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The Consumerist

Restaurant Realizes Maybe It Shouldn’t Force Servers To Pay Credit Card Fees Out Of Tips

Thu, 2014-08-21 17:42

(Avitania Satari Bronstein)

(Avitania Satari Bronstein)

Earlier this month we told you about the Minnesota restaurant owners who decided the best way to offset increases to the state’s minimum wage was to deduct credit card transaction fees from servers’ tips. While it’s legal for businesses to do this, a poll of Consumerist readers found that 91% of you think it’s not a wise idea. Looks like the restaurant owners have finally gotten that message.

In a statement to local media yesterday, the owners of Blue Plate Restaurant Company, which operates eight restaurants in the state, announced they had stopped dinging servers’ tips to the tune of 2-3% to cover the cost of credit card transaction fees.

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act allows for these fees to be deducted from tips, so long as the employee is still earning at least the minimum wage after the deduction.

But employees at Blue Plate restaurants didn’t see why they should be penalized when the servers have no say over whether customers pay in cash or with plastic.

“It’s their choice to accept credit cards, and the customers’ choice to pay with them,” said a server at the time, “it’s not up to me.”

Following the negative public response to the news, Blue Plate is changing the policy.

“We have always listened to our guests and our community,” wrote one of the owners in a statement. “Blue Plate is a family of small neighborhood restaurants and we value the hard work of our employees more than anything. Before we were founders we were servers, [we] built hundreds of meaningful relationships with our employees and guests. It’s our core; our people understand our values. We’ve reflected and decided to try a different approach that will give our communities a clear indicator of who we are as a business.”

[via Eater]

Honda Recalls 2015 Fit Because Failing Crash Tests Isn’t Exactly A Selling Point

Thu, 2014-08-21 17:22


It’s difficult for me to see a subcompact vehicle and not automatically think that it would turn into an accordion-like piece of metal in the event of a crash. I’m sure that’s a pretty unreasonable connection to make, but one car manufacturer is now recalling its latest subcompact in order to boost the car’s crash resistance.

Honda announced Thursday that it voluntarily recalled about 12,000 model year 2015 Fit subcompact vehicles to replace the steel front bumper beams in order to make the car better withstand a front-end crash.

Officials with Honda say that a modification was made after an early production 2015 Honda Fit received a marginal score (the second worst) in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s “small front overlap” test, which simulates what happens to a vehicle and its passengers when only the front corner of a car collides at 40 mile-per-hour with a solid object like a utility pole or tree.

According to IIHS, in the first test, the bumper beam – a steel bar located behind the plastic bumper cover – broke free of the frame rail on the passenger side of the car early in the crash. The break caused more of the crash energy to be absorbed by the driver side, creating excessive upward movement of the steering column and less space on the driver’s side.

Honda engineers modified the Fit’s front bumper structure so that energy from the crash would transfer over the entire front part of the car.

Testing after the modification received an “acceptable” rating from IIHS, and the Fit was then named a 2014 Top Safety Pick, because it had received the highest rating of “good” in all other categories.

“In the second test of a car built with the improved bumper beam, intrusion was considerably reduced and the steering column remained much more stable during the crash,” IIHS reports.

While Honda changed production of the Fit to incorporate the modification, several thousand vehicles were already on the roads in North America. Those cars are eligible for the beam replacement free-of-charge at any Honda dealer in the U.S. Honda will notify owners of the available modification.

Officials with Honda claim the update allows “all early production vehicles to qualify for a Top Safety Pick rating and the same score in the small overlap test as recently built models.”

All-New 2015 Honda Fit Earns a 2014 TOP SAFETY PICK Rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety [Honda]

Taiwan Restaurant Apologizes For Naming A Dish “Long Live The Nazis”

Thu, 2014-08-21 16:34




While I suppose there could be a worse name for a pasta dish, “Long Live the Nazis” is pretty much as horrifying as it gets. Yet the manager of an Italian restaurant in Taiwan says they had no idea the moniker for menu items featuring a German sausage would be a bad idea. Or just completely offensive.

“When we were deciding on a name for this pasta dish, it never occurred to us that the word Nazi would stir up such controversy,” the 24-year-old manager of the restaurant tells the Wall Street Journal’s China Real Time blog, along with an apology.

She explains that the motive behind the name was to make the connection in customers’ minds between the German ingredients in the dish to the country.

There’s also a pizza under the same name, or there was until a local TV station featured the restaurant’s dish last week.

But before that segment brought on an onslaught of complaints, the manager says no one had anything bad to say about it.

“In fact, it is considered one of our most popular dishes,” she said.

Unsurprisingly, both Israeli and German officials in Taiwan are not pleased with the name and its connection to the murder of 11 million people, saying they’re shocked at the lack of understanding about history and mass killings at the hands of the Nazis, according to the European Pressphoto Agency.

The WSJ reports that the new name of the pasta and pizza dish is “Long Live Purity,” because, “We hope from now on, customers who eat this dish will enjoy it in sheer joy,” the manager said.

Maybe it’s better to just call it “German sausage and pasta.”

Taiwan Restaurant Apologizes for Pasta Dish Called ‘Long Live the Nazis’ [Wall Street Journal]

We Want This Netflix Hack That Adjusts Color Of Room Lights To Match Screen

Thu, 2014-08-21 16:29

Engineers at Netflix have figured out a way to connect the streaming video service to new “smart” lightbulbs so that the lights in a room respond to color changes on screen, providing a much more immersive experience. Alas, we might never get to try this for ourselves.

The added functionality — which uses Philips’ Hue smart lightbulbs — was developed as part of Netflix’s most recent Hack Day, in which company engineers get to show off what they can do.

As demonstrated in the above video, the lights respond in real time to onscreen color changes. Some TV manufacturers have dabbled with ambient lighting that changes according to the colors being shown on the screen, but this hack operates from within the app so it doesn’t require a certain type of TV, or even a TV at all. So if you’re watching Netflix on your phone or tablet, the lighting changes would still work — so long as you have the very expensive Hue bulbs.

The real downer is that Hack Day hacks are often just “isn’t this cool?” one-offs that never make their way to the official Netflix app, so there’s a good chance that this ambient lighting function may never see the light of day.

[via GigaOm]

DOJ Finally Confirms Record-Setting $16.65B Settlement With Bank Of America

Thu, 2014-08-21 15:53

(Adam Fagen)

(Adam Fagen)

More than two weeks after it was first reported that the Justice Dept. and Bank of America were coming to terms on a record-setting deal worth nearly $17 billion, the two parties have finally confirmed the details of a settlement that will resolve multiple federal and state claims involving the bank’s bad behavior in the lead-up to the collapse of the housing market.

According to the DOJ, the total value of the settlement is $16.65 billion, beating out last year’s deal with JPMorgan Chase to become the largest civil settlement with a single entity in U.S. history.

But it’s not like BofA will hand U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder a big poster-board check for $16.65 billion and be done with it. Instead, the deal is broken down into various penalties, payments and consumer relief.

First, there is the $5 billion penalty — the largest ever of its kind — for claims brought under the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act (FIRREA), which prohibits the making of false statements to federally insured financial institutions.

Another $7 billion will go to consumers in various forms of relief, including principal reduction loan modifications for some homeowners who now owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth; new loans to credit-worthy borrowers struggling to get a loan; donations to assist communities in recovering from the financial crisis; and financing for affordable rental housing. And just in case Congress fails to extend the tax relief coverage of the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007, BofA has also agreed to place nearly half a billion in a tax relief fund to be used to help defray some of the tax liability that would be incurred by consumers receiving certain types of relief.

The bank will pay $1.8 billion to settle federal fraud claims related to the bank’s origination and sale of mortgages; $1.03 billion to settle federal and state securities claims by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation; and $135.84 million to settle claims by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

$300 million will be paid to settle claims by the state of California; $45 million to Delaware; $200 million to Illinois; $23 million to Kentucky; $75 million to Maryland; and $300 million to New York.

This settlement closes the books on numerous state and federal investigations into Bank of America’s (and its acquired affiliates like Countrywide and Merrill Lynch’s) packaging, marketing, sale, arrangement, structuring and issuance of Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities, collateralized debt obligations (CDOs), and the bank’s practices concerning the underwriting and origination of mortgage loans.

BofA acknowledges that it sold billions of dollars of RMBS without disclosing to investors key facts about the quality of these securitized loans, resulting in billions of dollars in losses when these worthless securities collapsed. The settlement also required BofA to concede that it originated risky mortgage loans and made misrepresentations about the quality of those loans to Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Housing Administration.

“At nearly $17 billion, today’s resolution with Bank of America is the largest the department has ever reached with a single entity in American history,” said Associate Attorney General West. “But the significance of this settlement lies not just in its size; this agreement is notable because it achieves real accountability for the American people and helps to rectify the harm caused by Bank of America’s conduct through a $7 billion consumer relief package that could benefit hundreds of thousands of Americans still struggling to pull themselves out from under the weight of the financial crisis.”t

UPS: Hackers Hit Computer Systems At 51 Retail Stores, Possibly Exposing Customer Info

Thu, 2014-08-21 15:39


Did I bump my head and wake up in late 2013? Because it sure feels like deja vu with a slew of recent data breaches: Joining P.F. Chang’s, a group of supermarket chains and Community Health Systems in this month’s data breach roll call is United Parcel Service, which says 51 of its retail store locations had their computer systems hacked.

That breach may have exposed the credit and debit card information and postal and email addresses of customers at those stores in 24 states, reports the Associated Press, though UPS says no fraud has been linked to the attack yet.

A spokeswoman says a computer virus that isn’t identified by current anti-virus software was detected by a security firm it had hired, after UPS got a Department of Homeland Security bulletin about the malware on July 31 along with other retailers.

The malware is not identified by current anti-virus software, and may have been in place as early as January but probably didn’t start doing its dirty work until March or April, affecting about 1% of the company’s 4,470 franchised locations.

UPS says it’s still investigating how the breach happened, but that the problem was fixed by Aug. 11, and that the company took extra steps to make sure other stores’ systems weren’t at risk.

The company says it will provide identity protection and credit monitoring help to affected customers, who can go here for more information.

“The customer information that may have been exposed includes names, postal addresses, email addresses and payment card information,” wrote the company in a public statement. “Not all of this information may have been exposed for each customer. Based on the current assessment, The UPS Store has no evidence of fraud arising from this incident. The UPS Store is providing an information website, identity protection and credit monitoring services to customers whose information may have been compromised.”

UPS stores included in the attack are listed here, but the company says all locations are now safe for customers to shop.

400 People Continue Starbucks Pay-It-Forward Chain For 11 Hours

Thu, 2014-08-21 15:30

(Michael Sauers)

(Michael Sauers)

For about 11 hours, the customers of a Florida Starbucks kept a pay-it-forward chain going. Almost 400 cars each paid for the order of the customer behind them in line, continuing the chain from morning rush hour until dinner time. Are these chains inefficient? Sure. Do they brighten the day of both customers and employees? Generally.

Of course, there are the occasional grouches who say that they would have ordered something more expensive if they knew that someone else was paying the tab. Ignore those people. They are actively working against the spirit of generosity. It’s the person who starts the chain who is awesome.

How it worked in St. Petersburg yesterday was that customers would place their order at the drive-thru menu board, then learn that it had already been paid for when they pulled up to the window to pay. The barista offered them the opportunity to pay for the order of the person behind them in line in turn, which almost 400 people did.

According to employees, the final customer who broke the chain simply didn’t seem to understand what was going on, and chose not to pay for the customer behind her. Other outlets have solved this problem by keeping a rolling fund in cash for future orders, which is how a store in Connecticut kept their chain going for almost 1,500 customers over several days.

Is this a world-changing effort? No, of course not. It’s just a nice example of a few hundred people choosing to do something nice for a stranger.

Nearly 400 people ‘pay it forward’ at St. Petersburg Starbucks [Tampa Bay Times]

Family Dollar Says “No Thanks” To Deep-Pocketed Suitor Dollar General’s Takeover Attempt

Thu, 2014-08-21 15:17

(Steve Depolo)

(Steve Depolo)

Well, we didn’t exactly see this one coming: Family Dollar has rejected the advances of potential suitor Dollar General and its $9.7 billion bid to buy the smaller dollar store.

The New York Times reports that officials with Family Dollar cited “significant antirust issues” related to the offer as reason for its rejection.

North Carolina-based Family Dollar, instead, will stick with its earlier $8.5 billion merger deal with Dollar Tree to create a company with more than 13,00 stores and annual revenues of $18 billion.

“Our board reviewed, with our advisers, all aspects of Dollar General’s proposal and unanimously concluded that it is not reasonably likely to be completed on the terms proposed,” Howard Levine, Family Dollar CEO, said in a statement. “Accordingly, our board rejects Dollar General’s proposal and reaffirms its support for the pending merger with Dollar Tree.”

Officials with Family Dollar acknowledged on Thursday that they were party to several talks with Dollar General over the last year and a half to try to hash out a merger deal. However, they claim during that time that advisers warned a union would not pass regulatory scrutiny. And when Dollar General declined to attend an antitrust meeting in early June, and potential deal was all but dead.

The Times reports that when the two companies met again Family Dollar had already signed a nondisclosure agreement with Dollar Tree, preventing it from mentioning the pending deal.

Had the Dollar General bid won-out, the combined company would have included 20,000 stores in 46 states with annual revenue of $28 billion.

Family Dollar Rejects Takeover Bid by Dollar General [Forbes]

Now’s Your Chance: FCC Public Comment Period For Comcast/TWC Merger Ends Monday

Thu, 2014-08-21 14:30

Comcast-TWCLogoComcast and Time Warner Cable announced their intention to merge into wedded corporate bliss back in the middle of February. Now, six months later, the process is still rolling along. Monday — August 25 — is the deadline for members of the public to leave comments with the FCC about the merger. Got thoughts? You have three days left to make them heard.

Many of the comments filed so far are from those who, like Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas, feel there might be some foreign conspiracy at work to take wholesome all-American programming off the air.

But the reality is bad enough without paranoia involved, and it’s so much more simple: all of it is about money. A combined Comcast/TWC would have massive reach, massive clout, and massive market power that it could use to eke more and more money from every link in the chain.

Since the companies announced their betrothal in February, we’ve looked at many of the issues the potential merger raises. Among them are…


If Comcast buys Time Warner Cable, then they get big enough to raise serious anti-trust concerns in an environment that already has virtually no competition.

Customer Service:

The industry already has legendarily poor customer service, as we have seen in incident after incident after incident after incident just within the past month. Without competition, there’s nowhere else for those customers to go.

Internet Access:

Rates are going up and data caps are proliferating and there’s not a thing consumers can do about it. Competition is nil in many regions (and mobile data is no competition, no matter what Comcast claims).

Comcast also actively tries to keep out competition by “advocating” for state laws that block municipal broadband projects.

Net Neutrality:

Or cable company f*ckery, as it were. Comcast is bound by the conditions of their 2011 merger with NBCUniversal to stick with the now-vacated 2010 net neutrality rule until 2018. But that doesn’t stop them from advocating against a replacement that would continue to protect consumers past that point. Instead, they’re in favor of the FCC’s proposed fast lane solution.

Vertical Integration:

Comcast isn’t just a TV distributor or an ISP. They’re both, and also a content provider and a half-dozen other things. But the control that they can exert by controlling access to the cloud and to streaming content helps them lock out potential competitors — both content producers and programming distributors (and companies, like Netflix, that are both). They can also charge those companies more money for access to Comcast’s internet subscribers. (Which, in turn, ripples to other providers.)

That leverage also gives them the power to keep content on networks they own, like regional sports programming, to themselves, or to charge a prohibitively high rate for it to other providers.

Track Record:

This isn’t Comcast’s first mega-merger. As Senator Al Franken pointed out earlier this year, their behavior after buying NBCUniversal in 2011 has not lived up to all of their promises.


Comcast, meanwhile, is ginning up support for their merger plan from every angle. They’re using campaign donations, lobbyists, dinners and parties, and even philanthropy and outreach to lower-income families as ways of trying to convince the FCC and the DoJ that expanding their business is in the public interest.

And yet, over half the country still thinks that this merger is a pretty terrible idea for consumers.

If you want to add your name to the chorus, here’s the place to do it and here’s a reminder of how.

Woman Says Anthropologie Manager Sent Her To Breastfeed On The Toilet

Thu, 2014-08-21 14:00

(CBS Los Angeles)

A woman in California says that Anthropologie used to be her favorite store, but she gave serious thought to boycotting the chain after a store manager asked her to please feed her six-week-old son in the bathroom, not in the back of the store. The goal? To make everyone more “comfortable.”

Why didn’t she just cover up, you ask? She claims that she was using a cover to shield the public from the sight of her infant eating, but that wasn’t good enough for the Anthropologie Boob Police. Instead of a quiet corner of the stockroom or a dedicated lactation room, which some businesses now have, the store manager escorted the mother and son to the store’s restroom and invited them to have a seat on the toilet.

After leaving the store, the mother called to discuss the incident with the same manager who had escorted her to feed her child while sitting on a toilet. The manager’s response? “I thought you and the other customers would be more comfortable off the sales floor,” the mother recounted on Facebook. “We must be fair to all the customers, not just moms.”

Sure, Anthropologie doesn’t sell gauzy $180 infant sundresses, but the store was not in the right here. Like many states, California has a law that explicitly says that mothers are allowed to feed their babies in any place that they’re normally permitted to be. That means the customer couldn’t go nurse in the stockroom without permission, or break into someone’s house to nurse in a comfy armchair. However, the sales floor of a store where she was about to drop $700 on new clothes is a perfectly legal place to feed a baby.

Whether it’s polite in modern American society is another matter, and that’s a subject about which many pixels have been spilled on this and other sites. After the mother posted about the incident on Facebook, outrage spread across Los Angeles and the world, and a nurse-in was planned in front of the store yesterday afternoon.

The company did post an apologie on its Facebook page, promising “training and education” for employees. Maybe they could start by showing store managers this series of student-produced ads.

We are disappointed to hear of the unfortunate experience that occurred in our Beverly Hills store. As a company comprised of hundreds of mothers, which seeks to put the customer first, we celebrate women in all of their life stages. Given our staff’s dedication to providing exceptional customer service, we welcome this as an opportunity to enhance our customer experience by providing further training and education for our staff. Our aim is that all women – all mothers – be comfortable in our stores and delight in their relationship with Anthropologie.

Woman Says Beverly Hills Store Broke The Law After Asking Her To Breastfeed In Private [CBS Los Angeles]
Anthropologie Learns a Lesson in How Not to Treat Breastfeeding Moms [AdWeek]

Send Us Your Questions In Bulk For Costco CEO Craig Jelinek

Wed, 2014-08-20 23:41



For three decades, Costco has been selling pallets of toilet paper, jugs of ketchup, sacks of flower, and steaks in family packs big enough to feed a reality show family. But what do you actually know about what goes on behind the scenes at the members’ only warehouse chain? Now is your chance to ask the company’s CEO Craig Jelinek.

The Costco chief has volunteered to be the second subject in Consumer Reports’ new “Ask the CEO” column, which will debut next month with answers to the reader-submitted questions for General Motors CEO Mary Barra we asked for earlier this summer.

Maybe you want to ask Mr. Jelinek why he openly supports a minimum wage increase, or who holds the decoder ring to the store’s Dan Brown-esque pricing codes, or why Costco swapped Pepsi for Coke in its in-store concession stands. All valid questions… especially the last one.

Submit your questions for consideration by e-mailing them to before Wed. 8/27.

General Motors Recallapalooza Was Bad News For Rental Car Companies, Too

Wed, 2014-08-20 23:25

hertzcarfuntimeThis year’s vehicle Recallapalooza hasn’t just been bad news for General Motors and for nervous vehicle owners waiting for repair kits. Having fewer cars on the roads has been bad for major car rental companies, too, at a time that was supposed to be a renaissance of sorts for that business.

This week, Hertz withdrew its predictions about its performance this year, citing an audit of all of its financial reports going back to 2011 and “operational pressures.” The strongest pressure has been the number of cars in their fleet that were part of the General Motors recall.

As the company explained in its latest report to shareholders:

While demand was trending ahead of plan, transaction days in the 2014 second quarter were tempered by already tight fleets in the face of rising OEM recall activity, which limited the Company’s ability to convert demand into transaction days.

That means Hertz had people ready to rent cars, including in the vacation market, which is more lucrative than boring old insurance or business travel rentals. However, the number of vehicles out of commission due to various manufacturers’ recalls meant that Hertz couldn’t accommodate all of that business.

Bad Timing For Hertz: Rental Demand Rises, But So Do Auto Recalls [Wall Street Journal]

Why Every Driver Should Care About The GM Ignition Recall
5 Major Rental Car Companies Agree To Stop Renting & Leasing Recalled Vehicles

Uber Infiltrates Chicago Airports Thanks To Partnership With United Airlines

Wed, 2014-08-20 22:54

(So Cal Metro)

(So Cal Metro)

Airports have long been the domain of taxi cabs, limos, and licensed car services. Ride-sharing services haven’t really been able to break that stronghold, though some have tried. But travelers to one of America’s busiest airports may soon have new options as a result of a new arrangement between United Airlines and Uber.

United launched the service Thursday that allows passengers to use the United Airlines mobile app to find UberTaxi information including the types of vehicles available, estimated wait times and prices.

The airline’s passengers can hook-up with the Uber service by using the airline’s mobile app to select a ride, at which point they are either directed to the Uber app to complete the transaction or to sign-up for an Uber account.

While ride-sharing services such as Uber, Lyft and Sidecar are banned from picking up passengers at most airports, United found a loophole in the Windy City, Crain’s Chicago Business reports.

UberTaxi is permitted at O’Hare International Airport and Midway Airport, because the service links to professional taxi drivers and Uber dispatches the licensed cabs themselves. Other Uber options, including UberX, UberLX and the company’s black cars, will continue to be prohibited from fetching passengers at the airport.

The taxi and limousine industry has been opposed to allowing ride-share companies to pick up passengers from airports, claiming they would cut into business and skirt the typical $4 departure stamp required, Crain’s reports.

Officials with United claim the partnership will ensure passengers have a more convenient journey, but we’re not exactly sure about that.

For starters, would the service be any faster than waiting in line at the taxi stand? Generally, when one requests a pick up from Uber it takes a few minutes for the car to arrive.

Also, it’s unclear if Uber will have a designated pick up location at the Chicago airports, which means passengers could be left wandering around looking for their driver.

United Airlines falls in love with Uber, too [Crain's Chicago Business]
United Airlines the First Airline to Offer Uber Service via Mobile App [United Airlines]

Hair Stylist Gives Away Free Haircuts Every Weekend To NYC’s Homeless

Wed, 2014-08-20 22:44


Just because someone doesn’t have a roof over their head doesn’t mean that head can’t be well-groomed, as one New York City stylist who usually commands upwards of $150 for his hair services is showing by providing free haircuts to those in need.

Every Sunday afternoon, the stylist takes the time to groom denizens of the city who are homeless or in otherwise not ideal situations, reports CNNMoney, instead of tending to his usual clients at a Chelsea salon.

The stylist has been cutting hair since he was four years old, and started helping the needy with their grooming while visiting relatives in the Philippines in 2012. While there, he joined efforts with a local barber shop to give cuts to needy kids.

“It made such a strong positive impact on me that I decided to bring it back home to NYC,” he said, estimating he’s given haircuts to more than 50 homeless people. He’s also handed out free cuts in Costa Rica, Jamaica and Los Angeles as well.

“I approach individuals on the street or parks and tell them the purpose of what I do,” he says. “Cutting their hair becomes a lot like a therapy session and not just a haircut.”

After one man got a free cut, he said while he doesn’t care so much about what’s in the mirror these days, a haircut makes him feel “cleaner.”

Another man who’s been homeless for eight years got a buzzcut and his goatee trimmed, calling the stylist an “angel” for getting him ready to visit his daughter that night.

“When someone comes along and gives you something you never get, it’s just nice,” the man said. “It makes me wanna cry.”

Stylist gives free haircuts to the homeless [CNNMoney]

Is There A Link Between The Size Of Your Wedding And The Quality Of Your Marriage?

Wed, 2014-08-20 22:31

(Kerry Lannert)

(Kerry Lannert)

Compared to a lifetime (or at least a few years) spent with your spouse, the one day you spend actually getting married is but a blip on a very long timeline. But the results of a new study seems to indicate that there is some sort of link between the size of your wedding’s guest list and the quality of the marriage that ensues. Of course, that data also appears to show that most marriages are not truly happy.

The L.A. Times writes about the University of Denver’s Relationship Development Study, which has been looking at hundreds of recently married people over the last five years.

Among the various findings of the study are some curious numbers about the number of people attending a couple’s wedding and the quality of their marriage.

The couples in the study who said “I do” before a crowd of at least 150 people had high-quality marriages, according to the researchers. On the other end of the scale, only 31% of couples with relatively cozy weddings of 50 or fewer guests had high-quality marriages. For the group in the middle of those two extremes, the stats weren’t much better, with just 37% having high-quality marriages.

Likewise, only 28% of couples who eschewed formal weddings entirely fit into the the high-quality category, compared to 41% of those who went the formal wedding route.

What’s the connection? The researchers think there might be some impact of what I (not the researchers) have dubbed “The Biggest Loser Effect,” meaning someone might be more willing to commit to something unpleasant if they know lots of people are paying attention.

“There is some reason to believe that having more witnesses at a wedding may actually strengthen marital quality,” write the researchers, who also speculate that the success disparity between informal and formal weddings could be because “couples who are struggling or less happy in their relationship may be less likely to want to celebrate getting married.”

But the real demon lurking in these numbers is that even the best success rate didn’t even crack 50%, meaning a majority of couples in the study are not in high-quality marriages.

So you can invite all the people you want to your wedding, but you may still have better odds of winning at the blackjack table than you do at marriage.

This is as good a reason as any to listen Gram Parsons’ greatest song:

Caramel Apple Oreos Arrive In Target Stores Today

Wed, 2014-08-20 22:19

Is caramel apple the new pumpkin spice? It could be: when Americans reach the level of pumpkin spice fatigue, they’ll be looking for new, non-orange but still fall-themed snacks. Starting today, you can pick up Caramel Apple flavored Oreos…only at Target.


We learned about the product launch from the Twitter feed of Target Chief Marketing Officer Jeff Jones, who shared the above photo. Of course, our readers already knew that Caramel Apple Oreos were on their way, since we discussed them in our post on Monday about the cookies’ Halloween-themed cousins, Pumpkin Spice Oreos.

Exclusive new flavor arrives tomorrow! Thanks oreo #newfavorite
Jeff Jones (@jjones) August 19, 2014

While the package has clearly been opened, Jones has nothing to tell us about the flavor of the cookies. We can assume that they will taste like “natural and artificial” apple and caramel flavors with vanilla cookie wafers, but will the apple and caramel flavors match up with the green and brown coloring in the Oreo creme? We’ll just have to wait to find out.

Or never find out at all. We’ll be fine either way, I guess. Some food bloggers got to preview the Pumpkin Spice flavors, but we operate by rules that prevent us from accepting freebies from companies, so no cases of strangely-flavored cookies for us.

The new cookies will have lots of exotic Oreo company on the shelf: recent Oreo flavor launches have included root beer, limeade, peanut butter cup, cookie dough, and Rice Krispies that are not, for legal reasons, called Rice Krispies. They’ll also have at least one flavor buddy on store shelves: Candy Apple flavored M&Ms also hit shelves this fall.

Exclusive new flavor arrives tomorrow! [Instagram] (via Brand Eating)

SeaWorld Trainers Will Stay Out Of The Water After Park Drops Its Appeal Of OSHA Citations

Wed, 2014-08-20 21:55


SeaWorld’s orca trainers will stay out of the water following the park’s decision to give up its appeal to overturn a federal appeals court ruling in April. That decision that upheld the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s citations against SeaWorld for various violations, including some linked directly to the death of one of its trainers in 2010.

As chronicled in the documentary Blackfish, which has been quite the public relations headache for the marine park, SeaWorld Orlando trainer Dawn Brancheau was killed in front of park visitors when an orca named Tilikum pulled her into the water and kept her under it during a performance.

OSHA then cited SeaWorld with three workplace safety violations, two linked to Brancheau’s tragic death.

Since that appeals court ruling, SeaWorld trainers have stayed out of the water, as OSHA alleged that the park exposed animal trainers to hazards of drowning or injury, knowingly, by allowing them in the water with whales without anything to keep them safe, should something go wrong. As it did when Brancheau was killed, as well as in previous instances involving two other trainers killed while with Tilikum.

And now it seems it’ll stay that way, as SeaWorld Entertainment won’t be taking its case to the U.S. Supreme Court, according to a regulatory filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission last week cited by the Orlando Sentinel.

SeaWorld says that it has “elected to not pursue further appeal.”

“The safety of our staff and the welfare of our animals are SeaWorld’s highest priorities, and since February 2010 we have made significant safety improvements. … We are focused on the implementation of those improvements moving forward,” SeaWorld said in a prepared statement. “As such, we opted not to pursue further appeal of the court’s decision, which was based on how we were conducting our killer whale program prior to February 2010.”

SeaWorld San Diego announced last week that it’s doubling the size of its orca environment and pledging $10 million in research funding to study the creatures in the wild.

SeaWorld won’t appeal ruling keeping whale trainers out of water [Orlando Sentinel]

Subprime Auto Lender Fined $2.75M For Providing Inaccurate Information To Credit Agencies

Wed, 2014-08-20 21:20

(Chris Goldberg)

(Chris Goldberg)

Even the slightest bad rating on a credit report can have long-lasting negative affects on consumers’ lives – from getting jobs to renting or buying a home. And while most bad credit behavior detailed on credit reports are of the consumers’ own doing, sometimes it’s the result of inaccurately furnished information from financial institutions. That appears to be the case for a Houston-based financial group that now faces a hefty fine from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

The CFPB announced today that it fined subprime lender First Investors Financial Services Group Inc. $2.75 million for knowingly providing inaccurate consumer information, including wrong payment and overdue amounts, distorted dates, inflated delinquencies and mischaracterization of vehicle surrender, to credit reporting agencies.

According to a CFPB consent order [PDF], First Investors continued to provide inaccurate information to credit reporting agencies even after discovering the issue in April 2011.

When the company, which specialized in lending to consumers with impaired credit profiles, notified the vendor of issues, but failed to take steps to correct the situation.

“It continued for years to use a system that it knew was flawed. Tens of thousands of consumers were likely subject to these systemic reporting problems,” the CFPB alleges.

According to CFPB investigators the inaccurate information provided by First Investors included:

• Wrong payments and overdue amounts: First Investors provided inaccurate information about how much consumers were paying toward their debts. In many cases, First Investors understated the amounts its customers were paying. When consumers made multiple payments within a single month, for example, First Investors only reported one of the payments. This does not give consumers full credit for keeping up with their loan obligations. First Investors also overstated the dollar amount by which many of its customers were past due on their accounts.

• Distorted dates: First Investors inaccurately reported many of its customers’ “date of first delinquency,” which is the date on which a consumer first became late in paying back the loan. In most cases, First Investors was reporting the date to be more recent than it actually was. The date an account first becomes delinquent matters because it determines how long a delinquency can appear on a consumer’s credit report. Inaccurate reporting of the age of a consumer’s delinquency can cause it to appear on the consumer’s credit report longer than is allowed by the FCRA.

• Inflated delinquencies: First Investors substantially inflated the number of delinquencies for some customers when it reported customers’ last 24 months of consecutive payment activity. In one case, First Investors reported that a consumer was delinquent eleven times, when in fact the consumer had only been delinquent twice.

• Mischaracterization of vehicle surrender: When loans reach a certain stage of delinquency, First Investors has the option to repossess the car. Before that happens, though, consumers have the option to voluntarily surrender their vehicle and avoid a “repossession” showing up on their credit report. First Investors told credit reporting agencies that some of its customers had their vehicles repossessed, when in fact those individuals had voluntarily surrendered their vehicles back to the lienholder.

In addition to paying the $2.75 million fine, First Investors must correct the errors on consumers’ credit reports, help consumers obtain free copies of their credit reports and establish consumer safeguards.

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Takes Action Against Auto Finance Company For Distorting Borrower Credit Reports [CFPB]

Norway Marks The Legalization Of Segways With First Drunk-While-Segwaying Arrest

Wed, 2014-08-20 21:01
This is a person on a Segway. (pbm.)

This is a person on a Segway. (pbm.)

As my cool cousin Charlie once said, laws are made to be broken, man. That’s certainly true in Norway, where someone already got arrested for driving a Segway while under the influence of alcohol a month after the country legalized the electric scooters. This is why you can’t have nice things, Norway.

It was only last month that Norway lifted a ban on “self-balancing vehicles” because they can go as fast as mopeds, but officials had concerns about how safe they’d be on roadways with other vehicles.

Alas, one man in Oslo has already been arrested for allegedly boozing and cruising, reports the BBC. Witnesses in a restaurant area of town reported a guy exhibiting “strange behavior” while attempting to keep his balance on a Segway.

Police arrested him and charged him with being drunk while driving a Segway. This initial incident already has traffic cops worried.

“I really hope we’re not risking having lots of drink-drivers [editor's note: this is what the BBC calls it repeatedly] on two-wheeled vehicles,” the head of Oslo traffic police said. “These are treated like any other vehicle when it comes to the limit on blood alcohol.”

Mom and Dad are already sighing and shaking their heads at you, kids.

“I’m not surprised, but disappointed they don’t appreciate the danger,” a police inspector said.

Just disappointed in you. That’s all. Disappointed.

Norway catches its ‘first drink-driving Segway user’ [BBC News]

Movie Theater In California Closed Until Tomorrow Due To Alleged Bed Bugs

Wed, 2014-08-20 20:59

lodi12It’s been a long time since we’ve heard any reports of bedbugs munching on people while the people munch on popcorn in a movie theater. Almost exactly four years, to be exact. A movie theater in a rural area of California will stay closed until Thursday after extensive de-bugging began over the weekend. However, the theater won’t confirm whether the mysterious insect infestation is bedbugs.

What the pest control company that’s inspecting and potentially treating the theater could tell local reporters was that bedbugs are infesting dorms and homes in the area, so they are potentially hopping around on people and bedding.

“I was itching a little in the theater, and my daughter later pointed out to me that I had a few bumps on my back,” one moviegoer told TV station WTVR. “I woke up the next morning with a rash all over my body. My daughter had bumps on her legs and arms.”

In a statement, theater management said that the business closed to the public in response to similar complaints from customers, and an inspection turned up “limited evidence of insect activity in a few auditoriums.” They plan to reopen tomorrow if current extermination efforts are effective.

Bed bug complaint closes Lodi theater for second day [WTVR]
After Bed Bug Complaints, Lodi Theater Closed Until Thursday To Eliminate ‘Insect’ Problem [CBS Sacramento]