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Supreme Court: Job Applicants Don’t Have To Explain That Their Garb Is Religious

Mon, 2015-06-01 19:04


“Abercrombie & Fitch” and “modest dress” are usually not concepts that go together. (Molly)

Back in February, the Supreme Court heard arguments in the case of a 17-year-old who applied to work for Abercrombie & Fitch. She was apparently beautiful enough to work there, but always wore a black scarf on her head. Did she wear it for religious reasons, which would mean that it couldn’t be a factor in hiring decisions? She didn’t say, so Abercrombie didn’t hire her. That case eventually reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which issued an opinion today.

Which accessories and pieces of clothing that might violate a company’s dress or grooming code are universally understood to be religious symbols? Some visual cues, like pieces of jewelry, headscarves, beards, wigs, or pieces of clothing, can be personal fashion choices or worn for sincere religious reasons. This decision doesn’t put the burden on employees to explain that a given piece of clothing or accessory has a religious origin, but employers are guilty of discrimination if they make a decision not to hire someone based on a practice that might be worn due to the applicant’s sincere religious belief.

“To prevail in a disparate-treatment claim, an applicant need show only that his need for an accommodation was a motivating factor in the employer’s decision, not that the employer had knowledge of his need,” the Court explained in its decision. A woman wearing a hijab-style headscarf to a job interview shouldn’t be a factor in the decision whether to hire her or not. Management can’t be sure whether she will wear it to work, and choosing not to hire her based on that assumption is discrimination.

In the Abercrombie case, while making the decision whether or not to hire Ms. Elauf, managers at Abercrombie & Fitch discussed her appearance and whether the black scarf she wore was for religious reasons. The manager who interviewed her believed that it as, but they couldn’t be sure. This Supreme Court decision dictates that employers should err on the side of hiring someone without interrogating them about their religious preferences, and sort out accommodating religious practices later.


Supreme Court Rules That You Have To Intend A Threat For It To Be A Real Threat

Mon, 2015-06-01 18:59



Lots of people have ill-will and mountains of unflattering things to say about their exes. Many of those people say those things online. But if your rant happens to be filled with violent language that makes your former partner afraid for their safety, even if you say you had no intention of ever following through, is it still a real threat?

That was the question before the Supreme Court in Elonis v. United States, which the Court decided 7-2 in favor of the individual convicted of making those threats.

As a refresher, the case centered around a particular man’s (Mr. Elonis) angry Facebook rants against his ex-wife. She perceived them as threats, and filed for a restraining order. In response, he escalated his rhetoric, including some potentially threatening allusions toward the FBI agent who visited his home.

For these threats, Elonis was arrested and indicted by a grand jury. However, he then sought to have the charges dismissed, arguing that prosecutors had no evidence that he intended to follow through on his rants. The difference between the two? Intent to follow through transforms the statements into threats, which are not protected free speech; the absence of intent means he’s just a loudmouthed jerk, but a constitutionally protected one.

The court disagreed, and held that when a statement is made “in a context or under such circumstances wherein a reasonable person would foresee that the statement would be interpreted by those to whom the maker communicates the statement as a serious expression of an intent” to harm, that it’s a threat. Elonis was convicted on four of the five counts.

He appealed the conviction, as one does. An appeals court sided with the first court, agreeing that the only proof required to determine whether a statement posed a true threat was if “a reasonable person would foresee that the statement would be interpreted” as a threat. The appeals continued, and that’s where the Supreme Court comes in.

SCOTUS was to decide the answer to one big question, broken into two legal statements: Does convicting someone for making threats require proof of their intent to threaten, or is it enough that a “reasonable person” would see said statement as a threat?

In the majority opinion (PDF), the Court essentially ruled yes and no, in that order. Or, more specifically: “Communicating something is not what makes the conduct ‘wrongful.’ Here, ‘the crucial element separating legal innocence from wrongful conduct’ is the threatening nature of the communication. The mental state requirement must therefore apply to the fact that the communication contains a threat.”

The opinion continues:
In light of the foregoing, Elonis’s conviction cannot stand. The jury was instructed that the Government need prove only that a reasonable person would regard Elonis’s communications as threats, and that was error. Federal criminal liability generally does not turn solely on the results of an act without considering the defendant’s mental state. That understanding “took deep and early root in American soil” and Congress left it intact here: Under Section 875(c), “wrongdoing must be conscious to be criminal.”

In short? The intent behind an illegal action is critical to the application of criminal law — state of mind matters, and the courts are not allowed to ignore it. Because those lower courts did did, their conviction of Elonis is invalid.

The Supreme Court’s ruling does not address whether Elonis’s statements were in fact threats, or whether he did have the intent to follow through and harm or kill his ex-wife and others given half a chance. It only determines that those were matters that lower courts were, in fact, supposed to determine and prove when carrying through their case.

Chief Justice Roberts wrote the Court’s opinion, joined by Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan. Justices Alito and Thomas filed separate dissents.

John Oliver Pledges To Eat McDonald’s, Drink Budweiser If They Use Sponsorship Power To Change FIFA

Mon, 2015-06-01 18:55

Last week, the soccer world was rocked when numerous current and former FIFA officials were arrested and charged with accepting illegal kickbacks and bribes. Only days later, FIFA President Sepp Blatter, under whose oversight these alleged crimes have occurred for nearly two decades, was reelected. That’s why John Oliver has called on FIFA’s high-profile sponsors to use their financial leverage to effect some change in the most powerful soccer organization in the world.

In addition to last week’s corruption allegations, FIFA and Blatter have been criticized for awarding the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, a nation with a horrendous human rights record where more than 1,000 migrant workers have already died working on Cup-related projects. Others have complained about having their passports and visas taken away from them by bosses, while also not being paid for months at a time.

Sponsors like Visa and Coca-Cola have already responded to concerns about the Qatar event, but have thus far not given any indication of backing out of their sponsorships.

There’s also the upcoming Women’s World Cup event being hosted by Canada. Not only is FIFA okay with all of the games being played on artificial turf that can shred players’ bare skin, but Blatter has publicly suggested that female soccer players show more flesh in order to drum up more interest in the sport.

“It is rare to find a non-fired boss who will openly say, ‘I would like to make it easier for me to masturbate to my employees,’” says Oliver. “That is pretty much the full extent of Blatter’s care for female player’s legs.”

In the run-up to last week’s FIFA presidential election, Blatter offered a rather weak defense of the scandals that have occurred on his watch.

“I know many people hold me ultimately responsible for the actions and reputation of the global football community,” he explained. “I can not monitor everyone all of the time.”

Oliver likened this to “basically Charles Manson saying, ‘Listen, I’ve got a big family. I don’t know what Squeaky gets up to half the time.’”

Ultimately, Blatter’s continued presence at the head of FIFA comes down to money.

“The last group to get rid of [Blatter] is in the hands of the only group even more powerful than world governments,” explains Oliver. “Barring an indictment, the only people powerful enough to get rid of Sepp Blatter are FIFA’s sponsors.”

To these advertisers — Budweiser, McDonald’s, Kia, Hyundai, Adidas, Coca-Cola, Visa — Oliver begged, “Please, make Sepp Blatter go away. I’ll do anything.”

To Adidas: “I’ll wear one of your ugly shoes, that make me look like the Greek god of aspiring DJs.”

To McDonald’s: “I will take a bite out of every item on your dollar menu, which tastes like normal food that was cursed by a vindictive wizard.”

To Budweiser: “I will even make the ultimate sacrifice… I will put my mouth where my mouth is and I will personally drink one of your disgusting items. I’m serious. It can be a Bud Light. I will even drink a Bud Light Lime, despite the fact that all the lime in the world can not disguise the fact that this tastes like a puddle beneath a Long John Silver’s dumpster… If you get rid of the Swiss demon that has ruined the sport I love, this will taste like f*cking champagne.”

Waitress Donates Kidney To 72-Year-Old Patron, Both Feeling “Excellent” After Surgery

Mon, 2015-06-01 18:55



We all love hearing stories of big tippers at restaurants, those generous folks who leave behind piles of money in appreciation. But the generosity trend can swing both ways, as a waitress near Atlanta proved after giving a 72-year-old patron one of her kidneys. The transplant was successful and both are now doing well.

The clinical manager at the hospital says the man is “progressing at a remarkable rate,” and that he’s in good spirits, up and walking around the unit, reports 11 Alive News.

The 22-year-old waitress was released from the hospital late on Saturday, while the patron is expected to be home by Tuesday, just four days after the procedure.

“The surgery could not have gone better,” said the doctor who performed the donor procedure and the transplant both on the same day.

The woman hadn’t worked that long at Hooters before learning that one of her customers was in need of a kidney transplant. Her grandmother had recently passed away from kidney failure, and she said she felt inspired to help him.

“I wasn’t able to do anything for my grandma. If [he] can live two more years, happy as he’s ever been, that’s fine with me. That’s not up to me. I did my part, now it’s God’s turn to keep him alive,” she said prior to the surgery on Friday, according to USA Today.

She Tweeted a photo of the twosome after surgery, saying both were doing “excellent”:

Thank you all for your kind words! We're doing excellent thanks to our mighty God! #blessed

— Mariana Tolentino (@Mariiana0_o) May 30, 2015

Doctors: Waitress, patron fine after kidney transplant [11Alive]
Hooters waitress, patron fine after kidney transplant [USA Today]

Looking To Finance A New Or Used Vehicle? You’re Likely In For The Long-Haul

Mon, 2015-06-01 18:41
(Chris Goldberg)

(Chris Goldberg)

Purchasing a new or used vehicle can represent quite a commitment for consumers, especially as the length of an average vehicle loan continue to get longer, now reaching all-time highs.

In fact, the average loan terms for new and used vehicles span 67 and 62 months, respectively, according to the latest State of the Automotive Finance Market report from credit reporting agency Experian.

The terms for both types of loans increased by one month in the first quarter of 2015, representing the longest length since Experian Automotive began tracking the terms nearly nine years ago.

In all, the report found that even longer loans – those with terms lasting 73 to 84 months – are on the rise, with 29.5% of all new vehicles financed with such terms. Long-term used vehicle loans for the same duration represented 16% of that market.

“While longer term loans are growing, they do not necessarily represent an ominous sign for the market,” Melinda Zabritski, senior director of automotive finance for Experian, said in a statement. “Most longer-term loans help consumers keep monthly payments manageable, while allowing them to purchase the vehicles they need without having to break the bank.”

Still, people undertaking such a long loan should be aware of other drawbacks, including the fact that they need to keep the car longer or face negative equity, Experian points out. The average age of cars on the road in the U.S. is 11 years.

The report also found other upward trends in the new and used car loan markets, with the average amount financed for both types of vehicles increasing.

A new vehicle loan for the first part of 2015 clocked in at $28,711, nearly $1,000 more than the same time in 2014. Used cars saw a more subtle increase in average cost with an increase to $18,213 in 2015 from $17,927 in 2014.

According to the report, it appears that more and more people are turning away from buying a vehicle outright, instead turning to a leasing option.

Leases accounted for about 31.5% of new vehicles financed in the first quarter of 2015, an increase of 1.3% from the previous year.

At the same time, the average monthly payment for a leased vehicle decreased to $405 from $412.

Auto loan terms reach all-time highs [Experian]

Olive Garden’s Board Of Directors Waited Tables To Experience Life As An Employee

Mon, 2015-06-01 18:04

ogbreadsticksNot even a year ago, the activist hedge-fund investors at Starboard Value were making headlines with their 300-page report criticizing Olive Garden management for being wasteful with the free breadsticks, overly generous with the salad dressing, and not selling enough booze. Since then, Starboard has ousted board members at Olive Garden parent company Darden Restaurants and replaced them with their own nominees who have ushered in menu changes like turning those breadsticks into sandwiches. In an attempt to ground the new board members’ decisions in the real world, they all got to spend an evening on the foodservice front line.

“Every board member worked inside of a restaurant,” Starboard CEO and Darden Chairman Jeff Smith tells Bloomberg’s Market Makers. “Once we went on the board, every single board member took a night and worked inside of a restaurant.”

Smith says that there was no attempt to pretend that he and his fellow directors were new employees. “Everyone knew” who they were as they got hands-on with customers.

“I was waiting on tables, greeting guests, serving some food, in the kitchen,” he explains. “All of us did that. It was an amazing experience because we felt as board members, ‘How are we going to be able to make good decisions in the board room without really knowing what’s happening inside the restaurants?’”

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Smith praised the company’s employees, saying that the staff is “working really hard. They care a lot.”

In addition to Olive Garden, Darden owns a number of other chain eateries, including LongHorn Steakhouse, Capital Grille, and Yard House.

Getting into the restaurants to see how things operate is “”about making sure we’re giving them the tools so that they can do the best job succeeding for us, for everyone,” says Smith.

These sorts of in-the-field experiences are not unheard of for top executives. In 2012, Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly ended his 27-year break from working retail to spend some time on the sales floors of the electronics chain he’d just taken over.

KFC Sues Three Chinese Companies For Allegedly Starting Rumors It Uses Eight-Legged Chickens

Mon, 2015-06-01 17:55
(Mike Mozart)

(Mike Mozart)

Kentucky Fried Chicken wants customers to know that it hasn’t created mutant chickens with eight legs and six wings to fill its big ol’ buckets. While one might think the notion of a chicken with more than two wings and two legs is a bit farcical, a rumor of such genetically modified birds has been circulating in China, leading KFC’s parent company to file lawsuits against three Chinese businesses for allegedly concocting and publicizing fabricated stories about the chain’s products on social media.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Yum Brands filed lawsuits against the companies for supposedly spreading false claims about KFC’s food and supplier practices, leading the restaurant’s image to become tarnished.

KFC alleges in the lawsuits that the companies spread rumors on microblogs and through photos and articles online that purposely misled consumers about the quality of its food.

Among the falsehoods KFC says the companies disseminated are accusations that chickens used by the restaurant are genetically modified to have six wings and eight legs.

According to the WSJ, Yum is seeking about $245,000 in compensation from Ying Chen An Zhi Chenggong Culture Communications Ltd., Wei Lu Kuang Technology and Ling Dian Technology.

KFC said in a statement that brought the legal action after the Chinese government began a campaign to dispel and discourage rampant social media rumors.

The lawsuits are just the latest attempt by KFC to repair its image in China. Back in 2012, Chinese media reported that a supplier of the restaurant used growth hormones and antibiotics to help chickens grow faster, which led to worries over the safety of the company’s food, the WSJ reports.

A rep for KFC says that the chain has since strengthened its supplier management practices.

KFC Sues Chinese Companies Over Alleged Eight-Legged Chicken Rumors [The Wall Street Journal]

Report: Airlines Get A Lot Of Hate On Social Media, Especially The Big Ones

Mon, 2015-06-01 17:38



As often as we use social media to proclaim our likes and loves, just as often we air grievances to our friends and the world — including complaints about the companies we do business with. When it comes to talking about airlines on social media, a new report says it’s a negative arena, especially when it comes to the largest carriers.

According to an analysis of Tweets from 2014 into this spring by Crimson Hexagon, a social media analysis company, 47% of posts about five large U.S. airlines were negative, with positive comments only getting about 20% of the social media pie, reports the Chicago Tribune.

The rest of the posts got a “neutral” rating — like, “Hey, I just boarded a/an [X] flight to [Y] and thought I’d tell everyone I know.”

The report says that United Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines and JetBlue have seen a 209% increase in mentions on Twitter since January 2012.

The two biggest airlines United and American — also had the highest rate of negative posts among the rest, with 56% of both carriers’ mentions on Twitter being rated negative.

In the social media age, companies have had to adjust their customer service methods to adapt to the changing times. Customers can now complain directly to companies’ Facebook or Twitter accounts, instead of being restricted to only emails, phone calls or handwritten letters.

“More consumers are taking to social media to discuss these airline brands, ask general and specific travel questions, and express their satisfaction — or more likely, their dissatisfaction — towards these brands,” said the “Analyzing Customer Relations in the Airline Industry” report.

While social media is supposed to make people feel more connected to the brands they’re encountering in real life, the report points to American as an example of a somewhat robotic social media personality.

“Twitter was designed to be a social platform where relatively informal conversation takes place, yet American Airlines has not adapted its customer service methods to fit this social setting,” the report said. “The company’s replies to customers are very formal and do not come off as personal.”

JetBlue uses less formal responses, the report says, and it ended up with the highest rate of positive comments, at about one-third of the total.

The lesson to be learned here, the report indicates? Acting natural when communicating with the customer, because no one likes to feel like they’re talking to a robot instead of a real live person at a keyboard.

Larger airlines get social media hate [Chicago Tribune]

Owner Accuses Petco Groomer Of Leaving Dog To Die Of Heat Stroke

Mon, 2015-06-01 16:56

colby_jackMost dogs are not fond of blow dryers, which is why pet groomers use a quiet, hands-off method to dry them off after a bath. Drying cages are simply cages that blow hot air onto the animal inside. Users are not, however, supposed to put a dog inside and then leave the shop, and that’s what a Virginia dog owner accuses her local Petco of doing.

If her allegations are true, this would not be the first time that a dog had died while in a grooming cage. One owner whose pet died in a cage seven years ago campaigned for the contraptions to be banned, and Petco claimed at that time that while it continues to use dryer cages, they were no longer heated.

Yet TV station WWBT reports that the woman whose dog, Colby Jack the Golden Retriever, died after a grooming session in Virginia was told that the animal suffered from heat stroke. She called the store to check on her pet, and was put on hold for an extended period before being told to meet an employee at a nearby animal hospital. There, she learned that Colby Jack had died, and due to his still-elevated body temperature, the veterinarian declared that it must have been heat stroke.

The owner claims that the store holder they couldn’t reach the technician who had bathed her dog, since she had left to go to a graduation party and wasn’t answering her phone. They wouldn’t comment directly on the situation to the media. Both Petco and the local animal control department are now investigating the incident.

Woman says her dog died of heat stroke at Petco [WWBT] (Thanks, Ed!)

The Former Face Of Men’s Wearhouse Re-Emerges With On-Demand Tailoring Business

Mon, 2015-06-01 16:38



He might not be able to guarantee you’ll like the way you look, but George Zimmer, the former face of Men’s Wearhouse, is back and pitching on behalf of his own clothing company, an on-demand tailoring business called zTailors that he thinks is “a hell of an idea.”

Though you might have thought Zimmer was just going to fade into the darkness of a closet somewhere after he was fired in 2013 from the company he founded more than 40 years ago, he has emerged with a shiny new company that uses a nationwide network of on-demand tailoring professionals that make house or office calls for customers, reports Bloomberg.

The new company launched today, offering at-home alterations on both men’s and women’s clothing. Once the measurements are taken, the tailors take the clothes for a week or less to make the alterations before returnig them to customers. If something doesn’t fit quite right, additional changes are free. For now there’s simply a website for customers in most of California, Texas, Florida, and New York’s Tri-State area, but the company is planning to expand to other areas and create an app for the service as well.

Tailors first have to be tested for their ability and interviewed by an executive, as well as submitting to background checks. So far there are 600 tailors signed on, with plans for 1,000 by the end of the year.

“We think this is a hell of an idea,” Zimmer, who owns about one-third of the company and serves in an advisory role as chairman says. “I’ve had a 40-year tradition with tailors, and they are the quintessential underdogs.”

As for guaranteeing how people will feel after using the service? Well, Zimmer won’t be uttering anything familiar on that front.

“I’m very careful not to use that word,” he told Bloomberg. “I’m fine using it in jest or for charity, but I’m not using it commercially.”

The Face of Men’s Wearhouse Is Back With a New Tailoring Startup [Bloomberg]

Tesla Won’t Be Selling Cars Directly In Texas For At Least Another Two Years

Mon, 2015-06-01 15:53
(Atwater Village Newbie)

(Atwater Village Newbie)

Tesla won’t be conquering the Lone Star state anytime soon, as bills in front of the Texas legislature that would allow direct-to-consumer sales by the electric car maker likely won’t see the light of day until 2017, when the next regular legislative session begins.

Bloomberg reports that the latest hurdle for Tesla is the second in Texas since 2013.

This year, Tesla backed two bills that would have allowed the company to sell directly to consumers in the state, rather than going through a car dealership. However, neither the Texas House nor Senate brought the bills to a vote.

The legislative failure comes after Tesla CEO Elon Musk campaigned heavily for the bills, including a tour through the state’s capital of Austin in early January.

In all, Bloomberg reports that Tesla hired about 20 lobbyists and spent more than $150,000 on campaign contributions last year in an effort to sway policy in its favor.

However, Tesla’s backing paled in comparison to that of traditional auto dealers in Texas – which represents the second largest car market in the U.S. Dealers in the state have had substantial support of residents and legislators especially in Texas’ vast rural areas.

Additionally, the industry’s lobby groups have fought fiercely to protect their businesses, and not just in Texas. Tesla has seen setbacks in several states when it comes to its direct-to-consumer sales model.

Back in January, a Missouri auto dealers group sued the state for allowing Tesla to sell directly to consumers.

Before that, in October 2014, the Michigan legislature quietly passed – as an amendment to an unrelated bill – a law that explicitly states that the dealership-only requirement applies to all car companies who sell, service, display or advertise vehicles in the state; meaning Tesla isn’t welcome to sell directly to customers.

Just last month, the Federal Trade Commission urged Michigan lawmakers to repeal the ban.

But for every setback Tesla has faced in recent years, there have been a few victories. Georgia, Maryland and New Jersey passed measures that allow the electric car company to sell its products directly to residents.

As for Texas, Tesla likely won’t be backing down from its fight, but it will have to wait nearly two years for its third go-around with the state.

“We have to do a better job of marshaling the popular support that we know is there,” Diarmuid O’Connell, vice president of business development for Tesla, tells Bloomberg.

Tesla’s Push to Sell Cars Directly to Texans Runs Out of Juice [Bloomberg]

Survey Says: Everyone Still Hates Comcast’s, TWC’s Customer Service

Mon, 2015-06-01 15:36


Comcast keeps promising that this is the year their legendarily bad customer service gets an overhaul, but consumers don’t seem to be buying it. A national survey asking consumers about cable and internet companies has, once again, dropped Comcast and Time Warner Cable right at the very bottom of the heap.

The survey was conducted by our colleagues at Consumer Reports (Consumerist’s parent company), and it’s yet another tale of woe for millions of American cable and broadband subscribers.

The Consumer Reports National Research Center’s latest telecom survey separately ranks telecom companies — cable, fiber, and satellite — on internet, phone, and TV service as well as for bundled packages of multiple services. And CR’s data matches what other customer service indexes have found: cable companies do not fare well, and the bigger, the worse.

Regional providers Armstrong and WOW (Wide Open West) fared best in the ratings, generally, but that’s a painfully low bar, writes CR:

Only one of 39 Internet providers received a middling score for value, with the remainder failing to reach even that level of mediocrity. TV-service providers also took a beating, with 20 of the 24 companies earning our lowest scores for value; the rest managed to do just a little bit better. Bundles also weren’t deemed especially good deals, since only one of 20 bundled services got an average mark for value—the others all did worse.

Regional provider Mediacom did fare equally badly or worse worse than Comcast (Xfinity) and Time Warner Cable in most measures, but taken together those three companies landed at the absolute bottom in ratings for phone, TV, and bundled services. Comcast fared slightly better in ratings for internet service, though still remaining in the bottom third of the 39 companies rated (including behind all four major mobile providers).

CR also confirmed what many of us have felt likely to be true, and what other studies have shown: the younger you are, the more likely you are to replace or supplement your cable subscription with over-the-top, streaming video offerings.


The survey also found one bright spot in the sea of consumer misery: when it comes to cable, negotiation works. 42% of survey respondents reported trying in some way to negotiate for a better deal with their provider, and in many of those cases, the negotiations were successful. Nearly half (45%) were able to have their bills reduced by up to $50 per month, 30% received some kind of new promotional rate, and just over a quarter got extra premium channels.

Cable-TV and Internet subscribers remain unhappy customers, new Consumer Reports survey says [Consumer Reports]

BlackBerry Settles Patent Dispute With Makes Of Slip-On Keyboard

Mon, 2015-06-01 15:33

nomoreAfter another round of fighting over whether keyboard company Typo Products’ was infringing on BlackBerry’s patents, the two sides have decided to settle their dispute. Typo will still get to sell slip-on keyboards — as long as they’re of a certain size.

Blackberry and Typo agreed to settle the dispute, reports Reuters, with an agreement that allows Typo to sell keyboards for smartphones and other devices that have screens larger than 7.9 inches. That means no (current) iPhones, but allows for tablets and other devices.

Last February a U.S. district court slapped Typo — co-founded by that guy from American Idol, Ryan Seacrest — on the wrist for violating a previous injunction that had kept it from selling an iPhone keyboard case that BlackBerry claimed was a copycat design. This, despite Typo’s claim that a newer release of its keyboard didn’t infringe on any patents.

BlackBerry then sued again, which is what led to today’s settlement.

BlackBerry settles patent dispute with Seacrest’s company Typo [Reuters]

Bank Of America Must Pay $30M For Military Relief Law Violations

Mon, 2015-06-01 15:18
(James Callan)

(James Callan)

The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) aims to protect members of the Armed Forces from unfair and harmful practices that jeopardize their financial well-being while deployed. It shouldn’t be surprising then, that failing to adhere to those protections is frowned upon by federal regulators. Just ask Bank of America, which is now on the hook for $30 million stemming from SCRA violations related to more than 73,000 servicemember accounts.

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency announced that Bank of America must pay the hefty fine and provide remediation to the affected customer accounts after an investigation found the bank violated SCRA when it came to collecting debts from military customers.

According to the OCC consent order [PDF], since 2006 Bank of America took improper legal action against military customers for delinquent credit card accounts and overdrafts.

In many cases, investigators found that deficiencies in BofA’s enterprise compliance risk management function led to unsafe and unsound practices and violations of SCRA.

For example, the investigation found that when the bank filed legal action against military customers to collect debts, employees asserted in affidavits that they had personal knowledge of the alleged delinquencies, when in fact they didn’t.

In other cases, according to the OCC filing, employees filed court documents without the proper notarization.

Additionally, the institution failed to devote sufficient financial, staffing and managerial resources to ensure proper administration of its legal documentation and to overseeing outside counsel and other third-party providers handling those documents.

Under the consent order, the bank is required to strengthen its oversight of military member accounts to prevent future violations of SCRA.

Bank of America must also improve its SCRA-compliance policies and procedures for determining whether “military personnel are eligible for requested SCRA-related benefits, for ensuring that the bank calculates the SCRA benefits correctly, and for verifying the military service status of servicemembers prior to seeking or obtaining default judgments on non-home loans.”

The New York Times reports that while the bank did not admit any wrongdoing with regard to the OCC’s findings, it has taken steps to amend its SCRA weaknesses.

“We have taken significant steps over the last several years, and will take further steps now, to ensure we have the right controls and processes in place to meet – and exceed – what is required by law and what our military customers deserve and expect,” the company said in a statement.

OCC Takes Action Against Bank of America to Protect Consumers and to Ensure Servicemembers Receive Credit Protections for Their Non-Home Loans [Office of the Comptroller of the Currency]
Bank of America Fined for Violations of Military Relief Law [The New York Times]

Vintage Apple Computer Worth $200K Dropped Off For Recycling

Mon, 2015-06-01 14:30

(Ed Uthman)

Here’s an Apple I on display at the Smithsonian. Check your garage. (Ed Uthman)

Back in April, a woman in her sixties dropped off a box of what she said was her late husband’s computer junk at an electronics recycling company in California’s Bay Area. She didn’t want a donation receipt, and just wanted the stuff out of her garage. It was only after she left that anyone looked through the box. They found something astonishing: one of the first few hundred desktop computers that Apple sold in the ’70s.

The Apple I was hand-built, and sold for $666 in 1976. It’s worth a lot more than that now: Clean Bay Area sold the machine for $200,000 to a private collector. Half of that money rightfully belongs to the woman who dropped the box of stuff off, and they would really, really like to find her.

You can’t blame her for not realizing what treasure was in what probably looked like a box of random computer junk. Every household now has at least one box of old computer towers, giant trackball mice, and tangled parallel cables. Anyone who has gone through the belongings of a loved one who has died knows how this works. There’s all of this stuff to get rid of, and the owner isn’t around to tell you what belongs together and what’s valuable.

Generally, the company promises 50% to the “donor” if items picked up for recycling still have any value. They generally deal with businesses, but they accept donations from individuals too. From now on, the company says they won’t let people drop off boxes of equipment and take off without leaving contact information.

After all of this publicity, we hope that her identity remains private after she comes forward to claim her money.

Apple I discarded as junk sells for $200,000; mystery woman stands to get half [San Jose Mercury News]

Patriot Act’s NSA Phone-Snooping Program Expires (For Now)

Mon, 2015-06-01 10:29

(713 Avenue)

(713 Avenue)

As lawmakers in D.C. flipped over their calendars from May to June last night, the sun set — at least temporarily — on the National Security Agency’s ability to collect mass amounts of information from telephone companies about their customers’ calls.

Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act amended three sections of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to explain how the government can compel companies to hand over information with regard to intelligence investigations.

The law is deliberately vague on what can be collected, saying the government can require the “production of any tangible things (including books, records, papers, documents, and other items),” but the NSA has used its Sec. 215 authority mostly for collection of telephone metadata — non-content information like phone numbers, duration of calls, identities of those involved in call — from telecom providers.

This section, along with several others, were set to expire at the end of 2005, but has been reauthorized repeatedly in the years since.

Congress could have let Sec. 215 die a quiet death by simply doing nothing and allowing it to sunset on June 1. But in the weeks leading up to the expiration date, the House introduced and passed, on May 13, the USA FREEDOM Act, intended to replace the PATRIOT Act.

The legislation would end the bulk data collection allowed under Sec. 215, and increase transparency with regard to FISA court decisions.

At the same time, the FREEDOM Act would create a new call detail records program overseen by the FISA court, which means records would still be collected.

The bill would also create a “strictly limited emergency authority” under which the emergency use of Section 215 would still be authorized. The only difference is that the government would be required to destroy the collected information after the fact if a FISA court denies the application.

The initial attempt, a week ago, to get a senate vote on the FREEDOM Act failed when proponents of the bill could not muster the 60 yeas needed for cloture. With Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also unable to push through an as-is extension of the PATRIOT Act provisions, and with the May 31 deadline looming, the senators gathered again on Sunday to take another cloture vote. This time, the vote was 77-17 in favor of moving forward with consideration of the bill.

That doesn’t mean that all 77 of those senators are going to vote for the FREEDOM Act. It just puts an end to any attempt to filibuster the legislation. However, given the support for the bill in both the House of Representatives — where it passed 338-88 — and the White House, it now seems likely that the senate will soon sign off on the FREEDOM Act.

The current version of the bill includes a six-month transition period during which phone companies would be required to update their systems to allow individual, court-ordered queries for records of terror suspects. That transition could last even longer, possibly up to a year, if senators approves proposed amendments to the legislation. Any changes to the bill could result in further delay, which could erode its support and momentum.

In anticipation of the lapse in its surveillance authority, the NSA reportedly began shutting it down late last week.

“We’ve said for the past several days that the wind-down process would need to begin yesterday if there was no legislative agreement,” an administration official told the National Journal. “That process has begun.”

Earlier this spring a federal appeals court ruled that the NSA bulk collection program was in violation of the law because the agency was gathering massive amounts of potentially sensitive information without proper judicial review.

“The more metadata the government collects and analyzes… the greater the capacity for such metadata to reveal ever more private and previously unascertainable information about individuals,” reads the ruling, which clarifies that Sec. 215 does “not preclude judicial review, and that the bulk telephone metadata program is not authorized” by the law.

This decision overturned a 2013 ruling in the same case, in which the judge explained that the “blunt tool only works because it collects everything,” while cautioning that, “Such a program, if unchecked, imperils the civil liberties of every citizen.”

The IRS Is Still Using Windows XP, Has A Cybersecurity Staff Of 363 People

Fri, 2015-05-29 23:31



In the last few years, tax return fraud has become a serious problem at the state and federal levels, thanks to the growth of e-filing and security holes in IRS and third-party tax software systems. Is the IRS to blame for this trend? There are really only two options: the IRS is either broke or incompetent.

CNN puts it in slightly different terms, asking whether the agency is broke or unable to allocate the budget that it has to protect all of the data that it collects about us. The agency has 10% fewer employees than it did five years ago, but processes more tax returns and also has even more work since the Affordable Care Act was implemented, processing health insurance information and assessing penalties when needed.

While maybe better technology could help the IRS finish more work quickly, there’s a catch: they still have computers running 13-year-old Windows XP, and even their fraud-catching software is two decades old. The agency employs fewer cybersecurity staff than it used to, even as one would think the demand would go up as e-filing has become more popular.

At the same time, the “incompetent” thing might also apply: a new anti-fraud program was supposed to be finished three years ago, and is late and over-budget. Congress is still punishing the agency for what some members of Congress consider “lavish” spending in recent years on things like conferences and training videos. However, when it’s innocent taxpayers who end up with their identities stolen and their tax refund sent to the other side of the world, that punishment is affecting the wrong people.

Is the IRS too broke to protect your info? [CNN Money]

Sally Beauty: Investigation Confirms Customer Payment Info May Have Been Put At Risk, But Not Debit PINs

Fri, 2015-05-29 22:57



Three weeks after Sally Beauty first said it was looking into whether it’d been the victim of a hack attack, the company says it’s confirmed that criminals used malware on some of its point-of-sale systems, possibly exposing payment information for customers who used cards at some of its U.S. stores.

Criminals deployed the malware at certain stores during “varying times” between March 6 and April 17, the company said in a press release, though it’s unclear how many stores or how many customers were affected.

Although payment information may have been at risk for some customers, Sally Beauty says it has “no reason to believe, and has no information to suggest that debit card PINs may have been impacted.”

It says it’s eliminated the malware from all Sally Beauty point-of-sale systems.

“We regret any inconvenience this incident may have caused our customers, and we want to reassure them that protecting our customers is our priority,” said Chris Brickman, President and CEO in the press release, adding that because the company “cannot pinpoint exactly which cards might have been affected during our reported date range,” it’s offering credit card monitoring services to anyone who used a credit or debit card at Sally Beauty store between March 6 and April 17.

Customers who wish to take advantage of the free identity protection services can go to; call 1-866-234-9442 or email

This McDonald’s Asks Drive-Thru Customers To Bend The Laws Of Physics

Fri, 2015-05-29 22:17

McDonald’s is trying all kinds of new things to attract younger customers and sling fries at them, but we’re not so sure about their plan to increase drive-thru traffic in the United Kingdom by bending the laws of physics. “Please use both lanes to place your order,” a new sign says. Both?

An Alert Twitter user somewhere in the UK shared this confusing notice while visiting only one of the drive-thru lanes.

@daraobriain McDonalds drive thru now suggesting we order using Quantum Theory? #quantumdrivethru

— Nick Cook (@hockeynick13) May 28, 2015

Yes, yes, we know what the sign is supposed to mean, but that has never stopped us from following an amusing premise through to a conclusion. Perhaps there is a hole in the universe centered on this McDonald’s that allows customers to be in two places at once, doubling drive-thru revenue. Seems like a waste of a perfectly nice wormhole.

Of course, bending the laws of physics is nothing new in marketing: there were the curtains that somehow block more than 100% of light and gravity-proof soup. None of these lead to bilocation, though.

McDonald’s defy quantum physics with sign

Man Named God Reaches Settlement With Equifax, Finally Gets A Credit Score

Fri, 2015-05-29 22:12



You might recall a story from about a year back where a man with the first name “God” had a little dispute with credit-reporting agency Equifax, namely that the company wouldn’t recognize his moniker as legitimate. He’s now come out on top in his battle with Equifax, which has agreed he and his financial history do exist, and have granted him a shiny new credit score.

The Russian native and Brooklyn resident sued the credit-reporting agency last year in federal court claiming that the snag in his Equifax report that rejects his first name has kept him from buying a car, despite his credit scores of more than 720 at other agencies. He claimed a customer service representative even suggested he change his first name to make everything easier.

The New York Post reports that God and Equifax have reached a settlement where Equifax has agreed to enter his name into its database, as well as giving him an undisclosed payout.

With his new healthy credit score, God says he’s relieved the case has been settled and is planning to buy a BMW to celebrate.

“It’s been five years of this,” he told the NYP. “I’m glad that it’s over.”

His lawyer adds that Equifax actually added God’s name to its database when he took legal action last year, but that the financial part of the settlement took longer to finalize.

Equifax did not comment to the NYP.

Man named God settles lawsuit with credit agency [New York Post]