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White House welcomes two ‘very good boys’ as Biden’s dogs move in

January 25, 2021

Who let the dogs in? Well, President Joe Biden did. And they are very glad to be reunited with their “hoomans,” according to their Twitter feed, @TheFirstDogs.

Now that the two German Shepherds are in their new home at the White House, they commented, “Our hoomans, @potus and @flotus, are heccin’ awesome.”

And, as for 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Major loves the South Lawn and Champ’s Monday thoughts involve mainly “bacun,” according to a report by The Huffington Post.

The fur babies belonging to Biden and his wife, first lady Dr. Jill Biden, arrived this weekend—marking the first time a pet has taken up residence in the White House since the Obamas left.

Notably, President Donald Trump was the first president in more than 100 years to not have had a pet while in office.

“The First Family wanted to get settled before bringing the dogs down to Washington from Delaware,” said Michael LaRosa, press secretary for Jill Biden, in a statement to CNN on Monday, January 25.

Of the two very good boys, Champ is more than ten years old and has lived with the Bidens since December 2008—previously cohabitating with the family at the vice president’s residence during Obama’s presidency. Major, who is three years old, is the first-ever dog adopted from a shelter to live in the White House.

Rumor is they soon will have a brother or sister. Dr. Biden also wants a kitten.

Research contact: @HuffPost

NBCUniversal’s streaming platform Peacock is now excusive home of WrestleMania programming

January 25, 2021

Wrestling fans appear to have a new home base, now that Peacock and the WWE have finalized an agreement that will see the NBCUniversal-owned streaming service become the exclusive home of the WWE Network’s programming in the United States, Advertising Age reports.

On March 18, fast-growing Peacock will debut its WWE content library—which includes a 24/7 channel and on-demand content. Going forward, it will also be the sole portal for fans to access the WWE’s pay-per-view showdowns, including WrestleMania and SummerSlam, as well as its original series and archive of past pay-per-view match-ups.

“We are thrilled to further the long-standing and trusted partnership WWE has with NBCUniversal,” says Nick Khan, the WWE’s president and chief revenue officer. 

The Peacock partnership will offer a “combination of premium WWE content, live sports, news, films and television programs,” as well as one original documentary each year from 2022, he adds.

While additional rollout details will be available closer to the WWE Network’s streaming launch in March, all of its content—including PPV events—is slated to be available via Peacock Premium, which costs users $4.99 per month, while its ad-free cousin Peacock Premium Plus goes for double that, Ad Age notes.

With the WWE Network deal finalized, coupled with last week’s news that NBCSN will be shutting down and shifting its programming to both the USA Network and Peacock, the NBCU-owned streaming platform seems poised to become one of the company’s live sports powerhouses.

Research contact: @adage

Biden to reinstate the COVID travel restrictions Trump rescinded; impose new ban on South Africa

January 26, 2021

President Joe Biden plans to sign restrictions Monday on travel to the United States to mitigate COVID-19 transmission, a senior public health official confirmed on Sunday, January 24, to Reuters.

The ban would prevent most non-U.S. citizens from entry if they have recently been in South Africa, where a new strain of coronavirus has been identified. The virus has killed more than 418,000 people and infected upward of 25 million nationwide in the United States., according to an NBC News tracker.

Biden is also expected to reinstate broader restrictions that were in effect much of the past year but were rescinded by President Donald Trump days before his term ended, NBC said. The limits would affect non-U.S. citizens traveling from the United Kingdom, Ireland, and much of Europe in what is known as the Schengen countries, which share a common visa process. Travelers from Brazil would also be affected.

Before Biden took office, incoming White House press secretary Jen Psaki in a tweet criticized Trump’s decision to rescind the bans he had implemented.

“With the pandemic worsening, and more contagious variants emerging around the world, this is not the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel,” she said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Sunday that, beginning Tuesday, it will no longer consider exceptions to its requirement that international travelers present negative coronavirus tests. Airlines had asked the agency to relax the rule for some countries with limited testing capacity.

“As variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus continue to emerge in countries around the world, there is growing evidence of increased transmissibility of some of these variants, as well as unknown health and vaccine implications,” a CDC spokesman said in a statement. “Testing before and after travel is a critical layer to slow the introduction and spread of COVID-19 and emerging variants.”

Research contact: @NBCNews

Feline groovy: Catnip provides more than a pleasurable high for your kitty

January 25, 2021

The rapturous and intoxicated behavior that cats exhibit when they are gifted with catnip is a good enough reason to keep it in stock for most pet owners. But now, a joint research project conducted in Japan and the UK has found that when felines respond to catnip they aren’t just getting high; there’s a side benefit. Catnip helps protect them from mosquitoes, The Charlotte Observer reports.

It’s all thanks to a substance called nepetalactol, which can be extracted from catnip leaves and from those of a related plant, silver vine. The team learned that this is the substance that causes the crazed rolling and rubbing cats do when they sniff the herbs.

And calling the fuss a “high” isn’t a figure of speech, either. The researchers discovered the substance activates the part of cats’ nervous systems responsible for “euphoric” effects, similar to those found in and experienced by people on drugs.

It’s an event that can last anywhere between five and 15 minutes, according to the study published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances, and is typically followed by a period of unresponsiveness.

After applying a synthetic version of nepetalactol on laboratory paper strips and giving them to cats in the study—both domestic and wild—researchers documented them rubbing, licking, and rolling around, just as they do with catnip-filled toys, the Observer reports. They even tested the substance on larger felines, including a jaguar, leopard and lynx.

But the team didn’t stop there.

Scientists have always been aware of catnip’s ability to ward off thirsty insects, so the researchers placed more nepetalactol-slathered paper strips on the floor, walls and ceilings of some cat cages and unleashed a dozen or so mosquitoes.

Cats that rubbed themselves on the chemical substance were gorged on less than those that did not have the natural repellent on their fur. The same happened when cats were placed in “a more natural setting,” the researchers said.

“We found that the cats’ reaction to silver vine is a chemical defense against mosquitoes, and perhaps against viruses and parasitic insects,” project leader Dr. Masao Miyazaki, a veterinary scientist at Iwate University in Japan, said in a news release.

The research team agrees there’s more to be discovered about catnip and mosquito activity. In future studies, the team hopes to find answers by identifying the gene responsible for cats’ reactions to the plants.

Research contact: @theobserver

The Mega Millions jackpot is $1 billion. What to know before you buy a ticket

January 25, 2021

At some point, whether on Friday night, January 22, or sometime later, on the buyer of one Mega Millions lottery ticket is going to win an insanely high jackpot.

It just probably won’t be you, CNBC reports. For Mega Millions, you have about a 1 in 302 million chance of winning the jackpot.

With the odds stacked against players matching all six numbers needed to hit the mother lode, the lottery game’s top prize has been increased to $1.0 billion (or $739..6 million in cash).

This only the third time in its history that a lotto jackpot has gone so high, Mega Millions says in a press release. The largest jackpot in U.S. history—a $1.59 billion Powerball prize in 2016—was split three ways.

“We know that players love big jackpots, and when the numbers are this big, it becomes a national phenomenon,” said Gordon Medenica, Maryland lottery director and lead director of Mega Millions.

“Everyone wants to dream about what they’d do if they won.”

The Mega Millions jackpot has been climbing since mid-September, when someone scored $120 million ($95.4 million cash) and the top prize reset to $20 million. That’s 37 weeks of no one matching all six numbers in twice-weekly drawings, marking the longest stretch ever with no winner, according to lottery officials.

However, CNBC cautions, Even if you buy multiple tickets, you wouldn’t move the needle much. To give yourself even a 50-50 chance of winning the Mega Millions jackpo—i.e., the same odds when you flip a coin once—you’d have to buy more than 151 million different number combinations. Even then, you wouldn’t be able to guarantee that you’re the only winner.

For the drawing this weekend, lottery officials estimate that 40% of all possible number combinations will be played.

Of course, you can win in the game without hitting the jackpot. The last Mega Millions drawing, held Tuesday night, produced nearly 5.2 million winning tickets, according to lottery data. That included two winners of $2 million each, 11 winners of $1 million each and 139 winners who nabbed at least $10,000.

Once the Mega Millions jackpot is won, it will reset to $20 million.

Research contact: @CNBC

Biden plans executive action to expand food stamps and speed stimulus checks

January 25, 2021

President Joe Biden plans to issue two Executive Orders on Friday, January 22—aimed at speeding additional federal aid to American families struggling to afford food amid the COVID-19 pandemic; as well as at helping workers stay safe on the job, The New York Times reports.

Biden, who has vowed to use the power of the presidency to help mitigate economic fallout from the pandemic, will also direct the Treasury Department, now to be helmed by Janet Yellen, to find ways to deliver stimulus checks to millions of eligible Americans who have not yet received the funds.

The president also plans to sign a second Executive Order that will lay the groundwork for the federal government to institute a $15 an hour minimum wage for its employees and contract workers, while making it easier for federal workers to bargain collectively for better pay and benefits.

The actions are part of an attempt by Mr. Biden to override his predecessor, former President Donald J. Trump, on issues pertaining to workers, the economym and the federal safety net, the Times notes. The orders Biden will sign on Friday signal a break from the Trump Administration’s attempts to limit the scope of many federal benefits that Trump officials said created a disincentive for Americans to work.

Mr. Biden has issued a series of economic orders in his first days in the White House, which his aides have cast as emergency relief for Americans struggling in the Covid economy. He has also called on Congress to approve a $1.9 trillion economic rescue package in the coming weeks.

“We are at a precarious moment in our economy,” Brian Deese, who directs the National Economic Council, told reporters in a call previewing the orders. “The American people cannot afford to wait. So many are hanging by a thread.”

The orders that Biden is signing are intended to increase the weekly value of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, commonly known as food stamps, for about 12 million families who depend on the program the most, according to White House estimates. The aid would increase weekly benefits by 15% to 20% for a family of four, Deese said. Congress approved enhanced benefits as part of its economic aid efforts last year, but the Trump administration did not expand benefits for households receiving the maximum benefit under the program.

The order also will increase the value of an emergency benefit, also included in economic rescue legislation, to provide money for families to replace the free meals students would have been receiving at school before the pandemic forced students out of classrooms. That expansion would amount to an extra $100 every two months for a family of three.

The president also will seek to allow workers to draw unemployment benefits if they quit jobs they fear are unsafe amid the pandemic, by asserting “that workers have a federally guaranteed right to refuse employment that will jeopardize their health, and if they do so, they will still qualify for unemployment insurance,” White House officials said in a fact sheet detailing the orders.

To help struggling individuals and families, Mr. Biden will direct the Treasury Department to find new ways to get stimulus checks, including $600 checks passed in December and $1,200 checks passed in March, to as many as eight million eligible people who have not yet received them.

The second order also will direct federal agencies to determine which of their workers earn less than $15 an hour, and to develop “recommendations to promote a $15 per hour minimum wage for them,” the fact sheet said.  Biden has called on Congress to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour for all workers.

Research contact: @nytimes

 

Contest: Can Robert Bigelow (and the rest of us) survive death?

January 22, 2021

Is there an Other Side? Robert Thomas Bigelow would like to know—and he’s offering nearly $1 million in prizes to the person(s) who can give him the answer, The New York Times reports.

Bigelow is not just anyone, or any 75-year-old, mourning a wife and a son, and confronting his own mortality. The Times describes him as “a maverick Las Vegas real estate and aerospace mogul with billionaire allure and the resources to fund his restless curiosity embracing outer and inner space, U.F.O.s, and the spirit realm.”

But, specifically, what he is looking for is “the best evidence for “the survival of consciousness after permanent bodily death.”

It’s a daunting quest, perhaps fringe to some, but the shaggy maned and mustached entrepreneur, the sole owner of Bigelow Aerospace and Budget Suites of America, is not easily discouraged.

The money he has made from his business ventures has enabled Bigelow to indulge a celebrated, if sometimes derided, interest in what he called “anomalous events” including his 20-year ownership of a spooky Utah ranch overrun by flying orbs and other creepy phenomena.

Indeed, the strange goings-on at the ranch drew the interest of the Defense Intelligence Agency and, through funding secured by Harry Reid, the former Democratic Senate majority leader, led to the formation of a Pentagon effort to study unidentified flying objects—the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Programrevealed by The New York Times in 2017.

Now retired, Reid told the Times that Bigelow is “brilliant” and said they developed a close working relationship—noting, “He’s looked into areas other people only think about.”

Last June, four months after bone marrow disease and leukemia claimed the life of his wife of 55 years, Diane Mona Bigelow, at 72, Mr. Bigelow quietly founded the Bigelow Institute for Consciousness Studies to support research into what happens after death. But he may have been interested in the afterlife for more than a decade before that: His son, Rod Lee Bigelow, died of suicide in March 1992.

Entrants must qualify as serious researchers by February 28, with a record of at least five years of study of the field and preferably an affiliation with groups like the Society for Psychical Research in Britain. Submissions of up to 25,000 words are due by August 1, to be judged by a panel of specialists. Bigelow said he had an idea what that best evidence might be, but “it would be prejudicial to say.”

The panel to judge the submissions includes Dr. Christopher C. Green, a psychiatrist and neuroscientist at the Detroit Medical Center and Wayne State College of Medicine who served with the Central Intelligence Agency; Jeffrey J. Kripal, a professor of philosophy and religious thought at Rice University; and the investigative reporter Leslie Kean, the author of the 2017 book “Surviving Death: A Journalist Investigates Evidence For an Afterlife,” the basis of a six-part series on Netflix.

Winners will be announced on November 1. Bigelow said that of two “Holy Grail” question—whether bodily death marked the end of existence and whether we are alone in the cosmos—he put survival of consciousness first, with a special moral aspect. “It may matter what you do while you’re here,” he said. “It could make a difference on the other side.”

Research contact: @nytimes

Mindbody app introduces first virtual consumer membership program

January 22, 2021

Mindbody—a leading technology platform for the wellness industry based in San Luis Obispo, California—has announced the launch of Mindbody Flex, its first membership offer that includes virtual access to more than 350 premier fitness studios.

Leveraging Mindbody’s online consumer marketplace—which features tens of thousands of fitness studios—members now are able to use the app to experience the best of these virtual offerings through one monthly subscription.

Using Mindbody Flex’s integrated software, members will have access to workouts and classes from studios including Exhale, Wundabar Pilates, Modo Yoga, Barre3 and Jabz Boxing, in addition to hundreds of local studios nationwide.

“At Mindbody, we are proud to serve as the technology platform for countless wellness businesses, small and large, across the globe,” company CEO Josh McCarter said in a press release, adding, “What is so exciting about Flex is the ability we now have to connect consumers to the best of these virtual offerings via one, fluid membership. We know people value a local and authentic connection in their fitness routine, and we look forward to delivering these personalized experiences in a more accessible and convenient way.”

The Mindbody Flex membership is priced starting at $39 per month which includes five equipment-optional, livestream classes (up to three times per studio), access to new studios and classes added weekly and the ability to auto-renew monthly with a ‘cancel anytime’ option. Memberships also are available at $59 for 10 livestream classes; and $99 for 20.

Research contact: @askmindbody

President Biden to sign executive actions aimed at ending COVID pandemic

January 22, 2021

On first full day in the Oval Office, President Joe Biden is expected to sign a second set of executive actions, aimed at making good on his plans to use the might of the federal government to end the coronavirus pandemic, The Guardian reports.

His administration plans a coordinated federal coronavirus response aimed at restoring trust in the government and focused on boosting vaccines, increasing testing, reopening schools, and addressing inequalities thrown up by the disease.

“We can and will beat COVID-19. America deserves a response to the COVID-19 pandemic that is driven by science, data and public health—not politics,” the White House said in a statement outlining the administration’s national strategy on COVID-19 response and pandemic preparedness.

The administration’s new strategy is based around seven major goals:

  1. Restoring public trust in government efforts;
  2. Getting more vaccine doses into more arms;
  3. Mitigating the spread—including mask mandates;
  4. Emergency economic relief;
  5. A strategy to get schools and workers functioning ag;
  6. Establishing an equity task force to address disparities in suffering involving issues of race, ethnicity and geography; and
  7. Preparing for future threats.

According to The Guardian, Biden has pledged to vaccinate 100 million people in 100 days and reverse the impact of a year of mismanaged response under Donald Trump that saw more than 400,000 people die and more than 24 million infected – by far the worst rates in the world.

But his executive orders are set to go far beyond just boosting vaccination efforts.

The 46th U.S. president plans to re-engage with the World Health Organization—a reversal from the Trump administration’s move to cut ties during the pandemic. In other moves, the new administration says it plans to set up pandemic testing and vaccination sites, and devise a speedy vaccine distribution program.

On traveling, Biden will sign an executive order requiring people to wear a mask on trains, airplanes and maritime vessels. Another Health and Human Services to give guidance on safely reopening schools.

Biden also will release a presidential memorandum utilizing the FEMA disaster relief fund for providing reimbursement for personal protective equipment (PPE), cleaning, and costs needed to safely reopen schools.

The Biden administration is also looking to fix supply shortfalls. Biden plans to direct federal agencies to fulfill supply shortfalls using the Defense Production Act.

Biden will restore a White House team on global health risks set up under Barack Obama and dismantled under Donald Trump.

The executive orders aim to help people of color in particular. One will set up the COVID-19 health equity taskforce.

Biden will issue an order to develop a national strategy to reopen schools, hoping to meet his goal of having most elementary and middle schools open within his first 100 days in office and will ask Congress to provide $130 billion additional aid to schools, $35 billion for colleges and universities, $25 billion for child care centers at risk of closing and $15 billion in childcare aid for struggling families.

Research contact: @GuardianUS

Battle royal: Thomas Markle’s plans new documentary on his split from Meghan

January 20, 2021

In January 2020, Meghan Markle’s father Thomas Markle, starred in a Channel 5 British documentary in which he tried to set the record straight about the seemingly strained relationship between him and his daughter. However, Markle has since revealed to The Sun that he wasn’t happy with the finished product, and intends to release a new film; which will chronicle his life from his career in television and raising Meghan to more recent event—including his absence from the royal wedding.

Now, Good Morning Britain has aired “everything we know about Thomas Markle’s new documentary”—and Bustle has reported the details.

Hoping to have the documentary “completed later this year,” Markle told the Sun that he hopes the project will help him to “figure out what went wrong” in his relationship with his daughter. “It begins with my life, my family, and my love of theatre and television and how I got there,” Markle explained. It will follow his “life with Meghan, growing up, her school days until she went off to college, and when her career began.”

Featuring unseen home footage of Meghan’s upbringing, Markle wanted to portray what he believes to be a truer version of events than what was shown in the previous documentary. “It was not edited in the correct order, dates were wrong, and it had too much generic public domain film added,” he told the Sun. “My documentary will have some new videos and my favourite photo of my ‘baby girl’ […] I think we will do a good job.”

The former Channel 5 version, titled Thomas Markle: My Story, saw Markle set the record straight in a one-on-one interview with the broadcaster. It covered the “staged” paparazzi photos that were released prior to Meghan and Harry’s wedding, as well as Markle not being able to attend the wedding due to serious health problems. The documentary also covered the publication of Meghan’s private letter to her father, and why Markle decided to publish part of it in British tabloids.

Research contact: @bustle