We learned something this week, and it’s that people like taking photos of their off-menu Arby’s Meat Mountains and sending them to us. In the spirit of convenience, we figured we’d put’em all in one place. You know, before this Meat Mountain thing blows over, or erupts or whatever it is mountains do when you’re sick of hearing about them and how much meat they have.
The more Meat Mountains we see, the more we’ve come to appreciate their differences. Each one is like a meat snowflake, unique in its posture, the texture of its bun, and the way the layers of meat are piled just so. These sandwiches seem to be falling into one of three categories, or Meat Mountain Ranges, if you will.
And I will:
If you get this sandwich, workers at your Arby’s are excited about the new gimmick and aren’t tired of making it yet. Yet.
For example, here’s Consumerist reader Geoff’s experience getting that sandwich above that appears ready for its closeup. Geoff has probably the prettiest Meat Mountain we’ve seen thus far, maybe because by now, this whole Meat Mountain thing is catching on and getting workers excited to make it, too.
“They all crowded around and chuckled while it got made, and when they handed it to me, the shift manager said, still grinning, ‘If you’re gonna have a heart attack, don’t do it here, OK?’ ” writes Geoff.
You can see the love it was made with in its presentation — evenly placed, alternating meat layers, thoughtfully placed cheese and a sturdy bun that can contain its insides, at least until the first bite. That’s The Pretty One.
Another example, as photographed by Consumerist reader Michael:
Mostly self-explanatory. Matthew’s sandwich and its brethren barely realize they are not simply piles of meat, but are also supposed to serve as a single sandwich entity. These pieces of meat are trying to escape, after being unceremoniously dumped on the sacrificial bun. That’s why it’s blurry, the meat is trying to get away.
THE ONE YOU ARE IN THE MIDDLE OF EATING RIGHT NOW
Something about these sandwiches has made you stop and reflect on what happens to a sandwich while it’s being eaten, and to take a photo of that moment, capturing each and every layer as evidence of your conquest.The result? A challenge. Because you have to finish what you started.
THE “WE DIDN’T KNOW WHAT WE WERE DOING YET”
It seems like only a few days ago that we first heard of the Meat Mountain, because it was. And on that day, our earliest submissions from Joe and Derek just show that Arby’s workers were as surprised by the sandwich as everyone else was.
“They had to call someone to find how how to ring it up and get a print out of how to make it after showing them the Consumerist article,” wrote Derek.
Leaning towers of meat with haphazardly placed layers and a bun that can’t possibly stand up to all those ingredients is a sure sign that you’re dealing with an inexperienced Meat Mountain maker. It all ends up in your stomach though anyway, right?
Do you remember what you ate eight years ago? The government does. Maybe. People who filed recall claims for Peter Pan or Great Value (Walmart) peanut butters that were recalled in 2007 received a letter this week notifying them that they were victims of a crime. A crime? Yes, ConAgra Foods may face misdemeanor charges for its role in a salmonella outbreak that made hundreds of people ill.
No, this isn’t the Peanut Corporation of America salmonella outbreak in 2009, or the Sundland salmonella outbreak in 2012. This case is about an earlier peanut butter Salmonella outbreak that you may not even remember. Peanut butter from a ConAgra plant was recalled in early 2007, with 425 confirmed cases of illness, about 20% of whom ended up hospitalized. There were probably many more people who were infected, but not seriously enough that they saw a health care professional.
Wait, though…giving people the runs is a crime? It can be. While no charges have been filed yet against ConAgra, the company may be charged with a misdemeanor under the federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act. Since you can’t put a corporation in prison, the plea deal would probably involve a fine. Don’t cry for ConAgra, though: they told shareholders in their annual report that, after already spending more than $14 million on matters related to the recall, the company’s profits won’t be affected.
After taking into account liabilities recorded for these matters, we believe the ultimate resolution of this matter should not have a material adverse effect on our financial conditions, results of operations, or liquidity.
The most likely scenario, according to ConAgra itself, will be a plea deal. Since you can’t throw a company in jail, they will probably have to pay fines.
Don’t confuse these charges with the class action suit filed against ConAgra back in 2007 by people who became ill, but weren’t interested in ConAgra’s offer of a free jar of peanut butter.
The Department of Justice has a site set up where victims can find out about public court dates and the progress of the case. The site isn’t live yet, but when it is, you can find it by clicking here.
The timing is interesting, with another peanut butter outbreak and recall happening right now. Also, executives of PCA, the company behind the 2009 peanut butter recall, are currently on trial, charged with felonies under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act. The executives themselves are on trial, not the company, which is now defunct.
Earlier this year, LEGO woke up from its swingin’ ’60s Don Draper haze and realized that women scientists exist and — hey! – maybe it would be a good idea to reflect that reality in its vast line of minifigs. The resulting set — featuring an astronomer, a paleontologist, and a chemist, all female — went on sale recently and sold out quickly, never to return. But some say LEGO should consider bringing on these female scientists for a full-time gig.
The idea for the LEGO Research Institute came from Ellen Kooijman, a female geochemist and LEGO fan whose proposal on the LEGO Ideas platform quickly garnered the 10,000 votes needed for consideration. Then the sets went on sale and sold like hotcakes, both because of the appeal and because some people just love LEGO.
But because the Research Institute was a fan-created set, it was only available for a limited time, and a rep for the company confirmed to the NY Times last week that there are no plans to resurrect it.
In the hopes of changing LEGO’s mind, more than 1,500 people have already signed a petition asking the company to bring back these female scientist minifigs and make them permanent.
“A large section of LEGO’s customer base is female,” reads the petition, “an even larger section have used their voices and wallets consistently for three years to communicate they are wanting, ready for, and will purchase sets like the sold out LEGO Ideas Research Institute… With proven market demand why would LEGO not make more of these?”
In her review of the minifigs, Kooijman had a number of nice things to say about the final product, but did offer a couple of criticisms from a real scientist.
“I strongly discourage wearing make-up in the lab, because it may cause contamination of the samples,” she writes. “I’m surprised they didn’t give her protective gloves though, like the previously released scientist figure had. In my personal version I will definitely change that, because safety comes first!”
The South Carolina Supreme Court ruled today that a worker who shattered two bones in his leg during a company team-building kickball event should get workers’ compensation.
Workers’ comp commissioners in the state had denied his claim at first, as participating in such things is voluntary. An appeals court upheld that ruling, reports the Associated Press, which brought it to the state Supreme Court.
While it’s an employee’s choice to be on a company team and they can show up or not, the court said in ruling for the employee, in this case the worker had worked with his boss to organize the event. Because he was in charge, the game became part of his job — he basically had to be there.
As justices noted, the man’s boss said he would’ve been “surprised and shocked” if he hadn’t showed.
“Although the event may have been voluntary for company employees generally, the undisputed facts unequivocally indicate [the worker] was expected to attend as part of his professional duties,” the court wrote.
Dissenting justices wrote, however, that even though he would’ve had to be there, there’s nothing that said he was required to play.
State court: Workers’ comp OK for kickball injury [The Associated Press]
Most mega fast food chains are being pulled in two directions these days — trying to satisfy those consumers who want quality ingredients and healthier options, while also pushing bottom-dollar value menu items to diners whose primary goal is to eat something fast and cheap. It would seem like one of these would have to win out in the long run, and according to the co-CEO of Chipotle, the cheap and easy route will soon be a thing of the past.
In an interview with The Street, Chipotle co-CEO Monty Moran says the company is taking down traditional fast food, which he deems “irrelevant,” by opening more locations and showing customers that the other chains don’t care as much about the consumer or their employees.
“By traditional fast food I mean where the predominant goal is the cheapening of the raw ingredients, the automation of the work such that anyone could do it that you don’t need training so that they turn over their employees without any care for them, where it’s a game of value meals and cheapening and cheapening the food experience,” he says.
Another reason Chipotle will contribute to the downfall and replace traditional fast food chains is its emphasis on where food comes from.
“Get suppliers to start thinking how they raise food differently because there are more folks like Chipotle, they will have to do things according to our protocols,” he says. “A fifth way is changing customer perception so that customers are aware where their food comes from and start making demands of grocers and restaurants to provide food in a way that makes sense to them.”
It’s hard to imagine how fast food is irrelevant considering McDonald’s alone is 20-times larger than Chipotle. But even with such a wide gap, Moran says Chipotle will continue leading the way – through its own locations or imitations – in changing the face of fast food.
Just because something isn’t sitting in a store with a price tag on it doesn’t mean it’s free, people. Which is why it’s quite rude that big old meanies have been swiping corn at Connecticut corn farms, not because they’re hungry and in need of a snack, but to sell for 100% profit off the back of a truck.
Two recent thefts at farms about 25 miles apart in Connecticut are ticking off the farmers who raise that corn to sell at farm stands in the area for a living, reports the New York Times.
A father and son team have been charged in one of the thefts, after the farmer caught up with them when they fled with their allegedly ill-gotten gains. He says the twosome targeted 40 acres of his family farm that lies outside a locked gate, and worked their way through the rows before he confronted them.
“One was holding the bag, and the other was filling it up,” the fourth-generation farmer said.
They were easy to spot when he caught up with them just before police did.
“They had corn tassels in their hair,” he told the NYT, “A dead giveaway.”
While the two suspects are facing three months in prison and $500 in fines, other farmers in the area say that wouldn’t be the right punishment for the alleged crime.
“Heck, I don’t want these guys to go to jail,” said the sales manager at another farm with an unsolved theft of its own. “I want them to pick weeds on farms for two summers in a row. See how much of an appetite they have for stealing corn after that.”
Farmers suspect that the thieves are swiping the corn and selling it miles away, off the backs of trucks instead of at local markets where everyone knows each other.
It isn’t easy to keep an eye on all those fields, which makes finding the perpetrators tough. For now, some farms are installing surveillance cameras, and trying tricks like planting “cow corn” used to feed animals along the edges to dissuade thefts.
“Eat that and you will never steal corn from there again,” a farmer advised on one of the farms’ Facebook pages.
Crime Where Telltale Clue Is a Corn Tassel [New York Times]
Here’s the item on the site. J’s college bookstore is run by eFollett, the company that runs all bookstores not already run by Barnes & Noble, or so it seems.
Oddly enough, the item is still on the site, but marked down to only $5, and also not available for actual purchase.
She was able to put the order through, and took a screen grab:
This should have been no surprise whatsoever to anyone whose order was canceled. While it would be awesome to get a $10 laptop, any consumer who knows enough to pounce on that order also knows that this is some kind of error on the retailer’s part. You’re not scamming the company, but you also aren’t placing that order in good faith. Especially if you order multiple computers to re-sell elsewhere. Jennifer didn’t do that in this case, but we read FatWallet, too, and know that it’s something that happens.
People frequently complain that issues like this are “bait and switch,” but we’ve gone over this many times: a transaction isn’t bait and switch when you place an order and the retailer cancels it and refunds your money. For bait and switch to happen, the retailer would have never intended to sell the item to you at all, and then tried to sell you a different item with a lower price and/or fewer features than the low-priced item that served as the “bait.”
Is it annoying when a company offers an amazing price and then snatches your order away? Yes. However, it’s not surprising, and retailers have no obligation to honor a price that they posted in error.
You’re opening a bag that says “Dead dove–do not eat,” somehow expecting to find something other than an inedible dead dove.
It wasn’t very nice of the bookstore to cancel the order out from under J. without even sending her an e-mail, though, and we have contacted Follett to ask about that. We’ll update this post if we hear anything back.
Buried at the bottom of the Terms page for OnlineAccessoryOutlet.com, you’ll find the following insanely overreaching stipulations (bolded for emphasis):
“You agree not to file any complaint, chargeback, claim, dispute, or make any public forum post, review, Better Business Bureau complaint, social media post, or any public statement regarding the order, our website, or any issue regarding your order, for any reason, within this 90 day period, or to threaten to do so within the 90 day period, or it is a breach of the terms of sale, creating liability for damages in the amount of $250, plus any additional fees, damages – both consequential and incidental, calculated on an ongoing basis.”
The Terms also claim the customer agrees that, even after the 90 days are up, the “sole method of dispute resolution in all cases… shall be binding arbitration to take place in New York City, with all expenses paid by the respective parties.”
So if your purchase is late, lost, damaged, broken, etc., and you even make the vague statement of “I’m going to write about this on Facebook” or “I’m going to call my bank to cancel this charge,” Accessory Outlet will tag you for $250. And even if you wait the full 90 days for that period to end, the only way to resolve the issue is by traveling — at your own expense — to New York City for an arbitration hearing.
And this is apparently neither a joke nor an exaggerated policy made in the hope that someone will be too scared of the fine to complain.
One Accessory Outlet customer in Wisconsin was fined the $250 for telling the retailer that she would issue a chargeback on her credit card because the $40 iPhone case she’d ordered hadn’t arrived after 10 days. And then when she refused to pay that fine, it was sent to collections.
The customer has sued Accessory Outlet in a New York state court, arguing that the $250 “debt” she is now being hassled over is bogus. According to the complaint [PDF], the “terms are unenforceable, both because they are unconscionable as a matter of law and because [the Plaintiff] never agreed to them.”
That last claim is the most obvious and the easiest to prove. Though the Terms are on the Accessory Outlet website, at no point in the purchase process is the customer required to check a box or otherwise acknowledge that the Terms have been read. We attempted to verify the Plaintiff’s claim by going all the way through the ordering process (up until actually hitting the “complete purchase” button, of course) and could not find any place in which it was even suggested that we read the Terms before placing an order.
According to the customer, she placed her order on July 6 of this year. Four days later, she received an e-mail saying her order had shipped. The customer then checked the supposed USPS tracking number of her order and found that it had not been received by the Postal Service.
When the item had not been received by July 16, she contacted the company via its website and requested that the order be canceled. Accessory Outlet replied that it could not be canceled because it had shipped.
The customer checked the USPS tracking number again and then replied to Accessory Outlet that she would be requesting a chargeback from her credit card company because she believed the retailer was lying about whether the order had actually shipped.
This is when they told her about the $250 fine that she hadn’t agreed to.
The company told her in an e-mail that not only would she be hit for the $250 penalty but that her account would be sent to a collections agency, which would “put a negative mark on your credit for 7 years and will also result in calls to you home and/or work.”
Accessory Outlet also threatened her with the prospect of “additional fees for any correspondence with your card issuer… billed to you on an hourly basis and a flat rate $50 fee for the dispute or claim.”
When the customer replied that she had the right to contact her credit card company, the retailer replied that she now owed them “damages” and that her account would be referred to “multiple collections agencies.”
After receiving additional, similar e-mails from Accessory Outlet, the customer responded that she was getting a lawyer.
To which the retailer replied:
“Contact your lawyer, spend more time and money if you wish. You will be billed and the amount we bill you for will continue to rise with every email and every second we dedicate o correspondence of any kind pertaining to your breach of the terms of sale. Thank you.”
A subsequent e-mail from Accessory Outlet personally attacks the customer and closes on a menacing tone:
“Read the agreement or have someone competent do so for you since your emails make it clear you did not read the agreement or do not understand the clauses contained therein. You obviously do not know how to use the tracking or are ignoring it… You are playing games with the wrong people and have made a very bad mistake given the legally binding contract we have in place. One we have successfully enforced on many individuals the same we will do with you.”
The customer eventually received her order — nine days after it supposedly shipped — and claims it was defective and unusable. Her complaints to Accessory Outlet received no response.
She seeks to have her alleged debts voided because she did not actively agree to the Terms of Sale, nor was she required to view them. Additionally, the customer claims the terms are unreasonably favorable to Accessory Outlet.
“I want to go online and warn other customers about Accessory Outlet’s unfair terms and shoddy products,” said the customer in a statement. “But I’m afraid Accessory Outlet will claim I owe it more money and try to ruin my credit.”
“Accessory Outlet is using unfair terms hidden in fine print, along with threatening emails, to bully a customer into keeping quiet about her bad experience with the company,” said Scott Michelman, the Public Citizen attorney handling the case. “But terms that prevent a customer from speaking publicly about her transaction and from contacting her credit card company are unreasonable and unenforceable.”
The usually delicious, delectable fruits grew like crazy this year, reports Fox2Now, which at first was a good thing for the farmer. But after a few weeks of plentiful tomatoes, everyone had their fill.
“If you grow in high volume and they all come at one time with full moon, there’s no way you can control them. You either have too many or you don’t have enough,” the farmer explained. “It’s a perishable item. That’s why vegetable growing is kind of tricky. It’s supply and demand.”
Then came a heat wave — zapping the tomatoes more quickly than workers could pick them, he added.
That’s left somewhere in the hundreds of thousands of pounds of tomatoes rotting on the vine, with the stink caught by the heat. And it’s been too hot to get workers out there to clean it up, bringing in the flies and all the smells.
“It smelled just like swamp,” said one passerby who was out walking with her daughter. “Once we turned the corner (the smell) definitely took us over.”
Despite the locals pinching their noses, the farmer says he can’t do much about the stench for now.
“We’ll put the mower in them, mow them down, get the fields cleaned up, get the plastic picked up… I don’t think the odor is that bad. It’s better than cabbage, put it that way,” he added.
Perhaps because we all look like a bunch of frankenfood enthusiasts, what with our cronuts and biznuts and whatnots, Tim Hortons is bringing a thing that appears to be dough combined with buffalo sauce to the New York State Fair right now, reports GrubStreet, as spotted first(ish) by @AsEatenOnTV on Twitter.
Jumping into frankenfood territory and not looking back, Tim Hortons’ pull-apart yeast doughnut is dunked in Buffalo sauce and sprinkled with crushed chips, with a handful of corn-chip strips in the middle for decoration.
And just like wings, the doughnuts come in mild and hot varieties, with ranch dressing on the side, because if there’s a condiment we Americans love, it’s ranch dressing. Unlike wings, these pastries don’t contain any meat, however. The doughnut goes for $2, not to mention the cost to your soul for having eaten such a thing.
Again, this thing is only at the New York State Fair… at least, for now. But put it between a bun and we could be looking at the future of the Burger King/Tim Hortons marriage. Please don’t do that, though, Canada.
If the closure of Crumbs Bake Shop last month left a cupcake sized hole in your heart, you may be able to fill that void next month as the new company operators prepare to reopen at least seven locations.
The Wall Street Journal reports that a U.S. Bankruptcy Court in New Jersey gave its stamp of approval to a joint venture to acquire Crumbs’ assets in exchange for the cancelation of $6.5 million in debt.
Just a week after Crumbs shuttered its stores in early July, Marcus Lemonis, star of reality TV’s The Profit, and snack-maker Fischer Enterprises announced plans to use the Crumbs name to sell their own non-Crumbs’ retail products – as well as the once-popular cupcakes.
Before anyone can consider the new joint venture the savior of Crumbs, the WSJ reports that court filings show Fischer Enterprises had actually provided a $5 million investment to Crumbs in January, but the out-of-court restructure never took place resulting in Crumbs entering bankruptcy.
Following Tuesday’s court approval, Scott Fischer, COO of Fischer Enterprises, announced that the company will reopen about two dozen Crumbs locations in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston and Washington D.C.
Seven of those locations will reopen next month and the rest in the months following, but don’t expect to find any in your area mall. Under the restructuring plan, all mall locations in the Northeast will remain closed.
The stores will have a decidedly different appearance than those consumers previously visited. Although Crumbs cupcakes will still be prominently displayed, the shops will incorporate other food brands owned by the new investors. A full list of offered treats hasn’t been released, but Fischer Enterprises owns Dippin’ Dots, Doc Popcorn, Mr. Green Tea Ice cream, and Sweet Pete’s Candy, while Lemonis has stake in several other dessert companies.
Crumbs Bake Shop to Reopen Stores After Court Approval [The Wall Street Journal]
This story goes back several years, to a time when the lawyer in question was once heralded as an opponent of copyright trolls — those lawyers and businesses who threaten to sue alleged file-sharers and then make a nice profit when that threat results in a settlement. As TorrentFreak points out, this attorney once referred to trolls as “bill collectors for the movie industry” who were just “extorting money.”
But at some point, he had a change of heart and his firm got into the business of suing alleged pirates. This did not go unnoticed, and in 2011, FightCopyrightTrolls.com posted before/after screenshots of the firm’s website demonstrating this change and referring to the lawyer as a “weretroll.” The site subsequently published other critical articles about this lawyer.
And then last week, the attorney sent a DMCA takedown letter, not to FCT’s editors, or its lawyers, or to its hosting company, but to the site’s domain registrar. The letter states that FCT had posted “my website pictures and inserts defamatory and libelous statements” and demands that the registrar remove the allegedly infringing content from its servers and “immediately notify the infringer of this notice and inform them of their duty to remove the infringing material immediately, and notify them to cease any further posting of infringing material to your server in the future.”
Except the domain registrar doesn’t host anything, so there’s no content that could be removed from its servers. Additionally, the DMCA does not apply to domain registrars, so the lawyer isn’t even dangling his legal sword above the correct head.
The second big goof with the letter is its allegation that FCT’s use of images from the law firm’s website somehow constitutes copyright infringement. He offers no explanation for how these images violate his copyright or whey they would not be considered fair use. The two before/after images shown in the letter are from an article specifically about the lawyer’s shift of opinion and are vital to the core of the news story to which they are attached. These are not trade secrets nor was FCT attempting to use these grabs to trick people into thinking they were the law firm. So it’s hard to see — especially in the absence of any explanation from the lawyer — why the DMCA would require anyone take down this content.
Perhaps the most problematic issue with the letter comes from the lawyer’s argument that “defamatory and libelous statements” should be included in what he considers to be infringing content.
Even if you agree with his claim that the images from his firm’s website violate his copyright, the best a DMCA takedown notice could hope to achieve is to remove those images. The DMCA does not deal with libel or defamatory content, and the Communications Decency Act would give the site’s domain registrar immunity from those statements anyway.
Putting aside for the moment that the supposedly libelous content cited in the letter appears to fail the standard test for defamatory speech, the question of whether or not it is libelous should be a matter for the court to decide; not something to be declared as fact in a poorly written letter to a domain registrar.
Today, Suzuki announced the recall of with fuel lines that are somehow irresistible to spiders. The spiders build webs in the cars’ fuel lines, which lead to negative pressure in the fuel tank and can crack fuel lines, which in turn could lead to fires. Yes, spiders could be trying to set fire to your car, garage, and home.
Affected vehicles are the Suzuki Kizashi, model years 2010 through 2013. What complicates this recall is that Suzuki doesn’t sell cars in the United States anymore, having sold off the last of their inventory in 2013. While Suzuki instructs owners in their letter to take their vehicles to an “authorized service provider,” customers need to call a toll-free number to find out where those service providers are.
Fortunately, the fix is pretty simple: it consists of putting a filter on one of the car’s ventilation lines in order to keep spiders out.
First things first: If you don’t want to see a deceased rodent lying atop a bed of cereal, don’t click on any of the links in the below post. Because when a woman poured her grandson some Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut Corn Flakes and saw a dead mouse fall out, she made sure to take a photo as proof.
While Kellogg’s and the British Tesco store where she purchased the box both say they’re looking into things, it sure as heck looks like a wee dead mouse, reports The Daily Mirror (Again, don’t click if you don’t want to see such a thing).
The woman says she was pouring her grandson a bowl of the cereal, after keeping it stored with the box and inner bag still sealed in her cupboard since she brought it home from the store.
That’s when she noticed something odd among the flakes, before the two-year-old had a chance to take a bite.
“In the morning I poured some into a bowl for him and noticed something black covered in the cornflakes,” she said, adding that she bought the cereal specifically for when he stays over. “I knew something wasn’t right, so I got a spoon and gingerly moved the flakes out of the way. Then I saw the mouse. It was horrible and I felt absolutely sick.”
“Goodness knows how long the mouse was in the box or if it was dead or alive when it went in,” she adds, though there was apparently no damage to the box.
She snapped a pic and has saved both the box and the mouse in the freezer for any investigators who might want to take a peek, and went back to Tesco that day to file a formal complaint. The chain says it’s looking into her claim.
“We set ourselves the highest standards for the quality and safety of the food we sell and were concerned to hear of this,” a company spokesperson said, adding Tesco is “concerned” over the incident. “We would like to thank [the customer] for alerting us and we will work with the supplier to support their investigation.”
Kellogg’s says it’s looking into the mouse matter as well.
“We are carrying out a full investigation to identify if and how this occurred as it hasn’t happened before,” the company said in a statement. “We take food safety extremely seriously and carry out regular quality checks in our factories.”
As for grandma, she says she spoke with Kellogg’s and was offered a replacement box of cereal. For some reason, she’s declined that offer.
If you’re a Time Warner Cable customer, welcome back! The Internet missed you. Many customers nationwide reported an outage this morning, though Time Warner claims that all customers are now back online.
Thanks to this outage, we learned about the very cool site DownDetector, which has heat maps for reported outages. They show concentrated Time Warner Cable outages reported in the Midwest, Texas, North Carolina, New York’s population centers, and New England. That’s to say, pretty much anywhere that there’s Time Warner service.
In theory, this should have nothing whatsoever to do with the company’s proposed merger with Comcast. However, any service hiccup is enough to make customers wonder whether their Internet and cable service provider really ought to merge with another, even bigger company. Combined, they could knock out Internet service to even more of the country.
The company blames backbone issues for the outage: to grossly oversimplify, it means that Time Warner Cable had problems with their connection to the Internet.
At least @TWC_Help was available all morning on Twitter to help frustrated customers.
Services should be restored for all customers; our apologies for the interruption. If you're still having issues, please let us know. ^BP—
TWC Help (@TWC_Help) August 27, 2014
According to Reuters, the GM victim compensation plan has received a total of 309 claims in the first 26-days.
The program, which began accepting claims on August 1 and will continue until December 31, aims to provide relief for the victims and families affected by ignition switch issues that resulted in the recall of 2.6 million vehicles and a number of federal probes related to the company’s 13-year delay in acknowledging the problem.
While the number of claims submitted to the plan already appears high, lawyers representing a number of victims tell Reuters it will continue to grow steadily over the next several months.
Jere Beasley, who represents multiple claim-filers, says that some lawyers and victims may wait to file claims until the first round of compensation has been offered. Officials with GM previously said they expect the first compensation checks to reach consumers in the fall.
The submitted claims will be evaluated by lawyer-in-charge Ken Feinberg and his staff to determine if the ignition switch was in fact responsible for causing the injury or death. If the claim is deemed authentic, Feinberg will calculate the compensation the family or individual can receive.
The compensation plan, which was unveiled in late June, does not put a cap on the payment amount victims could receive. Instead those affected by the faulty switch could receive anywhere from $20,000 to double-digit millions depending a number of factors including loss of wages, severity of injuries and more.
According to the plan’s formula, families of those who died are entitled to at least $1 million, plus the calculation of lifetime earning lost, and $300,000 for a spouse and for each dependent.
Consumers who suffered life-altering injuries could receive even more when the cost of lifetime medical care, lost earnings power and other factors are considered.
The plan also addresses consumers who faced less-severe injuries. Those who were treated at a hospital or an outpatient medical facility within 48 hours of the accident are eligible for a claim.
The formula for that claim is $20,000 for one night in the hospital; $70,000 for two to seven overnights, $170,000 for eight to 15 overnights, with a maximum of $500,000 for 32 or more overnights. Those treated on an outpatient basis could receive a maximum of $20,000.
Additionally, the plan provides for payout for accidents that have yet to occur. The protocol will cover crashes that happen through December 31, 2014.
The compensation program covers approximately 1.6 million model-year 2003-2007 recalled vehicles manufactured with an ignition switch defect and approximately 1 million model year 2008-2011 recalled vehicles that may have been repaired with a recalled ignition switch.
While GM officials are hopeful the compensation program will deter victims from seeking relief through the courts, they say filing a complaint doesn’t necessarily mean consumers forfeit their right to sue.
Feinberg said in June that victims only waive their right to sue if they accept the payment from GM.
The fast-food Mexican chain announced yesterday that it’s released 11 special $1 bills into the wild, bearing winning serial numbers that it will post every day for 11 days. If you have one of those bills, “you could win a lifetime of food from Taco Bell®.*”
Oh yes, there is an asterisk, because while surely going south of the border can be cheap, a lifetime is a long time. So as Taco Bell explains, it’s free food for life if you’re going to eat about $10,000 worth of burritos and chalupas before you shuffle off this mortal coil in approximately half a century. And you pay taxes on your own.
The fine print:
*Prize awarded as $10,000 in Taco Bell® gift cards. Based on average consumption ($216 per year) for 46 years. Dollar Cravings Menu™ at participating locations. Prices and Items may vary. Prices exclude tax.
So could you survive on $216 worth of Taco Bell food every year? Probably not, if you eat only $4 worth of food in a week. But can you spend $10,000 at Taco Bell in 46 years? That’s between you and your stomach, friend. You two set the terms of what you want to do to each other.
The period for leaving a comment about the Comcast/TWC merger with the FCC closed on Monday. Roughly a zillion members of the public — individuals, nonprofits, state and federal politicians, telecom companies, tech trade groups, and consumer advocates — have weighed in, including several big names in pay TV who are staunchly against the deal.
As Comcast is happy to point out, many comments in support of the merger have been filed. As the New York Times predicted back in February, many of those are from municipal and state-level politicians in areas where Comcast has invested heavily in the community, or from small non-profit organizations that Comcast has given grants to.
However, there also plenty of responses not so much in favor. Spot-checking comments from private individuals reveals three big trends: consumers are worried about high prices, poor service, and losing independent niche programming that they love. Many also express fears about a post-merger company’s outsized influence on net neutrality (or, specifically, its absence).
Competitors, meanwhile, are concerned about being squeezed out of the market altogether. Small cable systems feel they won’t be able to afford Comcast/TWC content or to negotiate with contractors and advertising companies that Comcast owns. Internet video providers are concerned about paid peering, connection speeds, and data caps. And consumer advocates are worried about all of the above making the already-dismal state of cable and broadband competition even worse.
Here’s what some of them are saying.CenturyLink
CenturyLink offers DSL and fiber service in several markets where Comcast also operates, making them one of the few direct competitors challenging Comcast for subscribers in many cities.
In their comments, the company explains that the size and influence of a post-merger Comcast would have an adverse effect on their ability to keep doing business effectively. For starters, Comcast would be able to pay less for content than other, smaller providers would have to, CenturyLink says, because Comcast would own not only the NBCUniversal family of networks, but also any programming assets TWC currently has in-house, like regional sports networks.
If the FCC doesn’t reject the merger outright, CenturyLink writes, then they need to impose a whole array of strict merger conditions. Among them: Comcast should divest its advertising representation firms, should be subject to a mandatory peering non-discrimination agreement, and should for at least seven years be required to disclose the terms of its contracts with content companies to other TV providers. CenturyLink also asks that Comcast be held to all terms of the NBCU merger agreement for seven more years.
“CenturyLink’s ability to offer competitive video choices to new customers and in new markets – and to offer a viable product to consumers in its existing markets – depends fundamentally on the existence of a fair (if not level) competitive playing field. This transaction threatens to tilt the playing field decisively against small providers such as CenturyLink in a number of significant ways, and thus to limit or prevent competitive facilities-based entry, much to the detriment of consumers.”Common Cause / Consumers Union
Consumers Union (the advocacy arm of our parent company, Consumer Reports) and Common Cause (the organization where former FCC commissioner Michael Copps now works) jointly filed a petition to deny the merger.
In their petition, the two advocacy groups stress how the merger will make already-sparse competition even worse for consumers. That, in turn, will lead to negative outcomes for subscribers. Prices will go up and customer service will go down, because consumers won’t have alternatives.
The organizations also say that the more control Comcast has over the market, the more they can control what programming gets to air, by price-squeezing out smaller, independent content companies, and the more they can try to squeeze out new online competition, like Netflix.
“Comcast and TWC claim unconvincingly that they already face abundant and growing competition, and that they will continue to. Consumers rightly do not see it that way. Widespread consumer complaints of high prices, poor service, and no choices are unmistakable hallmarks of an absence of meaningful competition. Comcast and TWC already dominate television and broadband service in most key parts of the country, and this merger would only expand and strengthen and solidify that dominance.”COMPTEL
COMPTEL is a communications trade industry group representing nearly 200 phone, wireless, fiber, broadband, and cable organizations (including Cogent, Sprint, and WOW) both large and small.
Because the organization represents so many companies up and down the telecom supply chain, the COMPTEL petition touches on the threats a merged Comcast/TWC would pose to every aspect of competition. They mention consumer-facing issues but mostly focus on business-to-business challenges or ways in which Comcast’s growth could harm competitors. The organizations represented by COMPTEL rely on purchasing wholesale broadband services from Comcast and TWC, as well as on licensing Comcast-owned programming.
The story is the same as the frequent refrain heard elsewhere: the bigger Comcast gets, the more they can exert pricing and contract leverage on third parties that makes it impossible for smaller providers to compete.
“The harms that could result from such an aggregation of control are far more substantial than those threatened by the Comcast/NBCU transaction. The combined company would have even greater incentive and greater ability to raise prices for its popular video programming, greater incentive and ability to hinder the development of rival online video offerings and third-party devices, and greater incentive and ability to inhibit potential competition from online video distributors that compete with its cable television business. Compounding these harms are those that may result from the substantial increase in the number of customers over whose access to the Internet and Internet content Comcast will exercise bottleneck control.”Dish Network
Dish, as a satellite TV company, does compete directly with Comcast for video subscribers. And Dish also has to pay fees to Comcast for every single NBCU network every single Dish subscriber gets.
But Dish has also been experimenting: they’ve begun expanding into over-the-top pay TV service. That means that subscribers can pay Dish to live-stream their cable TV networks over another company’s internet connection. And in many cases, that other company is Comcast or TWC.
Dish’s service is still new, and growing. If Comcast gets to merge with TWC now, the argument goes, that service and other new technologies and innovations like it will never get off the ground because Comcast will be able to squeeze them out from the start.
“High-speed broadband connections are the lifeblood of these new online services, and these connections will only become more important with each passing year. The services provided by DISH and other OTT video providers optimally require a household to have actual and consistent download speeds of at least 25 Megabits per second (“Mbps”). If approved, the combined Comcast/TWC would control 50 percent of the broadband pipes in the United States that have speeds of at least 25 Mbps. Most households will have no alternative to the combined company’s high-speed broadband pipe. … This chokehold over the broadband pipe would stifle future video competition and innovation, all to the detriment of consumers.”Free Press
The FCC’s role in approving or denying the merger is meant to focus on whether or not allowing the two companies to become one is in the public interest, and that’s where Free Press focuses their comment.
Free Press spends much of their petition reviewing the technicalities of internet access. They explain at length why neither wired DSL connections nor wireless satellite/LTE connections are actually relevant broadband competition, and point out that post-merger, Comcast would not only have more than 50% of the truly high-speed broadband market but also that for more than half of those households, there is literally no other option. They also directly challenge Comcast’s assertion that the two companies don’t compete with each other because they don’t overlap geographically, explaining that the market for internet services (like Netflix) is a national one, and giving Comcast more of the national market share is indeed a relevant problem.
Unlike many of the comments from telecom competitors, Free Press doesn’t throw in the towel and ask for merger conditions to remedy these likely harms. Instead, they say outright that there are no conditions that could actually make this merger not terrible in the long run.
“This transaction truly represents the prospect of replacing Ma Bell with Father Cable. This merger would confer on Comcast substantial additional gatekeeper power, to an extent not seen since the time of the nationwide Bell System monopoly. Comcast would control one of two conduits for the transmission of media and communications into the homes of six out of every ten Americans, and for three out of every 10 it would be the only option for advanced broadband. [Comcast and TWC] would like the Commission to ignore the likely consequences of one company possessing this level of control over our nation’s essential communications infrastructure. The Commission simply cannot do that.”Netflix
Netflix has been very open with their public, repeated, and vocal criticism of Comcast all year, and at a meaty 256 pages their formal petition to deny the merger is no exception.
Netflix is an “edge provider” that relies on other companies to provide the internet access that makes their business work. Comcast has, Netflix says, already interfered with that on multiple fronts. One is peering and interconnection, where Comcast infamously allowed Netflix traffic to bottleneck — degrading subscribers’ experiences — until Netflix agreed to pay up.
The other major aspect is consumer-facing, with data caps and streaming restrictions. Comcast’s “data thresholds” will apply nationwide in a few years, company executives have said, and post-merger that would include all current TWC subscribers. There’s only so much streaming video you can cram into that threshold, especially as ultra high-def 4K video becomes more common. Netflix users can soar into the limits easily — but Comcast’s own on-demand offerings don’t count as data use. That discourages consumers from using services like Netflix, lest they get charged out the wazoo.
“The ability of providers like Netflix to innovate, grow, and offer consumers new and exciting ways to enjoy online content depends on their ability to access high-speed broadband capable of distributing rich media and interactive content. … [Comcast and TWC] claim that the Transaction would be a net positive for edge providers, but the cold, hard economic facts and Comcast’s past behavior prove otherwise. … Post-transaction, the combined entity’s unparalleled number of subscribers … would give it significantly greater and unrivaled power to harm edge providers, and the consumers of those edge providers. … While this threat remains, the proposed merger cannot be justified.”Public Knowledge / Open Technology Institute
Public Knowledge and the Open Technology Institute, like Common Cause and Consumers Union, jointly filed their petition to deny the merger.
Letting Comcast and TWC merge, the organizations explain, would basically hand them gatekeeper control over the entire next generation of internet, programming, and video services. Competition for cable is suddenly available, thanks to over-the-top services from companies like Netflix and Dish, but if Comcast gets to control half the internet connections in the country, they can stifle innovation and competition wherever they find it.
The real danger, Public Knowledge and OTI say, is that a post-merger Comcast will be able to exert control at every level of the chain: over the cable wires, over the content they own, over the providers of other content, and over the internet tubes themselves. Giving them such a high percentage of the nationwide market share would increase their ability and incentive to clamp down on every potential competitor and supplier.
“Some of the largest technology companies — for example, Apple, Intel, and Amazon — have been trying to launch online video services that more directly compete with cable for some time. Thus far, they’ve hit insurmountable obstacles. No matter how much money, technology, and talent a company has, it can’t sell a video product if programmers won’t sell to them, and programmers won’t sell to them if their current largest customers won’t let them. Large cable companies are using their power over content, over the broadband pipe, and over the viewer’s TV screen to make sure that any new services that viewers start using are ones they control.”RCN
RCN is a small cable TV and internet service provider, operating in small pockets around Chicago, parts of New York City, parts of metro Boston, parts of Pennsylvania, and metro Washington DC. They are already squeezed out by Comcast or by TWC in most of those areas.
The theme of RCN’s petition is that the merger “poses substantial risk” that Comcast will be able to use its power up and down the chain to harm competition. They highlight four key areas: the sheer market share a post-merger Comcast would have in television, the scope and scale of influence Comcast would have over the broadband internet market, the control Comcast and TWC have over the spot advertising market, and the way that Comcast can use exclusive contracts to lock RCN and other providers out of working with installation, construction, and collections contractors in various regions.
RCN also points out that if the current competition is allowed to fail, which is more likely if Comcast and TWC get to merge, starting a new competitor is basically impossible. If that happens, the market — and consumers — are up the metaphorical creek.
“With its monopsony power in programming acquisition unchecked, the combined company would have a natural incentive to … engage in predatory conduct. … Once competition has been eliminated or neutralized, the combined company is then free to raise prices without fear of losing subscribers to competitors. The continued existence of smaller providers is the only thing that forces dominant providers such as Comcast and TWC to charge below-monopoly prices, and this is in the public interest. Because cable and broadband delivery involve huge sunk costs, if other small providers are driven out of the market, others cannot and will not enter to replace them.”
“The shirt bears a large six-pointed star on the upper-left section, in the exact place where Nazis forced Jews to wear the Star of David,” wrote Israeli newspaper Haaretz, adding that the shirt is “hauntingly reminiscent of a darker era.”
The newspaper ran a photo of Auschwitz prisoners wearing green-and-white vertically striped jackets, bearing the yellow star with the German word “Jude” for Jew in on its sleeve in comparison.
Others joined in to decry the shirt on Twitter, among them, many questioning what in the heck Zara was thinking.
The European retailer says it’s pulled the shirt from its stores, and has issued apologies to those shoppers who might have been offended by it, reports The Guardian:
“The item in question has now been removed from all Zara stores and Zara.com. The garment was inspired by the classic Western films, but we now recognise that the design could be seen as insensitive and apologise sincerely for any offence caused to our customers.”
Zara’s parent company Inditex tells Reuters that the resemblance was unintentional, and that the shirt was for sale online in three countries but not in Israel.
Zara had barely left the hot water it was in from a few days ago, when it reportedly pulled a T-shirt from stores that said “White is the new black.”
This isn’t the first time retailers have found themselves scrambling to apologize over tone-deaf design moves, either. Someday they’ll learn… right?
Keeping Zara company in the halls of Clothing You Shouldn’t Sell:
• H&M Realizes Menacing Skull Emblazoned On A Star Of David Maybe Isn’t Appropriate, Pulls Shirt
• Urban Outfitters Shocks Absolutely No One By Selling, Then Pulling Socks Featuring Hindu Deity
• Urban Outfitters Pulls Shirt That Reminds People Of The Holocaust
• Online Fashion Retailer Apologizes For Holocaust Reference
Striping resemblance: Zara tee looks like Holocaust garb [Haaretz]
Zara removes striped pyjamas with yellow star following online outrage [The Guardian]
Fashion chain Zara withdraws t-shirt likened to concentration camp uniform [Reuters]
If I received an urgent e-mail from Boss Meg telling me to send a $9,000 wire transfer to Consumerist’s fedora vendor, I would know that it was some kind of scam. Paying our bills isn’t part of my job, so clearly that isn’t an e-mail that I would receive. What if that were my job, though? Companies have reported losing an average of $55,000 to a scam exactly like this, wiring money to mysterious entities who forge e-mails from the boss.
Companies do conduct a lot of business by e-mail, which is what makes this scam so scary. A fraudster might also pose as an existing vendor sending in new “account information” that goes somewhere else entirely. The goal of this scam is simple: pretend to be the boss, ask employees to send money as a fake vendor payment or investment. Once the money is sent, it will be almost impossible to recover.
Companies targeted from this scam are generally in North America or the United Kingdom, deal with vendors in other countries, and routinely send out large payments, so the errant payment might even go unnoticed for long enough that it can’t be traced. According to the Internet Crime Complaint Center, the largest fraudulent payment sent was more than $800,000.
There are ways to prevent such things from happening in your workplace: make sure that multiple people have to authorize large transactions. Carefully check return addresses on messages that you receive, and even look at the headers to make sure that the message originated where it was supposed to. Require purchase orders approved by a manager for all big expenditures. Also, be wary of any transaction that you’re told is absolutely urgent, or that needs to be kept secret from other people in the organization.