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iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- It wasn’t Richard Ashcroft or Jimmy Smits booking tables all around Chicago on New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day this year after all.

The tables were actually reserved by a former employee of restaurant reservation service OpenTable named Steven Addison, federal prosecutors allege.

But Addison, 30, didn’t dine at those restaurants, either. U.S. Attorneys said he made "more than 300 fraudulent reservations" on competitor site Reserve to show it had "a purportedly inferior reservation system," according to criminal information filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

He "made multiple fake reservations on potentially busy days when he knew restaurants would suffer more losses," according to the charging documents. "For example, Addison made 22 fake reservations on New Year’s Eve and 24 fake reservations on Valentine’s Day."

The U.S. Attorney’s Office charged the former enterprise operations specialist at OpenTable with one count of wire fraud for the fake reservations scheme and specified that he acted on his own and "did not personally profit from the scheme."

In addition to using fake names, Addison is alleged to have used made-up email addresses such as "billygala@hotmai.com" and fake phone numbers such as "199-999-99999," prosecutors said. The sham reservations are said to have claimed 1,200 seats.

Addison could not be reached for comment. His arraignment is scheduled for Tuesday; it is unclear whether he is represented by an attorney.

OpenTable CEO Christa Quarles apologized to any affected restaurant owners in a Mar. 5 blog post.

"We learned that a rogue OpenTable employee had made a few hundred false reservations at 45 Chicago restaurants using a competitor’s platform," she said in the statement. "We quickly investigated, confirmed this employee had acted alone and terminated the employee within 48 hours. The former employee was not in a sales function and had no managerial duties."

"On behalf of OpenTable, I extend our sincerest apologies to the restaurant community in Chicago and to Reserve for this disgraceful, unsanctioned behavior," Quarles continued, adding that the company would offer restaurants reimbursement for the no-shows.

Reserve CEO Greg Hong issued a statement saying, "When the FBI requested data that’s in our possession, we provided it. Otherwise, Reserve moved on from the matter many months ago so that we could focus on what’s most important to us: serving our restaurant partners the best we can.”

The owner of one of the affected restaurants, Tavern at the Park, Peter de Castro, Jr. told ABC News that he felt badly for Addison and found it hard to believe he acted alone. "I never expected federal charges, I feel sorry for him."

De Castro added that he believed he had been targeted by the rogue employee for switching to Reserve. He said he had been frustrated with what he called OpenTable’s high fees and aggressive sales tactics. His restaurant used to pay OpenTable more than $50,000 a year in fees with complicated structures, de Castro said, but now pays Reserve a set fee of $249 per month, or about $3,100 per year.

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Party City(NEW YORK) -- A Halloween costume poking fun at the devastating act of "ghosting" now exists.

The outfit, sold on PartyCity.com, lists a string of eager, unanswered text messages including question marks and "R U OK!?"

"Ghosting" is defined on Urban Dictionary as abruptly ceasing all communication with friends or someone you're dating, "with zero warning or notice before hand."

"This is done in hopes that the ghostee will just 'get the hint' and leave the subject alone, as opposed to the subject simply telling them he/she is no longer interested," according to Urban Dictionary's website.

The blue text bubbles begin with "See u tonight" and a kiss emoji ending with "Guess not!"

Twitter users quickly sounded off on the costume.

"LOL figured out what I'm gonna be for Halloween cause it's happened so many times to me," one woman wrote.

"I can’t believe they really have a costume of how it looks when you’re being curved #ghosted," tweeted another.

Troll all the boys who have ghosted you for $24.99. The costume is available on Party City's website.

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Halloween costume celebrates the ultimate form of rejection

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iStock/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) -- California has passed a law that will ban restaurants from automatically giving out plastic straws in an effort to help protect the environment, particularly the ocean and marine life.

“Plastic has helped advance innovation in our society, but our infatuation with single-use convenience has led to disastrous consequences,” Gov. Jerry Brown of California said in a statement upon signing the bill Thursday. “Ocean plastic is estimated to kill millions of marine animals every year."

The law, which will go into effect Jan. 1, applies only to full-service, dine-in restaurants, not fast-food establishments or other businesses. It sets a fine of $25 per day for restaurants that violate the rule, with the total not to exceed $300 annually.

The initiative is the first of its kind, officials said.

"California is the only state in the nation that has this type of law," Lerna Kayserian Shirinian, communications director for State Assembly Majority Leader Ian Calderon, told ABC News.

Roughly 835,425 straws were picked up from the state's shoreline between 1988 and 2014, according to a statement from Calderon's office. Many additional straws have been picked up inland or around California’s lakes and waterways, the statement said.

“By removing the default behavior of providing straws with every drink, consumers have an opportunity to make a deliberate, small change that will minimize the harmful impacts of single use plastic straws in the environment,” Calderon, who introduced the legislation, said in the statement. “It’s a small but significant step forward and will hopefully set the precedent for the rest of the nation to adopt similar policies that will ensure less plastic ends up harming the environment."

“By removing the default behavior of providing straws with every drink, consumers have an opportunity to make a deliberate, small change that will minimize the harmful impacts of single use plastic straws in the environment,” Calderon said in the statement. “It’s a small but significant step forward and will hopefully set the precedent for the rest of the nation to adopt similar policies that will ensure less plastic ends up harming the environment."

By 2022, the U.S. is projected to consume $600 million worth of single-use straws annually, according to market research Freedonia Group.

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Spencer Platt/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Apple's biggest and most expensive phones -- the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max -- went on sale on Friday, as some analysts wondered if the high prices will turn off customers.

The cheapest new Xs model starts at $999 for 64GB in memory. The phone that Apple refers to as "affordable," the iPhone XR, which starts at $749, doesn't go on sale until October.

Recently iPhone sales have stagnated, but increasing prices have made up the gap, resulting in record revenue for the company.

On Tuesday, Apple CEO Tim Cook defended the price of the new phones on "Good Morning America," saying, "Most people pay about $30 a month for an iPhone or $1 a day."

In Palo Alto on Friday, Cook showed up to greet shoppers at an Apple store. He's been known to drop in to stores during fall product launches.

"It's much more expensive," said Tuong H. Nguyen, a senior principal analyst at Gartner.

He said people may be thinking, "'I just dropped $1,000 last year. And this year's phone is not that interesting. Everything we have right now is awesome. Maybe the new iPhone is slightly more awesome, but it’s hard for me as a consumer to discern the difference. We’re well past the point of meeting our needs with these products.'"

"What does that mean to you as a consumer other than the trophy prestige brand value?" Nguyen said.

This year is an "S" year, meaning that Apple releases a new version of an existing phone, like the XS, rather than putting a new phone on the market.

Nguyen said that Apple always sees a bump in fourth quarter sales because that's when the company releases new products and increases its market share of the smart phone market. But "in the S years the bump is not quite as pronounced," he said.

The new Apple Watch Series 4 also goes on sale Friday. The smart watch will be the first to integrate an ability to detect when a wearer falls and to automatically call loved ones and emergency services if there's no user response to alerts after 50 seconds. It also comes with function able to take an electrocardiogram of the user and send the information to a doctor.

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iStock/Thinkstock(LONDON) -- More than 100 Uber Eats couriers blocked roads in London on Thursday to protest what they said is a significant cut in pay by the company.

The couriers, riding scooters and motorcycles, chanted "no money, no food" as they shut down traffic outside Uber Eats's London headquarters for the second day in a row.

The protesters said they were striking in response to the company's announced changes to minimum delivery rates that would affect couriers' pay, according to The Guardian.

“They don’t have access to sick pay, holiday pay and other benefits. They depend on their salary for everything and so the fact they have a pay cut is more problematic for them,” said Henry Chango Lopez, president of the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain, who said he attended the protest to show solidarity, told ABC News.

The company's change in rates means that some couriers could see their pay per delivery drop nearly 40 percent from £4.60 (equivalent to about $6) to £2.80 (about $3.66), Lopez said.

Uber Eats said in a statement that it changed its payment structure to increase earnings during busy times and that it was setting minimum, hourly-payment guarantees during the transition to the new system.

“In response to feedback from couriers we’ve made some changes to our payment structure in London, which brings it into line with other cities," the company said. "The changes will help increase earnings during busy mealtimes and, as we transition to the new system, we’re introducing minimum payment guarantees of £9-11 an hour."

The couriers' protest comes as Bloomberg reports that Uber is in talks to acquire Deliveroo, a food delivery service in Europe and one of Uber Eats’s bigger competitors in the region.

Earlier this summer, a group of 50 Deliveroo couriers, represented by the Independent Workers Union, won a six-figure payout after the company denied workers minimum wage and holiday pay because they were considered to be self-employed.

“There is no reason for these cuts other than to make more profits for the company and exploit the workers more than they already exploit them” said Lopez.

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Amazon(NEW YORK) -- Amazon is unveiling 70 new devices and features, the largest ever dropped in one day, the company said.

Dave Limp, senior vice president of Amazon Devices introduced the products in a surprise announcement at its headquarters at The Seattle Spheres, according to the company's live blog.

The first device to be unveiled was the Echo Dot. The small disc-shaped speaker has "a brand new mic array that gives it better performance. The driver is now much larger — we went from a 1.1-inch driver to a 1.6-inch driver so we can deliver more powerful sound with lower distortion and enhanced bass reproduction," the company's blog said. "The new Echo Dot is now 70 percent louder."

The new Echo Dot will still have coveted features, like a line-out jack and Bluetooth connection, so you can connect it to a separate speaker.

The company also introduced Echo Input, an Echo device without a speaker that will allow people to use Alexa from multiple rooms.

Amazon also launched new features for the company's personal assistant, Alexa.

"We're working on a system to make Alexa more opinionated and personal," the company said in a post on its blog. The new "Follow up" feature boosts the personal assistant's short-term memory. Users can say, "What's the weather in LA?" And then later on, if they ask about a restaurant, the device will know they're still talking about Los Angeles.

The company also introduced "Alexa Captions" on Echo Show and Echo Spot devices for the hearing impaired.

For parents, Alex can start getting kids to bed with "Routines for Kids."

"Parents can now easily create routines for the family using simple templates. So when you say, 'Alexa, good night,' Alexa will say a nice message that you can customize, turn off the lights and start sleep sounds," according to the blog.

The company also introduced Echo Link, which will use existing stereo equipment to control "music selection, volume, and multi-room playback on your stereo" with the Echo or the Alexa app.

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ABC News(SAN FRANCISCO) -- The Sisters of the Valley, a group of self-styled "weed nuns," are putting their faith in the healing power of cannabis.

Despite their moniker, this nonreligious sorority of radical feminists resides in Northern California farm country. The women grow cannabis on the sun-drenched property, tucked among vineyards and apple orchards. They use a strain of marijuana that eliminates THC, but still contains CBD (cannabidiol), which is touted for its healing properties.

"It's considered hemp because it won't get anybody high, but it's really marijuana," said “Sister Kate," whose real name is Christine Meeusen. "It's medical marijuana, but just like over the years they've been able to develop strains that get you super high. We've also developed strains that don't get you high at all."

The Sisters of the Valley sell products for various ailments including insomnia, arthritis and anxiety. Their top seller is a tropical salve that soothes achy joints. That product alone rakes in $3,000 per day, according to Meeusen.

A few of the women live on the compound, and six of them work on the cannabis business, along with two "Brothers."

"We do need men and we don't want to be exclusive of the men," Meeusen said. "We just want the women to own the businesses and hold all the offices in town."

Meeusen is the matriarch-in-chief at the Sisters of the Valley. The divorced, former marketing consultant raised two children and said she had to start from scratch after her marriage came apart. She said her company grew out of the Occupy Wall Street movement and a desire among her and her peers to build their own commune in an environment that allows for "healthy socialism."

"We believe in paying taxes," she said. "We believe quite frankly that America's culture of starving the tax system is wrong, it's morally wrong. Most of us have lived in other places where the tax system actually works."

Meeusen said she lived and raised her children in the Netherlands, which has universal health care.

"Fifty percent of income [in the Netherlands] is paid in taxes," she told "Nightline."

"But guess what? They never pay a hospital bill. They never worry about their retirement or being homeless," she said. "So yes we are very very for a reasonable sort of socialism and that is paying your taxes and taking care of the marginalized."

Unaffiliated with any church, the Sisters of the Valley wear habits around the property, but Meeusen said she doesn't feel like they are making a mockery of religion.

"Religion [has] made a mockery of itself," she said. "We didn't have to help them."

Sister Sierra, aka Sierra Walker, said that this group of women who live, work and pray together "are truly sisters, truly nuns" in that definition.

"We give our hearts and our minds and our souls to what we are doing here," she said. "And I think that we're doing a good job," she said. "I think we're doing a marvelous job, and I think the revival that we needed in our world."

Walker said she is a new acolyte to the group.

"I think as I grew older I came to see things differently and cannabis has been very much on my heart as a healing," she said.

Meeusen added that they all took vows to live simply which she explained is different from a vow of poverty like traditional nuns.

"We do take six vows, we take vows service, of activism, about chastity which requires privatizing our sexuality," Meeusen said. "It doesn't require being celibate but it does require keeping it very private off the grid. We have a vow of living simply which -- speaks for itself."

The sisters said they produce a line of "medical-grade products" on the farm that requires them to wear headgear while handling the crops and oils for hygiene purposes. While they do grow their own cannabis, the sisters also ship in some product from Oregon.

"Generally, people use CBD for chronic pain, also it’s good for insomnia, anxiety, depression," said Sister Alice, aka Alice Fullerton.

CBD products have grown in popularity more recently and are now widely available in 31 states that have public medical marijuana and cannabis programs.

Recreational marijuana is legal in nine states and the District of Columbia.

There are even coffee shops in Los Angeles and New York City that offer droplets of CBD product. According to Forbes, Coca-Cola is also considering adding a CBD beverage.

The booming realm of hemp-derived products is expected to be a $2 billion industry by 2022, according to new data from New Frontier Data.

The Sisters of the Valley said they raked in $1.1 million in profits last year.

"With a just distribution of Mother Earth’s gifts, no one has to live in poverty," Meeusen said. "We're activists for the $15 minimum wage. We're not going to invest our money in ostentatious wealth when we could be creating jobs for other women. That's the goal."

When they aren't making their producers, the Sisters of the Valley live as others do. They surf the Internet, watch YouTube videos and smoke the occasional afternoon joint.

The women said their lives are not dedicated to the herb, but to the idea of sisterhood -- a women-owned and operated business that nurtures others as well.

"We are on a mission to empower women to be their best spiritually, to be their best as an activist and to be in service to their own people and the planet," Meeusen said.

"So we're out to inspire women."

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Facebook(NEW YORK) -- Facebook allows employers to discriminate against women by targeting job listings toward men only — specifically in traditionally male-dominated fields, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

The ACLU, along with employment law firm Outten & Golden and the Communications Workers of America, filed charges on Tuesday with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Facebook and 10 companies, claiming that they discriminated based gender.

But how does that work?

“We discovered Facebook was allowing advertisers to select the gender of the user it wants to reach and that violates federal law,” ACLU lawyer Galen Sherwin told ABC News on Wednesday. “When you make an ad on Facebook, it allows you to choose whether to target ‘All,’ ‘Men’ or ‘Women.’ Two out of three of those are illegal choices in the context of an employment ad.”

Sherwin noted that the ads referenced in the EEOC complaint are for professions usually dominated by men, such as construction, security, installation and truck driving.

“It’s insidious because it perpetuates the exclusion of women from those jobs," she said. "If you click on the ad, it takes you to the company’s Facebook page, which lists all of their other jobs. But women don’t get the chance to click through and see all of the ads.”

Facebook has had to defend its targeted ads on several fronts recently. Earlier this year, it disclosed that data mining firm Cambridge Analytica misused data from up to 87 million of the company's users.

Then in August, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development lodged a complaint that the company allowed ads on the platform to discriminate based on “race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin and disability.” The complaint follows years of reporting by Propublica and other media groups.

“There is no place for discrimination on Facebook; it’s strictly prohibited in our policies, and over the past year, we’ve strengthened our systems to further protect against misuse. We are reviewing the complaint and look forward to defending our practices,” Joe Osborne, a Facebook spokesperson wrote in an emailed statement.

The company recently removed over 5,000 options to exclude audiences based on ethnicity or religion, Osborne said. The platform is moving toward requiring advertisers to comply with its anti-discrimination policies and the law, he added.

The ACLU complaint documents how specifically tailored the ads can be. In one screenshot, possible categories were: “Bad Moms, Single Dads, Single Moms, Soccer mom and Working Moms.”

Facebook itself was also charged with gender discrimination in its own hiring practices. The ACLU criticized job ads for Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, for using the company's "Lookalike Audience" feature, calling it "legally indistinguishable from word-of-mouth hiring, which has long been considered a discriminatory and unlawful employment practice," according to the EEOC complaint.

Other employers who had charges filed against them denied gender discrimination.

Software company Abas USA called the claims “false and reckless” in a statement.

“We did not use targeted Facebook ads to exclude women. Just the opposite. We used a targeted ad in Facebook to specifically include women,” the statement said. The company included the ad, which pictured a woman. “Simultaneously, with the ad targeted toward women, because Abas USA is an equal opportunity employer, we ran the following ad targeted toward men with identical text and link but with a picture of a man.”

The Greensboro Police Department, which was also charged with gender discrimination, issued a statement saying, “Facebook is one channel of an extensive recruiting strategy for the Greensboro Police Department. We are committed to seeking and hiring an inclusive and diverse workforce. We adhere to our city’s policy of diversity and inclusion.”

The City of Greensboro also issued a statement in response. “The City of Greensboro is an equal opportunity employer that seeks to have a diverse workforce, reflective of the community it serves. This organization uses multiple techniques to broaden opportunities for applying and encourages diversity within our workforce. We will not accept generalized accusations that represent anything less than that.”

Another company brought before the EEOC, window replacement company Andersen Corporation, issued a statement saying, "Our primary focus is to build the most talented and most dedicated team in the industry, regardless of who those folks might be, so that we can best serve our customers. In regards to the filing with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, we are an equal opportunity employer, and we are proud of the diversity of our workforce. We will not be commenting on specifics of this case."

Messaging in ads can work both ways in fields long considered a province for men.

Elizabeth Skidmore, a carpenter and spokeswoman for the New England Regional Council of Carpenters, which isn't involved in the case, said the union had targeted women in job postings by showing images of women working in construction sites on social media posts and job sites. As a result, she said, the number of female construction apprentices has tripled in Massachusetts since 2012.

"It does matter what the ads look like, what the images are, and the words that they use," Skidmore said.

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United Airlines(NEW YORK) -- Airline passengers crowding around the gate, waiting for their group to be called, has plagued the flight boarding process for a long time. But United Airlines believes its new, simplified approach to boarding will help alleviate the problem.

The idea began about a year ago when an increasing number of customers complained about time spent standing in line and congested boarding areas, United's Maria Walter, managing director of global operations strategy, told ABC News.

"We didn't want people to feel stress or anxiety before they board," Walter said, adding that customers getting off the previous flight and passengers with disabilities were especially affected by people swarming the gate.

So United scrapped the airline's previous method of diverting passengers into 5 separate lines before boarding. It will continue to have several different groups of passengers, but the number of lines that those passengers wait in will be reduced to two, decreasing the time that people will stand in line before their group is called to board.

While one group boards, the group boarding next will be asked to line up. All other groups will be asked to remain seated. United claims the two-line system will free up space around the gate, and reduce time spent standing in line.

The airline hopes that people in later groups, such as 4 or 5, may spend about 30 minutes less time standing in line during the new process, Walter told ABC News.

United first tested the new system earlier this year with select flights out of certain airports including LAX, Chicago O’Hare, and George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston.

Like other carriers, the first people to board on United flights are disabled passengers, active military, families with young children, and those who have a high status within the airline. Following that "pre-boarding" group is Group 1, made up of first and business class passengers. Group 2 includes United credit-card holders, passengers with moderate status within the airline, and anyone who purchased priority boarding. Groups 3 and 4 are Economy customers. Basic Economy customers board last.

The airline says the time it takes to board the entire plane isn't necessarily reduced under the new method. Instead, the new system is designed to simply cut down on time that passengers have to stand in line.

This latest adjustment from United reflects an ever-changing landscape of airline boarding processes. American and Delta changed their boarding process last year, and Southwest changed their boarding process in 2007. But none of these changes have eliminated people's habit of hovering around the gate before their group is called.

Reducing overall boarding time has long been a struggle for the airline industry. The various levels of passenger status and more passengers with carry-on bags are among the many reasons boarding is slower now than it has been in previous decades.

Low-cost airlines, such as Spirit, claim faster boarding times because of additional fees on carry-ons that deter customers from bringing bags on board. More customers spending time pushing suitcases into the overhead bins means delays for passengers getting into their seats.

Airlines will continue to work on improving the boarding process, but until they do away with things like carry-on luggage allowances, frequent flyer statuses, and small overhead bins, it’s impossible to create a perfect process.

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ABC News(SAN FRANCISCO) -- Tesla shares tumbled on Tuesday amid reports of a potential criminal probe over its chief executive officer's statements about taking the company private.

The electric carmaker said it agreed to hand over documents to the Department of Justice in connection with CEO Elon Musk's tweets about taking the publicly traded company private last month, according to a company statement.

Tesla said it was cooperating with the government, but noted that it had not received a subpoena, a request for testimony or any other formal process.

“Tesla received a voluntary request for documents from the DOJ and has been cooperative in responding to it,” the company said. "We respect the DOJ’s desire to get information about this and believe that the matter should be quickly resolved as they review the information they have received.”

Shares tumbled as much as 7 percent on Tuesday afternoon as investors reacted to the news. The stock closed at $284.89 per share, or about 3.4 percent lower.

Tesla issued the statement after Bloomberg reported, citing two anonymous sources with knowledge of the matter, that the DOJ had opened a criminal fraud investigation over Musk’s Aug. 7 tweets. The investigation is in its early stages and could take months, according to the report.

The company is also at the center of a Securities and Exchange Commission probe into the firm’s practices and communications, according to Bloomberg.

Shares rose as much as 11 percent on Aug. 7 in the wake of Musk's now-infamous tweet.

"Am considering taking Tesla private at $420. Funding secured," he tweeted.

"Investor support is confirmed. Only reason why this is not certain is that it’s contingent on a shareholder vote," he added in a subsequent tweet, before abandoning the plan.

The scope of the DOJ’s investigation is still unclear, but Stephen Crimmins, a former deputy chief of litigation for the SEC, says Musk’s conduct probably doesn't rise to the criminal level.

"It automatically becomes so high profile that the government enforcers have to be particularly conscientious in taking a look at things," Crimmins told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

Crimmins, who spent 14 years at the SEC, said while Musk “speaks loosely,” federal prosecutors would have to prove that he lied in an effort to impact the company’s stock price.

That would be difficult to do, he said.

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ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Mickey Mouse is turning 90 this year! For his big birthday, the chief mouse doesn't just get a basic birthday cake. He gets his very own custom Oreos, of course!

Disney teamed up with milk's favorite cookie, Oreo, to mark the 90th anniversary of Mickey Mouse with limited-edition birthday cake-flavored Oreos.

There are three different Mickey Mouse-themed designs on top of the wafers: a party horn, a big 90 in honor of this major milestone and Mickey Mouse himself, of course.

The release of the Mickey Mouse Oreo is just one of the ways in which Disney is celebrating Mickey's 90th, including gourmet candy collaborations and an interactive art exhibit.

The Mickey Mouse Oreos will be available nationwide starting Sept. 24 while supplies last.

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Peter Timmullstein bild via Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Following an interview given by a former "Sesame Street" writer who said he wrote the beloved characters Bert and Ernie as if they were gay, the show has said otherwise.

"Sesame Street" on Tuesday tweeted, "As we have always said, Bert and Ernie are best friends. They were created to teach preschoolers that people can be good friends with those who are very different from themselves."

Focusing specifically on their orientation, the statement continued, "Even though they are identified as male characters and possess many human traits and characteristics ... they remain puppets, and do not have a sexual orientation."

The response from the show comes two days after Mark Saltzman, who is openly gay, spoke to Queerty about his own coming-out story, and the iconic duo came up. Saltzman was a writer on the show from 1985 to 1998.

"I remember one time that a column from The San Francisco Chronicle, a preschooler in the city turned to mom and asked, 'Are Bert and Ernie lovers?' And that, coming from a preschooler was fun," he said. "And I always felt that without a huge agenda, when I was writing Bert and Ernie, they were. I didn't have any other way to contextualize them. The other thing was, more than one person referred to Arnie [his partner] and I as 'Bert and Ernie.'"

When referencing "Arnie," the writer was talking about Arnold Glassman, his partner of 20 years before he died in 2003.

Saltzman continued, "Yeah, I was Ernie. I look more Bert-ish. And Arnie as a film editor -- if you thought of Bert with a job in the world, wouldn't that be perfect? Bert with his paper clips and organization? And I was the jokester. So it was the Bert and Ernie relationship, and I was already with Arnie when I came to 'Sesame Street.' So I don't think I'd know how else to write them but as a loving couple."

He admitted he never told the head writer he was writing the characters this way, adding, "there's not a Bert and Ernie float in the Pride Parade."

And while a 2013 New Yorker cover suggested the pair were gay, the show released a similar statement at the time, once again saying puppets don't have a sexual orientation.

Still, Saltzman added, "The New Yorker cover was kind of vindication."

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Level Airlines(NEW YORK) -- When Erin Levi booked a $179 one-way flight to Paris on Level airlines for a friend's wedding a few weeks ago, she joked that it was too good to be true. It was.

When the travel writer arrived at Newark Airport on Sept. 9, she couldn't find her gate -- it was as if her flight didn’t exist.

Levi, 35, had entered her information into the airline's website to check in hours earlier. She had run into an error message while trying to choose a seat but otherwise hadn't noticed anything unusual. Unbeknownst to her, Level's launch of its Newark to Paris service had been delayed until Sept. 18, information that never appeared on the company's website.

"My flight doesn't exist!" she texted her friends from the airport. "Airline hasn't started transatlantic operations apparently!"

At the airport, Levi couldn't find a counter or an agent for Level, so she double-checked her ticket. It read "OpenSkies," a boutique airline operated by British Airways. So she headed to their counter. It was there, she said, she was told Level had delayed launching the Newark to Paris route and was given a number to call.

By that point, though, it was past midnight, and no one was answering the airline's hotline. So Levi bought a new ticket on Wow airlines, hoping to be reimbursed for the $319.98 she paid for the last-minute seat.

"I've traveled to over 40 countries -- even on a handwritten ticket to Uzbekistan -- and this has never happened before," Levi told ABC News.

A 'prudent decision' to postpone flights

But Levi is far from alone. Some Level customers said they never received emails saying that their flights had been canceled, or found out only upon arriving at the airport and being handed a sheet of paper. Others received emails that went to junk mail. Almost everyone ABC News spoke to said the company should have updated their website to reflect the change in business plans or cancellations.

Level is owned by International Airlines Group, the European parent company of British Airways, Aer Lingus and Iberia Airlines. It is among the latest low-cost, long-haul carriers to begin offering transatlantic flights, joining a market served by companies including Wow, Primera Air, XL Airways, Norwegian and Air France subsidiary Joon. As these discount airlines have fought to compete amid widespread industry consolidation, corners have been cut -- and customers are often the ones who are most impacted.

To its credit, Level has been forthright about its recent mistakes.

"Indeed, on August 20th, we took the prudent decision to postpone by two weeks the launch of our operations between Paris and New York, planned for September 4th, for operational reasons," Hugo Trac, Level’s communications and marketing manager, wrote in an email to ABC News. "Customers impacted by this launch delay have been alerted by email, sent to [the] address registered in their booking (or to the travel agency that did the booking)."

"We sincerely apologise for the inconvenience caused and delay to our passengers’ travel plans,” Trac said, adding that the airline is offering a full refund for tickets and rebooking on an alternative flights for alternative dates.

But sometimes, alternative dates aren't possible: Levi was heading to Europe for a wedding and needed to be there. She said that although she had received a confirmation email from the airline when she booked her flight, she never received an email about the cancellation. Other customers told ABC News they also showed up at the airport to find their flights were canceled. Some passengers said they did receive cancellation messages before setting off for their flights, but the notices were still so last minute they had to abruptly change vacation plans and spend much more than they'd budgeted.

'A stupid reason not to pay'

Florian Duval received an email 15 days before his trip from Paris to New York that his flight had been canceled -- but the email went to junk mail, so he didn’t see it right away. He bought a last-minute XL Airways round-trip flight for 345 Euros, about $403, roughly $134 more than his original ticket.

Duval said he was struck by the confusion of his fellow passengers as they fought to get their tickets refunded.

"Seeing that many people are affected by cancellations, and we are very poorly informed, I decided to create the Facebook group. And, above all, recommend everyone around me to never ever fly with Iberia-Level!" he said.

The closed group Vols annulés Septembre [Canceled flights September] 2018 [Iberia via Level via OpenSkies] had 50 members as of Monday who said they were trying to get refunds from the company for their botched flights. Duval recently got a refund for his flight.

Other passengers have united on social media, too. Passengers from canceled flights on Level's Montreal to Paris route have been extremely active and formed two Facebook groups: LEVEL vol annulé du 06/08 [Level canceled flights of June 8], which has more than a hundred members, and Level vol annulé 16 juillet 2018 [Level canceled flights July 16], which has nearly 200 members.

Neela Parsnani said her Level flight from Montreal to Paris was canceled after passengers boarded for an hour. The passengers were shuttled to a hotel and promised dinner, but the restaurant was out of food, and her children went to bed after eating peanuts from the bar. Parsnani said she wasted vacation days sorting out re-routed flights and was forced to fork out for last-minute tickets from Montreal, cabs, meals and other expenses.

When she went to get her refund from Level, she said she was asked to send several rounds of documentation to the company and jump through other hoops.

"There's always a stupid reason not to pay us. At one point, I had to send my children's birth certificates. The communication with them is awful. They're amateurs," Parsnani told ABC News.

Parsnani is now on a WhatsApp chat group with about 100 members from her canceled flight who share tips on getting refunds, she said.

Confusion over who to call

Similarly, Level's inaugural Martinique-Paris service was also delayed.

"For same reasons as Newark, our operations to Martinique have been postponed, too," Trac wrote in his email to ABC. "First flight to/from Martinique was originally planned on September 3rd. It will now starts on October 1st."

Yet as of Tuesday, the website said flights to and from Martinique would launch in September.

Part of the problem echoed throughout the Facebook groups and interviews with more than a dozen stranded passengers is that the different operating companies add to the confusion. Some people booked their tickets on the Iberia Airlines website, some booked through Level's site and some booked through third-party sites like Expedia. Others passengers' tickets were issued through OpenSkies.

But Level maintains that it has notified customers.

"We applied the same process in terms of passengers' option[s] for both Newark and Martinique. An email has been sent to [the] passenger's email address filed in the booking details (or email [for] travel agencies if booking [was] done by them, as they are in charge of advising their clients). In communications sent to clients, [it] was mentioned that customers who purchased through a travel agency should claim a refund through the agency directly; customers who purchased through Iberia.com should contact Iberia for a refund and customers who purchased on flylevel.com claim a refund from Level directly," Trac wrote. "Our customer service is dealing with each request and every client will get an answer from our service."

When asked whether Level had been overly ambitious and launched transatlantic service before it was ready, Trac wrote: "We offer transatlantic service with Level from Paris to Montreal and Guadeloupe since July 2nd. We needed to ensure the robustness of our schedule before we launch these additional routes (Martinique and Newark), which is why we took the prudent decision to delay their start."

'Desperate to find a way home'

Pablo Ferreiro-Mazón, an architect from Galicia, Spain, learned this the hard way. He was already on vacation with his wife and son in the Caribbean. The family planned to island hop, so he booked an Aug. 17 Level flight from Paris to Guadeloupe, a route launched by Level in July. They booked a return to Paris from Martinique, Level’s new route, for Sept. 3. On Aug. 21, he received an email from the airline stating that their flights were canceled.

With spotty cell phone service in Guadeloupe, he tried calling Iberia -- an airline he said he's flown his entire life and has some status with -- several times, which proved difficult and expensive. There was no direct number provided for a refund or alternate plans, he said, so he kept trying, with calls often costing 30 or 40 Euros each. After several days, Ferreiro-Mazón said, he got through to an agent who told them the Martinique service launch had been delayed and offered to rebook them for Sept. 23.

"You cannot tell a family you have to stay there another 20 days," Ferreiro-Mazón, 53, said. Aside from the cost of the hotel, he and his wife, a doctor, had to go back to work and his son had to get back for medical school. "As you can imagine, we were quite desperate to find a way home."

The family finally paid 401 Euros, about $466, to fly another airline back to Guadeloupe to catch the Level flight to Paris on Sept. 2. That meant cutting short their stay in the Caribbean, and sacrificing their pre-paid hotel and car rental. In addition, they flew back to Paris a day earlier and had to spend extra on a hotel room there before making their flight back to Spain, he said.

But Ferreiro-Mazón said it's not about the money.

"For a week, we were very worried about this situation," he said. "I don't know how to value that. You are on holiday, moving from one island to another. You are worried and you should not be worried about this on holiday."

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DAVID MCNEW/AFP/Getty Images(HAWTHORNE, Calif.) -- SpaceX announced on Monday night that its first moonshot passenger will be Yusaku Maezawa, a billionaire estimated by Forbes to be the 18th-richest person in Japan.

He'll be the first private passenger to visit the moon in the company's much hyped Big Falcon Rocket -- if the launch happens.

"I choose to go to the moon!" said the 42-year-old Maezawa, who founded Japan's largest online fashion mall and is worth almost $3 billion.

The announcement was made at the company's headquarters in Hawthorne, California. The launch is scheduled to happen in 2023.

"I love the moon," Maezawa told ABC News' David Kerley following the announcement. "I like to do the things that never have been done before. So I want the challenge to go to the moon."

The announcement was a relief for the Japanese billionaire, who punctuated a question about the announcement with "finally." He told ABC News he's long dreamed of going to the moon.

"It's always been there, it's always been inside of me," Maezawa said, before transitioning to Japanese to say the moon has always "felt like it's protecting me."

"In Japan, you look up at the moon, and it looks like a rabbit," he said, noting that 2023 is the Year of the Rabbit in the Chinese zodiac.

It's not the first time the company has made this kind of announcement. In February 2017, SpaceX founder Elon Musk announced the first two paying customers had put down a deposit to fly around the moon without landing in the smaller Falcon Heavy rocket sometime this year. In June, the company announced that wouldn't happen.

Earlier this year, on Feb. 6, the Falcon Heavy rocket successfully launched from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, launching a red Tesla Roadster driven by a Starman mannequin.

Earlier in the day, Musk was sued for defamation by the British driver he had accused of being a "child rapist" and pedophile via tweets and emails to media.

SpaceX has succeeded in its goal of building reusable rockets.

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Mark Brake/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Elon Musk was sued on Monday for defamation by a British diver he accused of being a "pedo."

Diver Vernon Unsworth filed a lawsuit against the SpaceX and Tesla founder, over tweets Musk sent during the rescue of a Thai boys soccer team in June and July.

"Elon Musk falsely accused Vern Unsworth of being guilty of heinous crimes," his lawyer, Lin Wood, wrote in a statement emailed to ABC News. "Musk’s influence and wealth cannot convert his lies into truth or protect him from accountability for his wrongdoing in a court of law."

The lawsuit, which blasts the "unlawful, unsupportable, and reprehensible accusations" by Musk that Unsworth "is a pedophile and child rapist," was filed in a Los Angeles federal court.

Unsworth is seeking more than $75,000 in damages, attorney fees, and a court order stopping Musk from making further allegations. Musk resides in California and his two companies, SpaceX and Tesla are headquartered there.

Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment. SpaceX, which is announcing its first private passenger for a flight to the moon later on Monday, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The battle of words dates back to earlier this summer when 12 Thai soccer players and their coach were trapped in a cave in Northern Thailand. The story caught Musk's attention, who, unprompted, sent a mini-submarine to assist with the rescue.

In a CNN interview that followed, Unsworth, an experienced diver who assisted in the rescue, said Musk's mini-submarine was a "PR stunt" that has "absolutely no chance of working."

In response, Musk criticized Unsworth several times via his Twitter account, using slang to call the diver a pedophile.

"You know what, don’t bother showing the video," Musk tweeted on July 15. "We will make one of the mini-sub/pod going all the way to Cave 5 no problemo. Sorry pedo guy, you really did ask for it." He later deleted the tweet.

“I suggest that you call people you know in Thailand, find out what’s actually going on and stop defending child rapists," Musk wrote in an email to a Buzzfeed reporter, employing a pair of expletives to underscore his point.

“He’s an old, single white guy from England who’s been traveling to or living in Thailand for 30 to 40 years, mostly Pattaya Beach, until moving to Chiang Rai for a child bride who was about 12 years old at the time.”

“As for this alleged threat of a lawsuit, which magically appeared when I raised the issue (nothing was sent or raised beforehand), I...hope he sues me,” Musk's email continued, again using an expletive to underscore his point.

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