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Kia Recalls 87,000 Sedans For Potential Fire Hazard

Mon, 2015-01-26 15:36
(Van Swearington)

(Van Swearington)

The purpose of a cooling fan in your vehicle is to cool the car’s components under the hood. For nearly 87,000 Kia sedans, that apparently isn’t the case, as a piece of the fan has been found to overheat, melt and start a fire. So should come as no surprise that Kia would then recall those vehicles – which it did over the weekend.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced that Kia issued a recall of 86,880 model year 2014 Forte sedans in the U.S. for the potential fire risk.

According to the NHTSA notice [PDF], the recall is expected to begin in February with dealers replacing the cooling fan resistor and multi fuse unit in the affected vehicles.

Owners of vehicles with a 1.8 liter engine will also have the engine control unit software updated.

While Kia reported no accidents or injuries related to the recall, several consumer complaints filed with NHTSA detail instances of the vehicle smoking or catching fire.

In one report, the consumer claims their 2014 Forte becoming engulfed in flames as it was warming up.

A second consumer reports that the car began smoking while driving down the road.

“As soon as I pulled the car over to the shoulder, flames came out of the hood,” the consumer writes. “The local fire department extinguished the fire. The vehicle was a total loss.”

If You’re Flying Anywhere Near The Northeast Today Or Tomorrow, Call Your Airline Now

Mon, 2015-01-26 14:42


If you watch TV, read newspapers, or consume any news source at all on the internet up to and including Facebook and Twitter, you’ve probably heard that there’s a monster snowstorm bearing down on the northeast. And that means bad times at the airport: over 2000 flights for today have already been cancelled, along with nearly as many tomorrow.

The weather is already pure crap here in our nation’s capital, and it’s about to be far worse for our neighbors to the north. Boston and New York City are both forecast to be hit with a potentially record-smashing blizzard by this time Tuesday. Unfortunately, that includes New York’s trio of incredibly busy airports: Newark, LaGuardia, and JFK.

The FlightAware Misery Map already has things looking bad in the northeast, and the list of cancellations just keeps getting worse. At the time yours truly started writing this post, there were 2003 cancelled domestic flights for today. By the time I got to this sentence a minute later, there were 2016.

It’s the same story for Tuesday. Currently, there are 1956 cancelled flights tomorrow, a number that likewise is going up almost by the second. (A normal day sees 200-400.) Wednesday is likely to be a mess as well, as airports and airlines dig out and recover and try to get planes back where they’re supposed to be.

Many airlines have already posted announcements that they are waiving cancellation or change fees for passengers flying to, from, or connecting through basically any airport between DC and Maine. JetBlue, US Airways, American, Southwest, Virgin America, Delta, Frontier, and Alaska Air, among others, have all posted notices about how to reschedule fee-free to their websites.

Even if you personally are not flying to or from the mid-Atlantic or Northeast, mass delays and cancellations tend to have a ripple effect through the entire air traffic system. If you’ve got flights basically anywhere in the country booked in the next 72 hours, make sure to double check with your airline before you head to the airport.

Changes To TurboTax Lead To Consumer Revolt, Opportunity For Competitors

Fri, 2015-01-23 23:27



It’s the opening weekend of tax season! If you work an hourly or salaried job, the W-2 form summarizing how much you earned and how much tax you’ve paid is already in your mailbox or will be soon, since the deadline to mail them out is February 2nd. If you plan use the Windows or Mac version of TurboTax, though, there’s something that you should know before you get started.

As soon as the 2014 version of TurboTax hit real-life and virtual shelves, customers noticed that something was different. There are different versions of the software for different audiences: Basic, Deluxe, Premier, and Home and Business. There are also versions for incorporated businesses and for tax preparers, but those the four consumer desktop software versions are the source of this conflict.

Customers who purchase directly from TurboTax see this polite note pointing out that they might need to check the features of what they're getting.

Customers who purchase directly from TurboTax see this polite note pointing out that they might need to check the features of what they’re getting.

What Intuit did for tax year 2014 is change which services come with each tier, shifting some of the forms to the more expensive versions. They made the same changes to the pricing tiers on their Web-based service for 2013, so the change is not entirely unexpected.

The first rumblings came as soon as the software was released last year, and some true early birds got a head start on their returns. They noticed that something was missing: some pretty common forms that had always been part of TurboTax Deluxe. These included:

  • Schedule C (self-employment expenses and income)
  • Schedule D (capital gains and losses––stock sales)
  • Schedule E (supplemental income like royalties or rental income)
  • Schedule F (farm income)
  • Those are forms that most people don’t file. For people who do file them, though, those forms are an essential part of their tax return. When TurboTax customers discovered that forms they expected to have as part of the TurboTax “interview” interface weren’t there, the 1099-MISC hit the fan.

    While some can be filled out in “forms mode,” that defeats the point of using a program like TurboTax. If people wanted to fill out forms, they would download PDFs from the IRS web site.

    Here’s a screen grab of the in-program upsell from Mouse Print’s Edwin Dworsky:


    We contacted Intuit about this situation, and in their explanations to the media of this change, they emphasize two points. First, they say, most customers don’t use the desktop version of the software anymore. That might have been the case in 1991, but most of their customers now fill out their taxes on the Web or use a mobile app. According to the company, only 20% of their customers now purchase and use the desktop versions.

    An Intuit representative told Consumerist that the basic versions of the software (the ones that mostly compete with the IRS’s free e-filing program) are cheaper than in previous years, and that customers who pay for the upgrade will find it super easy to file. “We recognize change isn’t always welcome,” she explained. But we think believe our customers will find that if they do need to use a different product this year, they’ll be truly delighted with the extra guidance, additional insights into deductions and credits for which they may qualify and the increased confidence from knowing they left nothing on the table.”

    It’s true that the upgraded versions offer access to TurboTax support staff, which you may or may not need, but encountering an upsell in the middle Angry customers are fighting back in the way people do in 2015: well, they’re also burning up the TurboTax brand Facebook page, but there’s a campaign of negative Amazon reviews meant to attract the attention of potential buyers before they spend $40 on the Deluxe version.

    Intuit is taking this campaign very seriously. TurboTax representatives, including the brand’s vice-president, have stepped in on Amazon to comment on some of the poor reviews.

    One reviewer who says that he has used TurboTax since 1995 explains why he thinks it’s time to move on:

    I have no interest at all in experimenting with the various “flavors” of TurboTax to make sure I’m buying the right one. I have a couple of shares of stock purchased from “” that were given to me as gag gifts that occasionally report dividend income. Will “Deluxe” handle this? I’m selling a home for which I may or may not need to report capital gains income. Will this require a $30 upgrade? I have no idea, and I’m not interested in taking a chance and finding out I was wrong the hard way.

    I’m off to a competitor, most likely H&R Block, because it’s cheaper, and quite clear what it will allow me to do. Farewell, old friend TurboTax. It was great while it lasted, but it’s time to move on.

    Another customer explained the options for people who need to file a full Schedule C or who put anything on Schedule D.

    I hate what Intuit has done with Turbotax. I especially hate the disingenuous comment added by the Turbotax VP. Sure, you can manually file the Schedule D, but what the heck did I pay for? The Deluxe version clearly says you can file your Fed return electronically–except the actual software says you can’t.

    So, the real answer is if you need to file Schedule D you’ll have to pay $30 more as stated in other comments. Alternatively, you can do what I did–which was uninstalled the software, submitted a request for a refund (6-8 weeks!), and started using other software….after using Turbotax for over 20 years. Good job Intuit–you just lost another loyal customer–for life.

    Intuit has offered $25 rebates to returning TurboTax customers who bought the wrong product. Competitor H&R Block has also joined the party. They sell tax preparation software in addition to preparation services, and are offering free copies of their program to disgruntled TurboTax customers.

    Intuit finally sent an e-mail to customers today along with that $25 rebate offer, apologizing for the confusion and explaining why the company thought that this was a good idea. That $25 doesn’t cover the entire upgrade fee, but at least the letter apologizes in plain language rather than corporatese.

    We messed up. We made a change this year to TurboTax desktop software and we didn’t do enough to communicate this change to you as proactively and broadly as we could or should have. I am very sorry for the anger and frustration we may have caused you.

    Intuit has a long history of doing right by our customers, and in this instance, we did not live up to the standards of excellence you have come to expect from us. We did not handle this change in a manner that respected our loyal customers and we owe you an explanation of what we are doing to make it right.

    The letter concludes:

    I deeply regret the anger and distress we have caused those of you affected by this change. Our customers are the heartbeat of every TurboTax employee. Our hope is that we can regain your trust and demonstrate that our commitment to you has never been stronger.

    It’s important to step back and look at the big picture, too. Intuit has spent millions of dollars lobbying the federal government to make sure that American taxpayers still have to file tax returns, even though for most people the IRS could simply pre-populate the form with the information they have and cut us a refund check or send us a bill. The state of California already does this for state income tax returns, and other countries do it. People would be welcome to do their own math and file a return, but they wouldn’t have to.

    In its ads and sales materials, TurboTax brands itself as an “interview,” like dealing with a tax preparer but without the human interaction. Intuit doesn’t want the federal government to make filing our tax returns easier, because they want us to buy TurboTax to make filing taxes easier for us.

    California DMV Says Uber & Lyft Cars Need Commercial License Plates

    Fri, 2015-01-23 22:53



    Ride-sharing services operating in California have several issues lately: Uber being sued by San Francisco and Los Angeles counties, and L.A. mulling its own ride-sharing-like app just to name a few. Well, things don’t look to be getting any more amicable between the state and car services, as the California Department of Motor Vehicles issued an advisory requiring all drivers for the services to have commercial license plates.

    SF Gate reports that the DMV’s guidance could be a major threat to the ride-share apps that allow drivers to use their own personal cars to pick up customers.

    “Any passenger vehicle used or maintained for the transportation of persons for hire, compensation or profit is a commercial vehicle,” the DMV wrote in the advisory. “Even occasional use of a vehicle in this manner requires the vehicle to be registered commercially.”

    Officials with the DMV say the memo, which clarified existing state law, was prompted by an increasing number of questions from dealers and customers.

    Drivers in violation of the law could be ticketed, however, it’s unclear whether it would be up to the DMV, California Highway Patrol or local police to enforce the rules.

    Still, the ride-sharing companies were quick to denounce the DMV’s memo, saying that commercial registration costs more than personal registration and entails an array of paperwork and in-person DMV appointments.

    “Requiring Lyft drivers, including those who drive just a few hours a week, to get commercial plates would essentially treat peer-to-peer transportation the same as a taxi, undermining the thoughtful work done by the CPUC [California Public Utilities Commission] to craft new rules for ride-sharing in California,” Lyft said in a statement.

    Uber, Lyft, Sidecar and other services are regulated by the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC).

    A spokesperson with Uber says the DMV’s memo goes against PUC and the Gov. Jerry Brown’s stance regarding insurance for companies.

    “The California Public Utilities Commission allows (ride-hailing) drivers to use personal vehicles with personal registration on the UberX platform,” Uber said in a statement.

    DMV says UberX, Lyft drivers need commercial plates [SF Gate]

    Egg Company Locally Laid Turns Complaint Letter Into Lesson About Sustainable Agriculture

    Fri, 2015-01-23 22:44

    localllaid2Having received our fair share of complaint letters over the years, we know how tempting it can be to fire back at critics with negativity — but because that doesn’t solve anything, we’ve learned it’s always better to catch those flies with honey when possible. And in that vein, egg company Locally Laid took a shopper’s complaint about its high prices and sexual innuendos and turned the whole thing into a positive lesson about sustainable agriculture, while offering up an apology for causing offense.

    We’ve written about the cheeky egg company in the past for its feat of pulling off sassy puns with style, so it’s no surprise that it’s now taking advantage of a disgruntled customer’s handwritten letter to explain not only its innuendos, but why its eggs cost more than others in the grocery aisle.

    “I find your name on your egg carton extremely offensive and your sexual innuendos in advertising them vulgar,” he writes. “Not only were they the highest price in the store but also worst in advertising.”

    He adds that he’s going to share his concerns with the grocery store and his friends, writing that there’s “enough crudeness in the world without egg advertising adding to it.”

    Locally Laid replied in an open letter this week that should serve as an example to every other company faced with a displeased customer, taking the time to explain first of all, why those eggs are so pricey.

    After acknowledging the customer’s right to complain and thanking him for taking the time to handwrite his letter, Locally Laid’s “marketing chick” Lucie Amundsen goes on to outline the company’s reasons for its name and prices.

    She starts with the most basic reason it’s called Locally Laid — the pasture-raised eggs are indeed, “laid locally” — and goes on to explain why that matters in the grand scheme of things.

    “The average food product in this country travels some 1,500 -2,000 miles from farmer to processor to distributor to your plate,” Amundsen writes. “That’s a lot of diesel burned and C02 pumped in the air. Our cartons travel a fraction of those miles. We’ve turned down lucrative contracts that would have taken our eggs out of the area because of our environmental stance.”

    As for the price, which Locally Laid claims isn’t the highest priced brand out there, the eggs cost more because the company “practices sustainable agriculture, a sector that does not enjoy large government subsidizes like commodity products do,” the open letter explains.

    “We move fences all spring, summer and fall, and fill waterers and feeders; it’s incredibly demanding work to get birds out of doors. And it all costs more,” Amundsen explains.

    She then goes into great detail about the company’s efforts in “Middle Agriculture” and the state of farming in the U.S. today. Which, agree with all the information provided (and there’s a lot of it, in a long yet worthwhile read) or not, but explaining it all after a customer complaint is an admirable effort.

    And yes, there’s some cheekiness involved in Locally Laid’s punning, Amundsen admits.

    “And I truly am sorry, we offended you. (I’d offer you one of our American-made “Local Chicks are Better “ t-shirts, but I don’t think you’d wear it.),” she adds.

    But it’s worth it, Amundsen explains, if it gives the company a chance to explain itself to consumers who notice its products because of that same cheekiness.

    “With that second look from a consumer, we educate about animal welfare, eating local, Real Food and the economics of our broken food system,” Amundsen writes.

    Again, whether you buy your eggs from the farm next door or the factory farm miles away, that’s not the point. We just like when a company could ignore or pass off a consumer complaint and chalk it up to a loss, it instead takes the time to lay it all out there. Pun intended.

    *Thanks to Consumerist reader Amy for the tip!

    Open Letter to the Man offended by Locally Laid [Locally Laid]

    UPS: We Tried Too Hard To Deliver Your Holiday Packages On Time

    Fri, 2015-01-23 22:17

    (Misfit Photographer)

    (Misfit Photographer)

    Today we have to ask ourselves the important questions like, “is there such a thing as being too prepared?” If you happen to be the United Parcel Service and we’re talking about the 2014 holiday shipping season then you’d probably say yes.

    Bloomberg reports that UPS is blaming the costly extra measures it took to ensure on-time delivery leading up to the 2014 holiday season for its lower than anticipated earnings and for a possible increase to shipping costs.

    Coming off a disastrous 2013 holiday shipping season where many consumers’ gifts didn’t make it under the tree in time, UPS announced early last year that it would do things differently in 2014.

    In all, the company hired 95,000 extra workers and spent nearly $675 million on improvements to software, driver aids temporary sorting facilities and extra staff.

    Those added maneuvers – along with reasonably cooperative weather – paid off in a 98% on-time delivery rate for express packages, Consumerist reported earlier this month.

    However, the company’s total volume package for most days between Dec. 1 (Cyber Monday) and December 22 (the peak shipping day before Christmas Eve) fell far below projections. That means, as Bloomberg reports, that much of the company’s new workers and trucks were left idling.

    Officials with the company say the drop in productivity, coupled with the extra expenses for training and overtime resulted in UPS’s 2014 preliminary earnings falling far below expectations.

    “UPS invested heavily to ensure we would provide excellent service during peak when deliveries more than double,” said David Abney, UPS chief executive officer. “Though customers enjoyed high quality service, it came at a cost to UPS. Going forward, we will reduce operating costs and implement new pricing strategies during peak season.”

    Translation: We probably won’t hire as many seasonal workers and will likely charge more for holiday shipping next year.

    UPS Prepared Too Well for Holiday Rush and Paid the Price [Bloomberg]

    UPS slammed by a different holiday season mess-up [Fortune]

    Sprint Offers $350 For T-Mobile Customers To Switch. But There’s A Catch

    Fri, 2015-01-23 22:06

    Today, Sprint got tired of trying to win over customers from bigger wireless players like AT&T and Verizon, and decided to take a swing at T-Mobile, offering up to $350 for T-Mo subscribers willing to switch and trade in their phones. But there’s something off about the math Sprint is using to compare its plans to T-Mobile’s.

    In making the case for customers to jump ship from T-Mobile, Sprint uses the following comparison of monthly costs for having a Samsung Galaxy S5 on the two providers:

    Seems pretty straightforward, until you ask why the installment price for the phone is so different ($20/month for Sprint; $27/month for T-Mobile).

    Then you notice that the Sprint price is actually for leasing the phone for 24 months. That means at the end of that two years, you have to either trade-in your leased phone and start leasing another device or pay off the remaining balance for the original full price of the phone. That means you’d be on the hook for $170 if you want to keep your phone.

    So you either get stuck in a leasing carousel and can never enjoy the financial benefit of not having to make monthly payments on your phone — even if it’s only a few months — or you end up paying the same as you would via T-Mobile, except you’re slammed with paying a lump sum of $170 to hold on to a 2-year-old phone.

    This is why Sprint doesn’t use it’s own Easy Pay installment numbers for the comparison in this chart, as those monthly payments come out to — you guessed it — $27/month for the Galaxy S5.

    Which is odd, because you’d think the $20/month difference between the two providers’ unlimited data plans would be sufficient reason for customers to consider switching.

    However, recent tests have shown that Sprint’s current LTE speeds are woefully behind the competition, while T-Mobile’s are now competitive — and in some cases faster — than AT&T and Verizon. So while you might, in theory, have access to unlimited Sprint data, you might not be able to actually enjoy all those gigabytes of data.

    Meanwhile, for the same $60/month as the Sprint unlimited plan, T-Mobile offers 3GB of data. Since many people don’t use that much per month, 3GB may suffice. Additionally, T-Mo recently began rolling over unused data in “Data Stashes” that remain available for use for 12 months.

    We’re not saying that you shouldn’t consider switching to Sprint, but that Sprint should be more transparent about exactly what customers should expect.

    Brewers Of Gandhi-Bot Beer Agree To Change Its Name After Complaints From Indian-American Community

    Fri, 2015-01-23 21:51

    (New England Brewing Company)

    (New England Brewing Company)

    A few weeks after New England Brewing Company apologized for slapping a Gandhi robot on its Gandhi-Bot India Pale Ale beer, the company says now it’s going to do more than just apologize and will instead rename the brew altogether.

    After meeting with Indian-American business owners in its home state of Connecticut as well as state Rep. Prasad Srinivasan, the brewery issued a statement today saying it will start the process of picking a new name, which could take up to three months.

    “We learned of their support for our small business as well as some of their concerns regarding our Gandhi-Bot beer name and label. After careful consideration we feel that renaming Gandhi-Bot is the right move (the beer will remain the same),” the company says.

    The company says doing this will allow it express support for the Indian-American community while limiting any economic losses it might have in changing the beer’s labels.

    “We are grateful to have State Representative Srinivasan’s support in the continued success of our small CT business. We thank our supporters for standing by us through this transition,” the statement reads.

    Srinivasan posted the statement on his website, adding that he’s glad New England Brewing Co. listened to the community’s concerns.

    “Our sensitivity on this important issue has been addressed and I am looking forward to the early release of their renamed and re-branded product,” he writes.

    Dear Verizon Customers: Don’t Hold Your Breath Waiting For Rollover Data Plans

    Fri, 2015-01-23 21:04

    (Mike Mozart)

    (Mike Mozart)

    While T-Mobile and AT&T have each recently started allowing smartphone users to carry over unused data from one month to the next, customers of the nation’s largest wireless provider shouldn’t hold their breath waiting for Verizon to announce something similar.

    Verizon Chief Financial Officer Fran “ShamWow” Shammo tells CNET that rollover data isn’t in the cards for Big V.

    “We’re a leader, not a follower,” said Shammo in apparent disregard of every hubris-filled industry leader who dismissed market trends to their own peril.

    “We did not go to places where we did not financially want to go to save a customer,” continued Shammo, whose name is really fun to say. “And there’s going to be certain customers who leave us for price, and we are just not going to compete with that because it doesn’t make financial sense for us to do that.”

    As CNET points out, while Verizon has seen subscriber growth, it’s also seeing increased turnover due to what little competition remains in the wireless market. Turnover cuts into profit as you spend more to acquire customers who don’t stick around as long.

    Verizon has thus far been able to hang on to its leadership position through a reliable and vast LTE network, though some tests have found that Verizon LTE service is the same or slower than the competition from AT&T and T-Mobile.

    While there are some questions about T-Mo’s ability to continue disrupting the status quo of the U.S. wireless market, AT&T’s deeper coffers may allow that company to launch an all-out effort to siphon off Verizon customers. And if Sprint can ever get its LTE network up to par with the rest of the field, its overseas owners at Softbank may be poised for a prolonged pricing war.

    Senators Introduce Bill To Block States From Blocking Public Broadband

    Fri, 2015-01-23 20:49
    (Glyn Lowe)

    (Glyn Lowe)

    Congress is just all up in the FCC’s business lately, it seems. Earlier this week, lawmakers in both houses proposed their own version of net neutrality, one that would also strip the FCC of its own authority to regulate broadband in the future. Today, there’s a bill looking to jump into one of the FCC’s other big issues right now: state laws that prohibit communities from developing municipal broadband.

    Senators Cory Booker (NJ), Ed Markey (MA), and Claire McCaskill (MO) today introduced the Community Broadband Act, which would make it illegal for states to forbid municipalities from building out their own networks if they want to.

    The core text of the bill reads: “No statute, regulation or other legal requirement of a State or local government may prohibit, or have the effect of prohibiting or substantially inhibiting, any public provider from providing telecommunications service or advanced telecommunications capability or services to any person or any public or private entity.”

    The bill also seems to anticipate rebuttals about uses of taxpayer money, and specifically limits the availability of federal funds. If any public broadband project “fails due to bankruptcy or is terminated by a public provider,” it says, “no Federal funds may be provided to the public provider specifically to assist the public provider in reviving or renewing that project.”

    In other words, the Community Broadband Act makes it legal for a town to start a network and illegal for the state to stop them, but doesn’t provide any assistance for towns who want to build networks. It simply gives them the opportunity to pursue their own funding. To that end, the bill specifically encourages public-private partnerships.

    The bill also specifically does not exempt any public carrier from existing and future federal laws and regulations pertaining to networks, nor does it in any way seek to define the FCC’s scope and authority over broadband networks.

    This comes as the FCC is currently considering its own attempt to step in and give municipal broadband networks a chance. Nineteen states currently have industry-backed laws strongly limiting public networks on the books already. But communities in two of those states, North Carolina and Tennessee, filed petitions with the FCC last summer asking for the commission to pre-empt those laws so they can go on building out their networks for their residents.

    FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has indicated in the past that he would be in favor of preempting those laws. The White House jumped into the fray in recent days, with President Obama releasing a statement — and reiterating in his State of the Union address — saying that the FCC should absolutely act to make community broadband available to more Americans.

    The sponsors of the bill appear to view their proposal as supplemental to, rather than a replacement of, the FCC’s rulemaking procedure. In a statement, Sen. Markey said, “This legislation will support the ability of cities to decide for themselves whether or not they would like to build their own broadband networks and provide community members with high speed Internet service. … I also continue to urge the FCC to act now to use its authority to end any restrictions placed upon local communities to make these decisions for themselves.”

    The FCC is expected to vote on the matter in its February 26 open meeting.

    Burst In Brisket’s Popularity During Nationwide Beef Shortage Means Higher Prices At The Table

    Fri, 2015-01-23 20:36



    While brisket lovers may be rejoicing to see Texas-style barbecue restaurants popping up around the nation and fast food chains like Arby’s sticking the tender meat on the menu, its newfound popularity is coming with a higher price.

    Because of draughts in states like Texas and California, ranchers have had to thin their herds to the lowest levels in 60 years, reports CBS News, prompting a 60% uptick in brisket prices in the last year.

    With a pound of brisket going for $3.52, up from $2.21 per pound, restaurants have been forced to pass those increased costs on to customers.

    “The choices we have to make — because to maintain the quality, you are going to have to raise your price or you go out of business,” one barbecue restaurant owner told CBS.

    It’s the worst time too, as brisket is suddenly the darling of meat lovers around the country. Arby’s alone eats up 300,000 pounds of brisket a week, which amounts to about 5% of the country’s stock and further limits supply.

    “Today in the brisket market, it is the perfect storm going the wrong way,” Texas A&M University meat science professor Jeff Savell said. “There are fewer briskets today than in the past. But there is a greater demand for briskets.”

    Brisket shortage has Texas​ barbecue lovers facing rising costs [CBS News]

    Starbucks’ Delivery Service Might Bring Green-Aproned Baristas To Your House

    Fri, 2015-01-23 20:31



    Starting later this year you might not have to traipse into your local Starbucks to chat up your favorite barista. Instead, the coffee slinger might be coming to you as part of Starbucks’ upcoming delivery service.

    Business Insider reports that Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz announced Thursday that the company was marking items off its list of things to do before launching the delivery service later this year.

    Chief among that list is determining just who will be in charge of delivering the hot (or cold) java to customers.

    Schultz says the company is in the process of finalizing “two distinct delivery models.”

    In one model the company will utilize their own employees for deliveries, while the other will use a third-party service.

    “We will have more to share with you on our plans for delivery in the months ahead, but rest assure that delivery like Mobile Order and Pay will drive incrementality and increase customer loyalty,” Shultz tells analysts.

    Starbucks first announced that it would launch a food and delivery service in select areas of the U.S. back in October.

    The service will only be available to Starbucks loyalty program members as part of its mobile order and pay app.

    “Imagine the ability to create a standing order that Starbucks delivered hot or iced to your desk daily,” Schultz said at the time.

    Starbucks Baristas Will Soon Deliver Coffee To Your Door [Business Insider]

    IRS Says Thousands Have Been Scammed Into Paying Bogus Back Taxes

    Fri, 2015-01-23 19:55



    Let’s be honest for a moment and acknowledge that not everyone is 100% honest or accurate when filing their tax returns. There are lots of people out there who wouldn’t be shocked to hear from the IRS that they owe more or didn’t pay enough, which is why thousands of Americans have been scammed out of millions of dollars by con artists pretending to represent the IRS.

    According to the IRS, in only the last 15 months, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (or, if you prefer, TIGTA) has received an astounding 290,000 reports of scammy phone calls from people falsely claiming they were IRS employees.

    The scammers would do things like spoof their phone numbers to appear like they were calling from the IRS. They would even provide fake names and IRS badge numbers, leaving urgent callback requests. Some callers claimed to be agents from the IRS Criminal Investigation unit to add extra urgency.

    “These criminals try to scare and shock you into providing personal financial information on the spot while you are off guard,” explains IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “Don’t be taken in and don’t engage these people over the phone.”

    And it works, especially for those unfamiliar with how to deal with the IRS. According to TIGTA, nearly 3,000 people have fallen victim to these sorts of calls, resulting in scammers profiting to the tune of more than $14 million.

    Koskinen says that the IRS will usually first contact a consumer through the mail about any issues with their taxes.

    “If someone calls unexpectedly claiming to be from the IRS with aggressive threats if you don’t pay immediately, it’s a scam artist calling,” he explains.

    The IRS is also reminding people to be on the lookout for tax-related e-mail scams.

    “The IRS won’t send you an email about a bill or refund out of the blue. Don’t click on one claiming to be from the IRS that takes you by surprise,” says Koskinen. “I urge taxpayers to be wary of clicking on strange emails and websites. They may be scams to steal your personal information.”

    The IRS says that recipients of unsolicited e-mails that appear to be from either the IRS or an organization closely linked to the IRS, like the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS), report it by sending it to

    Package With $4,000 Worth Of Electronics No Match For USPS Carrier’s Chucking Abilities

    Fri, 2015-01-23 19:44

    The other day we asked readers if they’d pay money to choose which carrier delivers their Amazon packages, and found that about 63% of you would be willing to pay some amount for that right. And it’s no wonder people want a choice, when the United States Postal Service has carriers chucking packages filled with delicate, expensive electronics inside onto porches like it’s a box filled with feathers.

    A Texas man expecting a package from Amazon containing $4,000 worth of electronic equipment from Japan was checking out his home surveillance camera footage to see if the USPS had delivered it yet, reports

    When he went through the tapes, he saw a mail carrier chucking the package underhand onto his porch and watching it roll to a stop before walking away.

    “This was a $4,000 piece of electronics, which was just shattered when I opened the box,” he said. “She could have walked one or two seconds more and set the package down, but instead she just threw it. This is a U.S. mail postal carrier.”

    He posted the clip to YouTube, asking Amazon if that’s how the company wanted its packages to be delivered. Amazon is accepting his return, but it’s not about the money. It’s about not having your stuff tossed around.

    “If you go to someone’s house and take the mail out of their house — that’s a federal crime,” he said. “Well, it’s also a federal crime to destroy U.S. mail.”

    The post office issued a statement to WFAA apologizing, saying that postal employees have a lot of pride in their work. Sure, and also their athletic prowess, it seems.

    “We apologize for the inconvenience this customer experienced in Carrollton, TX. Postal employees take great pride in their work delivering for the American public. The Postal Service invests in training all employees to ensure the proper handling of all packages entrusted to us. If we discover an incident of a package being thrown or mishandled, we investigate and take appropriate steps to remedy the situation with the customer and to prevent future incidents by the carrier or clerk involved.

    A thrown or mishandled package is unacceptable and does not reflect our commitment to our customers and the careful efforts of the thousands of professional, dedicated carriers and clerks in our workforce.”

    It’s not all the USPS, however — from UPS to FedEx, we’ve seen packages chucked, tossed and otherwise heaved by a variety of delivery carriers in the past.

    Carrollton man steamed after USPS carrier throws package []

    Missouri Auto Dealers Sue State For Letting Tesla Sell Directly To Consumers

    Fri, 2015-01-23 19:10
    (catheroo (cat edens))

    (catheroo (cat edens))

    While many states have essentially banned the sale of Tesla vehicles, Missouri appeared to welcome the electric car company with open arms. Of course, not everyone is as pleased to have the car maker tallying sales in the Show Me State. And so to show its displeasure, the Missouri Auto Dealers Association filed a lawsuit against the Missouri Department of Revenue and its director for allowing the electric car company to sell vehicles directly to consumers.

    The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports the Missouri Auto Dealers Association (MADA) alleges that the state’s department of revenue was in violation of state law when it issued a dealers license to Tesla in 2013.

    MADA, which represents 381 franchise car dealers, asserts that state law requires manufacturers to sell motor vehicles through dealers holding a valid franchise agreement with the manufacturer.

    For those not initiated with Tesla, the company eschews the traditional dealership model and instead sells its pricey cars directly to consumers through store fronts or online.

    According to the Post-Dispatch, Tesla, which has sold about 200 Model S cars in Missouri, opened a $2 million service center in University City, MO, in 2013 after it was issued a dealer license by the revenue department. The company has since added numerous charging stations and a store in Kansas City, MO, last month.

    MADA claims that by allowing Tesla to sell cars without a proper dealership, the revenue department and director Nia Ray have “created a non-level playing field were one entity – Tesla – is subject to preferential tremens and all bona fide dealers are discriminated against.”

    Lowell Pearson, MADA’s attorney and former revenue department deputy director, says Missouri “disadvantages hundreds of Missouri car dealers who have been doing business for many, many years.”

    He says the group is asking the court to bar the revenue department from renewing Tesla’s license for the University City location and bar it from receiving other dealer licenses elsewhere in the state.

    “It’s quite well established that a car manufacturer cannot sell vehicles directly to the public and they must be sold through a licensed dealer,” Pearson tells the Post Dispatch.

    A spokesperson for the revenue department tells the Post-Dispatch that the department does not comment on pending litigation.

    However, last year the department’s acting director, John Mollenkamp, said in a statement that automakers with existing franchise agreements with dealers are barred from competing directly with them, however the law does not apply to companies that never had such agreements – such as Tesla.

    Thursday’s lawsuit isn’t the first time MADA has attempted to end direct-to-consumer sales by Tesla. Last year, an amendment to a bill in the Missouri Legislator would have banned the sales, however that provision was ultimately pulled from the bill.

    Still, that setback wasn’t enough to make those opposed to Tesla’s practices pack up and go home.

    “We feel it’s a violation of the law,” MADA’s president and CEO, Doug Smith, says of the electric car company’s sales model. “The law … clearly states that a manufacturer cannot sell vehicles to consumers.”

    Tesla vice president of corporate business development Diarmuid O’Connell tells the Post-Dispatch that the Missouri lawsuit is an attempt by dealerships to limit consumers’ ability to choose.

    “The goal of both this lawsuit and anti-Tesla legislation is to create a distribution monopoly that will decrease competition, hurt consumer choice, and limit economic investment in Missouri,” he says.

    While Tesla has drawn the ire of many in the auto sales business for its refusal to use traditional franchised dealership models, the company’s CEO Elon Musk admitted last week that the company might not always employ the same sales practices.

    Musk said Tesla might consider franchised dealers at some point in the future when the company has increased its production and sufficiently educated consumers about its products via storefronts.

    But Musk cautioned that the company would only enter into partnerships with dealers that haven’t been “jerks to us.”

    If the MADA lawsuit is successful in banning Tesla sales in the state, Missouri would join Michigan, Texas, Arizona, Colorado, North Carolina and Virginia on the list of states with laws banning the direct sale of automobiles.

    In September, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts threw out a lawsuit aiming to block Tesla from selling directly to customers and using a retail storefront to display model vehicles.

    Last summer, the Georgia Automobile Dealers Association filed a complaint with the state’s Department of Revenue, claiming that Tesla sold too many through its one retail store in the state.

    While most states don’t have active bans on direct sales, a recently passed law in New Jersey expressly allows Tesla and others to sell directly to consumers.

    Auto dealers sue Missouri over Tesla car sales [The St. Louis Post-Dispatch]

    New York Stock Exchange Sends Warning Letter To Radio Shack

    Fri, 2015-01-23 19:08

    (Penn Cann Mall)

    (Penn Cann Mall)

    The New York Stock Exchange has standards for the stocks that it lists, including minimum corporate income or how much all shares of a company can be worth. As RadioShack slides toward bankruptcy, the NYSE has warned the company that it’s about to slide off the stock exchange, too.

    Experts expect that The Shack will declare bankruptcy sometime in February, which will free up the chain to close more stores and shrink its excessive retail footprint. Since it costs money to close a store, the company’s creditors currently only allow it to close 200 stores per year. RadioShack has around 4,300 stores right now.

    That’s why the chain may not even pay attention to the notice from the NYSE, which arrived because The Shack’s market capitalization (that’s to say, the value of all of its outstanding shares of stock) is under $50 million. It’s now $30 million, to be precise, as the stock’s value has fallen significantly due to the company’s eleven quarters in a year of losing money, and all those news reports that it’s about to declare bankruptcy.

    The first warning came in July 2014 when shares first fell under $1, and now the company is worth only about $30 million.

    The NYSE has asked The Shack to produce a business plan explaining how it will improve its stock price and not go out of business in the coming weeks.

    RadioShack gets another delisting warning from the NYSE [Reuters]

    North Carolina May Be Next To Get Google Fiber

    Fri, 2015-01-23 18:32

    (Ken Fager)

    (Ken Fager)

    It’s been nearly a year since Google announced plans to expand its Google Fiber broadband and pay-TV service to new markets around the U.S., but the company has yet to say which of the 34 eligible cities would be the next to benefit from much-needed competition, but there are some indicators that folks in North Carolina may be getting on the Google fiberwagon.

    According to, invites have been sent out to Charlotte city officials and various groups for some sort of Google-related reception next Wednesday, Jan. 28.

    A couple hours away in Raleigh, there will apparently be a simultaneous event also involving Google, followed the next day by one in nearby Durham.

    Charlotte, and multiple towns in the Raleigh-Durham area — including Cary and Chapel Hill — were on the list of Google Fiber hopefuls announced in early 2014.

    One group invited to the Google event tells DSLreports that “There was no agenda or topic listed, and the location details were ‘to follow’,” adding that the RSVP form just asked for basic contact info and whether or not you were a city official.

    It’s possible these may just be parties to celebrate how much fun Google is, or maybe the company is bringing some other new business to the area, though that would make more sense if it was just relegated to either Charlotte or Raleigh-Durham; the inclusion of both metro areas seems to indicate news of some import.

    Broadband service for both metro areas is currently dominated by Time Warner Cable, which presumably would pass to Comcast if that merger is ultimately approved.

    TWC was instrumental in backing a 2011 state law that put heavy restrictions on cities looking to provide broadband services that compete with existing providers.

    In July, one city whose broadband service was grandfathered in petitioned the FCC for the ability to offer its service outside of its home municipality to other towns and cities that request it, much like it provides electricity to multiple neighboring communities.

    The FCC is currently mulling over whether it has the authority to override state laws restricting municipal broadband, and whether it should use that authority to do so.

    Let’s just hope the mere rumor of Google Fiber will improve service for TWC customers, as it’s done for Cox broadband subscribers in Phoenix, one of the other possible places Google Fiber might go next.

    Similarly, shortly after Google began its expansion of Fiber to include Austin, TX — and right around the time that Comcast and TWC announced their merger plans, TWC suddenly decided to upgrade the broadband of subscribers in that tech-friendly city.

    Lawsuit Against Honda, Takata Claims Civic’s Exploding Airbag Left Woman Paralyzed

    Fri, 2015-01-23 18:31

    (Jackie Vance-Kuss)

    (Jackie Vance-Kuss)

    The ripples of last year’s massive Takata airbag recalls continue to spread, with a new lawsuit this week against Takata and Honda Motor Company claiming that an exploding replacement airbag paralyzed a Florida woman from the neck down after her Honda Civic was involved in a collision.

    The lawsuit filed this week on behalf of a 76-year-old Florida woman seeks millions of dollars in damages, claiming that the two companies hid the potentially dangerous defects in Takata airbag systems for more than a decade, reports the Los Angeles Times.

    According to the lawsuit, both Honda and Takata, along with several of their subsidiary companies, were aware of the grave safety dangers associated with the defective airbags through consumer complaints, claims, and lawsuits, the law firm representing the woman says in a press release.

    But despite that, executives allegedly concealed the full extent of the defects from consumers and decided instead to quickly settle claims and lawsuits rather than reveal the airbag defect to the public. The lawsuit alleges that the defendants broke the law by failing to report, under reporting, or omitting important report information regarding the defect to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

    On June 15, the woman ran a red light going 20 mph in June in her 2001 Honda Civic, colliding with an SUV.The driver’s side airbag inflated too forcefully, the suit alleges, paralyzing her from the neck down.

    The airbag was a replacement installed in her car in 2009 as part of an initial recall, her lawyer says.

    “We want to make sure this kind of conduct — of hiding information and defects — never happens again,” he said.

    The lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount in damages for medical care, mental anguish, pain and suffering, as well as punitive damages against Honda and Takata.

    Honda said in a statement that it inspected the airbag after the crash and found “no indication of any defect.”

    “Honda’s ongoing investigation into this crash thus far has uncovered no facts or substantiating evidence in the police investigation to support the defect allegations made by the plaintiff,” the company said.

    So far, around 6 million Honda vehicles in the U.S. have been affected by Takata airbags, with about 2.8 million having been officially recalled. The company agreed early this year to pay NHTSA a $70 million fine for failing to report over 1700 injuries and deaths over a period of 11 years.

    The issue isn’t isolated in Honda vehicles — 11 million vehicles in the U.S. have been affected, including cars made by Toyota, Mazda, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Subaru, Chrysler, Ford, and BMW.

    Honda and Takata sued by woman claiming airbag paralyzed her [Los Angeles Times]

    Verizon: We’re Not Two-Faced, We Just Like To Claim Mutually Exclusive Things Are Both True

    Fri, 2015-01-23 18:16


    Verizon has a long history of trying to have it both ways: alternately courting and rejecting regulation, depending on which will most benefit their bottom line. It’s disingenuous, but effective. But now that someone has asked the FCC to investigate Verizon for perjury, Verizon’s fighting back. Their theme? We’re not two-faced. We just like to say a lot of mutually-exclusive things based on who we think is listening.

    Last week, two telecom consumer advocates filed a petition with the FCC saying that Verizon’s constant back-and-forth isn’t just dishonest, but criminal. Saying two oppositional things at once and claiming both are true, they say, is perjury, and the FCC needs to investigate.

    The petitioners call Verizon “the Janus of telecom,” referring to the ancient Roman god with two faces, suggesting that the company is, “‘two-faced’ or duplicitous.”

    They call their petition an open and shut case, explaining, “Verizon either did or did not tell the FCC that their entire current investment in fiber optics is based entirely on using the Title II classification. Or that the Verizon companies have made phone customers ‘de facto’ investors by using Title II… We allege that Verizon did deceive the FCC. These material misrepresentations taint every FCC decision and policy affecting Verizon’s regulatory status, but most importantly now the Open Internet Proceeding.”

    They continue, “Verizon has claimed and continues to claim that Title II would harm [Verizon’s] investments. However, this is in direct contradiction to Verizon’s own filings, statements, SEC and state-based filings, the companies’ cable franchise agreement—every fiber optic wire appears to be Title II.”

    That’s all well and good. This week, as Ars Technica reports, Verizon finally responded to the petition. In a filing to the FCC, Verizon counters that the petition is “frivolous,” and “[recycles] old, baseless, and inaccurate claims that have been previously addressed and dismissed.”

    “Verizon’s position is and has been consistent throughout the inception of its fiber deployment,” Verizon concludes, “and NNI’s frivolous Petition should be denied outright.”

    The original petitioners plan to file a response to the response next week.

    But perjury or not, Verizon certainly is certainly on a streak of saying two things at once and hoping nobody notices.

    For example, late last year, Verizon CFO Francis Shammo accidentally admitted that contrary to everything Verizon has been saying, Title II regulation of broadband won’t actually stop the company from investing in new and existing networks. As the Washington Post reports, Verizon is now desperately trying to claim that those words don’t mean what we think they do.

    In a statement this week, Shammo — the same executive who last month said “I mean to be real clear, this does not influence the way we invest” — now says:

    Title II is an extreme and risky path that will jeopardize our investment and the development of innovation in broadband Internet and related services. It will also tie up the industry in a very uncertain time and cause all types of litigation.

    Shammo claimed his actual statements from last year, as recorded and transcribed, were “misquoted,” then concluded by endorsing Congress’s plan to do an end-run around the FCC.


    Couple Used Stolen Identities To Obtain $270,000 In Federal Student Loan Funds

    Fri, 2015-01-23 17:57
    (Great Beyond)

    (Great Beyond)

    There’s no doubt that student loans are a big business. While that business is meant to assist students in attending college, two con artists used the system to line their own pockets, all at the expense of unknowing consumers and the federal government.

    WJLA-TV reports that the Pennsylvania couple pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud charges after they were caught receiving more than $270,000 in federal student loans by filing applications using stolen identities.

    U.S. Postal Inspector Gregory Botti says the man and woman submitted multiple applications using a variety of stolen identities they obtained in an ID theft ring.

    “They were filing different financial applications with online universities using the victim personal identifiers, name, DOB, Social Security numbers and under the offices that the victims were enrolling for the classes online,” Botti tells WJLA.

    After submitting the applications the couple contacted Liberty University and American Public University, posing as the students that had been issued the loans and asking that the checks be mailed to a different address.

    In all, more than 200 people had their identities stolen and the Department of Education lost more than $270,000 in student loans.

    “There’s many layers of victims,” Botti says. “There’s the colleges and universities targeted in these scams. There is the federal government whose often making the payments to people they think are the students […]The student truly applying for financial aid that may not receive what they deserve because of these type of schemes.”

    For her part in the scheme the woman was sentenced to 12 years in prison, while her husband is serving two years.

    Consumer Alert: Stolen identities used by thieves in student loan scheme [WJLA]