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The Consumerist

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

Wed, 2014-09-17 14:56

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

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

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

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

Sadly, he may be right.

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

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

Proposed Law Would Ban Penalties For Negative Online Reviews

Wed, 2014-09-17 14:15

Before the site went down for prolonged "maintenance" Accessory Outlet included a clause in its Terms of Sale that charged a $250 penalty to complaining customers.

Before the site went down for prolonged “maintenance,” Accessory Outlet included a clause in its Terms of Sale that charged a $250 penalty to complaining customers.

Days after California Governor Jerry Brown signed a new state law outlawing the practice of using non-disparagement clauses to penalize consumers who complain about business transactions, a few members of the U.S. House of Representatives have introduced a similar piece of legislation that would ban this questionable practice in all states.

The Consumer Review Freedom Act [PDF] was introduced this week by Reps. Eric Swalwell and Brad Sherman, both from California. It seeks to “prohibit contracts that prohibit consumers from making certain public comments on businesses.”

The bill covers clauses in contracts or terms of sale that restrict a “person’s written, verbal, or pictorial review, performance assessment of, or other similar analysis of, the products, services, or conduct of a business.”

“No country that values free speech would allow customers to be penalized for writing an honest review,” said Swalwell in a statement on Tuesday. “I introduced this legislation to put a stop to this egregious behavior so people can share honest reviews without fear of litigation.”

The proposed legislation and the California bill are a response to recent incidents in which online retailers have tried to levy fines against customers for violating non-disparagement clauses.

A KlearGear.com customer was recently awarded $306,000 in damages because the online retailer attempted to hit her with a $3,500 fine for allegedly violating the site’s non-disparagement clause, which the customer says she never agreed to, and which was not in the terms of sale linked from the site’s checkout page, but on a separate page on KlearGear.com.

That company appears to have removed the clause from the website.

Last month, an unsatisfied customer of incredibly sketchy e-tailer Accessory Outlet (which also operated under several other names) sued because she was told she had to pay $250 for merely threatening to issue a chargeback through her credit card company. In the case of this seller, customers did not even have to acknowledge that they had read and agreed to the terms of sale.

That site went “down for maintenance” on 8/29 and, as of this morning, has still not re-opened.

KFC Workers Attacked By Cake-Wielding Maniac

Wed, 2014-09-17 13:33

(Morton Fox)

(Morton Fox)

Angry fast food customers are choosing to go after employees at Yum! Brands restaurant chains with some bizarre weapons. First there was the Taco Bell worker who took a hot sauce-laced soda to the face and now comes a report of a KFC that had to call the police on a cake-thrower.

More precisely, according to the Seattle Times, the alleged assailant employed the restaurant chain’s own lemon cake against store employees.

The Seattle PD report that a dispatcher alerted officers that an “Unknown male was throwing cake at employees,” and more importantly, that the KFC “can no longer sell the cake.”

(Side note: Who knew that KFC had lemon cake?)

The incident happened over the weekend, when workers at the store say a man entered the restaurant and began tossing the cake around.

We couldn’t find a picture of the cake in question on the KFC website, but thankfully, the officer who responded to this call got the relevant details.

“The cake was described as a lemon cake, yellow in color and circular and costs exactly $5.19,” reads the police report.

At least now we know what the cake looks like, in case we run into it in a dark alley late at night.

Inside sources at KFC tell Consumerist that the cake is 300 calories per 85g serving, with 120 of those calories coming from fat.

Sears Borrows $400 Million From Its CEO, No Conflict Of Interest Here

Wed, 2014-09-17 00:30

(Great Beyond)

(Great Beyond)

Sears Holdings Company keeps losing money, and they need to borrow some cash. What do you do when you have trouble getting a loan and really can’t afford to pay a lot of interest on the money you desperately need? You ask your parents. In the case of Sears, its dad is Eddie Lampert, the company’s manifesto-writing chairman, CEO, and biggest investor.

This information comes from a form 8-K, which companies file with the Securities and Exchange Commission when they have news to share that may be of interest to investors or potential investors. In this filing, Sears shared the news that it is borrowing $400 million from “entities affiliated with ESL Investments, Inc.” for “general corporate purposes.” ESL Investments is a hedge fund that’s entirely owned by a prosperous fellow named Edward S. Lampert. That name sounds familiar.

What has the company put up as collateral that the lender can foreclose on if Sears Holdings doesn’t pay the loan back? “Properties,” by which they probably mean real estate, though the information that the company has made public doesn’t specify which properties. Sears Holdings has a vast portfolio of closed stores sitting around, after all.

The loan can be extended until February 2015 at the very longest. Sears, as you may recall, has lost $1 billion so far this year.

Sears Borrows $400 Million From Lampert’s ESL Investments [Bloomberg]

Germany Un-Bans UberPop, Ride-Sharing Rolls On

Tue, 2014-09-16 23:29

uberblindUber is a smartphone app that connects people in need of a ride with drivers willing to accept money in exchange for rides. Or it’s a fancied-up taxi dispatch service that’s out to destroy the world’s livery services. What it is depends on who you ask. Germany’s taxi drivers asked the Frankfurt Regional Court, which this week allowed Uber to do business in Germany again.

One of the weird side effects of that temporary injunction is that all of the publicity was great for Uber. Signups and app downloads more than tripled. Like most other areas that the ride-sharing services like UberX/UberPop, Lyft, and Sidecar have expanded to that already had well-established taxi services, cab drivers in Germany say that Uber is out to put them out of business.

However, a judge doesn’t agree that the service needs to be shut down while the case makes it way through the country’s legal system, and overturned the ban earlier today. Is the ride-sharing service “unfair competition,” as the cabbies allege, and thus illegal? Maybe, but expediting the case through the courts and rushing to shut down UberPop wasn’t appropriate.

German court lifts temporary injunction against car service Uber [Deutsche Welle] (via Pando)

Pizza Shop Worker Admits It Was “Stupid” To Rub His Junk On Customer’s Pie

Tue, 2014-09-16 22:54

(Coyoty)

(Coyoty)

Today in Awful Things I’d Rather Not Know Happened But Well, Here We Are: A customer at a take-and-bake pizza shop has accused an 18-year-old worker of rubbing his downstairs bits on the pie as he got his order ready. The reason? He was allegedly annoyed at having to take the order right before the store closed for the night.

According to the Smoking Gun, the customer told police he witnessed the worker “rubbing his testicles on the pizza he had ordered,” while he was preparing the large stuffed pizza with Canadian bacon, pineapple, extra cheese and extra grossness.

The customer says the teen replied when he was caught, saying, “Man, I am really sorry, that was stupid.”

After he asked how old the worker was, the customer responded, “So you are old enough to know better than to put your balls on someone’s pizza,” with the worker allegedly affirming that yes, at 18, he is old enough to know better.

The store manager had a talk with him, where the teen reportedly admitted to doing the naughty dance on the pizza because the order was so late. And if the customer hadn’t seen him? The teen said he “probably” would have given the guy the pizza.

“That’s the terrible part,” the worker explained, in case you didn’t know that smushing your genitals on food is terrible.

He’s been charged with tampering with a consumer product, a second-degree felony, and has been fired from his job.

Previously in similar grossness: Subway Employee Admits To Touching Bread With Penis, Says Photo Was Taken At Home; Here’s A Photo That May Change Your Mind About Having Taco Bell For Lunch Today

Cops: Teenager Rubbed His Junk On Patron’s Pizza [The Smoking Gun]

Report Finds NHTSA Failed To Detect GM Ignition Switch Issue For Seven Years Despite Ample Information

Tue, 2014-09-16 22:48

(LouisAbate)

(LouisAbate)

By definition, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is tasked with preventing crashes and achieving the highest standards of excellence in motor vehicle and highway safety. Yet, according to a new House committee report, the agency failed for years to identify a safety issue in General Motors vehicles that eventually lead to 19 deaths, if not more.

A House Energy & Commerce Committee report [PDF] released Tuesday criticizes NHTSA for its failure and missed opportunities in analyzing and responding to data and information provided to the agency that detected the deadly ignition switch defect in millions of General Motors vehicles.

According to the report, NHTSA had ample information to identify a potential safety defect in GM cars as early as 2007. Included in that information was a state trooper report linking airbags and the ignition switch as well as three independent investigations commissioned by the agency involving the non-deployment of frontal airbags in the Cobalt model.

The committee’s investigation into the agency and GM began shortly after the car manufacturer first recalled millions of Chevrolet Cobalts for an ignition switch that could be inadvertently jostled out of position while the vehicle is being driven, potentially disabling the air bags.

Although the report noted that GM deserved much of the blame for the decade-long recall delay, regulators shouldn’t be held without responsibility.

“NHSTA too suffered from a lack of accountability, poor information sharing, and a fundamental misunderstanding of the vehicles, all of which contributed to the failure to identify and fix this deadly defect,” Rep. Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania and chairman of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee said.

Similarly to GM, which had knowledge of issues as early as 2001, NHTSA had information regarding a problem nearly seven years ago but did not initiate an investigation.

Two Divisions of the Office of Defects Investigations (ODI) identified a potential defect related to the non-deployment of frontal air bags in the Cobalt and Ion through information reported by GM under the TREAD Act as well as consumer complaints and other information received by NHTSA. In addition, the agency received multiple reports — including a police report and agency-commissioned crash investigations — suggesting a link between a low torque ignition switch and air bag non-deployment. Despite numerous sources of information, when the agency considered a proposal to open an investigation into the non-deployment of frontal air bags in the Cobalt and Ion in 2007, investigators relied on a generalized trend analysis of consumer complaints to assess the potential for a defect. The number of consumer complaints related to the Cobalt and Ion did not stand out from peer vehicles, therefore the agency did not pursue an investigation.

In some instances, the committee found that NHTSA regulators actually ignored information that could have potentially identified the issue had they understood vehicle airbag systems or monitored similarities between reports.

“The agency’s repeated failure to identify, let alone explore, the potential defect theory related to the ignition switch — even after it was spelled out in a report the agency commissioned — is inexcusable. This was compounded by NHTSA staff’s lack of knowledge and awareness regarding the evolution of vehicle safety systems they regulate.”

The committee found that NHTSA failed to investigate or probe documents that linked airbags to ignition switch failures, including on from a state trooper’s report, because the agency focused instead on “outdated perceptions of how air bag systems functioned.”

“For a decade, ODI investigators evaluated air bag concerns based on their knowledge of first generation air bag systems,” the report continued. “They assumed that advanced air bag systems, like their predecessors, operated from an independent energy reserve and were completely unaware of the relationship between power mode and air bag systems. Only after the GM recall, in February 2014, did ODI investigators realize the chasm in their understanding of air bag technology.”

Additionally, no one at the agency was found to have tracked any similarities between the trooper’s report and those commissioned by NHTSA involving non-deployment of frontal airbags in the Cobalt.

“None of the investigators interviewed by the Committee recalled any discussion of the vehicle power mode status in a 2005 report even after a 2007 report suggested a possible link between power mode status and air bag deployment. Further, when the 2007 report was updated to reference a potential link to a low torque ignition switch and included the GM Technical Service Bulletin, no one at the agency recalls revisiting the first crash investigation.

In fact, key investigators told the Committee they were unaware of this potential link or the Technical Service Bulletin until after the GM recall in 2014. Similarly, few if any NHTSA employees recall reviewing the third crash investigation report, let alone comparing it to previous crash investigations.”

Members of the House committee recommend that NHTSA investigators become better informed on the technology it regulates and coordinate the data it receives from consumers and manufacturers, so as to better detect safety issues.

“NHTSA exists not just to process what the company finds, but to dig deeper. They failed,” Rep. Fred Upton, of Michigan, and Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman says. “We’ll keep looking for answers, and keep working toward solutions – whether it means changing our laws or pressing for change at the companies that follow them and the agencies that enforce them – but we know for sure that NHTSA was part of the problem and is going to have to be part of the solution.”

Committee Report Details NHTSA Failures in GM Ignition Switch Recall [House Energy and Commerce Committee]

Bud Light Doesn’t Want To Be The Official Beer Of Domestic Violence

Tue, 2014-09-16 22:12
(perfectly_cromulent)

(perfectly_cromulent)

As the company behind Bud Light, the official beer of the National Football League, Anheuser-Busch In Bev has some major pull in professional football. Which is why the company has some strong words for the NFL over recent reports of domestic violence off the field and how the league has handled these situations. Not well at all, basically.

The company also sponsors roughly 88% of the NFL teams, reports CNBC, making it the second-largest sponsor in the league. As such, it’s speaking out over the fact that the NFL is in the news more often these days for domestic violence than it is for football. And that’s not okay:

We are disappointed and increasingly concerned by the recent incidents that have overshadowed this NFL season. We are not yet satisfied with the league’s handling of behaviors that so clearly go against our own company culture and moral code. We have shared our concerns and expectations with the league.

The message here likely being — “Shape up or you wave that Bud Light sponsorship good-bye.”

While not specifically citing these “behaviors,” TMZ recently released a video showing Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice striking his then-fiancee in the head and knocking her out in an elevator at an Atlantic City casino last year. He had previously been suspended for two games, but the NFL suspended him indefinitely and the Ravens cut him from the roster after the video surfaced. The incident happened in February of last year, with charges against Rice for aggravated assault. He worked out a plea deal that included probation and counseling.

The NFL claimed it hadn’t seen the video until recently, but the Associated Press claims it heard a recording of a NFL employee confirming that the league had received the video.

Meanwhile, Minnesota Viking running back Adrian Peterson is facing felony charges in Texas for accusations of child abuse against one of his sons, with news outlets reporting today of a previous alleged incident involving another child.

Previously: Baltimore Ravens Offer To Let Fans Exchange Ray Rice Jerseys

Anheuser-Busch says ‘not yet satisfied’ with the way NFL has handled recent incidents [CNBC]

City In China Introduces Slow Lane For Texting Pedestrians

Tue, 2014-09-16 21:26

(afagen)

(afagen)

As annoying as it is to walk behind someone blindly stumbling forward while texting on their mobile device, the very idea of a slow lane designated just for that bumbling purpose might very well be even more annoying. But that’s kind of the point of a new texting lane one city in China introduced recently.

Upon hearing the news that the city of Chongqing split a pedestrian path in two — for normal walkers who aren’t on the phone and another for those who feel the need to text while strolling “at their own risk” while strolling — one might think that’s just playing right into those careless walkers’ game. Heck, might as well give them a corral to mill around in if they need to be moving and texting.

That’s the message, says the property manager for the company that covers the area in the entertainment zone where the split sidewalk has been installed. It’s where tourists go, see, so the whole thing is meant to be ironic and drive home the point that texting while walking is unsafe.

“There are lots of elderly people and children in our street, and walking with your cellphone may cause unnecessary collisions here,” she explained to the Associated Press.

She got the idea from a similar installation in Washington D.C., sponsored by National Geographic Television this past summer as part of an experiment meant to call to attention to that kind of bad behavior.

Instead of using the lanes for their expressed purposes, however, the manager says people are stopping to take pictures of the novel arrangement… which just ends up creating more congestion. And the people targeted by the texting lane? They’re too busy looking down at their phones to know it exists.

City creates sidewalk lane for texting [Associated Press]

Pizza Hut Australia Is Not Handing Out Free Hamsters With Purchase

Tue, 2014-09-16 21:18

(Technifiber)

(Technifiber)

Pets aren’t prizes. That’s why goldfish games have been disappearing from carnival midways, and why people around the world were horrified when they saw that a Pizza Hut restaurant in Australia was offering a free small pet with the purchase of ten pizzas. The in-store placard featured a photo of a guinea pig, and it was not an appetizer. Pizza Hut says this was all a huge misunderstanding.

Here’s the photo that went viral, and was purportedly on display at a Hut near Melbourne:

pizzahut

The sign shows an adorable guinea pig and bears the message, “Buy any 10 large pizzas and get one free small animal from Pets Story.” That’s a local pet store. People who are concerned about the well-being of animals found this idea horrifying. An unprepared pet owner would lack a cage, food, bedding, and most everything else that a small animal would need. Savvy consumers might realize that this could be a ploy to sell pet supplies while giving away animals, but this promotion still had the potential to go terribly wrong. For the animals.

Pizza Hut withdrew the promotion and apologized, sending this statement out through Facebook:

It has come to our attention that one of our stores have recently been running a promotion which was not approved by Pizza Hut Australia, nor was condoned in any circumstances. We would like to sincerely apologise to anyone who was offended by this.

“The poster has since been taken down and all those involved have been made aware of the severity and inappropriateness of the promotion. We would like to thank Oscar’s Law and all those who have brought this to our attention this evening

The company later explained that the poster left off a key word: “KIT.” Free small animal kit. You know, like an all-in-one fishtank or a guinea pig cage. A representative for the pet store explained to the Daily Mail what went wrong with this promotion: a terrible proofreading error.

It was supposed to say small animal kit which meant anyone over 18 spending a certain amount at Pizza Hut could have come into us and got a free kit [for] their small animal. It was things like a bird set, a fish tank or a hamster cage. We don’t sell cats or dogs, there is no way we would give away free animals, we only have four rabbits in our whole entire store.

In the end, it didn’t matter, since there were no pets or kits given away before this promotion exploded.

Pizza Hut withdraws offer of free animals with pizza purchase [The Age]

Spirit Airlines Thinks Blinding Yellow Is The Perfect Color For New Planes

Tue, 2014-09-16 21:13
Courtesy of Spirit Airlines

(Spirit Airlines)

While most of us eye our closets deciding which pieces will transition best into the new fall-like weather falling over the nation, Spirit Airlines appears to have been a few steps ahead of us.

The airline, which is often in the headlines for all the wrong reasons, unveiled a new (slightly obnoxious) look that includes a bright yellow motif, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Officials with Spirit say the planes will act as a “flying billboard” and provide free publicity for the airline known for low prices and a slew of add-on fees.

“It’s radically different from other airlines,” Ben Baldanza, Spirit’s outspoken CEO says. “When you see this plane in the air—or on the ground—there will be no question that this is a Spirit plane.”

The new look, which includes black type and the company’s slogan “Bare Fares,” replaces a more traditional white and blue composition.

Spirit expects to have six planes painted in the new styling by the end of the year. Aircraft on order will be shipped with the new livery, while existing aircraft will be rebranded during regularly scheduled maintenance – a process that could take two to three years.

The airline is the third in the last week to unveil new livery. Southwest Airlines recently made over its airplanes with a brighter blue color and striped tail in yellow, blue and red. The airline also unveiled a new heart-shaped logo.

Frontier Airlines modified its airplane paint and enlarged the images of animals that appear on the aircrafts’ tails.

Spirit Gives Its Planes a New Paint Job [The Wall Street Journal]

Clear Channel Announces At Slumber Party That Everyone Has To Call It iHeartMedia Now

Tue, 2014-09-16 20:23

iheartmedianew2When I was 11, I scrawled “Maribeth” with a star over the “i” over anything I could get my hands on, homework and diary alike, and told all my friends that they had to write my name that way from now on. That lasted about a month. And now that Clear Channel has everyone’s attention at this sleepover, it’d like you all to know that its new name is iHeartMedia, okay? Who knows how long this will last.

Because the kids these days love anything with a lowercase letter in front of it and saying “heart” instead of “love,” or so it would seem the radio company formerly known as Clear Channel thinks, iHeartMedia will soon be scrawled across all those company notebook covers and backpacks.

The name comes from its online radio network, iHeartRadio, notes CNNMoney, and appears to be a further attempt to go with the digital flow in the industry. Clear Channel dumped “radio” from its name in 2012, and says the new change is to stress that multi-platform listening.

“iHeartMedia reflects our commitment to being the media company that provides the most entertainment to the most engaged audiences wherever they go,” Bob Pittman, the company’s chief executive, said in a press release, without revealing who he thinks Kevin has a crush on.

Clear Channel changes name to iHeartMedia [CNNMoney]

PayPal Takes Out NY Times Ad To Taunt Apple Over Security Issues

Tue, 2014-09-16 20:05

applepayIf you ran a large and prosperous online payments company, you might feel threatened by Apple’s announcement that they’ will start their own mobile payments service, called Apple Pay. Not PayPal, though. Nope. Paypal isn’t scared. In fact, PayPal has started taunting Apple over security issues, mocking the company over the recent public dump of nude celebrity self-portraits that had been stolen and circulated online.

It is rather odd that two Internet companies are taking out ads in a newspaper, but makes sense when you think about it: nobody looks at online banner ads.

Here’s the full-page color ad, originally put online by PandoDaily:

paypal-e28093-we-the-people-ad

Of course, Apple wants users to know that its systems weren’t breached during the global selfie crisis: baddies gained access to photos never meant for the public through social engineering, most likely guessing at answers to password reset questions such as the account holder’s birthday or the name of the elementary school they attended. (See, there’s a good reason for entertainers to lie about their ages.) Keeping accounts secure is important, but at the same time no online service wants to be so secure that it’s onerous for users to log in. Eventually, they’ll stop bothering.

PayPal surely won’t be the first competitor to mock Apple. Congress wants to learn more about how the attacks happened, and Apple CEO Tim Cook has promised that the company will put more safeguards in place to keep strangers from changing your password behind your back.

No online service will ever be immune to human greed or human stupidity. Baddies try to get PayPal customers’ data all of the time.

“We the people want our money safer than our selfies.” PayPal goes after Apple in a full page NYT ad [PandoDaily]

Walmart Settles Allegations It Charged New Yorkers Too Much For Coca-Cola Products

Tue, 2014-09-16 19:53

(genebob)

(genebob)

Overcharging customers $0.50 might not seem like a huge deal, but when the lower price was circulated in an advertisement, well, that constitutes false advertising. Such was the case for Walmart stores in New York recently.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced today that the retail giant agreed to pay $66,000 in penalties to settle charges that it falsely advertised the price of Coca-Cola products during a Father’s Day sale earlier this year.

According to the AG’s office, the 117 Walmart stores in New York routinely charged consumers $3.50 for 12-packs of Coca-Cola products that were advertised in a national circular for $3.

In one instance when a customer brought the error to the attention of staff, he was allegedly told that the newspaper circular was a national ad and that it did not apply in New York.

Other customers reported that when they complained about the price discrepancy Walmart staff falsely told them that New York has a “Sugar Tax.”

The AG’s investigation found that the markup of over 16% above the advertised price is a violation of New York State’s General Business Law.

It was also determined that cash registers were programmed to not recognize the advertised sale price. On June 12, 2014, the Attorney General’s Office requested that Walmart immediately adjust prices to the amount advertised. Walmart took corrective action after it was approached by the Attorney General’s office.

Walmart was found to have run a similar sale in March that also resulted in the company failing to honor the advertised price for Coca-Cola in New York.

In all, the AG’s office found Walmart sold New Yorkers 66,000 12-packs of Coca-Cola at incorrect prices.

Under the settlement, Walmart will pay over $66,000 in penalties to cover the costs, to improve its internal reporting to more quickly act on information it receives about overcharges.

A.G. Schneiderman Announces False Advertising Settlement With Wal-Mart [New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's Office]

Michigan Funeral Home Installs Drive-Thru Viewing Window

Tue, 2014-09-16 19:20

(frankieleon)

(frankieleon)

The convenience of a drive-thru window is obvious, but one usually thinks of banks or fast food chains that use them for the ease of customers on the go. And not, as one funeral home is doing in Michigan, a drive-thru viewing window for visiting the deceased. But then again, why not?

The home’s president tells MLive.com that he’s had the idea for years, and decided to finally go through with it after an elderly woman couldn’t make it inside the chapel last year to attend her husband’s services.

“She would’ve got a chance to see him if we had this, so I knew we had to move forward,” he explained.

And on the other hand, not everyone wants to go to funeral home services at all.

“Considering the elderly generation that we service, so many people are afraid of funeral homes. So why not be able to do it from your car?” he added.

The window has curtains that remain shut when the visitation inside is going on, and only open at times when a vehicle pulls up beside it.

When that happens, the curtains come apart, music plays, and a guest book pops out on a shelf for visitors to record their names for the family. After three minutes, the curtains close again.

Families can choose whether or not to have the drive-thru option available — as one obvious down side could be members of the generally gawking public coming by generally gawk, or potentially, commit acts of vandalism.

The home is holding an open house this Sunday to acquaint people with the new drive-thru service.

Last respects lane: Saginaw funeral home offers drive-thru viewing [MLive.com]

Feds Sues Corinthian Colleges For Pushing More Than $560M In Predatory Loans On Students

Tue, 2014-09-16 18:55

everestgrab

Tens of thousands of students were duped by Corinthian Colleges Inc. into taking out costly predatory, and often financially devastating, private student loans to finance their post-secondary education, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau alleges in a recently filed lawsuit against the large for-profit education company.

An investigation by the CFPB found that since July 2011 Corinthian has lured tens of thousands of students at Heald College, Everest University and WyoTech to take out private student loans to cover expensive tuition costs by advertising bogus job prospects and career services.

The CFPB alleges in a lawsuit [PDF] that Corinthian then used illegal debt collection tactics to harass students into paying back those loans while still in school.

To protect current and past students of the Corinthian schools, the Bureau is seeking to halt these practices and is requesting the court to grant relief to the students who collectively have taken out more than $569 million in school issued private student loans known as Genesis Loans.

The CFPB seeks full redress of all private student loans made since July 21, 2011, including those that have been paid off.

“For too many students, Corinthian has turned the American dream of higher education into an ongoing nightmare of debt and despair,” CFPB Director Richard Corday said during a press call Tuesday.

According to the complaint, CCI advertised their education as a gateway to good jobs and better careers for students coming from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, of which many are the first members of their families to attend college.

To entice these students, CCI schools used sham job placement rates to lead students to think that when they graduated they were likely to land good jobs and sufficient salaries to repay their private student loans.

However, the CFPB found that CCI inflated these rates by creating fictitious employers and reporting students as being placed at those fake employers. Additionally, the company allegedly counted a “career” as a job that merely lasted one day, with the promise of a second day.

Other inflation tactics included the company paying employers to temporarily hire graduates long enough for them to be counted as a career.

And finally, as reported to Consumerist by former CCI students, the company’s career services were often difficult to get in touch with and available job postings were cultivated from websites like Craigslist.

Once students were tempted by the promise of long-lasting careers with CCI degrees, they were pressured to take out costly and predatory private loans, known as Genesis Loans, issued by the company.

Tuition and fees for some Corinthian programs were more than five times the cost of similar programs at public colleges. In 2013, the Corinthian tuition and fees for an associate’s degree was $33,000 to $43,000. The tuition and fees for a bachelor’s degree at Corinthian cost $60,000 to $75,000.

According to the CFPB complaint, the school deliberately inflated tuition prices to be higher than federal loan limits so that students would be forced to rely on additional sources of funding.

The CFPB alleges that Corinthian sold its students predatory loans that typically had substantially higher interest rates than federal loans. In July 2011, the Genesis loan interest rate was about 15 percent with an origination fee of 6 percent. Meanwhile, the interest rate for federal student loans during that time was about 3 percent to 7 percent, with low or no origination fees.

Additionally, the investigation found that the company continued to push the loans even with the knowledge that most students would ultimately default.

In fact, the CFPB reports, more than 60 percent of Corinthian school students defaulted on their loans within three years, Yet, Everest, Heald, and WyoTech officials did not disclose these high default rates to prospective students taking out Genesis Loans.

Another issue with the Genesis loan program is the requirement for students to make monthly loan payments while attending school.

For most other federal and private student loans, students aren’t required to make repayment until after they have graduated from the institution.

By making students repay their loans while attending classes, CCI was allegedly able to take advantage of their position of power to engage in aggressive debt collection tactics – and that staff received bonuses for successfully collecting payments from students.

The CFPB’s investigation found that efforts to collect payments included shaming students by pulling them out of class. In one case, a financial aid staff member was known as the “Grim Reaper” because the worker routinely pulled students out of class to collect debts.

Everest, Heald and WyoTech also required students to meet with campus presidents to discuss the seriousness of the overdue loans.

When students were unable to repay their debt, CCI would block their access to school computer labs and other recourses, putting their education in jeopardy.

And as a last-ditch effort to collect from graduating students, CCI would threaten students that they could not participate in graduation or that their certificate would be withheld until they were current on their Genesis loans.

In many cases, the CFPB found that financial aid staff threatened that if students did not become current on their loans, they could not graduate or start their externships. Some former students stated that Corinthian schools continue to withhold their certificates because they are unable to make payments on their Genesis loans.

With its action on Tuesday, the CFPB seeks to provide compensation for the tens of thousands of students who took out Genesis loans at CCI-operated schools. The Bureau estimates that from July 2011 to March 2014, students took out approximately 130,000 private student loans to pay for mutation and fees at Everest, Heald and WyoTech colleges, of which the outstanding balance exceeds $596 million.

Students affected by CCI’s allegedly predatory loan program are encouraged by the CFPB to review a special notice regarding today’s enforcement action.

Tuesday’s lawsuit is just the latest in a string of federal and state action taken against fledgling Corinthian Colleges.

Just last month the company announced it was being subpoenaed in a possible criminal investigation.

Earlier this summer, the school reached a deal with the Department of Education to close or sell a number of its campuses. At the time, several current and former students and employees told Consumerist about the misdeeds of the for-profit company.

The company is still under investigation by state and federal entities. The California Attorney General filed a lawsuit against the company in October for its shady dealings.

What Is Alibaba, And Can I Use It To Buy 280 Pairs Of Pants At A Time?

Tue, 2014-09-16 18:16

pantsIf you’re like most Americans, you’ve never heard of Alibaba or Taobao, even though they’re the biggest e-commerce sites in the world. That was the case for Bloomberg’s Sam Grobart, who was curious about the site because of its upcoming initial public stock offering, which experts think will be the biggest ever. So Grobart did what all business reporters do to learn about an unfamiliar company: he hired a factory in Pakistan to make $2,500 worth of hideous pants.

Let’s back up. Unless you’re buying wholesale, checking up on a fishy-looking Kickstarter campaign, or shopping for extremely specific items, you would have no reason to visit any sites owned by Alibaba. The company has different public-facing parts: there’s Taobao, a regular e-commerce site for ordinary shoppers in China. There’s Aliexpress, a global e-commerce site where you can buy, say, a t-shirt with Mickey Mouse giving the finger (here’s the live link, which I predict will not last long) or a 10-pack of earbuds for $1 each because you tend to lose your headphones. Then there’s the main Alibaba site, designed for people who do business wholesale and who buy their pants a pallet at a time. This site has changed manufacturing and wholesale all over the world forever, making it easier for businesses to connect with each other from opposite sides of the world. (For example, I’ve used Alibaba for a few years now to source truly alarming quantities of craft supplies.)

Buying things through Alibaba is like a strange hybrid of making a “wanted” post on Craigslist, shopping on Amazon, and a slow, unwieldy 3-D printer. One way that you can do business is to post a buying request, where you post what you want and companies bid on the work. Grobart did this in order to have neon-colored pants made in a variety of sizes, eventually choosing a company in Pakistan to do the work. He had 280 pair of pants made at $9 each. That’s only $2,520: he soon learned that getting the pants here is the expensive part, and that almost $2,000. That’s common, especially if you’re ordering a relatively small quantity of goods. Yes, 280 pair of pants is small by the standards of Alibaba. If you have enough to fill a pallet and are willing to wait for a ship to arrive and head to the nearest port with your own truck to pick it up, well, that would be cheaper.

That’s about $18 per pair: not bad, considering the relatively small production run and that this whole process took only a month.

For more first-person accounts of what it is Alibaba does and why people want to invest in it, check out this story on NPR’s Planet Money, which uses backyard chickens, tiny drones, and a city full of motor factories in China to explain why you should care about Alibaba.

I Used Alibaba to Make 280 Pairs of Brightly Colored Pants [Bloomberg Businessweek]
Episode 565: The Story Of Alibaba [NPR]

Let’s All Pretend To Be Surprised That The LeSean McCoy $0.20 Tip Receipt Is For Sale

Tue, 2014-09-16 18:07

Dig into those seat cushions, everyone.

Dig into those seat cushions, everyone. (eBay)

It is my sincerest hope that the waiter who received a $0.20 tip on a $61 restaurant tab paid for by NFL running back LeSean McCoy is going to reap at least some financial gain from the sale of the now infamous receipt, which is for sale on eBay at a high bid of about $99,000 as of this writing. Leaving us completely unsurprised, of course, because when a piece of paper makes the news like this, someone’s probably willing to shell out the big bucks to own a moment in tipping history.

While it was the owner of the Philly PYT restaurant, and not the server, who admitted he’d posted the receipt on social media — and defended his decision to do so — the New York Daily News says the user who listed it on eBay is a friend of the owner.

He says he’s selling it “to ensure something positive comes out of this somewhat negative action that has recently taken place.”

“With your help we’ll be able to leave the largest tip possible to all PYT employees for their hard work and dedication.”

It’s still got three days to go in the auction, with a current bid of $99,900 (plus shipping).

Both sides claim to be in the right in the situation — McCoy told media he always tips… when the service is good.

“I tip on my service,” the Eagles player said. “There’s a difference between good service and bad service and just having a bad day. There’s a big difference between just being rude and disrespectful. That’s how that went.”

But the owner says the service was “impeccable,” which is why he posted the lowly tip on social media.

“I decided to take action after some serious thought,” he explained on Facebook. “And while I’d like to apologize to Mr McCoy, I cannot in good conscience do so. I stand by my actions one hundred percent.”

LeSean McCoy’s 20-cent tip receipt selling for thousands of dollars on eBay [New York Daily News]

UPS Plans To Hire 95,000 Workers To Help Keep Holiday Deliveries On Time This Year

Tue, 2014-09-16 17:51

(So Cal Metro)

(So Cal Metro)

It’s hard to believe that the 2014 holiday season is less than 100 days away. That might seem like plenty of time before you need to start purchasing gifts and sending them to your loved ones, but for United Parcel Service nothing seems too early when you’re trying to save face after a disastrous 2013 shipping season.

According to Fortune, UPS, looking to avoid being overwhelmed by package deliveries, plans to nearly double the number of holiday workers it hires this year.

For the upcoming holiday season UPS estimates it will hire between 90,000 and 95,000 additional workers; that’s about 40,000 more than it hired last year. The part-time seasonal employees will work between October and January.

In addition to a bulked up workforce, UPS recently implemented the use of industry-wide delivery volume forecasts and will increase its processing capacity by opening new and expanding buildings along with installation of temporary mobile storing and delivery centers.

Joining the new workers is a slew of new or leased delivery vehicles, trailers, aircraft and portable loading aids, Fortune reports.

Consumers can also expect to receive more up-to-date tracking information this season. UPS says they plan to deploy additional web and movie upgrades to make it simpler for people to keep track of where their packages are in the delivery process.

With eye on its Christmas 2013 debacle, UPS is nearly doubling holiday hiring [Fortune]

Massachusetts Court Throws Out Lawsuit Trying To Block Tesla From Selling Fancy Cars Directly To Consumers

Tue, 2014-09-16 17:42

(Atwater Village Newbie)

(Atwater Village Newbie)


High-tech electric car company Tesla has spent the year fighting with a huge number of states over their preferred business model: the company sells vehicles directly to consumers, instead of going through the traditional dealer route. Tesla has been wildly successful selling their cars this way. So successful, in fact, that dealers in many states are fighting hard to claim Tesla’s model is illegal under state law — or getting state law changed to make sure it’s illegal. Dealers in Massachusetts trying their own variation on that maneuver, however, have just had their case tossed out of court, allowing Tesla to continue operations in that state.

Reuters reports that the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court yesterday found unanimously that the Massachusetts State Automobile Dealers Association, and two other dealers also filing suit, lacked standing under state law to have direct Tesla sales blocked.

The state law in question was designed to protect car dealership franchise owners from abuses by car manufacturers, and therefore does not apply to Tesla, Justice Margot Botsford wrote, saying that “the type of competitive injury [the dealers] describe between unaffiliated entities is not within the statute’s area of concern.”

Tesla is not permitted to conduct direct-to-consumer sales in Arizona, Maryland, or Texas, and state legislatures in Missouri and New Jersey have also acted to ban direct Tesla sales. And although Tesla is permitted to sell cars in Georgia, dealers there are raising a stink over Tesla’s model being too successful.

The FTC is all for Tesla shaking up the traditional business model. The White House has declined to require states to permit direct-to-consumer Tesla sales, however, and Congress has no plans to address the bans on a federal level.

Tesla prevails in top Massachusetts court over direct sales [Reuters]

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