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The Consumerist

Still Want Marty McFly’s Back To The Future II Sneakers? You’re In Luck

Wed, 2014-09-17 21:55

The sneakers as they appeared in the 1989 movie. Hoverboard not included.

The sneakers as they appeared in the 1989 movie. Hoverboard not included.

If you have an insatiable desire to dress up how people imagined future fashions would look in the not-so-distant past, then we have some good news for you. Someone is selling replicas of Marty McFly’s velcro high tops from 2015 (as envisioned in 1989), complete with built-in lights and velcro, but sadly sans hoverboard.

The officially licensed BTTF2 sneaks lack the Nike logo and you'll have to tighten the velcro yourself, but boy will you look sharp getting laughed at.

The officially licensed BTTF2 sneaks lack the Nike logo and you’ll have to tighten the velcro yourself, but boy will you look sharp getting laughed at.

The Dissolve points out that you can now buy (supposedly) officially licensed BTTF2 kicks for only about $100 a pair (when they’re back in stock, that is).

Now these aren’t as authentic as the ones that Nike cooked up back in 2011 to benefit the Michael J. Fox Foundation, but you could actually afford to buy these and wear them without worrying about spoiling your investment.

Plus, these come with a USB cord for charging on-the-go… assuming you can pause long enough to stand near an outlet.

And let’s not forget about that collector’s box, which The Dissolve’s Nathan Rabin describes as “the single saddest piece of Back To The Future merchandise in existence,” though I would argue that just about anything from the third BTTF film would fall into that category.

Pizza Hut Testing “Skinny Slice” Pies, Or “Thin Crust Pizza” As It’s Known Elsewhere

Wed, 2014-09-17 21:45
(Adam A. Koch)

(Adam A. Koch)

Remember when Pizza Hut invented the cookie cake in 2014? It’s now testing out a mysterious new pizza configuration called “Skinny Slice” pies, wherein each contains less dough and fewer toppings for the health conscious. Basically, it’s thin crust pizza, but don’t tell Pizza Hut that.

Of course, thin crust pizza can still be laden with calorific toppings and a thick layer of cheese, so the main difference for Pizza Hut’s test is that it’s supposed to be a lighter option than its pan pizza, but a bit more than the Thin N’ Crispy style, reports the Associated Press. The dough and toppings remain the same as other pies, there’s just not as much of either.

The amount of calories in each slice is different in the two test markets the company is currently trying Skinny Slice:

• In Toledo, customers pick up to five toppings, with each slice containing 300 calories or less.
• In West Palm Beach, FL, there’s a choice of six different pies, with each slice coming in under 250 calories.

Right now, health-conscious customers can order something called a “Fit n’ Delicious” pie which I personally have never heard of, but that contain even fewer calories than the Skinny Slice option. If Skinny Slice catches on, it would replaces Fit n’ Delicious. And now I can’t take myself seriously after typing so many silly names.

*Thanks for the tip, Ben H.!

Pizza Hut testing ‘Skinny Slice’ [Associated Press]

Customers Claim Lender Shut Cars Down Too Soon After Missed Payment

Wed, 2014-09-17 21:26

(Jeanette)

(Jeanette)

It seems like a very long time ago that we told you about a new practice in the auto lending industry––cars that the lender can shut down remotely if you happen to miss a payment. The cars won’t shut down while you’re cruising down the highway, but will simply refuse to start when the ignition is off. Simple enough, but some customers claim that one company shut their cars down too early, and have filed a class action lawsuit.

The controversy isn’t over the use of these systems in the first place: customers accept that when they purchase the car. What these customers and the company don’t agree on is whether the system, called Passtime Elite GPS, works in a way that should be legal in the state of Nevada.

At the center of the lawsuit is a woman who struggled to make payments on her minivan, and found that her car had been remotely disabled on the 11th of the month after she wrote a check with insufficient funds in her bank account. Nevada law spells out that a lender can repossess a car 30 days after the due date for the missed payment, and she was only 11 days past the date. The following month, the lender did the same thing only 16 days past the deadline.

“If the lender can’t send someone out to repossess your vehicle after a default, why should they be able to press a button and disable it before the statutory time?” an attorney with Nevada Legal Aid said in the organization’s press release. Is shutting down a vehicle (even if it’s easily turned back on remotely) the true equivalent of towing it away? If so, then the laws should be the same. If not, then states should consider making new laws for the new technology…which has been in use for the last decade, so it isn’t all that new.

Finance company shuts down vehicles too soon, lawsuit alleges (Thanks, Jonathan!)

KFC Customer Claims His Dinner Has Foretold The Outcome Of Scotland’s Independence Vote

Wed, 2014-09-17 21:15

While the United Kingdom stands poised on the brink of a possibly fractured future, one man says he already knows the outcome of Scotland’s vote on independence: It’s going solo, according to a piece of chicken he bought from KFC. Well, that’s decided.

With everyone in the British Isles waiting to see whether Scotland parts ways with England, Wales and Northern Ireland — aka the United Kingdom — after hundreds of years together, one man saw the future in his fried chicken, reports The Mirror.

He and his family were on vacation recently and ordered a family bucket of chicken at KFC. He plucked out one particular piece and looked into time itself.

“I picked this one piece out and I thought it looked like the map of Britain, but then I realized Scotland was missing,” he explains, admitting that Northern Ireland wasn’t some other piece of chicken, but that it did resemble England and Wales.

Scottish independence: Man finds piece of KFC chicken that could be shape of new UK http://t.co/FnfqBMTfDD pic.twitter.com/AespY6wtgS

— Daily Mirror (@DailyMirror) September 16, 2014

He confesses that he might not be a soothsayer in the making, but heck, weirder things have happened.

“I don’t know whether it’s an omen for the outcome of the Scottish referendum, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Scotland votes Yes,” he adds.

I don’t know if I’m just delirious from hunger but the more you look at it… It does kind of look like England and Wales. Well, maybe only a little bit of Wales. Some probably got lost in the fryer.

On the left, a map. On the right, chicken (via @DailyMirror)

On the left, a map. On the right, chicken (via @DailyMirror)

Voting is important, so:

Take Our Poll (function(d,c,j){if(!d.getElementById(j)){var pd=d.createElement(c),s;pd.id=j;pd.src='http://s1.wp.com/wp-content/mu-plugins/shortcodes/js/polldaddy-shortcode.js';s=d.getElementsByTagName(c)[0];s.parentNode.insertBefore(pd,s);} else if(typeof jQuery !=='undefined')jQuery(d.body).trigger('pd-script-load');}(document,'script','pd-polldaddy-loader'));

Scottish independence: Man finds piece of KFC chicken that could be shape of new UK [The Daily Mirror]

Chase Proactively Replacing Some Debit, Credit Cards Involved In Home Depot Breach

Wed, 2014-09-17 20:55

(frankieleon)

(frankieleon)

Home Depot has yet to confirm the estimated number of customer credit and debit card accounts that were compromised during the data breach that affected thousands of stores for five months, and it’s not known whether much of the stolen card info will ever be sold by the hackers now that everyone knows about the massive theft. Regardless, JPMorgan Chase has already begun the process of replacing some cards for customers who may have been affected.

According to Reuters, the bank has confirmed it has sent out an unspecified number of notices to cardholders to let them know that replacement cards are on the way, in some cases as soon as Sept. 30.

The notices tell the customers that their accounts may be “at risk,” but that they can continue to use their current card until a new one arrives; just keep an eye out for odd transactions.

It also reminds cardholders that they will not be liable for unauthorized transactions that are reported promptly to the bank.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reports that both Visa and MasterCard have sent alerts to thousands of card-issuing banks, asking them to keep their eyes open for potentially fraudulent transactions. The alerts apparently don’t mention Home Depot by name, but it’s obviously a response to the breach that came only five months after a similar attack on Target’s in-store payment system, and which will likely be several times larger, in terms of the number of affected consumers.

Home Depot has had to explain why it failed to learn from the Target hack. The retailer recently explained that it did develop a plan to update its system to prevent this sort of breach, but only about one-fourth of the company’s 2,200 stores had been upgraded by the time the hack was discovered in early September.

Group Makes Debt Disappear, Pays $3.9M Toward For-Profit Students’ Outstanding Private Loans

Wed, 2014-09-17 20:22

(Quazie)

(Quazie)

If you’re one of the millions of consumers saddled with hard to repay student loan debt, you’ve probably dreamed of the day when your repayment obligation is finished. While it will take most of us years to reach that fine day, others are finding their student loan debt have been paid in full by a group of strangers.

NPR reports that Rolling Jubilee, described as a network of activists who “liberate debtors through mutual aid,” purchased and eradicated nearly $3.9 million in private student loans, including some of those taken out by students attending school at collapsing for-profit education company Corinthian Colleges, Inc.

Michigan resident Courtney, a former student of Everest Institute’s dental assisting program, recently received a letter in the mail notifying her that the remainder of her college debt – $790.05 – had been forgiven.

The 24-year-old says she failed to keep up with her loan payments after being unable to find work in her desired field.

So just how is Rolling Jubilee, a faction of the group Strike Debt, able to forgive the student loan debt of random consumers?

First, a borrower’s debt must be delinquent, which generally means no payments have been made in as many as 180 days. At that point, the original loan issuer writes the debt off and sells it for pennies on the dollar to third-party collectors.

But instead of allowing the debt to go to third-party collectors – who have been known to use shady tactics to recoup debts from consumers – Rolling Jubilee buys it using donations raised online. Alternatively, the group simply pays off the remaining balance.

While the group previously focused on unpaid medical bills, paying nearly $15 million worth of debt, it’s now attempting to draw attention to borrowers with high-interest private loans from expensive for-profit colleges.

“Some debts are just and others are unjust,” Thomas Gokey, one of Strike Debt’s organizers, tells NPR about for-profit college loans. “They’re the worst of the worst.”

Gokey and the rest of those associated with Rolling Jubilee chose to target debt from Corinthian Colleges deliberately because the company is currently selling off or closing most of its campuses as part of an agreement with the Department of Education.

Just yesterday, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced a lawsuit against CCI for allegedly lying to students about job prospects at the same time as issuing predatory student loans. As part of the CFPB’s action, the Bureau is seeking the discharge of more than $569 million in private student loan debt owed to the company.

While Rolling Jubilee doesn’t yet have the backing to pay the debts of every former for-profit college student, they plan to continue providing relief to some.

“I feel better knowing that it’s off,” Courtney says of being student loan-free. “I feel like I can do something better with myself.”

These People Can Make Student Loans Disappear [NPR]

Claire’s Realizes Malls Might Not Be Around Forever, Opens Stores Inside Toys ‘R’ Us

Wed, 2014-09-17 20:18

(Maulleigh)

(Maulleigh)

Because there will always be a need for cheap jewelry, stretch pants and kitschy pop culture merchandise as long as there are tweens and teens out there shopping, mall staple Claire’s isn’t going anywhere. Well, that’s not entirely true — it isn’t going away, but it is expanding its horizons by setting up shop inside some Toys ‘R’ Us locations.

The chain has already been testing this model in stores in Europe, reports the Chicago Tribune, and will offer all the same sorts of teenybopper stuff all the regular Claire’s stores have.

The idea here being — get out of those malls, and get at your future customers early on so you can groom them to transition from toys to glittery nail polish.

There will be a total of 12 Toys ‘R’ Us stores with Claire’s inside, including two in the Times Square store in New York City. The rest include: Murrieta, CA; Colorado Springs, CO; Jensen Beach, FL; Florence, KY; Waldorf, MD; Henderson, NV.; Toledo, OH; Tulsa, OK; Philadelphia and Houston.

Claire’s opening branded shops inside Toys R Us [Chicago Tribune]

Nike Doesn’t Want To Be Associated With Adrian Peterson Right Now

Wed, 2014-09-17 18:55

apnikeEven before Nike took over as the official supplier of NFL jerseys, one of the company’s highest-profile NFL endorsement deals was with Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson. But now that the Pro Bowl back faces allegations of child abuse, Nike has decided it’s probably a good time for the two to take a break from each other.

“Nike in no way condones child abuse or domestic violence of any kind and we have shared our concerns with the NFL,” the company told Reuters earlier today, explaining why it suspended its contract with Peterson.

Peterson did not play with the team last weekend, following the revelation of a child endangerment indictment in Texas. On Tuesday, the team said that the running back would be rejoining the team pending the outcome of the investigation, but the Vikings have since backtracked, suspending him from all team activities.

Thieves Steal 1.4 Tons Of Cheese Contaminated With Listeria

Wed, 2014-09-17 18:44

(Sarah Mount)

(Sarah Mount)

Listen, if there’s anyone out there who understands the lure of wheel upon wheel of beautiful cheese, it’s me. Cheese is my significant other, so I get it. But thieves in Liechtenstein are barking up a very dangerous tree by swiping 1.4 tons of cheese contaminated with harmful bacteria. That cheese is sadly, meant for no one.

According to The Local, officials are worried because the cheese that was destined to be trashed is contaminated with listeria monocytogenes and could cause listeriosis in anyone who eats it.

And because whoever stole it will likely try to resell it either directly to consumers or indirectly through another distributor, the likelihood that people won’t know they’re eating contaminated cheese is high.

The country’s food office had banned the bad batch of “Alp Sücka” cheese, and discovered 236 wheels of it were missing during an inspection, which were likely lifted from the open containers where they were hanging out to await their destruction.

Anyone who bought the cheeses after Sept. 9 should not eat it, Liechtenstein officials warned. I know, it’s cheese. But don’t eat it.

Thieves steal 1.3 tonnes of infected cheese [The Local]

Court Shuts Down Payday Lenders Who Made Millions Off “Loans” Borrowers Didn’t Ask For

Wed, 2014-09-17 18:30

(Scott Lynch)

(Scott Lynch)

Whether you think that payday loans are a necessary financial offering for people with bad credit to get low-value, short-term loans or a predatory product that only results in more debt for the nation’s poorest consumers, you’d agree that no loans should be doled out without the borrower’s approval. But one network is accused of putting unauthorized payday loans in consumers’ bank accounts so it can eventually siphon off even more money.

Earlier this month, the Federal Trade Commission sued [PDF] 19 different but connected companies and their two principals, alleging that they made millions of dollars off of consumers who found themselves trapped in payday loans they did not authorize.

According to the FTC, the defendants issued a total of $28 million in payday loans during an 11-month period in 2012 and 2013. Thing is, these loans were allegedly not authorized by the borrowers.

The scheme went like this, claims the FTC:

Consumers looking for payday loans would provide their information, including bank account numbers, to third-party lead generators for payday lenders. The defendants and their companies then purchased this information and, without approval from the borrower, used it to deposit money — typically between $200 to $300 — in a borrower’s account.

Once the unauthorized “loan” was deposited, the defendants would then allegedly withdraw recurring bi-weekly “finance charges” of up to $90. Of course, none of these payments actually went toward paying down the principal of the loan, according to the FTC.

According to the complaint, the defendants then contacted the unwitting borrowers to let them know that, in spite of evidence to the contrary, they were obligated to repay the “loan” they never requested. The FTC says the defendants also misrepresented the true costs of these not-really-loans.

The companies allegedly provided fake documents like loan applications and electronic transfer authorizations to bolster their claims that borrowers had actually authorized the loans.

Victims who tried to get out of this trap by closing their affected bank accounts, often found that their bogus debt had been sold to a collections agency, resulting in more harassment, the FTC contends.

The scheme raked in $46.5 million from “borrowers'” bank accounts, the FTC alleges.

Shortly after the complaint was filed, a U.S. district court in Missouri agreed to impose a temporary restraining order that appoints a receiver to take over the operation. The court order also gives the FTC and the receiver immediate access to the companies’ premises and documents, and freezes their assets.

“These defendants bought consumers’ personal information, made unauthorized payday loans, and then helped themselves to consumers’ bank accounts without their authorization,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “This egregious misuse of consumers’ financial information has caused significant injury, especially for consumers already struggling to make ends meet. The Federal Trade Commission will continue to use every enforcement tool to stop these unlawful and harmful practices.”

The defendants included in the complaint and the restraining order are: CWB Services, LLC; Orion Services, LLC; Sand Point Capital, LLC; Sandpoint, LLC; Basseterre Capital, LLC; Namakan Capital, LLC; Vandelier Group, LLC; St. Armands Group, LLC; Anasazi Group, LLC; Anasazi Services, LLC; Longboat Group, LLC, also doing business as (d/b/a) Cutter Group; Oread Group, LLC, also d/b/a Mass Street Group; and these companies’ two principals, Timothy A. Coppinger and the amazingly named Frampton T. Rowland, III.

Loans & Stripping Aren’t The Only Ways To Pay For College — We Want To Hear How You Did It

Wed, 2014-09-17 18:23
(Great Beyond)

(Great Beyond)

With the price of tuition increasing each year and more families unable to save for future college costs, prospective students often turn to private and federal student loans to finance their education. But with one-in-three student loans currently considered delinquent and the weight of student loan debt burdening borrowers well into retirement, many consumers are seeking out other ways to pay for their post-secondary education while remaining relatively debt-free.

From joining programs such as ROTC or AmeriCorps to enticing strangers to fork over donations using crowdfunding websites like GoFundMe, would-be students are getting increasingly creative when it comes to achieving their collegiate dreams.

In recent months, several new ways to pony up those tuition dollars have been born. Starbucks partnered with Arizona State University to sent employees college. And cities in Michigan and the entire state of Tennessee have created programs that will send resident’s to college free of charge.

If you are using, or have used unusual or odd ways to pay for college, we’d like to hear your story. How did you get the idea? Is it covering all your costs?

E-mail us your story at tips@consumerist.com with PAYING FOR COLLEGE in the subject line, and let us know just how you were able to fund your college experience.

Got $250? You Could Be Guzzling Surge On Friday

Wed, 2014-09-17 18:15

“I really hope we don’t see [cases] being flipped for $200 on eBay,” I mused in the comments of our post on the resurgence of Coca-Cola’s high-caffeine, carbo-loaded high-caffeine citrus soft drink from the ’90s, Surge. I don’t know what I was thinking. Now that cases of Surge have shipped out, early buyers are ready to flip their cases instead of guzzling them.

While it’s refreshing to see Millennial entrepreneurs doing their thing, it will be interesting to see whether anyone’s thirst for Surge turns out to be worth a $230 markup. Before this third-party listing, we believe the next shipment of official Surge on Amazon was due on September 26.

surgeamazon

eBay is also available to feed your rush if you feel so inclined, and the site’s auction format gives us a better gauge of the market. Let’s see how that’s working out.

surge ebay

Dallas Bar Owner Won’t Show NFL Games In Protest Of League’s Domestic Violence Policy

Wed, 2014-09-17 18:04

(Archman8)

(Archman8)

Like a unicorn kissing noses with a flying dragon, a bar in Texas that refuses to show football was, until this point, a fantastical thing that we never thought could become reality. But one Dallas bar owner is willing to risk out on all that football money to protest the NFL’s stance on domestic violence. He says he won’t show any NFL games this season until something changes in the league.

As the discussion in the media and among fans over domestic violence continues — with the Minnesota Vikings reversing its earlier decision to bench Adrian Peterson this Sunday, amid allegations of child abuse — the bar owner posted his decision on Facebook on Monday, reports CBS DFW:

Good Evening Folks, Running a bar in Texas is not the easiest thing in the world, especially when it comes to football, so I hope you will all take the stand with me, as of today, we will no longer show ANY NFL games until the league changes it’s domestic abuse policies. It has gotten to the point where money is more important than women’s and children’s health and life are concerned, this is unacceptable in the world that I want to live in. Please join me in my small attempt to stop adding fuel to the fire and money to their coffers. #takeastand #NFL #nomoresbuse

He says he’s not trying to make a statement, but instead is “just a guy that’s doing what he believes in,” he tells CBS Dallas.

But in the land of football, where football is THE thing to do and to talk about, he realizes he could lose out on some big bucks with this decision.

“Whenever you tell someone you’re not going to be able to watch football in Texas in a bar, you’ll take a hit. We’ll take whatever we take,” he says.

Dallas Bar Bans NFL To Protest League’s Domestic Abuse Stance [CBS DFW]

Previously: Bud Light Doesn’t Want To Be The Official Sponsor Of Domestic Violence

Scammers Made $60K Taking Rental Deposits For Other People’s Apartments

Wed, 2014-09-17 16:53

(TheTruthAbout)

(TheTruthAbout)

There is a longstanding, if sketchy, tradition in New York City of people signing a lease on an apartment with the sole intent of subletting it for a profit. But where that crosses the line from sketchy to just plain evil is when you’re merely using someone else’s home as a showcase to rack up thousands of dollars in ill-gotten deposits from hopeful tenants.

Prosecutors in NYC have accused one pair of scammers of bilking a total of $60,000 from 20 people — all in just a four-month time period.

The suspects would pay for short-term rentals in prime Manhattan neighborhoods and then re-list those same apartments, posing as the rightful landlord. Potential tenants would come by to check out the places and then leave deposits ranging from $150 to $4,500, reports the NY Post, but since the scammers only had these bait apartments for short periods of time, by the time the new tenants showed up, the predators had disappeared, replaced by the actual owners.

“Many of the victims were young, first-time New Yorkers who believed they had signed a legitimate lease, only to find out when attempting to move in that their new apartment was already occupied,” explained Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., who said that the victims had not only thrown away money on the bogus rental, but often were left without a place to live.

The scammers were eventually caught and were indicted earlier this week on charges, including scheming to defraud and grand larceny, to which they have both entered “not guilty” pleas.

Starbucks Now Testing Super Cute 10-Ounce Mini-Frappuccino

Wed, 2014-09-17 16:49

(Starbucks Melody)

(Starbucks Melody)

As a news outlet known for sharing news about record-shattering, vat-filling, massive frozen espresso drinks, it’s a cool and refreshing change of pace for us to share news about a new tiny Frappuccino. If you live near Houston or Denver and want a caffeinated confection with fewer calories, you can check out the test.

Why would they do such a thing? Espresso drinks and brewed coffee are already available at Starbucks in an off-menu “short” size, and the chain’s blended cold drinks are known for being both packed with calories and expensive. (That’s why drinks attempting the apparently world record are based on the Frappuccino: per ounce, it’s pricey.) Adding these new items to the menu lets Starbucks market a “new” product without having to add new product lines. They just need to order some little cold cups and call it a day.

Starbuck sMelody, a blog that keeps track of all things Starbucks, points out that customers might see the new offering as a sampler to try new flavors or even to try the blended beverages in the first place:

The lower price point potentially creates ‘trial’ – customers order something they wouldn’t normally, and then later think, “Next time I have to order the larger size”!

THE ADORABLE “MINI” (10 OUNCE) FRAPPUCCINO. [Starbucks Melody]

Social Networking Site For Rich People Charges $9,000 Fee To Join

Wed, 2014-09-17 16:45

These are your new rich friends!

These are your new rich friends!

Looking out across the vast oceans of the Internet, at all those massive schools of plebeians just swimming around and congesting Facebook and Twitter with their everyday ordinariness, one can only imagine it gets lonely out there for the super rich “who have more money than time.” Well, look at that, there’s a social media site designed just for those folks, and it costs $9,000 to be a member.

Possibly under the impression that money buys social media happiness, Netropolitan has dubbed itself
“the online country club for people with more money than time,” reports CNN.

And just like a country club, money matters — specifically, the $9,000 it costs for dues and a membership fee, with another $3,000 every year you stay in the network after that.

It sounds too snobby to be real, right? Oh, but it is real. It is.

“This is 100% real, and I believe there is a need and an audience for this service,” said James Touchi-Peters, Netropolitan’s founder, who was feeling lonely amidst all the baby pics and the humdrum pace of normals’ lives.

“I saw a need for an environment where you could talk about the finer things in life without backlash — an environment where people could share similar likes and experiences,” he said.

So why the big bucks? What does that actually buy you? Well, it “ensures that our membership remains exclusive, but also private.”

“We view Netropolitan.club in the same light as any country club out there,” he said. “They have initiation fees and yearly dues for members. Netropolitan is an online country club, focused on connecting members around the world. We believe there is a need for a community like this, and we are filling the need.”

Nothing about getting even a free toaster?

Once you’re on the network, there are no ads, and the site isn’t indexed by search engines. And while there’s a “Member Service Associate” button to provide site help, it’s not for users to abuse and order up a priavate jet or pick up your drycleaning, despite the temptation that’s apparently inherent in such a setting. The site warns that it’s “NOT a concierge service,” so please just stick with your regular concierge.

Facebook — for rich people (for just $9,000) [CNN]

Senate Once Again Blocks Bill To Allow Borrowers To Refinance Federal And Private Student Loans

Wed, 2014-09-17 16:23
(Tim Schreier)

(Tim Schreier)

A bill that would have allowed millions of private and federal student loan borrowers to refinance their debts to the lower rate currently being issued on new federal and private student loans was once again blocked in the Senate.

The Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act, which was first introduced by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren in May, previously failed a Senate provisional hurdle in June.

The Hill reports that on Tuesday afternoon Warren asked for unanimous consent to vote on her bill. However, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas objected unless an open amendment process would be allowed, a move which Warren said she couldn’t agree to.

“Life is about choices. Each of us have made a choice on education, like where we’re going to go to school and what we’re going to study,” Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois said in a statement. “There was a choice made on the Senate Floor today…to ignore students across America who are struggling to make ends meet because of overwhelming amounts of student loan debt.”

The bill would have allowed federal and private student loan borrowers to refinance to rates set for first-time borrowers; 3.86% for Undergraduate Direct Loans, 5.41% for Graduate Loans, and 6.41% for PLUS Loans taken out by a student’s parents.

Borrowers looking to refinance their student loans would have to be current on their payments and meet debt-to-income ratios that would have been set by the Department of Education.

In addition to refinancing student loans, the bill set forth a number of tax reforms intended to enact what is called the “Buffett Rule,” a reference to billionaire Warren Buffett’s statement that he shouldn’t pay lower taxes than his secretary.

The bill encountered criticism early on when supporters were looking at how to finance such an endeavor. At the time the bill was introduced, Warren suggested funding could be found in the form of the estimated $66 million a GAO study found the government would make off federal student loans disbursed between 2007 and 2012.

Consumer groups previously urged legislators to pass the Act to potentially save consumers billions of dollars.

Our colleagues at Consumers Union said the bill promotes “common sense solutions to the student debt crisis that will have a meaningful impact on the lives of millions.”

“[The Act] will help borrowers pay down their loans faster and give them the chance to put the extra money they save each month toward purchases or investments that stimulate the economy,” CU senior policy counsel Pamela Banks and staff attorney Suzanne Martindale wrote in June.

Consumers Union estimates that approximately 40 million consumers currently have student loan debts totaling $1.2 trillion. The majority of outstanding student loans have interest rates fixed from the time they were taken out, and while market rates are historically low right now, at the time most were issued federal loan rates were at 6.8% or higher.

With one-in-three students loans considered delinquent and often affecting a borrower’s ability to make purchases in the future, the Act would offer much needed reprieve for college students left with mountains of both federal and private student loans.

GOP blocks Warren’s student loan bill [The Hill]

Audi Snags First Automaker Permit To Test Self-Driving Cars On Public Roads In California

Wed, 2014-09-17 15:59

(Leonid Mamchenkov)

(Leonid Mamchenkov)

While Google has been tootling around California with its driverless cars, causing gawkers to stop and gawk and generally make traffic disturbances, there hasn’t yet been an automaker prepared to dip its toes into the world of driverless cars. Audi just snagged the bragging rights to being the first car maker to get a permit from California to test its own self-driving cars on the public highways and byways of the state.

The permit announcement comes on the same day that the California Department of Motor Vehicles officially instituted new rules about how automakers can test these cars, reports the Los Angeles Times.

It’s the first time California has issued such regulations, which say that manufacturers have to register driverless vehicles, insure them up to $5 million each, finish testing programs and only use qualified drivers who work for the automaker. Any accidents involving the test cars must be reported to the DMV.

“Autonomous vehicles are the future of transportation,” said DMV Director Jean Shiomoto. “Testing on public roads is one step to developing this technology, and the DMV is excited in facilitating the advancement of autonomous vehicles in California.”

While Nissan, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, Ford and General Motors are all busy tinkering away in their car ships with plans to release autonomous vehicles in the future, Audi gets to claim it was the very first. By 2025, the roads could be full of as many as 230,000 new driverless cars every year, says a study by IHS Automotives, proving there are plenty of people out there who would rather leave the driving to a robot.

I remain unimpressed until someone shows me a flying car like the Jetsons. Otherwise I’m just afraid of this unembeddable scene from Silicon Valley happening because it TOTALLY WOULD.

Audi gets first permit to test self-driving cars on California roads [Los Angeles Times]

Ground Black Pepper Recalled In All 50 States For Possible Salmonella Contamination

Wed, 2014-09-17 15:29

Fresh Finds Ground Black Pepper is being recalled in all 50 states.

Fresh Finds Ground Black Pepper is being recalled in all 50 states.

Nothing gives a meal the right kick quite like a little ground black pepper. That is, unless the spice comes with a little salmonella, in which case we want nothing to do with it because it’s being recalled by the case load.

Gel Spice Company, Inc. issued a voluntary recall of 16,433 cases of Fresh Finds-Ground Black Pepper after the spice tested positive for salmonella contamination, the Food & Drug Administration announced.

The spice comes in a 3.53-ounce plastic jar and was distributed at Big Lots Stores nationwide, with the exception of Alaska and Hawaii.

The containers come with the Best By Dates of 6/30/17, 7/01/17, 7/02/17, 7/22/17, and 7/23/17 printed on the neck of the bottle. The Fresh Finds brand label includes the UPC Code 4 11010 98290 1.

Gel Spice Company reports there have been no reports of illness related to the product.

The recall was initiated after a sampling by the FDA revealed some of the finished product contained the salmonella bacteria.

Consumers who have purchased the product are urged to dispose of it.

Gel Spice Company, Inc. Issues A Voluntary Recall Of Fresh Finds Brand Ground Black Pepper, 3.53 oz (100 g), Due To Possible Salmonella Risk [FDA]

Comcast CEO “Cautiously Optimistic” He Can Shove TWC Merger Down Regulators’ Throats

Wed, 2014-09-17 14:56

BRIANrobertsisawesomeWe’re still months away from the FCC and the Justice Dept. completing their reviews (and hopefully putting the brakes on) the merger between the nation’s two largest cable companies. And even though the initial questions being asked by regulators show that the deal is not inevitable, Comcast’s CEO is counting on being able to convince the folks in D.C. that this alliance isn’t entirely unholy.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, Kabletown scion and mayor for life Brian Roberts told an audience at the 2014 Media, Communications and Entertainment Conference that he’s “cautiously optimistic” that regulators will sign off on allowing the two lowest-rated pay-TV and broadband providers to combine into one beast that has even less incentive to improve.

“All of the cable deals have always gone through,” explained Roberts. “The process is underway in earnest and we’ve got many states and local communities to already approve of the transfer.”

So his reasoning is that because the FCC has, against all common sense, historically let the pay-TV and wired broadband industry consolidate to the point where there are only a few remaining companies and allowed those companies to exist in a market where competition is all but outlawed, it will do so again?

Sadly, he may be right.

After all, the FCC and DOJ did approve Comcast’s acquisition of NBC Universal, allowing the nation’s largest and crappiest cable operator to also become one of its largest and crappiest broadcasters.

Much like that deal, we assume the success of the TWC merger will depend on whether or not any of the current FCC commissioners are looking for a high-paying job at Comcast when they choose to re-enter the private sector.

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