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The Consumerist

McDonald’s Invites Indie Band To Sell Out For No Pay

21 hours 27 min ago

(Joseph O. Holmes)

(Joseph O. Holmes)

The South by Southwest Music Festival is an annual event in Austin, Texas, where you can discover relatively unknown independent bands and absorb other forms of culture. Playing the festival can be a great opportunity, and McDonald’s apparently knows this. The duo Ex Cops received an invitation to play at the “McDonald’s Showcase” at this year’s festival. How much was the global mega-corporation going to pay the band? Well, um, they don’t have a budget for paying the artists.

Brian Harding, who comprises 50% of the band, didn’t post the entire pitch from McDonald’s, but shared the gist of it:

Their selling point was that this was “a great opportunity for additional exposure,” and that “McDonald’s will have their global digital team on site to meet with the bands, help with cross promotion, etc.”

Yes, McDonald’s was asking bands to sell out without actually paying them. “There isn’t a budget for an artist fee (unfortunately),” the McDonald’s representative explained. That’s because they know that there must be some perfectly great bands out there who are willing to play for free.

One thing used to entice bands? The opportunity to maybe be featured on the company’s social media feeds, which have millions of followers. They plan to entice festivalgoers by offering free food and drinks. I’m not sure what kind of overlap there is between “people who love passing platters of McNuggets” and “people who travel to Austin for an indie music festival,” but apparently there is some.

Yes, the budget for a given marketing project is very specific, and it’s not fair to point out that they can’t toss a band traveling from far away a few hundred bucks while they pay former CEO Don Thompson $3 million to consult after his retirement.

“Doritos received a lot of flack for their stage a couple years ago, but I’m going to assume they paid Lady Gaga,” Ex Cops member Brian Harding wrote in his open letter about the invitation. No, maybe she needs the exposure.

The media staff for McDonald’s sent Gawker a statement that even included a snarky hashtag.

We follow the same standard protocol as other Brands and sponsors by inviting talented and emerging musicians to join us at the SXSW Festival. We look forward to serving McDonald’s food, drinks and fun in Austin. #slownewsday

Nuh-uh, says Ex Cops singer Amalie Bruun. She told Rolling Stone that other showcases do offer money to their performers. “They’re not following any guidelines because everyone else is offering money. They’ll have to take that up with South by Southwest if they think they’re following the guidelines…Other, much smaller corporations are offering us money.”

On the plus side, now we’ve all heard of Ex Cops, and you can check out their music and decide for yourself whether you would want to trade more than a couple of McNuggets for their latest album.

Ex Cops Blast McDonald’s For Offering Its SXSW Talent Exposure Instead Of Money [Stereogum] (via Gawker)

Lumber Liquidators Sued Over Formaldehyde Allegations

22 hours 25 min ago

lumberliquOnly days after a 60 Minutes report on the allegedly high formaldehyde levels in wood products sold by Lumber Liquidators, consumers have filed a potential class action against the company in federal court.

The complaint [PDF], filed today in a U.S. District Court in California, alleges that Lumber Liquidators violated federal and state laws by selling Chinese-manufactured laminated wood products containing formaldehyde at “levels known to pose serious health risks” and in excess of California limits.

The plaintiffs, a family from Santa Clarita, CA, who purchased flooring from Lumber Liquidators, acknowledge that formaldehyde can be safely used in the manufacture of laminated wood flooring, but only if used sparingly so that the chemical dissipates quickly.

But if an excess of formaldehyde is used, it can remain in the laminated wood and gradually be emitted over time. Prolonged, continued exposure to formaldehyde has been linked to numerous health problems ranging from nausea to increased cancer risk.

As shown in the 60 Minutes story, testing on the laminated wood Lumber Liquidated sourced from suppliers in China allegedly contained more formaldehyde than its domestically sourced laminates and similar products sold by competitors.

“Despite this discrepancy, Lumber Liquidators did not differentiate between its domestically manufactured floor laminates and those made in China,” reads the complaint, which points out that the company’s Chinese wood products were even labeled to indicate that they complied with the California Air Resources Board’s (CARB’s) strict formaldehyde emission standards.

“Lumber Liquidators has made false and misleading statements that its flooring products comply with CARB formaldehyde standards, and the even more stringent European formaldehyde standards,” continues the complaint. “Lumber Liquidators’ website falsely states, ‘we not only comply with laws-we exceed them.'”

The plaintiffs, who claim the Lumber Liquidators wood they purchased was falsely labeled as CARB compliant, are seeking to represent all California customers of the store who also purchased the Chinese-made laminated wood.

The suit alleges violation of the federal Magnuson–Moss Warranty Act, claiming the company “breached their warranties by manufacturing, selling and/or distributing flooring products with levels of formaldehyde that exceed the CARB standards, or by making affirmative representations regarding CARB compliance without knowledge of its truth.”

Lumber Liquidators is also accused of the California Business and Professions Code’s prohibitions against “unlawful, unfair, or fraudulent business act or practice,” false advertising. Additionally, the plaintiffs allege that misrepresenting the CARB certification of the wood violates the California Consumer Legal Remedies Act.

The plaintiffs seek an injunction against Lumber Liquidators preventing them from selling wood that violates CARB standards, restitution for the expense of purchasing and installing the flooring in question, and unspecified damages.

In response to last weekend’s story, Lumber Liquidators issued a defense on its Facebook page, describing the company as “a leader in safety.”

“We comply with applicable regulations regarding our products, including California standards for formaldehyde emissions for composite wood products – the most stringent rules in the country — and take our commitment to safety even further by employing compliance personnel around the world and utilizing the latest in cutting-edge technology to provide our customers with top quality and high value flooring,” reads the statement, which claims that the news reports are being fueled by “a small group of short-selling investors who are working together for the sole purpose of making money by lowering our stock price.”

The company maintains that random third-party testing of its products shows the laminated wood to be “fully safe and compliant with California standards.”

“While we were unable to witness 60 Minutes’ testing methods and have still yet to see a test using validated methods that has come back as anything but completely safe, out of an abundance of caution, we are now reviewing our processes at these three mills,” concludes the statement. “We stand by every single plank of wood and laminate we sell all around the country and will continue to deliver the best product at the best price to our growing base of valued customers.”

Mall Of America Owners Want To Build An Even Bigger Mall In Miami

Thu, 2015-03-05 23:22

From the proposal for American Dream Miami (via The Miami Herald)

From the proposal for American Dream Miami (via The Miami Herald)

The company that operates the mammoth Mall of America in Minnesota and the larger West Edmonton Mall in Canada are looking to erect an outsized shopping destination in warmer climes with a new proposal to build a combination mall and amusement park in the Miami area.

The Miami Herald reports that the Triple 5 Group, which is also in the middle of finishing up the long-delayed and passed-around American Dream center in New Jersey’s Meadowlands complex, is proposing a $4 billion mall project for the northwestern part of Miami-Dade County.

Like Triple Five’s New Jersey mall, this center would get branded with the “American Dream” name. And as has become common place for the world’s biggest malls, it will include attractions like submarines, indoor skiing and zoo animals.

Triple Five says the Miami project would be the largest property in its mall portfolio. That distinction currently belongs to the company’s mall in Edmonton, which is dubbed the “largest mall in North America” but which is actually smaller than the Centro Santa Fe in Mexico City.

The developer projects that the mall could pay for 25,000 construction jobs plus another 25,000 workers after it’s open, as the amusement and tourist attractions would require significant staffing.

But as the Herald points out, the jobs available in mall retail and amusement parks are traditionally among the lowest-paying.

Mayor Carlos Gimenez warns critics against brushing off these sorts of job.

“Everybody is focused on high-paying jobs. Not everybody is qualified for them,” he explains. “Twenty-thousand jobs are twenty-thousand jobs.”

Sephora Introduces $10 Unlimited 2-Day Shipping Program

Thu, 2015-03-05 23:18



If you like to buy online from Sephora, but dislike waiting until you have $50 worth of items before making your purchase, great news! The gourmet supermarket of beauty has started its own free shipping subscription service in the Amazon Prime model, called Flash. It gives customers free 2-day shipping and a discount on overnight shipping.

Well, technically, it’s called Sephora FLASH Shipping, but we don’t go for that all-caps nonsense. If you plan to place more than two small orders at any point during the year, that covers your subscription. However, this is Sephora, and buying a bottle of foundation and a lip gloss will put you over that $50 limit, so it’s worth considering whether the free shipping plan is worth your time. The membership subscription fee does not count toward the company’s loyalty program. (I’m not making fun of Sephora here: I know those prices without looking them up.)

Sephora has not specified whether they plan to ban Flash members who are placing “too many” online orders, as they were criticized for doing with VIB Rouge members at the end of 2013.

Sephora in big omnichannel push: beacons, in-store augmented reality and more [Chain Store Age]

Find Out Whether Your Flexible Spending Account Can Roll Over

Thu, 2015-03-05 22:48



A flexible spending account is a handy tool that lets you put aside pre-tax money for medical expenses that aren’t covered by insurance. It lowers your income tax bill and means that you have money set aside for dental care and contact lenses. The problem with FSAs is that money in the account disappears at the end of the year, which is not necessarily December 31. Starting in 2013, though, there has been a little-known exception to that.

You can’t carry over the entire balance from year to year, but you can carry over $500. That’s at least enough to keep you from rushing to get new glasses on December 28. A growing number of employers are switching over to the rollover model, even though employers get to keep any money in their employees’ FSAs at the end of the year. (Employers often contribute money to the accounts, so that isn’t as terrible an idea as it sounds like at first.)

One benefits administrator pointed out to Bloomberg that letting workers keep their FSA balances actually saves companies money, since using more money from the accounts cuts down on the employer’s portion of payroll taxes, too.

One Simple Thing Companies Could Do to Save Workers a Fortune in Taxes [Bloomberg]

Google Launches Car Insurance Comparison Site

Thu, 2015-03-05 22:14

Google officially jumped into the insurance business today with the launch of its car insurance comparison website in the United States.

The New York Times Bits Blog reports that Google introduced its car insurance shopping site Google Compare in California on Thursday.

The comparison site, which has already been operating in Britain, allows consumers to view the similarities and differences of national and local insurance providers.

“This represents the newest addition to a suite of Google Compare products designed to help people make confident, more informed financial decisions,” Google says in a statement.

According to Google, insurance shoppers can enter their information into the search engine, which then generates quotes for side-by-side comparison, much like travel sites do for hotels and flights.

So far, Google Compare, which will roll out to other states in coming months, has already signed up major insurers MetLife and Mercury Insurance and entered into partnerships with other comparison sites CoverHound and CompareNow.

Consumers can either purchase policies from the site online or by calling the insurance company directly. Google will receive a referral fee from the insurance company each time a policy is bought.

Google’s foray into the U.S. insurance market comes nearly a year after Walmart began offering a similar service.

Last April, the big box store teamed up with to begin a comparison service that aims to help drivers buy and save on their auto insurance policies.

Google and Walmart just a few of the company that have delved into the insurance industry. The moves have resulted in considerable concern for U.S. insurance brokers, since the sites allow users to buy directly from insurers and eliminate the fees going to agents.

Google Introduces Long-Anticipated Insurance Shopping Site [New York Times Bits Blog]

The Nation’s Biggest Companies Agree: Gay Marriage Is Good For Business

Thu, 2015-03-05 22:08

(Scott Lynch)

(Scott Lynch)

Next month, the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments with regard to the legality of state laws that prohibit same-sex marriages. And while the issue has been politically divisive, many of the nation’s most powerful corporations — from airlines to insurance to beer to baseball teams — agree that banning gay marriage is not good for business.

“State laws that prohibit or decline to recognize marriages between same-sex couples hamper employer efforts to recruit and retain the most talented workforce possible in those states,” reads an amicus brief [PDF] filed today with the Supreme Court in the matter of Obergefell v. Hodges.

“Our successes depend upon the welfare and morale of all employees, without distinction,” continues the brief, signed by 379 groups. “The burden imposed by inconsistent and discriminatory state laws of having to administer complicated schemes to account for differential treatment of similarly situated employees breeds unnecessary confusion, tension, and diminished employee morale.”

The companies signing onto the brief include Comcast, Coca-Cola, Aetna, Amazon, American Express, Apple, Citigroup, DirecTV, eBay, General Mills, Google, JetBlue, Marriott, MillerCoors, the New England Patriots, NIKE, the San Francisco Giants, Tampa Bay Rays, Verizon, Visa, Twitter, Prudential, Facebook, Staples, Office Depot, Disney and hundreds of other businesses.

They do not have a direct stake in the case before SCOTUS, but they argue that if the court decided to allow each state to decide for itself about marriage equality, “the costs and uncertainty imposed by inconsistent state marriage laws will only continue,” while establishing equality as the law of the land would “reduce current costs, administrative burden, and diversion of resources from our core businesses.”

In 2014, SCOTUS elected to not consider petitions regarding federal appeals court rulings that struck down bans on gay marriage. However, after another appeals court panel subsequently ruled against a fundamental right to marriage for gay couples, it has been brought to the Supremes for resolution.

Here is the full list of names signed to the brief:

A.L. Nella & Company, LLP, CPAs
A.T. Kearney
Aardema Whitelaw, PLLC
Acacia Home LLC
Aetna Inc.
Air Products and Chemicals, Inc.
AJ Leo Electric and Solar
Akamai Technologies, Inc.
Alaska Airlines
Alcoa Inc.
Amazon Services Inc., Inc.
American Airlines Group Inc.
American Apparel
American Express Company
American International Group, Inc
Aparicio-Mercado Law, L.C.
Apple Inc.
AppNexus Inc.
Arbor Brewing Company, LLC
Arnold & Porter LLP
Aspen Skiing Company Assemble Sound LLC
AT&T Inc.
Atlas Cut Stone
Atticus Circle
The Austin Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce
Avanade Inc.
Bain & Company, Inc.
Bakehouse Art Complex
Baker & McKenzie LLP
Bank of America
The Bank of New York Mellon Corporation Barclays
Barnes & Noble, Inc.
bebe stores, inc.
Becton, Dickinson and Company
Belcampo Inc.
Ben & Jerry’s
Big Duck Studio, Inc.
Bigelow Villa LLC
Billy’s Farm
BlackRock, Inc.
Bloomberg L.P.
Blue Apron, Inc.
Blue Heron Ventures
Blue Moon Hotel / Winter Haven Hotel
Blume, Faulkner & Skeen, PLLC
Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, Inc
Boston Community Capital, Inc.
Boston Consulting Group
The Boston Foundation
Boston Medical Center Corporation
Boston Scientific Corporation
Brady Mills LLC
BrandQuery LLC
Bristol-Myers Squibb Company
Broadcom Corporation
Cablevision Systems Corporation
Capital One Financial Corporation
Captain Wendell’s Marine Services LLC
Cardinal Health, Inc.
Care Resource
CBS Corporation
Central Physical Therapy and Fitness, PSC
Charlotte Business Guild
The Chubb Corporation
CIGNA Corporation
Cisco Systems, Inc.
Citigroup Inc.
City Catering Company
City Lites Neon, Inc.
The City of Ann Arbor, Michigan
Civitas Public Affairs Group
Clean Yield Asset Management
CloudFlare, Inc.
CMIT Solutions of Seattle Downtown
The Coca-Cola Company
Cohen & Associates
Colgate-Palmolive Company
Columbia FunMap, Inc.
Comcast Corporation
The Computer Butler
ConAgra Foods, Inc.
The Corcoran Group
Corner Brewery, LLC
Corning Incorporated
Cox Enterprises, Inc.
Crazy Misfits Pet Services
Credit Suisse Securities (USA) LLC Cummins Inc.
Cupcake Royale
CVS Health Corporation
Dallas Voice
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Inc.
Danaher Corporation
David J. Jarrett, P.C.
David Kosar Insurance Agency
David Mack Henderson Income Tax Preparation
DCI Group AZ, L.L.C.
Deloitte LLP
Delta Air Lines, Inc.
Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation
The Desert Business Association
Deutsche Bank AG
Diageo North America, Inc.
Domini Social Investments LLC
The Dow Chemical Company
Dreamcatcher Arts and Publishing Ltd.
Dropbox, Inc.
eBay Inc.
Eldercare Consulting
Electronic Arts Inc.
EnduringHydro, LLC
Ernst & Young LLP
The Estée Lauder Companies Inc.
Event Rents
Everything Real Estate LLC
Express Movers Inc.
Facebook, Inc.
Farella Braun + Martel, LLP
Fenwick & West LLP
First Data Corporation
1st Security Bank
1stdibs.Com, Inc.
FIT Technologies
Flanery CPA
Full Court Press Communications
G.A.W., Inc.
The Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce Nevada
General Electric Company
General Mills, Inc.
Gilt Groupe Holdings, Inc.
GlaxoSmithKline LLC
Gleason & Associates Claims Services
Go Factory, Inc.
Goethel Engelhardt, PLLC
The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc.
Google Inc.
Goulston & Storrs, P.C.
Great Officiants LLC
The Greater Connecticut Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce
Greater San Diego Business Association
Greater Seattle Business Association
Grossman Marketing Group
Group Health Cooperative
Growing Hope
Harrell Remodeling
The Hartford Financial Services Group, Inc.
Hewlett-Packard Company
Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc.*
Holdredge Wines
Homeward Pet Adoption Center
Horizon Air Industries, Inc.
House Packard LLC
Ikard Wynne LLP
The Independence Business Alliance
The Inland Northwest Business Alliance Insala, Ltd
Inspirato, LLC
Integrated Archive Systems, Inc.
Integrity Law Group
Intel Corporation
Intuit Inc.
Jackson Hole Group LLC
Jagod Designs
Jazz Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
Jenn T. Grace International LLC
Jennifer Brown Consulting
JetBlue Airways Corporation
The Jim Henson Company
Johnson & Johnson
Johnston, Kinney and Zulaica LLP
Jonathan L. Bowman, Attorney at Law, PS
JPMorgan Chase & Co.
Julian Chang Consulting, Inc. photography
The Kathy A. Janssen Foundation
Kazan, McClain, Satterley, & Greenwood, PLC
Keir Jones Agency – State Farm
Keker & Van Nest LLP
KEO Marketing Inc.
Kimberly-Clark Corp.
Kimpton Hotel & Restaurant Group, LLC
Kollmar Sheet Metal Works, Inc.
Kotzan Chiropractic
Lambda Business Association
Laparoscopic Institute for Gynecologic Oncology
Larson Marketing & Communications LLC
Laughton Properties
Law Offices of Joel L. Sogol
Law Office of Lisa E. Schuchman
Law Office of Lorie L. Burch, PC
Law Offices of Robin L. Bodiford, P.A.
The Law Office of Susan K. Fuller, PLLC
Levi Strauss & Co.
Liberty Burger
Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP
Life & Love Celebrations
Link in the Chain Foundation, Inc.
Littler Mendelson, P.C.
LNT, Inc.
The Long Beach Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce
Lori Karbal et al
Loring, Wolcott & Coolidge Trust, LLC
The Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce
Main Street Hair Shoppe Ltd.
Marriott International, Inc.
Marsh & McLennan Companies, Inc.
Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company
McGraw Hill Financial, Inc.*
McKesson Corporation
McKinsey & Company, Inc.
Merca Property Management
The Miami-Dade Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce
Microsoft Corporation
The Mid-America Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce
Miller & Olson, LLP
Miller Shelton Group, LLC
MillerCoors LLC
Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo, P.C.
Mona Smith PLLC
Moody’s Corporation
Morgan Miller Plumbing
Morgan Stanley
MWW Public Relations
NAMI Dallas, Inc.
The Nashville LGBT Chamber of Commerce
The National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce
Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company
Neumann Capital Management, LLC
The New England Patriots
New Leaf Columbus
New York Life Insurance Company
Nifty Hoops, LLC
NIKE, Inc.
Nixon Peabody LLP
North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce
Northrop Grumman Corporation
OBOX Solutions
Office Depot, Inc.
The Ogilvy Group, Inc.
Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C.
ONE Community Media, LLC
1 Source Consulting Solutions
Oracle America, Inc.
Orbitz Worldwide, Inc.
Out & Equal Workplace Advocates
Outerwall Inc.
Pakmode Publications, LLC d/b/a Pakmode Media + Marketing
Pandora Media, Inc.
Peabody & Arnold LLP
Pepper Hamilton LLP
Pfizer Inc.
Pixelligent Technologies LLC
Plexus Education Foundation
Plexus LGBT and Allied Chamber of Commerce
Portland Area Business Association
PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP
The PrintingWorks
Pro-Tec Data, Inc.
Procter & Gamble
ProTrials Research, Inc.
Prudential Financial, Inc.
Puma Spring Vineyards
Qualcomm Incorporated
RAFI Architecture and Design
Rainbow Chamber of Commerce Silicon Valley Ralph’s Regal Weddings
Ray Holley Communications
RBC Capital Markets, LLC
Replacements, Ltd.
Restaurant Management Concepts
Reverberate! Marketing Communications, Inc.
Rising Tide Brewing Company
RJR Photography
Robert H Stutz Jr CPA
Rockwell Automation, Inc.
Rotella & Hernandez, LLC
The Sacramento Rainbow Chamber of Commerce
Sadek Bonahoom PLC
The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce
The San Francisco Giants
The Seattle Lesbian, LLC
Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce
Sempra Energy
Seyfarth Shaw LLP
Shingles Roofing LLC
Sidetrack, Inc.
Simon, Schindler & Sandberg LLP
Skellenger Bender, P.S.
Skyworks Solutions, Inc.
Sleeves Up Productions, LLC
Spectra Law PS
Spry Vision, Inc.
St. Jude Medical, Inc.
Staples, Inc.
Starbucks Corporation
Starrtek LLC
State Street Corporation
Steven Graves Insurance Agency
Stonewall Behavioral Health
Stonewall Columbus
Stuffed Cakes, LLC
Sun Life Financial (U.S.) Services Company, Inc.
SunDaily, Inc.
Sweet Dixie Kitchen
Symantec Corporation
Taber Food Services, Inc.
dba Hobee’s California Restaurants
The Tampa Bay Rays
Target Corporation
TD Bank, N.A.
TD Securities (USA) LLC
Tech Data Corporation
Thinking Cap Communications & Design
Third Point LLC
Thomson Reuters
Tiwary Entertainment Group LLC
TNT Promotions, LLC
TOCA Events, LLC
TravelOut, Inc.
Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria
Twitter, Inc.
206 Inc.
The Ultimate Software Group, Inc.
United Air Lines, Inc.
United Therapeutics Corporation
Uptown Physicians Group
VCB Consulting & Accounting Services
Verizon Communications Inc.
Viacom Inc.
Visa Inc.
VMware, Inc.
W. M. Martin Advertising
W.W. Grainger, Inc.
W/S Development Associates LLC
Walsh Wellness Center
The Walt Disney Company
Wasserman Media Group
Wells Fargo & Company
Whey Natural! USA LLC
Wisconsin LGBT Chamber of Commerce
Witeck Communications, Inc.
The Workplace Equality Index
Wyndham Worldwide Corporation
Xerox Corporation
Ypsilanti Downtown Development Authority
Zausmer, Kaufman, August & Caldwell, P.C.
Zingerman’s Community of Businesses
Zynga Inc.

Amtrak Funding Bill Approved By House Includes Provision Allowing Pets On Trains

Thu, 2015-03-05 21:44

(Schumin Web)

(Schumin Web)

After embarking on a trial allowing dogs and cats to travel on some trains along with their owners last spring, it seems Amtrak could soon have pet cars on all its trains nationwide. In a bill passed by the House that approved Amtrak funding, legislators rewrote the rules regarding furry companions riding the rails.

Written into the Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act along with reforms aimed at improving the railroad’s fiscal performance is a provision allowing passengers to carry on dogs and cats the same way they might on planes, reports NPR News.

Amtrak will designate at least one car per train for pets under the pilot program, where circumstances allow it, so passengers “may transport a domesticated cat or dog in the same manner as carry-on baggage” for a fee. During a trial of a similar program, passengers paid Amtrak a $35 surcharge for pets.

Behind this part of the bill is Rep. Jeff Denham, who has been trying to get pets on trains since he was barred from bringing his French bulldog on an Amtrak in the past.

“Lily often accompanies me when I fly across the country, and it just doesn’t make sense that I can bring her with me on a plane, but she can’t come with me on a train,” he wrote in a Facebook post when reintroducing the bill back in February.

The bill heads to the Senate next, and has the support of the White House.

House Approves Amtrak Funding, Rewrites Rules To Allow Furry Riders [NPR News]

Brach’s Introduces Easter Chick Shaped Candy Corn For Some Reason

Thu, 2015-03-05 21:04

Fear not, candy fans: Brach’s is now able to fill in the bleak waiting time between Valentine’s Day candy corn and Independence Day candy corn with Easter candy corn. Except they’re not “corn,” they’re candy corn chicks. We live in a world where this kind of thing is acceptable.

(The Impulsive Buy)

(The Impulsive Buy)

Well, technically, candy corn chicks, which led Marvo over at The Impulsive Buy to wonder whether candy corn turkeys will be next. Only if we’re lucky.

Alert readers will point out that Easter candy corn already exists. Brach’s has made pastel-colored candy corn for Easter before; it’s these chicks that are new. You can buy “Jesus promise seeds,” which do not sprout into actual plants, but are pastel-colored, appropriate for Easter, and come in individually packets printed with Bible verses.

The chicks are obviously trying to sneak in on Peeps territory. We can’t wait until candy corn chick milk hits the market. Maybe next year.

SPOTTED ON SHELVES – 3/4/2015 [The Impulsive Buy]

Dunkin’ Donuts Says It Will Remove Controversial Whitening Agent From Powdered Sugar

Thu, 2015-03-05 20:45



Dunkin’ Donuts announced today that it’s planning to remove titanium dioxide, a whitening agent often used in toothpaste and sunscreen as well as other products, from all powdered sugar used on its doughnuts.

The move comes after pressure from an advocacy group that voiced concerns about nanoparticles, which are teeny tiny particles that can have different physical properties than their larger, macro counterparts.

The Food and Drug Administration says it “does not categorically judge all products containing nanomaterials or otherwise involving the application of nanotechnology as intrinsically benign or harmful.”

But critics have said not enough is known about the potential for health issues that could result from ingesting nanomaterials: A nonprofit group called As You Sow lobbies companies on environmental and social-responsibility issues, and had pressured Dunkin’ to remove titanium dioxide from its powdered sugar, dubbing the additive a nanoparticle.

While Dunkin’ has agreed to pull the ingredient, it disagrees with the group’s characterization of titanium dioxide as a nanoparticle.

“The ingredient used in our powdered donuts does not meet the definition of ‘nanoparticle’ as outlined under FDA guidance,”a Dunkin’ Brands spokeswoman said in a statement via CNBC. “Nevertheless, we began testing alternative formulations for this product in 2014 and we are in the process of rolling out a solution to the system that does not contain titanium dioxide.”

As You Sow says it will now withdraw a shareholder proposal that urged Dunkin’ to assess its use of nanomaterials on concerns that the particles are toxic when ingested.

Dunkin’ Donuts to remove nanomaterials from powdered doughnuts [MarketWatch]
Dunkin’ to ditch powdered sugar additive: Report [CNBC]

Study: Self-Driving Vehicles Could Eliminate 90% Of Car Accidents In United States

Thu, 2015-03-05 20:44


Although we’re likely a decade or two away from every person on the block owning a driverless car, when the time comes we could be saving billions of dollars and spending far less time dealing with auto accidents.

The Wall Street Journal reports that a new study found that widespread use of self-driving cars could eliminate 90% of all auto accidents in the U.S. and decrease the costs related to accident damage and health issues by around $190 billion each year.

The new report from consulting firm McKinsey & Co. predicts that mass adoption of auto-piloted vehicles will likely begin in about 15 years, but initial implementation of the cars could happen as soon as early next decade.

McKinsey’s report – which was complied using interviews with auto industry representatives – estimates that use of autonomous cars could free up 50 minutes per day for average consumers.

Additionally, it predicts that insurance companies will shift their focus from driver risks to technical failures.

The landscape of vehicle ownership will also likely see significant changes by the time self-driving cars dot the roadways. According to the report, a massive shift in the automotive business model will result in consumers favoring a pay-for-use model rather than traditional ownership.

In recent years, tech companies and automakers have stepped up efforts to produce driver-less cars.

Back in December, Google said its first complete self-driving car prototype was ready for road tests.

Before that, in September, Audi received a permit to test its self-driving vehicle on public California roads. The WSJ reports the in January, the company’s Audi A7 sedan completed the longest driver-less journey, traveling from near San Francisco to Las Vegas.

While we continue to wait for mass-marketed autonomous cars, automakers aren’t holding back on their new innovations. Many have already including some of the technologies in cars sold today.

Installations of some safety gear is on the rise, with more new vehicles coming equipped with adaptive cruise control, land departure prevention technology and blind-spot alert capabilities.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimates there is a 14% decline in claims in cars with automatic braking, the WSJ reports. And when a crash does occur, the Institute says damage is almost always much lower than in traditional vehicles.

Self-Driving Cars Could Cut Down on Accidents, Study Says [The Wall Street Journal]

Congresswoman Backed By AT&T, Comcast Introduces Bill To Kill Net Neutrality

Thu, 2015-03-05 20:40

internetfreedomWhile some members of Congress have argued that the best way to deal with net neutrality is to create a law that guides what broadband providers can and can’t do with regard to data, one legislator from Tennessee — who has received significant money from neutrality’s biggest opponents — has introduced a bill that would kill neutrality and strip the FCC of its authority to regulate broadband as a necessary piece of telecommunications infrastructure.

Last week, a politically divided FCC voted to approve new neutrality rules that would prevent Internet service providers from blocking, throttling, or prioritizing any legal content carried over the web. In order to do this, the Commission had to reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service (as opposed to the long-used “information service” classification that involves fewer regulations).

The “Internet Freedom Act” [PDF], introduced yesterday by Tennessee Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn, seeks to “prohibit the Federal Communications Commission from reclassifying broadband Internet access service as a telecommunications service and from imposing certain regulations on providers of such service.”

More precisely, it aims to nullify last week’s vote and prevent the FCC from ever reissuing or adopting similar neutrality rules “unless the reissued or new rule is specifically authorized by a law enacted” by Congress.

So the Freedom Act would give true freedom to neutrality opponents like the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, AT&T, Verizon and Comcast (a neutrality-hating wolf in sheep’s clothing), as ISPs would be unfettered by rules against blocking competing content or giving higher priority to their own content.

And if you look at the top contributors to Blackburn’s campaign and leadership PAC, you’ll see these same names showing up:
AT&T: $25,000
Comcast: $20,000
NCTA: $20,000
Verizon: $16,000

We’re not saying that Rep. Blackburn introduced this bill because of the substantial donations from these groups, but when the congresswoman states that “My legislation will put the brakes on this FCC overreach and protect our innovators from these job-killing regulations,” you might be getting an insight into whether she’s on the side of consumers or the ISP industry, even though many Internet and telecom giants — like Google and Sprint, have explicitly stated that neutrality will not harm innovation or investment.

Blackburn has also recently introduced legislation to take away the FCC’s authority to preempt state and local laws restricting municipal broadband services.

More than 20 states have laws that forbid or highly restrict local governments from operating broadband services even if consumers want them and there isn’t adequate service provided by privately run companies. On the same day the FCC voted to approve the neutrality rules, it also sided with two municipal utilities — one in Tennessee and one in North Carolina — that offer broadband service but face limits on their ability to expand these offerings because of state laws that received telecom industry support.

Blackburn’s legislation, as the title implies, would strip away the FCC’s statutory authority to preempt local laws that inhibit broadband deployment.

The good news for supporters of neutrality and muni broadband is that, according to GovTrack, both bills currently face steep odds of even getting out of committee, let alone becoming law.

[via ArsTechnica]

Researchers Teaming With Oxfam To Develop Toilet That Uses Urine To Generate Electricity

Thu, 2015-03-05 20:01

(UEW Bristol on YouTube)

(UWE Bristol on YouTube)

In an effort to bring sustainable sources of light to dark places, researchers working with Oxfam are working on a toilet that uses urine to generate electricity, in turn lighting up lavatories in places like refugee camps.

The new lavatories are being tested by students in England before they’re employed in places like refugee camps, according to a press release from the University of the West of England or UWE Bristol.

Having light in the cubicles is especially important in refugee camps, “which can often be dark and dangerous places, particularly for women,” the release notes.

“Oxfam is an expert at providing sanitation in disaster zones, and it is always a challenge to light inaccessible areas far from a power supply,” says Andy Bastable, Head of Water and Sanitation at Oxfam in the release. “This technology is a huge step forward. Living in a refugee camp is hard enough without the added threat of being assaulted in dark places at night. The potential of this invention is huge.”

The prototype urinal collects pee and uses microbial fuel cell stacks to generate electricity from the waste, says the head of the research team, Professor Ioannis Ieropoulos.

“We have already proved that this way of generating electricity works. Work by the Bristol BioEnergy Center hit the headlines in 2013 when the team demonstrated that electricity generated by microbial fuel cell stacks could power a mobile phone,” he says. “This exciting project with Oxfam could have a huge impact in refugee camps.”

‘Pee-power’ to light camps in disaster zones [UWE Bristol]

Experimental Crocs Store In Tokyo Brings You Shoes With Drone

Thu, 2015-03-05 19:39

shoesdronecrocsIf you’ve always thought that shoe stores would be improved by replacing salespeople with drones, well, you’re going to have to wait a while before you can experience your dream. The technology apparently isn’t quite here yet. As a promotion for a new shoe line, Crocs has a store in Tokyo where customers tap on a pair of shoes on an iPad, and a green Crocs-branded drone fetches the item and brings it to them.

This sounds pretty cool, but reports from the press event are that it doesn’t work 100% of the time. The drone has to hook a clip that holds the shoes in pairs with a dangling magnet, and sometimes it fails to grab the shoes. Also, there’s the important flaw that the store space is just a shoe-fetching promotion: Engadget points out that shoppers have to actually buy the slip-on sneakers somewhere else.

While the FAA is still not keen on deliveries using unmanned aircraft, maybe shuttling items within a store or within a building is a fun and even useful application for drones. Just keep it away from reporters’ faces.

Here’s a video of one of the test runs last week:

Here’s a longer demonstration that’s more realistic:

Flying Norlin Project [Crocs] (via Engadget)

Passengers Safely Taken Off Delta Jet That Skidded Off Snowy Runway

Thu, 2015-03-05 19:25

Two-thirds of the flights scheduled to arrive today at New York’s LaGuardia airport have already been canceled, mostly due to the latest snow storm to slam the Mid-Atlantic region. And there are 130 who probably wish their Delta flight to LGA had called off after it slid off the runway this morning.

The Delta MD-88 jet was arriving in New York from Atlanta shortly after 11 a.m. this morning when it slid off the runway and into an airport fence.

While some on the plane may have endured minor injuries, including at least one person spotted being transported on a stretcher, the airport operators from the Port Authority of New York/New Jersey tell ABC News that “All 125 passengers and five crew members were safely taken off the plane.”

A statement from Delta explains that “Customers deplaned via aircraft slides and have moved to the terminal on buses.” The airlines says it will “work with all authorities and stakeholders to look into what happened in this incident.”

One of the best photos of the accident’s aftermath was taken by New York Giants tight end Larry Donnell:

Instagram Photo

He also captured a short video of the scene:

Instagram Photo

Marketer Of Snuggies, Perfect Brownie Pans, Others Must Pay $8M For Deceiving Consumers

Thu, 2015-03-05 19:00
The marketer of products such as Snuggies and Magic Mesh door covers must pay $8 million to settle charges of deceiving consumers.

The marketer of products such as Snuggies and Magic Mesh door covers must pay $8 million to settle charges of deceiving consumers.

The marketer of popular “as-seen-on-TV” products such as Snuggies, Magic Mesh door covers and Perfect Brownie Pans must pay $8 million to resolve federal and state charges it deceived consumers with promises of buy-one-get-one-free promotions and then charged exorbitant fees for processing and handling, nearly doubling the cost of the products.

The Federal Trade Commission announced Thursday that Allstar Marketing Group, LLC, agreed to pay $7.5 million to the agency for restitution to consumers and $500,000 to the New York Attorney General’s Office for allegedly deceiving consumers about the cost of its products marketed through commercials.

According to the FTC complaint [PDF], since at least 1999, New York-based Allstar deceived consumers by failing to disclose additional fees associated with its frequent buy-one-get-one-free offers used to sell products such as Cat’s Meow, Roto Punch, Perfect Tortilla, Forever Comfy.

The FTC cites a recent commercial for the Magic Mesh door cover in which the narrator claims the company will “double the offer, just pay separate processing and handling fees.” The commercial goes on to describe the purchase as “two Magic Mesh curtains for $19,95, that’s less than $10 each.”

However, the FTC complaint alleges that the narrator never discloses that Allstar charges $7.95 in “processing and handling” fees for each Magic Mesh purchased.

Additionally, it is never disclosed that consumers can not decline the second free Magic Mesh curtain, meaning that the minimum processing and handling fee charged is actually $15.90, according to the complaint.

When the purchase is calculated after the fees are added, the price of the product jumps to $35.85, nearly double the advertised price.

In addition to deceptive commercials, the FTC claims that Allstar further deceived consumers when they initiated a purchase either by phone or online.

Consumers who called Allstar were often immediately instructed to enter their personal and billing information and subsequently charged for at least one set of products, before they were able to indicate how many products they wanted.

The FTC says that because the company’s sales pitch was often confusing, many consumers purchased more sets of the product than they actually wanted.

Once the initial sale was recorded, Allstar then attempted to upsell additional goods or services.

“As with Defendant’s main offer, the ordering process for the various upsell offers is deceptive and misleading, and the total cost associated with the upsells is not disclosed during the telephone call,” the complaint states.

For example, when ordering the Magic Mesh, consumers are promoted to use a keypad or say the number of “additional buy-one-get-one-free” sets, however, the cost of these products are never disclosed. There is no way for consumers to bypass this part of the ordering process, the FTC states.

In many instances, after the consumer completes the initial upsell portion of the call, they are transferred to a third-party for additional offers not related to Allstar’s products, which include discount shopping clubs and “free” Bahamas cruise.

According to the FTC complaint, at no point during the ordering process are consumers made aware of how many products they ordered or the total cost of their purchase. The company does not give consumers ordering over the phone a chance to confirm or edit their purchases.

“Defendant charges every consumer who enters billing information, even if those consumers abort the telephone call without completing their order,” the complaint states. “Consumers have complained that Defendant has charged them even after consumers have interrupted the telephone call by hanging up. These consumers never intended to complete a sale and would have had no way of canceling the transaction even if they had understood that Defendant was going to charge them.”

Consumers who made purchases online faced similarly deceptive and misleading processes.

When making a purchase of the Forever Comfy cushion online, consumers see a home page touting a “limited time web only special,” that includes a “free bonus (just pay separate processing and handling)” second cushion, and a “mystery gift,” all “for only $19.95 + P&H.”

The company only discloses the additional fees in fine print near the bottom of the ordering page.

“Defendant charges every consumer who enters billing information, even if those consumers abort the telephone call without completing their order,” the website fine print states. “Consumers have complained that Defendant has charged them even after consumers have interrupted the telephone call by hanging up. These consumers never intended to complete a sale and would have had no way of canceling the transaction even if they had understood that Defendant was going to charge them.”

As with the telephone orders, once consumers indicate the number of products they want to order and input their payment information, they are directed to a series of upsell offers.

“Defendant does not adequately disclose that consumers already have placed an order for the main offer by submitting their billing information,” the complaint states. “The only indication that consumers already have placed an order is a message near the top of the page, amongst larger font, that reads: ‘Because you ordered today, you also qualify for this special offer.'”

The FTC says that many consumers either do not see the alert or do not understand that it means they have already placed an order by submitting their billing information on the previous page.

As a result, many consumers once again select the number of “sets” they would like to purchase as part of the main offer, which results in Allstar at least doubling consumers’ orders.

Unlike the telephone orders, consumers do see a subtotal of their purchase online, however, they are unable to make any edits or cancel the transaction.

“Further, Defendant effectively discourages consumers from calling to change or cancel their orders by advising them that Defendant’s customer service will not have information on their order for twenty-four to forty-eight hours,” the FTC complaint states. “Some consumers have waited twenty-fours before calling Defendant’s customer service number to complain about an unauthorized order, only to be told that their order already has shipped.”

The FTC says that even if consumers were able to cancel their transaction, Allstar makes it nearly impossible to receive a full refund for products.

Although the company touts a “30-day money-back guarantee (less p&h), consumers have reported the company refused to issue refunds and directed consumer to return the unwanted products at their own expense.

According to the complaint, the FTC charges Allstar with two violations of the FTC Act, which prohibits unfair and deceptive acts or practice in or affecting commerce, and three violations of the Telemarketing Sales Rule, which prohibits abusive and deceptive telemarketing acts or practices.

Violations include:
• Billing consumers without their express informed consent;
• Failing to make adequate disclosures about the total number and cost of products before billing consumers;
• In connection with the up-selling of goods and services, violating the TSR by failing to disclose material information about the total cost of the products and that the purpose of the call is to sell goods or services ;
• During telemarketing, illegally billing consumers without first getting their consent.

In addition to providing $7.5 million for consumer refunds, the proposed settlement prohibits Allstar from failing to obtain consumers’ written consent before billing them for any product or service.

The company must also clearly and conspicuously disclose – before billing consumers – the total number of products they have ordered, all related fees and costs, and material conditions related to the products purchased.

In a separate, but related consent order, the New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced today that Allstar must pay $500,000 to the office for penalties, costs, and fees to settle charges of misleading and deceiving consumers.

“This agreement returns money to thousands of consumers in New York and across the nation who believed they were buying items at the price advertised on television, but ended up with extra merchandise and hidden fees they didn’t bargain for,” Attorney General Schneiderman said in a statement. “The settlement also brings much needed reforms to a major firm in the direct marketing industry. Those who use small print and hidden fees to inflate charges to unwitting consumers must be held accountable.”

Consumers who believe they may be entitled to a refund should notify the Attorney General’s office. Consumers can file a complaint online or obtain a complaint form at

We’ve contacted reps for Allstar regarding this proposed settlement and will update the story if we hear anything back from the company.

Direct Marketer Agrees to Pay $8 Million for Deceiving Consumers [The Federal Trade Commission]
A.G. Schneiderman Announces $8 Million Agreement With Direct Marketer For Deceptive Practices That Resulted In Hidden Charges To Consumers Ordering Products Marketed On TV [NY Attorney General’s Office]

Solo Diner Sues Portland Restaurant For $100K Claiming Staff Refused To Serve Her On Valentine’s Day

Thu, 2015-03-05 18:59



On the one hand, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a table for one for Valentine’s Day, or any day. On the other hand, restaurants want to fit as many patrons as they can on busy nights like Feb. 14. So is it wrong to boost a patron when the other half of her reservation can’t make it?

A Portland-area woman believes it is, reports, and is suing a local eatery claiming staff told her to leave when her husband didn’t come to dinner with her on Valentine’s Day.

She says she and her husband had a reservation on the night of Feb. 14 at a local Italian restaurant, that was serving a five-course meal as a special holiday menu. But after eating a big lunch, the husband backed out. She decided to go have dinner by herself anyway.

In her lawsuit, she says that she started feeling uncomfortable as soon as she arrived. She claims she was seated after others coming in after her, and found it strange. She also says in the court documents that when was finally seated and told a waitress she was ready to order, she was instead asked to leave and give up her table.

But there are two sides to every story, and the owner of the restaurant tells it a bit differently to KGW, based in his staff’s accounts of how things went done.

According to the restaurant’s version, when the woman arrived alone, she didn’t tell staff that the other member of her party wouldn’t be coming. They assumed that meant her date was still on the way, so they gave her a glass of wine for her wait.

The owner says that when the place is serving special menus, the staff won’t usually seat patrons until everyone shows up, and that the tables are reserved for parties of at least two so the restaurant can sell every seat in the house.

When her date didn’t show up, she was finally seated at a table and given a second glass of wine. That’s when the waitress asked if her other person was going to be joining her, and she said that he wasn’t coming.

“At that time, because of that day – Valentine’s Day – the waitress said, ‘Sorry, you cannot take a table by yourself, you can either sit at the bar or outside,’ ” the owner says.

In her lawsuit, the customer says she didn’t feel like eating anymore.

“I was so hurt. I’ve never experienced this before here in Portland and I was crushed,” she said. “I even gave them away [sic] out by saying I will do take out and they told me they don’t do take out.”

To that point, the restaurant owner says that while takeout is usually allowed, it wasn’t available that night because of the five-course special. He claims that before a server could explain, the woman had left.

She’s now seeking $100,00 in damages and a public apology, “to make sure all business owners in N.E. Alberta know we are serious about our community,” according to the court documents.

The owner says he won’t accept those demands, but that he’d like to talk to the woman, who is welcome back at the restaurant.

“‘I am so sorry. It was in no way intentional. Please let me make up for it.’ That is what I would say if I could talk to her,” he told KGW.

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Woman sues Portland restaurant, demands public apology []

HBO Registers URL For “HBO Now” Website

Thu, 2015-03-05 18:48

The URL for "" has recently been registered on behalf of HBO, giving credence to reports that it will use the HBO Now name for its upcoming streaming service.

The URL for “” has recently been registered on behalf of HBO, giving credence to reports that it will use the HBO Now name for its upcoming streaming service.

Yesterday, we got the first meaty (but currently unconfirmed) details about HBO’s upcoming standalone streaming service. And new information seems to indicate that the name of the service may indeed be HBO Now.

While a WhoIs search for shows that this URL is currently held by domain name registrar Dynadot, it’s worth noting that the name was snapped up in Sept. 2014, shortly before HBO announced it would launch a standalone streaming service.

So that doesn’t tell us much, but simply adding a dash and coming up with, you get results for a URL registered by MarkMonitor (who holds regist on behalf of HBO. Additionally, the URL was registered in Jan. 2015, meaning this is a new URL for the cable network and not some address it snapped up years ago for an abandoned project.

It’s worth noting that HBO holds both the and URLs, though the hyphenated version does not redirect to the streaming service. So perhaps is not the actual URL the network will use but just a way for the company to block people from hijacking that name.

As you’d probably expect, HBO is neither confirming nor denying any of the recent news regarding HBO Now (or whatever they might end up calling it).

“We know there is great anticipation about our standalone streaming service,” reads a statement to Consumerist. “And when we have details to share, we will do so.”

According to the countdown clock atop the home page of Game of Thrones news site,, we’re only 38 days away from the season premiere of the wildly popular HBO series, and numerous reports about the streaming service have indicated that the goal is to get it up and running before that date.

So maybe it’s time for HBO to stop being so mysterious and just share those details?

Why Do Girl Scouts Sell A “Caramel deLite” In Milwaukee And A “Samoa” In Seattle?

Thu, 2015-03-05 17:59

(Chris Rief aka Spodie Odie)

(Chris Rief aka Spodie Odie)

When I first the nest to live among strangers in a strange land/another state, I was surprised to hear people talking about eating “Samoas” and “Tagalongs” during Girl Scout cookie season. Once I realized they meant “Caramel deLites” and “Peanut Butter Patties,” I figured these weirdos just used different names for the same cookies. But the thing is — they aren’t the same cookies.

Though there are some of you who may already know that there are two different bakeries churning out Girl Scout cookies every year, many who have long found themselves on one side of the divide or the other will perhaps be interested to know that it’s not just a regional naming convention thing — each Girl Scout region chooses which bakery it wants to provide its cookies.

There’s ABC Bakers, owned by Interbake and based in Richmond, VA, which has been baking for the Girl Scouts since 1937; and then there’s Little Brownie Bakers, owned by Kellogg Co. and headquartered in Louisville, KY, a licensed baker for the Girl Scouts since 1974.

Thin Mints are the only cookie that keep their name across the two bakeries, but they, along with the rest of the cookie line, vary in taste and texture — among other things — between the two bakeries.

The Los Angeles Times has a great interactive graphic covering all the different textures and names between the two bakeries (as well as cost, calories, total fat, sugar, protein). There’s also a color-coded map by region so you can see where a Peanut Butter Sandwich is a Do-si-do, or you can plug in a city and see which kind of cookies are happening there.

For example, in Milwaukee, where I grew up, Caramel deLites have a higher cookie-to-caramel ratio and milkier chocolate, and are a smidge cheaper and more sugary. Whereas the Samoas in Seattle have more caramel and a darker chocolate coating, cost a few cents more per cookie and are a bit fattier and higher in calories.

If you’re thinking what I’m thinking, this all calls for a side-by-side taste test sometime in the very near future.

6 Girl Scout cookies you thought you were getting but aren’t [Los Angeles Times]

Comcast Not Afraid Of Streaming Services; Won’t Commit To Playing Nice With Them

Thu, 2015-03-05 17:50

Comcast can not currently make deals with broadcasters to keep their content off competing online video services like Sling, but that restriction expires in 2018 and the company won't publicly commit to continuing this prohibition.

Comcast can not currently make deals with broadcasters to keep their content off competing online video services like Sling, but that restriction expires in 2018 and the company won’t publicly commit to continuing this prohibition.

Earlier this week, a Dish executive claimed that Comcast was afraid of so-called over-the-top streaming services like Dish’s Sling TV and that the cable giant could use its size and influence to prevent broadcasters from signing onto Sling and others. Now Comcast is saying it has nothing to fear from these new services, but won’t commit to avoiding deals that make it difficult for them to compete.

According to, Comcast CFO Michael Angelakis recently told the audience at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference in San Francisco that the company isn’t worried about services like Sling, or the upcoming HBO Now, or Sony’s currently unnamed over-the-top offering because they are still in the “embryonic” stage, and that while they might individually be less expensive than a cable package, the savings don’t hold up when you begin to combine them to replicate the pay-TV experience.

“Some of these tend to be pretty expensive and when you add them all up they can probably outstrip the value of some off our core services when you add it with broadband,” he explains. “We have thought about more flexible packaging, more streaming and lighter packages in order to provide those alternatives and those choices to our customers. We have to evolve and we have to pivot appropriately and I think we will do that.”

But will Comcast, as Dish contends, use its position as the largest single pay-TV and broadband provider in the U.S. to prevent TV networks from making their content available to online competitors?

As we pointed out in the earlier story, conditions [PDF] placed by regulators on the 2011 merger of Comcast and NBC explicitly prohibit the company from making deals that “discriminate against, retaliate against or punish” online video services, and Comcast’s most recent compliance report [PDF] indicates that the company has behaved itself.

However, these conditions expire in 2018. Meaning that Comcast could, in the not very distant future, make deals with broadcasters that give them access to the company’s 22 million TV subscribers (and more than 30 million if the Time Warner Cable merger is approved) in exchange for not making their content available to over-the-top competitors.

We asked Comcast’s VP of Government Communications Sena Fitzmaurice if the the company was willing to commit to not making the sort of deal described by Dish after the merger conditions expire in 2018.

“We aren’t going to negotiate deal conditions in the press,” explained Fitzmaurice.

In response, we pointed out that our question was not in regard to conditions that may be put on the pending TWC merger, but whether Comcast had any intention of using its leverage after the existing conditions expire in 2018.

“Dish makes it seem like the conditions today don’t exist,” answered Fitzmaurice. “They do… Dish completely ignores them.”

Consumerist reached out to Dish for comment on the statements made by Fitzmaurice, but a rep for the satellite company would only point us to Dish’s Dec. 2014 filing with the FCC regarding the Comcast/TWC merger.