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Uber to Implement New Policies with Eye on Safety


QUIQUE GARCIA/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- In a blog post on Thursday, ride-sharing company Uber announced that it would implement new policies in an attempt to increase safety.

In the post, titled "Our Commitment to Safety," Uber says it will implement technology in ways that will "ensure the safety of riders and drivers." The company mentions plants to research and develop "biometrics and voice verification" to enhance driver screening. They also hope to give riders the ability to communicate both with Uber and with their loved ones in the case of an emergency.

Uber also says it will explore new methods of screening drivers, including the use of scientific analysis and technology. Similar methods, the company says, are being undertaken in India, where earlier this month a woman was allegedly raped by an Uber driver.

Tim Collins, a former executive at Amazon, will join the company to lead their Global Support department, the company announced. The goal of that department will be to continue to evolve customer service and build Safety Incident Response teams around the world.

Finally, the company "will be working with partners that have deep expertise in issues like women's safety, conflict resolution, and road safety" and incorporate their recommendations into the Uber plan.

In addition to the India case, in November a New York woman claimed she was harassed by a driver for canceling a ride.

Uber also faces a lawsuit filed by prosecutors in San Francisco and Los Angeles alleging the company is breaking rules and made false and misleading statements about background checks conducted on drivers.

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Takata Takes Out Open Letter, Won't Expand Recall


bizoo_n/iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Takata Corporation placed an open letter in U.S. and German newspapers on Thursday, defending its products and explaining the steps it will take to replace the faulty air bags while declining to expand some recalls nationwide.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had urged the company to expand its recall from only high-humidity regions to a full nationwide recall. The company, however, did not say that it would do so.

Instead, Takata says it is working to "increase the production capacity for replacement airbags to support all safety campaigns or further recalls announced by the automakers." Additionally, it will continue "working with our customers and other airbag producers to produce more replacement units" and "exploring whether other producers' current airbags can be used in replacement kits."

Finally, Takata said, it will work with the NHTSA and automakers to solve the problem expediently.

That letter was published in papers including The Detroit News, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and the Detroit Free Press, among others.

NHTSA Deputy Administrator David Friedman on Thursday announced that Ford has sent notice that they will comply with the request for an expanded recall of all vehicles in the U.S. containing the problematic front driver's side air bags. Ford joins Mazda and Honda as the three automakers to comply with NHTSA's request thus far. Chrysler and BMW, as well as Takata, "have failed to take the same action and, if necessary, we are prepared to force them to do so in the interest of public safety."

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Thursday Close Marks Strongest Two-Day Run Since 2013 for Wall Street


tarabird/iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Wall Street recorded back-to-back days of gains, with the major indices rebounding somewhat after a rough beginning of the month.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average climbed 421.28 to a close of 17,778.15.

The Nasdaq jumped 104.09 to 4,748.40, while the S&P 500 closed at 2,061.23, up 48.34.

After Wednesday's strong gains, Thursday's finish marked the strongest two-day run for the markets since January 2013. The Dow posted consecutive sessions with 200-point gains or better for the ninth time ever, and the first time since December 2008.

Initial unemployment claims last week were down 4,000 from the previous week, the Department of Labor said Thursday. The four-week moving average was down 750.

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Amazon Launches New One-Hour Delivery Service


iStock Editorial/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Amazon is now offering one- and two-hour deliveries on "tens of thousands of daily essentials," which begs the question, when would you possibly need something that quickly?

The new service Prime Now is available starting Thursday from 6 a.m. to midnight, seven days a week in certain parts of Manhattan, New York. Amazon is rolling out Prime Now in additional cities in 2015. Prime members can download the Prime Now app to be notified when the service is available in their area.

"There are times when you can't make it to the store and other times when you simply don't want to go," Dave Clark, Amazon's senior vice president of worldwide operations, said in a statement. "There are so many reasons to skip the trip and now Prime members in Manhattan can get the items they need delivered in an hour or less."

Two-hour delivery is free and one-hour delivery costs $7.99, in addition to the $99 a year that Prime members pay for things like two-day delivery and streaming video.

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Starbucks Expects Record Gift Card Purchases on Christmas Eve


iStock Editorial/Thinkstock(SEATTLE) -- Starbucks is anticipating a very Merry Christmas this year.

The Seattle-based coffee chain announced Wednesday it expects to sell upwards of two million gift cards on Christmas Eve alone, based on last year's sales.

“One in every 8 American adults received a Starbucks Card last holiday season, and we’re well on track for another record performance in Starbucks Card sales, as we celebrate our 14th year of offering Starbucks Cards,” Ryan Records, vice president of Starbucks Card, said in a statement Wednesday.

Starbucks forecasts the last minute buyer frenzy, which reached 1,500 gift cards per minute in 2013, to drive part of the $4 billion consumers spent on gift card purchases in the last year.

The Starbucks Card debuted 13 years ago, with customers spending over $20 billion gifting their favorite brews in that time.

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Top 10 New Year's Destinations for Budget Travelers


iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- New Year's can be expensive, especially if you want to skip town and take a little vacation to ring in the new year.

And with the ball drop just under two weeks away, those without plans might think a getaway is out of the budget. But it may not be: travel giant Kayak said people booking two weeks out for New Year's travel might actually score a deal. They've crunched the numbers to find the destination with the average lowest airfare to guide would-be travelers.

And here's one more tip: Try flying on New Year's Eve or returning on New Year's Day to score the best prices. Airlines for America predicts those two days will be among the least-traveled of the holiday season. More empty seats equals lower fares.

To go along with cheap airfare -- or perhaps to skip the airfare all together and drive to your New Year's Eve destination -- HotelTonight, the last-minute hotel booking app, will launch a 7 Days of New Years sale on Dec. 26 at 9 a.m. with $99 hotel rooms in the following cities: Atlanta, Austin (Texas), Boston, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Dallas, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Napa (California), New York, Orlando (Florida), Philadelphia, San Diego, San Francisco or Seattle. Select a check-in date of Dec. 31 to find the special $99 rooms.

These rooms are limited and will go quickly.

Here are Kayak's 10 cheapest New Year's Eve destinations (and about how much it will cost to fly there):

  1. Chicago ($290)
  2. Atlanta ($325)
  3. Washington, D.C. ($327)
  4. Dallas ($341)
  5. Boston ($356)
  6. Denver ($376)
  7. Austin ($378)
  8. New Orleans ($391)
  9. Houston ($393)
  10. Las Vegas ($401)

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Inside Donald Trump’s New Digs on Pennsylvania Avenue


Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Donald Trump is coming to Pennsylvania Avenue, and he’s set to arrive in 2016.

Washington’s iconic Old Post Office building, located just five blocks away from the White House, is the latest addition to Trump’s expansive real estate empire.

“We're looking to do something really special,” Trump told Politics Confidential during an exclusive sneak peek as the building undergoes a $200 million transformation from a largely vacant old post office to a luxury Trump International Hotel. When complete, it will boast a 5,000-square-foot presidential suite and a luxury ballroom that can seat up to 1,000 people.

“Washington has nothing like what we're going to build; it'll be open in July 2016, if not sooner, so in time for your wonderful ride down Pennsylvania Avenue,” he said in reference to the next presidential inaugural parade set for January of 2017.

It may not be the White House, but in terms of “pure real estate,” Trump said, his new address at 1100 Pennsylvania Avenue may be even better than 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, because it’s located halfway between the White House and the Capitol building.

“This may be better, because it's between the both,” Trump said. “This is where everyone should meet, you know, they should come from the White House and from Congress, they should meet right here and make their deals, because that's what has to happen.”

But don’t think that means Trump is taking his sights off the White House down the road. He said he’s seriously considering mounting a presidential bid in 2016.

“Look, I have great popularity, the polls all show great, great numbers,” Trump said. “I am looking at it very, very seriously. And If I decide to do it, I will do it.”

To get a sneak peek at what Trump’s new hotel will look like, check out this episode of Politics Confidential.

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'Classic' Smartphone Maker Wants Its Customers Back


Ethan Miller/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Blackberry, formerly a staple of businesses worldwide, is looking to make a comeback with the release of the BlackBerry Classic.

The traditional keypad and rollerball smartphone once dominated 50 percent of the market, but has since fallen below 1 percent of worldwide smartphone sales amidst lagging innovation and the rise of Android and iOS devices.

The Classic is aimed at "loyal customers," according to BlackBerry CEO John Chen, and will retail for $449 in the U.S. The new device was unveiled on Wednesday.

The company's stock rose 5 percent to just under $10 per share Wednesday, after trading as high as $230 a share in 2007.

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How Much Will "The Interview" Blunder Cost Sony?


Sony(NEW YORK) -- Sony's The Interview blunder could cost the company $200 million, according to Bloomberg, although conservative estimates peg the losses closer to $100 million.

The costs include, among other things, lost revenue and spending associated with the film, costs related to protecting employees following leaked data, and any related lawsuits stemming from the initial data breach.

The comedy carried a $42 million production budget, and was scheduled for release next Thursday.

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New Cuban Diplomacy a Potential Boon for US Companies


iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- President Obama’s decision to pursue normal relations with Cuba has many U.S. companies scrambling to consider opportunities in a brand new market that has been off limits for more than 50 years.

Banks, airlines, cruise lines, hotel operators and telecom firms are among the many that could benefit.

“U.S. companies from General Motors, to agribusiness giant Cargill to furniture retailer Ethan Allen Interiors applauded the White House move,” reports The Wall Street Journal.

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Jobless Claims Drop to 289K


iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — Jobless claims dropped lower last week, decreasing by 6,000, according to the latest figures released Thursday by the Labor Department.

For the week ending Dec. 13, the number of people filing for unemployment benefits fell to 289,000. The previous week claims stood at 295,000, revised up from 294,000.

The Labor Department said there were no "special factors" impacting that week's figures.

The four-week moving average fell to 298,750 from last week’s revised average of 299,500.

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Six Indicted in Connection with January Chemical Spill in West Virginia


Photo by Tom Hindman/Getty Image(WASHINGTON) -- The Department of Justice announced on Wednesday that Freedom Industries and six former executives of the company have been charged with federal crimes linked to the January 2014 Elk River chemical spill in West Virginia.

"Just a mile upstream from Charleston's primary source of drinking water, the conditions at the Freedom Industries facility were not only grievously unacceptable, but unlawful," Attorney General Eric Holder said. "They put an entire population needlessly at risk."

Former Freedom President Gary Southern, owners and officers including Dennis Farrell, William Tis, Charles Herzing, consultant Robert Reynolds and tank farm plant manager Michael Burdette were charged on Wednesday.

According to the DOJ, those charged engaged in misconduct that included the failure to maintain a containment area around the facility's tanks; failure to make necessary repairs to ensure the effectiveness of the containment area; failure to properly inspect a tank containing the chemical MCHM; failure to develop and implement a spill prevention, control, and countermeasures plan; and failure to develop and implement a stormwater pollution prevention plan and groundwater protection plan.

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Sprint Faces Lawsuit for Alleged 'Cramming'


Joe Raedle/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau filed a lawsuit on Wednesday against Sprint Corporation for alleged illegal billing of wireless customers for unauthorized third-party charges.

"Today...we are suing Sprint for allowing illegal charges to be crammed onto consumers' wireless bills," CPFB Director Richard Cordray said Wednesday. "Consumers ended up paying tens of millions of dollars in [unauthorized] charges...many of these consumers had no idea that third parties could even place charges on their bills."

The CPFD says that third-party billing involved products such as "premium text messages" or "premium short messaging services." These products involve ringtones or text messages containing love tips, horoscopes or "fun facts." Consumers would be charged either a one-time fee between $0.99 and $4.99 or monthly subscriptions costing as much as $9.99 per month. Sprint received a 30- to 40-percent cut of the revenue from those charges, the CPFB says.

According to the CPFB, some of the third-party merchants even tricked consumers into providing their cell phone numbers to receive "free" digital content, and then charged for that content. Others, the CPFB says, simply placed fabricated charges on bills without delivering any goods.

The bureau is accusing Sprint of allowing third parties to illegally charge consumers, automatically billing consumers for illegitimate charges without their consent, disregarding red flags about third parties and ignoring consumer complaints about unauthorized charges.

The bureau says that consumers incurred millions of dollars in illegitimate charges, while Sprint collected hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue.

Earlier this year, AT&T agreed to pay $105 million in a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission for cramming.

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Wall Street Gains Back Most of Early-Week Losses, Fed to Keep Interest Rates Low for Now


iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Wall Street posted gains on Wednesday, largely making up for early-week losses.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average climbed 288.00 to 17,356.87.

The Nasdaq jumped 96.48, closing at 4,644.31, while the S&P 500 rose 40.15, finishing the session at 2,012.89.

Both the Dow and the S&P closed Wednesday higher than they did last Friday, while the Nasdaq was down just slightly.

The Federal Reserve's Federal Open Market Committee reaffirmed on Wednesday its decision to keep interest rates low for the near future. That echoes a decision made in October. In announcing the reaffirmation, the committee said that labor conditions continue to improve, citing "solid job gains and a lower unemployment rate." Still, the Fed believes it can "be patient in beginning to normalize the stance of monetary policy."

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List Ranks America's Worst Charities


iStock/Thinkstock(TAMPA BAY, Fla.) -- A Florida newspaper is out with a list of which charities are naughty and which are nice when it comes to giving money to the people they claim to help.

Number one on the Tampa Bay Times list of the worst charities is Kids Wish Network -- just 2.5 percent of the nearly $138 million it collects is spent on kids wishes.

In a video, Times reporter Kris Hundley says the money is too often siphoned off by a third party.

"These are charities that let their professional fundraisers keep up to 90 percent of all contributions," she says.

Ideally, according to Watchdog groups, fundraisers shouldn't keep more than 35 percent of what they raise.

Getting good grades was Wounded Warrior Project, which funnels 58 percent of its donations directly to veterans.

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