also admit that they’re now more likely to buy the same item in multiple sizes; then, keep the one that fits. About 62% of U.S. shoppers said they “bracketed” purchases, up from 48% last year, often because they gained or lost weight or were shopping at a new store and weren’t sure what size to pick, according to a September survey by Narvar, a company that helps retailers manage returns.

Retailers prefer shoppers return items in stores rather than ship them back because they can get items back on shelves more quickly, Osburn said.

But this year, the desire to avoid unnecessary trips to stores could push more people to seek mail-in options. About 30% of consumers surveyed by Narvar said it was easier to ship items back, up from 25% last year.

Walmart this week announced that FedEx will pick up returns at customers’ homes. Customers still need to pack items for shipment, which can be tougher when people are working from home without access to a printer to print the shipping label, but the service is free for items shipped and sold by Walmart.

Earlier this month, Amazon announced customers can return items at 500 Whole Foods Market stores without a box or shipping label. Amazon already had a returns partnership with Kohl’s. Amazon shoppers also can return items at UPS locations, in some cases without packing them up.

Returns service Happy Returns partnered with FedEx this fall to let shoppers return items from brands like Everlane, Rothy’s and Steve Madden at 2,000 FedEx locations with no box or shipping label.

Happy Returns previously had about 600 locations, which were mostly at malls and retailers like Paper Source and CostPlus World Market. The new FedEx locations adds convenience while making the service “COVID-proof” since FedEx is an essential business that will stay open, CEO David Sobie told the Tribune.

And, as return drop-off options have expanded, use has grown. Nearly 30% of shoppers surveyed by Narvar in September said they had taken their most recent return to a designated drop-off location like a pharmacy or another retailer’s store, up from 16% last year. About 35% of shoppers took their return to a carrier to mail back and 12% returned their item to the retailer’s store.

Some retailers are also trying to streamline traditional store returns.

Dick’s Sporting Goods will let customers return items through curbside pickup, as long as the purchase was made with a credit or debit card. Others say shoppers must come inside to make a return, though Narvar CEO Amit Sharma said he expects more retailers to announce curbside returns in January.

Research contact: @chicagotribune

Trump knuckles under, signs stimulus package

December 29, 2020

While many Americans spent the holiday weekend worrying or grieving about sick friends and relatives, trying to get work, and eating food bank provisions, a peevish President Donald Trump partied and played golf at his private Palm Beach club, Mar-a-Lago.

But even Air Force One couldn’t get him far enough away from the problems he had created in the nation’s capital. Both Democratic and Republican party leaders pressured Trump to sign two bills he had left on his desk and threatened to veto—a major coronavirus stimulus package and an annual spending bill.

Trump had not participated in the talks leading up to passage of the COVID-19 aid legislation, but had indicated to his surrogate, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, that he would approve a bill that offered direct stimulus checks of $600 to the American people.

Indeed, Mnuchin promised that, once the bill passed, the $600 stimulus checks could be expected to reach Americans by this week. Meanwhile, unemployment programs established earlier this year expired on Saturday night.

But it didn’t happen. According to a report by Politico, Trump spent the weekend railing against the current package, tweeting that he wanted to “increase payments to the people, get rid of the ‘pork’” and “$2000 + $2000 plus other family members. Not $600. Remember, [COVID] was China’s fault!”

Hoping go change his mind and convince him to sign off on the legislation, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and several Republican senators, including Senators David Perdue (R-Georgia) and Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina.), spoke to Trump multiple times through Sunday night.

Lawmakers were preparing for catastrophe amid Trump’s threats, and House members were prepared on Monday, December 28, to vote on a short-term funding bill to avert a midnight shutdown.

But on Sunday evening after days of being lobbied by allies and warned that he would decimate his own political legacy , Trump decided to sign the bill and not leave office amid a maelstrom of expired benefits and a government shutdown, Politico said.

He said he will insist on reductions in spending in parts of the bill, though Congress does not have to go along.

“I will sign the omnibus and COVID package with a strong message that makes clear to Congress that wasteful items need to be removed. I will send back to Congress a redlined version, item by item, accompanied by the formal rescission request to Congress insisting that those funds be removed from the bill,” Trump said on Sunday night.

The president also said the Senate would soon begin work on ending legal protections for tech companies, examining voter fraud and boosting the check size for direct payments. The current Congress ends in six days.

The House will move ahead with a vote Monday on boosting direct payments to $2,000, forcing Republicans to go on the record against the president.

“I applaud President Trump’s decision to get hundreds of billions of dollars of crucial COVID-19 relief out the door and into the hands of American families as quickly as possible,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in a statement that did not mention the commitments Trump said the Senate has made.

Research contact: @politico

TrumpTally

 

POTUS Approval Ratings
(Approval/disapproval of President Trump by U.S. adults, as established by key nationwide polling organizations)

 

 

December 2020

Dec. 1-4 Dec. 7-11 Dec. 14-18 Dec. 21-25 Dec. . 28-30

Polling Organization

Economist/YouGov 43/55 45/52 43/52 43/52
Quinnipiac 43/55 40/58 44/51 44/51
Rasmussen Reports 49/49 49/49 45/52 45/52
Real Clear Politics (Average) 45/52 45/52 45/52 44/53