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6 weighted blankets that you can get for less than $100

84 0 28 Jan 2020

Weighted blankets have become a popular option for troubled sleepers. Expert-approved weighted blankets are typically filled with glass pellets to provide a sense of pressure that many people find to have a soothing effect. When it comes to choosing the perfect weight for you, studies show that the best blankets weigh more than 10 percent of a person’s body weight.

Our contributor Christina Heiser put one to the test and gave it a stamp of approval: “When I slipped under the blanket, I felt like I was wrapped in a cocoon, as if the blanket were hugging me,” she wrote about the 15-pound option she covered. “I was able to just focus on the present, and that made it easier to fall asleep. I didn’t wake up once in the middle of the night, which is very rare for me and after seven hours of solid sleep, I felt so refreshed that I didn’t even need to stop for my iced coffee on the way to office.”

And medical professionals echo this sentiment. According to University of Pennsylvania physicians, the effectiveness of these blankets relies on the pressure they place on your body, which activates your parasympathetic nervous system, which in turn lowers your heart rate.

“A weighted blanket uses ‘pressure therapy’ — using a calm-inducing amount of pressure on your entire body, similar to the feeling of being hugged, swaddled, stroked, or held,” Penn Medicine’s blog explains. “The right size and weight of a weighted blanket depend on the person’s needs.”

Convinced the trend may benefit you? Giving one a try doesn’t mean shelling out a ton of cash. We’ve rounded up some options on the more affordable end (the one Heiser wrote about clocks in at $110); here are six weighted blankets that clock in under $100.

This option from YnM is currently one of the bestselling weighted blankets on Amazon and sports a 4.6-star average rating from more than 9,000 reviewers. It features a unique seven layer design with evenly distributed glass pellets throughout. Hayden C. Finch, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist based in Des Moines, Iowa, recommends this option, which is wrapped in a breathable fabric to improve temperature control.

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Finch also recommends ZonLi’s offering: “This one’s great because it comes in a range of sizes and weights for folks with different needs.”

If you’re looking for an even more affordable design under $50, this option features a micro-plush layer for softness, while the sand grain-sized glass beads add weight without a lumpy texture. This consistently well-rated 12-pound option is available in two neutrals — gray or ivory — and is compactly sized like a throw, suitable for your living room or atop your couch.

The manufacturer describes the cotton fabric of this blanket as “cloud-like,” making it a good option for anybody who is worried about sacrificing softness when opting for a weighted blanket.

“Having battled insomnia, restless legs, joint pain and muscle pain, I had read that a weighted blanket could help,” one reviewer wrote. “Honestly, I hardly have sleepless nights now. The blanket isn’t too heavy but just heavy enough.”

This edition boasts anti-odor features and a breathable two-layer fabric. Weighted Idea also sells a separate duvet cover for easy cleaning.

The glass beads in this weighted blanket are supplemented with fiberfill, creating a soft and puffy feel and reducing the potential noise of glass beads bouncing about. The cotton cover is designed to be stain-resistant.

More sleep recommendations from BETTER

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How to sell gift cards for cash safely online

87 0 28 Jan 2020

Sure, it’s the thought that counts. But sometimes you get a gift card you really don’t want or can’t use.

Maybe you don’t eat at that restaurant. Maybe there’s no store nearby. Maybe there’s not enough value on the card and you would need to spend your own money to buy something.

Unless you can regift it, chances are you’ll toss that card in a drawer or put it in your wallet, and hope you’ll find a way to use it someday. But will you?

About 6 percent of all gift cards are never used, according to Anduro Marketing. If you haven’t used the card within 180 days, chances are you won’t, according to the Paytronix Annual Gift Card Sales Report 2019.

Rather than losing money, why not sell the card? You won’t get full value for it, but it’s better than losing the card or forgetting to use it. That’s a 100 percent loss.

“I’d rather see people spend their gift cards, redeem them, and get the full value, but I really like the fact that there’s a backup plan if you can’t do that — sell them,” said Shelley Hunter, Gift Card Girlfriend at GiftCards.com.

Where to sell your unwanted gift cards

The market has greatly consolidated in the last year. Most gift card websites now focus on selling cards at a discount or buying in bulk.

The two main sites that still buy unwanted gift cards from individuals are Raise and Cardpool — and they have very different business models. Cardpool buys cards directly from consumers. Raise let’s you list the cards you want to sell on their marketplace.

Cardpool

Founded in 2009, Cardpool buys physical and e-gift cards from about 250 major retailers, including clothing and department stores, movie theatres, jewelry and electronics stores, restaurants, pet and auto parts stores, and supermarkets.

“What we pay really depends on the popularity of the brand and what we can sell it for after we purchase it,” said David Jones, Cardpool’s CEO. “For a card that’s really in high demand, like iTunes, Walmart and Target, we would pay as much as 92 percent of the value, whereas for less popular cards there may be a discount of 20 to 30 percent.”

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The process is simple and quick. Just enter the brand, card code and balance. Once that information is verified, Cardpool will make you an offer. In most cases, you won’t need to send the physical card.

There are two payment options: Amazon eGift card or a check in the mail. You’ll get 6 percent more if you choose the Amazon e-gift card. For example, we went to the Cardpool site to get an instant quote on selling a $100 Nordstrom gift card. Cardpool offered $70 via check and $74.20 via Amazon eGift card.

In the next few months, the company plans to offer a few other payment options, such as Venmo, PayPal and Western Union.

Cardpool CEO Jones pointed out that the company recevied some bad reviews last year. The site now has new management, he noted.

“For anyone who had a bad experience, I want them to know that those customer service issues have been fixed,” Jones told NBC News BETTER.

Raise

Raise is a marketplace for selling gift cards. It accepts listings for thousands of major brands for free. You get to set the price.

If the card sells, Raise collects the money from the buyer, deducts a 15 percent fee and forwards the balance via check, PayPal Funds or ACH direct deposit.

Since Raise acts as the middleman in the transaction, neither the seller nor the buyer should worry about fraud. “We have 3 million customers, so we’re able to drive traffic and move cards really quickly,” said CEO Jay Klauminzer.

How much of a discount do you need to offer to get that card to sell? Raise can help you with that.

“We have hundreds of thousands of cards listed, so we’ve got enough data over time, that we can really tell a person what they’re going to need to sell it at,” Klauminzer explained.

For popular cards, such as Costco, Target or Walmart, you can offer a very small discount, between 1 and 2 percent, and it will sell, Klauminzer told NBC News BETTER.

Kobe Bryant died an inspiration to many — but not all. And we cant ignore why.

40 0 28 Jan 2020

The world was shocked last weekend to learn that basketball superstar Kobe Bryant, along with his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven other people, had died in a helicopter crash on Sunday afternoon. The public mourning was immediate and intense. But as the surprise nature of the 41-year-old star’s untimely death began to wear off — or at least began to slightly fade — the enormity of what had happened started to sink in. Kobe Bryant — Kobe Bryant! — was gone. There was sadness and remembrance and everything else that comes with the sudden loss of a celebrity figure. But one thing we don’t seem ready for, at least not yet, is an actual accounting of the complicated public figure Kobe Bryant really was.

One thing we don’t seem ready for, at least not yet, is an actual accounting of the complicated public figure Kobe Bryant really was.

Specifically, the sexual assault case against Bryant nearly 20 years ago, in which he was accused of raping a hotel employee in Eagle, Colorado. As the world grieved, many, frankly, were just not willing to talk about it. When Washington Post reporter Felicia Sonmez tweeted a link to a story about the case, she was widely attacked and, later, absurdly suspended by The Post for a possible violation of its social media policies. (This was particularly loathsome because Sonmez had previously faced backlash after reporting that she had been assaulted by a fellow journalist.)

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The reaction to Sonmez’s tweet was an extreme example, but it’s probably safe to say anyone who has brought up this part of Kobe’s legacy in any way, shape or form has faced some sort of backlash this week. I, myself, got considerable blowback simply for mentioning the case, in two sentences of a larger obit, for New York magazine. People do not want to hear it.

On the one hand, this is understandable. Bryant’s death was unnerving, and he meant so much to so many people, both inside the world of basketball and outside of it. There is something that can feel crass and cruel about mentioning the worst moment of someone’s life, something that happened nearly two decades ago, once that life has ended. In Bryant’s case, the weekend’s tragedy was compounded by his family’s incredible loss: not only of Bryant, but of Bryant’s teenage daughter.

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But there are important reasons to talk about Bryant’s legacy — as complicated as it was. Not just because the sexual assault accusation, and the ramifications of it, highlight how far we’ve come (or haven’t come) since 2003. It’s relevant to Bryant’s positive impact, as well. In many ways, his life and career can actually be divided right down the middle: before the incident and after it.

In many ways, his life and career can be divided down the middle: before the incident and after it.

Before the victim filed her accusation with police in 2003, Kobe Bryant was considered by some the golden boy of the NBA, often to a fault. His Lakers had won three consecutive championships, thanks in large part to Bryant’s sometimes-uneasy partnership with Shaquille O’Neal. Bryant was only 24 and seemingly well on his way to surpassing the number of NBA titles won by his idol, Michael Jordan. Bryant was incredible but seen almost as too safe, too cautious. He desperately wanted to be Jordan, and everyone knew it. He released a rap album that was widely panned for being too radio-friendly and generic. Even his home life was seen as square; he proposed to girlfriend Vanessa Laine while she was still in high school — sans prenuptial agreement, which Bryant reportedly rejected because “he loved her too much” — and his parents were so upset that they skipped the wedding. (Bryant also missed the 2000 Olympics for the ceremony.)

Bryant was an endorsement superstar but still in the Jordan mode: McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, freshly scrubbed Nike ads. He was famous and popular but arguably not yet truly beloved.

Kobe Bryant talks with Michael Jordan during the 2003 NBA All-Star Game in Atlanta.Andrew D. Bernstein / NBAE via Getty Images file

Then came the allegation. Bryant’s life, at first, seemed to implode. The golden boy fell out of favor. Endorsers dropped him en masse (save for Nike, which simply put a pause on his shoe line); cable networks covered the case obsessively; he didn’t play for the Olympic team in 2004. Longtime whispers about his self-indulgence and arrogance inside the Lakers organization became shouts; Phil Jackson famously called him “uncoachable” in his autobiography.

Bryant denied the assault accusation. The charges were ultimately dropped because his accuser refused to testify — one has to think in large part because of what Bryant’s lawyers did to her, including claiming she’d had multiple sexual partners the night of the attack and calling her desperate for publicity because she’d once auditioned for “American Idol.” After the charges were dropped, Bryant released this statement: “I want to apologize to her for my behavior that night and for the consequences she has suffered in the past year. Although this year has been incredibly difficult for me personally, I can only imagine the pain she has had to endure.”

Next, Bryant’s PR firm and sponsors began working overtime to reconstruct his reputation. And a large part of that effort, as it turned out, was up to his wife, Vanessa. She had just given birth to their first child and made several public appearances with Bryant to show her support for him, including a famous news conference at Staples Center. (She also released her own statement.) Vanessa Bryant became a public figure in her own right: the wronged wife, the supportive partner, the beleaguered but dedicated mother. Although she filed for divorce in 2011 — anonymous sources cited infidelity — they reconciled.

Bryant also eventually settled a civil case with his accuser, for a reported $2.5 million. His sponsors returned, and he returned to the limelight and his stardom. But it was different. And he was different. He seemed to embrace a certain amount of villainy among opposing fan bases that he had resisted before. Less eager to be an all-things-to-all-people star, Bryant adopted his “Black Mamba” persona, a single-minded basketball assassin determined to destroy you at all costs. He also won his first MVP award, led the Lakers to two championships without his old partner/nemesis, O’Neal, and established himself as the face of the NBA’s signature franchise — one that left O’Neal in the dust and looms over LeBron James to this day.

But there was more evolution in store for this superstar. As Bryant’s career began to wind down, he seemed to become more thoughtful off the court.

But there was more evolution in store. As Bryant’s career began to wind down, he seemed to become more thoughtful off the court, in ways that would have seemed impossible earlier in his career. Fined by the NBA after having used a homophobic slur during a game, he didn’t respond by doubling down; instead, he changed his behavior, worked on educating others and was ultimately part of the league’s pro-LGBTQ You Can Play project.

Bryant also became more politically active, including going after President Donald Trump. As his daughters grew older, he became a champion for the WNBA and a coach of his daughter’s team (named after himself, of course).

This evolution didn’t somehow cancel out the rape allegation, and for all his maturing, Bryant never did do right by his victim. His continued popularity (and his unwillingness to talk about the case) was seen by some as a sign that, even in the era of #MeToo and Times Up, fans will still forgive their favorite athletes if they are scoring baskets for them (and the abuse isn’t caught on camera).

It’s hard to know whether that last argument is true. But it’s clear that you cannot talk about Kobe Bryant’s life, his career or his legacy without talking about all of it. Ignoring the allegation, or pretending that it shouldn’t be spoken about when discussing his life and his death, doesn’t just do a disservice to the victim and other victims and their advocates; it arguably eradicates the pivotal event of Bryant’s life and career. Kobe Bryant died an inspirational figure to many — but certainly not to all. It’s not rude or uncouth — or worthy of death threats or suspensions — to talk about why.

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The first vote of 2020 ends Tuesday, in Texas

40 0 28 Jan 2020

WASHINGTON — Voters in Texas will vote in a closely-watched special election for a state house seat on Tuesday, offering an early glimpse into just how competitive delegate-rich Texas might be in the 2020 presidential election — and foreshadowing which way critical suburban voters might trend in November.

Democrat Eliz Markowitz, an education specialist, faces Republican Gary Gates, a self-funded businessman, in Tuesday’s runoff to replace Rep. John Zerwas, a moderate Republican who stepped down to take a university job. Markowitz, the only Democrat in the race, won 39.1 percent of the vote in the November 2019 general election. Gates received 28.4 percent, while the other three Republicans in the race split the remainder of the vote.

The legislative stakes of Tuesday’s election in House District 28, a rapidly-diversifying suburb of Houston, are relatively low. Whoever wins likely will not even cast a single vote before they have to face re-election in November, as the Legislature does not meet this year. And even if Markowitz wins, Texas Republicans would still control the House by eight seats.

But Democrats are itching to demonstrate on Tuesday that Texas is a competitive state that will be up for grabs in 2020. Texas has 38 votes in the Electoral College; only California has more, with 55. Many say that the district, which is part of the ethnically diverse Fort Bend County, is representative of the demographic changes happening in suburbs around the Lone Star state — trends that could shift electoral results in Democrats’ favor.

“Fort Bend County is representative of what is happening in Texas writ large. There are a lot of immigrants,” said Brendan Steinhauser, a Texas-based Republican strategist who ran GOP Sen. John Cornyn’s 2014 campaign. “Republicans want to hold this and need to hold this to say: ‘Look, we can stem the tide of the Blue Wave that everyone is talking about.’”

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House District 28 has long been considered reliably Republican, voting for President Donald Trump by 10 percentage points in 2016 and backing Republican Sen. Ted Cruz over Democratic challenger Rep. Beto O’Rourke by 3 points in the 2018 U.S. Senate race.

“The fundamentals in the district right now favor the Republicans,” said Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas, Austin.

But the greater Fort Bend area tells a different story: Hillary Clinton won the county in 2016 by almost 7 percentage points, and O’Rourke beat Cruz in 2018 by 12 points. Texas Democrats point to census data suggesting an electorate more diverse than ever before — residents of Fort Bend County are now roughly 32 percent white, 25 percent Latino, 21 percent Asian and 20 percent African American — to suggest the rest of the county will soon be trending blue, too.

“The question about a district like this is, how are the changes of the composition of the electorate changing what our expectations should be,” said Henson.

Democrats have poured resources into the race, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in support of Markowitz. Forward Majority, a Democratic super PAC focused on flipping state houses, says it alone spent $400,000 on the race, including airing an ad that resurfaces allegations from 2000 that Gates abused his children. Child Protective Services ultimately dropped the case against him.

Even Democratic presidential candidates, otherwise preoccupied with their own primary race, have chimed in.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, have all endorsed Markowitz. Former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro, a native of San Antonio and a former 2020 candidate, has campaigned for her in the district. And O’Rourke, fresh off his failed presidential bid, has spent days at a time in the district, energizing the Democratic base and personally going door to door urging people turn out for Markowitz.

But despite the Democratic hype around the contest, early voting results from last week did not look good for the party. By Monday, many were were quietly throwing cold water on the idea that Tuesday’s outcome served as a bellwether for 2020, downplaying expectations.

“This isn’t easy terrain for us in the first place,” said Abhi Rahman, a spokesperson for the Texas Democratic Party. “The fact that it’s so close is a win for us already….the fact that Republicans had to spend here already shows how diverse and changing Texas is.”

Texas Democrats gained 12 seats in the State House in 2018 and need to flip only nine more seats in order to gain control of the chamber and take the majority. With redistricting just around the corner in 2021, control of the Texas House is paramount to both parties. Texas is expected to gain multiple U.S. House seats in addition to the 36 it already holds due to its population growth.

“They’re all worried about redistricting. We have to hold the House,” said Steinhauser, who said he has heard from members of Congress concerned that Democrats could take the Texas House, giving them the ability to redraw congressional district to be more competitive.

“That’s first and foremost on their minds: am I going to lose my seat?” Steinhauser continued. “The donors are talking about it. The state party leadership are talking about it. The county parties are talking about it. The candidates are talking about it. It’s on the front of their minds, in some ways more than congressional races.”

Coronavirus death toll spikes in China as U.S. plans to evacuate citizens from epicenter

33 0 28 Jan 2020

The number of people known to have died from the new coronavirus in China jumped over 24 hours as U.S. officials prepared to evacuate Americans from the locked-down epicenter of the epidemic.

On Tuesday, the death toll stood at 106 — up from 80 a day earlier — according to officials at China’s National Health Commission.

The number of cases has also spiked to 4,515 — up from 2,744 on Monday — of which 976 are considered severe.

As Wuhan, the city of 11 million people where the outbreak is believed to have originated, remained on lockdown to contain the virus, the State Department said it was sending a chartered flight to take back U.S. government personnel stationed in the city.

A State Department official told NBC News that as space is available on the plane, seats will also be offered to some private U.S. citizens, with priority being given to those who are most at risk of contracting the virus if they remain in Wuhan.

The plane, bound for Ontario, California, is expected to leave Wuhan on Wednesday morning local time.

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Officials in Alaska said the plane will also stop in Anchorage to refuel.

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services said in a statement that everyone on board will be screened by Chinese and U.S. officials before leaving Wuhan, and no one with symptoms will be allowed to board. The passengers will also be re-screened once in Anchorage, the agency said.

On Tuesday, South Korea and Japan also said they will be sending charter flights to Wuhan to move their citizens out of the city. About 700 South Korean nationals are expected to be evacuated later this week. Japanese officials said they will send their first charter plane to Wuhan Tuesday night.

A number of other nations, including France, Australia and Spain, were also said to have been looking into moving their citizens out of Wuhan.

However, the World Health Organization (WHO) said it did not advocate the evacuation of foreign citizens currently in China, the country’s state news agency Xinhua reported Tuesday.

The WHO officials thanked the Chinese government for the “decisive measures” taken to stop the virus, adding that there was “no need to overreact,” according to Xinhua. The WHO said last week the virus was not yet a global health emergency.

Since the outbreak began, China has enforced strict transport restrictions and put more than a dozen cities, inhabited by millions of people, on lockdown.

U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted Monday that the U.S. is in very close communication with China concerning the virus.

“Very few cases reported in the U.S., but strongly on watch. We have offered China and President Xi Jinping any help that is necessary,” the president added.

Security personnel wearing protective clothing to help stop the spread of a deadly SARS-like virus at the entrance of subway station in Beijing on Jan. 28, 2020.Noel Celis / AFP – Getty Images

The virus has now spread to four continents with new cases emerging outside China every day, including in the U.S. where five cases have been confirmed so far.

Thailand announced plans Tuesday to screen all arrivals from China for symptoms of the coronavirus and confirmed six more infections among such visitors, taking its tally to 14, Reuters reported.

Germany also became the second country in Europe to confirm a case of the coronavirus on Monday.

Abigail Williams and Arata Yamamoto contributed.

Looming Mideast peace deal amounts to Netanyahu-Trump pact, experts say

23 0 28 Jan 2020

Thank you.

That’s what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said to President Donald Trump when the leaders met ahead of Tuesday’s unveiling of the U.S.’s long-delayed Mideast peace plan.

“Thank you for everything you’ve done for Israel,” Netanyahu told the president at the White House on Monday, according to a statement released by his media adviser.

The Israeli prime minister expected to have good reason to be grateful for the so-called “deal of the century” slated for release later on Tuesday.

Yossi Mekelberg, a professor of international relations at Regent’s University in London, said the agreement that Trump has touted as the “ultimate deal” amounts to a two-way pact between Trump and Netanyahu.

“The Palestinians were not consulted. It’s a dictate of take it or leave it,” he said.

“Popes used to give indulgences to forgive sinners until they got to purgatory. Now Trump is absolving Israel for occupation,” Mekelberg added, addressing widespread speculation that Washington will give Israel the green light to annex parts of the occupied West Bank that it captured from Jordan during the 1967 Six-Day War.

More than half a century later, the West Bank is home to almost 3 million Palestinians, as well as more than 400,000 Israelis, and is territory that Palestinians hope will form a significant part of their future state.

Details of the plan are due to be released Tuesday and analysts assess that it will not bode well for Palestinians, who have refused to meet with the Trump team since the president announced in December 2017 that the U.S. would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Both Israelis and Palestinians claim the city as their capital.

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For Mekelberg, and other analysts, the so-called “deal of the century” should be understood as two friends lending each other a hand at a sensitive time in their political careers.

Trump is currently embroiled in impeachment proceedings, in November Netanyahu was indicted on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust; both leaders are campaigning for looming elections that will decide their political fate.

“Trump and Netanyahu care more about electoral politics at home and less about real peace with the Palestinians,” said Fawaz Gerges, a professor of international relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

“It resembles a colonial arrangement of a bygone era,” he added, comparing the impending deal to past secret agreements that divided parts of the Middle East among European powers, and promised the Jewish community a home in historic Palestine.

“Palestinians are denied agency, representation and rights,” he said.

Michael Stephens, a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, a London-based think tank, said Palestinians “can’t and won’t” accept the plan set to be unveiled in the White House.

Even before the details were released, protests rejecting it were already in full swing in Gaza and Palestinians had called for a “Day of Rage” Wednesday in the West Bank.

“The deal of the century, which is not based on international legality and law, gives Israel everything it wants at the expense of the national rights of the Palestinian people,” Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said opening the Palestinian Authority’s weekly cabinet meeting in Ramallah on Sunday.

Palestinians burn a poster showing President Donald Trump as they protest the American peace plan in Bethlehem on Monday. Mahmoud Illean / AP

Palestinian leaders have consistently dismissed the U.S. as biased toward Israel and emphatically rejected the economic half of the Trump administration’s plan that was published on June 22.

Opposition to the expected deal came from another end of the political spectrum, too.

A delegation of the Yesha Council, an umbrella group of Israeli municipal authorities in the occupied West Bank, that has traveled to Washington for the plan’s unveiling said Tuesday that it was “very disturbed.”

“We cannot agree to a plan that would include the establishment of a Palestinian state that would pose a threat to the State of Israel,” said David Alhaini, the group’s chairman.

Since becoming president, Trump has endorsed Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights from Syria, moved the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and closed the Palestinian diplomatic office in Washington.

In November, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reversed decades of U.S. policy when he announced that the United States no longer viewed Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank as necessarily violating international law.

If the deal includes annexation of large parts of the West Bank, as many suspect, it would “seal the fate of the two-state solution” said Mekelberg, referring to a plan to establish a separate Palestinian state.

“The West Bank would no longer be a viable Palestinian state and at best could become some autonomous region,” he added.

Netanyahu’s chief political rival, Benny Gantz, also flew to Washington this weekend to meet with Trump and welcomed the peace plan as a “significant and historic milestone.”

The Biggest Loser is back on TV. Get ready for ramped-up fat-shaming and dangerous diets.

36 0 28 Jan 2020

There was a time in the mid-2000s when I was a huge fan of “The Biggest Loser” (no pun intended), a weight loss competition show that aired on NBC for 17 seasons from 2004 to 2016. I wasn’t alone: Throughout its run, the show, which featured teams competing to lose the largest percentage of their original weight under the guidance of a seemingly sadistic personal trainer, brought in 5 million to 10 million viewers an episode.

When I was watching the show, I was unsurprisingly as consumed with losing weight as the contestants were: I did everything you saw on the show, from keeping a meticulous food and exercise journal to counting Weight Watchers points to obsessively weighing myself throughout the day. I also hid diet pills in my sock drawer, I went on “cleanses,” and I misused laxatives to prevent myself from absorbing calories properly. Some days, I wouldn’t eat at all — eventually collapsing into bed lightheaded and deeply proud of myself.

And the whole time, I’d be watching “The Biggest Loser” for the sweet validation that everything I was doing to my body — much of which was dangerous — was for my own good. I, like so many others, believed that my weight “problem” was about my weakness, my lack of self-control, my failure.

I eventually let go of my obsession with becoming thin, and NBC seemingly let go of “The Biggest Loser” when it faded out without ceremony after its final season in February 2016. But now NBCUniversal (the parent company of NBC News) has revived the show on the USA Network this month as “a new holistic, 360-degree look at wellness.”

Perhaps NBCUniversal executives hope that we’ve all forgotten that the show’s “weight loss program” doesn’t work in the long term: The majority of contestants gain the weight back and ruin their metabolisms. Or maybe the executives who approved its return to our airwaves think we don’t care about the litany of former contestants’ testimonies detailing the verbal abuse, eating disorders, mental illness and drug abuse that they experience on or after the show.

Ryan C. Benson, the show’s first winner, warned about the dangerous fasting and dehydration he experienced while on the show, “to the point that he was urinating blood.” Season Two’s Lezlye Mendonca reported that contestants would use “amphetamines, water pills, diuretics, and throw up in the bathroom.” Former trainer Jillian Michaels — who most recently made headlines for concern-trolling Lizzo — admitted that she gave her team caffeine pills to give them “more energy” to exercise. (Michaels, who was among the worst offenders among the trainers, seemingly took particular joy in berating the contestants, saying things like “it’s fun watching other people suffer like that” — a quote NBC thought was so great that it put it in that season’s promo.)

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Joelle Gwynn from the 2008 “Couples” season reported that the show’s doctor gave her “yellow and black pills” — which, according to the New York Post, she later found out were most likely ephedra, a weight loss supplement banned by the Food and Drug Administration in 2004 after it killed over 150 people — to help her lose weight (he denied it) and that trainer Bob Harper (the host of the USA Network reboot) encouraged contestants to consume fewer calories than the doctors deemed safe and that he even supported vomiting.

One of the most outspoken former contestants has been Kai Hibbard, the second-place winner on the third season, in 2006. A year after her season ended, she would become one of the show’s biggest critics, eventually calling her participation “the biggest mistake of my life.”

I spoke with Hibbard, who is now a social worker and activist and the author of “Losing It: A Fictional Reimagining of My Time on Weight Loss Reality TV.” She said, “I had hoped with all the studies, all the other contestants who have spoken out — I thought it was enough to kill” the show.

“When I joined the show, I was like most other people: I was spoon-fed this myth my entire life that being thin meant you were healthier,” Hibbard added. “Then I went through the whole process of the show and discovered the techniques they gave me to be thinner. I realized how sick, how physically ill they made me. That connection between thin and healthy was broken for me.”

Hibbard said people still feel entitled to comment about her body, particularly because she’s remained straight size because of a battle with lupus. “When people praise me for my body now, it’s a reminder of how much size is not related to health, because right now I’m the sickest I’ve ever been,” she said.

Dr. Lindo Bacon, author of “Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight,” told me: “The misinformation that the show gives about dieting is abhorrent. We know these tactics aren’t successful to lose weight that will be maintained in the long term. All it is doing is helping people feel bad.”

Unlike dieting, the negativity the show encourages about fat people does work. A 2012 study found that watching just one episode of “The Biggest Loser” exacerbated people’s dislike of fat people and heightened viewers’ belief that weight is controllable. Another study in 2013 also found that watching the show reinforced beliefs that weight gain is entirely in one’s individual control — thus the idea that fat people are to blame for not taking personal responsibility for their health.

“It’s a myth that we have any data to support losing weight is going to be helpful,” Bacon said.

Another 2013 study reviewed the literature on how dieting affects health indicators like cholesterol, blood pressure and blood glucose levels — pretty much every area of concern that trolls purport to be so worried about when criticizing fat people. It showed that across all studies, virtually nothing improved with weight loss. The authors were unequivocal: “Weight, as we reviewed here, turns out to be an inadequate proxy for health outcomes.”

While there’s no proof that losing weight does anything for a fat person’s health, we have plenty of evidence that anti-fat bias and weight discrimination — compounded by shows like “The Biggest Loser” — contribute to fat people being paid less, facing a higher risk for suicide and depression and receiving terrible medical care.

If people like former trainer Jillian Michaels really care so much about fat people’s health and well-being, perhaps they should start by attacking anti-fat bias, rather than attacking fat people.

As a fat person, you’re bombarded with messages that you are something to be fixed, rather than someone to be loved and accepted. “These outside messages are telling you that you would be treated better if you changed yourself,” Bacon said. “No matter how much we hear this, the problem is not you. It’s our culture.”

In the new trailer, a contestant says: “I’m hoping to gain confidence. I’m hoping to gain self-love.” Those words broke my heart, because I know exactly how he feels. Diet culture and shows like “The Biggest Loser” thrive on the lie that fat people are unhappy, unhealthy and unmotivated; there is no space in “The Biggest Loser” for a happy fat person. But we don’t have to live like that.

Despite everything she’s been through, Hibbard is optimistic. “When I went on the show, I wanted to change myself to fit into a society that told me I was wrong. At this point in my life, I want to change society,” she said.

I’m hopeful, too, because now, for every executive who greenlights a show like ” The Biggest Loser,” there are people like Hibbard, Bacon and me insisting that fat people are worth more than just a number on a scale.

Get a gift card you dont want? Heres how to sell it for cash

40 0 28 Jan 2020

Sure, it’s the thought that counts. But sometimes you get a gift card you really don’t want or can’t use.

Maybe you don’t eat at that restaurant. Maybe there’s no store nearby. Maybe there’s not enough value on the card and you would need to spend your own money to buy something.

Unless you can regift it, chances are you’ll toss that card in a drawer or put it in your wallet, and hope you’ll find a way to use it someday. But will you?

About 6 percent of all gift cards are never used, according to Anduro Marketing. If you haven’t used the card within 180 days, chances are you won’t, according to the Paytronix Annual Gift Card Sales Report 2019.

Rather than losing money, why not sell the card? You won’t get full value for it, but it’s better than losing the card or forgetting to use it. That’s a 100 percent loss.

“I’d rather see people spend their gift cards, redeem them, and get the full value, but I really like the fact that there’s a backup plan if you can’t do that — sell them,” said Shelley Hunter, Gift Card Girlfriend at GiftCards.com.

Where to sell your unwanted gift cards

The market has greatly consolidated in the last year. Most gift card websites now focus on selling cards at a discount or buying in bulk.

The two main sites that still buy unwanted gift cards from individuals are Raise and Cardpool — and they have very different business models. Cardpool buys cards directly from consumers. Raise let’s you list the cards you want to sell on their marketplace.

Cardpool

Founded in 2009, Cardpool buys physical and e-gift cards from about 250 major retailers, including clothing and department stores, movie theatres, jewelry and electronics stores, restaurants, pet and auto parts stores, and supermarkets.

“What we pay really depends on the popularity of the brand and what we can sell it for after we purchase it,” said David Jones, Cardpool’s CEO. “For a card that’s really in high demand, like iTunes, Walmart and Target, we would pay as much as 92 percent of the value, whereas for less popular cards there may be a discount of 20 to 30 percent.”

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The process is simple and quick. Just enter the brand, card code and balance. Once that information is verified, Cardpool will make you an offer. In most cases, you won’t need to send the physical card.

There are two payment options: Amazon eGift card or a check in the mail. You’ll get 6 percent more if you choose the Amazon e-gift card. For example, we went to the Cardpool site to get an instant quote on selling a $100 Nordstrom gift card. Cardpool offered $70 via check and $74.20 via Amazon eGift card.

In the next few months, the company plans to offer a few other payment options, such as Venmo, PayPal and Western Union.

Cardpool CEO Jones pointed out that the company recevied some bad reviews last year. The site now has new management, he noted.

“For anyone who had a bad experience, I want them to know that those customer service issues have been fixed,” Jones told NBC News BETTER.

Raise

Raise is a marketplace for selling gift cards. It accepts listings for thousands of major brands for free. You get to set the price.

If the card sells, Raise collects the money from the buyer, deducts a 15 percent fee and forwards the balance via check, PayPal Funds or ACH direct deposit.

Since Raise acts as the middleman in the transaction, neither the seller nor the buyer should worry about fraud. “We have 3 million customers, so we’re able to drive traffic and move cards really quickly,” said CEO Jay Klauminzer.

How much of a discount do you need to offer to get that card to sell? Raise can help you with that.

“We have hundreds of thousands of cards listed, so we’ve got enough data over time, that we can really tell a person what they’re going to need to sell it at,” Klauminzer explained.

For popular cards, such as Costco, Target or Walmart, you can offer a very small discount, between 1 and 2 percent, and it will sell, Klauminzer told NBC News BETTER.

Women win: Warren takes on gender in final stretch before Iowa caucuses

29 0 28 Jan 2020

DES MOINES, Iowa — Gender has loomed over the presidential candidacy of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., from the beginning. It’s in her comedic retelling of moments when she’s been told to “smile more,” called “angry” by a 2020 opponent and faced questions from voters who wonder whether she can beat President Donald Trump.

At times, she’s dealt with it all by tilting toward feminism, giving speeches focused on women throughout history who have effected change in government from the outside in. At other moments, she’s glossed over questions that have long plagued women in politics.

Now, less than a week before the Iowa caucuses — and amid an unsteady standing in the polls — she’s leaning in to the discussion.

“I just want to be clear: Women win!” she declared Sunday night to cheers in Cedar Rapids.

No one had asked about gender directly — at least not yet. Warren explained that she was speaking directly to a question that’s otherwise “hidden.”

That may have been true earlier in the campaign, when concerned but hopeful voters would ask broadly about her ability to defeat Trump. But since last month’s dust-up with Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., over questions about whether the nation is ready to elect a woman as president, the questions — and now the answers — are getting more explicit.

“People ask in different ways,” Warren said when asked by NBC News about her new closing pitch Sunday night. “They ask about it. I’m glad to talk about it right up front.”

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And the new riffs directly take on the electability argument, presenting her gender as an asset against Trump.

In the past, Warren has used feminism and gender as vessels for her campaign message, delivering keynote speeches centered on women breaking barriers throughout history — rarely on the barriers Warren herself has broken.

In September, in front of a crowd of more than 20,000 in Washington Square Park in New York, Warren centered a distinctly feminist speech on the women of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911, one of the deadliest industrial accidents in U.S. history. The message was evident, down to her podium: built by female woodworkers with wood from the homestead of Frances Perkins, a leader of the women’s rights and labor rights movements and a hero to Warren.

To her, skepticism from women about women candidates speaks to Democrats’ ultimate goal.

“The No. 1 thing is we want to get rid of Donald Trump,” Warren said Sunday. “And I think that’s what holds some people back. They say, ‘Wait a minute, who’s going to have the best chance?’ So it’s not who I think is going to make the best president.

“We just have to say we know what’s right and get in there and fight for it. And that is how we win,” she said.

Perhaps more than calling out the specter of 2016 — newly awakened after she said Sanders, a fellow progressive, told her in 2018 that he didn’t think a woman could beat Trump — Warren is now laying out a case using her experience winning a tough 2012 Senate race against a GOP incumbent and data from around the country in the Trump era.

“Guys, we just have to face this: Women candidates have been outperforming men candidates in competitive elections” in the post-2016 era, she said. “We took back the House, we took back statehouses around this country because women ran for office and women showed up to make those elections winnable. So I say all that just to level the playing field a little bit, right?”

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Later Sunday during drinks, Warren urged some of her Iowa organizing staff to give voters “a little data about how women are doing” to bolster her pitch for electability. Asked what message she wants organizers and volunteers to deliver as they knock on doors, Warren responded: “This woman is our best chance to win, and there’s a whole lot of reasons that that’s so.”

The nebulous question of “electability” has ruled the Democratic primary contest, and white male candidates have tended to win the assumption battle that they are best positioned to beat Trump, even though surveys show several of the top-polling Democrats doing comparably well against Trump head to head.

Meanwhile, voters — like Torina Hill of Muscatine — said they’re “ready for a woman president.”

“I’m tired of the old white guys making all of the rules,” Hill said in an interview.

Hill may be in the majority of Democratic women, but that might not be enough to help Warren build a coalition of women. Studies indicate that Democratic women are much more likely to prioritize a female candidate but also believe that their neighbors may be less accepting. They aren’t the only ones.

As Warren wrapped up one final town hall in Cedar Rapids before succumbing to the siren call of more days of impeachment hearings, a white man with graying hair walked up to the microphone to ask a question: “How do you convince white men — who aren’t as smart as me — how do you convince those white men over 50 that Elizabeth Warren’s the candidate?”

Super Bowl TV deals: sound, tech and other gear for your watch party

32 0 28 Jan 2020

The 2020 Super Bowl is going to be memorable for several reasons. Top among them, of course, will ultimately be the untimely and tragic passing of one of America’s — and the world’s — most iconic and influential athletes, Kobe Bryant. On a somewhat lighter note are some other significant firsts that will also make this Super Bowl unique: the Kansas City Chiefs are going to take on the San Francisco 49ers in their first Super Bowl appearance since 1970. Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and President Donald Trump each plan to spend $10 million in advertisements during the game. And Katie Sowers, an offensive assistant coach with the San Francisco 49ers, will make NFL history as the first openly gay and female assistant coach.

If the watch party’s at your house, people will be coming over to watch the big game (or escape it and tuck in for a movie or binge night). You can make the soiree as stress-free as possible in a few ways.

  • Make a plan. determine who’s coming in advance and choose a format for the get-together.
  • Keep things simple. Taco bars, tried-and-true recipes and an easy drinks layout can really reduce the guesswork.
  • Organize and prep accordingly. Don’t wait until the morning of the party, write everything down and delegate as much as possible.

And if you’re already the regular center point of watch parties and hangouts or are going to make hosting at your home a frequent occasion, you might want to invest in living room and kitchen products that will help everything run smoothly and keep everyone happy. To help you determine what you might want to upgrade, we broke things down into three party-prepping steps: TVs and other tech, kitchenware and cookware and (delicious) food and drinks.

  1. Best TVs fit for entertaining

  2. Best sound bars to amplify a party
  3. Best smart home devices to ease party planning pressures
  4. Best kitchen devices and cookware for parties

  5. Drinks and snacks delivery services for (even more) delicious get togethers

Best TVs fit for entertaining

Time it right and you can save big on that TV you’ve been eyeing. According to retail and consumer research outlet DealNews, November’s Black Friday is the “absolute best time” to buy a new TV and March is the second best month for purchasing one as newer models roll out — and that there are “always TV deals.” Though the Super Bowl isn’t traditionally the best time for TV deals, there are a couple great sales out there right now if you want to upgrade yours — and the coming week will see lots of TV deals, according to DealNews.

1. Samsung 65-Inch 4K UHD 7 Series Smart TV with Alexa

If you’re buying a new TV, get one that has at least a 4K screen resolution, writes NBC News contributor Julie Loffredi. “Buy a 4K TV, otherwise known as an Ultra High Definition (UHD) TV. It offers four times the resolution of HD TV,” Loffredi recommends. “With eight million pixels, you have enough resolution to give you a picture worth watching on Super Bowl weekend.” For a limited time, you’ll find an array of Samsung’s QLED TVs on Amazon with deep discounts, too.

(QLED, short for Quantum LED, is a Samsung and Vizio TV panel technology that “increases the contrast and vividness of the image,” Loffredi explains.)

2. TCL 50S425 50 inch 4K Smart LED Roku TV

If you’re looking for a more affordable option, TCL’s Smart Roku TV — so named because you can manage all of your streaming content using built-in Roku apps — is on sale right now.

There are discounts on various sizes of the TV so you could potentially save on one no matter what space you’re looking to fill. Here’s an easy way to calculate the best TV screen size for you:

  1. Measure the amount of inches between you (or your couch) and your screen

  2. Divide that number by two

  3. The result is your optimal screen size

Through the rest of the week, you’ll find some larger TV sales from Toshiba, Sony, LG, Vizio and at retailers like Walmart, Best Buy and Newegg.

Best sound bars to amplify a party

If you want to upgrade more than your TV and are looking for an elevated home theater, you may want to consider a sound bar instead of relying on your existing (or new) TV’s built-in speakers.

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3. Sony HT-S350 Soundbar with Wireless Subwoofer

The wireless subwoofer can go anywhere in proximity of your TV and will fill out the sound in your space. Seven sound modes allow you to optimize for the type of audio you’re watching, from sports to the news and Bluetooth streaming will let you connect to it with your phone and stream anything you like.

You can use this sound bar set up just like the above Sony model. But you can also break off two truly wireless speakers at the end of the bar and place them anywhere to create a 5.1 home theater sound system.

This sound bar is outfitted with upward firing speakers — that is, some of them are positioned at an angle turned up — to better fill your space. Chromecast is built-in for streaming your content and will allow you to control the sound bar using your Google Assistant.

Best smart home devices to ease party planning pressures

6. August Smart Lock Pro with Connect Wi-Fi Bridge

Other smart home devices also make things a bit easier when you’re hosting. For instance, a smart lock like the highly-rated August Smart Lock Pro allows you to use your phone to lock and unlock your door for guests — without having to excuse yourself from the party or get off the couch. It also works with Amazon Alexa.

7. iRobot Roomba 675 Robot Vacuum

Honestly, cleaning up post-party is always a drag. Robot vacuums make things so much easier, so you don’t have to spend late night crawling on your kitchen floor wiping up crumbs. And this highly-rated and bestselling iRobot Roomba is Wi-Fi-enabled and works with smart assistants.

Best kitchen devices and cookware for parties

There are some kitchen appliances that can make your life so much easier when you’re on cooking duty, especially for larger groups.

8. Cosori 5.8 Quart Air Fryer

For one, you may want to invest in an air fryer, which America’s Test Kitchen executive tasting and testing editor Lisa McManus told BETTER is “fast, easy and convenient.” She’s such a fan of the air fryer that she owns several versions, and on a typical weeknight, she will cook her veggies in one and her meat or chicken in another.

9. 8-Qt Instant Pot IP-DUO80 Pressure Cooker

Pressure cooking in an Instant Pot slashes cooking time by 70 percent (when compared to a slow cooker), and many models allow you to saute in the pot, which saves on the amount of dishes, too. If you’re regularly on party-hosting duties, go for an 8- to 10-quart size.

10. Sweeze Porcelain Divided Serving Dishes

Save yourself the unnecessary task of putting out tons of bowls with this divided serving dish, which has four removable compartments and a middle one that’s perfect for dips. When one runs low, you can replenish the snack quickly, leaving the rest for everyone to munch on.

Drinks and snacks delivery services for (even more) delicious get togethers

Whether you run out of something day of or don’t have time to shop for any given party, delivery services can help smooth out some corners.

11. Drizly Wine Delivery Service

They’ll deliver beer, wine or liquor to you in under 60 minutes — that’ll save you from the last-minute booze run you may have to make — or a re-up during the party.

12. Open Kitchen by Williams Sonoma Hot Air Popcorn Maker

Set this popcorn maker up on your counter and let guests fill up their bowls with fresh air-popped popcorn at their leisure. A butter melting tray lets you season the snack as desired.

13. Amazon Fresh

The grocery delivery service allows you to pick a two-hour delivery window (in select locations) and they won’t charge you for that delivery if you spend $35 or more. Stock up on snacks, fresh veggies for dipping, and alcohol, too.

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