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Southwest Passenger Detained After Creating WiFi Hotspot Names Like “Bomb On Board”

Fri, 2014-09-12 20:43



Authorities detained a passenger aboard a Southwest flight that landed at Seattle-Tacoma Airport yesterday on its way to Denver, after reports that he created a bunch of creepy names for his in-flight WiFi hotspot, naming it “Southwest – Bomb on Board” and making comments about the attractiveness of flight attendants, among other things.

According to ABC News, passengers started to worry when they realized the weird names popping up during the flight.

“He changed it to ‘the bomb is on this seat,’ and then he changed it to something about the stewardess being hot,” one passenger said. “And so that’s why once we found all that stuff out we realized he was probably just goofing off.”

Whether or not he was just goofing off like an insensitive jerk — especially in light of the fact that the flight was on Sept. 11, as the passenger pointed out added an extra layer of concern — authorities ordered the plane to a side tarmac, surrounded the plane and took the man into custody.

All passengers deplaned and bags were re-screened, before the plane could be reloaded and back on the way to Denver. Southwest said it was the captain’s decision to report the potential security threat, and that the airline’s “highest priority is the safety and security” of passengers and employees.


How Corporations Got The Same Rights As People (But Don’t Ever Go To Jail)

Fri, 2014-09-12 20:18

In every common-sense, everyday way, a corporation is not a person. Corporations don’t date, don’t have families, don’t go catch a movie on Friday night. They also don’t go to jail when they do something criminal. But in the eyes of the law, corporations enjoy many of the same rights — including free speech and religious expression — and protections afforded to individuals.

Groups of people have joined together to become a single legal entity for, literally, thousands of years. But in modern American law, this useful legal fiction — of a corporation as a single legal person — has taken on new aspects. Over the past two hundred years, and particularly in the last five, the Supreme Court has repeatedly found that not only are corporations people, but also that being people gives them the same constitutional rights as the rest of us.

But corporations are not actually living, breathing, physical beings. They cannot go to jail, they cannot lose their lives, and they do not think or feel. Their actions and inactions are the sum total of the actions and inactions of their members.

It’s easy for us to point to an individual and say, “There he is, this man did a thing, and he is responsible.” It’s harder for us to point to a group. So where does the fictional person of a corporation begin and end? What rights does it have, and what responsibilities? Where is the corporation at fault, and where do the real people come in?

The Evolution Of Constitutional RightsImage courtesy of Adam Fagen Section Permalink Bookmark Section Share on Facebook Share on Twitter
The basis for the idea of corporations as persons comes from the literal beginning of federal law: section 1 of the U.S. code.

Criminal statutes that apply to “whoever” violates them, or to any “person” that commits a crime, are legally defined as including “corporations, companies, associations, firms, partnerships, societies, and joint stock companies, as well as individuals.”

But the legal extent to which corporations have shared the same legal rights and responsibilities as other kinds of people, including actual people, has changed significantly over time.

In late 2013, a report from the Congressional Research Service (PDF) explained the constitutional protections afforded to corporations:

“Corporations have no Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. On the other hand, the courts have recognized or have assumed that corporations have a First Amendment right to free speech; a Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures; a Fifth Amendment right to due process and protection against double jeopardy; Sixth Amendment rights to counsel, jury trial, speedy trial, and to confront accusers, and to subpoena witnesses; and Eighth Amendment protection against excessive fines.”

Law is iterative. It evolves whenever a conflict between two parties ends up being resolved by the courts. The legal foundation that guarantees corporate persons those rights and protections was not delivered wholesale by an act of Congress, but rather is the sum total of several different Supreme Court rulings.

In 1819, when the Supreme Court protected the rights of corporations to exist and to act without interference from the states. Since then, there have been a handful of particularly important cases that redefined or clarified the constitutional protections afforded to corporations as we know them today.

Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, 1886
Sometimes, landmark case law springs from the most unlikely of sources. In this case, the issue was over whether or not the state of California had the power to tax the railroad for their fencing (the railroad paid taxes on other property, like rails and train cars).

The Court unanimously held that the state was improperly assessing taxes on the railroad, but in the long history of corporate personhood, that part — and the rest of the case — doesn’t matter at all. Instead, the case is remembered for a headnote appended to it by the court reporter, in which the Court’s Chief Justice, Morrison Waite, said he and the other justices believed that the protections of the Fourteenth Amendment of course applied to corporations as well as to individuals:

“The Court does not wish to hear argument on the question whether the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution which forbids a state to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws applies to these corporations. We are all of opinion that it does.”

Although that note is not part of any official opinion, concurrence, or dissent, it is part of the official court record and was reaffirmed in later cases. Corporate persons have since been granted equal protection under the law, which forms the foundation for granting a number of other rights.

Through the 20th century, the Supreme Court debated and affirmed those rights in dozens of other cases. Through the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, corporations were found to have rights against unreasonable search and seizure and double jeopardy. They were also found to have rights to due process, legal representation, and to public and speedy trials (or at least, what passes for “speedy” in the system we have).

In the 21st century, questions of corporate personhood have moved away from questions of legal process in criminal and civil liability, though, and have moved on to a different core concept entirely: freedom.

Conscience, Speech, and SoulsImage courtesy of Ashi Fachler Section Permalink Bookmark Section Share on Facebook Share on Twitter
In all of the 20th century court cases that afforded corporations rights under the Fifth Amendment, one key right was withheld: corporations do not have the right to avoid self-incrimination. If someone asks a corporation about a bad thing it allegedly did, it cannot plead the fifth.

The 2013 Congressional Research Service report cites an 1892 case that found “since a corporation has no soul, it cannot have actual wicked intent” to, for example, intentionally defraud or murder someone, and in 1909, the Supreme Court found it “true that there are some crimes which, in their nature, cannot be committed by corporations.”

These cases are among the historical legal precedents separating corporate “people” from physical people. A corporation has no soul, no intent, and no need not to incriminate itself because it has no body and cannot be executed or go to jail. It’s a complicated web of federal law, but still all pretty straightforward — until we get to the current decade.

In a pair of now-infamous cases from 2010 and 2014, the Supreme Court expanded the legal view of corporate personhood to include some rights under the first amendment that had previously been reserved for the sort of actual humans who do have bodies and can act with intent: enter free speech and religious expression.

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 2010
The case began when a lobbying group, Citizens United, wanted to spend a large pile of money making and advertising a film critical of a presidential candidate right up against the primary elections. At the time, it was illegal for corporations to spend on “electioneering” within 30 days of a primary or 60 days of a general election.

Citizens United argued that limits on campaigning were violations of their rights to free speech under the First Amendment, and the Supreme Court agreed.

In a 5-4 ruling, the court held that if individuals have free speech, then so must collected groups of individuals. Corporations are groups of individuals and, therefore, they have free speech rights. Further, the Court found, the ability to spend money is central to the ability to disseminate speech. Therefore, limiting spending is also unconstitutional, because limiting money is equal to limiting speech.

Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, 2014
In a particularly contentious and hot-button case from earlier this year, the Supreme Court moved to protect the religious beliefs not just of individuals, but of the corporations they work for.

The Affordable Care Act requires health insurance plans provided by employers to include coverage for an array of health services, including certain contraceptives. The family that owns Hobby Lobby claimed that providing contraception to female employees runs contrary to their Christian religious beliefs. Explicitly religious non-profit organizations, like churches, were exempted from the law but no such provision existed for for-profit, secular corporations and so the family, representing the company, sued the government.

In another 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court ruled with Hobby Lobby, finding that closely-held companies — ones that aren’t publicly traded on the stock market — can file for exemptions to federal law on religious grounds, in the same way that churches can.

In the Hobby Lobby case, the Court set the precedent that for-profit corporations can have a religion that the government must not interfere in the practice of, just as individuals do.

Corporations Can Be Criminals, But Only Bodies Can Go To JailImage courtesy of ash Section Permalink Bookmark Section Share on Facebook Share on Twitter
If a person breaks into your house and steals your money, the process of arresting, prosecuting, convicting, and incarcerating that burglar is (relatively) straightfroward. But if a corporation steals your money, things are a little trickier.

“Corporations,” as the CRS report explains, “cannot be incarcerated. Nor can they be put to death,” although “government action, public scorn, or the two in concert may wipe them out of existence.”

Otherwise, though, they “face many of the same consequences [as individuals] following conviction.” They can be fined, placed on probation, or ordered to pay restitution. They can have their assets confiscated, or can be prohibited from engaging in certain kinds of activity.

Although corporations are fictional persons rather than literal ones, they can indeed be held both civilly and criminally responsible when they get caught doing bad things. But how do you decide whether an incorporeal, fictional “person” had intent to commit a crime?

Corporate criminal liability focuses on the actions of individuals within the corporation, because it has to. Companies, as solo entities, can’t actually do anything; the people employed by them do. And so corporate criminal liability covers crimes committed by the corporation’s “officers, employees, or agents,” within the scope of their work, and “at least in part for the benefit of the corporation.”

That’s still a definition with a lot of wiggle room in it. The Department of Justice makes a determination whether or not to prosecute a corporation as a whole, instead of just individuals in it, based on a wide array of factors.

Basically, if a (usually high-ranking) person employed by a corporation does something illegal, related to their job, with the purpose of helping the corporation, then the company can be found criminally liable — even if the employee was told not to do the thing. So if the CFO of SmithCo shreds all of the incriminating files in her office, even though the CEO of SmithCo told her, “Don’t shred those files,” SmithCo can still be prosecuted (along with the CFO).

As corporations are collections of individuals, another kind of criminal problem pops up fairly frequently: conspiracy. If multiple employees in a corporation conspire to commit or hide a crime, then the corporation, along with the individuals, can ben held responsible for the conspiracy. But if there’s just one corporate officer involved, the individual and the company cannot be treated as co-conspirators.

The Justice Department has discretion deciding whether to prosecute individuals, corporations, or both for a criminal action. When deciding whether or not to prosecute a corporation, they can take into account whether it looks like something was the act of a rogue employee or whether it looks like it went all the way up. They can also consider the past history of a corporation and at how well it has complied or not complied with processes and regulations.

Freedom from Jail, Freedom From LawImage courtesy of Ben Balter Section Permalink Bookmark Section Share on Facebook Share on Twitter
The problem with law is that, like the personhood of a corporation, it exists only on paper. In reality, things shake out a little differently. As we have seen since 2008, the biggest corporate disasters are also the least likely to result in prosecution or in guilty verdicts.

Earlier this year, Attorney General Eric Holder insisted that no corporation is too big to jail, but the facts say otherwise. Actions and inactions by several large banks both spurred and worsened the 2008 economic crisis from which we are still recovering, and yet prosecutions have been few and far between.

(The executives who ran the banks likewise mostly still have jobs and have not been prosecuted. And the former DOJ prosecutor in charge of investigating these banks admitted he lost sleep at night over concerns about the damage that could result from bringing charges against these execs.)

Prosecutions do occasionally happen. In 2013, for example, Bank of America was found liable for actions taken by Countrywide. Usually, however, investigations result in settlements before any further action can take place, like the $25 billion group settlement in 2012, or the $13 billion JPMorgan Chase settlement in 2013, or the $16.65 billion Bank of America settlement earlier this year.

Those agreements cost corporations big bucks, but allow them to defer prosecution and avoid admitting or being found guilty of any actual criminal wrongdoing. The head of the SEC has been pushing hard to make companies admit wrongdoing in these settlements, as has Senator Elizabeth Warren, but we’ve seen very little change.

Of course, if you can argue that a law doesn’t apply to you at all, then you don’t have to worry about being prosecuted for ignoring or breaking that law. The expanding rights of corporate persons into the arena of the first amendment also makes it likely that companies will gain ever more freedom to pick and choose which laws and regulations they feel like following, and which their legal teams find a way to declare them exempt from.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pointed to such future problems in the dissent to Hobby Lobby earlier this year:

“In a decision of startling breadth, the Court holds that commercial enterprises, including corporations, along with partnerships and sole proprietorships, can opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs. In the Court’s view, RFRA demands accommodation of a for-profit corporation’s religious beliefs no matter the impact that accommodation may have on third parties who do not share the corporation owners’ religious faith — in these cases, thousands of women employed by Hobby Lobby and Conestoga or dependents of persons those corporations employ.”

If a corporation can lay claim to any earnest belief that exempts it from law and regulation, then law and regulation lose their power and third parties, as Justice Ginsburg pointed out, will suffer.

Can a for-profit corporation claim religion as a reason to discriminate in hiring, if the C-suite officers think women shouldn’t do certain work? Can a company with a highly religious ownership refuse to permit patrons of the “wrong” race, religion, or sex?

An individual can believe whatever she or he wants, in daily life. But a corporation, by its nature and under the law, is comprised of and works with any number of different and different kinds of people, each of whom is also free to believe whatever she or he wants. Now, nominally secular corporations get to pick and choose religious exemptions to federal law — and employees and customers with different beliefs are now subject to all of the challenges that arise.

Third parties — meaning “ordinary people” — are also the most vulnerable to harm from corporations having gained expanded first amendment rights. Removing barriers to unlimited corporate political spending in Citizens United also led to the removal of limits on individual political spending in McCutcheon vs FEC earlier this year.

Corporations (and individuals) still face firm limits on contributions directly to candidates or their campaigns, but the removal of aggregate contribution and “electioneering” limits immediately led to a massive increase in political spending that still continues unchecked. In the 2012 election cycle, “outside spending” — the non-campaign organizations that corporations are allowed to give to — topped $1 billion for the first time. This was not a gradual increase; spending in every previous cycle stayed well south of the $400 million mark.

The amount of money spent in state and local elections has also skyrocketed since 2010. Meanwhile, fewer and fewer organizations are disclosing where their money comes from.

The result is a political system that, even more than it already was, is basically available for purchase by the highest bidders. And as giant wads of undisclosed corporate cash become more and more critical for getting into office, fewer elected officials will be willing or able to take any stance against it.

The Future…Image courtesy of DoorFrame Section Permalink Bookmark Section Share on Facebook Share on Twitter
In the dissent to Citizens United, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote, “Corporations help structure and facilitate the activities of human beings, to be sure, and their ‘personhood’ often serves as a useful legal fiction. But they are not themselves members of ‘We the People’ by whom and for whom our Constitution was established.”

For now, it seems corporations increasingly are joining the ranks of we other people. Some lawmakers, though, are working to push back.

The effort that has gotten the most traction at both the state and federal level is a call for a constitutional amendment that would reverse the effects of Citizens United.

The Senate debated on a Constitutional amendment to do just that this week. The text of the proposed amendment reads:

Section 1. To advance democratic self-government and political equality, and to protect the integrity of government and the electoral process, Congress and the States may regulate and set reasonable limits on the raising and spending of money by candidates and others to influence elections.

Section 2. Congress and the States shall have power to implement and enforce this article by appropriate legislation, and may distinguish between natural persons and corporations or other artificial entities created by law, including by prohibiting such entities from spending money to influence elections.

Section 3. Nothing in this article shall be construed to grant Congress or the States the power to abridge the freedom of the press.

An amendment needs to be passed by a two-thirds majority in both the Senate and the House in order to be sent to the states, where it must then be ratified by three-fourths (38) of the states. The proposed amendment received 54 (of 66) yea votes in the Senate this week, on a party-line vote.

Advocacy groups are urging the House also to debate the potential amendment, but getting 2/3 of either house of Congress to do anything in the current political climate is unlikely at best… especially when the status quo benefits so many of them.

BJ’s Is Just Daring You To Move This Question Mark

Fri, 2014-09-12 19:21

moreAccording to the warehouse club’s handbook for new employees, BJ’s is named for Beverly Jean Weich, the daughter of the company’s first president. That was in 1984, so it’s not like nobody knew that the name had a possible secondary meaning other than “a person with the initials B.J.” Right? Josh really questions the wisdom of the company’s new slogan.

He’s not the first one person to notice this, obviously, and maybe that’s the problem. “Does BJ’s really believe that a question mark is enough to stop people from reading it wrong?” he wrote to Consumerist.


Is that it? Are they just daring us to move that question mark?

Here’s Why American Stores Refrigerate Eggs While Some Other Countries Don’t

Fri, 2014-09-12 19:20



At the sight of an egg sitting on an unrefrigerated store shelf, many Americans would shudder and think, “Well, that can’t be very safe because we keep our eggs nice and chilled and America is No. 1.” But are those foreign countries wrong and are we right? How can it be safe to keep eggs either chilled or at room temperature?

The answer is all in the washing, explains NPR’s always informative The Salt (thanks for the tip, K.C.!), but everyone is basically on the same side, fighting contamination from bacteria like salmonella.

See, Americans, the Japanese, Australians and Scandinavians all wash eggs when the pop out of hens, and in doing so, scrub off a barely visible protective layer on the egg’s shell that keeps it from becoming porous and letting bad things in, while keeping water inside.

Egg producers in the U.S. then spray the eggs with oil and refrigerate them, to make up for the loss of that coating.

“The egg is a marvel in terms of protecting itself, and one of the protections is this coating, which prevents them from being porous,” food writer Michael Ruhlman, author of Egg: A Culinary Exploration of the World’s Most Versatile Ingredient explained to The Salt.

Many countries that used to wash their eggs also freaked out after a batch of eggs in Australia that had been bathed went rotten, starting a chain reaction against the practice. In places like Asia (with the exception of Japan) and most other foreign countries, washing is prohibited.

So which method is better? Is it more effective to vaccinate hens against salmonella, as some European countries do, or require washing and refrigeration, along with other safety measures, as the U.S. does? Both work fine as long as there’s consistency, explains Vincent Guyonnet, a poultry veterinarian and scientific adviser to the International Egg Commission.

But if you’re going to refrigerate them, it has to be from the farm to the store and everywhere in between. Once the eggs go from cold to warm, “they’re going to start sweating,” he says. Sweat can lead to mold, and that’s gross.

Eggs also stay good longer when chilled — 50 days with refrigeration and about 21 without.

“They’re different approaches to basically achieve the same result,” Guyonnet told The Salt. “We don’t have massive [food safety] issues on either side of the Atlantic. Both methods seem to work.”

Previously in important egg issues: From Gadgets To Diners: How To Make Or Order The PerfecT Egg Every Time

Why The U.S. Chills Its Eggs And Most Of The World Doesn’t [The Salt]

Sprint CEO On Failed “Framily” Plans: It’s Hard To Sell A Talking Hamster

Fri, 2014-09-12 18:49

sprint-framily-hamsterIf you’ve watched TV in the last year, you’ve likely caught one of the many, overly quirky ads for Sprint’s former “Framily” plans. Between the francophile daughter, random goth hanger-on Gord-on, and a hamster patriarch voiced by Andrew Dice Clay, the company’s new CEO admits that it was all just a bit too much for what was otherwise a cruddy group data plan on a really slow network.

“Dealers said it was hard to sell,” explains Marcelo Claure, who recently took over the reins of the beleaguered wireless company. “We are marketing a hamster talking to people… That’s very hard to sell.”

Claure, the billionaire founder of Miami-based Brightstar Corp. (which was recently acquired by Sprint’s majority investor, Japanese telecom biggie Softbank), says he was initially advised that he should not shake things up at Sprint until after his first 100 days on the job. But the Framily nonsense was such an obvious target that he apparently felt compelled to shelve it.

“I couldn’t help myself,” Claure told investors, according to FierceWireless. “There wasn’t a compelling value proposition here. We were more expensive and coming out of a traumatic network experience.”

He says the focus now is on trying making customers see the value in choosing Sprint. Claure replaced the Framily plans in late August with the Sprint Family Share Pack that offers significantly more data for your dollar than you might get from other carriers.

Claure followed that up almost right away with a $60 unlimited data plan, and then announced this week that it would be offering a special $50/month unlimited plan only for iPhone customers.

And while all of Sprint’s new plans give you a ton of data for a decent amount of money, the company faces some major hurdles in convincing customers to switch.

First, recent tests have shown that Sprint’s data network is much slower than the LTE networks for AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile. There is little point to having an unlimited data plan if you’re unable to do enjoy data-heavy services (like streaming video) that require decent network speeds.

Additionally, while Sprint has effectively slashed the price on data by increasing the amount customers have access to each month without increasing rates, most smartphone users in the U.S. don’t use more than 2GB of data per month on their wireless accounts. It’s like a restaurant that serves very filling food, meaning most diners won’t finish what’s on their plates. There is no real additional value if the restaurant says you can get a free second helping.

Claure says Sprint is actively working to improve its LTE network, and we hope the company is indeed committed to catching up to the data speeds and coverage offered by its competition. An industry with so few players desperately needs companies willing to shake things up to challenge the market leaders.

Okay, Enough Of This Trend Already: Thief Wipes Out Preschoolers’ Pumpkin Patch

Fri, 2014-09-12 18:44



First, it was corn stolen from farmers. Next, it was a class of fifth graders learning the harsh lessons of life when someone swiped their entire onion crop. And now we’ve gotten to the sad, low point of some awful, horrible, no good very bad person or persons stealing all the pumpkins from a patch belonging to preschoolers. What’s next, stealing milk from babies?!?

Despite this morning’s cheery news that kindhearted folks have been stepping up to donate onions to the disappointed kids in Maine, more produce evil has been done to a preschool in New Mexico.

According to the Associated Press, the school’s pumpkin patch was struck over the weekend, with school officials finding destroyed vines and missing pumpkins when they arrived Monday morning.

It’s a big loss — four full pumpkins were just about ready to turn orange, after the school’s 26 students spent time studying them, weeding the patch and taking care of them since they were sprouts. If that doesn’t make you sad, I don’t know what will.

But the kids aren’t mad, the center’s director explains.

“They are more indignant in asking, `Why didn’t they just ask permission? We would have given them the pumpkins,'” she said.

There is a light at the end of this story as well — to combat the pumpkin loss, 10 pumpkins have already been donated to the school, some by drivers who heard the story on the radio and made a stop at the school to drop off replacements. Meanwhile, a local Boy Scout troop has pledged its help and a nearby radio station is organizing a pumpkin drive.

Stop this right now, villains of the world. Seriously.


General Motors Doesn’t Recall Corvettes, Stops Shipments And Sales Instead

Fri, 2014-09-12 18:12

(Mike Matney)

(Mike Matney)

Remember how General Motors promised that it is totally done with recalling cars? Well, strictly speaking that’s true, because the company is not recalling any 2015 Corvettes. They’re stopping shipments and sales of cars that are currently on dealer lots, because there may be problems with their parking brakes and airbags. There are 2,800 ‘vettes that may have problems with their airbags, and 800 that may have problems with their parking brakes.

Specifically, the air bag problem is an issue with the part that connects the steering wheel and the air bag. The parking brake problem is one where only one of the vehicle’s brakes engaged on the wheel.

The 2015 Corvette has been very popular, but the company hasn’t recalled vehicles that have already been sold. The company hasn’t indicated that 2015 Corvettes that are on the road have issues: recalling cars that have already been sold is a different process from simply stopping shipments to dealers.

Of course, this isn’t the first time that Corvettes have been part of the Recallapalooza celebration: cars from the 2014 model year were recalled for possible problems where door trim blocked one of the side air bags, and 140,000 Corvettes were recalled before that for problems with their low-beam headlights.

GM Issues ‘Stop Delivery’ Order on 2015 Corvettes [Wall Street Journal]

AT&T Promises 50Mbps Wireless Broadband To Rural Customers After DirecTV Merger

Fri, 2014-09-12 17:53

ATT-logoAT&T has dangled a big carrot out there in its attempt to lead regulators to sign off on the company’s merger with DirecTV. If the deal happens, AT&T says it could bring 50Mbps wireless data service (bundled with satellite TV of course) to rural America in 2015.

Variety reports that the Ralph de la Vega, head of the Death Star’s wireless division, made this proclamation earlier today at a Goldman Sachs conference early Friday morning.

He told attendees that AT&T has technology “ready to go” deliver the high-speed wireless broadband over a dedicated section of spectrum. The idea would be to use satellite dishes attached to DirecTV customers’ homes to bring both video and data to the end-user.

The question is: How much would a service like this cost? Additionally, what sort of monthly caps would be put on the use?

Most wireless data plans are capped at 5GB/month, which is barely enough to watch a couple of HD TV shows on Netflix. Satellite broadband has generally offered more generous data caps, but still nothing compared to the soft 250-300GB/month caps that many terrestrial broadband providers have in place.

It doesn’t really help rural America if a wireless broadband service is beyond what most people can afford, or imposes limits that make all those megabits per second pointless. Until we get more details on AT&T’s plan, we’ll have to reserve judgement.

AT&T also wants to use the combined powers of the two companies to increase the availability of DirecTV to places like the automobile market, beaming its pay-TV service over 4G LTE onto screens in vehicles to placate your kids and give you the few moments’ rest you deserve.

None of this will be able to happen until after the pending DirecTV deal is completed, and that isn’t likely to be done until spring 2015.

In addition to waiting for the FCC and the Justice Dept. to review the merger, DirecTV needs to renew its exclusivity deal with the NFL for the Sunday Ticket football package that delivers all out-of-market Sunday afternoon NFL games to customers who pay a hefty annual fee. This deal, which none of the other pay-TV carriers can currently offer, is so vital to the merger that AT&T is allowed to walk away from the deal if DirecTV and the NFL are unable to come to terms that please the Sith lords at AT&T.

DirecTV CEO Mike White (again, not this guy) was on hand at the Goldman Sachs conference and said he’s confident a deal will be reached with the NFL by the end of the calendar year.

Apple Online Store, Some Carriers’ Sites Get Glitchy With Start Of iPhone 6 Preorders

Fri, 2014-09-12 17:40

glitchysitesWe’ve got a sneaking suspicion that whoever was in charge of handling Apple’s livestreaming announcement for its iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus earlier this week might’ve been at the helm of the company’s online store early this morning, after frustrated customers trying to preorder the phones were unable to do so when the clock finally hit the designated hour.

The Apple Store was slated to open up to preorders at midnight PT, but eager customers were stymied by Apple’s online store, which failed to open at the designated time, reports CNET. It’s now up and running, albeit hours after customers first started trying and failing to get their orders in.

There were problems with some of the various carriers as well — customers reported some glitches and delays through Verizon Wireless and AT&T, though those issues don’t seem to be as bad as the frustrations suffered by Sprint and T-Mobile customers.

Those sites were still down two hours after preorders were supposed to start, with Sprint’s site working patchily and T-Mobile sticking to a registration form that serves to remind people about when the preorders were (supposed) to start.

If all else fails, Apple’s physical retail stores started accepting preorders this morning, as well as other retailers like Best Buy, RadioShack, Sam’s Club, Target, and Walmart.

Me, I’m going to sit under an Apple tree and just wait for one to drop on my head. Seems more efficient.

iPhone 6 presales begin — with US Apple Store caught napping [CNET]

Investor Asks Olive Garden Servers To Be Stingier With Free Breadsticks

Fri, 2014-09-12 17:15

The Starboard critique not only slammed Olive Garden for wasting breadsticks, but also said the new logo looks like it was written by a second-grader.

The Starboard critique not only slammed Olive Garden for wasting breadsticks, but also said the new logo looks like it was written by a second-grader.

For all of its menu updates and attempted image changes over the decades, Olive Garden has never stopped reminding consumers of the free breadsticks they’ll get when they come in for a bite. But one hedge fund says that the O.G. is hurting itself, and its investors, by not paying enough attention to all the bread they put in those baskets.

According to the AP, the folks at the Starboard Value hedge fund recently put together a 300-page writeup of the issues facing Olive Garden, including its apparent bread problem.

While servers are supposed to bring one breadstick per diner at a table, plus one stick that is apparently to be fought over by those who still crave its stick-like goodness, Starboard says that poorly trained and undisciplined servers are bringing out much more bread than is needed.

Dumping all that cooked dough on the table at once results in bread going cold and uneaten, which means breadsticks in the trash and money wasted by the restaurant.

“Darden [Olive Garden's parent company] management readily admits that after sitting just 7 minutes, the breadsticks deteriorate in quality,” reads the Starboard critique.

The hedge fund also claims the quality of the Olive Garden breadsticks has declined, likening the current version to hot dog buns.

Olive Garden is also slammed for being too heavy-handed with salad dressing, and that booze sales at the family friendly restaurant chain should account for at least double what they currently do.

Starboard isn’t just trying to point out to Darden that there is too much waste at some Olive Garden restaurants, which have seen sagging sales and fewer visitors. The hedge fund is also attempting to wrest control of the Darden board of directors. Other Darden restaurant brands include LongHorn Steakhouse, Capital Grille, and Yard House.

In addition to the breadstick beatdown, Starboard claims that Olive Garden’s marketing is outdated and that the company relies too heavily on TV ads.

Starboard even went so far as to insult the recently revamped Olive Garden logo, unless you think saying that it looks like “a second-grader’s cursive practice” is a compliment.

For its part, Darden tells the AP that the “Olive Garden Brand Renaissance” is ongoing, and that it will look at the Starboard presentation. The company defended itself, saying, “we believe many of the brand and cost optimization strategies are already being implemented across our company and are showing results.”

Starbucks Might Allow Employees To Show Tattoos

Fri, 2014-09-12 16:44



In spite of Starbucks’ origins in tattoo-heavy Seattle and the fact that the coffee colossus employs thousands and thousands of younger adults with ink somewhere on their body, the company’s dress code has long been decidedly anti-tattoo. But in an acknowledgment of changed public attitudes toward tattoos, and an effort to retain its workers, Starbucks may be relaxing its stance on body art.

The current rules don’t forbid Starbucks employees from having tattoos; they are just supposed to cover them up when working.

Earlier this year, CEO Howard Schultz launched a campaign seeking feedback from employees on how the company could improve its workers’ careers. And a number of them mentioned that the company could rethink its policy on tattoos.

“I live on Capitol Hill, Seattle. It’s rare to see someone without a tattoo here,” wrote one worker, according to the Seattle Times.

There was also some online discussion among employees about how the company could allow visible tattoos while also maintaining a level of professionalism. For example, would face tattoos be acceptable? What about tattoos that may be gang-related?

Of course, one could argue that having a face tattoo has no impact whatsoever on a person’s ability to make coffee or serve customers. Similarly, there are many people who are no longer associated with gangs, but haven’t been able to get old gang-related tattoos removed or covered.

A recent online petition gathered more than 21,000 signatures from people who believe the policy should be changed, arguing — among other things — that having to wear long sleeves, regardless of the weather or time of year, just to cover up tattoos is a hindrance to job performance at Starbucks.

Without committing to any changes, Starbucks Chief Operating Officer Troy Alstead sent an internal e-mail last week announcing that the company is revisiting its “dress code, including the tattoo policy.”

A rep for the company tells the Times that Starbucks is “always actively engaged in discussion with our partners to determine how to make their Starbucks experience better and more valuable to them… We know the dress code and tattoo policy is important to them so we are taking a fresh look at it.”

In addition to the “no visible tattoos” policy, Starbucks has other restrictions on piercings, jewelry and perfume/aftershave for its baristas.

Starbucks may let baristas bare their tattoos []

Nice People Donate More Than 200 Pounds Of Onions To School That Had Its Garden Plundered

Fri, 2014-09-12 16:21



After some total jerk or jerks stole 100 onions from a patch cultivated by elementary school kids in Maine, a whole lot of other nice people have turned around and made the situation into a positive one, by donating more than 200 pounds of onions to replace the ones that were stolen. Feel that? Your heart is applauding.

The story caught the attention of onion growers around the country, reports, prompting generous hearts to send in or drop off bags of onions so the kids can still donate them to local food pantries and use them in the school cafeteria, which was the plan for the 100 onions grown by the fifth-grade class.

So far, more than 200 pounds of onions have rolled in from nearby farms, and more are coming from as far away as Texas and New York.

“They grow produce to donate to local food pantries and for the college cafeteria, so when she saw we were donating the onions for the same reason, she connected,” the kids’ teacher said of the director of a farm at a college nearby. “She brought them in this morning.”

Another local farmer read the article and called up the school to say he wanted to donate some onions. He brought in two 50-pound sacks of onions and told the school that the reason he did was not only because he felt bad for the kids, but for the person who took their onions in the first place, saying “he doesn’t know any better.”

“I mean, look at that!” one student said. “We got 210 onions here and we’re getting another 100 from Texas and 100 from New York. We’re getting more than we planted. It’s not tomatoes, it’s not pizza, it’s not apples — it’s onions. I mean, who would donate onions? Who would steal onions?”

Who indeed? We might never know, but the teacher says it’s all part of a learning process for the students.

“So, this is the lesson the kids are learning,” she said. “It renews their belief in human nature, which is what disasters do. Not that disasters are good, but when something goes wrong and you hang in there, something good comes of it.”

Onion donations bloom after Waterville school garden theft []

Walmart, Best Buy Won’t Accept Apple Pay At Their Stores

Fri, 2014-09-12 15:54

NOPE, says Walmart and Best Buy.

NOPE, says Walmart and Best Buy.

Though the highways and byways of America may be dotted with their stores, customers shopping at Walmart and Best Buy won’t be able to pay for stuff using the new Apple Pay system announced this week. Both retailers are eschewing the near-field-communication (or NFC) method of payment in favor of another mobile wallet application.

Apple’s new system is backed by a bunch of banks and credit-card issuers to provide support for Pay, which will allow customers to buy things at certain retailers using the newest iPhones.

But while the financial institutions might be all for it, it seems retailers are a bit more sluggish, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Thus far, iPhone 6 owners will be able use Pay to buy products at 220,000 retail locations in the United States, like McDonalds, Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s. But that number pales in comparison to the more than nine million merchants in this country that accept credit and debit cards.

Using NFC requires retailers to install readers at the checkout line to accept the payments, but only about 10% of merchants are using those readers. Best Buy had NFC-enabled scanners at many stores back in 2011, but stopped using them because it was too expensive to keep them, a spokesman said. It’s not planning on going back down that road, the company said, despite Apple’s push for Pay.

Walmart also confirmed to the WSJ that customers shopping at Walmart won’t be able to use Apple Pay.

Instead, both retailers are getting behind a mobile technology group that’s owned by retailers, called the Merchant Customer Exchange. MCX is in turn launching a mobile wallet application called CurrentC coming in 2015, which will only require a software download instead of checkout scanners, and can be used on any iPhone or Android phone already in use, instead of just the new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus.

CurrentC will connect to consumers’ checking accounts, retailer gift cards and some retail credit cards but won’t work with traditional credit cards.

Will Stores Warm Up to Apple Pay? [Wall Street Journal]

Consumerist Friday Flickr Finds

Fri, 2014-09-12 15:30

Here are nine of the best photos that readers added to the Consumerist Flickr Pool in the last week, picked for usability in a Consumerist post or for just plain neatness.

(Chuck Miller)

(Chuck Miller)





(Charlie O'Hay)

(Charlie O’Hay)



(Derelict Compositions)

(Derelict Compositions)

(Rich Renomeron)

(Rich Renomeron)

(Xavier J. Peg ☠)

(Xavier J. Peg ☠)

(Joel Zimmer)

(Joel Zimmer)

Our Flickr Pool is the place where Consumerist readers upload photos for possible use in future Consumerist posts. Want to see your pictures on our site? Just be a registered Flickr user, go here, and click “Join Group?” up on the top right. Choose your best photos, then click “send to group” on the individual images you want to add to the pool.

Walmart Focus Group Of 1,000 Kids Tells Us What Toys To Buy Them

Thu, 2014-09-11 23:40

Walmart started a new holiday tradition last year. It starts in the summer: the company invites a test panel of 1,000 children of all ages to play with a variety of toys, then rate how fun they are. About a quarter of the toys make the chain’s annual list of the 20 hottest toys, which Walmart then stocks up on, and Walmart shoppers might pick up after their Black Friday towel-grabbing frenzy. Maybe.

This year’s list includes toys at a variety of prices that do everything from fly to bark to making mobile phone cases. No, we’re not kidding: there’s a craft kit that lets kids mold silicone to make custom phone cases. I’m not sure whether this is more or less useful than the woven cotton potholders that I made and gave away at that age, but at least it doesn’t leave tiny rubber bands everywhere.

Photo collages AND stick-on rhinestones? Sign me up! I am not being sarcastic.

Photo collages AND stick-on rhinestones? Sign me up! I am not being sarcastic.

On the hot list, there’s also a cool flying car from Hot wheels, a robopuppy, a bunch of licensed toys from the movie “Frozen,” a remote-control dinosaur that’s so awesome that it’s already sold out, and a $60 smartwatch for kids, that, as far as I can figure out, actually has more features than the Apple Watch.

At least Walmart has the sense to not let the children in their focus group develop the toys. We all know where that leads.

Walmart’s Kid-Approved 2014 Holiday Toy List Reveals New Trends [Press Release]
To Find Hot Holiday Toys, Walmart Turns to Kid Testers [Bloomberg Businessweek]

Here’s What Brands Tweeted Right Before Their 9/11 Tributes

Thu, 2014-09-11 22:59



On a day when the entire country is paying tribute to the tragic events of September 11, 2001, we usually see a number of brands flounder when it comes to honoring the victims of that day and promoting themselves. While there are surely some flubs out there this year, it’s also pretty telling to see what companies were tweeting about right before they posted this year’s 9/11 tributes. Prepare to cringe. [via]

Taco Bell Is Testing Tortilla Chip-Encrusted Fried Chicken––No, Really

Thu, 2014-09-11 22:09



Remember a few months ago when we shared the news that KFC in the Philippines is offering fried chicken covered in Clover Chips, a popular tapioca-based snack? We took the opportunity to wonder whether parent company Yum Brands might bring that concept to the United States, substituting Dorito crumbs for Clover Chips. Well, maybe the company was listening…just not necessarily KFC.

Now, this might not really happen, and they’re not saying that the tortilla chips are necessarily Doritos. However, in our poll, almost half of you said that you’d be interested in tortilla-encrusted chicken, so we thought that we should share this important information.

Taco Bell sort of mentioned this in passing during the same event where they announced the forthcoming biscuit folded in half with meat inside Biscuit Tacos, because fried chicken and biscuits are delicious together. Foodbeast coaxed Taco Bell representatives to admit that yes, fried chicken is yet another protein option that they’re testing that will also be available in its other dishes.

Taco Bell is Working on Fried Chicken Battered With Tortilla Chips [Foodbeast] Sinks To New Low: Forces You To Watch 5 Ads For 5 Mins. Of Video

Thu, 2014-09-11 22:08

dameshekRegular visitors to are probably familiar with the site’s love of auto-play video and video advertising in general. Not only do many news stories include an auto-play video — one that is often, at best, tangentially related to the topic — but those clips are almost always preceded by pre-roll ads that you can not pause or mute (without muting your computer’s speakers). Yesterday, the site sunk to a new low, forcing fans of one regular feature to sit through 5 separate GEICO ads just to watch a few minutes of video.

This week, appears to have revamped its page for the Shek Report, a weekly video feature in which wiseacre football commentator Dave Dameshek shames five different players or teams or fans or sometimes even himself for their behavior during the previous week.

Until, you maybe had to sit through one pre-roll ad to watch the 4-5 minutes of Shek’s mirthful mockery of the game many of us hold close to our hearts. But this week, visitors to found that the Report for Week One of the NFL season had been broken up into five separate clips, ranging from 36 seconds to 89 seconds — and that each of these clips was preceded by a full and unstoppable 30-second commercial for GEICO.

So if you want to get Dameshek’s 39-second take on Panthers kicker Graham Gano continuing to practice on the field while a marching band surrounded him, you’ve got to wait through one of GEICO’s insufferable “Did you know…” ads for almost the same amount of time.

Interestingly enough, when I threw a virtual brown paper bag of shame in Dameshek’s direction last night, his response was to favorite the Tweet, perhaps implying that he’s no fan of the idea of watching five insurance ads just to hear a few minutes of a grumpy Steelers fan grumbling about Tony Romo.

Signing Up For The Consumerist Newsletter Is Like Eating A Really Good Doughnut, But Better

Thu, 2014-09-11 21:34

cistnewsletter13You know that feeling when you eat a delicious doughnut, and it’s all sweety and doughy and you think, “Man. I am so glad I did this. This really worked out the best for all parties involved.” That’s what it’s like after you sign up for our weekly newsletter, just without the doughnut. Sorry.

But instead of getting glaze all over your fingers and sugar coursing through your veins, you’ll get a satisfying collection of Consumerist content delivered directly to your inbox every Friday morning.

The best part is, it’s super easy and we won’t sell, rent or share your information with anyone else. Not that a doughnut would that either, just saying.

Fill out the form below or OR CLICK HERE TO SUBSCRIBE.

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Facebook Testing Self-Destructing Status Updates

Thu, 2014-09-11 21:20



Because your 493 Facebook friends likely won’t care in 50 years into the future (or honestly, 50 seconds from now) that you’re out grabbing fro-yo with your besties, Facebook is testing an option that would allow users to set a time limit on how long those updates appear on your timeline.

In what sounds like something along the lines of Snapchat — where photos sent to your friends self-destruct after anywhere from one to 15 seconds, vanishing into the ether like grainy photo demons banished to the fiery from whence they came, never to sear the eyes of mere mortals e’er again, etc. — a Facebook spokesman says the company is testing a new feature as part of a “small pilot.”

The test group includes certain people using the Facebook iOS, reports CNN. It could be you — users are reporting the feature appearing on their iPhones, with expiration options running from one hour to a full week.

Ideally, this could be good for soliciting responses to things like a room or apartment for rent, a pet up for adoption or anything else you want to advertise for a short period of time, but don’t necessarily want up for all posterity.

Facebook testing disappearing posts [CNN]