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The Consumerist

Ticketmaster Says It Stands For “True Fan-Friendly Competition”

6 hours 5 min ago

gswticketmasterOver the weekend, StubHub filed a lawsuit against Ticketmaster and the NBA’s Golden State Warriors, alleging that the team and the ticket company are forcing Warriors season-ticket subscribers to use Ticketmaster if they want to resell their seats to anyone. Ticketmaster is now defending itself and says that it is the one that’s on the side of sports fans.

“We are disappointed that StubHub has filed a baseless lawsuit that asks the courts to help prop up its business against true fan-friendly competition,” reads the statement from Ticketmaster about the StubHub lawsuit. “NBA teams like the Golden State Warriors have implemented ticket exchanges powered by Ticketmaster because they want ticket resale to be a secure experience, not an opportunity for scalping and fraud. The exchanges are growing in popularity because Ticketmaster and its partners have worked hard to make ticket resale much safer and more transparent, uniquely serving true fans. Ticketmaster does not force any customer to resell tickets on any particular platform and will vigorously defend these specious charges.”

Pay attention to the wording of that last sentence. “Ticketmaster does not force…” You’ll note that it doesn’t say anything in defense of the Warriors, who have allegedly threatened to take away postseason ticket offers and cancel future season ticket plans for fans who use StubHub to resell their tickets. This doesn’t mean that the allegations against the Warriors are true, but it is curious that Ticketmaster omits the team from this portion of its declaration.

As for Ticketmaster’s supposedly “fan-friendly” image of its arrangement with the Warriors, the folks at Fan Freedom don’t exactly see it this way.

“The Golden State Warriors are coercing season ticket holders, with the threat of ticket cancellations, to resell tickets exclusively on Ticketmaster’s NBATickets.com,” says Executive Director Chris Grimm in a statement. “NBATickets.com charges ticket buyers a 33% higher service fee than competing platforms and allows teams to set a hidden price floor, artificially inflating ticket prices.”

In its complaint [PDF], StubHub said that, in spite of the fact that the Warriors have been consistently selling out home games, the site’s inventory of secondary-market Warriors tickets dropped 80% between 2013 and 2014.

McDonald’s Introduces Table Service In Germany For Some Reason

9 hours 31 min ago

(Mike Mozart)

(Mike Mozart)

Imagine that you’re visiting a large restaurant at the airport in Frankfurt, Germany. You take a seat and give your order to a roving server, who taps it into a tablet computer and takes payment. Then your food arrives, which is…Big Macs and fries? What is this? When did McDonald’s start offering table service?

It’s part of an experiment at the 500-seat McDonald’s at the airport in Frankfurt, Germany, where the fast-foodery will try a bold new experiment in bringing food to people. They can either place their orders on a kiosk (like at their locations with fancy $8 burgers in Australia) and then sit and wait for their food to arrive. Easterbrook calls this set up the future of McDonald’s, which raises one inevitable question: would we be expected to tip here in the U.S.?

The job of new McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook is to figure out how to coax people all over the world back into the chain’s restaurants, away from quick-serve interlopers like Chipotle and Panera. Germany is one of the trouble spots, along with the United States.

McDonald’s starts table service in Germany [Reuters]

AT&T Charges $40/Month More For Fiber Internet If Google Isn’t In Your Town Yet

Mon, 2015-03-30 23:11

Cupertino has the Power... at a premium price.

Cupertino has the Power… at a premium price.

Only weeks ago, AT&T announced gigabit fiber broadband service in Kansas City for $70/month. Granted, customers have to give up their right to privacy to get that rate, but at least it’s the same price being charged by Google Fiber, which also happens to operate in KC. But when it comes to AT&T’s impending gigabit offering in Cupertino — the land of Apple — that $70/month rate is nowhere to be found; probably because Google Fiber is not around.

Kansas City isn’t the only place where the presence of competition results in a lower price for AT&T’s gigabit service. Customers in Austin can also get service for $70, if they’re willing to opt into the usage monitoring. And guess who else operates in Austin? Google Fiber.

Over in Dallas, AT&T’s home turf, you’ll pay the $110/month rate for AT&T’s highest-speed offering. As you’ve probably guessed, there’s no Google Fiber there.

Okay, so AT&T U-Verse users in Cupertino and Dallas can’t get the $70/month rate, but at least they won’t have to compromise their privacy to save $40/month, right?

Nope, as Ars Technica points out, the $110/month rate in these markets doesn’t give you the option of avoiding the monitoring.

AT&T has not yet announced pricing for other planned markets like Atlanta, Chicago, Nashville, and Charlotte, but we have a hunch those rates will be based on whether or not Google Fiber has staked a claim on the area too, as there are a number of overlaps between the two lists.

Google has already confirmed plans to expand to Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham in North Carolina, Atlanta, and Nashville.

The folks in Cupertino may eventually see a price drop, as Google lists the San Jose market (which would presumably encompass Apple’s hometown) as a “Potential Fiber City.”

This all underscores how vital competition is for consumers. Without a competitor offering comparable high-speed fiber service, AT&T is free to charge $40/month more than it does as soon as a viable competitor enters the picture.

The pay-TV industry — which blossomed into the consumer broadband business just because these companies had lines that could carry the signals — has benefited for decades from near monopolies in most parts of the country, as local franchise agreements gave these businesses exclusive access to area homes and utility poles.

This lack of competition also allowed for a few giants like Comcast and Time Warner Cable to grow by simply gobbling up smaller companies without setting off regulatory alarm bells. Since, by design, Company A doesn’t directly compete with Company B, a merger of the two can’t result in less competition, but it does lead to the combined Company AB having greater control over the pipelines through which consumers get their information.

And even though AT&T’s Giga Power service is a newcomer that could disrupt the marketplace dominated by the cable TV titans, the company is choosing to put a premium price on its product, meaning it’s not much of an option to cash-strapped consumers. That is, unless Google Fiber is nearby.

This is not to say that Google Fiber is any sort of pro-consumer miracle cure-all, but it does exemplify how competition can keep prices down.

Current, Former Corinthian College Students On “Debt Strike” Plan To Meet With Gov’t Officials

Mon, 2015-03-30 22:40
A group of 15 Corinthian College students are refusing to repay their federal student loans.

A group of 15 Corinthian College students are refusing to repay their federal student loans.

Last month, we told you about the Corinthian 15, a group of current and former students at crumbling Corinthian College Inc.’s WyoTech, Heald College, and Everest University campuses who were refusing to pay their federal student loans in protest of the government’s support of the for-profit college company. Now that group has grown to what could be called the Corinthian 100+, and it’s made plans to take its case to several government agencies this week.

MarketWatch reports that the group – which is an off-shoot of the Occupy-backed movement called the Debt Collective – ballooned to over 100 members just a month after sending a letter to the Department of Education notifying them of their protest.

The letter notified the Dept. that students of CCI schools “paid dearly for degrees that have led to unemployment or to jobs that don’t pay a living wage. We can’t and won’t pay any longer.”

Ann Larson, director for the Debt Collective, tells MarketWatch that hundreds of students have reached out to the group seeking information on the Corinthian campaign.

Each of the interested parties were vetted and told the consequences of not paying their student loans, which include garnishments and dings to their credit reports. Larson says after that some student dropped out, but others joined the movement.

In addition to increasing its size, the group of protesters will meet with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and a representative from the Dept. of Education this week, MarketWatch reports.

The group made plans to submit Defense of Repayment claims – which asks the government to discharge the student loans on the basis that the school engaged in wrongdoing – to the Dept. of Education, as well.

The Dept. of Education and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau previously announced a deal in which some of the debt issued to students directly by CCI would be forgiven.

That deal was a result of the sale of 56 CCI campuses to Education Credit Management Corporation. As a condition, the Department and CFPB announced it had secured $480 million in debt relief for students who took out CCI-brokered private Genesis Loans.

As for Corinthian protesters and other students carrying a combined $1 billion in student loan debt, the future is a bit more murky.

An operating agreement hashed out between the college chain and the Dept. of Education over the summer described a few potential options for students with federal loans.

If a student attends a school slated for closure, or if that student withdrew within 120 days of the school closing, they may be entitled to a closed school discharge. This means that the student would have no further obligation to repay their Direct Loans, Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program loans (which include Stafford and PLUS loans), or Perkins Loans.

In some cases, students could be eligible for a “teach-out” program in which they are able to complete their degrees at their current school or at a comparable institution. Under this option, students would still be responsible for repaying their loans.

Over 100 people refusing to pay off loans for defunct Corinthian Colleges [MarketWatch]

Distracted Drivers Admit To Playing Guitar, Taking Selfies Behind The Wheel

Mon, 2015-03-30 21:47

(Great Beyond)

(Great Beyond)

Texting while driving isn’t the only distracting activity drivers are partaking in behind the wheel while they should be paying attention to the road, according to a new survey. There are people primping, changing clothes, going to the bathroom, taking selfies and even strumming away on the guitar while driving, making the roads more dangerous for the rest of us.

In a survey conducted for Erie Insurance by Harris Poll of 2,019 adults to bring attention to National Distracted Driving Awareness Month in April, participants admitted to doing a wide variety of things behind the wheel that aren’t actually driving, reports the Chicago Tribune.

“A distraction is anything that causes a driver to take their eyes off the road, their hands off the wheel, or their mind off the primary task of driving safely,” Doug Smith, Erie Insurance senior vice president of personal lines, said in a statement. “Our survey found drivers unfortunately are engaging in a wide range of distracting and potentially dangerous behaviors.”

Some of the most popular distractions: Romantic encounters (15%); Combing or styling hair (15%); Changing clothes (9%); Applying makeup (8%); Brushing or flossing teeth (4%); Changing drivers (3%) and going to the bathroom (3%).

That in addition to the 30% of drivers who admitted to texting while driving. Others said they put in contact lenses, curled their eyelashes, scratching off lottery cards and playing the guitar.

Those most likely to engage in texting live in the South, are men and are between 18 and 34, while those in the Northeast, women and people 65 and older were least likely to admit to such behavior.

But the most dangerous distraction according to Erie’s review of police data? Daydreaming.

Distracted drivers admit making out, fixing hair, relieving themselves [Chicago Tribune]

Best Buy Closes Future Shop Stores, Will Turn Half Into Best Buys

Mon, 2015-03-30 21:31

(Jamie McCaffrey)

(Jamie McCaffrey)

Future Shop is the best name ever given to an electronics retailer, and also a chain in Canada that for the last 14 years has been owned by Best Buy. Best Buy also operates stores in Canada, which means that Future Shop has really been competing with itself. Until now. All of Future Shop’s current stores closed abruptly this weekend, and half will soon re-open as Best Buy stores.

Future Shop had 131 stores, and plans to keep 65 of them as Best Buy locations. The rest of them will close entirely, putting 500 full-time and 1,000 part-time employees out of work.

It may have been a terrible idea all along for Best Buy to keep all of Future Shop’s stores open in competition with its own stores, especially when both stores are similar big-box electronics formats. Some of their stores are even neighbo(u)rs in the same shopping plazas, as you can see in the photo illustrating this post.

Instead of withdrawing from the country entirely, as Target is currently doing, Best Buy plans to invest about $200 million (Canadian dollars) in the reorganization to stay competitive in Canada, which will include adding large appliance sales to its stores and improving its e-commerce operations.

Future Shop shutters Canadian stores, will rebrand as Best Buy [Globe and Mail]

“Bad Check” Debt Collector Deceptively Used Prosecutors’ Letterhead To Intimidate Consumers Into Paying High Fees

Mon, 2015-03-30 21:30
(David Goehring)

(David Goehring)

Late last year, Consumerist reported on a string of debt collectors paying to use prosecutors’ letterheads as a way to intimidate consumers into paying their debts. While the company facing the wrath of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau today didn’t exactly pay to use the letterhead, they allegedly used the documents in a deceptive manner to get consumers to enroll in costly financial education programs.

According to the CFPB complaint [PDF], between 2009 and 2014 National Corrective Group masqueraded as prosecutors and used deceptive tactics to intimidate consumers into paying hundreds of dollars in fees to avoid supposed jail time.

The California-based operation, along with Victim Services Inc. and American Justice Solutions, Inc., make up the largest administrators of bad check diversion programs in the United States.

Check diversion programs are often offered by state and district attorneys’ office to consumers accused of writing bad checks as a way to avoid criminal prosecution.

National Corrective Group administered these programs on behalf of state and local prosecutors’ offices and collected check debt from consumers on behalf of retail merchants in Maryland, Colorado, California, Florida, Michigan, New Mexico, Nevada, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Pennsylvania.

Under the law, a company operating a bad check diversion program cannot contact a consumer about the program until a prosecutor’s office has reviewed the case and determined the consumer is eligible.

But, according to the CFPB complaint, that’s not how National Corrective Group operated.

Instead the company allegedly deceived consumers by sending them notices on prosecutors’ letterhead – creating the false impression that consumers may be prosecuted for writing bounced checks – before their cases were ever reviewed by the proper authorities.

“The CFPB alleges that less than one percent of consumers who received final warning letters stating that their case was being forwarded for possible criminal prosecution were ever even referred to the prosecutor’s office for possible prosecution,” the Bureau says in a statement. “The Bureau alleges that the company also threatened possible criminal prosecution where the amount of the debt was so low that criminal action would rarely or never occur.”

Additionally, National Corrective Group told consumers that to qualify for the diversion program and avoid prosecution they must pay the bounced check debts as well as enroll in the company’s financial education class for an additional fee, which typically cost about $200.

Under the proposed order, National Corrective Group must end its deceptive communications to consumers, stop using threats of intimidation or imprisonment, stop using district attorneys’ letterhead and must pay a $50,000 civil fine to the Bureau.

CFPB Takes Action Against “Bad Check” Debt Collector [Consumer Financial Protection Bureau]

Tesla To Unveil Something “Major” April 30, But Not A New Car

Mon, 2015-03-30 21:25

That Elon sure does know how to tease... (via Twitter)

That Elon sure does know how to tease… (via Twitter)

Earlier today, Tesla founder and Twitter tease Elon Musk announced that his company would be unveiling a “Major new product line” on April 3, while cautioning immediately that it’s “not a car.” So what could it be?

The biggest bet is something related to Tesla’s batteries. Last month, Musk revealed that Tesla was working on lithium-ion battery packs for home and business use.

“We are going to unveil the Tesla home battery, the consumer battery that would be for use in people’s houses or businesses fairly soon,” he told investors at the time.

These batteries could possibly be used with things like solar panels to collect and distribute electricity as needed, especially in developing parts of the world or in areas where it’s impractical to run electrical wiring or operate a gas-powered generator.

“A lot of utilities are working in this space and we are talking to almost all of them,” JB Straubel, chief technology officer for Tesla said at the time. “This is a business that is gaining an increasing amount of our attention.”

So far, aside from the fact that this new product line is not a car, the company isn’t giving any additional hints about what will be revealed on April 30.

Musk: Tesla Will Unveil Major New Product on April 30 [Bloomberg]
Tesla Motors to Unveil New Product April 30 [WSJ]

Apple Now Accepting Android, BlackBerry & Windows Phone Trade-Ins For Credit Toward iPhones

Mon, 2015-03-30 21:04

(Screengrab via 9to5Mac.com)

(Screengrab via 9to5Mac.com)

As predicted a few weeks ago, a new report says Apple is now going to accept smartphones and PCs from other manufacturers and give owners a discount on new iPhones.

Certain models of Android, Windows Phone and BlackBerry smart phones will be eligible toward immediate purchases of a new iPhone 5c, iPhone 6, or iPhone 6 Plus, reports 9to5Mac.com, as well as some PCs.

The program’s expansion is rolling out in the U.S., France, United Kingdom, Germany, Canada and Italy as of today, with individual retail stores pages reflecting the change. Meanwhile, another version of the program that only allows for iPhone trade-ins is launching in China this week.

So which phones can you trade in? TechCrunch says eligibility covers most flagship Android manufacturers, citing Apple, including but not limited to: Sony, Samsung, Nokia, LG, HTC and BlackBerry devices specifically.

If your phone is in bad shape, however, don’t expect a trade-in credit, as it’s likely Apple will require the devices to have some value. Those that can’t be traded in due to age or condition can be recycled with Apple’s help, however.

Apple launches in-store Android trade-in program to boost iPhone sales [9to5Mac.com]
Apple’s Trade-In Program Now Includes Non-Apple Smartphones And PCs [TechCrunch]

Sling TV Users Finding Some Shows Are Now Being Blocked From Streaming

Mon, 2015-03-30 20:55

(imgur)

(imgur)

TV production and distribution is a complicated entanglement of interests involving studios, distributors, networks, and pay-TV services, not to mention deals any of these people might have with other companies like home video or on-demand streaming sites. That’s been one of the huge impediments to getting live-streaming of all TV content — having to please all those parties who may not all agree. And that appears to be why Sling TV users are now finding that they can’t access every show on all of the networks.

Some Sling users have taken to this reddit thread to discuss why they unable to watch Criminal Minds reruns on A&E, or why certain movies are not available on Lifetime and other channels in the Sling lineup.

“Due to rights restrictions, this content cannot be streamed on Sling TV,” reads the message that users get when trying to watch these shows.

Even though Sling has only been widely available since early February, we’d heard no reports of rights restrictions until very recently, after A&E and its handful of channels joined the service.

This is most likely due to the fact that A&E and Lifetime allow Sling users to employ the service’s quasi-DVR function that lets you watch programming that has recently aired. Many of Sling’s biggest names, including ESPN, TNT, Disney, and TBS, only allow viewing of the live stream; no pausing or rewinding and no on-demand archive.

Some blame CBS and its history of antipathy toward Dish for keeping Criminal Minds off Sling, but the more likely reason is the show’s current deal with Netflix, which carries the first nine seasons of the show. It’s possible that allowing Sling users to rewind CI episodes might put them into a category that conflicts with the Netflix agreement.

Other shows that some users say are being blocked include some episodes of A&E’s Intervention and at least one Lifetime original movie. Again, Netflix currently airs a handful of Intervention episodes, and recently added a large number of Lifetime movies.

A rep for Sling confirmed the blackouts on A&E and Lifetime to TechHive, but said that “when possible, these channels will offer other programming in place of the restricted content.”

[via FierceCable]

Have A RadioShack Gift Card? You Have One More Day To Use It

Mon, 2015-03-30 20:45

(JeepersMedia)

(JeepersMedia)

We initially reported that people with RadioShack gift cards would have to use them up by March 5 or lose the entire balance. Great news if you happen to have found one buried in the far corner of your junk drawer: RadioShack has extended the period that they’re accepting gift cards to March 31.

The chain reportedly would like to wind things down tomorrow so they don’t have to pay April rent in their thousands of remaining stores, which is understandable. Whether they hand the keys over to designated auction winner Standard General or to a team of liquidators, another company will most likely be in charge as of April 1.

After that, we’re not even sure whether there will still be RadioShack brand stores around: one possible outcome of the bankruptcy auction is that the chain will be liquidated entirely, with only the remaining dealers and franchise stores maybe continuing to exist. Without a RadioShack supply chain, those stores could become something else.

People who dig up gift cards from defunct retailers can theoretically get something in exchange for the remaining value on the cards by filing as a creditor in the bankruptcy proceedings. After all, they do owe you money. However, you’d be very far down the list of creditors. In the case of RadioShack, even companies that lent the company millions of dollars to stay in business may not see much of the proceeds of this auction if Standard General wins, since most of the hedge fund’s bid for what’s left of the retailer is in the form of debt that RadioShack owes it.

RadioShack Customer FAQ [Radioshack]
Chapter 11 Gift Card Watchlist [Gift Card Girlfriend]

Student IDs That Double As Debit Cards Carry Significant Overdraft Fees

Mon, 2015-03-30 20:18
(Listener42)

(Listener42)

The cozy relationship between institutions of higher education and credit card issuers has come under increased scrutiny in recent years as consumer advocates and legislators have debated whether or not products like student IDs that double as credit or debit cards provide an actual benefit to students or if they’re just a way for schools and banks to rake in the big bucks. According to a new report from the Center for Responsible Lending, the excessive overdraft fees surrounding the use of the cards suggest the latter point.

CRL’s latest report [PDF] “Overdraft U.: Student Bank Accounts Often Loaded with High Overdraft Fees” found the co-branded cards, which are often used to distribute students student aid funds, are more advantageous to the banks than students.

The report – which focuses on overdraft policies for ATM withdrawals and transactions present in many student banking accounts – determined that many of the accounts offered through exclusive deals between colleges and financial institutions include abusive practices that can quickly drain student aid funds.

Under agreements between schools and banks, the financial institution can exclusively provide debit or credit cards to students, while colleges and universities receive millions of dollars a year in royalties and bonuses by allowing said companies to use their logos and approach their students.

Although a recent report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau found that college credit card agreements are on the decline, most agreements now focus on less regulated debit and prepaid cards.

The Government Accountability Office recently found there were at least 852 schools that had agreements with companies to market debit or prepaid cards to students in 2013.

To conduct its report, CRL examined eight such debit card agreements identified by GAO report to determine what the annual cost of the products would be for students who incur two, seven and 19 overdrafts per year.

CRL examined the overdraft policies of eight banks with college agreements. [Click to enlarge]

CRL examined the overdraft policies of eight banks with college agreements. [Click to enlarge]

While many of the cards examined by CRL touted low upfront costs, such as free monthly maintenance and free out-of-network ATM use, all but one included high-cost overdraft fees similar to those on more generally available bank accounts.

Bank overdraft policies varied significantly between the seven institutions that charged the fees. The cheapest overdraft was reported to be $23 while the most expensive was $37. Additionally, the banks charged an array of extended fees if the account was negative for a certain number of days after the initial overdraft.

On average the banks examined by CRL allowed students to pay up to $100 per day in overdraft fees.  [Click to enlarge]

On average the banks examined by CRL allowed students to pay up to $100 per day in overdraft fees. [Click to enlarge]

Most of the banks with overdraft fees also allowed consumers to over draw their account more than once per day, applying the fee for each new overdraft. On average the products allowed students to incur over $100 in overdrafts in one day, with the heaviest overdrafters paying around $700 in fees per year.

Because these accounts are often used to distribute students’ financial aid funds, CRL found that the excessive overdraft fees put the aid – used for books, program dues and living expenses – at risk.

“To put the cost of overdraft fees to the most vulnerable students in perspective, the National Association of College Stores, which represents retail stores such as campus bookstores, found that students spend an average of $655 on textbooks annually,” the report states. “Thus, many students could use the financial aid funds that are now being diverted to pay overdraft fees to pay for their textbooks for some or all of an entire school year.”

CRL found that the accounts associated with the financial institutions and schools’ agreement had no better overdraft policies than accounts students could obtain on their own through another bank; meaning they didn’t provide any actual benefit to students.

In fact, CRL reports that some widely available bank accounts outside the school agreements might provide more favorable overdraft policies.

“Co-sponsored accounts offered to students through exclusive marketing agreements should, at a minimum, have overdraft policies that are at least as consumer friendly as others readily available nationwide, such as these examples,” the report states.

While legislators introduced several bills last session to better protect students from some of the disadvantages of agreements between banks and schools, CRL appeals directly to the Department of Education in its report.

In order to better protect students, CRL urges the Dept. of Education to bar schools from entering into marketing partnerships that allow financial institutions to offer accounts with harmful debit card overdraft fees.

“At a minimum, these types of partnerships should carry significant benefits for students, with the most protection from overdraft fees possible,” the report states. “Because schools have largely failed to take advantage of their bargaining power to offer these protections directly, the Department of Education should take steps to ensure students—and their financial aid funds—have these important protections.”

In addition to ensuring partnerships offer benefits for students, CRL proposes that schools should use the CFPB’s recently proposed Safe Student Account Scorecard before entering into any agreements with banks.

And finally, the group suggests that the Dept. of Education should consider a ban on revenue sharing agreements. A report from the CFPB back in December found that in 2013 colleges and universities received nearly $43 million in royalties and bonuses from credit card issuers.

“The financial misincentives created by revenue sharing agreements effectively use the school to offer up a lucrative new customer base to the banks, rather than the school using its market power to negotiate good deals for students,” the report states.

Utah Restaurant Owner Removes Over-Sized Genitalia From Bull Sign After Uproar

Mon, 2015-03-30 20:05

(pjseeger)

(pjseeger)

The owner of a steakhouse who added an extra-large genital enhancement to the bull on the restaurant’s sign says he’s removing the nether bits that caused a slew of complaints from residents, but he’s not doing it because of the controversy.

He says he woke up one day and realized that the bull would be just as effective on the sign if it didn’t have the long cone-shaped phallus it originally included, reports The Spectrum.

The bull, before surgery. (KSTU)

The bull, before surgery. (KSTU)

But it’s not because of all the naysayers out there he says, adding that he called up the city to explain himself first.

“I told them I am not removing the penis for you or because of your complaints. I don’t like you. I’m doing it for me,” he said. “I just decided it would look better without the weenie. And oh my God! It’s beautiful.”

City officials say that though a stream of complaints have come in from people about the restaurant since it opened in 2009, there’s no cause to revoke its business license.

The owner says he filed all the proper paperwork to get the sign approved, which the City Manager admits, but added that “the dimensions of certain parts of the animal don’t seem to be built the same way as in the plan that came to us.”

The bull’s bits caused a controversy recently when the animal showed up atop a stack of signs for the restaurant, but it’s not like the owner planned it that way, he claims.

“I didn’t put it up to piss them off; I put it up because it’s an amazing piece, and I bought it as-is, but I am having fun with all the attention, and it’s brought in more customers,” he said.

At the same time, he admits that the cone shape didn’t feel quite… right.

“But I don’t know what a weenie on a bull is supposed to look like,” he says.

Owner alters Barista’s infamous bull [The Spectrum]

Pediatricians Say Using Teaspoons & Tablespoons For Kids’ Medicine Leads To Overdoses

Mon, 2015-03-30 19:48

(frankieleon)

(frankieleon)

While some parents pull out actual measuring spoons when pouring out a teaspoon or tablespoon of their kids’ medications, many just resort to employing the same utensils they use for family meals. But while you might use a spoon for tea, that doesn’t mean it holds only a teaspoon of liquid, and a larger spoon may or may not actually hold a tablespoon. In an effort to cut down on thousands of annual overdose cases, the American Academy of Pediatrics is calling for medications to be measured in milliliters.

According to the AAP, more than 70,000 children visit the emergency room each year as a result of unintentional medication overdoses, and measuring/delivery errors are among the most common causes of these hospital visits, whether it’s a parent who eyeballed the amount of medication or someone who confused a tablespoon for a teaspoon.

In a policy statement [PDF] published in the journal Pediatrics, the AAP recommends to parents and physicians that “milliliter-based dosing should be used exclusively when prescribing and administering liquid medications,” and that people who administer these medications should be using devices — preferably syringes with metric markings — that allow for precise measurements.

“Spoons come in many different sizes and are not precise enough to measure a child’s medication,” said pediatrician Ian Paul, MD, FAAP, lead author of the policy statement. “For infants and toddlers, a small error – especially if repeated for multiple doses – can quickly become toxic.”

The AAP says that pediatric medications often include metric dosing information on the label, but those medications often include non-metric measuring devices. Sometimes it’s the opposite. Either way, it’s confusing.

In addition to calling for standards on the way pediatric medications are measured, the AAP is asking
that dosing devices only include relevant markings and that there should not be markings that are significantly larger than the dose described on the label.

“We are calling for a simple, universally recognized standard that will influence how doctors write prescriptions, how pharmacists dispense liquid medications and dosing cups, and how manufacturers print labels on their products,” explains Dr. Paul

Dunkin’ Donuts Considering Using Only Cage-Free Eggs

Mon, 2015-03-30 19:05

(JeepersMedia)

(JeepersMedia)

Leaning into the growing consumer demand for products that are sourced from animals who aren’t contained as strictly as in the past, Dunkin’ Donuts announced today that it’s looking into using eggs only from uncaged hens in all its restaurants. It’s also planning on buying pork in the U.S. only from suppliers that don’t put animals in gestation crates by 2022.

According to a report from the Wall Street Journal, by the end of next year 10% of all eggs for breakfast sandwiches at the chain’s U.S. locations will be from cage-free hens.

This, after Dunkin’ Donuts had pledged to reach a goal of getting 5% of its eggs from cage-free sources by the end of 2013, according to the company’s senior director of corporate social responsibility, Christine Miller.

Revised rules for the U.S. egg industry aimed at improving conditions for the 305 million egg-laying hens in the country discourage the kind of cramped cages that have been used for decades.

California already requires every egg-in-shell sold in the state to come from hens that have enuogh room to sit down, turn in a circle and spread their wings. Washington, Oregon, Michigan and Ohio have passed hen-cage laws that are taking effect in the next few years, and other states have proposed bills on the docket as well.

Dunkin’ Donuts Considers All Cage-Free Eggs [Wall Street Journal]

StubHub Files Antitrust Suit Against Ticketmaster, Golden State Warriors

Mon, 2015-03-30 19:04

gswticketmastereBay-owned ticket resale site StubHub has sued both Ticketmaster and the NBA’s Golden State Warriors for allegedly threatening to cancel the subscriptions of season ticket holders if they try to resell any of their tickets via StubHub.

According to the complaint [PDF] filed in a federal court in San Francisco, the Warriors already have a monopoly on primary ticket sales, which are done exclusively through Ticketmaster, and that the team and the ticket company are trying to perpetuate this control over ticket sales “by forcing Warriors fans to use only Secondary Ticket Exchange services provided by the Warriors, through Ticketmaster, for the resale of Warriors tickets.”

“They have set out to achieve this illegal outcome for a single purpose: to reap service fees and profits that they could not earn in a competitive Secondary Ticket Exchange environment,” contends the complaint, which alleges violations of the federal Sherman antitrust act and state-level laws in California.

StubHub argues that anyone who has a ticket to a Warriors game should be able to sell it on whichever secondary market they choose, but alleges that “To control and profit from the resale of Warriors tickets through such Exchanges, the Warriors and Ticketmaster have cancelled or threatened to cancel fan ticket subscriptions to Warriors season and post-season tickets if fans choose to resell their Warriors tickets over a Secondary Ticketing Exchange that competes with Ticketmaster’s,” which obviously includes StubHub. “In short, Defendants have offered a Hobson’s Choice to Warriors fans: use Ticketmaster’s Secondary Ticket Exchange exclusively or forfeit your Warriors tickets altogether. To Warriors fans, this is effectively no choice at all.”

The reseller claims that this policy resulted in an 80% drop in StubHub’s inventory of Warriors tickets between 2013 and 2014:

stubhublawsuitgraph

“[I]f Defendants are not prevented from continuing their anticompetitive practices, Ticketmaster will become the only Secondary Ticket Exchange through which Warriors tickets will be sold,” argues StubHub, “just as it has been the only Primary Ticket Platform through which Warriors tickets (and tickets to most other large events in the United States) have been sold for years.”

The complaint alleges that Ticketmaster makes it difficult for fans to resell tickets by, for example, delaying delivery of printed tickets until only days before an event — even if they were purchased months in advance.

StubHub also cautions that if Ticketmaster’s alleged anticompetitive policies aren’t stopped now, the company is “likely to seek to replicate them with other teams and entertainment venues throughout the United States, restricting more consumers to a single Secondary Ticket Exchange and forcing competitors and innovators, such as StubHub, to exit the business. As a result, millions of Americans will find themselves captive to a monopoly Secondary Ticket Exchange unconstrained in its ability to charge supra-competitive prices for lower quality services.”

T-Mobile Decides To Base New Coverage Map On Real Data From Real Phones

Mon, 2015-03-30 18:27
T-Mobile's dynamic coverage map for the greater Washington, DC area.

T-Mobile’s dynamic coverage map for the greater Washington, DC area.

T-Mobile has been trying, for the past few years, to break away from the dominant competition in the mobile space by doing anything they can think of differently. And now, that extends to information for potential customers, too: their coverage map.

The company announced the change to the new map today. Basically, it has two big differences from everyone else’s, the company claims. First, it’s going to be updated at least twice a month, instead of being a static, annual thing. And secondly, it works backwards.

Your typical wireless coverage map is a visual representation of where the company claims to provide service. Customer experience, for a variety of reasons, may not always line up.

So T-Mobile’s new map is coming at it from the other angle: it’s a visual representation of where customers say the company provides service. The so-called “Next Gen Network Map” isn’t 100% made up of customer data points; it also includes data from third-party network monitoring services like Inrix.

The map doesn’t just say where customers get T-Mobile coverage, but specifically breaks down what level of coverage — 4G LTE vs 3G, and so on — is available at a given address. The map also incorporates speed test data for some (but not all) locations, showing the average of customer network speed-tests run over the past 90 days.

It’s not hard to see why T-Mobile would be gung-ho for the new coverage mapping tech. Despite aggressive expansion, T-Mobile still faces a popular perception of having a small, slow, crappy network. If the “uncarrier” can refute that perception with real, real-time data, they may be able to win over more customers from AT&T and Verizon.

As for consumers, it’s a good way to get a look at what T-Mobile offers in your area, or in an area you’re likely to travel to. Though data that granular can be of mixed utility: two addresses, each within six blocks of yours truly, offered wildly divergent speed test results, with one clocking in at barely 1 Mbps and the other reporting an average of 12 Mbps. And none of the customer-verified nodes in between those two addresses had speed test data attached.

Still, more transparency is basically always a good thing. And T-Mobile’s chief tech officer Neville Ray seems to agree. “We want the rest of the competition to do this,” Ray said. “In the future, customers will demand greater visibility on all aspects of their service.”

T-Mobile ditches static coverage map [CNet]

Net-A-Porter In Deal Talks With Online Retailer Yoox

Mon, 2015-03-30 18:26

netAmazon’s foray into the luxury apparel business may be over before it even began. Just a week after reports surfaced that the company was in talks to buy high-end retailer Net-a-Porter for $2 billion, the smaller company confirmed it’s seeking a possible deal with someone else.

BBC News reports that Net-a-Porter and Italian-based online retailer Yoox are discussing a “potential business combination” that could create a mega luxury retailer worth more than $2.5 billion.

Both Yoox and Net-a-Porter – which is owned by Swiss company Richemont – launched in 2000 as a way to provide more upscale brands in one place. However, the two companies took a decidedly different approach to doing so.

London-based Net-a-Porter showcases its products much like one might see while thumbing through a fashion magazine, while Yoox focuses on buying overstocked or unsold items from previous seasons from high-profile fashion designers and then selling those apparel products for a discounted price.

According to BBC News, the company also operates some full-priced online store for big fashion house. Called monobrand e-shops, they are described as “powered by Yoox.”

Reports of a merger between the two companies first surfaced last year, but those were never confirmed.

Yoox and Net-a-Porter in merger talks [BBC News]

Salus Capital Claims Shenanigans In RadioShack Bankruptcy Auction

Mon, 2015-03-30 18:21

(Nicholas Eckhart)

(Nicholas Eckhart)

Last week, it seemed like the bankruptcy auction for what’s left of RadioShack would be pretty straightforward. Standard General, one of the chain’s biggest lenders, would put up a small amount of cash and a large amount of their own debt to take over about 1,700 stores. Another lender called shenanigans on the whole sale, offering a cash bid and claiming that it was superior. Now the auction enters week 2.

As we explained last week, at issue here is the question of what a bankruptcy auction is for. Is the point to make sure that one lender gets compensated and that a different version of the brand lives on, or is it to sell off the company’s assets for as much cash as possible, then distribute the proceeds fairly to all of the company’s creditors? Another important question is how much debt owed to a bidder by the bankrupt company can be part of the bid.

Lenders that aren’t Standard General claim that the hedge fund is being allowed to put up far too much debt and not enough cash for the remains of the once-mighty retailer. The most vocal of these has been Salus Capital, which banded together with other junior creditors and lenders to make its own cash bid. RadioShack chose Standard General as the winner anyway, and Salus argued in bankruptcy court earlier today that “machinations and manipulation” involving bond trades have made this auction unfair, and Salus didn’t submit a new, higher bid this morning as expected. Instead, the company is continuing with its current bid

Salus Changes Mind About New Bid for RadioShack [Wall Street Journal]
Bidders ready for second week of action in RadioShack bankruptcy [Dallas Business Journal]

GNC Agrees To DNA, Allergen Testing Of Herbal Supplements

Mon, 2015-03-30 18:09

Even though GNC products were ultimately found to abide by federal rules and industry standards, the company has agreed to DNA barcode testing on its ingredients, along with requiring its suppliers to test for common allergens.

Even though GNC products were ultimately found to abide by federal rules and industry standards, the company has agreed to DNA barcode testing on its ingredients, along with requiring its suppliers to test for common allergens.

Earlier this year, New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sent cease-and-desist letters to several major retailers, including Target, Walgreens, and GNC, after genetic testing of store-brand herbal supplements found that many of these products did not contain the herbal ingredients they purported to include, and that some contained potentially dangerous allergens. Today, GNC and Schneiderman announced an agreement that will apply stricter testing standards — more rigorous than those required by the federal government — to the company’s supplements.

According to the agreement [PDF], GNC cooperated with the AG’s office and the company has not been found to have deviated from FDA rules or industry standards in its production of these supplements.

The issue is that those guidelines allow for chemically similar natural and synthetic ingredients to be substituted for the herbs being advertised on the label. Schneiderman’s office contends that the methods used to test these ingredients “provide inadequate assurance of the authenticity of herbal supplements.” Those standards also allow for low-level contamination, even from allergens, and again the AG raises concerns saying that a lack of testing means consumers don’t know if “contamination falls below relevant safety thresholds.”

Thus, GNC has agreed to use DNA barcoding — wherein testers compare the DNA of an ingredient in the supplement with a reference segment of DNA — for the ingredients in its GNC Herbal Plus products. The company will start this testing within 18 months.

The company will also require of its suppliers that they implement randomized allergen testing on active herbal and botanical ingredients for Herbal Plus products. These tests will look for the eight most common allergens, as determined by the FDA.

In an effort to educate consumers, GNC will publicize the difference between whole herb ingredients — in which an herb is chopped or ground into a powder — and extracts, where the herb is treated with a solvent to pull out certain components.

These new testing procedures will apply to products sold at all GNC stores nationwide.

“When consumers take an herbal supplement, they should be able to do so with full knowledge of what is in that product and confidence that every precaution was taken to ensure its authenticity and purity,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “I urge all herbal supplements manufacturers and retailers to join GNC in working with my office to increase transparency and put the safety of their customers first.”

For its part, GNC is touting today’s agreement as proof that there was nothing wrong with its supplements.

“As our testing demonstrated, and this agreement affirms beyond any doubt, our products are not only safe and pure but are in full compliance with all regulatory requirements,” said Michael G. Archbold, CEO of GNC in a statement. “As an industry leader we have always gone above and beyond the minimum requirements in pursuing quality for our consumers, and we will continue to lead the efforts for higher standards. This is good for consumers, good for the industry, and good for GNC.”

Public health advocates are simultaneously applauding today’s agreement and pointing out that more should be done by the government to regulate this growing, multibillion-dollar industry.

“The agreement GNC reached with New York State represents important progress in ensuring that supplements contain what they claim to,” says David Schardt, Senior Nutritionist, Center for Science in the Public Interest. “But Congress should pass reform that would allow the FDA to police this marketplace and remove products that are dishonestly marketed or potentially dangerous.”

David S. Seres, M.D., Director of Medical Nutrition at Columbia University Medical Center adds, “When federal law prohibits the kind of regulation that we demand on all other products used for health benefits, the Attorney General’s actions represent an important step in reining in the supplement industry and assuring that the consumer can trust what is in the bottle.”

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