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Memorial Day sales: Shop the best deals

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(NEW YORK) -- Memorial Day is here and that means there are plenty of deals and sales to shop across multiple retailers.

ABC News’ Becky Worley appeared on Good Morning America Monday to discuss the best deals consumers can find for the holiday:

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State Farm will no longer accept applications for homeowners insurance in California, citing wildfire risk

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(LOS ANGELES) -- One of the largest insurance agencies in the country will no longer accept applications for home and business insurance in California due to wildfire risks and the cost of rebuilding.

State Farm has ceased new applications, including all business and personal lines property and casualty insurance, starting Saturday, the company announced in a press release.

Existing customers will not be affected, and the company will continue to offer auto insurance in the state, according to the release.

The insurance agency cited "historic increases in construction costs outpacing inflation, rapidly growing catastrophe exposure, and a challenging reinsurance market" for its decision.

State Farm said while it takes its responsibility to manage risk "seriously" and will continue to work with state policymakers and the California Department of Insurance to help build market capacity in California, the decision was necessary to ensure the company remains in good financial standing.

"It's necessary to take these actions now to improve the company's financial strength," the statement read. "We will continue to evaluate our approach based on changing market conditions. State Farm® independent contractor agents licensed and authorized in California will continue to serve existing customers for these products and new customers for products not impacted by this decision."

A decadeslong megadrought and climate change have been exacerbating wildfire risk in California in recent years. Severe drought during the winter is leading to matchbox conditions in the dry season, allowing intense wildfires to ignite with the slightest spark.

The warm, dry climate that serves as fuel for wildfires is typical for much of the West, but hotter overall temperatures on Earth are increasing wildfire risk in the region.

Last year, the Mosquito Fire destroyed dozens of homes in El Dorado and Placer counties. In 2021, the Dixie Fire destroyed more than 100 homes in the town of Greenville.

The Creek Fire in 2020 became the largest single fire in California history, damaging or destroying nearly 1,000 structures and burning through about 380,000 acres.

Rebuilding from wildfire destruction is expensive, expensive, experts have found.

The reconstruction costs from the 2022 Coastal Fire in Southern California were estimated to be $530 million, and only 20 homes were destroyed, according to a report by property solutions firm CoreLogic.

In addition, the nationwide impact of California's 2018 wildfire season -- which included the Camp Fire, the most destructive in California history -- totaled $148.5 billion in economic damage, according to a study by the University College London.

The state's FAIR Plan provides basic fire insurance coverage for high-risk properties when traditional insurance companies will not, but that plan is the last resort, Janet Ruiz, director of strategic communication for the Insurance Information Institute, told ABC San Francisco station KGO.

"It's a basic policy, only covers fire - you have to get a wraparound policy too to cover theft and liability," she said.

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Mercedes-Benz's message for Tesla: 'We want to be most desirable electric vehicle luxury brand'

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(NEW YORK) -- German automaker Mercedes-Benz has seen its share of the U.S. luxury market slip as customers traded in their V8 sedans and sport utility vehicles for Teslas. Now, the company is following in Tesla's footsteps by building out its own charging network, accelerating its electrified fleet and adding Level 3 autonomous driving technology to its vehicles.

Mercedes' goal is simple: Become the "most desirable electric vehicle luxury brand," according to Dimitris Psillakis, president and CEO of Mercedes-Benz North America.

Psillakis is helping oversee the company's aggressive push toward EVs. The first Mercedes EV, the futuristic EQS sedan, debuted in October of 2021. Four more models, including three electric SUVs, promptly followed. The EQS SUV and EQE SUV are built at the company's Tuscaloosa, Alabama, plant. Mercedes' brand-new factory in Bibb County supplies the lithium-ion batteries. Mercedes aims to go fully electric by 2030.

"To be the most desirable electric vehicle luxury brand, we have to strike a balance between good products and good design but also supportive service," Psillakis told ABC News. "We don't see Tesla as a luxury competitor ... we see Tesla as a disruptor in the automotive sector, especially when it comes to electric vehicles."

Mercedes' strategy seems to be working. It sold 7,341 EVs in the first quarter of 2023, an increase of 251% versus the prior year. Electric vehicles now account for 12% of the company's sales in the U.S., the company said.

"Luxury buyers are more interested in EVs. They have higher disposable income and are tech orientated," Jessica Caldwell, executive director of insights at Edmunds, told ABC News. "Tesla redefined what it means to be luxury ... but its market share is now decreasing. Tesla peaked in 2019 when it controlled 80% of the market."

EVs now make up 6% of the U.S. automotive market. Range anxiety and public charging availability are still top reasons drivers are not switching to electrics, Caldwell said.

"Charging is still a big roadblock for customers," she said. "Mercedes' charging stations are a reassurance to customers and a good, though expensive, marketing strategy."

The company's charging network, which launches first in the U.S. and Canada and will be open to non-Mercedes models, could solve the country's EV charging dilemma.

"The logic behind it is better service, convenience and taking away some worries customers have today on electric vehicles," Psillakis said. "We care about the product ... it's our responsibility to offer the best convenience to our customers."

Tony Quiroga, editor-in-chief of Car and Driver, said Tesla's highly dependable supercharger network and extended-range models earned it a dedicated fan base. Premium brands like Mercedes are still struggling to overtake the ubiquitous Tesla Model 3 and Model Y, he argued, though Mercedes may be closing the gap. Tesla's aging fleet could also convince consumers to look elsewhere, he argued.

"Mercedes doesn't want to take a backseat to Tesla," he told ABC News. "A charging network can be a big win for Mercedes."

Quiroga pointed out that two Mercedes EVs -- the EQ S450+ and EQ S580 -- beat their EPA range estimates when Car and Driver staff conducted their extensive 75 mph tests on the vehicles.

"It's very rare when a car beats its EPA numbers," he said.

And Mercedes' EV momentum will give it an edge over the competition, according to Robby Degraff, an analyst at AutoPacific.

"They’ve really hit all the right segments so far, from the larger EQS SUV to the EQE sedan," he told ABC News. "If a loyal S-Class owner wants to go all-in on electrification, there should absolutely be a comparable EV, like the EQS sedan. That’s an approach and strategy I think Mercedes-Benz has really nailed down."

Mercedes recently revealed the Mercedes-Maybach EQS 680 SUV, the first EV from the uber exclusive marque. The full-size SUV utilizes technology from the EQS SUV and is fitted with sustainably processed leather. Many of the vehicle's parts and components are made from resource-saving materials, including secondary steel and recycled aluminum.

EVs, however, are expensive and Psillakis said Mercedes is not immune to rising interest rates and economic uncertainty.

"Obviously it's affecting us, but we have a wide range of products in terms of style prices," he said. "There is high demand for the new GLC. This vehicle is not affected at the moment by any high interest rates or inflation."

EVs are one part of Mercedes' long game; the company scored a "monumental achievement" when Nevada regulators certified its autonomous driving for public roads earlier this year. "Drive Pilot" will be included for model year 2024 S-Class and EQS models and is the only SEA Level 3 automated driving system approved by lawmakers, according to Mercedes. Psillakis said California may be the next state to approve the system, which operates at speeds up to 40 mph and is more technologically advanced than Tesla's Autopilot feature.

"We have to make sure the expectation to customers is the right one and make sure the system is delivering," Psillakis said.

The attention on EVs has not stopped Mercedes from perfecting its gas-powered SUVs and high-performance AMG models. Last month Mercedes revealed an updated E-Class midsize sedan and introduced the plug-in hybrid GLE 450e 4MATIC SUV. A new 2024 GLS model range will arrive in U.S. dealerships later this year.

"Mercedes is operating two companies at the same time," said Caldwell. "Mercedes has an expansive EV lineup but the internal combustion vehicles are paying the bills. It's expensive to run these two companies in parallel."

Degraff said Mercedes' internal combustion vehicles are still highly desirable and sought after by enthusiasts.

"Mercedes-Benz has been able to crank out seriously eye-watering performance just by tapping into mild hybridization and plug-in hybrids," he said.

Psillakis dismissed concerns that the company's fabled AMG division would lose its cachet in an EV world.

"EQS is electric and it is an AMG," he said. "Yes, I do miss the sounds of a V8 engine. Do I miss the fun? The torque? The performance? No. AMG is not only sounds and horsepower. It's also exclusivity, design and performance, which you can get in electric vehicles too."

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'I would have nothing': Low-income older people fear debt default that stops Social Security

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(NEW YORK) -- The threat to Social Security payments posed by a debt ceiling impasse keeps Linda Stanberry, 76, dwelling on her worst fear: the loss of the home she has lived in for 48 years.

Stanberry, who depends entirely on about $1,800 she receives in federal benefits each month, said she hardly saves anything after expenses like food, utilities, prescription drugs and supplemental insurance for cancer coverage.

The federal government could fail to pay some of its bills as soon as June 1, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned this week. If that shortfall interrupts Social Security, Stanberry would need emergency cash, she said.

"I would have nothing," Stanberry, who lives in Southwest Virginia, told ABC News. "There's no way I could keep my home."

Stanberry is one of millions of low-income older Americans who rely on Social Security for almost the entirety of their funds. In all, roughly 1 in 7 Americans age 65 or older depend on the federal benefits for 90% or more of their income, Social Security Administration data shows.

If the U.S. fails to make Social Security payments next month, or even delays payments for a few days, low-income older people would face dire circumstances, foregoing basic necessities like food and medical care, experts and advocates told ABC News.

"For older adults living paycheck to paycheck, this debt ceiling process has been absolutely terrifying," Ramsey Alwin, the president and CEO of nonprofit National Council on Aging, told ABC News. "Losing that check means they wouldn't be able to put food on the table."

A failure to make Social Security payments would hit some older Americans by next week.

The federal government is scheduled to make payments on June 1 to enrollees in a supplemental social security program for low-income older people with disabilities. The following day, a batch of Social Security payments totaling $25 billion is scheduled to go out to general recipients, targeting the most vulnerable such as older enrollees.

Additional payments are scheduled to go out on June 14, June 21 and June 28, each of which amounts to about $25 billion.

"This could be absolutely disastrous," Peter Kempner, the legal director at New York City-based Peter Kempner Volunteers of Legal Service, who works closely with older adults in poverty, told ABC News.

Many low-income older people lack savings, leaving them especially vulnerable to a financial shock, he added.

"They live government paycheck to government paycheck," Kempner said. "They don't have reserves to float themselves for a couple months in case benefits are suspended because of what's going on in Washington."

As a debt default nears, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy told reporters on Friday that he remained confident that negotiators would soon strike a deal.

Negotiators "made progress" overnight, McCarthy said, declining to offer specifics of the potential agreement.

McCarthy is commiting to provide House members 72 hours to review the bill before bringing it to the floor for a vote, leaving little time for a deal to be ratified before a potential cash shortfall on June 1.

Even a delay in Social Security payments of a few days could put low-income older people in an agonizing position of prioritizing their little remaining spending between rent, food and transportation to medical appointments, experts and advocates told ABC News.

"Every single day that goes by makes a difference," Cindy Cox-Roman, the president and CEO of advocacy group HelpAge USA, told ABC News.

Charles Turner, 74, relies solely on some $1,000 in Social Security that he receives each month, he said.

Since he suffers from a disability that limits his mobility and use of public transportation, Turner depends on rideshare services that cost as much as $25 each way to get to weekly doctor's appointments and Tai Chi classes at a senior center, he said.

"It would be a challenge to just even go shopping for food and get to physical therapy appointments," said Turner, who lives in Washington D.C.

Policymakers engaged in debt ceiling negotiations, he added, overlook these direct consequences for older people.

"They don't see us," Turner said. "We're just lost in the lurch."

ABC News' Katherine Faulders, Gabe Ferris, Allison Pecorin and Alexandra Hutzler contributed reporting.

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Memorial Day weekend begins with highest number of travelers at US airports since 2019

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(NEW YORK) -- With Memorial Day weekend travel underway, U.S. airports recorded the highest number of passengers on Thursday since before the COVID-19 pandemic began.

The Transportation Security Administration said it screened 2,658,057 people at checkpoints across the country on Thursday, the highest daily number since 2019.

Even more passengers could be screened on Friday.

According to AAA, airports could see the busiest Memorial Day weekend since 2005.

Nearly 3.4 million people are expected to take to the skies over the holiday, up 11% from 2022 and 5.4% from 2019, according to AAA.

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MoviePass relaunches with new tiered subscriptions ahead of blockbuster summer

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(NEW YORK) -- Ahead of the slate of blockbuster films hitting theaters this summer, MoviePass is back with a new plan that could help moviegoers save money at the box office.

"We're really excited to be able to let everybody in," MoviePass CEO Stacy Spikes told Good Morning America.

The company that lets you see any movie at any theater is back with three new subscription options.

Subscribers can choose from three different tiers: basic, standard or premium, depending on their viewing habits, which range in price from $10 a month to $30 a month.

"Each month, you're going to get a certain amount of credits," Spikes explained. "You [can] go to matinees or things where you can use fewer credits and then if you say 'I really want go Friday or Saturday night,' you're going to use more credits there. And each month, they replenish and if there's a month you don't go to the movies, your credits just roll over."

Spikes and his co-founder sold a majority stake in the company, which was first started in 2011, in 2017, and the subscription price was later changed to a $10-per-month model for unlimited movies. The service was later shut down in 2019, following several unsustainable subscription changes and price decreases.

"It went bankrupt as we properly figured it would, and then last year I bought it back," Spikes said. "We've gotten the experience really down tight. And we're already seeing lots of people that are already on the platform. The beautiful thing is you can cancel anytime. There is no contract. You are not locked into a single theater."

This summer, 42 theatrical releases are expected and Spikes said he's seen a renewed energy from Hollywood.

"We've seen more studios commit to the overall production of theatrical releases and I think we are seeing a new golden age of cinema," he said.

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'The biggest losers': Bud Light boycott hammers hundreds of independent distributors

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(NEW YORK) -- Truck drivers delivering Bud Light have received the middle finger from passersby, distributors have faced intentional collisions from shopping carts as they drop off beer and vendors have endured homophobic jokes calling them "gay beer salesmen," according to top officials at several beer distribution companies.

While Anheuser-Busch InBev weathers a consumer boycott of Bud Light over a promotion from a trans influencer, the fallout is hitting hundreds of independent, often family-owned distributors that sell and deliver Bud Light to stores, bars and restaurants.

Bud Light has recorded declining sales for six consecutive weeks after a product endorsement from Dylan Mulvaney, a transgender influencer, set off ire among many conservatives.

The losses have strained Anheuser-Busch distributors that draw a significant portion of their revenue from Bud Light, the company's top-selling beer, Anson Frericks, an executive who left Anheuser-Busch InBev last year, told ABC News.

"The biggest losers here are the 500 independent businesses in the U.S. that distribute Anheuser-Busch products," Frericks said. "Those are the people really hurting."

Anheuser-Busch InBev did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment.

Company leaders at four different distributors told ABC News they have faced revenue losses and have weighed responses such as supplementing the income of salespeople paid on commission or burnishing the local brand with additional sponsorships of community events.

Distributors voiced frustration with Anheuser-Busch over its inability to anticipate the backlash and some faulted irate consumers for failing to understand the consequences of their boycott for independent sellers. Some of the distributors declined to share their names because they didn’t want to be publicly identified speaking about the business environment amid the boycott.

"I feel like my main supplier has put the wholesalers and their employees in a really bad spot," the president of an Anheuser-Busch beer distributor told ABC News. "It's frustrating."

Speaking about consumers engaged in the boycott, one Anheuser-Busch beer distributor in the Pacific Northwest told ABC News: "It's sad that they can't make that disconnect between the independent wholesaler and a big corporation -- it's disheartening."

Overall sales of Bud Light fell nearly 25% over the week ending on May 13 compared to the same period a year ago, according to data from Bump Williams Consulting and Nielsen NIQ reviewed by ABC News.

Pestinger Distribution Company, a distributor that serves 23 counties in rural Kansas, has suffered a nearly 30% drop in Bud Light sales since the boycott began in early April, Matt Pestinger, the owner, told ABC News.

Since Bud Light sales make up about a quarter of the company's business, Pestinger said, the dropoff has delivered a blow to its bottom line: Revenue grew 5% compared to last year over the months before the boycott but has fallen 2% since, he said.

"We're stressed some because you never want to see red numbers," Pestinger added, noting that losses had moderated in recent weeks.

Instead of cutting costs, Pestinger has sought to contain the damage by spending more on sponsorships of local festivals and charities, he said.

"Our business philosophy is you take care of the community and the community takes care of you -- we're doubling down on that," he added.

The president of a different Anheuser-Busch distributor, who declined to detail the extent of its revenue losses amid the boycott, said between 60% and 70% of the company's employees are paid through sales commissions. At the end of this month, the company plans to pay such employees a lump sum to make up for the losses, the company official added.

"I'm trying to keep my employees happy," the company official said. "They're feeling it."

After the initial boycott, Anheuser-Busch InBev posted a statement from CEO Brendan Whitworth on its website.

"We never intended to be part of a discussion that divides people," Whitworth said. "We are in the business of bringing people together over a beer."

The company also placed two executives who oversaw the endorsement of Mulvaney's Instagram post on leave, the Wall Street Journal reported last month.

Anheuser-Busch InBev also provided distributors with free beer for employees and additional ad spending, the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month.

At a meeting in St. Louis two weeks ago, the corporation's upper management met with hundreds of distributors and responded to questions about the path forward, multiple distributors told ABC News.

Some distributors praised the company's response to the boycott while others said the efforts have proven insufficient.

"I trust our leadership," Pestinger said. "I respect the way that they've been handling it."

Distributors voiced optimism that sales of Bud Light will rebound soon. However, if the slump continues for months on end, some distributors said they will need to make cost cuts such as limiting employee hours and slashing sponsorships.

"I think the bad times are behind us," the Pacific Northwest-based beer distributor said. "We do have a game plan if it does come to that level of severity."

Cyndy, an official at Nebraska-based distributor High Plains Budweiser, who declined to provide her last name, said the focus amid the boycott should be on the acute pain for independent sellers.

"In the end, the people hurt the most are the local small business retailers and wholesalers in your community," she said.

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FTC investigating Abbott and baby formula makers for possible collusion

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(WASHINGTON) -- The Federal Trade Commission is investigating infant formula makers, including Abbott Laboratories, to determine whether the companies colluded as they bid to secure profitable state contracts, according to a filing by the agency.

The agency is looking into whether companies "engaged in collusion or coordination with any other market participant regarding the bidding for WIC contracts," FTC Commissioner Alvaro Bedoya wrote in an April filing that was posted on the agency's website.

The FTC investigation is the latest inquiry into Abbott and its business practices. In February, the FTC and the Securities and Exchange Commission revealed they were looking into Abbott's infant formula business and bids for WIC contracts.

Abbott was also at the center of the baby formula shortage that hit families across the country last year.

A spokesperson for Abbott told ABC News on Wednesday it is "cooperating with the FTC’s requests."

The Wall Street Journal first reported on the investigation.

The state contracts, part of the federal Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children or WIC program, requires states to choose exclusive formula manufacturers in exchange for discounts. The formula products produced then get sold to low-income families who participate in WIC.

The FTC served Abbott with a civil investigative demand in January.

The potential of "collusion or coordination" raises questions of whether competing companies coordinated to split up market shares for optimal profits.

State WIC contracts can be lucrative for companies, with the winning bidder becoming the sole supplier for a contract for multiple years.

For decades, the formula market in the U.S. has been concentrated to only a few major companies who aggressively compete for state contracts and families' brand loyalty and money.

But WIC contracts also "create a lucrative 'spillover effect' on the manufacturer’s non-WIC sales of infant formula," Bedoya wrote in the FTC filing. The opportunity to further profit "may also create incentives to engage in collusive or coordinated market allocation," where formula companies act as sovereigns in their respective contract domains and agree to a bidding armistice with their would-be competition in neighboring states.

Companies could "agree not to bid against each other so that they can continue enjoying dominant positions in non-WIC markets in their respective states," Bedoya added.

Abbott, one of the largest formula makers in the U.S. and the company behind brands Similac and EleCare, is one of only three manufacturers that have bid on WIC contracts since 1996, according to Bedoya.

The scope of the FTC's probe also reaches beyond Abbott.

Nestlé, the maker behind Gerber baby food products, confirmed to ABC News it received a request for information from the FTC about its WIC contract bidding process.

"We can confirm that we, like other companies, received a civil investigative demand related to the WIC contract bidding process and have responded to the FTC," a Nestlé spokesperson said.

Meanwhile, Reckitt Benckiser, the conglomerate behind Enfamil, told ABC News they "don’t comment on any specific government investigations" but that the company "fully cooperates and complies with any regulatory and enforcement agency requests that we receive."

Abbott had attempted to get the FTC to limit the scope of their probe and said in an agency filing that the informational demand was a "significant burden and cost to the Company." The FTC declined to do so.

In their filing, Abbott notes they are "unaware of any factual basis to support the WIC-related investigation, and staff have not identified any reason to believe that Abbott or any of its competitors have coordinated or colluded regarding any WIC contract."

The FTC declined further comment to ABC News.

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AM or not AM? Carmakers mull the future of radio

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(NEW YORK) -- Some car companies like Tesla are doing away with AM radio functions due to their possible interference with new electric engines.

Ford recently was put on the hot seat after it announced that its 2024 vehicles would no longer have the function.

ABC News' "Start Here" spoke with ABC News entertainment reporter Jason Nathanson about the controversy, and Ford's recent about-face.

START HERE: Usually, ABC’s Jason Nathanson is fielding questions about movies, music, TV. He’s our entertainment correspondent. But this week, everyone’s been asking him about a different medium. So a few weeks ago, Ford made a huge announcement. It said its cars would no longer include AM radio. They’d still have FM, but AM was gone, done.

JASON NATHANSON: They decided, look at radio, it's not a thing of the future for them. They're just not going to include it.

START HERE: And let’s be clear: even as more and more people listen to streaming, and yes, podcasts, in their cars, radio is still astonishingly popular. Pew Research says more than 80% of Americans listen to terrestrial radio once a week. The reason, of course, is it’s easy to use. Flip on the dash and you’re cruising.

But if AM isn’t offered in cars, that’s the beginning of the end for lots and lots of stations.

How did it get to this? Well, electric cars.

NATHANSON: One of the problems or "problems" is the electric car manufacturers have said that they can't put AM in cars. So it's very tough to put AM in cars because there's interference. And we all know this. If you have it, if you're in your house and you're listening to AM radio and you turn a light switch on, you're going to hear interference.

START HERE: AM is different from FM radio in this regard: It’s more susceptible to interference. And a lightbulb creates nowhere near the electrical impulse of a 400-horsepower engine. Now there are ways to make it work - some carmakers have started using heavier-duty cables, or putting the antenna in a different part of the car.

NATHANSON: There's all the shielding and stuff that they need to do in order to fix that, and they can. Toyota has figured out a workaround.

START HERE: But more and more, carmakers are wondering, 'why would we go to all that trouble for something that young people, our prized buyers, aren’t listening to?' Teslas haven’t sold cars with AM radios for years, and it hasn’t seemed to affect sales.

NATHANSON: Then Ford went a step further and for 2024 said we're not putting them in any of our cars whether it's electric or not. And that got people in Washington, [to] perk their ears up.

START HERE: See, while Tesla might not care about AM, local lawmakers might. A century after its adoption, AM radio is still the most reliable source of information we have. Unlike a TV or a Wi-Fi router, it can run off a small battery. Unlike FM, it can be transmitted across entire states and mountain ranges, into rural communities. In emergencies, it’s still considered the most surefire way to keep the public informed.

NATHANSON: I remember this very clearly during the 1994 Northridge earthquake here in California. We all went into our cars to listen, to hear what was going on. And a lot of times that's on AM radio. AM radio has the clearest signal.

START HERE: And think about who utilizes AM radio stations. Local news, political talk, Christian music, non-English speakers: Constituents that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle do not want to lose. A bipartisan bill came forward that would require cars to include AM radio.

On its face, this seemed like a bizarre proposal. Why force carmakers to include something that might not even work? The bet seemed to be that car companies won’t put something out that irritates customers without trying to spruce it up.

Well, yesterday -- under a ton of pressure from these lawmakers, not to mention a big chunk of the media world -- Ford CEO Jim Farley announced the company is reversing course. AM radio will be part of its 2024 fleet, and even its electric 2023 models that have already been sold with no AM radio.

NATHANSON: They're able to go back and retroactively put AM radio into those cars via a software update, which is really quite fascinating. We didn't know it was that easy for them to just put it back in with software and say, "Hey, here, here's your AM radio back."

START HERE: But while it’s a reprieve for radio fans, this conflict will amplify as electric cars continue to take over the road. The waves are just beginning.

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Target pulls some Pride collection products following threats to store employees

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(NEW YORK) -- National retailer Target announced Tuesday it is pulling some of its Pride-themed merchandise from store displays and shelves following threats to store employees.

The move comes just one week before Pride Month kicks off on June 1 and about three weeks after Target first began rolling out Pride products in stores in early May.

"Since introducing this year's collection, we've experienced threats impacting our team members' sense of safety and wellbeing while at work," Target said in a statement. "Given these volatile circumstances, we are making adjustments to our plans, including removing items that have been at the center of the most significant confrontational behavior."

Target has not specified which products are impacted but the Associated Press reported that some social media users have sparked outcry over certain products meant for LGBTQ+ shoppers, including "tuck-friendly" swimsuits for trans women.

Target added in its statement that despite the removal of Pride collection products, which have been a key initiative for the retailer for the last decade, the company still pledges its support to the LGBTQ+ community, which has been the target of a growing number of attacks in recent years.

"Our focus now is on moving forward with our continuing commitment to the LGBTQIA+ community and standing with them as we celebrate Pride Month and throughout the year," Target said.

Anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment has been in the spotlight ahead of Pride Month. Since April, Anheuser-Busch InBev has been responding to backlash after critics denounced a partnership between trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney and Bud Light, calling for a boycott of the beer. Bud Light sales have dropped nearly 25% year over year according to retail tracking data obtained by ABC News.

In a statement to ABC News Wednesday, LGBTQ+ advocacy group GLAAD responded to Target's move and the increase of violent threats against the LGBTQ+ community.

"Anti-LGBTQ violence and hate should not be winning in America, but it will continue to until corporate leaders step up as heroes for their LGBTQ employees and consumers and do not cave to fringe activists calling for censorship," GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said. "The fact that a small group of extremists are threatening disgusting and harsh violence in response to Target continuing its long-standing tradition of offering products for everyone should be a wake-up call for consumers and is a reminder that LGBTQ people, venues, and events are being attacked with threats and violence like never before. An avalanche of research shows that Americans are comfortable seeing LGBTQ people in ads and marketing and that consumers, especially younger ones, prefer companies that include LGBTQ people internally and externally."

ABC News has reached out to Target for comment on its recent Pride products announcement.

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Stock market drop over debt ceiling could begin within days, experts said

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(NEW YORK) -- The U.S. could breach the debt ceiling as soon as next week, plunging the stock market by nearly half if a protracted default ensues, according to a White House projection.

Stock investors, however, don't seem worried -- at least for now. All of the major stock indices have inched upward over the past five days, defying alarm of a potential economic cataclysm.

Investors are confident that policymakers will reach a deal on either a comprehensive agreement or a stop-gap measure that averts a debt ceiling breach, market analysts told ABC News.

If the White House and Congress fail to make significant progress this week, the uncertainty will put stress on the stock market, they added.

"It would be a mess," Ed Moya, a senior market analyst at broker OANDA, told ABC News. "If we don't get a deal before the weekend, I think everyone will be paying close attention."

A stock market plunge would significantly erode the retirement savings of many Americans, since investors often peg 401(k) accounts to the S&P 500.

Failure to raise the debt ceiling would send financial markets into turmoil, raise interest rates at a moment when elevated borrowing costs already weigh on economic activity and all but ensure a recession.

Nine days remain before the June 1 deadline -- the date when the U.S. could fail to pay its bills, said Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.

Yellen reiterated that concern in a letter to congressional leaders on Monday, describing it as "highly likely" that the Treasury will run out of money in early June.

In a closed-door meeting with House Republicans Tuesday morning, Speaker Kevin McCarthy told his conference he and the White House are "nowhere a deal" on the debt limit and spending, urging members to hold firm, sources told ABC News.

Still, investors appear to believe that policymakers will strike a deal, with many drawing comfort from the outcome of an acrimonious debt ceiling fight in 2011 that resulted in a bipartisan agreement at the final hour, experts said.

"The underlying assumption is that they will manage to pass some last-minute agreement -- pulling out of the same playbook as 2011," Gregory Daco, chief economist at accounting firm Ernst & Young, told ABC News.

The dispute in 2011 caused the S&P 500 to fall more than 16% before lawmakers reached a deal. Within two months, the market had rallied to the same level where it stood before the drop.

The resolve of investors may stem in part from the expectation that an eventual market downturn would be reversible, Callie Cox, an investment analyst at financial services company eToro, told ABC News.

"It might just be a situation like ripping a Band-Aid off," Cox said. "It hurts a little bit and prices rally after that."

Analysts cautioned, however, that the market downturn in the event of an unprecedented debt ceiling breach would be significant, leaving stock performance afterward uncertain even if lawmakers quickly strike a deal.

Due to the severity of that risk, the market will likely show signs of downward pressure in the coming days as confidence in policymakers starts to wobble, they said.

"The next couple days, if there is no progress or if we hit a major roadblock, then we will probably start to see more stress," said Moya. "We'll start to see the market 1% down and that could grow to 2% or 3%."

"If we do breach the debt ceiling, if we are unable to avoid default, I think the immediate price reaction would be a bear market plunge of 20%," Moya added.

In fact, an initial drop in the stock market could help push policymakers toward a deal, placing investors in a staring contest with those brokering an agreement, Keith Lerner, co-chief investment officer and chief market strategist at Truist Advisory Services, told ABC News.

"Recently these things have come down to the wire and the market starts moving and it forces the politicians to act," Lerner said. "Right now, the market isn't putting too much pressure on the politicians."

Investors expect the White House and Congress to come through in raising the debt ceiling, Lerner added.

"Most of the time we raise the debt ceiling and move on with our lives," he said.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Netflix announces password sharing crackdown rollout in US

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(NEW YORK) -- Netflix announced Tuesday that it will begin to send emails to members who are sharing their account information outside of their households in the U.S.

"A Netflix account is for use by one household," the streaming company said in a blog post.

Account members who subscribed to standard or premium plans, which cost $15.50 to $20 per month, will be allowed to share their password outside their household for an additional $7.99 per month, according to the company.

In April, Netflix stated during its first quarter earnings call that it will end the sharing of passwords in the U.S. and other countries by the end of the second quarter in June.

The company said that households will still be able to enjoy entertainment "at home, on the go, and] on holiday" through features like Transfer Profile and Manage Access and Devices.

"We recognize that our members have many entertainment choices. It's why we continue to invest heavily in a wide variety of new films and TV shows," said part of a statement in the blog post.

The streaming giant first announced a crackdown on password sharing last year after the company reported a decline in subscribers for the first time in more than a decade amid an increase in competition.

"This is an important transition for us, and so we're working hard to make sure that we do it well and as thoughtfully as we can," Gregory Peters, the CEO of Netflix, said during the April earnings call.

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‘It’s not their money’: Older Americans worried debt default means no Social Security

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(WASHINGTON) -- If the United States defaults on its financial obligations, millions of Americans might not be able to pay their bills as well.

With Social Security and other government benefits at risk amid a political stalemate over the government's debt ceiling, experts and older Americans told ABC News that the consequences of the impasse in Washington could be dire, including for older Americans who need the money to pay for basic needs such as food, housing or health care costs.

A quarter of Americans over age 65 rely on Social Security to provide at least 90% of their family income, according to the Social Security Administration.

Fred Gurner, 86, of New York, told ABC News that he uses his Social Security payment for his $800 rent. But now there is real risk that his payment might not come in time in June -- when the Treasury Department says the government might not be able to send him the money he counts on.

"It's very stressful, gives me a heart attack," Gurner said about how the issue has become politicized.

How are Social Security payments affected by the debt ceiling?

Since 2001, the United States has spent more money than revenue it has taken in overall.

To cover the difference, the United States Treasury issues debt through securities, according to University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business professor Olivia Mitchell. Backed by the United States, those securities are happily bought by investors who see it as a safe guarantee they'll get paid back with interest.

However, the United States and Denmark are the only two countries to limit the amount of debt the government can issue, known as a debt ceiling, Mitchell noted.

Lawmakers can pass new laws that require government spending, but the debt ceiling will remain in place until lawmakers vote to increase it. That has happened 78 separate times in the United States since 1960.

If that debt ceiling does not increase by June 1, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has warned House Speaker Kevin McCarthy that the country will not be able to satisfy all of its financial obligations.

Beyond not being able to pay interest and principal on government securities -- which economists broadly agree would rattle the stock market and possibly damage the U.S. credit rating -- the Treasury would be unable to issue new debt to cover expenses like Social Security, according to Mitchell.

The government projects to spend roughly $100 billion on Social Security in the month of June, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center.

"It's going to be pretty tight for people for a while, unless Congress and the president can get together on this problem," Mitchell said.

When would Social Security payments become delayed?

The Social Security Administration plans to send contributions to beneficiaries on four dates next month -- June 2, 14, 21, and 28. Those checks would be the first ones at risk of being delayed, according to Max Richtman, President and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.

"Millions and millions of Social Security beneficiaries are worried about having the income to pay their basic bills," he noted.

Lynda Fisher, 80, told ABC News that her budget relies on her monthly Social Security check and that a delay would complicate her essential spending, frustrating the 80-year-old who has spent her life contributing to the system.

"I paid into Social Security, and I paid into Medicare," she said. "And now they're trying to take it away. It's not their money, it's my money that I paid into."

Richtman is now actively encouraging older residents to save money in anticipation of a delayed Social Security payment, fearing negotiations will not yield a compromise in time to avoid default.

On NBC's Meet the Press on Sunday, Yellen indicated that certain bills might be prioritized, including interest payments, Social Security and military contractor payments. However, Richtman expressed doubt that such a prioritization would be legally possible.

What does this mean for the future of Social Security?

Some Republican lawmakers have framed the debt ceiling fight as necessary to slow government spending; however, some economists, including Mitchell, see this as a "manufactured crisis" that threatens essential services, retirement savings and the overall economy.

"Every time one of these crises occurs, it's signaling to the rest of the world, and to American investors that U.S. Treasuries are not as safe as we thought," Boston University economics professor Laurence Kotlikoff said.

Kotlikoff expressed further concern that the Social Security system will have over $65.9 trillion in unfunded financial obligations over the indefinite horizon, based on the entity's own report.

However, the debate over the debt ceiling appears unlikely to produce a meaningful solution to the broader Social Security shortfall, though, according to Kotlikoff, Mitchell and Richtman.

When will retirees receive their payments?

Mitchell and Richtman remained optimistic that Social Security recipients would eventually receive their checks once a deal is made, albeit with some delay.

"I'm pretty confident that payments would be fulfilled," Richtman said. "That's not much comfort to those people who will not be able to pay for their groceries, their utilities or their rent while they're waiting to receive a back payment."

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

New HBO streaming service Max temporarily down on launch day

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(NEW YORK) -- Max, a new streaming service from HBO, was temporarily down on Tuesday, the morning of its debut.

Users reported an inability to access the streaming service, which carries over content from its predecessor HBO Max while offering new features. Later in the morning on Tuesday, the service appeared to be fixed.

Streaming on Max was initially not working for ABC News and the outage reports started early Tuesday morning, according to outage tracking site Downdetector.

A Max spokesperson told ABC News the company had addressed initial issues encountered by users.

"You must always anticipate issues on a tech rollout of this scale," the spokesperson said. "We can share that only minor ones have emerged and were quickly remedied."

The spokesperson followed up about 15 minutes later saying that Max was not down.

Compared with HBO Max, the new service offers eight times as many films and episodes in a high-resolution presentation known as 4K UHD, the company said in a statement on Monday.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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The boycott against Bud Light is hammering sales. Experts explain why.

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(NEW YORK) -- Critics of Bud Light burned empty beer boxes and fired bullets at cans as part of an anti-trans backlash against the brand that erupted early last month. Since then, the anger has grown.

Sales of Bud Light have recorded declines for six consecutive weeks after a product endorsement from Dylan Mulvaney, a transgender influencer, set off ire among many conservatives.

Consumer boycotts typically fizzle but this one has expanded for an array of reasons: a hot-button political controversy over a product with ample alternatives, outcry from political figures and celebrities and amplification on social media, experts told ABC News.

The boycott grew even larger, meanwhile, after the initial response from the company was perceived as conciliatory by some LGBTQ advocates, prompting a wave of frustration on the left, the experts added.

"Generally, boycotts get called and have very little effect," Gerald Davis, a professor of organizational behavior at the Michigan University Graduate School of Business. "For now, everybody is mad."

Sales of Bud Light fell nearly 25% over the week ending on May 13 compared to the same period a year ago, according to data from Bump Williams Consulting and Nielsen NIQ obtained by ABC News.

The most recent decline showed a deepening of losses after a drop of some 23% the week prior compared to a year ago and a roughly 7% year-over-year drop for the week ending on April 9, soon after the boycott began, the data showed.

Meanwhile, sales of rival beers have surged. Sales of Coors Light jumped almost 23% over the week ending on May 13 compared to a year ago; while sales of Miller Lite climbed 21% over that period, the data showed.

"In the beer world, there are thousands of other options readily available at similar price points," Anson Frericks, a former Anheuser-Busch executive, told ABC News. "Every grocery store and bar usually has the other options."

In all, the stock price for Anheuser-Busch InBev, the maker of Bud Light, has fallen about 11% since Mulvaney posted the brief Instagram endorsement video that sparked the backlash.

In a statement to ABC News, an Anheuser-Busch spokesperson said, "Bud Light remains the #1 brand in the US nationally in volume and dollar sales despite regional differences."

After the initial boycott, Anheuser-Busch InBev posted a statement from CEO Brendan Whitworth on its website.

"We never intended to be part of a discussion that divides people," Whitworth said. "We are in the business of bringing people together over a beer."

The company also placed two executives who oversaw the endorsement of Mulvaney's Instagram post on leave, the Wall Street Journal reported last month.

The response drew sharp criticism from some LGBTQ advocates who considered it a capitulation to the backlash. The Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest LGBTQ advocacy organization, suspended the company's Corporate Equality Index score, USA Today reported on Thursday. Previously, the company scored 100, the top rating.

"More and more people on the left are upset that the company is not supporting these progressive values in a more outspoken way," Frericks said.

The scale and longevity of the backlash also underscore the intensity of anti-trans sentiment among conservatives, experts said.

As of last week, more than 520 anti-LGBTQ bills had been introduced in state legislatures, including over 220 bills specifically targeting transgender and non-binary people, the Human Rights Campaign found.

Far-right House Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga. last month reposted a video to her 700,000 followers that sharply criticized Bud Light. Celebrities like Kid Rock and Ted Nugent had previously voiced similar messages.

"This anti-woke agenda and the idea of trans rights broadly has become a wedge issue," Maurice Schweitzer, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business who studies consumer movements, told ABC News. "It has gained and attracted a great deal of attention."

Anheuser-Busch InBev stands in a difficult position as it faces frustration on both sides of the political spectrum, said Davis, of Michigan University.

"A dynamic has been set in motion that's going to be very complicated for the company to navigate," Davis said. "What stance could they take now that would make one side or the other say, 'Oh, OK'?"

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



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