Rising gas prices may not have negative impact on travel to some hotspots, say experts

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(SAN DIEGO) — Rising gas prices in the U.S. amid sanctions on Russian oil have some Americans feeling hesitant about any plans for a summer road trip. But tourism officials in one summer hot spot say they don’t think gas prices will hurt travel there much.

In San Diego, hotel owners like Bob Rouch say business has returned to pre-COVID levels. It appears that so many people want to travel and get out without masks that the desire to travel this summer outweighs any reluctance due to rising gas prices.

“I know some people refer to it as revenge travel,” Rouch said. “I think it’s people wanting to get out.”

Tourism officials say places like San Diego will likely fare well despite high gas prices because the city is a quick drive with minimal fuel burn from locations like Phoenix, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Northern California.

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Tips to save money on groceries amid inflation

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(NEW YORK) — With inflation at a 40-year high, Americans are seeking ways they can save some money on everything from gas to groceries.

The next time you hit a supermarket, there are several strategies you can use to help you stay on budget. Buying frozen meat and produce, opting for generic brands and buying in bulk are just some ways you can compensate for record-high prices.

ABC News’ Becky Worley shared more tips consumers can use the next time they shop for groceries:

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Inflation rose in February to 40-year high

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(WASHINGTON) — Inflation spiked again last month, increasing 0.8 percent in February after rising 0.6 percent in January, the latest figures released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Labor show.

Compared to February of last year, the Consumer Price Index, which measures the change in prices customers pay for goods and services, is up 7.9%, marking a four-decade high.

The Labor Department said the biggest price hikes were for gasoline, shelter and food.

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Lululemon unveils brand’s first shoe line

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(NEW YORK) — Lululemon is taking a walk into the footwear industry by launching the brand’s first shoes.

The athletic brand announced Tuesday that it will be releasing four different women’s shoes beginning on March 22.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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To kick things off, the company will debut its Blissfeel shoes, which have an upper panel that supports movement and underfoot foam cushioning technology. The shoe will be available in 10 spring-ready shades.

Lululemon will also introduce three other shoes, including Chargefeel for cross-training; Restfeel, a slide-style shoe for post-workout; and Strongfeel, which is an all-around training shoe.

“Footwear is the natural next step for us to expand and apply our long history of innovation in fit, feel and performance, and it represents an exciting moment for our brand,” Lululemon CEO Calvin McDonald said in a statement. “We are entering the footwear category the same way we built our apparel business — with products designed to solve unmet needs, made for women first.”

Lululemon’s chief product officer Sun Choe also shared in a statement that the brand started with women’s shoes first as a result of noticing that they are often designed for men and later adapted for women. “That didn’t sit well with us,” said Choe.

She continued, “Innovating for women is in lululemon’s DNA — now we’re bringing that same expertise to footwear, and women were part of this journey every step of the way.”

While the brand is initially launching for women, there are plans to create a men’s footwear collection in 2023.

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House committee makes allegations of potential ‘criminal conduct’ by Amazon to Justice Department

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(WASHINGTON) — The House Judiciary Committee wrote to Attorney General Merrick Garland alerting him of potential “criminal conduct by Amazon and certain of its executives,” in a letter written by members of the committee and obtained by ABC News.

The judiciary committee, led by Antitrust Subcommittee Chairman David Cicilline, alleges Amazon lied to Congress over whether it used data it collected from third-party sellers.

“Throughout the course of the Committee’s investigation, Amazon attempted to cover up its lie by offering ever-shifting explanations of what it called its ‘Seller Data Protection Policy,'” the letter says. “Among other things, in written statements to the Committee, Amazon made a distinction between the “individual” seller data that Amazon supposedly protected and the “aggregated” seller data that its private-label business could use.”

Amazon also allegedly lied to Congress about manipulating consumers’ search results, according to the committee.

“After Amazon was caught in a lie and repeated misrepresentations, it stonewalled the Committee’s efforts to uncover the truth. The Committee gave Amazon a final opportunity to provide evidence either correcting the record or corroborating the representations it had made to the Committee under oath and in written statements,” the letter says. “Instead of taking advantage of this opportunity to provide clarity, however, Amazon offered conclusory denials of adverse facts. In a November 1, 2021 communication to the Committee, a senior Amazon official dismissed the reports as inaccurate, attributing them to ‘key misunderstandings and speculation.'”

The judiciary committee further accused Amazon of refusing to turn over any documents related to the investigation they claim to have run on the manipulation of consumer search results.

The bipartisan letter also claims Amazon obstructed a congressional investigation.

“Amazon and its executives appear to have been “acting with an improper purpose” “to influence, obstruct, or impede . . . the due and proper exercise of the power of inquiry under which any inquiry or investigation is being had,” the letter says. “Amazon has declined multiple opportunities to demonstrate with credible evidence that it made accurate and complete representations to the Committee during the Committee’s digital-markets investigation. The Committee’s findings and credible investigative reports suggest that Amazon’s representations were misleading and incomplete. And Amazon’s failure to correct or corroborate those representations suggests that Amazon and its executives have acted intentionally to improperly influence, obstruct, or impede the Committee’s investigation and inquiries.”

All of these reasons, the letter says, amount to enough substance for a Justice Department referral “to investigate whether Amazon or its executives obstructed Congress or violated other applicable federal laws.”

“There’s no factual basis for this, as demonstrated in the huge volume of information we’ve provided over several years of good faith cooperation with this investigation,” an Amazon spokesperson told ABC News.

A Justice Department spokesperson said the department has received the letter and will review it.

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Local support spikes for Ukrainian restaurants in the US

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(NEW YORK) — Amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the resulting humanitarian crisis, U.S.-based businesses with ties to Ukraine have seen an influx of support from their local communities.

Restaurants like Veselka in New York City, which has served traditional Ukrainian fare since 1954 — from borscht to pierogis– are offering meals with a side of activism.

“We are deeply saddened by the events unfolding in Ukraine and incredibly appreciative of the outpouring of support for our Ukrainian community,” the restaurant wrote on its website. “100% of proceeds from every bowl of borscht in-store and take-out go to aiding efforts in Ukraine.”

The restaurant partnered with the Razom For Ukraine organization to handle all donations. Razom, which means “together” in Ukrainian, created a space for people to meet and collaborate on opportunities to both amplify Ukrainian voices in the U.S. and support Ukraine directly through individuals and organizations.

Two Boots Pizza also joined the effort creating two specialty pies — the Mr. Ze, made with kielbasa sausage from renowned butcher J. Baczynsky, and the Lesya, made with Veselka’s borscht and non-dairy cheese. Proceeds from the specialty slices will be donated to Razom for Ukraine.

“As the conflict in Ukraine unfolds, we have seen consumer searches for Ukrainian businesses soar on Yelp. In February 2022, searches increased 602% from January and were up over 2000% compared to February of 2021,” a spokesperson for Yelp told Good Morning America. “We’re seeing some first-party reviewers directly link their choice to visit a Ukrainian-owned establishment as an act of solidarity.”

Laika Cheesecakes and Espresso, a Ukrainian-owned bakery outside San Antonio, Texas, said it has raised over $100,000 in donations to assist Ukraine.

“We are donating ALL OF OUR SALES from the weekend not just profits,” the bakery said in a post on Instagram. “There were multiple reasons why we decided to do it this way. We thought it would be more transparent than counting profits since that can be interpreted differently. This was also so we could have people know they were helping as much as possible and that we were giving as much as possible.”

According to the bakery, the line was around the block over the weekend with about 3,000 people in attendance and a wait time of nearly three and a half hours.

“People still stayed to contribute-even when we had been completely sold out for hours,” the bakery said. “We sold over 4,500 pieces of cheesecake — jars and slices. Individual donations excluding the sales were over $25,000!”

Pushkin, a family-run, modern Ukrainian restaurant in San Francisco that serves traditional comfort foods like pelmeni and vareniki — little dumplings boiled and served with a big scoop of sour cream — hailed The Golden City’s residents for the influx of support.

The restaurant welcomed donations and held a bake sale over the weekend to raise money for humanitarian assistance in Ukraine. The team announced on Instagram that they collected $6,500 from the sold-out event and detailed how the money was directly donated to Nova Ukraine and Global Giving Ukraine’s Crisis Relief Fund.

Chefs, food bloggers, influencers and more are using their personal and professional social media platforms to organize additional support for Ukraine online.

Earlier this month, James Beard-nominated Gage & Tollner pastry chef Caroline Schiff joined forces with other New York City-based chefs to #cookforukraine with boxes of 12 sweet and savory pastries to support an array of nonprofits aiding Ukraine. Within days of launching their effort, she announced on Instagram that due to overwhelming interest and support, the pre-ordered boxes for pickup at the end of the month have already sold out, raising a total of $10,000.

Cookbook and culinary shop Now Serving in Los Angeles has also enlisted its community of bakers, pastry chefs, makers and restaurants to participate in a bake sale on March 12 to help Ukrainian children and families through UNICEF UK’s Ukraine Appeal.

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Scammers posing as law enforcement to extort personal information: FBI

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(WASHINGTON) — Scammers are impersonating law enforcement and government officials, in an effort to extort money and personal information, the FBI warns.

Often times, the scammers will “spoof” authentic numbers and credentials “of well-known government and law enforcement agencies,” the agency said in an announcement Monday.

The FBI says scammers will say a person’s identity was used in crime, such as a drug deal or money laundering scam, and they will ask for personal information to verify their identity such as their Social Security number and date of birth.

“The victim is threatened with arrest, prosecution, or imprisonment if they do not pay to remove charges or assist in the investigation against the “real” criminals,” the FBI said.

“Payment is demanded in various forms, with the most prevalent being prepaid cards, wire transfers, and cash, sent by mail or inserted into cryptocurrency ATMs. Victims are asked to read prepaid card numbers over the phone or text a picture of the card. Mailed cash will be hidden or packaged to avoid detection by normal mail scanning devices. Wire transfers are often sent overseas so funds almost immediately vanish,” the announcement said.

Scams also come in the form of text messages requiring government IDs to fix a passport renewal.

The FBI urges consumers to protect themselves saying that “officials will never contact members of the public or medical practitioners by telephone to demand any form of payment, or to request personal or sensitive information.”

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American companies suspend operations in Russia over invasion

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(NEW YORK) — More and more American companies are suspending their businesses in Russia as a result of its invasion of Ukraine.

On Tuesday, McDonald’s, Starbucks, Coca-Cola and Pepsi became the latest corporations to add their names to the list.

“The conflict in Ukraine and the humanitarian crisis in Europe has caused unspeakable suffering to innocent people,” McDonald’s chief executive officer, Chris Kempczinski, said in a statement. “As a System, we join the world in condemning aggression and violence and praying for peace.”

The fast food chain, which employs 62,000 people in Russia, said it would be temporarily closing its restaurants and pausing operations in Russia. However, it will continue to pay salaries for all its employees in Russia.

Kempczinski said it is impossible to predict when the company will be reopening its restaurants.

“We are experiencing disruptions to our supply chain along with other operational impacts. We will also closely monitor the humanitarian situation,” he said.

Starbucks, in announcing it will immediately be suspending all its operations in Russia, condemned the “horrific attacks on Ukraine by Russia.”

“We continue to watch the tragic events unfold and, today, we have decided to suspend all business activity in Russia, including shipment of all Starbucks products,” the company’s chief executive officer, Kevin Johnson, said in a statement.

The company said its licensed partner agreed to immediately pause store operations and provide support for its nearly 2,000 workers.

Beverage giants Coca-Cola and Pepsi also announced they were ceasing operations in Russia.

“Our hearts are with the people who are enduring unconscionable effects from these tragic events in Ukraine,” the Coca-Cola Company said in a press release. “We will continue to monitor and assess the situation as circumstances evolve.”

Pepsi, which has been operating in Russia for more than 60 years, “must stay true to the humanitarian aspect of our business,” CEO Ramon Laguarta wrote in a letter to PepsiCo associates.

“Our first priority continues to be the safety and security of our fellow Ukrainian associates,” Laguarta said. “We suspended operations in Ukraine to enable our associates to seek safety for themselves and their families, and our dedicated crisis teams in the sector and region continue to closely monitor developments in real time.”

Pepsi will also continue to provide aid to assist Ukrainians refugees in neighboring countries, including donating milk and refrigerators to relief organizations, and “we’re ramping up production of foods and beverages in neighboring countries to meet the increased need,” Laguarta said.

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How to save money on gas as prices continue to climb

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(NEW YORK) — The price for a gallon of gas has surged to a national high.

As of Tuesday morning, AAA said it costs an average of $4.17 for a gallon of gas, the highest price ever recorded.

Filling up a small car of gasoline will now cost you about $50, and GasBuddy predicts we could see the national average price soar to $4.25 a gallon by Memorial Day.

“I think it will probably happen even much sooner than that,” GasBuddy’s Head of Petroleum Analysis Patrick De Haan told ABC News, “potentially even by the end of the month, so gas prices continue to go up and defy expectations.”

So how can you keep the pain at the pump to a minimum? Here’s what the experts say:

Change the way you drive

Most cars achieve optimal fuel economy around 55 mph, according to GasBuddy. Driving too fast or too slow won’t give you the most bang for your buck.

AAA recommends reducing your speed if your trip takes you on the highway.

“Aerodynamic drag causes fuel economy to drop off significantly as speeds increase above 50 mph,” the group says.

Experts also said it is key to remember to accelerate gradually and ease up on the brake — braking suddenly or speeding up fast is hard on fuel economy. Cruise control can help you maintain the proper speed and save fuel.

Don’t skip the repair shop

Making sure that your car is properly maintained will ensure a problem with the vehicle isn’t using up more fuel than it should.

The biggest red flag is if the “check engine” light is illuminated.

In that case, “take your car to the repair shop as soon as possible,” AAA says. “This indicates a problem that is causing excessive emissions and likely reducing fuel economy.”

Another thing to stay on top of, according to experts, is your tires.

If your tires are underinflated, you won’t maximize your fuel savings.

Avoid idling and turn off that air conditioner

Even if it is cold out, do not idle your car for long periods. It does nothing but waste fuel.

“If your car will be stopped for more than 60 seconds, shut off the engine,” AAA recommends.

On the flip side, if it is hot out, try to minimize your use of air conditioning.

Keeping your windows down for a breeze will save you more fuel than running your AC.

Take advantage of apps that track prices

Many people use the app Waze for directions, but it also has a gas feature that can show you the nearest gas stations along with prices.

Gas stations near major exits and in bigger cities tend to be more expensive.

The app GasBuddy is another resource constantly updating gas prices in real-time. In addition, you can get alerts on deals sent to your phone.

Another app to check out is Gas Guru. It aims to help you find the cheapest gas prices with information straight from the oil price information service. The app lets you search by fuel grade and amenities as well.

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Shell pledges to stop buying Russian oil and gas

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(NEW YORK) — Energy giant Shell announced on Tuesday plans to withdraw from its involvement in all Russian hydrocarbons, including crude oil and natural gas, amid Russia’s unprovoked invasion of neighboring Ukraine.

“As an immediate first step, the company will stop all spot purchases of Russian crude oil. It will also shut its service stations, aviation fuels and lubricants operations in Russia,” Shell said in a statement.

Shell will immediately stop buying Russian crude oil on the spot market and not renew term contracts. The company will also change its crude oil supply chain to remove Russian volumes, but said “this could take weeks to complete and will lead to reduced throughput at some of our refineries.”

In addition, Shell will shut its service stations, aviation fuels and lubricants operations in Russia, and will start a phased withdrawal from Russian petroleum products, pipeline gas and liquefied natural gas.

The company apologized for buying Russian oil last week.

“We are acutely aware that our decision last week to purchase a cargo of Russian crude oil to be refined into products like petrol and diesel — despite being made with security of supplies at the forefront of our thinking — was not the right one and we are sorry,” Shell CEO Ben van Beurden said in a statement. “As we have already said, we will commit profits from the limited, remaining amounts of Russian oil we will process to a dedicated fund. We will work with aid partners and humanitarian agencies over the coming days and weeks to determine where the monies from this fund are best placed to alleviate the terrible consequences that this war is having on the people of Ukraine.”

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