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Dirty secret? Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis say they don’t bathe themselves or their kids too much

August 2, 2021

It looks like the celebrity Kutcher-Kunis family is saving money on soap, CTV News reports.

When Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis appeared on an episode of Dax Shepard’s “Armchair Expert” podcast,  the talk turned to bathing. After Shepard told co-host Monica Padman that using soap every day rids the body of natural oils, Kutcher and Kunis agreed, saying they only wash vitals every day.

Padman was stunned to be in the daily full-body wash minority and asked, “Who taught you to not wash?”

“I didn’t have hot water growing up as a child so I didn’t shower very much anyway,” Kunis said.

That has apparently continued with her and Kutcher’s two kids, Wyatt, 6, and Dimitri, 4.

“I wasn’t that parent that bathed my newborns, ever,” Kunis said.

And now that the children are older, Kutcher said they have a system: “If you can see the dirt on them, clean them,” he said. “Otherwise, there’s no point.”

Kutcher said he does wash his “armpits and my crotch daily and nothing else ever,” and has a tendency to “throw some water on my face after a workout to get all the salts out.”

Kunis said she washes her face twice a day.

Research contact: @CTV

Scarlett Johansson sues Disney over ‘Black Widow’ streaming release

August 2, 2021

Movie stars often work for a share of box office profits—so when a film opens simultaneously on both cinema screens and streaming services, their cut of the final take is bound to be smaller.

And now, Scarlett Johansson—star of the latest Marvel movie “Black Widow”—has filed a lawsuit for just that reason, The Wall Street Journal reports.

On Thursday, July 29, in Los Angeles Superior Court, Johannson filed a suit against Disney, alleging her contract had been breached when the media giant released the film on its Disney+ streaming service at the same time as its theatrical debut.

Johansson said in the suit that her agreement with Disney’s Marvel Entertainment guaranteed an exclusive theatrical release, and her salary was based in large part on the box-office performance of the film.

“Disney intentionally induced Marvel’s breach of the agreement, without justification, in order to prevent … Johansson from realizing the full benefit of her bargain with Marvel,” the suit alleged.

A Disney spokesperson told the Journal that  Johansson’s suit had no merit and is “especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The company said it “fully complied with ,,, Johansson’s contract and, furthermore, the release of Black Widow on Disney+ with Premier Access has significantly enhanced her ability to earn additional compensation on top of the $20 million she has received to date.”

Indeed, according to the Journal, the suit could be a bellwether for the entertainment industry. Major media companies are giving priority to their streaming services in pursuit of growth, and are increasingly putting their high-value content on those platforms. Those changes have significant financial implications for actors and producers, who want to ensure that growth in streaming doesn’t come at their expense.

“This will surely not be the last case where Hollywood talent stands up to Disney and makes it clear that, whatever the company may pretend, it has a legal obligation to honor its contracts,” said John Berlinski, an attorney at Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP who represents Johansson.

According to the complaint, Johansson’s representatives sought to renegotiate her contract after learning of the dual-release strategy for “Black Widow,” which she has said is her ninth and last Marvel movie. Disney and Marvel were unresponsive, the suit said.

The decision to put the movie on Disney+ is projected to cost Johansson more than $50 million, a person familiar with details of her contract claimed.

Even before the pandemic, Ms. Johansson was concerned that “Black Widow” could end up on Disney+ as part of its wide release. In 2019, Ms. Johansson’s representatives reached out to Marvel seeking assurance that “Black Widow” would have a theatrical-only release, according to the complaint. In a March 2019 email included in the suit, Marvel Chief Counsel Dave Galluzzi said the release would be according to a traditional theatrical model, adding, “We understand that should the plan change, we would need to discuss this with you and come to an understanding as the deal is based on a series of (very large) box office bonuses.”

Research contact: @WSJ

Trump’s tax returns can be released to Congress, Justice Department says

August 2, 2021

The Treasury Department should hand over former President Donald Trump’s tax returns to House Democrats, the Justice Department said on Friday, July 29, according to a report by Bloomberg Law.

In a written opinion,  the DOJ ruled that, “the Secretary of the Treasury (“Secretary”) “shall furnish” such information to any of the three congressional tax committees—the Committee on Ways and Means of the House of Representatives, the Committee on Finance of the Senate, or the Joint Committee on Taxation—“[u]pon written request from the chairman” of one of those committees.”

More specifically, the 39-page opinion stated, “We conclude that the [Treasury] Secretary must comply with the Ways and Means Committee’s June 16, 2021 request” for the tax returns and related tax information.

That decision reverses a 2019 opinion that the Treasury Department should not release the returns, which “rested upon the assertion that the Committee was disingenuous about its true objective in seeking President Trump’s tax information.”

According to Bloomberg Law, the Biden Administration has repeatedly delayed its response in court to a lawsuit seeking six years of Trump’s personal and business tax returns. Lawyers for Trump, who have intervened in the suit filed by lawmakers, said in January they’d almost certainly seek to block the handover in court, making it unlikely that Democrats will get access to the documents anytime soon.

The court case is part of a multi-pronged legal effort by House Democrats to gain access to the returns, after Trump became the first president in modern history not to release them to the public. This case dates to 2019, when the House Ways and Means Committee sued to compel then-Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to hand over the tax records. Under Trump, the Justice Department fought subpoenas issued by the committee, which filed a lawsuit.

Other lawsuits over the president’s tax records involving his accountants and bankers reached the Supreme Court, which ruled that Congress could not compel disclosure, at least for the time being. Those cases were sent back to the lower courts to assess whether lawmakers should narrow the scope of the information they sought.

The court has granted the district attorney in Manhattan, Cyrus Vance, access to Trump’s tax records as part of a criminal investigation into the former president’s business dealings. It’s unclear whether Vance will make those documents public.

In September 2020, The New York Times cited previously undisclosed returns in reporting that Trump had claimed chronic losses for years as a way to avoid taxes. He paid $750 in federal income tax in 2016, and paid no taxes at all in ten of the previous 15 years, the newspaper reported.

The case is Committee on Ways and Means, U.S. House of Representatives v. U.S. Department of the Treasury, 19-cv-1974, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).

Research contact: @bloomberglaw

Cold snap: Iceland hotel seeks photographer to capture northern lights

July 30, 2021

Calling all adventure seekers! Hotel Rangá in Iceland is looking for a photographer to chase the northern lights, also known as aurora borealis, reports Good Morning America.

Hotel Rangá is located in the Icelandic countryside—far away from most light pollution. Temperatures typically average 40 degrees (C) to 50 degrees during the fall season, when the lights are at their peak in this area of the world.

This dream job consists of three weeks of chasing and capturing the lights from September to October. The photographer chosen for the job will be required to provide high-quality photos and videos, in order to receive all-expense-paid travel to and from Iceland.

According to GMA, the requirements also include giving the hotel “unlimited license to mutually agreed-upon photographs and videos.”

“In exchange for providing content of the northern lights at the hotel, this seasonal employee will receive free room and board along with access to the hotel‘s stargazing observatory and hot tubs, not to mention the opportunity to explore the photogenic land of fire and ice on their days off,” the hotel wrote on its website.

The lights can appear at any time of the night and the hotel even has a so-called “aurora wake-up service” so guests don’t miss the lights.

Interested photographers can apply for this dream job now at hotelranga.is/lights-catchers-wanted.

Research contact: @GMA

Nikola founder Trevor Milton charged with fraud for lying about ‘nearly all aspects’ of EV business

July 30, 2021

Trevor Milton, the founder and former executive chairman of electric vehicle company Nikola, has been charged with two counts of securities fraud and one count of wire fraud by a federal grand jury. Milton has been accused of lying about “nearly all aspects of the business” to boost Nikola’s stock, reports Engadget.

The indictment alleges that Milton made it seem Nikola was much further along than it actually was in terms of having fully functional EVs. It asserts he had a hand in creating a video that made it seem as if a Nikola One prototype was able to move by itself when it was actually rolling down a slope.

According to Engadget, Milton falsely claimed the company had “billions and billions and billions and billions” of dollars’ worth of preorder reservations and that the company was producing its own hydrogen at four times less than market rates, according to the indictment.

He’s also accused of falsely claiming that Nikola had developed “game-changing” battery technology, that it was developing and making several key components for its EVs in-house and that “the total cost of ownership of Nikola’s trucks was 20% to 30% below that of diesel vehicles.”

Prosecutors claim Milton, who resigned in September in the face of a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) probe, targeted and misled amateur investors (or “retail investors”). According to the indictment, some of those investors lost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

At Nikola’s peak valuation, Milton held around $8.5 billion worth of stock, as CNBC has noted. The grand jury argues that Milton should surrender property “traceable to the commission of said offenses.” That could include the over $1 billion Milton made when the company went public in June 2020.

The SEC also filed civil securities fraud charges against Milton on Thursday, July 29. The agency asked a district court to force Milton to forfeit “ill-gotten gains” and to pay a fine. It also called for a lifetime ban on Milton serving as an officer at a company that issues securities.

Research contact: @engadget

Trump throws hissy fit as GOP moves forward on infrastructure deal

July 30, 2021

Former President Donald Trump lashed out at Senate Republicans on Thursday, July 29,  after the upper chamber voted to take up debate on a bipartisan infrastructure packageaccusing Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) and “RINOs,” short for “Republicans in name only,” of surrendering to Democrats, reports The Hill.

“Under the weak leadership of Mitch McConnell, Senate Republicans continue to lose,” Trump said in a statement. “He lost Arizona, he lost Georgia, he ignored Election Fraud and he doesn’t fight. 

“Now he’s giving Democrats everything they want and getting nothing in return,” the former president continued. “No deal is better than a bad deal. Fight for America, not for special interests and Radical Democrats. RINOs are ruining America, right alongside Communist Democrats.”

The former president’s attack on his party’s Senate leadership came a day after lawmakers voted 67-32 to greenlight a debate on the infrastructure deal, which includes $1.2 trillion for projects such as roads, bridges, public transit and broadband internet. The $1.2 trillion includes $579 billion in new spending.

While the infrastructure deal still faces a series of legislative hurdles, Wednesday’s vote was seen as a major win for President Joe Biden, who had championed the negotiations between a bipartisan group of senators.

“This deal signals to the world that our democracy can function, deliver, and do big things. As we did with the transcontinental railroad and the interstate highway, we will once again transform America and propel us into the future,” Biden said in a statement. 

The vote is also likely to raise questions about Trump’s influence over the policymaking process in his post-presidency. Prior to Wednesday’s vote, he had pushed Republicans to reject a deal with Democrats, saying that the compromise is “a loser for the USA, a terrible deal, and makes the Republicans look weak, foolish, and dumb.”

“It shouldn’t be done,” he said. “It sets an easy glidepath for Dems to then get beyond what anyone thought was possible in future legislation.”

Research contact: @thehill

No bridezilla here: Woman’s lengthy, considerate wedding party survey gets rave reviews

July 29, 2021

In a world where bridezilla stories dominate headlines, there’s one bride-to-be who has won over TikTok with her considerate wedding planning process. Fox News reports.

Talia Morales, 29, began her wedding planning journey when she got engaged to her fiancé Eulalio Wolfe, 30, in June.

After throwing herself into full planning mode to meet their December 2021 wedding date, Morales went viral on TikTok for the thoughtful bridesmaid questionnaire she sent out to her wedding party through Google Forms—a free online survey platform.

In a four-part series she shared from her handle, @onemorwolf  on June 23, Morales showed her followers that Google Forms can help brides keep track of their bridal party’s comfort levels and preferences in a way that she feels is a more organized communication style than group chats.

For her four bridesmaids and maid of honor, Morales started off her form by greeting her bridal party and sharing details about her wedding theme and colors.

The form then goes on to ask for:

  • Each person’s name,
  • Where each bridesmaid wants to stay the night before the wedding,
  • Whether she wants her hair and makeup professionally done,
  • What she anticipates her bridesmaid dress budget to be, and
  • Her preferred style of dress and shoes.

“I consider myself to be organized and detailed, and I have used Google Forms many times for different tasks in the past,” Morales told Fox News, adding, “Now that I am wedding planning, those skills truly radiate. Planning a wedding is no easy task and the more organized, prepared, and detailed, the better.”

Other notable parts of her survey included inspiration photos and availability requests that can help determine scheduling for group dress shopping and pre-wedding events. 

Morales, who is from Texas, also provided an area where her bridesmaids can share ideas for a bachelorette party destination; and which dates and times would be ideal.

At the end, Morales included an open-ended section where her bridal party can voice questions, comments or concerns.

“I understand that each of my bridesmaids [has] a different budget, style, and schedule,” Morales wrote to Fox News. “They will be standing next to me on one of the most memorable days of my life. The least I can do is be mindful of their spending and their time.” 

From the responses she received, Morales was able to create a subsequent survey, where her bridesmaids could vote on the choices that were narrowed down from the previous Google Form.

When it comes down to how her bridal party felt about her inclusive questionnaires, Morales said, “Honestly, I could not have chosen a better group of girls. They are supportive and dependable, and I am truly blessed to have their friendship.”

In total, Morales’ videos have garnered more than 298,350 views and has inspired thousands of commenters.

“Thank you for doing this!! Your bridesmaids are so lucky,” one TikTok user commented.

Another user wrote, “This is exactly what every bride should do. This is really considerate of your [bridesmaids’] budget, time, & schedule.”

Research contact: @FoxNews

Walmart will cover 100% of college tuition and books for its workers

July 29, 2021

America’s largest retailer, Bentonville, Arkansas-based Walmart, announced on Tuesday, July 27, that it will pay for full college tuition and book costs at some schools for its US workers—the latest effort by company to sweeten its benefits as it seeks to attract and retain talent in a tight job market, CNN reports.

Walmart said it was expanding its current program, which began in 2018, to include new academic partners—bringing the total to ten—and offering more degree and certificate options in areas such as business administration, supply chain, and cybersecurity.

The roster of learning institutions now includes the following:

  • Johnson & Wales University
  • The University of Arizona
  • The University of Denver
  • Pathstream
  • Brandman University
  • Penn Foster
  • Purdue University Global
  • Southern New Hampshire University
  • Wilmington University
  • Voxy EnGen

Participants must remain part-time or full-time employees at Walmart to be eligible.

According to CNN, the company said that it will drop a previous $1 a day fee paid by Walmart and Sam’s Club workers who want to earn a degree and also begin covering the costs of their books. Around 28,000 workers participate in the program, which Walmart began in 2018. Walmart has around 1.5 million workers.

“We feel that eliminating the dollar a day investment removes the financial barriers to enrollment, and it will increase access,” said Lorraine Stomski, SVP of Learning and Leadership at Walmart, in a call with reporters.

Walmart has incentive to expand the program. Employees who have participated in the program are twice as likely to get promoted and are retained at a “significantly higher rate” than other workers, Stomski said.

Research contact: @Walmart

DOJ declines to defend Trump ally in lawsuit over January 6 insurrection

July 29, 2021

The U.S. Department of Justice declined on Tuesday, July 27, to defend a congressional ally of former President Donald Trump in a lawsuit accusing them both of inciting supporters at a rally in the hours before the January 6 storming of the Capitol, reports The New York Times.

Law enforcement officials determined that Representative Mo Brooks (R-Alabama) was acting outside the scope of his duties in an incendiary speech just before the attack, according to a court filing. Brooks had asked the department to certify that he was acting as a government employee during the rally; had it agreed to defend him, he would have been dismissed from the lawsuit and the United States substituted as a defendant.

“The record indicates that Brooks’s appearance at the January 6 rally was campaign activity, and it is no part of the business of the United States to pick sides among candidates in federal elections,” the Justice Department wrote.

The DOJ added, “Members of Congress are subject to a host of restrictions that carefully distinguish between their official functions, on the one hand, and campaign functions, on the other.”What’s more, the Justice Department’s decision shows it is likely to also decline to provide legal protection for former President Trump in the lawsuit, The New York Times said.

According to the Times, legal experts have closely watched the case because the Biden Justice Department has continued to fight for granting immunity to. Trump in a 2019 defamation lawsuit where he denied allegations that he raped the writer E. Jean Carroll and said she accused him to get attention.

Such a substitution provides broad protections for government officials and is generally reserved for government employees sued over actions that stem from their work. In the Carroll case, the department cited other defamation lawsuits as precedent.

The Brooks decision also ran counter to the Justice Department’s longstanding broad view of actions taken in the scope of a federal employee’s employment, which has served to make it harder to use the courts to hold government employees accountable for wrongdoing.

Brooks did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Lawyers for the House also said on Tuesday that they declined to defend Brooks in the lawsuit. Given that it “does not challenge any institutional action of the House,” a House lawyer wrote in a court filing, “it is not appropriate for it to participate in the litigation.”

The lawsuit, filed in March by Representative Eric Swalwell (D-California) accuses Mr. Brooks of inciting a riot and conspiring to prevent a person from holding office or performing official duties.

Swalwell accused Brooks, Trump, his son Donald Trump Jr,. and his onetime personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani of playing a key role in inciting the January 6. attack during a rally near the White House in the hours before the storming of the Capitol.

Citing excerpts from their speeches, Swalwell accused the men of violating federal law by conspiring to prevent an elected official from holding office or from performing official duties, arguing that their speeches led Trump’s supporters to believe they were acting on orders to attack the Capitol.

Swalwell alleged that their speeches encouraged Trump’s supporters to unlawfully force members of Congress from their chambers and destroy parts of the Capitol to keep lawmakers from performing their duties.

During the rally, Brooks told attendees that the United States was “at risk unlike it has been in decades, and perhaps centuries.” He said that their ancestors “sacrificed their blood, their sweat, their tears, their fortunes and sometimes their lives” for the country.

“Are you willing to do the same?” he asked the crowd. “Are you willing to do what it takes to fight for America?”

Mr. Swalwell said defendants in his lawsuit had incited the mob and had continued to stoke false beliefs that the election was stolen.

“As a direct and foreseeable consequence of the defendants’ false and incendiary allegations of fraud and theft, and in direct response to the defendants’ express calls for violence at the rally, a violent mob attacked the U.S. Capitol,” Swalwell said in his complaint. “Many participants in the attack have since revealed that they were acting on what they believed to be former President Trump’s orders in service of their country.”

Research contact: @nytimes

Why beekeeping is booming in New York: ‘A hive is a box of calm’

July 28, 2021

In April 2020, during the height of the pandemic in New York City, a delicate rescue mission took place.

Andrew Coté and three colleagues, wearing heavy-duty masks and gloves, rode an elevator, climbed two sets of stairs and struggled up a 20-feet vertical metal ladder to the roof of an empty building in Midtown Manhattan. There, they retrieved four 150-pound boxes full of hundreds of thousands of agitated bees; transported them to the street; and loaded them onto a pickup truck with others from neighboring rooftops.

The bees were then spirited away to their new home in the borough of Queens, The New York Times reports.

Indeed, although she is no longer the First Lady, Melania Trump might be proud: New Yorkers have gotten hooked on beekeeping—and their goal is to “Bee Best.”

The apiary at the Queens County Farm Museum is now a who’s who of Manhattan rescue bees. They hail from the rooftops of the InterContinental New York Barclay hotel, the Brooks Brothers flagship and the New York Institute of Technology, among other places. The apiary officially opened early last summer, which was perfect timin—since a good portion of New York’s honeybees (many of whom live atop office buildings and hotels across the city) found themselves untended and in limbo during the shutdown.

SgriAccording to the Times, since New York City legalized beekeeping in 2010, it has grown in popularity. It is a small-space activity; a hive is roughly the size of a two-drawer filing cabinet. There are now bee-focused nonprofits, public parks with pollinator gardens and jars of hyperlocal honey in abundance at green markets. The new apiary in Queens, which has basically handled overflow during the pandemic, shows how bee-crazy New Yorkers have become.

But there is also a growing concern among some scientists that honeybees, most of them imported to the city to feed this beekeeping frenzy, are a threat to New York’s native pollinators, whose dwindling populations could affect local flora and the environment at large.

When the virus slowed our lives down, encouraging us to stay in our homes, enjoy the outdoors, and focus on activities in the natural world (such as bird-watching or gardening), the zeal for urban beekeeping intensified, too. Sean Flynn, a beekeeper for over five years, took the opportunity to share his passion with his youngest daughter, Alaura, 18.

“I’ve always had this fascination with the hive mentality — it’s about the collective and the greater good,” Flynn recently told The New York Times. He put a hive in his middle daughter’s bedroom when she went off to college six years ago. He kept the windows open in his sixth-story apartment so the bees could come and go as they pleased. The neighbors never noticed.

Flynn now inspects and monitors 12 different hives in various community gardens across the city. Recently, he captured a swarm outside the Javits Center. Although he is allergic to bee stings, Mr. Flynn temporarily housed the Javits bees in his own bedroom until he could relocate them — something he has done several times before to his own detriment.

There are anywhere from 115,000 to 125,000 beekeepers nationwide, according to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center.

The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which oversees city beekeeping, recorded 326 registered hives in 2020. While beekeepers are required to register their hives, they often don’t. Coté, the president of the New York City Beekeepers Association and a fourth-generation beekeeper, believes there are more than 600 active hives in the city.

Several establishments, like the Bushwick bakery L’imprimerie, and the New York Hilton Midtown, now have their own hives so they can make dishes and cocktails with homegrown honey, said Dan Winter, vice president of the American Beekeeping Federation and president of the Empire State Honey Producers Association. “People want to know where their honey comes from, and they like it local.”

“As far as important species go, bees are top of the list. They pollinate more than one-third of the crops that feed 90% of the world,” Winter told the Times. “Honeybees are responsible for $30 billion a year in crops.”

Jennifer Walden Weprin, the executive director of the Queens County Farm Museum, has seen renewed interest in the farm’s beekeeping courses, which started up again in the spring. The apiary’s 40 colonies, with over 2 million bees, rival the human population of the borough. The rescue bees will most likely become permanent residents now that they’re settled, but the owners of several of their former homes have expressed interest in creating new rooftop colonies.

There is a small movement afoot: Bee houses are being installed across the city. The Bee Conservancy, based in New York, created its Sponsor-a-Hive program last year in collaboration with Brooklyn Woods, a nonprofit that trains unemployed and low-income adults in woodworking and fabrication. The pine bee houses are designed with a mixture of nesting tubes for native bees to ensure a diversity of species.

“If you want local food, you really need local bees,” said Guillermo Fernandez, the founder and executive director of the Bee Conservancy. “For many bees, an area of a couple hundred feet might be their entire world, so small things can add up to a lot,” said Mr. Fernandez, who finds the chaos of the hive relaxing. “A hive is a box of calm in a frantic city,” he said. “The buzz and gentleness is quite soothing.”

Since February, Brooklyn Woods graduates have created over 350 bee houses. Christine Baerga, 31, who lives in Jamaica, Queens, has had some part in crafting most of them so far. Baerga’s life changed for the better during the pandemic, when she moved out of a homeless shelter and became a celebrated bee house artisan.

“Bees are master craftsmen and builders,” Baerga said. “They’re one of the more important creatures in the world. Without them, there is no us.”

Research contact: @nytimes