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The Consumerist

California Governor Vetoes Weak-Kneed Antibiotics Bill

Tue, 2014-09-30 19:41

(John Abella)

(John Abella)

Considering that 80% of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. are used on farm animals, and that most of those drugs are used primarily for growth promotion, you’d think we’d be happy to see a state like California introduce legislation that appears to ban the use of antibiotics to get fatter cows, pigs, and chickens. But it’s what that bill doesn’t do that has us concerned, and why California Governor Jerry Brown has vetoed it.

State Senate Bill 835 [PDF] would forbidden the use of antibiotics specifically for growth promotion. It would also require any antibiotics given to animals be prescribed by a veterinarian.

The bill is basically identical to the FDA’s 2013 guidance; the only real difference is that the California legislation seeks to make these rules law instead of the useless, voluntary guidelines given at the federal level.

But ultimately, both the state and FDA plans share the same critical problem — they leave a loophole for supposed disease prevention.

Just like under the FDA guidance, farmers in California would simply be compelled to change the reason for using antibiotics without actually reducing the amount they feed to their animals. And since many of the antibiotics approved for growth-promotion are also approved for disease prevention, this is effectively just a matter of checking off a different box.

The livestock and drug industries contend that the drugs are needed to prevent outbreaks of disease. But the continuous low-dose use of the same antibiotics has been proven to not only be ineffective in preventing disease but actually gives rise to drug-resistant superbugs.

Gov. Brown agreed with advocates, including our colleagues at Consumers Union, who argued that this bill should be vetoed with the hopes of ultimately resulting in a piece of legislation that could reduce the amount of antibiotics being used without any therapeutic purpose.

“Scientists around the world are warning that we are over-using these life-saving medicines in both human medicine and to raise animals,” wrote Gov. Brown in his veto message [PDF]. “I am directing the Department of Food and Agriculture to work with the Legislature to find new and effective ways to reduce the unnecessary antibiotics used for livestock and poultry.”

The veto was applauded by groups seeking stronger regulation on antibiotics.

“The overuse of antibiotics in food production is making antibiotics ineffective for treatment of human disease. Antibiotics should be used on the farm only for the treatment of sick animals, for a limited period of time, as antibiotics are used in human disease treatment,” said Elisa Odabashian of Consumers Union. “We congratulate Governor Brown for his unwillingness to codify weak FDA guidance that allows antibiotics to continue to be overused on healthy farm animals for disease prevention instead of disease treatment.”

“In vetoing this bill, the Governor has called for stronger action to curb unnecessary antibiotic use in California,” said Jonathan Kaplan of the Natural Resources Defense Center. “We face a rapidly accelerating public health crisis due to antibiotic resistance. Clearly, the Governor is not going to accept good intentions and fig leaf solutions to tackle this problem. Instead, we need to lift the curtain of secrecy that now shrouds the industry’s abuse of these drugs and eliminate unnecessary antibiotic use so that these precious medicines keep working for people who need them.”

Transferring Funds To Prisoners Is Big Business For Some Financial Companies

Tue, 2014-09-30 19:15

(Rick Drew)

(Rick Drew)


Life isn’t supposed to be easy for prisoners, but should the punishment extend to their families? A new report highlights the ways in which some financial institutions appear to be benefiting from the bad fortunes of others while prisoners’ families fall into debt trying to provide necessities like underwear and toothpaste to their loved ones behind bars.

The Center for Public Integrity has released the first in a two-part series investigating how private financial companies have made millions from the families of prisoners.

Over a six-month investigation CPI found that prison bankers collected tens of millions of dollars every year from inmates’ families in fees for basic financial services. As a result, some families have gone without medical coverage, paying bills or even staying in contact with their imprisoned family members.

So how did this happen? According to CPI, these problems can be traced back several years to the point when private financial firms, like Florida-based JPay, began to dominate the market for prisoners’ finances.

While families once could spend as little as $3 to send a traditional money order to inmates and have the funds transferred to their prison accounts, now they must pay upwards of $8 per transfer to have transfers made in a timely manner.

Although families can opt to continue sending paper money orders through companies like JPay, CPI found that many have converted to costly electronic transaction after waiting weeks or even a month for the funds to be made available to their loved ones.

JPay, which provides money transfers to more than 70% of the inmates in U.S. prisons, is often the only option for families to send money. And some consumer advocates say it would appear the company has taken advantage of its position by charging exorbitant fees.

In 2013, JPay processed 7 million transactions for families of inmates and made more than $50 million in revenue.

Those revenues come from the high fees many families begrudgingly pay to have funds readily available to their loved ones.

CPI reports that depending on how much a consumer sends and in which state they are sending the funds the fees administered by JPay can reach as high as 35% to 45%. While that may not touch the triple-digit interest rates levied by often predatory financial services like payday loans, the fee does take a huge chunk out of inmate funds.

One woman reported that in order to send her son in a Virginia correctional facility $50 she had to pay an additional $20 to JPay.

And that’s not the only place families are being hit with fees, some states will take as much as 15% of a transfer for mandatory savings accounts. While inmates receive those funds upon release, the Department of Corrections keeps any interest accrued on the account.

Ryan Shapiro, CEO of JPay, tells CPI the fees charged by the company are necessary and the lowest they could possibly be.

However, CPI found that competitor NIC Inc. charges significantly lower fees for transfers in Maine, Florida and Arkansas.

Shapiro also tells CPI he believes that the fees charged aren’t high enough to make a difference for inmates’ families.

“We go out of our way to make sure that they feel comfortable — that, you know, you’re spending money with a company that cares about you,” Shapiro says.

Yet, families that have had to use the company say their experience was wildly different.

When Jewel called JPay’s phone center to ask why payments to her son were delayed and why she must submit extensive paperwork each time she makes a money order transfer, she says she was hung up on.

Despite families’ displeasure with JPay’s high fees and lack of customer service, prisons have continued to use the company, thanks in part to beneficial profit-sharing arrangements.

Through the arrangements with JPay, states often receive between $0.50 and $2.50 for each payment the company accepts on behalf of their prisoners.

While that might sound like a thinner margin compared to the high fees often charged by JPay it certainly adds up.

For example, Illinois received about $4,000 per month from JPay last year.

Alex Friedmann, associate director of prisoner advocacy group the Human Rights Defense Center, tells CPI that these profit-sharing arrangements often represent legal kickbacks for the prisons.

“They charge exorbitant fees then kick back a percentage of their revenue. … The company doesn’t need that for profit,” Friedmann says.

Yet, Shapiro says the arrangements reflect a commission that is going back to the benefit of inmates by using the funds to purchase things like basketball hoops or other sports equipment.

CPI reports, however, that over the past few years tight prison budgets have resulted in the funds being used to cover the cost of X-ray machines and ice machines.

The prisons and their top officials also personally benefit from JPay’s often extravagant convention parties and awards.

Back in 2012, JPay threw a party during the American Correctional Association convention. The party included tequila, hand-rolled cigars, a live mariachi band and free shuttles all night long.

The company also fetes state corrections directors by funding the individuals’ trips and awarding them with an expensive crystal bowl.

Unlike other financial services that have come under regulatory scrutiny for taking advantage of consumers by charging high fees, JPay and other prison financial companies have faced few hurdles.

CPI reports that federal regulators with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which can sue companies for offering unfair, deceptive and abusive financial services, and the Federal Trade Commission declined to comment on specific issues related to prison financial services.

Still, regulators from some individual states have attempted to rein in JPay. Seven states have levied fines totaling $408,500 against the company for operating without a license.

Prison bankers cash in on captive customers [Center for Public Integrity]

Hey Kids, Let’s Not Trick-Or-Treat In This Completely Black Bodysuit

Tue, 2014-09-30 19:13

(Amazon.com)

(Amazon.com)

If there’s one problem with kids, it’s that cars can easily see them and avoid hitting them, especially at night. Wait. That’s wrong. Kids are small and easily overlooked when crossing streets, and never more so than when cloaked completely in black on a dark Halloween night.

Consumerist reader Zack spotted this black bodysuit kids’ costume — which, to be fair, does come in other, brighter colors — and figured it might not be the best idea.

“An all black children’s Halloween costume that partially obscures their vision? It’s listed as a lightning deal on Amazon,” he writes. “Hurry! The ‘invisible pedestrian’ or ‘child struck by a car in the ER’ costume is going quickly.”

Indeed, that ability to vanish into the night is touted as a feature by the company on its website:

“Do we really have to say that this is perfect for Halloween, when you can blend into the night (but not in a creepy or threatening way; in fact you could whistle a bit so people know you’re coming).”

Personally, a whistling shadow might be creepier than a silent one. In any case, there’s a very real danger to kids walking on Halloween, four times as much than on other nights, warns the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

During 1975-1996, from 4 p.m. through 10 p.m. on October 31, a total of 89 deaths occurred among pedestrians aged 5-14 years, compared with 8846 on all other evenings. Overall, among children aged 5-14 years, an average of four deaths occurred on Halloween during these hours each year, compared with an average of one death during these hours on every other day of the year.

As such, to prevent oncoming cars from hitting Junior, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s has some tips for keeping kids safe on Halloween:

• Kids should stick to familiar areas that are well lit and trick-or-treat in groups.
• Choose face paint when possible instead of masks, which can obstruct a child’s vision.
• Decorate costumes with reflective tape and have kids carry glow sticks or flashlights.

Excluded from that list? Cloaking your child in invisibility and covering up his face.

Several Varieties Of Bravo Raw Dog And Cat Food Recalled For Possible Salmonella Contamination

Tue, 2014-09-30 19:04

These Bravo products are being recalled because they have the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella.

Pets are often regarded with a special level of love and devotion from their owners. When it comes to feeding those furry family members, only the best is acceptable. And the best certainly doesn’t include salmonella. That’s why dog and cat food manufacturer Bravo issued a recall of several varieties of pet food.

Bravo! products being recalled. [Click to enlarge]

These Bravo! products are being recalled because they have the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella. [Click to enlarge]

The Food & Drug Administration reports that Connecticut-based Bravo issued the recall after routine testing found salmonella in some lots of the company’s soft food products.

Affected varieties include two- and five-pound packages of Raw Food Diet Bravo! Turkey Blend for dogs and cats, Bravo! Blends All Natural Chicken Blend diet for dogs and cats, Premium Turkey Formula Bravo! Balance Raw Diet, and Bravo! Blends All Natural Chicken Blend diet for dogs and cats. The products have a “Best Used By” dates of November 5, 2015 and August 11, 2016.

Out of an “abundance of caution” the company is also recalling all the two, five and 10-pound sizes of Bravo Chicken Blends, Bravo Turkey Blends, Bravo Balance Chicken Balance and Bravo Balance Premium Turkey Formula frozen raw diet products with “Best Used By” dates between June 20, 2016 and September 18, 2016.

These products are being recalled out of an abundance of caution.

These products are being recalled out of an abundance of caution. [Click to enlarge]

The dog and cat food was distributed nationwide beginning in November 2013 to retail stores, internet retailers and directly to consumers.

The product can be identified by the batch ID code printed on the side of the plastic tube.

Pets with Salmonella infections may be lethargic and have diarrhea or bloody diarrhea, fever, and vomiting. Some pets will have only decreased appetite, fever and abdominal pain. Infected but otherwise healthy pets can be carriers and infect other animals or humans. If your pet has consumed the recalled product and has these symptoms, please contact your veterinarian.

Bravo Recalls Select Chicken and Turkey Pet Foods Because of Possible Salmonella Health Risk [FDA]

Your Car From 1999 Or After Doesn’t Need A Tune-Up

Tue, 2014-09-30 19:00

(Razor512)

(Razor512)

Most people who drive learn the essentials of driving, traffic, car maintenance, and road rage skills from their parents. That’s what parents are for: to pass on their wisdom as well as their bad habits. We also pick up bad or outdated information along the way, like the requirement to change our oil every 3,000 miles. Or the belief that cars need frequent tune-ups.

If your car is more than 15 years old or so, yes, you do need to tune it up. That includes adjustments of parts that newer cars don’t even have, like the carburetor, and replacing spark plugs and the condenser as they wear out. Spark plugs in newer cars, meanwhile, last for up to 100,000 miles.

If you want to keep your car running efficiently and prolong its life, consult the maintenance schedule in the manual and do what’s recommended unless you have a compelling reason not to. Don’t visit your mechanic and ask for a “tune-up” unless your car is of the proper age, unless you want to broadcast that you don’t know what you’re talking about.

You probably don’t need a tune-up [Consumer Reports]
Reality check on car-care myths [Consumer Reports]

Lay’s Confirms Those Bright Green Chips Are Meant To Look Like That

Tue, 2014-09-30 18:34

(via Reddit)

(via Reddit)

Imagine you open up a bag of Lay’s Barbecue potato chips and, among the expected rust-colored discs of fried tubers you find a pair of bright green chips that look like some sort of St. Patrick’s Day gimmick. Turns out these chips are supposed to look like that; they just shouldn’t have ended up in your bag.

A Reddit user posted the above photo yesterday, along with the comment that “these chips were dyed incorrectly.”

But then someone who claims to work at Lay’s and seems to know what they are talking about chimed in with this completely reasonable sounding explanation:

Actually, these chips were dyed with green food coloring so they’d be easy to find coming out of the fryer. Several times a day the amount of time the chips spend in the fryer is tested, and this makes them easy to find. Someone missed them obviously.

Sounds good — you don’t want to mix in the tester chips with the finished product, so you dye them green for easy detection later down the line.

But was it true? After all, you don’t need to provide your work credentials to post to Reddit, and anyone can claim to be a Lay’s employee if they want to. So just to make sure, we checked with parent company PepsiCo, where a Lay’s rep confirmed:

“The explanation provided by the self-identified employee is correct. We do use dyed chips to help test frying times of cooking oil in our manufacturing plants.”

So there you have it. Next time you get a bright green Lay’s chip, you’re (probably) not hallucinating, and (probably) won’t hallucinate if you eat it.

Failure To Read Hotspot Fine Print Could Lead To Signing Away Rights To Your Firstborn Child

Tue, 2014-09-30 18:23

(pedestrian photographer)

(pedestrian photographer)

How carefully do you read those terms and conditions that pop up when you use a WiFi hotspot you’re unfamiliar with? Not quite carefully enough, it seems, as one group doing an experiment on the security risks of public WiFi found at least six people who unwittingly gave away their firstborn children in the process of getting online.

The European law enforcement agency Europol teamed with security researchers to set up a WiFi hotspot in London this summer, reports The Guardian, and buried some interesting terms in the fine print to sign on to the free network.

Included in the terms was a “Herod clause,” which granted free WiFi access if “the recipient agreed to assign their first born child to us for the duration of eternity.”

Six people will now have to hand their firstborn kids over to Rumpelstiltskin.

Just kidding, no one is going to take any babies for Wifi.

“We have yet to enforce our rights under the terms and conditions but, as this is an experiment, we will be returning the children to their parents,” wrote the security company, F-Score, in its report, adding that its legal advisor “points out that – while terms and conditions are legally binding – it is contrary to public policy to sell children in return for free services, so the clause would not be enforceable in a court of law.”

The experiment was aimed at highlighting just how serious people should take their own security while using public WiFi not protected by a password.

When the Herod clause was removed during another part of the experiment, 33 devices connected to the portable hotspot of unknown origin — which could be an easy way to let hackers in to your network, researchers say.

“It‘s a particularly disturbing development as recent research has shown that individuals can be accurately identified by using just the last four access points where they have logged on,” F-Secure’s report read.

The group advised using VPN software to encrypt data coming in and out of your device, or to turn off WiFi when in public and near untrusted hotspots, and to practice spinning straw into gold.

Londoners give up eldest children in public Wi-Fi security horror show [The Guardian]

FCC Repeals Sports Blackout Rule, But Blackouts Will Continue

Tue, 2014-09-30 18:15

((april))

((april))

Calling the NFL on its bluff to move its broadcast games to cable, the FCC voted unanimously this morning to repeal the outdated sports blackout rule that prevented the airing of certain games that weren’t sold out. Though it doesn’t mean the end of blackouts.

The rule, established in 1975, was created to curb the leeching of ticket sales from the growing market for televised sporting events. Most sports leagues have moved almost entirely to pay-TV and have privately negotiated blackout arrangements among themselves.

The NFL remains the only league where the overwhelming majority of in-market games are aired on broadcast TV, but even then only a few games a season even come close to being blacked out.

Last season, only two NFL games were blacked out in their home markets during the entire season.

The NFL also adjusted its rules in recent years to lower the bar for what triggers a blackout. This allows teams in struggling markets to continue airing games while not selling out completely. It also doesn’t put a huge burden on teams with new, mega-stadiums to fill up every seat in the huge house.

Since there is nothing preventing the NFL from negotiating blackout guidelines with the networks and cable operators, the FCC didn’t really see any reason that the 39-year-old rule should continue to be in place.

“It is the leagues that control whether sports fans can watch the games they want to watch,” said FCC Chair Tom Wheeler at Tuesday’s commission meeting. “For 40 years, these teams have hidden behind a rule of the FCC. No more… It’s a simple fact, the federal government should not be party to sports teams keeping their fans from viewing the games, period.”

The NFL’s threat to move games to pay-TV is nothing but hot air.

1. Basic cable does not offer the ratings that broadcast TV does.
Not every game could be on ESPN or some other national, high-profile sports network. So the games would have to be aired on regional sports channels, resulting in a huge drop in ratings. No local cable sports channel is going to get $620K for a 30-second ad.

2. It’s counter to the league’s recent strategy.
The NFL Network, which is widely available to most pay-TV customers on a non-premium basis, had such horrible ratings that the league made a deal with CBS to start airing Thursday night games. Why would the NFL revert to basic cable?

3. It would be absolutely pointless.
Assume for a moment that Roger “What tape?” Goodell makes good on the threat to take his games and run to basic cable. What does he gain? Nothing. Those 1-3 games a year that are currently blacked out will continue to be under-attended. Meanwhile, ad revenues are slashed and viewership drops. All so the league can protest the repeal of a 39-year-old rule that it doesn’t need.

[via Reuters]

Media Companies Afraid To Show FCC Their Comcast Contracts Because Rivals Might Learn Their Secrets

Tue, 2014-09-30 18:15

(frankieleon)

(frankieleon)

It’s no secret that media companies are pretty worried about the repercussions of letting Comcast and Time Warner Cable merge. But what is a big secret are the agreements that those companies have with Comcast and TWC right now. They’re so secret, in fact, that networks are refusing to share any data with the FCC because they’re afraid their rivals might benefit from it. And that’s a problem, because without that data, the FCC is missing one of the key tools it should have in its toolbox as it evaluates the merger.

The FCC has been asking companies to share contract and negotiation information to help them make an informed decision about the merger, but the networks so far aren’t budging, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The Comcast/TWC deal would give the combined company extraordinary reach around the nation, which in turn would give it both the ability and the incentive to behave in shady, perhaps even extortionate ways with suppliers.

In this case, the suppliers are cable content companies and broadcast networks, like CBS, Fox, Disney, Discovery, Viacom, and Time Warner (not TWC but the other, HBO-and-CNN-owning one). Those companies have expressed strong concerns about their ability to conduct business in good faith (and at reasonable rates) with the impending cable Voltron.

The discussion has essentially descended into name-calling. In an FCC filing, Comcast accused media companies of attempted extortion; several of those companies shot back that Comcast’s tactic of trying to intimidate opposition is “troubling.”

The FCC is tasked with trying to decouple reality from rhetoric, and theoretically acting on the former. In order to evaluate Comcast’s negotiating tactics, the FCC needs to be able to take a look at those negotiations. The Commission can’t determine if Comcast’s behavior is harmful and anticompetitive, or just aggressive and profit-driven, without any actual evidence. And the content companies are deeply unwilling to let the FCC have a look.

Carriage negotiations, and the contracts programming distributors sign with the networks, are as top-secret as anything in the media world gets. We have rough understandings of these deals — research firms, for example, are able to conclude with reasonable accuracy that ESPN costs cable companies about $6 per subscriber per month — but the actual details are kept firmly under wraps.

FCC filings frequently have “confidential” and “highly confidential” information redacted for public viewing, but under the Commission’s current proposal, any relevant third party that has signed the appropriate nondisclosure agreement can view the originals — with all that highly sensitive information intact.

Although to some small degree the content companies may be willing to roll with the mindset that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” as they stand against Comcast, the fact is that they are all deeply in competition with each other. The concern, therefore, is that if Network A submits their contract and negotiation documents, that rival networks B through Q can read them and learn all that top-secret information.

The WSJ reports that the media companies suggested an alternative strategy, used earlier in the Comcast/NBCU merger. In that case, the Justice Department, currently reviewing the merger for antitrust concerns, would have all of the information and the FCC could access it from there. However, because of the way the FCC merger review process works, it’s not clear whether the Commission would be permitted to take that non-public information into account.

In the end, the broadcasters may just be shooting themselves in the collective foot. They want concessions and guarantees of future good behavior from Comcast, but the FCC can’t help them without information and it’s up to them to give the FCC that information. If they can’t or won’t demonstrate the ways that Comcast throws its clout around, then the FCC may have to assume that all is well.

FCC Asks Media Firms for Details of Comcast Contracts [Wall Street Journal]

American Consumers Now Have The Most Debt Ever

Tue, 2014-09-30 17:26

(Jeff Gates)

(Jeff Gates)

Did the recent recession make consumers realize that carrying large amounts of debt for their credit card and car purchases is a bad thing? No, Americans have not adopted widespread frugality, a report from the Federal Reserve shows. We’re taking on more consumer debt than ever. Yes, even when you adjust it for inflation.

Of course, here’s the catch: when you hear the phrase “consumer debt,” you might think that includes commercial spending like purchases of appliances, cars, and anything that you can put on a credit card. That’s true. While the total doesn’t include home mortgage debt, which peaked in 2007, it does include one type of debt that you might not think of as “consumer spending.”

The Fed’s numbers also include student loans, though. As a nation, we’ve been taking out about $100 billion in student loan debt per year. While people are paying down and paying off their loans, the outstanding total increases every year. While college tuition and fee increases have outpaced inflation in recent years, that’s a huge debt increase.

Americans who put off buying new cars during the recession are apparently doing so, since outstanding auto loans have increased significantly since 2009. Back then, we were actually decreasing the amount of debt we had for cars, paying down a collective $60 billion or so in 2009.

Financial Accounts of the United States 2Q 2014 [Federal Reserve]
Consumer Debt Hits an All-Time High [Bloomberg Businessweek]

Tetris Is Being Made Into A Live-Action Movie For Some Reason

Tue, 2014-09-30 17:10

Dooo dooo dooo dooo do do do do do, doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo do do.

Dooo dooo dooo dooo do do do do do, doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo do do.

Perhaps in a quest to ensure that a new generation of people will go to sleep every night with shapes floating behind their eyelids, someone is making a full-length live-action movie of the popular 1980s video game, Tetris. Aaaaaaaand cue that song that never fails to get in your head.

Yes, a Tetris movie, and no, this is not a joke, at least not as reported by the Wall Street Journal: A company called Threshold Entertainment is working with the Tetris Company to create a movie based on the game.

There’s already a plot, and apparently it doesn’t involve people dodging giant blocks falling from the sky, which is really the only storyline that comes to mind.

“It’s a very big, epic sci-fi movie,” Threshold’s CEO Larry Kasanoff told the WSJ. “This isn’t a movie with a bunch of lines running around the page. We’re not giving feet to the geometric shapes.”

He’s got some street cred in the game-to-movie realm, as he adapted Mortal Kombat games into two big screen flicks back in the 1990s.

Besides, it’s all about cashing in on the name Tetris made for itself by being the best distraction a graphing calculator could hold for bored high schoolers pretending to pay attention before there were mobile devices with more than one game on them.

“Brands are the new stars of Hollywood,” Kasanoff explains. “We have a story behind ‘Tetris’ which makes it a much more imaginative thing.”

Apparently aliens will also enjoy Tetris the movie, as he adds that the flick will be just “the teeny tip of an iceberg that has intergalactic significance.”

Not to mention, the soundtrack is probably going to be implanted in your brains forever.

A ‘Tetris’ Movie Is in the Works (Exclusive) [Wall Street Journal]

Home Depot Pepper Spray Spat Sends 4 To Hospital

Tue, 2014-09-30 17:03

homedepotpeppersprayThe good news: It’s a Home Depot story that doesn’t involve your credit or debit card information being stolen. The not-so-good news: More than a dozen people at a California Home Depot had to be treated after a customer decided that it would be a good idea to use pepper spray on another customer.

According to KTLA-TV, four people were hospitalized and another dozen were treated by emergency responders following an incident inside a Covina, CA, Depot on Monday.

It’s unclear exactly what happened, but two men inside the store — who apparently had some sort of previous business arrangement with each other — began arguing and one of them let loose with the pepper spray.

He claims he was defending himself, and maybe that’s the case. What’s known for sure is that people were having trouble breathing, the store was evacuated, 9-1-1 responders in hazmat suits showed up, and the pepper-sprayer was arrested on charges of suspicion of unlawful possession and use of a tear gas weapon.

The man was allegedly carrying an illegally large amount of pepper spray on him, which may explain why it was able to spread throughout the store and affect so many people.

The store was reopened about two hours after authorities were first called to the scene.

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Woman Pulled Over For Drunk Driving Admits She Was Trying To Find Pizza Online

Tue, 2014-09-30 16:28

(Studio d'Xavier)

(Studio d’Xavier)

We as a society are trying so hard to fight distracted driving by warning about the dangers of using your phone while you’re behind the wheel — but it seems we have to expand the message from “Don’t text/use social media/email” while driving to also include, “Don’t try to order pizza online while you maneuver a huge hunk of metal through the world.” And don’t drink and drive on top of that (or at all).

Police in Louisville say they pulled over a woman who was driving erratically at 2:30 a.m. on Sunday, reports WDRB.com, swerving in and out of her lane.

So they pulled her over on suspicion of driving under the influence, whereupon they found she smelled like booze and had glossy eyes. She admitted to drinking half a bottle of wine and a beer. And pulled up on her phone’s web browser? The Domino’s Pizza site, as she’d apparently been trying to find a place to buy pizza.

She was arrested and charged with operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs and a communications device violation.

We hope she was given another reminder: That drinking half a bottle of wine and trying to get some pizza in your belly isn’t bad at all — if you’re safely ensconced on your couch binge-watching online TV into the wee hours of the morning, without the power to kill every other person on the road near you while you seek drunk food.

Louisville woman accused of surfing the Web on phone while driving drunk [WDRB.com]

AT&T, Where “Congestion” & Data Caps Only Apply To Existing Users

Tue, 2014-09-30 16:14

(Mike Mozart)

(Mike Mozart)

Ever since AT&T and Verizon got rid of unlimited wireless plans, both companies have used the questionable excuse of “congestion,” claiming that throttling data after remaining unlimited users pass an arbitrary threshold was necessary to keep data flowing. But in plans announced over the weekend, AT&T is effectively once again offering unlimited data (for a limited time) to new customers, which makes one wonder — what happened to all that congestion?

The Death Star announced over the weekend that it was doubling the data allotments of its mobile share value plans through Oct. 31. So an account that currently gives users 15GB of shared data will get you 30GB; this goes up through the current 50GB plan, which doubles to 100GB during the promotion.

The offer only lasts through Halloween, but AT&T claims that users will get access to the doubled data for the life of the plan.

So again, if AT&T claims it needed to stop offering new unlimited plans because data hogs were causing too much congestion, how can the company now justify giving away all this extra data for free to new customers?

Easy: An overwhelming majority of the people that buy into these double-data plans will never even come close to using up the data allotments of the same plans before they were doubled. Most wireless customers still don’t use more than 2-3GB/month in wireless data.

AT&T, much like Sprint did recently with its new “here’s a bunch of data you’ll never use” plans, is selling the illusion of getting more value out of your plan.

Here’s an analogy. I’m not a big carrot fan, but I occasionally buy them to use in certain recipes. I’m often left with a carrot or two that goes unused because I simply don’t have that much carrot time in my life. Would I get any more value if the grocer said to me, “For the same price, I’ll double the amount of carrots you get!”? No, it would just mean more carrots going in the compost heap when they ultimately go unused.

Okay, so if wireless companies can give away all this data because they know that customers will never use it, why is AT&T still using the “congestion” argument to throttle the few remaining unlimited users? Does it seem right that an unlimited customer should have access to less data than a customer with a finite data allotment?

Of course it doesn’t. But what’s right or sensible isn’t always what makes the most money for AT&T. The company doesn’t want those legacy unlimited subscribers anymore. It wants them on tiered data plans, where it knows exactly how much each customer can use each month and how much it can charge these customers for going over those limits.

“AT&T’s ability to give far more unthrottled data to new subscribers than it provides to its longest-standing customers, the ones who specifically pay for unlimited data, illustrates how arbitrary the limits are,” writes Ars Technica’s Jon Brodkin.

In August, FCC Chair Tom Wheeler said he was “deeply troubled” by Verizon’s decision to start throttling its remaining unlimited subscribers during periods of alleged congestion on its LTE network.

Verizon argues that the throttling is permitted under the FCC’s allowances for “reasonable network management,” but Wheeler contends, “I know of no past Commission statement that would treat as ‘reasonable network management’ a decision to slow traffic to a user who has paid, after all, for ‘unlimited’ service.”

Group Claims World Record For Hawaiian Dish Made With 1,126 Pounds Of Rice, Hamburger, Eggs & Gravy

Tue, 2014-09-30 15:56

A much smaller version of the dish. (Kimubert)

A much smaller version of the dish. (Kimubert)

We are all about reaching for the stars and daring to dream your biggest dreams, folks, especially if it includes many, many feet of bratwurst or working together to create a 1,126-pound world record attempt for a dish containing rice, hamburger, eggs and gravy.

You might not be familiar with loco moco, a dish popular in Hawaii, but there’s no getting around how crazy the idea of more than a thousand pounds of ingredients sounds.

That’s what it took to get the world record, which a restaurant chef and volunteers say they did with their massive moco loco dish over the weekend, reports the Associated Press.

Guinness World Records says the dish would’ve had to be at least 1,100 pounds for consideration, and it certainly sounds like the moco loco gang have delivered: They used 600 pounds of rice, 200 pounds of ground beef, 300 scrambled eggs and 200 pounds of gravy.

Though some critics said the egg should be fried over easy instead of scrambled, the idea of frying 300 eggs was likely a bit daunting. And in the end it did take a while — the crew worked for 3.5 hours to make the moco loco, which was then donated to charity to feed the homeless.

Crew makes 1,126-pound bowl of Hawaii rice dish [Associated Press]

Toyota Recalls 690,000 Tacoma Pickups For Rear Suspension Issue That Could Lead To Fire

Tue, 2014-09-30 15:53

(frankieleon)

(frankieleon)

For the third time this year Toyota issued a recall for one of its most popular models. The manufacturer is calling back 690,000 Tacoma pickup trucks for an issue with the rear suspension.

USA Today reports the recall applies to model year 2005 to 2011 Tacoma 4×4 and Pre-Runner trucks.

Officials with Toyota report the vehicles have rear leaf springs that could be subject to corrosion, leading to a fracture. If a fracture occurs one of the plates could slide out of position and puncture the gas tank. That could then lead to a fuel lead and increased risk of fire.

Toyota is not aware of any fires, crashes,injuries or fatalities related to the issue.

Owners of affected vehicles will be notified by mail and Toyota dealers will fix the issue at no cost.

This is the second time the manufacturer has been in the news this week. Yesterday the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced it would examine nearly 160 consumer complaints about unattended acceleration in Toyota Corolla vehicles.

Toyota recalls 690,000 Tacoma pickups [USA Today]

Know Your Crowdfunding Platforms: Missions, Fees, And Rules

Tue, 2014-09-30 15:30

(Eric Spiegel)

(Eric Spiegel)

You have an idea, or you have an urgent financial need, and you want to turn to the Internet to make funding happen. Or let’s say some acquaintance is asking for money on Facebook for what seems like a cool project or worthy cause, but you wonder: what the heck is an “indie go go?” Why is the site itself asking me for a donation, too?

These are the major sites you’re likely to see in the categories of fundraising for business and creative projects, and in personal fundraising for a need. Crowdfunding is a growing category, and there are entire sites dedicated to the topic of keeping track of what’s going on at different crowdfunding platforms. You can even pay a crowdfunding consultant to help you sort through it all.

KICKSTARTER

What it’s for: Kickstarter projects need a defined scope and have to result in some kind of tangible project. That can be a book, a new website, a beloved public television show, or some potato salad. Backers are supposed to receive some kind of reward in return, even if it’s just a Twitter shout-out or “good karma.”

What it isn’t for: Charity fundraising, political fundraising, or funding the development of a new invention when you don’t already have a prototype.

Forbidden rewards: Among other things, you can’t promise backers financial rewards (like stock in your company or cash once the project sells), energy drinks or food, alcohol, porn, genetically modified organisms, contest entries, tobacco, drugs, weapons, or any product condoning hate speech or violence.

Who can pay? Anyone on Earth who has a major credit or debit card.

What if a project doesn’t reach its goal? The project isn’t funded, and backers don’t have to pay.

What’s their cut? Kickstarter takes a 5% fee off the total, and Amazon Payments takes about 3% if you live in the United States, and up to 5% if you don’t.

What if the rewards never show up, or are terrible? That’s an ongoing controversy. Kickstarter says that it’s officially out of their hands once the person behind a project receives the money, but that people who run campaigns have an obligation to their backers.

Where you’ve heard of it: Here on Consumerist, for starters, when project backers are left empty-handed or during that whole potato salad thing. Lots of big-name projects that could have used traditional funding models have also used Kickstarter, like the reboot of the public television program “Reading Rainbow,” or Zach Braff’s latest incredibly self-indulgent movie.

Can you fundraise for a nonprofit? Anyone can set up a campaign for a creative project, but charity fundraisers aren’t allowed, and tax receipts for backers aren’t available.

INDIEGOGO

What it’s for: Like Kickstarter, Indiegogo is intended for a defined project, but the definition of “project” is looser than Kickstarter. It’s hard to mistake a campaign for a store when you get, for example, a keychain for sending $50 to support a school in Chile, or a drawing of a dog if you donate $50 toward his surgery. “Perks” for backers are not required.

What it isn’t for: You can’t raise money to scam people, to do anything illegal, to make something impossible, or to harm other people.

Forbidden perks: Alcohol’s out, but vouchers that can be exchanged for it are allowed. No drugs, weapons, or hate speech. Equity, capital, money, and lottery entries aren’t allowed. The ban on air travel as a reward must have an interesting story behind it. GMOs are apparently okay, though.

Who can pay? Anyone with a major credit or debit card or a PayPal account.

What if a project doesn’t reach its goal? There are two funding models. With fixed funding, the goal must be raised before the deadline. With flexible funding, the campaign owners get whatever is money is raised by the deadline. There’s a catch to flexible funding, though…

What’s their cut? For a fixed or flexible funding campaign that reaches its goal, IndieGoGo takes 4%. If the campaign raises less than the goal, they take 9% of what you did raise. On top of this, credit card or PayPal fees will take 3-5% depending on method and where you live. There’s a $25 wire fee if you want money wired to you instead.

What if the rewards never show up, or are terrible? IndieGoGo will provide backers with a campaign owner’s contact information, but there are no refunds.

Where you’ve heard of it: Cartoonist Matthew “The Oatmeal” Inman of used Indiegogo to raise $1.37 million to build a Nikola Tesla museum, and over the summer one controversial campaign raised $2.2 million to pave some roads in Idaho with solar arrays.

Can you fundraise for a nonprofit? Yes, registered 501(c)(3) nonprofits can verify themselves on the site and run their own campaigns. Verified charities get a fee discount to 3%.

GOFUNDME

What it’s for: They bill themselves as a fundraising site rather than a crowdfunding site. It’s simple: you set a goal, share the URL, and people send you money. You can withdraw the money whenever you want.

Who can pay? Anyone with a major credit or debit card or WePay account. You can withdraw into a PayPal account, but the site doesn’t accept PayPal for donations.

What’s their cut? GoFundMe takes 5% of all donations, and there’s also a processing fee that varies by country, from 1.75% to 2.9%. There’s also a 30 cent fee for each donation. Verified not-for-profit donations go through FirstGiving, which charges 4.75% on top of GoFundMe’s fees.

Where you’ve heard of it: GoFundMe campaigns tend to be personal, aimed at people who know the recipient. Your cousin or neighbor or friend has probably set up a campaign and posted it on Facebook. You may have heard of a young girl who raised money there to make a prototype intravenous infusion backpack for children with cancer.

Can you fundraise for a nonprofit? Yes, but you have to pay 4.75% in processing fees to FirstGiving to make your campaign tax-deductible.

YOUCARING

What it’s for: They’re a site for personal and nonprofit fundraisers. Donations go straight into recipients’ PayPal or WePay accounts.

Who can pay? Anyone with a major credit or debit card or WePay account.

What’s their cut? YouCaring has a unique business model: it doesn’t charge recipients any fees, but instead asks donors for a “suggested donation” of about 5% of the total they’re giving ($1 minimum) to run the site. These are optional, but the site adds them automatically.

Where you’ve heard of it: Campaigns asking for money tend to be personal and aimed at people who know the recipient. One large campaign with thousands of donors raised money for a trust fund for the children of an Army officer killed in Afghanistan.

Can you fundraise for a nonprofit? Charities can set up campaigns, but there’s no process for verified or registered nonprofits.

eBay To Spin Off PayPal So They Can Compete Against Each Other For Worst Company Title

Tue, 2014-09-30 15:10

paypal-logo-transparent1For years, we’ve had to lump eBay and PayPal into a single listing in the Worst Company In America brackets. But next year, these two big brands might have the chance to square off against each other for the title, as eBay announced this morning that it is spinning off PayPal into its own publicly traded business.

“Creating two standalone businesses best positions eBay and PayPal to capitalize on their respective growth opportunities in the rapidly changing global commerce and payments landscape, and is the best path for creating sustainable shareholder value,” reads a statement from eBay about the conscious uncoupling.

eBay acquired PayPal in 2002. The payment processing service now represents about 41% of eBay’s net revenue last year.

The company had until very recently been fighting the idea of spinning off PayPal, saying that the synergy of processing eBay transactions through a business owned by eBay had worked like gangbusters for more than a decade so why stop now?

But activist shareholders, led by billionaire Carl Icahn, have pushed for the split, arguing that the two businesses would operate more efficiently as separate entities. They feared that major online retailers and others would be reluctant to work with PayPal as a processing option because of its corporate link to eBay.

Those in favor of the spin-off pointed out that only about 1/3 of the $203 billion in transactions that PayPal processed last year came through eBay. They contend that a standalone PayPal could continue to do that same level of business with eBay while also expanding its options to make even more money with retailers that compete with eBay.

“[A] thorough strategic review with our board shows that keeping eBay and PayPal together beyond 2015 clearly becomes less advantageous to each business strategically and competitively,” explains eBay CEO John Donahoe, who will step down when the split is finalized during the second half of 2015. “As independent companies, eBay and PayPal will enjoy added flexibility to pursue new market and partnership opportunities. And we are confident following a thorough assessment of the relationships between eBay and PayPal that operating agreements can maintain synergies going forward. Our board and management team believe that putting eBay and PayPal on independent paths in 2015 is best for each business and will create additional value for our shareholders.”

[via DealBook]

This Supermarket Poster Was Not Meant To Be Seen By The Public

Tue, 2014-09-30 14:38

(Twitter user @mynameischrisd)

(Twitter user @mynameischrisd)

We all know that businesses have motivational signs and slogans that managers use out of sight of the public. But someone at this supermarket is probably going to get the boot after posting a sign on the front window encouraging employees to wring more cash out of customers.

Twitter user Chris Dodd noticed the above poster in the front window of a Sainsbury’s store in London.

Titled “Fifty pence challenge,” the poster asks workers at the store to “encourage every customer to spend an additional 50p ($.81) during each shopping trip between now and the year-end.”

Now it’s nothing new for a retailer to urge its employees to push upsells and impulse-buys and it’s understood that most of us will politely decline these attempts to squeeze a little more cash from our wallets. But this is one of those social constructs that is not meant to be blatantly spelled out in a poster on the front window of a major supermarket chain.

It also raises the question of how daft an employee and/or manager must be to post that sign without realizing what it was advertising. Unless of course this was a deliberate bird-flip to Sainsbury’s management by a disgruntled worker. In which case, well done.

Interestingly, the poster doesn’t really indicate how employees are supposed to succeed in this “challenge.” It’s not like supermarkets sell extended warranties. Perhaps it’s like those drugstore cashiers who are forced to ask if you want candy with your bottle of Pepto-Bismol?

Sainsbury’s isn’t saying. It’s responses to Dodd’s Tweets have been more about making sure the sign gets taken down than answering questions about the challenge it promotes.

This Sounds Familiar: Albertsons, Jewel-Osco, ACME, Shaw’s Hit By Second Credit Card Data Breach

Tue, 2014-09-30 04:03

(Ryan Keene)

(Ryan Keene)

When someone wrote me to say there was a data breach at the company behind several major supermarket chains — including Albertsons, Jewel-Osco, ACME, Star Markets, and Shaw’s — I thought, “That happened about six weeks ago, didn’t it?” Alas, the company has announced it is the victim of a new, separate attack.

AB Acquisition LLC is the name of the company, which probably doesn’t mean anything to you, but its various supermarket brands are well known around the country.

It announced late on Monday afternoon that its IT services provider SUPERVALU had notified it of a more recent “attempted criminal intrusion” from hackers trying to obtain credit/debit card information from these stores.

According to AB Acquisition, this is a different strain of malware than the one that compromised the stores’ payment systems from late June through mid-July of this year. So this is like getting over the norovirus only to find out you’ve got enterovirus.

No specific dates were given for this latest lapse in security, though AB puts the timeframe of “late August or early September” on it. Authority and credit card networks have been notified and an investigation is ongoing.

So what was stolen?

Again, no one knows for sure, but AB says hackers may have been able to steal card numbers, expiration dates, other numerical information and the cardholders’ names.

“At this time there has not been a determination that any payment card data was in fact stolen as a result of either incident,” reads a statement from AB Acquisitions. “Measures have been taken to prevent further use of this new and different malware in the affected store locations. We are also implementing additional measures to enhance the protection of customer payment card data.”

Fool us once, shame on someone. Fool us twice, we shop elsewhere.

Which stores were hit?

Albertsons: Stores in Southern California, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Wyoming and Southern Utah were impacted.

AB Acquisitions says that Albertsons in the following states were NOT hit: Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, New Mexico, Texas; and two Super Saver Foods Stores in Northern Utah.

ACME: Stores in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey were affected.

Jewel-Osco: Stores in Iowa, Illinois and Indiana were compromised.

Shaw’s and Star Markets: Stores in Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Rhode Island were affected by this new incident.

“We take our responsibility to protect our customers’ payment card data seriously,” said AB Acquisition CEO Bob Miller, who is probably not planning any big purchases in his future. “We sincerely regret that our customers’ data was targeted.”

I’m sure your customers really thank you for your regret.

The company has posted an FAQ on each of its various stores’ websites.

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